Bechuanaland (Bamangwato Reserve Administration)

Bill Presented – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 22nd May 1953.

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11.7 a.m.

Photo of Mrs Eirene White Mrs Eirene White , Flintshire East

We have sought this debate today for two reasons: first, to consider the appointment of Rasebolai in the Bamangwato Reserve and, secondly, to inquire what is the intention of Her Majesty's Government concerning the general administration not only of the Bamangwato Reserve but of Bechuanaland as a whole.

It is fair to say that many people were considerably surprised when, within a very few days of the holding of the recent kgotla at Serowe, it was announced that Rasebolai was to be placed in a position of authority, not as chief but, as we understand it holding the powers of a chief. Possibly the Under-Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations can enlighten us as to the respects, if any, in which the powers differ from those of a chief in the full sense of the word. From all I have heard Rasebolai is a person of good character. Nobody doubts his ability or capacity to hold high office. It should not be thought for one moment that I am criticising the person because I am critical of the manner of his appointment.

It seems to me, however, that the Government by backing a candidate for a position at the kgotla who was beaten, or at least did not win, and then trying to bring him in, within a matter of a few days, by a back door, lay themselves open to a charge of sharp practice even if they are undoubtedly acting perfectly within their legal rights. It is not only the people on these benches who hold that view. No doubt the Under-Secretary noticed the leader in "The Times" the day following the announcement which, speaking of Rasebolai, said: In fact, though he is imposed, he is not imposed as chief, but only to discharge the functions of a chief. It is conceivable that this delicate distinction will preserve a clear meaning even when translated into Sechuana. It is unlikely however to enhance in the minds of simple men that reputation for absolute good faith and open dealing which is vital to the moral value of British rule in Africa. That is the charge which some of us wish to bring against the Government on this point of their manner of dealing with this affair, because it casts doubt on the Government's good faith when they act in this way.

Only recently faith in the absolute openness of the Government was shaken by their use of the Queen's own name in circumstances in which we might respectfully suppose that Her Majesty had never expressed a personal opinion at all. Although Africans are not all literate they are really not all such simpletons that they cannot see through things like this. Every time they lose their faith in the absolute honesty of British administration, our reputation is in danger, and, after all, it is our reputation on which we rely for our presence in most parts of Africa.

I am not proposing today to argue the question of the chieftainship or that Seretse ought to be recognised as chief. It appears to me that, on this matter and many others, the Government have a completely closed mind, and we must recognise the fact that, while they are in office, the position is not likely to be changed, and, therefore, it seems to me to be more constructive today to turn to some of the wider issues.

Before this trouble arose over the Bamangwato succession, the position of the chiefs in these territories—because there are eight reserves in the Protectorate—has been open to question in regard to their position and functions, and there is every reason to think that a more up-to-date system of Government and administration is desirable. The young men, in particular, I am told by those who have close acquaintance with the Territories, are becoming more and more dissatisfied with the old tradition of a chief and a kgotla and want to have a more specific voice in the Government and a more definite opportunity of taking their part in the Administration. Recent events, I believe, have been accelerating the general process of tribal disintegration that is going on in most parts of Africa. The emotional disturbances in the Bamangwato have contributed to this, and I think it is essential that, if we are to have progress in the area, the Government should tackle the problem of the reform of administration in the Reserve and Protectorate.

If the appointment of Rasebolai had been announced as part of a plan of reform, it would have been very much more acceptable. If we had been told that it is an interim stage in a definite programme of development, we could have judged the matter better on its merits, but we have had no such indication. We do not know what is in the Government's mind, and it is conceivable that their mind is not only closed but empty, as far as this is concerned.

I should like the Under-Secretary to let us know, for example, what has happened to the report by Lord Hailey on the administration of the Protectorate. It has been in the hands of the Minister for some time. When will it be published? Will the Under-Secretary give any indication of what its recommendations may be, or what the attitude of the Government may be towards it? One has a feeling that this difficulty over the Bamangwato succession has mesmerised the Commonwealth Relations Office to such a degree that they have been apparently unable to make any notable progress, not only in the Bamangwato Reserve but in other parts of Bechuanaland.

There are seven other reserves and the Crown Lands as well, and we have heard very little of what is being done to establish a more satisfactory and up-to-date form of administration in these particular areas. Had more progress been made in that direction, it would now be easier to take steps in the Bamangwato Reserve itself. I do not believe that we shall solve the trouble in the Bamangwato Reserve except within a wider framework. It has been far too much concentrated, to my mind, on personalities, and if we had properly constituted local councils with a central political body, they would be able to effect a much more satisfactory state of affairs.

There is a strong public opinion in Bechuanaland in favour of a more centralised administration. The Advisory Council have passed a resolution to the effect that they believe that the time has come for a Legislative Council in this Protectorate. The Protectorates are now, I believe, the only Territories—though not Crown Colonies, they are similar in conditions and population—under our control which have this antiquated form of government. The official attitude up to now has been that they ought to have more experience, but, after all, they have had Advisory Councils in Bechuanaland for the last 30 years at least, and it seems to me that, if one goes on saying that they ought to have a little more experience, one would be postponing reform for a dangerously long time.

In addition, there are the advantages which would accrue to Bechuanaland as a whole from these reforms. I believe that, if we have a central body with specific powers, not purely advisory and meeting once a year, as at present, but a body superior to the native governments in each of the reserves, that would in itself provide an opening—not only for persons like Seretse—who, after all, may return in some capacity or other to the Reserve, because he is not completely banned for ever—but also for Tshekedi. who is a man of very considerable abilities, and whose abilities, I believe, should not be entirely devoted to cattle raising, important though that may be.

One of the great disadvantages of an autocratic chieftainship is that it provides little or no scope for the really able man who is not a chief, and it seems to me that one of the advantages of the reform suggested would be that it would make it possible for persons like Tshekedi, Seretse or Rasebolai, and perhaps all of them, to have their full place in the government, with other persons in the reserves and in the Crown Land areas, who do not have the opportunity at present which they should have in this wider field.

I was speaking only yesterday to one of the chiefs in Bechuanaland, the Chief of the Bakwena, who was pointing out the advantages of a properly co-ordinated central administration in the field of education, which is vitally important, and of economic planning. He said, very properly, "Our individual territories are really too small. The Advisory Council have no powers; they can only make suggestions. The officials by no means see eye to eye with us, and there is an underground current of dissatisfaction which, unless we can canalise it into constructive channels, may in future be extremely troublesome."

I cannot think that simply appointing Rasebolai as Head of the Native Authority in the Reserve will solve the problem. I believe myself that there are vital economic problems in this area, and that we shall not get a satisfied and pacified population until greater progress is made in the economic field. I should think myself that, if we could now hold out a general prospect of economic development and communal development, we might have a fair chance of diverting some of the energies of the Bamangwato into constructive channels, instead of allowing them to remain in the sullen, discouraged frame of mind in which they undoubtedly are at the present time.

I hope that the Under-Secretary will tell us something of what the Government are doing in the economic field. Are there any schemes of communal development combined with mass education going on, such as I saw recently in West Africa, in which an attempt is made to get the enthusiasm of the people directed towards proper schemes for their own betterment and advantage? Can we have information on this? Can we be told just where we stand with regard to some of the larger development schemes?

I have the impression that work on some of these larger schemes is going on in this area, but I fail to get the impression that the ordinary people either know anything about them or have been asked to co-operate in them in any way which would appeal to them. They are being discussed at a fairly high level, and technicians have been round, but has any real attempt been made to explain to the people concerned what are the ideas for their future, and to give them a chance of feeling that these schemes are their schemes and not matters which are merely decided for them from above without any reference to their opinion. The Under-Secretary could at least tell us how we stand with regard to these schemes.

Has he had the report of the Commission, on which were Mr. Arthur Gaitskell and others, on development in Bechuana-land, and, if so, may we know its contents? Can he tell us what is happening with regard to Okovango Swamp Development Scheme? Good progress has been made with the Lobatsi abattoir, but we should like to know more about how it fits into the scheme of contemplated development. What about the Colonial Development and Welfare Fund grant? How much has been spent, and if the proportion spent is not very large, can we know the reasons why? In the past these territories have been quite shamefully neglected. We have spent less on them than on almost any other territories in the British sphere. The importance of the Protectorates is such that we need a dynamic and positive policy, and some assurances from the Minister and his right hon. Friend that they are pursuing such a policy and not just sitting back and letting things ride, which is the impression that many people have outside their own Departments.

