Adjournment (Easter)

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 25th March 1959.

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Question again proposed.

4.44 p.m.

Photo of Mr Robert Edwards Mr Robert Edwards , Bilston

I was arguing that the House should not adjourn because of the very grave situation which confronts us and many millions of people in Africa. We have not dealt with the simple issue that the trouble in Central Africa affects not merely 7 million Africans and 250,000 Europeans but 150 million people on the Continent of Africa.

The House has a very grave responsibility and ought not to adjourn while many issues arising out of the situation in Nyasaland and Central Africa have not been debated and resolved. For example, we have not yet had an opportunity to discuss the White Paper, although it has been discussed in very great detail in another place. A Minister flew back from Nyasaland and took part in the debate there yesterday, and he has now flown back to Africa. Yet this House has not been given the elementary right to discuss an important White Paper which may take a similar place in history to the Zinoviev "Red Letter".

What powers has the Commission of Inquiry to enable those who attended the Accra Conference to give their interpretation of the resolution, passed at the Accra Conference, which is quoted in the White Paper? I was privileged to be present at that great all-African conference, at which were representatives of nine independent African States, two of which are members of the Commonwealth. The Government are not merely charging African leaders in Nyasaland with sedition and acts of terror; they are making accusations against 300 delegates to the Conference.

The House has not yet had an opportunity to question the Minister about the reference in the White Paper to the resolution, which merely quoted the American Constitution, referring to the right of people who are the victims of legalised tyranny and have no opportunity of peacefully and democratically defending their rights to use violence to overthrow the tyranny. That is a fundamental right which every Briton, I hope, claims the right to retain. It is also something that we broadcast throughout Europe during the war, urging the people to revolt against Nazi tyranny. Yet the resolution passed at the Accra Conference is submitted to the British people as a reason—

Photo of Mr William Morrison Mr William Morrison , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

Order. The hon. Member seems now to be discussing the whole merits of the African question rather than directing his mind to the question whether or not we should adjourn until Tuesday, 7th April. This is not the occasion to go into such matters. It is an occasion to argue whether or not we should adjourn. The hon. Member is going into too much detail.

Photo of Mr Robert Edwards Mr Robert Edwards , Bilston

I beg your pardon, Mr. Speaker. I merely wish to ask what facilities the Commission of Inquiry has to question delegates who attended the Accra Conference, which is widely quoted in the White Paper. Indeed, the resolution passed by the Conference is given as one of the basic justifications for the arrest of African leaders in that it was the cause of riots which led to the killing of 50 Africans and the whole state of emergency in Nyasaland. Surely we are entitled to know how the evidence from the Accra Conference will be gone into. What powers has the inquiry? We do not know whether it is a judicial inquiry or not. It is a Commission of Inquiry which is like a German sausage; it is neither bread, fish nor meat. In another place, it is referred to as a judicial inquiry. We are told that it has no power to bring witnesses to give evidence. These seem to be basic points which the House should debate.

There are many hundreds of Africans for whom we are responsible whose freedom has been denied them and they are vegetating in prisons. Have they no right to some protection? Are they to continue to be imprisoned while the House is in recess? These are elementary points of human justice and human freedom which should be debated in the House. For these reasons, and for many others, which I should like to mention but I should be out of order, I support the opposition of my hon. Friends to the proposal that the House should adjourn tomorrow for the Easter Recess.

4.50 p.m.

Photo of Mr James Callaghan Mr James Callaghan Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

The questions that have been raised by my hon. Friends, and which are hanging over this debate, show the seriousness with which it is regarded by, I think, the country at large. I wish that we had had clearer answers from the Secretary of State for the Colonies. The answers that we had yesterday to some of the questions which were posed, such as whether, for example, the Commission of Inquiry would have the right of seeing those who are detained in Southern Rhodesia, were not as straightforward as they could have been in the sense that they were circumlocutory.

The right hon. Gentleman said that the Commission would not ignore any opportunity of getting at the truth. That is not quite the direct answer we want to the question whether the Commission of Inquiry, which is concerned with these men's future, will have the opportunity of seeing them. If he had said, "Yes", that would have been the end of it; there would have been no argument about it. We believe that these questions are of vital importance and I hope that the Government are taking note of the continued anxiety of the House about them.

There is a very important Bill which we wish to discuss today—the Colonial Development and Welfare Bill—and a number of other very important considerations which we should like to get on to, and we understand that there is other business. But I would ask the Colonial Secretary to consider this, if he will. He has already made one speech. [An HON. MEMBER: "Two."] He made one plus a very long intervention, and I imagine that he cannot make a second.

Photo of Mr James Callaghan Mr James Callaghan Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

I think that he can, by permission, on a Motion for the Adjournment. I am not asking him to do that now, because I am not sure what answers we should get.

I ask the right hon. Gentleman to consider very seriously the questions posed here this afternoon about the right of access to the detainees and the nature of the inquiry and to make a statement as soon as possible after tomorrow, or make it tomorrow if he can. [HON. MEMBERS: "Now."] I am getting a great deal of advice from my hon. Friends and I am deeply indebted to them. If I got the right information I would be prepared to wait 24 hours for it.

I hope that the Secretary of State and the Leader of the House have taken note of the very real anxieties which are felt about the position that still continues in Nyasaland, and that the Leader of the House can give us an assurance that a further statement will be made as soon as possible, preferably tomorrow, about the work of the Commission, giving us as much information as possible.

