Orders of the Day — Kenya (Situation)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 6th June 1956.

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Photo of Mr Aneurin Bevan Mr Aneurin Bevan , Ebbw Vale 12:00 am, 6th June 1956

I want to begin by referring to the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Creech Jones) in opening the debate. He was followed by the Minister of State for Colonial Affairs, who chided him for devoting only five minutes of a speech of 55 minutes to praise of praiseworthy activities in Kenya. That was a most unfair reference, and it was rather stupid. To talk about five minutes out of 55 reminded me of the man who bought his library by the ton. Some people can say as much in five minutes as others can say in 55 minutes.

There is, however, a further point and an even more serious one. We ought not to be chided all the while because we do not waste the time of the Committee in giving out bouquets and handing out prizes. That is not our function. If the Colonial Secretary looks back over his recent speeches, he will find that he has wasted a good deal of the time of the House in handing out bouquets all around him. It is our function to try to focus attention on the things that are wrong. If we start a catalogue of the things that are all right, we will never reach the things that are wrong. Therefore, we ought not to be chided in that way. I shall not spend my time in giving praise where praise is due to people in Kenya, but I shall ask the Committee to consider very seriously the situation at which we have arrived, especially in the supervision of colonial administration.

Very grave difficulties are arising in different parts of the world. We are faced with a very serious crisis in Cyprus. We may have very great difficulty in Singapore. Trouble is starting in Aden and may develop, and trouble has not been altogether removed in Kenya. It has been borne in upon me and upon my hon. Friends that the time has now arrived when the House of Commons should gravely consider an overhauling of our constitutional relationship to colonial administration. I am not making this a criticism of the holder of the existing office, nor am I making it a reflection upon his predecessors, on either side of the House; but I seriously suggest that a situation has developed in the colonial dependencies which is getting out of hand.

The House of Commons has now not got a sufficiently tight grip of the situation. We are always after the fact. Crises are arising that we are unable to catch hold of in time. The speech of the hon. Lady the Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward), who has just left the Committee, is evidence of that. If we do not hear of anything untoward happening, no one pays any attention. If there is trouble, we are told to shut up until it is all over, and when it is all over we are told to shut up because it is all over.

The fact of the matter is that there is a grave breakdown in communication between Parliament and what is happening in the Colonies. We have been considering this for some time, and we are going to make certain proposals to Parliament for revising the constitutional machinery. Not only is the constitutional machinery itself out of date, but we are also proceeding on certain fictions which were useful in the past but which are now entirely outmoded.

We often talk about the Government out there when we are hiding behind a fiction. We know that it is not the Government out there at all but that the final responsibility lies here. This fiction of the Government out there is resurrected all the while in order to conceal the responsibility of the central Government. We talk about the people on the spot knowing more about it than people here. All that that means is that we get our information from highly prejudiced people on the spot—on both sides—and we are quite often unable to check the sources of information. The fact is that the Library on the Colonies is hopelessly out of date. We cannot even get source papers. Again, I am not attacking the Colonial Office, nor any of the officials, who are, within their limits and powers. most courteous and attentive, but I remember that when I wanted to get the Coutts Report and went to the Library, I was sent a copy from the Colonial Office very promptly, but they wanted it back within a few days because it was the only copy they had.

Let hon. Members in all parts of the Committee consider what that indicates. It indicates an almost frivolous sense of irresponsibility about what is happening in the Colonies, because if we are to keep abreast of what is occurring we should have access to all the information, and we certainly should have access to documents as soon as they can be made available. We cannot get them. Ordinances are made and promulgated affecting the lives and liberties of people for whom we are responsible, and we do not hear about them until some months after they are in operation, and until there is some protest from someone in the Colonies about them.

This may have worked all right in years gone by, but it is no good now. The Colonies are awakening. People are moving towards, they hope, the realisation of self-government, nationhood and higher standards of citizenship and of living. They demand that we who exercise the power shall exercise that power intelligently and in time. Therefore, I seriously suggest to hon. Members in all parts of the Committee that the time has now come for us to make one more of those constitutional adaptations for which our constitution is famous.

Our constitution is flexible. We are not caught within the confines of a written Statute. We can do what we like with it, change it about and adapt it to changed circumstances, and I am hoping that when we come to make our proposals to Parliament they will have a friendly reception. The purpose of the proposals will be to bring the Colonial Office under a more continuous examination. That is not being said merely in order to try to score party points. I am merely trying to suggest that there has been a slow accumulation of facts of which we ought now to take note.

We are not really trying to do our duty by the 70 million people who depend upon us in the Colonies merely by putting down Questions every six weeks, when many of them are very rarely reached, and especially when, after long centuries of experience, we have produced a whole lot of Ministers who are all excellent at the art of parrying and dodging the Questions when they arise. That is the first important point that I want to make.

My second important point is this. I hope that it is not necessary for me to repeat what has been said, because most hon. Members who have been present during the course of this debate will admit that, from both sides of the Committee, the debate has achieved a higher standard than most colonial debates to which I have listened for a very long time.