I am quite sure that we all wish that these Protectorates should remain Protectorates so long as they wish to. If the time comes when pressure is put upon them—and it may very well be economic presssure—it is vital that they should be far better prepared to withstand such pressure than they could possibly be at the present time. To some extent they depend on labour going into the Union. It is essential that if a situation should arise in which that labour could not or did not wish to go into the Union, opportunities for employment should be made available within the Bechuanaland Protectorate. The argument for a self-con- tained economy has been put forward in connection with the scheme for Central African Federation, but the position in the Protectorates is just as important, and it is now that all these developments should be proceeding.

I hope that the Under-Secretary can give us some assurances about what the Government are trying to do in the political and economic fields, and what they are trying to do to harness the loyalty and enthusiasm of the people, to make them interested in their own development, education and their own future. Unless we can have a response from the people themselves the future in this Protectorate may well be a tragic one.

If this debate has served no other purpose, at least it will have given the Undersecretary an opportunity to tell us what the Government have in mind, whether they have any really constructive proposals in view and whether there is a sense of urgency about this matter. If he can give us those assurances we shall have had a profitable morning.

11.25 a.m.

Photo of Sir John Foster Sir John Foster , Northwich

I should like to speak now in order to answer the points which have been made by the hon. Member for Flint, East (Mrs. White). She began by saying that the Government might be accused of bad faith, which might lead to a loss of confidence in their honesty of purpose, and that the appointment of Rasebolai as Native Authority was likely to look like sharp practice. It may well be that the hon. Lady, like the hon. Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Fenner Brockway), was somewhat misled by the reports in "The Times", to which he alluded in his supplementary question to my right hon. Friend when he made the announcement about Rasebolai in the House last week.

The appointment of Rasebolai followed a long kgotla, in which many speakers were heard on the question of the chieftainship. The impression given by the reports in "The Times" was that there was overwhelming support for Seretse. I particularly noticed a phrase about "the endless succession" of speakers for Seretse. That is not in accordance with the facts. I have with me a very detailed report on the speakers at the kgotla, in which the remarks of each speaker are summarised in about eight or nine lines. I have also received from the High Commissioner an analysis of the division of the speakers, and I should like to give the House the result of this analysis and summary.

There were 14 speakers in favour of Rasebolai and 12 speakers in favour of Seretse. There were some others in favour either of Oratile or who thought that the Government should nominate the chief. If we go by the number of speakers —which, in my submission would not be the right way of approaching the matter —we find that there were more speakers in favour of Rasebolai than of Seretse, so it is clear that on that point the report in "The Times" was misinformed with regard to "the endless succession" of speakers for Seretse.

The matter, however, does not rest there. Among the speakers for Rasebolai were no less than four royal sons of Sekgoma and, as in other primitve societies—it was the case in mediaeval England—a great deal of weight is very naturally given to the authority of the speakers. I appreciate that in trying to compare the situation with that of Front Bench speakers and back bench speakers I lay myself open to a riposte, but I think it can be compared to a number of Front Bench speakers in favour of Rasebolai and individuals from the Serowe town population speaking in favour of Seretse.

The correspondent of "The Times" probably gave us a correct account of how the speakers for Seretse were met with murmurs of approval. As the House well knows—because we have discussed the detailed affairs of this tribe on so many occasions in the last few years—the situation is that Serowe is a considerable town, undoubtedly containing a large number of Seretse supporters. A kgotla, theoretically, is the attendance of all the main chiefs, but when a kgotla is held in Serowe, it is easier for the town population to attend.

The agricultural population contains a great number of supporters of Rasebolai. Obviously it would be quite wrong, even on Western democratic procedure, and entirely out of keeping with the way the Protectorate is administered and out of keeping with Bechuanaland custom to take a vote at a kgotla and count by heads, but the only reason I wanted to tell the House about this was because we have had the spectacle of kgotlas with large numbers of the town population which, at times in the last few years, have degenerated into a town rabble with a series of disorders in which a number of people have been killed. On this occasion they were well behaved. Nevertheless, it is a town mob and there are also to be considered the delegates from the country districts.

If the House looks at the matter in that light they get a very different impression of what happened at the kgotla. It would have been wrong in the view of the Government, after the pledges which have been given, to impose a chief on the tribe. The aim is for the tribe to reach a rough degree of unanimity— in other words, that there should be an overall feeling of the tribe in favour of an appointment. The officer who administered the kgotla felt that that degree of unanimity, which both sides of the House require, was not achieved. On the other hand, it is equally false to say that Rasebolai was rejected out of hand or that there was unanimous support of Seretse. The situation at the kgotla was that there was a greater expression of feeling for Rasebolai, both in the number of speakers and even more in the weight of the speakers, than there was for Seretse, but that was not sufficient to justify the kgotla in deciding that Rasebolai had been elected.

Perhaps I may pass to the suggestion that the appointment of Rasebolai to native authority may lead people to think that we have been guilty of sharp practice. Let me assume that everybody in the House wishes the Bamangwato tribe to settle down and to achieve peace and prosperity, and let me also assume that if I can satisfy the House that the appointment of Rasebolai as Native Authority provides a very good chance of doing that, then hon. Members opposite would be willing to let us have that chance even though they did not agree that we had taken the right course. I am sure they want the tribe to settle down and to take up its natural functions of economic and other development, and I am sure that even if they thought we were wrong they would suspend their judgment and do nothing which would make conditions worse.

Reports from the Reserve and from Serowe are very encouraging. Let me tell the House why I say that. The news that Rasebolai had been appointed as native authority was very well received. In one case there were angry murmers in support of Seretse but in the outlying districts and in Serowe itself the decision was very well received.

Rasebolai has started to hold daily kgotlas, a thing which Europeans in authority could not do. At these kgotlas supporters of Seretse are attending and are asking for dispensation for such things as leave to sell cattle. Rasebolai has appointed what we might call his cabinet. We are very glad that the hon. Lady recognises the qualities of Rasebolai, and perhaps I may amplify the point for a moment by reminding the House that he is a man who is very much respected in the Reserve, respected also by his opponents. He had a very good war record, and I have here a lengthy quotation, with which I will not weary the House, from an account of the war service of the people of Bechuanaland in which a very great tribute is paid to Rasebolai by the author, who describes him as one of the outstanding Africans in the last war. I think we can all agree that we have chosen a very good man, a man who is respected and who has proved his sense of responsibility, his sense of duty and his loyalty.

There has been a very good start. Rasebolai is holding his daily kgotlas and, in appointing his cabinet, he has shown statesmanship and a complete lack of any kind of political vindictiveness. In fact he has no political attitude and therefore there is no ground for supposing that he would take it out of his enemies because I do not think he has any. In his cabinet, which he has announced this morning—I am not clear of the exact relationship between local time and Bechuanaland time—there are 13 appointments. Of these, six are royal headmen. I remind the House that five sons of Sekgoma were speakers in favour of Rasebolai at the kgotla and that the royal headmen come under the same class —and here they are supporting him. There are two supporters of Tshekedi who did not follow him when he exiled himself to another land. There are six others who went out with Tshekedi to the Reserve and there are three known supporters of Seretse and two who were supporters of Seretse. The 13 are thus roughly made up of six who went to the Rametsana, three pro Seretse, two who were pro Seretse, and of the others all or some spoke in the kgotla in favour of Rasebolai. There are two who were pro Seretse but went over and two who were pro Tshekedi but who remained in the Reserve.

I appeal to hon. Members earnestly not to say anything or to do anything which would stop the tribe proceeding to a satisfactory conclusion, even if they disagree with us. I am sure from the character of his speeches that the hon. Member for Eton and Slough has the good of the tribe at heart. He and I do not agree about the way to do things but I think we can agree that if there is a chance of a settlement he will give us that chance. Later, if he feels that the policy has not succeeded, it will be up to him to make his criticisms.

The hon. Lady said she did not propose to raise the fundamental question of the decision about Seretse. I may be anticipating, but the hon. Member for Eton and Slough may do so. I must say, as was said by the noble Lord in the announcement which he made in another place last week, as well as on other occasions in discussing the appointment of Rasebolai, that the Government are firm in their decision about Seretse. Seretse cannot go back as chief and until the chief is firmly settled and established he cannot go back to the Reserve. In my opinion I do not believe that any succeeding Labour Government can alter that decision. I believe it is an absolutely settled thing that the decision about Seretse is firm, and it is necessary that the Bamangwato should understand that because it is one of the essential conditions which they must realise.

The Government feel that they have come to the right conclusions about Seretse. The reasons are set out in the White Paper by the previous Government. I should like to correct a statement by the right hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths). I did not notice it until this morning so that I have been unable to give him notice, but it is reported in the OFFICIAL REPORT that he said the exclusion of Seretse was for five years. That is not an absolutely correct statement. We all know what the position is. The exclusion from the chieftainship was made and the announcement in the White Paper by the Labour Government said it would be reviewed not less than five years hence—in other words it would not be reviewed until the expiry of five years. It is not true to say that the exclusion from the chieftainship was for five years.

