Orders of the Day — Union of South Africa (Withdrawal from Commonwealth)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 22nd March 1961.

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Photo of Mr Robin Turton Mr Robin Turton , Thirsk and Malton 12:00 am, 22nd March 1961

I understand that many hon. Members want to speak, and if I am continually interrupted I shall take longer than I wish.

How can we repair the damage? Let us recall the precedents of Eire and Burma. On the citizenship aspect, I disagree with the Leader of the Opposition. We can still make provisions for citizenship similar to those that have been made in Ireland. Secondly, on Commonwealth priority and trade, I understood the Prime Minister to say that these, being bilateral agreements, will be continued. I hope very much that that is the construction, and not the construction placed on them by the Leader of the Opposition.

Far more important is the whole system of technical and consultative agencies at present working in the Commonwealth. I hope that we will try, as far as lies in the power of Great Britain, to allow South Africa to continue to participate in the consultation and technical associations. I agree that I must put in a proviso, "As far as lies in our power".

Hitherto, one of the dominant factors of the Commonwealth has been its flexibility, but last Wednesday's decision has quite clearly imported a certain degree of rigidity into the Commonwealth concept. That having happened, I think that the time has come for us to take advantage of that development, and I suggest that my right hon. Friend should consider whether we should not now seek to inaugurate a new relationship—that of external associate of the Commonwealth.

The Expanding Commonwealth Group has put up this suggestion of external relationships in a recent pamphlet "Expanding Obligation". We believe that at this time it is important not to sever the links between primary producing countries, but to strengthen them.

Quite clearly, it would mean that associated countries could not enjoy any of the rights of consultation that are the most important feature of Commonwealth relations, but it would also mean that that pattern of living with mutual economic benefit at which we try to aim through our system of multi-racial partnership could be sought by other methods by those countries which enjoyed that external relationship.

It is not a difficult change—we now have the examples of Eire and Burma, and we could have South Africa in the same sort of relationship. In the Horn of Africa we are facing the problem of Somaliland which, again, might be suitable for this form of external relationship; and I would also mention the Sudan. I think that those are the best ways by which we can try to repair the damage of the tragedy of last week.

I should like to turn for a moment to one other aspect of the problem. As some hon. Members may know, I was, for personal reasons, in Central Africa last week, when the news broke about South Africa. It might be helpful if I told the House how that news was received in the Rhodesias and what was the general public opinion in the Federation, bearing in mind that I had previously been in the Federation as late as the end of January.

I would first remind the House that a great many of those now in North and South Rhodesia are men who have come quite recently from the Union because they have disliked working under apartheid. They have migrated north to try to live in the Federation, leaving their homes in South Africa because they felt that the Boer mentality of apartheid was more reminiscent of the nineteenth than of the twentieth century. They are professional men and tradesmen who have made that march.

Whereas, in January, I found dislike for the British Parliament most noticeable amongst the Right-wing politicians, the rest—both the Centre and the Left—were most anxious to co-operate, especially those in Southern Rhodesia, as I think my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations can testify from the experience of the most successful negotiations that he carried out in Salisbury.

I found last week that there had been a complete change of opinion. The abandonment of the 1958 Constitution in Northern Rhodesia and the realisation that in Nyasaland, as a result of changes made since the Lancaster House Conference, non-Commonwealth citizens are to be enfranchised while Nyasas working in Southern Rhodesia are being disfranchised, have led to a complete mistrust of the British Parliament and, in particular, of Her Majesty's Government. That mistrust could be found among all but a very small minority of Europeans, and among all moderate Africans.

During the last week what they regarded as the incompetent mishandling of the South African problem has accentuated that mistrust. They feel isolated, sandwiched between, on the north, the Congo, where Communist infiltration has led to the abandonment of law and order, and, on the south, the South African Government, who are now outside the Commonwealth, and whose racial discrimination they dislike. This is not the view merely of politicians. My experiences of last week brought me into close contact with professional men who were completely outside politics. This is a crisis of confidence. They have no confidence in Her Majesty's Ministers' ability to determine the future of their country, or to save the multi-racial partnership in which they believe.

Let me try to explain their thoughts. They honestly believe that South Africa has been driven out of the Commonwealth in consequence of an unfortunate speech about the "wind of change". They consider that the Secretary of State for the Colonies has completely abandoned the proposals and pledges of his predecessors in office.