Commission of Inquiry

Oral Answers to Questions — Nyasaland – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 9th April 1959.

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Photo of Mr Jo Grimond Mr Jo Grimond , Orkney and Shetland 12:00 am, 9th April 1959

asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies if he will now give further information as to whether those who want it will be allowed legal representation before the Devlin Commission.

Photo of Mr Alan Lennox-Boyd Mr Alan Lennox-Boyd , Mid Bedfordshire

A witness will be allowed to have his legal representative with him when he is giving evidence; but his legal representative will not be permitted to be present while any other person is giving evidence.

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

Does not the Secretary of State agree that in this case there have been very serious allegations which must involve individuals and there must be a certain amount of anxiety that they should have really adequate representation? Can the right hon. Gentleman assure us that detainees are being given at least every opportunity of engaging and consulting legal advisers and that the advisers will be able to go to these detention centers even if they are outside Nyasaland?

Photo of Mr Alan Lennox-Boyd Mr Alan Lennox-Boyd , Mid Bedfordshire

Yes, Sir. I am certain that they will be given every opportunity and that "every opportunity" covers rights of access to the person for whom they will be acting. The House must realise that this Commission of Inquiry is appointed to investigate certain events and discover why they occurred and is not a judicial tribunal investigating charges against named persons. The evidence put before the Commission is for its information alone, to enable it to prepare its report.

Photo of Mr Lynn Ungoed-Thomas Mr Lynn Ungoed-Thomas , Leicester North East

Does not the right hon. Gentleman realise that one of the most important things that the Commission would have to inquire into are those charges of conspiracy to murder which he has so loosely made inside and outside the House? What opportunity will these people, against whom these vague accusations have been made, have of meeting them and testing the evidence which will be given to the tribunal on this very matter? Does not the right hon. Gentleman realise that the course which he proposes simply involves these people in being without the opportunity of meeting these foul charges made against them?

Photo of Mr Alan Lennox-Boyd Mr Alan Lennox-Boyd , Mid Bedfordshire

Not at all. They will be perfectly free to give any evidence they like to the Commission, and they will be aided in that task by any legal adviser they may call on to appear with them before the Commission. But, for reasons which I have already explained, it is clear that this inquiry must be in private and therefore it would be altogether inappropriate for either the witness or a legal representative to be present when other people were giving evidence. If that were allowed, as the hon. and learned Member realises, we could not be certain that the Commission of Inquiry would receive evidence from the people whom it wished to hear.

Photo of Mr Lynn Ungoed-Thomas Mr Lynn Ungoed-Thomas , Leicester North East

Will the Secretary of State at least ensure that the people against whom information is given, and who are involved in the charges of conspiracy to murder, will at least see the transcript of the evidence which is given against them, so that they have as much opportunity as can be allowed, within the narrow ambit which the Colonial Secretary allows them, to know what is being formulated against them?

Photo of Mr Alan Lennox-Boyd Mr Alan Lennox-Boyd , Mid Bedfordshire

I am satisfied that the conduct of the investigation by the Commission can be safely left, within the broad directives arranged, in the hands of the Commission. As 1 have said, it would be out of the question to get people to come forward with evidence that the Commission may wish to hear if the identity of those people or what they say is known outside the Commission. Even I will not know it. It will not be told to me but to the Commission, and the members of the Commission will then make up their minds on what they will say in their report.

Photo of Sir Raymond Gower Sir Raymond Gower , Barry

Can my right hon. Friend say whether the description of statements having been made loosely is appropriate, a, they were founded on reports sent by a highly regarded colonial Governor?

Photo of Mr Alan Lennox-Boyd Mr Alan Lennox-Boyd , Mid Bedfordshire

They were certainly not loosely made.

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

Is there not an important difference here between disclosing the identity of the person making the allegations and showing the person about whom those allegations are made a transcript of the evidence, with names and places deleted? What possible objection is there to doing that in order to give the persons about whom allegations are made the opportunity of replying on the facts as represented?