Photo of Mr Richard Acland Mr Richard Acland , Gravesend

It is not for less than five years but for exactly five years.

Photo of Sir John Foster Sir John Foster , Northwich

I do not think so. I will have a look. I think it was for not less than five years. It does seem to me that it is very important that hon. Members in this debate should give the new arrangement a chance. Rasebolai is a good man. Rasebolai is doing well. Rasebolai has summoned his daily kgotlas. He has made statesmanlike appointments to his cabinet. I do feel that anything said in this debate that might give the impression to the tribe either that the exclusion of Seretse was not final or that the appointment of Rasebolai was subject to any cancellation would be most unfortunate. I have found the reference to that time now. It says certainly not less than five years. That is what I thought I said.

Photo of Mr Richard Acland Mr Richard Acland , Gravesend

It is a little ambiguous. Probably the hon. and learned Gentleman is right. It meant that at the end of that time the situation would be reviewed. I understood that at the end of five years it would be reviewed to see whether the banishment should be extended beyond the five years.

Photo of Sir John Foster Sir John Foster , Northwich

I think not. I was correct in saying it would not toe less than five years.

Photo of Sir John Foster Sir John Foster , Northwich

No, the review. The review would not happen before the end of that time, in not less than five years.

Photo of Mrs Eirene White Mrs Eirene White , Flintshire East

The hon. and learned Gentleman said Rasebolai's appointment was not subject to cancellation, but if I understood the Secretary of State correctly he said in another place that if somebody else were chosen as chief there would be then a transfer of power from Rasebolai to whomsoever was chosen as chief.

Photo of Sir John Foster Sir John Foster , Northwich

What I meant was that if as a result of this debate misleading information were sent to the Reserve to the effect that the whole thing was in doubt as to the appointment it would be most unfortunate. I do feel that very strongly. It is essential, if we can, to have a modicum of common approach in this debate to this establishment of the Native authority.

In our view the advantages of establishing an African as Native Authority are very great. Up till now a European officer has been head of the Reserve exercising the powers of Native Authority. He has had Europeans under him filling the posts which Rasebolai has now filled in the manner I have just told the House. It is impossible for the Europeans to enter the tribal life of the Africans and achieve that co-operation between the persons in charge of administering and the persons who are being administered that Africans can achieve. The House will readily think of the many day-to-day things that a Native Authority who is an African would be able to do, assisted by Africans in those responsible and subordinate posts, and which it was impossible for the European Native Authority to perform while he was filling that post.

That brings me to the questions which the hon. Lady has asked about economic development. I did not prepare for this debate with a whole list of figures and a detailed account of the economic life of the Protectorate and the Reserve. I refer the hon. Lady to the report of the Adjournment debate we had at Christmas, when I gave quite a few details about economic progress in Bechuanaland. I dealt with many of the questions in detail then. I will write to the hon. Lady some of the information she wants. I can say this now, that the Commonwealth Development Fund has allocated a large sum, just over £1 million, towards development in the reserve until 1956 for water, irrigation, soil conservation, education, all those usual basic services for the Africans.

While the dispute about the Baman-gwato succession has been in existence there has been difficulty in pressing forward economic development. There has also been difficulty in pressing forward with any kind of development politically. I would remind the hon. Lady of paragraph 20 of the White Paper which was issued by the Government of her own party in 1950. There it was hoped that local councils and other forms of associating native people with the administration of the Reserve would be possible while the chieftainship was in abeyance and a European was the Native Authority. In fact, it was found impossible to do that in the days when the hon. Lady's party were the Government.

Photo of Mrs Eirene White Mrs Eirene White , Flintshire East

Will the hon. and learned Gentleman explain what has been happening in other parts of Bechuana-land where there has been no succession dispute? We all know about the allocation from the Commonwealth Development Fund. What I asked was how much has been spent, and what progress is being made. We have not had a reply to that.

Photo of Sir John Foster Sir John Foster , Northwich

I think the actual amount is £576,000. I thought the hon. Lady was going to speak about the Motion in the name of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Eton and Slough, to which she appended her own name—

[That this House deplores the action of Her Majesty's Government in appointing Rasebolai Kgamane as Native Authority to exercise chiefly Powers in the Bamangwato reserve in Bechuanaland immediately following a meeting of the Kgotla of the tribe which declined to appoint him chief.]—

but she puts to me a number of questions on other matters which it would take a substantial White Paper to answer. One does not come to a debate on an issue like that with one's head full of figures about detailed schemes and of what has been done about economic development.

Photo of Mrs Eirene White Mrs Eirene White , Flintshire East

There is no such Motion before the House. That Motion is about the administration of the Reserve and about Rasebolai.

Photo of Sir John Foster Sir John Foster , Northwich

I may have misunderstood, but I thought that the hon. Lady was to talk about the subject of that Motion. I have had no notice of any kind of any other Motion.

Photo of Mrs Eirene White Mrs Eirene White , Flintshire East

There is no such Motion before the House. The Motion is about the Adjournment. I was talking about the administration of the Reserve. That is a reasonably wide subject. In any case, I gave the hon. and learned Gentleman notice yesterday that I was going to raise the political side and the whole question of the councils in Bechuanaland.

Photo of Mr William Morrison Mr William Morrison , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

The Question before the House is, "That this House do now adjourn."

Photo of Sir John Foster Sir John Foster , Northwich

The only notice I have had is, that the Bamangwato were to be the subject of discussion. The hon. Lady gave me notice about the political side, I quite agree, but how she expects me in dealing with that to have all these economic facts as well I do not know. How on earth could I?

Photo of Mrs Eirene White Mrs Eirene White , Flintshire East

As the Commonwealth Relations Office is responsible for these Protectorates, as that is one of their main responsibilities, and one of their only administrative responsibilities, and as the hon. and learned Gentleman holds office in respect of that Department, I should have imagined that, had he been really interested in it, he would have had information about the general state of development even though he would not have accurate figures at his finger tips.

Photo of Sir John Foster Sir John Foster , Northwich

Obviously, one can make inaccurate statements if one does not have notes of such things but relies entirely on memory. That is the whole point of being given notice of what is to be debated. Were I to give inaccurate statements the hon. Lady would be the first to deplore and criticise. The ordinary Parliamentary decencies require that notice should be given of the subjects to be debated. I thought I was going to talk about the Bamangwato and the situation in the Reserve, but I have been presented with many questions concerning the whole of Bechuanaland. I think I should be mistaken if I were to try to answer them from memory at a moment's notice. I shall rest on that, and appeal to the House whether that is fair or not.

Now I come on to a point which the hon. Lady did say she was going to raise, the question of the Legislative Councils. She did give me notice of that. The situation is that we have to proceed slowly, and we must proceed within the framework of the African tribal life. That has been disrupted. The office of Chief has not been filled for so many years, and now that the office of Native Authority is filled we hope that we can proceed with the development of the local councils. This applies both to the economic and to the political sides.

The Chiefs allied with the Bamangwato tribe also expressed the view in the past that there was no possibility of any progress in the political field until the question of the Bamangwato succession was settled. We hope it will be settled in that sense, that the tribe will be at peace and that they will follow the rule of the Native Authority; that it will be settled in that way so as to allow for economic and political development. What is in our mind is, by a series of local councils to get the Africans interested in their local government; to give them more power with regard to administration in such things as their native treasury. It may not be within the knowledge of the House that Rasebolai has already announced that he intends to form committees of younger men who will be brought into consultations on questions of the Reserve.

If I may sum up for the House, I renew my plea that this appointment of the Native Authority should be allowed a fair chance. It is the best solution in an admittedly difficult situation. It is working well, and I hope that subsequent speakers will not add any fuel to the fire which will cause any doubts in the minds of the Bamangwato about the decision of the Government. Let those hon. Members who disagreed with their own party and their own Government about the original decision of Seretse reserve their fire for another occasion. Let us try to end this Session on a note of expectancy about this appointment.

11.52 a.m.

Photo of Mr Richard Acland Mr Richard Acland , Gravesend

I wish to comment upon the technique of making the kind of peroration we have just heard. I understand it from the hon. and learned Gentleman's point of view, and I would ask him to try to understand my point of view, perhaps I might say our point of view, even if he does not agree with us—and I think these are almost his own words—to see why it comes about in this way.

The hon. and learned Gentleman says to us, "You do not agree with Government policy. You think it is wrong. But give it a chance. Keep quiet. Do not say anything which will give anybody the impression in public that you do think it is wrong." That is rather a lot to ask, because we believe that over enormous areas of Africa, possibly over the whole area, the whole situation is headed towards a breakdown which is virtually inevitable.

