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Hola Camp, Kenya (Report)

Part of LONDON COUNTY COUNCIL (GENERAL POWERS) BILL [Lords] (By Order) – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 27th July 1959.

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Photo of Mr Enoch Powell Mr Enoch Powell , Wolverhampton South West 12:00 am, 27th July 1959

Many aspersions have been cast and many imputations made by hon. Members opposite in the course of this debate with which I could not for an instant associate myself. And yet I cannot regret that even at this hour the House is once again considering the affair of Hola Camp. For the further documents relating to the deaths which were issued as a White Paper last week confirm what was already pretty clear from the earlier evidence, that it could be to the credit neither of this House nor of this country that the matter should rest where it now stands.

The affair of Hola Camp was a great administrative disaster, and to that administrative disaster there were three aspects. There was the authorisation of an operation which in its nature was likely to have fatal results; there was the failure to see that that operation, such as it was, was at least carried out with the minimum of risk; and, finally, there was the incident, which it is difficult to find a word to describe, of the water cart communiqué. The new documents show that the responsibility for all three aspects of this administrative disaster goes higher than can be discharged by the premature retirement of the officer in charge of the camp or by the retirement, accelerated by a few weeks, of the Commissioner of Prisons.

The central document in the White Paper of last week, and it has often been referred to in this debate, is the minute of 17th February addressed by the Commissioner of Prisons to the Minister of Defence. That Minute enclosed two other documents, Folios 9 and 10 on the file. Folio 9 was the Cowan Plan as drafted and intended by Cowan and put up by him as a proposal to his senior officers. Folio 10 was the extraordinary message which Sullivan had sent to Cowan on the 14th which can hardly be described otherwise than as a cri de coeur. It is impossible to read that document without sensing through it the state of mind of the man who wrote it or being aware of the risks which were attendant upon the situation which it reveals.

I will only remind the House of the ominous facts which it disclosed, that the Ministry of Works on the site had asked to be "disassociated entirely from any such operation" and the request for a senior superintendent, "with appropriate powers of summary punishment", to "be present when the policy outlined is implemented". It was clear evidence, among other things, that the Cowan Plan, Folio 9, was not what Sullivan, vide Folio 10, thought he was expected to implement. Incidentally, therefore, if there is blame for the failure to implement the Cowan Plan accurately, that responsibility must rest on all those who should have become aware, through seeing Folio 10, that Sullivan had misunderstood the Cowan Plan. With these two documents underneath, went this Minute, Folio 11, from the Commissioner of Prisons to the Minister of Defence. The Commissioner of Prisons had not yet taken a decision on the Cowan Plan. Indeed, when he saw it he gave instructions that "no action should be taken until authority was given" by his office. When he looked at 9 and 10 together, he decided that he, on his responsibility, could not authorise any action to be taken, and submitted it to his Minister, saying—and I am sorry to quote these words again, but they are essential— The plans Mr. Cowan worked out at (9) could be undertaken by us, but it would mean the use of a certain degree of force, in which operation someone might get hurt or even killed. I think this situation should be brought to the notice of the Security Council and a direction given on what policy should be adopted. He then again referred to the action as planned at (9), with the risk of someone getting hurt or killed. Those were not idle words, the reference to someone getting hurt or killed. He said in evidence to the Committee of three that the risk he had in mind that someone might get killed or hurt included "warder staff as well as detainees." Since the Commissioner of Prisons knew that in the Cowan Plan the numerical superiority of the warders to the detainees was to be overwhelming, the fact that he regarded the likelihood of being killed as applying to warders as well as to detainees is evidence of the degree of risk and danger which he associated in his mind with the Cowan Plan—the original, correct Cowan Plan, Folio 9. This was apart from the evidence in Folio 10 that things were going wrong, that it would not be that plan which would be put into effect, and that Sullivan had misunderstood.

He considered the responsibility for putting this into effect was not only one that he could not take, but it was one he could not advise his Minister to take alone, without reference to the Security Council.

Incidentally, the action of the Commissioner of Prisons disposes of the notion that the Cowan Plan for Hola was, as has often been said—and I quote the expression in the leading article in the Daily Telegraph yesterday— the application of a long-standing and highly successful technique of rehabilitation. The truth is that it was the application of a modification, and a very important modification, of the technique which had elsewhere yielded good results.

When my right hon. Friend spoke in the debate on 16th June last, he was careful to put that correctly. He said: The proposals were the adaptation of a proved and successful technique to the circumstances of Hola."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th June, 1959; Vol. 460, c. 280.] They were, in fact, as proposed now in the Cowan Plan, something which represented such a serious departure from anything attempted before, something so dangerous in themselves, that he could not envisage the responsibility to carry them out being taken otherwise than by the Security Council itself.

The Minister of Defence decided that it was not necessary, and the Minister of Defence and the Minister of African Affairs took upon themselves the responsibility for authorising an operation which they had been warned involved the risk of death, in a minute accompanied by a paper which showed to anyone who cared to read it that not even that operation, dangerous as it was, was the one which Sullivan contemplated carrying out.

