31 JULY 1959, Page 4

Westminster Commentary

SO DR. DALTON, Sir Thomas Dugdale and Mr. Ian Harvey are to remain the only three Ministers since the end of the war who have honourably resigned because circumstances, rather than difference of political opinion, have de- manded that they do so. (And it is worth recalling that of these three Dr. Dalton's transgression was a purely technical one and Mr. Harvey's tragedy had nothing to do with his ministerial conduct.) Some surprise has been expressed—quite apart from the political considerations— that Lennox-Boyd should be determined to cling, even after the Devlin Report, to an office so befouled by stark and shameful failure (nobody is surprised that Mr. Julian Amery should not have resigned). But why? If Lennox-Boyd did not resign after the total wreck of his Cyprus policy, if he did not resign after the Hola killings, why should anybody expect hini to behave any more honourably just because the Nyasa- land 'plot' has turned out to be a fabrication, or because black men being arrested were shot or beaten up, or because Nyasaland is now a police State? Such reasoners show themselves as either hopelessly out of date or incurably naive. The Suez massacre and the subsequent events (it is again worth re- membering that Lennox-Boyd was the most active and vocal member of the Govern- ment in calling for the bombing and invasion of Egypt) showed beyond dispute that this Government, and more particularly the Prime Minister, regards retention of office as an end in itself, and that in no circum- stances whatever, however disgraceful or disastrous the Government's policies may be, will it leave. And the part is contained in the whole; for Mr. Macmillan and his Government to continue in office after the election it is necessary (among other things, one of which he should remember is success at the polls) for Lennox-Boyd to remain Colonial Secretary, even in circumstances as disgraceful as the present ones.

So there we arc. Lennox-Boyd and Mr. Macmillan know that the creatures behind them would, if they were told, march obediently through the Division Lobby to support a policy which had resulted in the hydrogen bomb being dropped on Nyasa- land; they were never in doubt that support would be forthcoming in the requisite num- bers for a policy that has after all resulted in the deaths of 'only' fifty-one natives. And a little beating-up, a little illegality 'ex- pressly or impliedly authorised from the top', a little public lying, a little Sir Robert Armitage, the odd concentration-camp- why should any conscience be troubled by these which remained serene through (and after) Suez, not to mention the Cyprus ex- cesses and the deaths of eleven black men from drinking contaminated water—con- taminated by clubs, sticks, fists and boots? The glasses tinkle their congratulations in the smoking-room, and only weird fellows like me will from now on retch at the sight of Lennox-Boyd.

Which brings us to the first of the three African debates to be held by the House of Commons in a week (nobody at any rate can complain that the House is not paying attention to the subject). A general debate on Central Africa and the problems of Federation, together with the proposed Commission, was a useful general pre- liminary to the more particular discussions of Monday and Tuesday. The main lines of approach could be charted, the atmosphere tested, the canvas swept and sprinkled with resin. And I could not help noting with what precision the main contributors (and indeed many of the minor ones) played in practise the roles that theory had already allotted to them. I have heard Mr. Gaitskell's opening speech described as 'donnish', and I have even met one Member who fell asleep in the course of it (he added, to my stupefaction, that he had never fallen asleep in the House before; and I thought / suffered from in- somnia!), but to my way of thinking it was exactly what was required of the Leader of the Opposition at that point. The Devlin Report debate needed the fire of a Bevan; but the wider subject called for the pre- cision—even the 'statesmanship'—of a Gaitskell (advanced students of the subject should note that although he did 'readily agree' once or twice in the course of his speech, he was at no time 'bound to say' anything 'with the greatest possible respect'. If it will make it any easier for him to keep up this good work, I am prepared to waive all credit for it).

Mr. Gaitskell reminds me on these oc- casions (his masterly and unchallengeable speech on the financial settlement of the Suez invasion was another, and even finer, example of it) of Shaw's description of his first sight of Sidney Webb, addressing a debating society. Webb 'used notes, ticked them off, threw them away'. This is a perfect description of Mr. Gaitskell at his best, as he was on this occasion. His lack of oratori- cal devices has led many observers to over- look the extremely well-shaped—even ele- gant—and vigorous style of his speaking, together with his very wide vocabulary and remarkable fluency (almost alone among front-bench speakers on either side, Mr. Gaitskell is never at a loss, even momentary, for a word).. Point by point he went through his case—`used notes, ticked them off, threw them away'—beginning with the his- tory of Federation and the lamentable lack of progress towards anything that could be described as partnership ea fine word, but it is becoming a little fly-blown'), going on to formulate the minimum of speech and action that is required from the Govern- ment if any further progress is to be made, and ending with a searching examination— exposure would not be too strong a word— of the proposed Commission.