We believe that the whole relationship between the white minorities exercising political rule and economic power over enormous African majorities sets up trends which, if nothing interferes with them, lead to disaster with an almost majestic inextricability. That is not because white minorities in Africa are, as individuals, more immoral than the white citizens of this country. It arises simply from what is common to the teachings of Christianity, or Freudian psychology and of Karl Marx.

I know that that is a curious trinity to put together. But taking what is taught about original sin, what Freud said about the power of the human, whatever it is— I do not know whether it is the brain, the ego, the super-ego, or what—to rationalise its own emotional preferences, and also what Karl Marx says about the power of the whole economic environment to impose certain decisions upon us, even contrary to our own reasoning power, it is almost inconceivable that over the whole area of East, Central and Southern Africa where white minorities now hold sway, and in which these Protectorates are situated, that Governments, unless something else intervenes, will take those steps which are necessary to advance and accelerate the advancement of the African majority in time to give to them confidence, so that the whole situation may develop harmoniously.

During the period of the Labour Government we on this side—I think I am right in saying almost all of us who are now present on these benches—felt that despite some mistakes and shortcomings, of which the mistake made in relation to Seretse Khama was by far the most serious—despite that we felt that the influence of Government was tending powerfully against the general trend to disaster, and that there was a good chance that it would be successful. We earnestly believe that the present Administration is, by all of its actions, reinforcing the trend towards disaster.

Yet now we are asked to say nothing; to give this course a chance. What does this mean? We believe this heads towards a breakdown. We believe that the relationships between the white minorities and the African majorities cannot continue. We cannot forecast in detail what form the breakdown will take, but on the other side of it we hope that the relationships between white people and Africans can be re-established. But relationships with what kind of white people? With white people who keep silent about all that is happening until it has happened?

Are we, step by step, to be told, "You think it is wrong here, but keep quiet about it. You think things are wrong there, but keep quiet about that, too"? On the other side of the breakdown, relationships will only be re-established through those white people who have spoken their mind betimes. Although I appreciate that the hon. and learned Gentleman could not possibly agree with all we say, I hope he will understand how some of us feel on this side of the House and what we conceive to be our duty in proclaiming that, in our view, what is done is wrong.

I am not very much impressed with the figures given about the number of speakers, because there is one thing we cannot assess, and that is how many of those who a fortnight ago spoke in favour of Rasebolai would have spoken in favour of Seretse Khama if there had been any chance of the Government allowing him to go back. We cannot judge it but it is a reasonable assumption that many of those who spoke for Rasebolai would do so on the grounds, "Well, the British Government are absolutely vetoing the one thing we believe and almost know would bring the tribe unitedly together. Therefore, we must say something for somebody who is next and do our best."

For this reason, I am not very much impressed with the figures given of the number of speakers. I still believe that even if there were some grounds for thinking that the reasons originally given for the five-year banishment for Seretse may have been valid, they were rather thin at the time. I believe that experience since has shown that we were all wrong. Perhaps I have suggested that a few of us on these benches have been more right than others, but I am not sure that we were.

If our views have been shown right and we have been proved right by events, then, by the same events, we have been proved wrong in that we did not express our views at the time in a way we should have done in voting for them on a suitable occasion. Therefore I feel that most of us in this House have been wrong over this matter and that the prestige of this country and the possibility of good relations with Africa would be improved if even now or as I believe when there is a change of Government Seretse Khama is allowed to go back and be given a chance to become the chief.

12 noon.

Photo of Mr Nigel Nicolson Mr Nigel Nicolson , Bournemouth East and Christchurch

The hon. Member for Gravesend (Sir R. Acland) has said that we are trying to prevent criticism of the appointment which has just been made on the grounds that it would cause disunity if such criticism were made. I do not think that anyone has tried to prevent criticism. All that we wished, as the hon. Lady the Member for Flint, East (Mrs. White) suggested, is that we should look to the future and not fasten all our attention and criticism upon an appointment which, from all points of view, was very reasonable and just; and that we should not encourage the people of the Bamangwato tribe, as the hon. Baronet did, to raise their glasses, or the African equivalent, to a "King across the water" when they have already backed up this new appointment and. indeed, welcomed it.

We have spent a long time in this House—20 hours to be exact and 450 columns of HANSARD—in discussing the affairs of what is one small tribe in one Protectorate in that part of Africa. I think that we should all be proud of that fact. We could also be ashamed, if as a result of all this debate, no decision of any sort was come to. We have come to a decision but it is an interim and not a final decision. I have no wish naturally, Mr. Speaker, to involve you in our controversy, but I cannot forbear quoting the words which you used in turning down the attempt of the hon. Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Fenner Brockway) to move the Adjournment of the House on this very subject.

You said that the appointment of Rasebolai was only a step within a long story, and I do not think that it could be put more succinctly than that. We have done something by this decision but nothing final. What we have done is to lay down a considerable paving stone of certainty in a morass of uncertainty. On this small foundation the Bamangwato tribe now rests, and we who are their trustees have done something to restore the balance. To prove their case that this was a wrong step to take, and that it will cause more harm than it will cure, I think that the Opposition should show to us how it was wrong.

They could do so on three grounds. They could say that it was constitutionally improper; they could say that it was immoral; or they could say that, even if it is constitutional and morally right, Rasebolai was not the instrument to have chosen. May I devote my few remarks to examining their case upon those three grounds? First, that it was constitutionally wrong. I do not think that claim is upheld by the Opposition themselves. Certainly, the hon. Lady, in her speech, made no such attack upon my hon. Friend. We have the right as trustees of this tribe to appoint a native authority. We had no right to appoint their chief and we have not attempted to do so. Rasebolai will be able to exercise all the prerogatives, or almost all the prerogatives, of the chief but he is not the chief; in the words of the natives themselves he is not "clothed in the leopard's skin."

If it was constitutionally right and proper in March, 1950, for the late Government to exile Seretse Khama and his heirs and to put this territory under the direct rule of Europeans, why is it wrong now for the Conservative Government to restore a measure of self-rule to that same tribe and to give them back a native authority of their own race and colour?

I come now to the second possible line of attack—that it was morally wrong. In dealing with this I would say we have no more dictated to the Bamangwato whom they should have as their chief than the Labour Government dictated to Seretse Khama whom he should have as his wife. To prove a moral case against us, the Opposition must put forward the alternative which they themselves would have adopted had they been in our position at the time. They could have done only two things: they could have done nothing, or they could have recalled Seretse Khama to be chief of his tribe. If they had done nothing, they would have been prolonging the period during which this tribe was under direct European rule, and in doing that they would have been going against all the promises and intentions outlined in their White Paper of March, 1950. That White Paper, among other things, said this, in referring to the exile of Seretse and imposition of European rule: This is, however, a purely temporary expedient. … Steps will be taken to ensure that the inhabitants of the Reserve are again associated with the conduct of their affairs as soon as practicable. Is that not exactly what we are doing now by the appointment of Rasebolai?

Would the Opposition, in our position, have allowed this tribe to remain under direct European rule for the minimum of five years mentioned in that White Paper, until, in fact, the whole case of Seretse had been reconsidered? If they had done so, I suggest very seriously that it would have been a retrogressive step by taking away from those people, whom we are all anxious should be educated in self-government, the possibility of self-government.

In taking the action that we have taken in appointing one of their own number, colour and race to this high position, just below that of chief, we have surely taken a progressive step which the Opposition cannot counter unless they deny the implication in the paragraph in the White Paper to which I have referred.

On the second alternative to restore Seretse—and the hon. Member for Gravesend said in so many words that he would do so now if he had the power—may I answer that particular point, too? To do so would, in the first place, be reversing the decision to which he personally may not have been part and to which I know the hon. Member for Eton and Slough objected at the time, but which the bulk of his party agreed to in March, 1950, when they had responsibility for our affairs.

Do they honestly believe that the return of Seretse now, under the aegis of the British Government, would increase or decrease the unity of the tribe? Do they believe that Seretse, arriving back with his wife Ruth and their child, would be received with the universal acclamation of the tribe? Do they believe that when Seretse died, the succession of the chieftainship would not become a matter of great controversy both here and in Africa, where questions of mixed blood always provoke quarrels of which we have already had examples?

If an injustice was done to Seretse it was not done by us. It was done, in the first place, by his own tribe and, secondly, by the Labour Government, and not subsequently by the Government of today. If the hon. Member for Eton and Slough intends to speak in this debate, I beg him not to persist too much in the championship of a man whose future can be reasonable and honourable provided that he is left alone. There comes a point when nobility becomes ignoble and when liberalism becomes illiberal. That point has been reached in the matter of Seretse Khama.

