§ 3.44 p.m.
THE PARLIAMENTARY UNDER-SECRETARY OF STATE FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS (THE MARQUESS OF READING)
My Lords, with the leave of your Lordships and with apologies to the noble and learned Lord who is going to speak next in the debate, I should like to make a Statement on the Sudan.
Last May the Governor-General of the Sudan submitted to Her Majesty's Government and to the Egyptian Government a draft Statute designed to bring about internal self-government. The Statute had been drawn up in the light of discussions in the Constitutional Amendment Commission, composed of Sudanese with a British chairman, and 847 was later discussed and approved in the Sudanese Legislative Assembly. Her Majesty's Government have to-day informed the Acting Governor-General that they give their consent to his making the Proclamation necessary to bring the Self-Government Statute into force. Her Majesty's Government's approval is given on the understanding that the provisions of the draft concern only the relations between the Governor-General and the other organs of government set up under the Statute—that is to say, the Council of Ministers and the Parliament.
This state of affairs will continue until, as a result of self-determination or at some earlier date by agreement between the two Governments—that of the United Kingdom and that of Egypt—alternative provisions are made for the exercise of these powers. Except in regard to technical and administrative matters, responsibility for the external affairs of the Sudan belongs as before to the two Governments.
There is an Article in the Statute laying down that no disability shall be attached to Sudanese by reason of sex and that all persons shall enjoy freedom of conscience and the right freely to confess their religion. With respect to the second of these principles, Her Majesty's Government have expressed the hope that as liberal an interpretation as possible may be given to the freedom of all persons to profess their religion. The Acting Governor-General's attention has also been drawn to the views recently expressed to my right honourable friend by representatives of various parties in the Sudan on the desirability of increasing the number of direct elections to be held under the new constitution.
The views of the Egyptian Government on the draft Statute have not yet been received. I hope that they may be in time for consideration by Her Majesty's Government and the Sudan Government before the Statute is brought into effect.
I should like to take this opportunity to express Her Majesty's Government's pleasure in congratulating the people of the Sudan upon what we hope will be a momentous step forward in the history of their country. The House will, I am sure, want to join me in this. The Sudanese are now proceeding to self-government; 848 that is to say, government by an all-Sudanese Cabinet, responsible through an all-Sudanese Parliament to the Sudanese people. This is a prelude and a preparation for the exercise by them of self-determination. Her Majesty's Government look forward to the Sudanese exercising self-determination at an early date. In our view, however, this is a matter for the Sudanese Parliament elected under the provisions of this Statute to discuss and to decide.
§ VISCOUNT HALL
My Lords, on behalf of my colleagues, I should like to express our thanks to the noble Marquess for making this Statement. The Statement certainly indicates a development on the right lines, and we join with Her Majesty's Government in congratulating the people of the Sudan upon this development. We should like to be kept informed, first, as to the reply of the Egyptian Government when it is received, and secondly, of any further developments which may take place.
§ VISCOUNT STANSGATE
My Lords, as the noble Marquess remembers, the Governor-General of the Sudan is responsible jointly to the Egyptian Government and the British Government. Is it intended, therefore, to make every effort to secure the assent of both parties before proceeding with this step?
THE MARQUESS OF READING
My Lords, we are at present awaiting the answer of the Egyptian Government. I should like to see what that answer contains before we enter into any further discussion on the future course to be pursued. I hope the noble Viscount will appreciate the position in that regard.
§ VISCOUNT STANSGATE
The noble Marquess will observe that the improvement in the situation with regard to the Sudan is entirely due to the better relations that exist between the British and Egyptian Governments at this moment. I would urge that it should, if possible, be their purpose to carry out what is avowed by the so-called condominium agreement, Lord Cromer's memorandum, about the joint action of the two Governments in defence of Sudanese self-government.