We are all anxious to prevent any repetition of recent events in the Congo. It seems to us that our best hope of doing this is to continue firmly on our present course. There are always dangers when new countries are born—always the possibility of something going wrong—but these dangers would have been greater if we had tried, or were now to try to enforce reunification with Nigeria in a way contrary to the United Nations mandate and against the wishes of the people. David Ormsby Gore, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs
The connection of the United Kingdom with the Cameroons began as a result of the First World War, and our responsibilities derive from a League of Nations Mandate which was replaced after the Second World War by the 1946 Trusteeship Agreement between the United Nations and United Kingdom. We have throughout held these territories in trust and it is for the United Nations to decide when that trusteeship was terminated.
This debate centres round the future of the South Cameroons. In the North, as my hon. Friend said, the people have indicated by a clear majority their wish to be part of the Northern Region of the Federation of Nigeria. It is, naturally, a matter of satisfaction to us that they should have decided to throw in their lot with the newest member of the Commonwealth.
As for the South, I must remind my hon. Friend that there has been for a long time a strong current of opinion in favour of the reunification of the Cameroonian peoples. These aspirations are embodied in the programme of one of the main political parties of the territory—that led by the present Prime Minister, Mr. Foncha, before and after it came into power. When it was known that Nigeria would shortly become independent, the Trusteeship Council of the United Nations had to consider how to enable the people of the territory to express their wishes about their future status.
The Trusteeship Council took the view, which, I think, was widely accepted at the time and which is widely accepted even today in many quarters, that the South Cameroons would not be viable on its own. An indefinite continuance of trusteeship could not be expected to commend itself internationally at a time when independence was increasingly becoming the order of the day in West Africa. This left two choices: unification with the French Cameroons, destined for independence as the Cameroun Republic, or unification with the Federation of Nigeria.
In October, 1959, the General Assembly of the United Nations recommended that a plebiscite should take place in the South Cameroons before 31st March, 1961, to enable the people to choose between these alternatives. As the hon. Member knows, these were the only two alternatives which the United Nations decided should be put to the people. 278 Subsequently the date was fixed as 11th February. The plebiscite has taken place. The people of the South have voted by a large and unmistakable majority—that is 70 per cent. of the votes cast and 57 per cent. of the electorate—in favour of unification with the Republic of Cameroun. We are confronted by what appears to be a clear expression of the national will. This is the situation with which we are faced.
In order that the results of the plebiscite in both North and South Cameroons shall be implemented, we expect the United Nations Plebiscite Commissioner, Dr. Abdoh, to present his report to the Trusteeship Council about the end of March. It will then be considered in the Fourth Committee and in the resumed session of the United Nations General Assembly. Implementation in respect of the North Cameroons should be quite straightforward, for it means, in effect, re-establishing the position existing before October, 1960, when it was part of the Northern Region of Nigeria, while retaining the new arrangements for local government that were then introduced. We are about to enter into discussions with the Nigerian Government on the detailed administrative questions which will have to be settled.
In the South the question, as my hon. Friend has said, is a much more complex one. The Cameroun Republic itself became independent only on 1st January, 1960, and it was difficult for this new Government, with many internal problems of their own, to put forward precise terms for the unification of the two territories. However, we did what we could to facilitate contacts between the two Prime Ministers so that the people of the South Cameroons would be aware of the implications of a choice to join the Cameroun Republic.
As a result of these contacts the two leaders agreed that the territories should be united on a federal basis, of which the outline was sketched. They made clear their intentions that the federal State would have power to deal, among other matters, with foreign affairs and national defence; and that a federal court of justice would act as the highest court of appeal. But, certainly, a great many details now have to be filled in, and the answers to my hon. Friend's questions have yet to be worked out.
As I mentioned in my opening remarks, several months remain before the federation of the Southern Cameroons with the Cameroun Republic takes place, and we hope all these problems will be resolved. For the most part, as my hon. Friend knows, they fall within the province of my right hon. Friend the Colonial Secretary, and I have particularly in mind such matters as the training of the police force and the ensuring of proper security in the territory.
We hope to address ourselves to the Government of the Cameroun Republic in order that preliminary discussions may be started as soon as possible. The internal security of the Southern Cameroons will certainly be one of the questions to be considered. We expect that in due course there would be a conference consisting of representative delegations of equal status from the Republic and from the Southern Cameroons. We would expect to be associated with the conference as the administering authority, and that the United Nations would also be associated with it.
We are, of course, aware of the many practical difficulties that await the fusion of these two countries, as indeed would anyone be who has studied the problem at all. Administratively, it would clearly have been simpler if the people of the Southern Cameroons had elected to rejoin Nigeria. But perhaps, unfortunately, political feelings are not always ruled by the convenience of administrators. In any case, we cannot believe that these difficulties are insuperable if they are approached with good will by all concerned. For our part, we will do all we can to help them to be solved as smoothly and as quickly as possible.
The federal structure which is proposed should enable the Southern Cameroons to retain many of the methods to which it has become accustomed. Others it may have to change. But in this respect I think we should bear in mind that as recently as 1916 it was, of course, under German colonial rule.
We have not got an easy task ahead of us in the remaining period of the trusteeship, but the general principles on which 280 we must rest are clear. We must abide loyally both by the decisions of the United Nations, to which, as administering authority, we are responsible, and by the wishes of the people of the country as expressed in the recent plebiscite.
It is, in fact, impossible for us to do otherwise at the present time. Naturally, we shall try to see that the drain on our resources is no greater, and lasts no longer than it need. Suitable economic help from outside—and the hon. Member mentioned the possibility of some help from West Germany—will no doubt be welcome, but we cannot wash our hands of our responsibilities until the job with which we were entrusted has been done.
We are all anxious to prevent any repetition of recent events in the Congo. It seems to us that our best hope of doing this is to continue firmly on our present course. There are always dangers when new countries are born—always the possibility of something going wrong—but these dangers would have been greater if we had tried, or were now to try to enforce reunification with Nigeria in a way contrary to the United Nations mandate and against the wishes of the people.
If it is suggested that Her Majesty's Government should have attempted to retain their trusteeship—perhaps almost indefinitely it would be difficult to see how we could have reconciled this with our support of the United Nations and our record of promoting independence in West Africa. It would certainly not have involved any less expenditure of British money and troops.
We may have a difficult mission to fulfil in the Southern Cameroons, but I believe that our duty is clear. We have a duty to the people of the territory, and a duty to the United Nations from whom our trusteeship derives. There is only one possible course of action open to us at this time, which is to assist the United Nations to give effect to the verdict of the plebiscite as loyally, as efficiently and as expeditiously as possible.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Adjourned accordingly at twenty-eight minutes to Four o'clock a.m.