Orders of the Day — African Territories

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 31st July 1957.

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Photo of Mr Fenner Brockway Mr Fenner Brockway , Eton and Slough 12:00 am, 31st July 1957

I must express my personal regret to you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, to the Minister, to the staff of the House, and to my colleagues for keeping them at this hour of the morning, but I make no apology for raising the issues to which I wish to draw the attention of the House.

This is an historic occasion; the occasion when hon. Members may raise grievances before voting Supply. We should remember that this House represents not only about 50 million people of the United Kingdom, but also about 70 millions in the Colonies, Protectorates, and Trusteeship areas of the Commonwealth. We should be failing in our duty if we allowed the vote to be taken this morning without first drawing attention to some of the grievances from which those people overseas are suffering.

I have given notice that I wish to raise, particularly, questions related to three Colonial Territories. These are urgent issues as we are about to adjourn for the Summer Recess, and long before the three months of that Summer Recess are passed, action by the Colonial Secretary may be found necessary because of the intensity of interest upon these issues.

The first territory is that of Nigeria. There has recently been in London a conference of representatives of Nigeria to discuss its constitutional problems, and at the end of that conference disappointment was expressed by the leaders of the three regions of Nigeria—the north, the west, and the east—that it had concluded without a date for the independence of the country having been settled. The basis for discussion at that conference was that there were certain issues about which the Nigerians themselves were divided. There was, for example, the question of the regions and the creation of new States; the question of revenue allocation between the Federation and the regional areas, the question of the basis of the franchise, and even the boundaries of constituencies. There was the question of the control of the police force as between the centre and the regional areas. The Colonial Secretary urged that these issues should be settled before the date for independence was decided.

I want to take this opportunity to urge that an entirely different policy should have been pursued on that occasion, and I think the precedent is to be found in the case of India. There were there problems just as wide and deep as the problems unsettled in Nigeria, but the British Government at that point had the wisdom to say, "We will withdraw from India in August, 1947; settle for yourselves these problems in relation to that date of withdrawal." If first on the agenda of the Nigerian conference had been the date of independence, which was unanimously supported by all the delegations at that conference, if that had been settled first, the problems of states, of franchise, of revenue and of police would have fallen into place and the delegates would not have gone back to their Colony disappointed as they are now.

We now run the risk of losing the confidence of the people of Nigeria, the largest remaining British Colony, with 30 million people. I feel that the disappointment which was very moderately expressed by the Prime Ministers in London may be expressed more vigorously by the people of that territory.

There is one particular question which I want to put to the Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies. Both in London and in Nigeria the view has been expressed that the reason why no definite date was set for independence for Nigeria was the fear of its reactions in Central Africa; its reactions upon the African populations of Central Africa who, after the independence of Ghana, if that were succeeded by a definite date about Nigeria, might be unwilling to accept the European domination of that territory; also the reaction of the European leaders in Central Africa who would be indignant if the independence of Ghana were followed by the independence of Nigeria while the independence of the Federation of Nyasaland and the Rhodesias was not promised.

No one would welcome the independence of Nyasaland, Northern Rhodesia and Central Africa more wholeheartedly than we would if that independence were based upon democracy, but I suggest that there is no reason why, because of the absence of democracy in Central Africa, the attainment of independence for Nigeria should be postponed. That was the first issue I wanted to raise with the Parliamentary Secretary.

The second issue relates to Kenya. I first went to Kenya in 1950, and I had a dream then of the great possibility of realising in that territory, with its African, Asian, Arab and European population, a real human society in which colour and race would be lost in equality and cooperation. One of the memorable events of my life was an occasion when, in 1950, representatives of the African, Asian, European and Arab races in Kenya gathered together, and we urged human equality between all races for the future of Kenya.

I do not want to go back over the history which has followed. I recognise that the realisation of that ideal is difficult because of the different social patterns, different cultures and different ways of life of the races. But I want to urge tonight that the time has come, if we are to move forward in Kenya to that ideal, when all communities in Kenya should declare as their purpose and goal a democratic society which would not think of colour or race but think of human beings as equals in society. We have gone a long way in that direction. We now have the very striking fact that the leaders of the Asian community, of the Arab community, and of the African community have all declared that to be their purpose. The only community in Kenya the leaders of which have not declared that to be their purpose is the European.

Something very significant has recently occurred. For the first time in Kenya there has been the direct election of African representatives. There were candidates who stand for black nationalism, who stood for Africa for the Africans, for Kenya for the Africans, who were anti-White and anti-European, wanting to drive the Europeans out. Every one of those candidates was rejected by the African electors. The representatives of the African community who are now in the Legislative Council of Kenya all stand for the human society and equality between races of which I dreamed seven years ago.