What future might he have? He himself might draw a lesson from the example of his own uncle, Tshekedi, a man who was exiled, who protested against his exile and then accepted it; a man who then returned to his own country under conditions, to which he agreed, that he would lay no further claim to the chieftainship of the Bamangwato Tribe and that he would play no part in politics. Since then Tshekedi has taken part as a member of the committee which went out under Mr. Gates. He is a man who has played his political cards not only well but with profound nobility, a man who is able to contribute to the future welfare of his tribe without ever having a chance of gaining its chieftainship for himself or his heirs.

The third possible line of attack upon the action which we have taken is that, though we may be morally and constitutionally in the right, Rasebolai was not the man whom we should have appointed to the job. In her opening remarks, the hon. Lady was good enough to say that she thought well of him or, at least, had heard no evil of him, and my hon. and learned Friend referred to his brilliant war record. Rasebolai is a man of royal blood. He is not unpopular. We have heard how well his appointment has been received in all the villages, and we may well remind ourselves of the contrast between the acceptance of Rasebolai and the riots caused in June, 1952, by the announcement that Seretse would never be allowed back to the chieftainship. Rasebolai is not an illiberal man. He is a man who has had many dealings with white and black, and throughout he has shown himself a master of diplomacy and circumstance.

Reference has been made to a war history which was written by a man who had no political axe to grind and could not possibly have foreseen that the person of whom he was writing at that time would one day occupy an important position in African history, as Rasebolai does now. I will quote one paragraph out of the many: It may justly be said that R.S.M. Rasebolai rendered a service to his people and to his Corps second to none; his fine sense of judgment and even temper, which were never ruffled by difficulty nor spoiled by success, together with his soldierly bearing, made him the ideal man. … He had not only all the real dignity of an African of good breeding, but he had a modesty of demeanour, and above all, that rarest of all things in the African, a capacity for understanding the white man. This is the man whom we have now called to preside, at least temporarily, over the destinies of this troubled tribe, a tribe which contains about 20,000 Bamangwato and about 80,000 others who have been brought in by conquest or alliance and now enjoy the sort of status that the helots enjoyed in ancient Sparta. Could there be anybody other than Rasebolai who could bring together this curiously amorphous tribe, one which has been split by so many troubles in the past? I do not think so.

I do not want to deal, as I had intended to, with the questions which the hon. Lady raised about the economic and political future of the territory, except to say one thing. All the signs are surely that there is a growing together of the black and white elements in the Bechuanaland Proteotorate as a whole. We have an African Advisory Council and a European Advisory Council, and recently, I believe on the initiative of the Europeans, joint council meetings have been held. As the hon. Lady rightly said, Bechuanaland is one of the few territories in our Empire without a properly constituted legislative council. I think we both hope that this joint council will form the nucleus of an eventual permanent council of the type which both she and I desire.

The territory is in a terribly unsettled state. Distrust of our motives and our intentions has been spread not only among the Bamangwato, but among many of the neighbouring tribes. I support the appeal made by my hon. and learned Friend that the Opposition should not unintentionally or otherwise cause dissension among these people at the very time when there is a chance of unity. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, speaking in the debate on Central African Federation, closed by saying that, the Bill having become law, all of us, of all parties and all nationalities, should strive to make it work.

I make exactly the same appeal to all parts of the House in the case of the Bamangwato Tribe. Let us see how things work out. Let us see whether Rasebolai makes as good a ruler as we believe he will. Then, in a few years perhaps, we may see the tribe once more able to agree upon the chief whom it wishes to rule over it permanently.

12.17 p.m.

Photo of Miss Jennie Lee Miss Jennie Lee , Cannock

I agree with the hon. and learned Gentleman that nothing should be said in the House today which gives a false impression in African Bechuanaland about the intentions of Great Britain or public opinion here. The hon. and learned Gentleman spoke officially on behalf of the Government. He will observe that there is no official spokesman on the Opposition Front Bench. The hon. and learned Gentleman made some play with the fact that when the kgotla was meeting some speakers carried more weight than others did because they were "front bench" and not "back bench" speakers. Therefore, I hope he will note that he is deserted in that there is no official Opposition Front Bench speaker.

I hope he will also note that opinion on the Opposition benches reflects opinion in the wider Labour movement. I am in no position to prophesy, but I should be astonished if at the Labour Party conference in the autumn—that is our kgotla; it is our policy-making body —a resolution is not overwhelmingly carried expressing the distress of out people at the original decision of the Labour Government to banish Seretse Khama. The conference will not make its decision out of consideration for the past. It will not try to rake over past dissensions. It will be making decisions solely in the light of a future Labour Government. None of us knows when there will be another Labour Government but we are certain that it will be a matter of a year or two at the most.

The people of Bechuanaland must know what opinion is in this country Even if the matter is to be deferred for several years, there are still some important considerations which must be faced squarely in this House as well as in Africa. Some of us voted against the banishment of Seretse Khama at that time. It was against our own Labour Government that we voted, and that is a measure of the strength we feel on this subject.

I believe that the Government today are taking a most reactionary and dangerous step in trying to re-establish Rasebolai with all the authority of a chief, because we are quibbling over words when we say that because he does not wear some ceremonial garment he is not the Chief. In fact, all the Government are trying to do is to have Rasebolai accepted as leader of the tribe In this instance I believe that tradition and progress go together. Seretse Khama is the traditional chieftain, and also the person to re-establish among his own people the best hope of ordered progress in those parts of Africa.

Bechuanaland must know what future decisions are going to be made, because if Rasebolai can operate in the meantime simply as a custodian—and Seretse's banishment was originally for five years a the most—then the whole matter will be reconsidered, and if his people want him back a future Government here will no obstruct his return, which would be the way to minimise differences inside that tormented territory at the present time Let the tribe know that their hereditary chieftain will once again be submitted to them at some not too distant time in the future when they can decide. If at that time in the future they reject him that is their responsibility, but we feel that we have done a wrong and we must right that wrong.

There are three levels of this debate. The Minister tried to get the facts accurately stated about the recent kgotla. I am not going to discuss whether 14 voted for Rasebolai or whether 12 voted for Seretse Khama. That is almost irrelevant. I have watched a strike position deteriorate, not because the original reason which brought the men out was unjust, but because, as the weeks and the months passed, seductive speakers told the men that they could not have their wives and children starving, that obviously all wanted peace and a settlement and that all should do their best to get such a settlement.

The odd thing about human beings is that not only do they believe in material things but they have also values and principles. Again and again people will be found to take action against their own material interests because they think an injustice has been done. It is no use coming to us and saying, "Let us forget the original cause of all the trouble so that we can settle down when some kind of order will come through." I do not believe that even if opposition vanished inside Great Britain and other parts of the world, it will vanish inside Bechuanaland.

There has been talk about the administrative problem inside Bechuanaland. It is very important for the people there and also for us because have have the responsibility. We all want a settlement that will enable these people to go forward with progressive schemes, and I think in this case the person to do that is Seretse Khama, not because I am in favour of the hereditary principle, not because I have any passion for the principle of hereditary chieftainship, but because I believe that this particular chieftain has been put in his present position because he chose to marry an extremely distinguished woman of my own race.

Ruth Khama has not been brought into this debate, yet we must know she plays an important part in this matter. She is a very clever woman who has distinguished herself in her own life. Here you have two people who might have done so much to help inter-racial relationships in Africa. We have not to think in terms of the last 50 years but in terms of the next 50 years. Here we have a marriage of two people who are intrinsically worthwhile, and instead of an enlightened British Government standing behind them and easing their problem, we have subjected them to every kind of hardship and psychological and emotional strain so that they have to be as good as they are to survive.

The administrative problems inside Bechuanaland are important and we want the best possible way of solving them. We believe that Seretse Khama's return as president of his council would be on the side of every progressive measure that we together should try to carry forward. We have to remember that sometimes an injustice, though it may seem small in territory, in scale and in the number of people involved, nevertheless can become a symbol for the entire world.

It so happens that Seretse Khama's banishment is a symbol among both coloured and white people in Africa, America and anywhere else. I had a conference on African affairs in my constituency at the week-end. We gave a chance for questions to be put forward, and though there were few it is very worthy of note that when the questions came in they showed that the issue which dominates the British public's mind about Africa and which was repeated over and over again was, "What are we going to do with Seretse Khama, when is he returning to his tribe?"

