Nyasaland (State of Emergency)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 3rd March 1959.

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Photo of Mr Julian Amery Mr Julian Amery , Preston North 12:00 am, 3rd March 1959

The hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) moved the Adjournment of the House earlier today to discuss the declaration of a state of emergency in Nyasaland. Most of the speeches which have been made by hon. Members on the back benches opposite have been on the wider theme of the rights and wrongs of the policy of Central African Federation. The last speech which we heard from the right hon. Member for Rochester and Chatham (Mr. Bottomley) seemed to be on an even wider theme as well. During the few minutes that remain to me I will try to direct my remarks to the definite matter of urgent public importance which is the subject of our debate.

As I understand, four main charges have been made by the party opposite against the Government. We have been told that the major cause of the present crisis was the delay over constitutional discussions. We have been told that there was no real ground for declaring a state of emergency. We have been told that it was wrong to introduce Central African Federation forces into Nyasaland. We have been told that what has happened in Nyasaland has been the result of a conspiracy, or a machination, on the part of the Central African Federation Government. I want to try to deal with those four points.

First, I want to deal with the constitutional issue. Right hon. and hon. Gentlemen who believe that this crisis has been caused in any way by any dilatoriness or delay over constitutional discussions are completely wrong. The truth is—and the reports leave very little doubt about it—that Dr. Banda did not mean to reach agreement on the constitutional issue at this time. He was determined to set very high terms and, when these were refused, to lead a campaign of speeches and then of disturbances with the deliberate purpose of courting arrest.

There is no question of delay here. There was no chance, as it is now clear, of reaching agreement on the constitutional issue. We hoped until the very last minute that it would be possible to reach agreement on that basis. That is why the Minister of State was to go out. The truth is that Dr. Banda did not want it.

There was a still more sinister feature which the House must have in mind. Not only were the African Congress and its leaders aiming at a policy of disturbance and civil disobedience after the failure of constitutional talks which they anticipated, but there was the conspiracy of murder. [An HON. MEMBER: "We have heard this before."] An hon. Member says that we have heard this before. The hon. Lady the Member for Flint, East (Mrs. White) said that "this brings up echoes of past speeches." The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) said that "we have had this all before, and are we to have another Cyprus?". We have had it all before. Remember Mau Mau. I remember Lord Chandos standing at this box and explaining to the House exactly what was the Mau Mau conspiracy. Hon. Members on both sides had a great deal of difficulty in believing that these things could be. We have heard it before not very far away from Nyasaland—in Kenya.

Let hon. Members with any illusions on these matters have clearly in their minds that if we had not taken appropriate action at the right moment there might well have been a massacre of Africans, Asians and Europeans on a Kenyan scale. The Government have to take responsibility in these matters and to give the House the assurance of the knowledge which they have.

Words have an extraordinary impact on all of us, particularly on an Assembly like ours. The moment the word "emergency" was pronounced some very strange misconceptions flew through the minds of right hon. and hon. Members.

The hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East in opening the debate, said that since the emergency was proclaimed there have been deaths, use of tear gas and attacks on prisons. There were deaths on 20th, 22nd and 26th February resulting from the disturbances. Tear gas was used on 22nd and 24th. There were attacks on prisons on 19th and 20th. These things have been happening for some time.

I think that I made two statements to the House on the subject. The hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East was here and will remember them. This is not a new development. It is not since an emergency was proclaimed that there has been death, use of tear gas and attacks on prisons. These things were happening some time before.

The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland said that he understood that no one had been killed until today.