I ask the Parliamentary Secretary to use what influence the Colonial Office has here to get the leaders of the European community in Kenya to say what the leaders of the African, Asian and Arab communities have said about their desire for an egalitarian democracy in which man shall have a vote as man and woman shall have a vote as woman, the issue no longer being decided by colour, community or race. I am aware that those things are sometimes said by the leaders of the European community when they are in London. We are now asking them to say them when they are in Nairobi.

There is an immediate test to the principle which I have been urging, and that is the claim of the Africans for greater representation in the Legislative Council of Kenya. There are 6 million Africans in Kenya; there are 300,000 Asians, Europeans and Arabs. At the present time 50,000 Europeans have equal representation in the Legislative Council to the 6,250,000 of the other three races.

The Africans are now making a very moderate and reasonable demand. They are proposing that 6 million Africans should have equal representation to the 300,000 of other races. The Asian leaders have agreed; even the sections of the Asian leaders have agreed—the Hindu leaders and the Muslim leaders. The Arab leaders have agreed. The only obstruction to the proposal comes at the present time from the leaders of the European community. They have recently issued a statement saying that they are willing to accept some increase of African representation, but they go on to state that they are not prepared to accept the domination of any one racial group over the members of the other racial groups, either one or all the other groups together. I have tried very hard, but I cannot find any mathematical process by which one can have representation of four groups and be able to say at the end of one's calculations that neither one group nor three groups have domination over the others.

There have been discussions recently in London with representatives of the Africans and of the European community. I would urge that the matter cannot be left like that, and that during the Summer Recess the Secretary of State for the Colonies should himself go to Kenya and seek to convince the European representatives and leaders, as the Asian and Arab leaders have already agreed, to accept the African demand that 6 million people should at least have equal representation to the 300,000 who represent the other races.

Before I leave this subject, I want to urge that we ought to be turning away from the thought of races altogether in Kenya. We should be turning our minds in the direction of a common roll for human beings as human beings. I welcome the publication today of the report of the delegation which has recently been in Kenya and which gives some endorsement to that conception. As long as there are racial groups and candidates must make their appeal on racial grounds, a multi-racial society will remain in Kenya. There will be a human society—an inter-racial society—only when men and women are voting on a common roll as human beings and no longer as racial groups.

The other subject which I indicated to the Minister I wished to raise tonight was the suggestion that there should be a military base in Kenya. We have found it difficult, from White Papers and from Ministerial statements, to know the Government's decision in this regard. The Governor of Kenya stated on his recent visit to this country that all the communities in Kenya would welcome the establishment of a military base there. This is not so.

The African community, by far the largest, would not welcome the establishment of a military base in Kenya. That has been stated in the most emphatic way by the leaders of the African community with whom the Secretary of State for the Colonies has been in discussion during the last few days. They are aware of the political implications of any military base in Kenya.

One of the remarkable features of the British Empire at the present time is that territories like West Africa, Malaya and the West Indies are rapidly moving forward to self-government and independence. There are only two groups of territories which are not moving forward in that way. One is the group in which there are strong European settlements—East Africa and Central Africa. Kenya already has to face that difficulty. The other is the group of territories which are of military strategical importance to this country, such as Cyprus. I beg the Minister not to add to the difficulties of Kenya in moving towards political independence the additional reason that it should become a military base and that on this account the offer of recognition of self-government and independence will be delayed.

The third territory to which I wish to draw attention and of which I have given the hon. Gentleman notice is Central Africa. I want tonight, calmly but nevertheless strongly, to emphasise the danger of the psychology which is arising in that area. This House and this Government have special responsibility for Nyasaland and Northern Rhodesia. No one can have contact with those two territories without understanding how strong is now becoming the opinion among the African populations of antagonism to the British representation in those areas.

We have the extraordinary situation in Nyasaland that the Nyasaland African Congress has actually expelled three leaders from its membership because they would not withdraw from the Federal Parliament. I am in touch with the leaders of the African Congress in Northern Rhodesia and they are at the moment a little nervous because the opinion of their membership is becoming stronger than the expressions which they themselves are giving of its policy. I warn the Under-Secretary of State that a situation is arising in Nyasaland and Northern Rhodesia which, unless we are prepared to meet genuine African grievances, may become exceedingly dangerous.