It is not necessary for me to repeat the excellent speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Fenner Brockway). However, that speech has to be answered. The case really has to be met. It will not be sufficient for the Colonial Secretary to cast doubt on the bona fides of Miss Fletcher. It will not be enough for him to repeat some of the statements of his hon. Friends who said, "Why did she not say what she did earlier? Or why did she not say what she did more clearly? Or why did she not say it in Kenya? Or why did she not say it to the Colonial Secretary?" All that is unimportant. The question is, is what she said true?

The Colonial Secretary will not be doing himself justice nor the reputation of this country justice if he attempts to fob the whole thing off by casting doubt on the ability or on the industry or on the reputation of this witness. The facts are stated with too great circumstantiality to be dismissed in that way. Therefore, I hope that the right hon. Gentleman is either prepared to make a full reply tonight to those charges or is prepared to undertake an investigation which can be relied upon. That investigation does not mean merely conveying to us what the Kenya Government say in rebuttal of the charges. That is not enough. We must have a better investigation than that.

Furthermore, very great damage has been done by the allegations that Colonel Young has not been able for some reason or another to give the reasons for his resignation. It is far better that the whole thing be brought out into the daylight. He was sent by the Colonial Secretary from here to help in the crisis in Kenya. He resigned after seven or nine months. He is attacked by a Minister in the Kenya Legislature in the rudest possible terms. He has not, I understand, had an opportunity to reply. Until he is able to give his evidence, the reputation of the Kenya Government for the administration of justice in Kenya is under a cloud.

There are those two main points affecting the administration which we must ask the Colonial Secretary to deal with tonight. One of the reasons why we have not decided to divide the Committee on this occasion is that we thought it undesirable ourselves to come to a conclusion before the evidence had been properly examined. It did not seem to us that in a grave matter of this sort we ought to reach a conclusion when, perhaps, there was another side of the case; but the other side must be presented, because if it is not satisfactorily presented we shall have to return to it on another occasion.

For it is not good enough that we should accept responsibility in this Committee for the detention of thousands of people in Kenya under no charge whatsoever. It really is not good enough to bring people before the courts of justice on charges which are dismissed by the courts and then immediately to take the people who are declared innocent into detention and to keep them there indefinitely. This is an outrage, and I am quite certain that if it were known by our people, if our people were more familiar with the facts, they would not allow it to go on any longer. They are not familiar with the facts, because Parliament has not the constitutional means of focussing attention on the facts. This is our one opportunity for some time.

A lot has been said about Mau Mau, about the atrocities committed by Mau Mau, and no one on this side of the Committee would pretend to do other than express the utmost abhorrence of them. Mau Mau, however, originated somewhere, in something. It did not come out of nothing. One would have thought that the administration of Kenya had no responsibility for Mau Mau, but, after all, Mau Mau has been growing in Kenya for 30 years. The situation in Kenya was becoming increasingly intolerable. We had created in Kenya the social context in which those extremes were almost inevitable. We talk here as though the administration of Kenya, as though the seizure of land in Kenya and all those things were not responsible at all for Mau Mau, but I have before me a description of this situation that appeared in The Times of Saturday, 29th January, last year. I want to read it to the Committee. The Times said: Before the Europeans came, African tribes moved freely across the countryside. No doubt, if the most fertile land became overcrowded the weaker brethren were driven off into less attractive areas. All this changed when the European arrived. He did not, in general, dispossess the Arican of land, as is sometimes said. He settled and developed the more attractive and unoccupied spaces. But he wrought a revolutionary change in fixing and stabilising the tenure of land. International boundaries were established; European freehold was introduced. The Africans were confined to but also protected in their tribal reserves. Agriculture, which had been flexible, became rigid; and, in a matter of half a century, when some tribes, such as the Kikuyu in Kenya and the Meru in Tanganyika, have increased, while others, such as the Masai, decreased, a series of pressures, political and economic, built up. Because the population tended to increase most rapidly in the most fertile areas, and because in these areas there are also great strips of European-owned farms acting as barriers to tribal expansion. resentment tended to rise against European land ownership. This is the principal explanation of the Mau Mau movement. [HON. MEMBERS: "Nonsense."] This is confirmed over and over again by students of the situation in Kenya. The only people who defend the situation in Kenya are the beneficiarles of the system, and we have heard some of them this afternoon in this Committee. The Times went on to say: The tragedy is that Mau Mau broke out before the royal commission was appointed, let alone had time to report. It is the persistent tendency to postpone facing the inevitable which has led to so much trouble and unhappiness in the past. That is The Times last year. It is not us, not these revolutionaries, not these extremists who are stirring up trouble, not those who are poking at resentment when it is inclined to die down, to use the expression of the hon. Lady the Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Member for Tynemouth. Mau Mau broke out against that background.

Now we have another opportunity. It is said that the crisis is receding, that a new atmosphere is being created. I hope that is so. I hope that we are going to take advantage of the new opportunity, but I must say that I was very depressed by some of the speeches today. The hon. Member for Kirkdale (Mr. N. Pannell), for example, could have made the same speech if he had been in the Parliament of 1830. [An HON. MEMBER: "He did."] Maybe the hon. Member did. He spoke about the necessity of extending the franchise very slowly and of not being ideological in the growth of democracy, of remembering that democracy takes different forms—