Then we came to the Prime Minister. Mr. Macmillan's greatest single failing (as a speaker, that is; he has failings as a man and a politician that are a great deal more serious) is well known; it is his almost com- plete lack of spontaneity. He is not as bad as Mr. Sandys, of course, who is incapable of any kind of repartee, and who thinks at the speed of a paralysed tortoise, but it has always been noticeable that Mr. Macmillan's jokes and witticisms are almost invariably well-prepared in advance (like the oh-so- amusing, oh-so-human incident the other day with the retirement-pension form that so amusingly dropped through the letter-box of Number Ten and was so humanly re- turned filled in). Faced during a speech with an interjection of substance and force, he is much too frequently at a loss for an answer.

This being so, it was unfortunate that the grossly inaccurate brief with which he had been supplied led him within five minutes of his opening into a description of the political pre-history of Federation that was im- mediately shown, in a devastating retort from Mr. Griffiths, to be totally at variance with the facts. From this setback, Mr. Macmillan might have recovered, though he fumbled it badly; but five minutes later his brief led him to say—in rejecting the idea of a Parliamentary Commission to investigate Federation—'Of course, there is nothing to preclude visits of our Parliamentary dele- gations at any time. Such visits are always useful'. Now for Mr. Macmillan, a calcu- lating politician if he is nothing else (and he is nothing else), to have walked into a trap like that shows that he simply had not

taken the elementary precaution of studying his speech before he made it. For im- mediately, from the fourth Labour bench below the gangway, the long figure of Mr. John Stonehouse was to be seen unrolling itself.

Mr. Stonehouse, after all, knows precisely how much truth there is in the statement that 'there is nothing to preclude visits of our Parliamentary delegations at any time', and had a great mind to let the Prime Minister into the secret. There followed a curious scene. Mr. Macmillan promptly and arrogantly waved his tormentor down; he had realised just too late what Mr. Stone- house was going to say, and didn't want him to say it. Mr. Stonehouse stood his ground, one hand stretched out (he looked like Cranmer) as the Labour cheers rose round him. Eventually Mr. Macmillan realised he would have to give way, and did what he always and unbeautifully does on these occasions—he pretended that he had meant to give way all the time, but that he wanted to finish his paragraph first. But it was clear that he had been thrown badly out of his stride. For some moments he stood at the Box mumbling; the scene reminded me of that at Blackpool last autumn, when he was reduced to complete incoherence by the hecklers, to emerge into sense again with the famous and telling phrase, 'Don't knock him about'. When he had carried on, very shakily, for several minutes without carrying out his promise to give way, the Opposition Front bench began to urge him to do so; there was more mumbling, which eventually resolved itself into the imbecile remark (ac- companied by a jerk in the direction of Mr. Stonehouse), 'Yes, I know him; he's one of your chaps'. I am very sorry, and a little disturbed, that Hansard permitted the ex- punging of this sentence (it was perfectly audible to me at the back of the Press Gallery, so I presume it must have been to the Official Reporters in the front); there is no trace of it in the next day's issue.

Anyway, he finally, and with an ill grace, sat down, and Mr. Stonehouse once more unrolled himself and asked his question. Would the Government take away from the Federation power over immigration so that visits of British MPs to the territories still under United Kingdom responsibility might in fact, as well as the Prime Minister's theory, take place? But the Prime Minister's bolt was shot. He suggested that Mr. Stone- house might give evidence to that effect before the Commission, and passed hurriedly on. And it was noticeable that thereafter until the end of his speech he was very reluctant indeed to give way for any interruption (indeed he did so only once more). Not that, from then on, there was very much to interrupt, for the rest of the speech was a string of platitudes so windy that I had to comb my hair after every paragraph. Just listen to these (I had to); 'Each race is indispensable to the other ... The choice in Central Africa lies between partnership and chaos . . . It would be foolish to deny that immense problems lie ahead . . . the high ideals and purposes which we set ourselves . . . partnership can be made a reality . . . We often hear about fears, and I believe that they are there . . . partnership must rest upon confidence in each other, and consent . . . the concept of Mother India . . . benefits which can come if only we will all together do what we can to create a fruitful partnership . . . Let us press forward . . . Let us not pre- maturely judge the final decisions that we shall have to take .. . '. There was more of this, much more; and I was not alone in my attitude to it. Even the Tories, when Mr. Macmillan sat down, seemed hardly able to emit even the minimum 1i-second cheer, and many afterwards admitted their dis- appointment. What Mr. Macmillan forgets is what the Member for Woodford always remembered; that the 'larger theme can only be successfully developed in a speech on a subject where detailed argument is either unnecessary or impossible. Mr. Gaitskell had made a number of challenging points, and asked a number of pertinent questions; there was no reply forthcoming from the Prime Minister.