Hon. Members opposite may think that foolish and they may object to it, but the fact is that progressive British public opinion feels we have behaved in a most reactionary way in this instance. We have it on our conscience and we believe we ought to stand behind a young couple like Ruth Khama and Seretse Khama, that that is the future way to improve inter-racial relations, and that we have here a unique opportunity of marrying together the best hopes of progress by seeing that the hereditary chieftainship in this instance is not victimised for behaving in the way of future values instead of being intimidated and overpowered by racial hatreds.

12.27 p.m.

Photo of Mr Charles Fletcher-Cooke Mr Charles Fletcher-Cooke , Darwen

I think that a fresh voice in the innumerable debates on this subject, if not a fresh mind, may be acceptable to the House. I come to this subject with a comparatively open mind and I am, therefore extremely interested to hear from the hon. Member for Gravesend (Sir R. Acland) and the hon. Member for Cannock (Miss Lee) that they are so certain that they are right in this matter that they are not prepared to let the course which the Government are now trying out to have a fair chance. That is the real burden of their speeches. The hon. Lady said, "I do not believe that the opposition"—meaning the opposition to Rasebolai—"in Bechuanaland will, in fact, disappear." I hope by that she did not mean that she did not want it to disappear.

Photo of Miss Jennie Lee Miss Jennie Lee , Cannock

The hon. Member will probably remember that what I said was that if Rasebolai could operate in the meantime on the basis of his merely being a custodian and that Seretse Khama might, in all probability, be returning in the next few years it would be more successful with the tribe than trying to say, as the Government spokesman did, that this is the end of the matter and that Seretse Khama will never return.

Photo of Mr Charles Fletcher-Cooke Mr Charles Fletcher-Cooke , Darwen

Instead of calming the situation, that seems to be the most irritating way of further irritating this tormented tribe, as the hon. Lady called it, and leaving them still in uncertainty and still unable to fix their loyalty upon somebody with a degree of permanency and with a chance for future stability. If the hon. Lady thinks that it is impossible for this tribe to fix their loyalty permanently upon someone other than Seretse Khama, then I beg of her to think that she may be wrong.

After all, if it is only possible that she is wrong, is it not worth trying it? Greater women than herself and greater men than myself and anybody in this House today have admitted from time to time, when the circumstances demanded it, that they may have been wrong, and were prepared to give the thing a chance. To calm the fears of the hon. Member for Gravesend, I would say that I do not think that is an immoral attitude to adopt, or somehow a derogation from one's duty.

Nobody felt more strongly between 1931 and 1935 than the present Prime Minister that the action then being taken by the National Government about India was wrong. Yet in 1935 he came to this House and said, "Well, I must give this a chance; I may have been wrong about it." If a man as great as that could take that attitude about India, then surely the Members of the Opposition can take the same attitude about Rasebolai and the Bamangwato Tribe.

Throughout the history of this country it has been one of our prides that we can, if necessary, after 20 hours or more debate, as my hon. Friend said, say, "Well, perhaps we were wrong. We have been beaten over and over again on this point. It is at least possible that we are wrong, so let us give the thing a trial." That is all that the Government are asking for at present, and I submit that it is not asking very much.

The alternative thesis is to keep going the present status quo of rule by district officers without any native authority and without any native rule at all, at least until the end of the five-year period. I do not think that the hon. Lady's suggestion about Rasebolai ruling for an interim period is a practical one. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East and Christchurch (Mr. N. Nicolson) said, what is wanted—and everybody admits this—is some surety now, not in five or 10 years' time, on which the future economic and political development of this area can be built. It is no good saying that we are to have another interim arrangement, that we are to put somebody in for a few months or a few years. What is wanted is a permanent arrangement.

The whole hereditary principle, which the hon. Lady dislikes so much in other cases, but likes so much here, is evidence of the fact that particularly among primitive people it is permanence and stability that is wanted most of all. To produce another interim arrangement is to fly in the face of all those psychological needs.

As I said, coming to this with a comparatively fresh mind, it seems to me that what the Government are asking today is so very little that only people with completely closed minds could grudge them what they ask. They are asking for a chance to see what they can do with a situation which they inherited and did not create, and it is considerably lacking in political magnanimity for hon. Members opposite not to grant them that small request.

Photo of Mr William Morrison Mr William Morrison , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

The last subject which I had down for the Adjournment has been withdrawn. I see that hon. Members on both sides still desire to speak on this matter, and if it would suit the convenience of the House I would propose to call another speaker from both sides and postpone the ending of this debate for another half an hour or so, if that is agreeable to the House.

Photo of Mr Fenner Brockway Mr Fenner Brockway , Eton and Slough

On a point of order. You say, Mr. Speaker, that you propose to call a speaker from each side of the House. Does that mean that after one from this side and one from the other has been called, you will conclude the debate?

Photo of Mr William Morrison Mr William Morrison , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

I propose to call one on my left and one on my right and then the hon. Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Fenner Brockway).

12.35 p.m.

Photo of Mr Michael Foot Mr Michael Foot , Plymouth, Devonport

The hon. Member for Darwen (Mr. Fletcher-Cooke) has pleaded with hon. Members on this side to consider whether we may not be wrong on this subject, That seems a very peculiar appeal to make, because our plea to the Government is to consider whether, in fact, they may not have been wrong, as we believe the evidence which has piled up since the first action was taken by the Labour Government in this respect has proved. Every proceeding that has taken place in Bechuanaland since that time seems to confirm the criticism that was made of the original action taken by the Labour Government.

The hon. Gentleman, like the Minister, pleaded with us not to use any words that might cause difficulties in Bechuanaland, and we were asked to believe that the only way to operate was for the House to accept the decision taken by the Government and not to say anything that might cause difficulties. I seem to recall that words of a very similar nature were used by my right hon. Friend when he was the Minister in charge of this matter. In a debate on Tshekedi, my right hon. Friend said how dangerous it would be for the tribe if it were believed that Tshekedi was to be sent back and that his banishment was to be lifted.

But the Opposition did not exercise such restraint on that occasion. They pressed what was, in effect, a vote of censure on the Government. We had a full day's debate, and many passions were raised in the course of it. Therefore, it is really very strange that this appeal should be made by the present Minister.

Photo of Sir John Foster Sir John Foster , Northwich

There is rather a difference here. We have embarked on a course of action which is going well. Things are actually happening, and all I asked was that we should suspend judgment to see if things would continue to go well.

Photo of Mr Michael Foot Mr Michael Foot , Plymouth, Devonport

I will deal with that in a moment. I was recalling that on precisely this same kind of matter the Opposition went ahead, despite the difficulties which the spokesmen of the Government at that time said might be caused by so doing.

Reference to that debate makes us very doubtful about some of the information given to us by the Commonwealth Relations Department, because the burden of the claim made by the Minister at that time was that serious difficulties would be caused if Tshekedi went back. That argument has now been proved to be false and all the information presented to the House by the Commonwealth Relations Department on that occasion has been proved to be wrong. Tshekedi went back and none of the serious consequences foretold came about. Therefore, we have a distrust of such information. This attempt on the part of the Minister to try to diminish the evidence for the support of Seretse among the tribe is not new. We have heard it before. We heard it from the right hon. Gentleman's predecessor. But at nearly all the meetings that have taken place year after year, we have had evidence that almost the overwhelming majority of the tribe wanted Seretse back.

Photo of Sir John Foster Sir John Foster , Northwich

Mr. Foster indicated dissent.

Photo of Mr Michael Foot Mr Michael Foot , Plymouth, Devonport

The Minister shakes his head. I am not altogether convinced that the evidence supplied to us by the Commonwealth Relations Department is really any better than that supplied by the correspondent of "The Times." It will take a lot to convince me about that, particularly when we know that much of the evidence submitted by the Commonwealth Relations Department on this point has proved to be wrong, as in the case of the return of Tshekedi.

Photo of Sir John Foster Sir John Foster , Northwich

I think the hon. Gentleman will find that the report in "The Times" of yesterday shows that the previous reports were corrected.

Photo of Sir John Foster Sir John Foster , Northwich

If the hon. Gentleman looks at it, he will see that, in fact, the report was corrected by implication.

Photo of Mr Michael Foot Mr Michael Foot , Plymouth, Devonport

I read the report. I do not have it with me, but it seems that the Minister has read into it somewhat different implications than I have done. Certainly the impression which I still have from the report in "The Times," which I believe to be the correct impression, and which, I think, the Minister believes to be the correct impression, is that certainly a good majority of the members of the tribe, if they had their free choice, would still prefer to have Seretse back. That is the fact of the matter. We have had arguments from previous Ministers trying to diminish this evidence of support for Seretse, and yet it still continues to go on despite the temptations, referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock (Miss Lee), of how people might be attracted away if they thought that the Government had made a final decision.