Photo of Mr Alan Lennox-Boyd Mr Alan Lennox-Boyd , Mid Bedfordshire

I have said already that it is for the members of the Commission to decide how best they will ask questions of witnesses in order to arrive at the truth. I do not propose to do the work of the Commission for it. It is for the members of the Commission to do that, and they will publish in their report the findings as they see them. I shall myself not know the evidence given to the Commission, and naturally nothing said before the Commission will be the basis of any legal action against anybody. The Commission alone will know the evidence, and it is for the members of the Commission to weigh up its relative values.

Photo of Mr James Griffiths Mr James Griffiths , Llanelli

Evidence against some persons will be submitted to the Commission, the Commission will know that evidence. We hope it will have a chance to see those people. Will not the people against whom charges have been made, which are already known to the Commission, be shown those charges before they meet the Commission?

Photo of Mr Alan Lennox-Boyd Mr Alan Lennox-Boyd , Mid Bedfordshire

I cannot add to what I said, namely, that it is for the Commission to decide how it will use information given to it in strict confidence, in order either to verify or to dispel any impression that may have been left on the Commission.

Photo of Mr James Griffiths Mr James Griffiths , Llanelli

The evidence given to the Commission, which will be at its discretion, may contain specific charges against persons who later will come before the Commission. In that case are not those people entitled, in common justice, to see the charges before they see the Commission?

Photo of Mr Alan Lennox-Boyd Mr Alan Lennox-Boyd , Mid Bedfordshire

The right hon Gentleman has had considerable experience of difficulties of this kind and he will know that anything which discloses the identity of witnesses or, through internal evidence, in the evidence itself, tends to disclose the identity of a witness, might have serious consequences for the witness. Therefore, within the broad guidance that has been laid down in the warrant of appointment, this is the kind of matter that must be left to the Commission to settle.

Photo of Miss Irene Ward Miss Irene Ward , Tynemouth

May I ask my right hon. Friend—

Photo of Mr Samuel Silverman Mr Samuel Silverman , Nelson and Colne

On a point of order. Mr. Speaker, may I respectfully ask for your advice? The Minister is directly responsible to the House of Commons for this territory, and remains responsible; that is why he is answering questions now. Therefore, he is personally responsible for the detention in this territory of every person now detained. The Minister has just said that those persons are detained on evidence which even he does not know—

Photo of Mr Alan Lennox-Boyd Mr Alan Lennox-Boyd , Mid Bedfordshire

No, Sir. May 1 reply to that point of order? I said no such thing. In order that it should be made abundantly clear that members of the Commission will work in complete confidence that what is told to them is known to them alone, I have myself told Mr. Justice Devlin that I do not want to see the transcript of the evidence. The hon. Gentleman must not read into that anything more than I have said.

Photo of Mr Samuel Silverman Mr Samuel Silverman , Nelson and Colne

I have not finished my submission, Sir, and the intervention of the right hon. Gentleman brings more confusion rather than more clarity into the situation. Surely the House, as a matter of order, is entitled to know from the responsible Minister whether he knows this evidence or not? If he does not, I want to ask you, Sir, what advice you can give the House on how we can enforce the responsibility of the Minister to the House of Commons for detentions without trial? If the right hon. Gentleman does not know the evidence, then what is the point of saying that he has told the Chairman of the Commission that he does not want to see the transcript?

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

I ask the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) to look at the Question, out of which all this discussion has arisen. It reads: To ask the Secretary of State for the Colonies if he will now give further information as to whether those who want it will be allowed legal representation before the Devlin Commission ". There is not a word in the Question about people detained; it refers only to people who are to appear before the Commission. I hope we shall now pass from this Question, on which we have spent a lot of time.

Photo of Miss Irene Ward Miss Irene Ward , Tynemouth

May I ask my right hon. Friend if he will bear in mind that most people will agree absolutely with the line he has taken, and that most people in the country are interested in the protection of all people in Nyasaland, not only the few who are represented by those sitting on the opposite benches?

Mr. Dugdale:

The right hon. Gentleman has stated that those who are now in prison, particularly those in Salisbury, may have legal representation; will he see that each man in prison is personally informed as to his rights, because otherwise he may not be aware of them?

Photo of Mr Alan Lennox-Boyd Mr Alan Lennox-Boyd , Mid Bedfordshire

Yes, Sir. The suspicions of the right hon. Gentleman are not justified. They know of their right of appeal to the Advisory Committee and they will certainly know of their right to legal representation if the Commission wishes to hear their evidence.