I am going to leave to my hon. Friend the Member for Wednesbury (Mr. Stonehouse)the subject of racial discrimination in those territories. I want particularly to raise two matters before I proceed to a rather wider one. The first is this: fifty-four officials of the African Miners' Union in the Copperbelt and members of the African Congress have been arrested and deported to an outlying district. I ask the hon. Gentleman how long they are to remain isolated in that way. I understand there is to be a review in October. I very strongly urge upon the Under-Secretary of State that those men should be liberated at the earliest moment possible, if the good will of the African population in the Copper-belt is to be obtained.

The second specific question I want to ask is this. Yesterday a cablegram was received in this country from the leaders of the African Congress in Northern Rhodesia, which lead as follows.

Mass arrests in Northern Province. Maximum sentences. Appeals disallowed. Congress banned. That is in the Northern Province, and the telegram arrived yesterday. That is an indication of the dangerous situation which I have been trying to describe. I appreciate that it is too early to get from the Under-Secretary of State the full facts tonight, but I ask the hon. Gentleman if he will look into that situation and if he will try to prevent that situation which has apparently developed in the Northern Province from becoming still more dangerous.

I wanted especially to deal with the Constitution (Amendment)Bill in Central Africa. I recognise that here I have to be careful because the authority of this House and of the Government in this matter is strictly limited. There are only two spheres in which in this matter we now have the right to express our opinion or to intervene. The first is when the African Affairs Board draws attention to a differentiating Measure. It has done so in the instance of the Constitution (Amendment)Bill. Its opinion is so important that I want to read it in detail as it is reported in The Times this morning: Sir John Moffat, chairman of the African Affairs Board, today presented to the Federal Parliament on behalf of the standing committee a report giving the opinion that the Constitution (Amendment)Bill is a differentiating measure. It is differentiating, the report says, because African peoples of two protectorates would suffer a relative diminution in the small powers they now possess and because of the fact that the Federal House would be increased by a ratio of two-thirds.The board goes on: 'It is as absurd to suggest that African influence is preserved by merely increasing the respective numbers of Africans and elected members in constant ratio as it is to suggest that the influence of elected members is preserved by maintaining the present actual majority of elected members over the rest—namely, 17. The true answer lies between these two methods of assessment, but the fact remains that in the … Bill Africans have suffered a loss in degree of power or influence when compared with the original constitutional provisions.'". In view of that opinion expressed by the African Affairs Board and its distinguished chairman, Sir John Moffat, assent should not be given to the Bill.

The second sphere in which the House and the Government are concerned is that this Bill must be endorsed by the Legislative Councils of Nyasaland and Northern Rhodesia, and it is open to the Secretary of State for the Colonies to advise the Governments of these territories to reject the Bill. I raised this matter with the Secretary of State on 9th July. He said that he had then advised the Governors of Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland that he saw no reason to object to the Bill.

The Bill povides for two electoral rolls. One is a general roll with high economic or educational tests. An income of £60 a month or land valued at £1,500 will require no educational tests. If the income is £25 a month or the land is valued at £500, the Cambridge Overseas School Certificate will be required. On that general roll, 99 per cent. will be Europeans, and those Europeans will elect 44 out of the 59 members of the Assembly.

That electoral roll will be supplemented by a special roll, where an income of at least £15 a month or possession of land valued at £500 will be required. There will be a considerable number of Africans on this roll, but we have the astonishing proposal that the electors on the general roll, who already have the right to elect three-quarters of the House, shall also be placed upon this special roll and shall be able to influence the return of the nine members who will be elected mostly by Africans. I am not surprised that The Times has criticised that provision in the Constitution (Amendment)Bill.

African opinion in Central Africa is incensed against this Measure. There are only 200,000 Europeans there, and there are 6 million Africans. It is said in Central Africa that the Secretary of State for the Colonies came to an understanding with Sir Roy Welensky, while he was in this country, to support this Measure. If that is the case, it is the worst day's work done for Great Britain by any Secretary of State, so far as its influence on the Continent of Africa is concerned. It means this: gone is the day of the paramountcy of the interests of the indigenous people. Instead, the Government are now committed to the paramountcy of the interests of the European minority. There is not only African opposition. There is the African Affairs Board, with its distinguished European chairman; the European members from Southern Rhodesia, where a more liberal franchise has been proposed; Alexander Scott, the Independent Member for Lusaka; the two specially appointed European Members for the Northern Territory in Central Africa—all of them are opposed to this Measure.

I do not want to see a race war in Central Africa, but I give warning to the Government that by supporting this Measure they are encouraging that psychology. I welcome the extension of the franchise to British-protected persons, but this gesture will now be forgotten under the terms of this Bill. There is the danger that the Africans will boycott the special roll——