I realise that things are moving very quickly and I certainly would not want to ask my hon. Friends to hold up the work of the House any longer. We should then be able to get on and discuss the other Bill, which is, of course, of very great importance.

4.53 p.m.

Photo of Mr Jo Grimond Mr Jo Grimond , Orkney and Shetland

I have no desire to delay the House and I apologise for having had to miss the opening minutes of this debate. If the Colonial Secretary will be good enough to give us further information on the lines demanded, I wonder if he would cover three points which I should like to put briefly to him.

First, I should like to ask what is the position under the Emergency Regulations and what is the number of people held under those Regulations without charge or trial? Secondly, considerable anxiety has been expressed about the conditions under which they are held, and hon. Members have received information, which naturally we cannot check, but which seems to point to the fact that they are held in worse conditions than those suffered by convicted criminals.

Lastly, I should like to know about what has been said in the terms of reference to the Commission. May we have as plain an answer as possible whether it is to be entitled to look at the underlying causes of the trouble—a phrase, I think, used in previous Commissions of this sort—and a rather more firm assurance that, if it so desires, it will be able to examine witnesses who are held outside the territory of Nyasaland?

Photo of Mr Reginald Paget Mr Reginald Paget , Northampton

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I understand that my absence from the Chamber was commented upon. I wish to apologise very sincerely both to you and to the right hon. Gentleman. I was sent for to attend a Division in a Standing Committee upstairs. That is the only reason I was not here.

4.56 p.m.

Photo of Sir Leslie Plummer Sir Leslie Plummer , Deptford

I do not want to delay the proceedings on the next subject that is to come before us, but I should like to put this point to the right hon. Gentleman, if in fact he is to make a statement tomorrow. It went out from Parliament yesterday that all Africans, until they are very much advanced, are all liars. This observation was made by a Parliamentarian of some very considerable distinction and very close association with the party opposite.

If we were to adjourn now, leaving the impression among African policemen, African soldiers, African civil servants—[An HON. MEMBER: "African judges."] They are very much advanced. I am talking about the people who do the ordinary work—

Photo of Mr William Morrison Mr William Morrison , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

I think that the hon. Gentleman is referring to something said in another place and not by a Minister. That is not proper.

Photo of Sir Leslie Plummer Sir Leslie Plummer , Deptford

My difficulty is that the Government have not denied it; and I am saying that it is a matter of urgency.

Photo of Mr William Morrison Mr William Morrison , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

They have not been asked to deny it yet. It was a statement by a noble Lord who is not a Minister and it should not be referred to.

Photo of Sir Leslie Plummer Sir Leslie Plummer , Deptford

Would I be in order, Mr. Speaker, in asking the Colonial Secretary, if he is going to make a statement, to express his confidence in the truthfulness of the Africans who work with the British Government abroad?

4.57 p.m.

Photo of Mr R.A. Butler Mr R.A. Butler , Saffron Walden

In response to the request of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan), I think that it is quite reasonable to say that the debate on adjourning until 7th April has elicited a certain number of questions and has exhibited a certain degree of anxiety.

I think that it is natural for the House of Commons to be interested in certain reactions to a statement made in another place, especially when the Members of another place remain themselves for a very long period in situ and sit very late into the night, speaking all the time. Therefore, to find a reaction here, quite apart from the anxiety about the situation which is obviously felt by us all, is not unnatural. It may seem unreasonable that my right hon. Friend the Colonial Secretary was not able to give an exact answer to all the points raised and in particular to the points raised by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale), repeated by the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East, which are, no doubt, in everyone's mind, and the points raised, for example, by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond), which are of a slightly different character, and to one or two of the questions asked by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Bilston (Mr. R. Edwards). It is not surprising that there should be a request for the information.

I will say on behalf of my right hon. Friend that he will either make a statement or issue the information as soon as he possibly can. We will accept the statement of the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East that if it is not ready tomorrow we cannot do it. It entails a great deal of work which is going on at the moment. My right hon. Friend asked me earlier if he could be allowed to leave the Chamber to go on with the work now, but he could not leave because of this subject in which he is interested. If it can be given tomorrow it will be, but I can give no undertaking. It will, however, be given as soon as possible.

I think that this debate on the Adjournment has had some value because we will register the points made, led off by the hon. Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Fenner Brockway). I have listened to every word and we have taken note of them. If there is any way in which we can be of service, either in reply to a Question from the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East tomorrow or at the earliest possible date, we will do so. I hope that this will satisfy the House that our time has not been wasted.

Photo of Mr James Callaghan Mr James Callaghan Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman and the Colonial Secretary whether, as the House does not rise until five o'clock tomorrow, if information is not available at eleven o'clock it will be given later in the day, because I know that the House itself would be the first to like to hear it.

Photo of Mr Fenner Brockway Mr Fenner Brockway , Eton and Slough

In view of the answer that has been given, I do not now press the opposition which has been expressed.

Photo of Mr George Wigg Mr George Wigg , Dudley

If it is decided by the Government to make a statement later in the day it would be of advantage to hon. Members if as much notice as possible could be given of the time when it will be made.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,That this House, at its rising Tomorrow, do adjourn till Tuesday, 7th April.