asked the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations and the Colonies why the Deputy Premier of British Guiana, Mr. Brindley Benn, and other elected representatives who have been arrested were not brought before the courts immediately and indicted under the Criminal Law so that they might be given an opportunity to defend themselves.
Thirty-six persons are detained under emergency regulations. The period of their detention varies between four and five weeks. Three are being charged with sedition. No charges have yet been brought against the remainder.
Why is this so? How can it be justified that a British Governor, with emergency powers, can retain in prison people who are well known to have tried their best to serve the interests of their country—whatever may be the opinion of the Minister—without making charges against them? Is not this the most gross form of old-fashioned colonialism? How can the right hon. Gentleman expect to have a possible solution in British Guiana unless he shows some understanding of what is expected in standards of behaviour and standards of conduct from the British Government themselves?
For the public safety. It would be unusual to bring to trial people detained under emergency regulations. In cases where it is possible to make a charge and to produce witnesses who are not afraid to give evidence, those people would, of course, be arrested and charged under the normal criminal code. The reason why they are not so charged is because those circumstances do not exist.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the detention of the Deputy Premier and four Elected Members of the Legislative Assembly has destroyed the majority of the Government of British Guiana? Is it not vital that these men and women should be charged so that they can defend themselves, otherwise the whole democratic system will be in ruins if the majority is destroyed by arbitrary arrests of this description?
I think that I have explained the situation. I understand the hon. Gentleman's feelings on these matters. He is correct in saying that the majority of the Government in the Legislature has been upset by this situation, but I would point out that the right to detain without trial was included in the emergency powers assumed by Dr. Jagan's Government—the hon. Gentleman is referring to Dr. Jagan's majority—in the emergency both in 1962 and in 1963.
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that so long as policies of this kind are pursued our protests about what happens under dictatorships become hypocritical? Is it not time that Her Majesty's Government began to learn a little from history? Will not they have a look at what happened in Ireland, Nyasaland, Kenya and Cyprus and realise that sooner or later they will have to go back on those policies, as they had to do in the case of every territory that I have mentioned?
The hon. Member would do well to look at his history a little. There is no resemblance whatever between the struggles against colonial Powers in certain other territories and what is going on in British Guiana, where two sections of the population are killing each other, night by night. I consider that the Governor, with the full support of the British Government, should do everything in his power to protect innocent people from being murdered.
Is it not a fact that these charges of colonialism are entirely inaccurate in this context, and also that every emerging Commonwealth country on becoming independent has immediately reintroduced arrangements for emergency arrest and detention without trial—in every case more severe than the arrangements of the outgoing British administration?
I recognise that exceptional measures are necessary in Southern Rhodesia, but does not the right hon. Gentleman agree that we should be seen to administer justice fairly? In the circumstances, will not he speedily submit the cases of those detained to a tribunal for investigation?
I should like to tell my right hon. Friend that there is great concern on both sides of the House about a situation in which people are imprisoned without trial, but can my right hon. Friend clear up one doubt in my mind? Do the figures to which his attention has been drawn refer to British Guiana—or to Ghana?
Is the Minister aware that, whatever may be the logic of the argument for detention without trial, the suffering of this must not be visited upon the relatives of the people who are detained and that we are glad to see that steps have been taken to alleviate any suffering? Will the Minister, however, make every effort to ensure that the investigation is speeded up and that the suffering is alleviated as soon as possible?