Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.

Donate to our crowdfunder

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.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mr Alan Lennox-Boyd Mr Alan Lennox-Boyd , Mid Bedfordshire 12:00 am, 27th July 1959

I was coming to that at the appropriate time; but I will answer the hon. Member now. The submission that the Press handouts were irrelevant must have been made by the Crown counsel. We have been through all the evidence, and all there is is question and answer by counsel or witnesses and there seems little doubt that it was made by counsel; but I will check on that and let the hon. Gentleman and the House know.

My hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West made reference to Mr. Sullivan's situation report. It has been thought, since that report disclosed the fact that he did not grasp all the principles of the plan, that opportunities should have been taken to make sure that he did understand those principles. Hon. Members should study carefully paragraph 36 of the Report (Cmnd. 816) where we see that Mr. Lewis, the Commissioner of Prisons, did not read into this that Sullivan was under any misapprehension as to the Cowan Plan. Mr. Lewis was entitled to take that view on the facts as he knew them and, so far as the possible use of corporal punishment was concerned, Campbell, although he did not think that this would be part of the operation, thought in his evidence that it might have been at Sullivan's discretion.

The same applies to the use of tools. Whatever is stated in the situation report, it is not suggested to my mind at least that he did not grasp the important principles. Then I was asked about the other safeguards in Kenya public life, including the part played by the Minister for Defence and Internal Security, Mr. Cusack. My hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West, the hon. Member for St. Pancras, North and the hon. and learned Member for Ipswich asked about him; I think that the hon. Lady the Member for Blackburn did as well.

The fact is that Mr. Cusack had before him a plan and a Minute by the Commissioner of Prisons pointing out the dangers and suggesting that it should be referred to the Security Council. It was right of my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West to point out that the dangers were not only to the life, or fear or injury, of detainees, but also to the warders. Mr. Lewis was conscious of the injury which occurred on Mageta island to a warder, and Mr. Lewis satisfied himself that no new policy was being introduced and that the plan included safeguards to reduce the risk of trouble to a minimum.

The safeguards were explained in great detail in the debate on 16th June; that they should be told first in the compound, that they should be told first when they were in a party of not more than twenty and not until that party had been got safely under way and started work should another group be told. The moment of maximum danger would be at the time when there was an overwhelming warder force, including five Europeans. Those were the safeguards.

I think Mr. Cusack was fully entitled, on the facts as he understood them, to take the view that this matter did not call for reference to the Security Council. He had an experienced Commissioner of Prisons on whom he relied so far as the detailed execution of the policy was concerned, and he could see that considerable trouble had been taken to send down an officer experienced in operations of this sort to go over the matter fully with the man on the spot. He said in the Conroy Inquiry that he did not tell the Commissioner the proposals must be strictly complied with. If he could have known beforehand that some of the fundamentals of the plan were to be altered, and trouble would therefore quite likely ensue, obviously he would have said explicitly that there must be no variation. But I think he was entitled to assume that once he had given his approval to the plan it would be carried out as he had approved it and not be departed from in any fundamental particular. On that basis he was prepared to shoulder the responsibility for the decision and not pass it on to anyone else.

The Commissioner of Prisons, who was responsible for the day-to-day administration and execution of policy, has accepted without question responsibility for certain failures and I do not myself see that the Minister is in any way culpable here. I would put it to the House, which I think is a generous body, that whether there was a degree of responsibility or not on Mr. Cusack for what happened—and, as I have said, I do not think there was—is, as was arranged last January, ending his career in the service today. He is, as the House knows, a Civil Service Minister and is handing over today to Mr. Swann. But I must repeat what I have said as to my own view of his conduct throughout.

There has been a reference to his colleague, Mr. Johnston, the Minister for African Affairs. Some suggestions appeared in the speech of the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale) about Mr. Johnston. In some contemptuous way it was suggested that he was indifferent to his obligations as Minister for African Affairs. Of this I am quite certain, that when the history of these troubled years in Kenya comes to be written, his will be a very honoured name in the story of rehabilitation. Countless people will owe their recovery and return to normal civilised life to his work, and I would in the strongest manner deprecate any suggestion that he is indifferent to the full obligations of his job as Minister for African Affairs.

With his direct experience of rehabilitation methods and their result, he could of course see that there were potential dangers, but he felt that dilution would be one factor to minimise the risk. There is reference in the plan to the association of some co-operative detainees in the operation, but the number involved was not stated. We now know that Mr. Cowan himself had not envisaged dilution to the extent that had previously been made. Apart from the fact that there would not have been a sufficient number of co-operative people in the closed camps to allow of it, there was the point that Mr. Cowan made that the objective in this first operation was limited to getting the men to work. In the past full dilution had been needed not so much for this purpose but for the later stages with the rehabilitation process. Although he indicated that dilution was not to be a cardinal feature of the plan he also made clear it could go in to some extent.

Any difference there may have been between Mr. Johnston and Mr. Cowan as to the actual extent of the dilution, does not alter the fact that there were other important safeguards in the plan which all concerned who approved it fully understood and I personally am fully satisfied that no blame can be attached to Mr. Johnston.

A great many references have also been made to Mr. Campbell. I answered one or two questions earlier this evening as to his status in the party of three that went to have a look at Hola at the Governor's request on 4th March. I spoke at length in the debate of 16th June on the visit paid by these three officers, of whom he was one, to Hola on 4th March. I also spoke of the most unfortunate Press statement that was issued after the Government House meeting. I made it clear that it was really not credible that there was on either occasion a deliberate intention to mislead. Autopsies were about to be conducted; the C.I.D. had begun its investigation; the truth was certain very soon to emerge. There was no possibility that the truth could be covered up, even if anyone had wanted to cover it up. It really is carrying suspicion of the Government of Kenya to an alto gether unjust extent to believe that this was deliberately designed to give the wrong impression.—[HON. MEMBERS: "Why was it done?"] As to the notes—