Now, I come to the second argument used by the Minister when appealing to us not to use incautious words. He says that things are going well, that this appointment has been received well, even by those who were the supporters of Seretse, and that they have acted with great restraint. I hope they go on acting with great restraint. But we have no right to trade on their restraint in order to continue perpetrating a gross injustice. The more restrained these supporters of Seretse show themselves to be, the more we should examine our consciences to see whether we are right.

One of the most impressive things I have read in the stories from Africa in recent years was the story of what happened in the South African election, when it was said to be a quiet election. In the few days before the election took place, stories were going around that there was to be a strike. Many of the leaders of the Africans ran considerable risks to appeal to the Africans not to take strike action and not to take violent action. They did that not because they had even any great hopes of what could be the outcome of the election, because both the parties campaigning in that election were very unfriendly to their claims; and yet these people, whom some would call not fully civilised, showed themselves much more civilised than the white people in an election, because in the circumstances they acted with great restraint. Certainly in that case we would have no right to say that because the Africans were restrained, therefore they did not feel deeply.

Equally, in this case, the Minister has no right to act upon the assumption that because they do not take violent actions, because they do not show their feelings violently, they do not feel any less strongly on that account. That would be a most dangerous principle for the Minister to put forward. Therefore, the more restrained that the supporters of Seretse are, the more we have an obligation to consider what is the claim they are making to us.

The Minister says that what the Government are seeking is a rough degree of unanimity in the tribe. It is the policy of two successive Governments that has destroyed the rough degree of unanimity in the tribe. Therefore, the responsibility rests on those who have been responsible for provoking this disunity. It is no good the hon. and learned Gentleman justifying the morality of this action by comparing it with the morality of the action taken by the previous Government, because many of us claim that both actions were immoral.

Not merely do we claim that. When hon. Members who now occupy the other side of the House were sitting on this side, they also said it was immoral.

Photo of Sir Beresford Craddock Sir Beresford Craddock , Spelthorne

Mr. Beresford Craddock (Spelthorne) indicated dissent.

Photo of Mr Michael Foot Mr Michael Foot , Plymouth, Devonport

Not in the case of Seretse. What they said in the case of Tshekedi was that it was immoral to banish from his native land a man who had committed no crime. That is exactly what is happening to Seretse. There is no difference whatever in the injustice which is being done to the individual.

I remember a most impressive speech made by Lord Salisbury in another place, when he, who later became the Minister responsible for this action, said. "Expediency is a most dangerous counsellor" and made a moving appeal that all considerations of expediency, or even of what might happen in the tribe, must be laid aside in face of the simple demand that Tshekedi should be allowed to live in his own country. We are saying that Seretse Khama is not allowed to live in his own country, and he has committed no crime.

I was hoping that the Government might have said something more. Although we are all grateful to my hon. Friend who raised this matter, I certainly agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock that this is not a closed issue. It cannot be allowed to be a closed issue because the question of whether men who have committed no crime should be banished from their native land cannot remain a closed issue. It is one that has to be fought.

I would only hope that the Government still would reconsider the matter. The Prime Minister, perhaps, might be the kind of person who would reconsider the issue in the light of what was once said by Edmund Burke, who did know something about relations in the British Empire at that time. He said that "Magnanimity is not seldom the highest wisdom." It is we in this country who have the duty to show magnanimity on this issue. The way we can show magnanimity is by saying that both sides, both Governments and both parties, committed a monstrous injustice and that we would seek to wipe the slate clean. I believe that if that happened, there is no Member of the House who doubts that the effect, not merely in the tribe but throughout Africa, would be of enormous advantage to the whole cause of good relations and co-operation between white and coloured peoples all over the world.

12.46 p.m.

Photo of Mr Cuthbert Alport Mr Cuthbert Alport , Colchester

Perhaps the most significant feature of this debate is the complete absence of any Member of the Opposition Front Bench, who might normally be expected to put the official point of view of the Opposition on this matter. It shows that the debate has been raised primarily by a small group belonging to the Labour Party who are determined to pursue this matter to what may very well, and unknown to them, be a bitter end.

It is very interesting to those of us who have sat in the House and heard the speech of the hon. Lady the Member for Cannock (Miss Lee) to hear her lift aside the curtain of the future, not only the future after the next Election, but also the future that will take place at the Labour Party Conference in October. She told us that she would be very much surprised if in spite of the fact that, quite clearly, the Opposition Front Bench here do not consider it of sufficient importance to turn up for this debate, in spite of the fact that the platform at the Labour Party Conference will oppose, or, at any rate, look askance at, the motion that is to be discussed and passed there, it will be passed by the body of the hall.

Photo of Mrs Eirene White Mrs Eirene White , Flintshire East

We are on an Adjournment debate and are not discussing a Motion. I point out in fairness to our own Front Bench that it is not customary for an Opposition Front Bench speaker to take part in a debate on the Adjournment

Photo of Mr Cuthbert Alport Mr Cuthbert Alport , Colchester

In my experience it is customary for them, not, perhaps, to take part in the debate, but certainly to be present and to listen to the arguments, and if necessary, if they think it right, to support the point of view of their supporters behind them if they think that it carries weight. It is clear, however, that those who normally occupy the Opposition Front Bench do not consider that this is an appropriate subject for a debate of this sort. In that we entirely agree with them.

I wish, however, that the hon. Member for Cannock had raised the curtain a little further on the future political history. Would she tell us, for instance, who is to be the next Prime Minister if the Labour Party are to be returned after the next Election? Would she tell us what is to be the policy of the Government apart from this one item regarding Seretse? The truth is that the hon. Lady and hon. Gentlemen on the other side who have spoken—I exclude the hon. Lady the Member for Flint, East (Mrs. White)—have not been speaking for the great mass of the Parliamentary Labour Party.

What is more, they have tried to give an impression that the great majority of the Parliamentary Labour Party are opposed to the Government's handling of this situation when that is not so. That is borne out by the speech of the hon. Lady the Member for Flint, East, because whereas at the beginning of the debate it appeared that her speech would be directed to be a criticism of my hon. and learned Friend the Undersecretary of State for Commonwealth Relations and of the policy of the Government with regard to Rasebolai, by the end of her speech she had moved on to quite different grounds. Indeed, she had accepted—and we welcome that—the policy of the Government in appointing Rasebolai to be the Native Authority. What is more, she had turned constructively and properly to considering what were the next steps that lie ahead. That, surely, is the right way in which this should be tackled.

I can only feel that the display given by the hon. Member for Devonport (Mr. Foot), and the hon. Lady the Member for Cannock—I do not want to anticipate the hon. Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Fenner Brockway)—is a further attempt to confuse the Bamangwato Tribe on this very important issue and to raise the hopes of that unfortunate young man Seretse Khama. They know quite well that they have no justification for doing so, but that it will add to the very great problem and difficulties which already exist in Africa and stir the fires of racial intolerance for which they have no right nor justification.

The hon. Baronet the Member for Grayesend (Sir R. Acland) said that Christianity, the philosophy of Freud and of Karl Marx all pointed towards a deterioration in the position in Africa and the relation between the races. It is monstrous for any hon. Member, on either side of the House, to use arguments of that sort, apparently without conceding the philosophical conflict between the three points of view which he quoted. If we are to have our judgment in this matter affected by arguments of that sort, quite clearly this House will no longer be taken seriously by thinking people outside.

What is more, if we are to have a small group—a "ginger group" or whatever they call themselves—of dissidents in the official Opposition using their position to try to portray that they represent the great mass of the Members of their party in this House—which they know they do not—or the great mass of the people of this country—which equally they know they do not—they are making the procedure of this House and debates of this House carry much less weight overseas than they should. It is quite clear that the vast majority of hon. Members on both sides are behind the decision of Her Majesty's Government to take a step forward to resolve the political problems of the tribe in the Protectorate by appointing Rasebolai.

We believe that this is a correct decision in the interests of the tribe, in the interests also of the progress of the whole of that Protectorate. It is also a step forward towards resolving some of those fearful difficulties with which we are faced in Africa as a whole and which many speeches to which we have listened in this House, not only on this occasion but on past occasions, from hon. Members below the Gangway, have done so much to make more complicated and more dangerous.

I believe that in Africa one can only take one short step at a time to resolve the problems which face us. It is no good thinking that we can get a pattern solution for all those problems at one fell swoop. What we can do is to take it step by step. In that way I think we shall help towards a successful future for that continent.

12.54 p.m.