The hon. Lady the Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle) was a little too kind to the Minister for African Affairs. She overlooked the fact that he as well as the Minister of Defence had all the relevant papers in front of him. Those two men took upon themselves, with their eyes open and with full knowledge, not only the responsibility for the Cowan Plan but the responsibility for allowing the deformed version of it to go forward. It was authorised—now we come to the second phase, the execution—with the indication that it should go forward "subject to the proviso that" the Commissioner should first ensure that he has a sufficient number of warders at Hola to cope with possible eventualities. So, warned of the danger implicit, aware from the S.O.S. that all was not well, the Ministers responsible, the Ministers who had given the decision, left the matter there and just sent it down the line.

Those two men, who knew that they had authorised—without reference, as advised by the Commissioner of Prisons, to the Security Council—an operation involving the risk of death, learnt on the afternoon of 3rd March that on the day on which that operation was carried out ten men had died at Hola Camp; and on 4th March, after—and these are the words of the publicity officer: a good deal of discussion as to whether violence was the cause of the deaths of these men in a meeting presided over by His Excellency the Governor, they were parties to the issue of the water cart communiqué.

Those documents, that evidence, prove to me conclusively that the responsibility here lies not only with Sullivan and Lewis, but at a level above them. It lies with those to whom they actually appealed for help, whom they warned of the danger, from whom they received indeed a decision which transferred responsibility upwards, but no other help or guidance. That responsibility, transcending Sullivan and Lewis, has not been recognised; but it cannot be ignored, it cannot be burked, it will not just evaporate into thin air if we do nothing about it.

I am as certain of this as I am of anything, that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State from the beginning to the end of this affair is without any jot or tittle of blame for what happened in Kenya, that he could not be expected to know, that it could not be within the administrative conventions that these matters should be brought to his attention before or during the execution. When I say my right hon. Friend was in this matter utterly and completely blameless, that is of a piece with his administration of his high office generally, which has been the greatest exercise of the office of Colonial Secretary in modern times. It is in the name of that record, it is in the name of his personal blamelessness, that I beg of him to ensure that the responsibility is recognised and carried where it properly belongs, and is seen to belong.

I have heard it suggested that there were circumstances surrounding this affair at Hola Camp which, it is argued, might justify the passing over of this responsibility—which might justify one in saying, "Well, of course, strictly speaking, that is quite correct; but then here there were special circumstances."

It has been said—and it is a fact—that these eleven men were the lowest of the low; sub-human was the word which one of my hon. Friends used. So be it. But that cannot be relevant to the acceptance of responsibility for their death. I know that it does not enter into my right hon. Friend's mind that it could be relevant, because it would be completely inconsistent with his whole policy of rehabilitation, which is based upon the assumption that whatever the present state of these men, they can be reclaimed. No one who supports the policy of rehabilitation can argue from the character and condition of these men that responsibility for their death should be different from the responsibility for anyone else's death. In general, I would say that it is a fearful doctrine, which must recoil upon the heads of those who pronounce it, to stand in judgment on a fellow human-being and to say, "Because he was such-and-such, therefore the consequences which would otherwise flow from his death shall not flow."

It is then said that the morale of the Prison Service, the morale of the whole Colonial Service, is above all important and that whatever we do, whatever we urge, whatever we say, should have regard to that morale. "Amen" say I. But is it for the morale of the Prison Service that those who executed a policy should suffer—whether inadequately or not is another question—and those who authorised it, those to whom they appealed, should be passed over? I cannot believe that that supports the morale of a service.

Going on beyond that, my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, South-Eeast (Mr. Peel) reminded the House how proud the Colonial Service is of the integrity of its administration and its record. Nothing could be more damaging to the morale of such a service than that there should be a breath or a blemish left upon it. No, Sir; that argument from the morale of the Prison Service and the Colonial Service stands on its head if what we mean is that therefore the consequences of responsibility should not follow in this case as they would in any other similar case.

Finally it is argued that this is Africa, that things are different there. Of course they are. The question is whether the difference between things there and here is such that the taking of responsibility there and here should be upon different principles. We claim that it is our object—and this is something which unites both sides of the House—to leave representative institutions behind us wherever we give up our rule. I cannot imagine that it is a way to plant representative institutions to be seen to shirk the acceptance and the assignment of responsibility, which is the very essence of responsible Government.

Nor can we ourselves pick and choose where and in what parts of the world we shall use this or that kind of standard. We cannot say, "We will have African standards in Africa, Asian standards in Asia and perhaps British standards here at home." We have not that choice to make. We must be consistent with ourselves everywhere. All Government, all influence of man upon man, rests upon opinion. What we can do in Africa, where we still govern and where we no longer govern, depends upon the opinion which is entertained of the way in which this country acts and the way in which Englishmen act. We cannot, we dare not, in Africa of all places, fall below our own highest standards in the acceptance of responsibility.