And there was little enthusiasm on the Government benches to pick up the torch. Several times, after a Labour speaker had sat down, only two or three (if that) Tories rose to follow him, though every time it was Labour's turn there were a dozen or more Members on their feet. And some of them, when they did get in, speedily showed that they would have done better to remain among the silent majority. Chief of these was Sir Archer Baldwin, whose speech showed in microcosm all the reasons for the disasters and tragedies in Africa, past and future. He spoke of 'these primitive people, who have not been educated to a very great degree.' Up in the Common- wealth and Public Galleries were many black faces, one or two of which I recog- nised as belonging to highly civilised men of outstanding intellect. Members of Parlia- ment cannot, I suppose, be expected to temper their remarks with consideration of the feelings of people who may be listening, but with what contempt must the represen- tative of the Ghana Government I saw up there have regarded Sir Archer Baldwin when he spoke of 'primitive people, who have not been educated to a very great degree'. For the joke is on Sir Archer; he is a man of very little education, and his speech was in fact virtually illiterate, though Hansard tidied up the more blatant of his grammatical and syntactical errors ('Police has risen,' he said at one point, meaning that more money had been spent in Nyasa- land on the police force) for him, as is its custom. (Hansard also, and I think much less properly, altered or allowed him to alter the most glorious remark of the decade: `We have lately', he cried `been making this chamber into a cockpit for politics'. But it appeared next day with the word 'colo- nial' inserted before 'politics'.) The suffra- gettes used to ask with justice why they were refused votes when any man, however ignorant, stupid or low was allowed one. Sir Archer Baldwin really should look into his own heart, not to mention his education, and see whether he can really exclude him- self from the category of `primitive people who have not been educated to a very great degree'.

And so, without anyone falling out of character, to the end. Mr. Callaghan was as usual indignant (let us hope that when he becomes Colonial Secretary they do not need to write UN saeva indignatio ukerius cor lacerare acquit over the Colonial Office door), but was more forceful than usual, which was not surprising in view of the fact that he had the better case. Lennox- Boyd's reply laid the barrage for the in- fighting of the following week; he soapily rebuked the Opposition for using words like 'stooge' and 'Quisling' (the first was Mr. Gaitskell's, the second Mr. Callaghan's and both were descriptive of the way in which the mass of Africans would regard the handpicked African members of the Commission), and conveniently forgetting his own talk of plots and massacres, and slanderous accusations against Africans whom the Devlin Report has exculpated. But we did not need this speech to know that the Colonial Secretary is a tough and slippery customer.

After such prolonged contemplation of Lennox-Boyd as the week has involved, it is pleasant and salubrious to turn to a quiet and moving episode from Monday's debate on the Southall air crash. (Mr. Watkinson, I may say in passing, is another of those who will not resign when they are plainly told to.) This was the speech of Mr. Nigel Nicolson—probably the last speech, as he said, that he will ever make in the House of Commons. Mr. Nicolson was defending the honour and character of some of those in the firm criticised by Mr. Justice Philli- more's report. The details are intricate and in any case unimportant. What was im- portant was that we were hearing for the last time a man who, for all his limitations, towered in honour and character above the general run of his colleagues—and is indeed being excluded from effective political life for that very reason. He was heard in a great and deepening silence, and as he spoke I looked around at some of the faces on the Conservative benches. that, what- ever may chance at the General Election, will almost certainly still be with us after it. We shall still have Sir Thomas Moore to plead for more kindness to dogs and less to human beings; we shall still have Lieutenant-Colonel Bromley-Davenport and Brigadier Terence Clarke, the only Members to lend public support to the un- lamented Major James Friend; we shall still have Sir Archer Baldwin with his rebukes for uneducated peoples and his bad grammar; we shall still have Mr. Julian Amery, though we shall be spared that pal of his, Mr. Andrew Fountaine; we shall still have Sir Ian Horobin, who accused the Socialist Party of being thieves from the somewhat precarious moral position of a man who used to be the sternest critic of the Government's fuel policy until his mouth was closed with a job in the very Department he had for so long denounced; we shall still have Mr. Cuthbert Alport; we shall still have Mr. Bernard Braine; we shall still have Mr. Henry Price; we shall still have Mr. John Biggs-Davison. And, if the luck of the polls goes the wrong way, we shall still have Lennox-Boyd,