Photo of Mr Fenner Brockway Mr Fenner Brockway , Eton and Slough

May I begin by assuring the hon. and learned Gentleman the Undersecretary that I shall try to speak today in a way which will help the welfare of the Bamangwato tribe? I want to assure him that in the whole of this matter that is my concern and that personal considerations are not my concern. I shall do my best to forget the very provocative speech which has just been delivered by the hon. Member for Colchester (Mr. Alport) which seemed to me very unworthy of him on an occasion of this kind.

We have raised this debate because we believe that behind it are very fundamental issues. The hon. and learned Gentleman the Under-Secretary has suggested that "The Times" report of the proceedings of the recent kgotla were an inaccurate reflection of what occurred there. I only want to say to him that I also have received very detailed reports of what took place at the kgotla and that the reports which have reached me are nearer to the interpretation of "The Times" than the interpretation which the hon. and learned Gentleman gave today. I shall not stress that because I agree with him that when political conferences take place—when kgotlas take place—it is difficult to judge the real mind of a movement, or of a people, by the number of speeches which are delivered, or even by the murmurings of applause.

Photo of Sir John Foster Sir John Foster , Northwich

Does the hon. Member think that the phrase: another of the endless succession of Seretse supporters was correct?

Photo of Mr Fenner Brockway Mr Fenner Brockway , Eton and Slough

There was a series of supporting speeches. The point which I raised in my supplementary question was the remark by "The Times" that one thing was clear from this kgotla. It was that the people did not want Rasebolai as their chief.

Our main complaint against the Government on this issue is that after the kgotla had met and—I will not put it more strongly than this—when it was quite clear there was nothing like unanimity as to who should be their chief or their leader, within a few days the Government appointed Rasebolai, one of the candidates who was not accepted and who, in my view, was decisively not accepted, as the Native Authority with, to use the term used by the hon. and learned Gentleman, "chiefly powers." As the hon. Member for Bournemouth, East and Christchurch (Mr. N. Nicolson) said, while Rasebolai is not to be the nominal chief, he will, in fact, carry out the duties of a chief. I say to the hon. and learned Gentleman that it was an affront to the tribe, after that kgotla had met and after it had declined to appoint Rasebolai as chief, that within a few days he should have been made the Native Authority with chiefly powers.

I will refrain from saying anything which is likely to make the administration of Rasebolai more difficult. I cannot judge, but the hon. and learned Gentleman will forgive me if I cannot accept his assurance as to what has happened since Rasebolai was appointed Native Authority. The hon. and learned Gentleman said that Rasebolai had begun well. Just as I came into the Chamber I received a very long report of the situation in Bechuanaland in which it is quite clear that the supporters of Seretse—who I think must be regarded still as the great majority in the tribe— maintain in the strongest possible way their opposition to the appointment of Rasebolai as chief.

I will read two or three sentences: The Bamangwato neither want Rasebolai as their chief nor as their Native Authority. They regard him in the true political sense as a usurper, for he has been instrumental in the exile of Chief Seretse Khama against the support and the will of the majority of the tribe.

Photo of Sir John Foster Sir John Foster , Northwich

Whose views are those?

Photo of Mr Fenner Brockway Mr Fenner Brockway , Eton and Slough

This document is signed by Mr. L. D. Raditladi, who is acting as secretary of the supporters of Seretse Khama. and I have no doubt that they are the vast majority of the tribe.

After one further reference I will leave that matter, so as not to prejudice the attempt which is being made. My further reference is to the statement about the cabinet which Rasebolai has gathered around him. As I understand, it consists of 13 members but invitations have been given to only three supporters of Seretse Khama. I do not think that there is any doubt about the view of the majority of the tribe on this matter. I suggest to the hon. and learned Gentleman that this does not indicate that Rasebolai is seeking to undertake these duties in the broad way which he suggested. With those comments on the present experiment I will be content.

I turn to the much more fundamental issue of the right of the tribe to select their own chief. Like the hon. Lady the Member for Cannock (Miss Lee), I have no reverence for hereditary titles. That is not the ground upon which those of us on these benches have supported the claim of Seretse Khama to return to the Bamangwato as their chief. The ground on which we have supported it is that of democracy. A tribe have the right to appoint their own leader.

The difficulty occurred only because Seretse Khama, when he was in this country, married a white woman. About that I want to say that there is a feeling among Africans against mixed marriages just as there is among a certain section of whites. The first kgotla of the Bamangwato was uncertain about it.

Photo of Mr Fenner Brockway Mr Fenner Brockway , Eton and Slough

The first kgotla of the Bamangwato was uncertain about it.

Photo of Sir Beresford Craddock Sir Beresford Craddock , Spelthorne

The first kgotla of the tribe was overwhelmingly against Seretse. That is on record.

Photo of Mr Fenner Brockway Mr Fenner Brockway , Eton and Slough

I said that the first kgotla was uncertain about it. I used that phrase deliberately because of all the circumstances under which that kgotla met.

Photo of Sir John Foster Sir John Foster , Northwich

At the first tribal meeting in November, 1948, when it was still thought that Seretse might give up his European wife, there was an almost unanimous condemnation of the marriage.

Photo of Mr Fenner Brockway Mr Fenner Brockway , Eton and Slough

I used these words deliberately. I hope that the hon. and learned Gentleman does not think that I was trying to mislead anyone. I used the word, "uncertain", because in the circumstances in which that kgotla mot it is very doubtful whether the decision which the hon. and learned Gentleman quoted represented the considered view of the tribe as a whole. It was only in that sense that I used the word "uncertain."

I wanted to say that, the first kgotla having decided in that way, in the series of kgotlas which followed the tribe declared their desire that Seretse Khama should return to them as chief. I regard that as quite remarkable. I am one of those who believe that in the human family the future race will develop from the intermingling of peoples and of colours. It is only when we have that kind of relationship between the peoples of the world that we are likely to advance to the ultimate human family.

I believe that for this African tribe, with the prejudices which there were among Africans as among whites, to say, "We will still welcome Seretse as our chief; we will welcome Ruth"—as they did when she went into their midst—was a great pioneer decision. Any Government of vision which had the future in mind would have welcomed it as such and would have said that a great historical step in human relationship had been taken.

Instead of that, not only the Government of hon. Gentlemen opposite but the Labour Government as well decided that, in the circumstances, despite the desire of the Bamangwato themselves, Seretse Khama should not return. The Labour Government's decision, despite what has been said on the benches opposite, was limited to the period of five years. I do not want to be dogmatic on this point, but I doubt whether any of my hon. Friends would disagree that opinion in the Labour Party, which is reflective of opinion throughout the country, has changed on this matter of Seretse Khama to the point that, if Labour again came into office, the movement and our party would require the Government to change the decision which they reached when they were in office earlier.

I say to the hon. and learned Gentleman who appealed to me to regard this as a closed matter that I admitted to Lord Swinton when we met him in deputation that it would be possible for the Government to break the spirit of the Bamangwato Tribe and that they might, by the imprisonment of leaders and by the condition of vacuum and deterioration in the Bamangwato, bring them to a point where they said, "Yes, we will give up Seretse." But I also said that if a power and a strength could destroy a spirit in that way it was nothing of which to be proud: it was something of which to be ashamed. It could be done after years and years if the Government had the power to do it; but so long as those people desire that Seretse Khama shall return to be their leader they have the right to make the decision. They have the right to make the choice, otherwise we are tearing up in this House all democratic principles and all the beliefs in democratic choice about which we so frequently boast.

Bechuanaland is on the frontier of the Union of South Africa. We have often condemned the practice of the colour-bar and of racial discrimination in the Union. The most effective way to influence events in the Union is to give a model in our own Protectorates of racial equality and progress in educational, social and economic affairs. Seretse Khama has become the symbol of racial equality throughout the world. As long as he is excluded from Bechuanaland we have no moral right to condemn racial discrimination in the Union of South Africa. We ourselves, in our own area, are committing the very crime for which we condemn them.

I want to see Bechuanaland and the Protectorates moving towards race equality and social, educational and economic advance. I say to the hon. and learned Gentleman that I think he has the motive in the present decision of seeking to end that vacuum, and hoping, by ending it, that social, educational and economic advance can take place. It may be an interim solution; but I say to him, finally, that, if there is to be social, educational and economic advance, the first condition of it must be to secure the cooperation of the Bamangwato Tribe. That co-operation will not be forthcoming as long as we do not recognise their right to choose their own leader and choose their own chief.

If we are to make Bechuanaland and the Protectorates an example of the kind of society which we would like to see in South Africa, then our first duty is to stretch out our hands to the Bamangwato people and say to them, "Yes, we recognise the democratic principle that you have the right to choose your own leader, and choose your own chief; choose him." We shall then find that they will respond in co-operating with us to make these Protectorates the kind of example of equality and of social, educational and economic progress which is the desire of us all.