21 JUNE 1963, Page 5

Unscrambling Federation

TN bringing Mr. Winston Field to agree to 'attend the Victoria Falls Conference on the dis- solution of the Federation after all, Mr. Butler has achieved more than seemed possible a few weeks ago. But it is still not very much. The very most that the Conference can hope to achieve will be the setting-up of machinery to discuss the dis- tribution of the Federal Debt and the Federal services. If things go well, some progress may Perhaps be made in the matter of retaining some economic and communication ties. But the dis- cussions will take place between basically irrecon- cilable parties and with only Mr. Butler acting as an intermediary. It is quite wrong to argue that Mr. Field has substantially changed his position. He has agreed to attend the Conference, which is clearly in his own interest, and that is all. On the same day that Mr. Butler announced that Mr. Field would be attending Mr. Field was himself busy telling his own Parliament that on the ques- tion of independence and constitutional advance for the Africans he had not given one inch. So much is anyway clear from his letters. In fact, the only legal argument against independence is that none of the territories can become indepen- dent while they remain members of the Federa- tion. If Victoria Falls does nothing else, it should remove this objection and so strengthen Mr. Field's position.

One can admire the gradual way in which Mr. }Antler has brought the British position into the °Pen, that is to bargain both economic aid and independence against constitutional advance, but the fact remains that the situation might now have been considerably less difficult if the British Government had made this condition clear in the first place. An encouraging sign is the way the Government are now prepared to take into account the views of the rest of the Common- wealth (and it is evident that these have some weight with Mr. Field) but it can still be asked Whether these views are going to be allowed to have any influence on our policy towards South Africa. The fact is that any concession Mr. Butler does eventually succeed in winning from Mr. Field is going to be small, and will not be Counted by the rest of the Commonwealth, and still less by Mr. Nkomo, as sufficient. One cannot escape the feeling that however clever Mr. Butler, and Mr. Field, have been in postponing the show down, pewn, the showdown is still to come. Meanwhile ,fle urgent problem of giving a new constitution E° Northern Rhodesia has had to be temporarily shelved. This could be disastrous.