Sierra Leone (Expulsion of MR. David Loshak)

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 8th August 1966.

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1.26 a.m.

Photo of Mr James Allason Mr James Allason , Hemel Hempstead

I wish tonight to inform the House of the situation in which my constituent, Mr. David Loshak, found himself during his happily brief visit to Sierra Leone. Mr. Loshak is a journalist employed by the Daily Telegraph and he tells me that in that employment he is completely free to express his own views and is not tied to the views of the newspaper. He is neither pro-African nor anti-African. He tries to be objective in reporting what he sees.

It so happened that Mr. Loshak was expelled from Nigeria recently for undisclosed reasons. As we know, there has since been a change of government in Nigeria. He went to Sierra Leone not with the object of reporting the situation there but of using it as a stepping stone to go on to Guinea. He found difficulty in getting his visas for Guinea and so, whilst he was waiting in Sierra Leone, he sent two articles to the Daily Telegraph.

The first of those articles appeared on 11th July with quotations from the Opposition Press and, in particular, stating that there was an intention by the Government of Sierra Leone to arrest Dr. Easmon, who is a critic of the Government. All the basis of that article was taken from the Opposition Press which was circulating in Sierra Leone. The second article appeared on 13th July and dealt with the economic situation of Sierra Leone. It alleged mismanagement and misuse of resources. Mr. Loshak believes that it was this which gave the greatest distress to the Sierra Leone Government, because it was at a time when substantial British aid was under consideration. However, the nominal offence that he committed was in referring to the intention to arrest Dr. Easmon.

We ought to try to get this matter in perspective and to consider what would happen to a journalist in this country representing a foreign newspaper who reported that a prominent critic of the Government was likely to be arrested. It is highly unlikely that even the present Government would take any very serious steps. However, as we shall see, the steps which were taken in the case of Mr. Loshak were serious.

On the day that the article of 13th July apeared, application was made to a magistrate for a search warrant on the ground that the police believed that Mr. Loshak was in possession of illicit diamonds. The search warrant was granted and the police searched Mr. Loshak in his room. Naturally, they did not find any diamonds, but they took an extremely keen interest in his papers, which were confiscated, and the following day an expulsion order was made against him.

On the basis of that order, he could be detained indefinitely until he was expelled, and he was duly detained on that day, 14th July. He spent six days in custody, five of them on the basis of the expulsion order and not for any offence. He should still have been treated as an innocent man, although subject to deportation.

For the three days 14th-16th July he was kept for 12 hours daily confined in a small, bare office of the Freetown Criminal Investigation Department, and on those two nights he was locked in a small and very hot room in a suburban police station. He slept on a completely bare camp bed, with no bed clothes and no protection against mosquitoes, which included malarial mosquitoes. On 17th July, he was at last given access to open air, and he then received a better bedroom. He got a room with a fan, and access to a bathroom. This was the situation when my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, South (Mr. Evelyn King) raised the matter in the House on 18th July.

The Secretary of State for Commonwealth Affairs announced: He is … being well treated".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th July, 1966; Vol. 732 c. 37.] If this is good treatment, I do not know what bad treatment would be in the opinion of the Secretary of State.

On that same day he was charged with eight offences of making false statements and of sedition and he was also, at last, allowed to contact his wife. On 19th July he was released on bail. Difficulties had been placed in the way of the High Commission official who visited him daily, especially on the first day of his visits.

The six charges of sedition concerned publishing the first article on Sierra Leone, which consisted of handing the message in to the cable office to be dispatched to London. That was the only form of publishing that took place in Sierra Leone. Nevertheless, it was sufficient to form the basis of the charges.

He was tried and acquitted on four lesser charges, convicted on two counts, for which he was cautioned and discharged, and convicted on two other counts, for which he was fined £100. I am grateful for that, at least, because that is a fairly derisory penalty for the offence of sedition. The fine has been paid, and he has now returned to this country.

I want to comment not on the legal aspects but on the circumstances of the search, the bogus way in which the search warrant was obtained and the conditions of his custody, which are highly unsatisfactory. The House is entitled to an explanation why the Secretary of State should find this sort of treatment satisfactory. I hope that we shall hear from the hon. Lady that the strongest possible protest has been made to the Government of Sierra Leone about this very unsatisfactory case.

1.35 a.m.

Photo of Mr Evelyn King Mr Evelyn King , South Dorset

Even at 1.30 in the morning, the House should be grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. Allason) for raising this matter. It is clear from what he said that Mr. Loshak was treated in a harsh and uncivilised way.

The Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations gave a rather surprising reply when I first raised the matter with him by Private Notice Question on 18th July. He said that Mr. Loshak was being "well treated". I quite understand that he is bound to act upon information which he has received, but my information—I have seen Mr. Loshak—is that Mr. Loshak certainly did not tell the British representative who saw him that he was being well treated. I appreciate that the message probably passed through many hands, but the right hon. Gentleman might do well to find out how or why that information was given, through him, to the House.

I am puzzled also to understand why the right hon. Gentleman gave what seemed to me to be an almost callous answer. It is normal in such a case—one takes it to be common form in the House, I think—for a Minister to say something to the effect that the House will feel sympathy for the gentleman concerned or sympathy with his wife and family in their anxiety. No such utterance came from the right hon. Gentleman, which was a pity. I wonder whether he knew, for example, that Mr. Loshak had not been able to correspond with his wife for four days although his wife knew that he was in prison, and that his wife's letter to him was not handed to him. All the circumstances seem to me to contract what the right hon. Gentleman said.

I come now to the trial itself. I say at once that I think that the judge sought, in circumstances of great difficulty, to be completely fair. But it is relevant to describe briefly the legal situation in Sierra Leone. The chief justice has already been dismissed by the Prime Minister. There was a vacancy for a chief justice, and I understand that there is a vacancy now. In these circumstances, the Prime Minister himself came down to the court—a surprising act for a Prime Minister—and elected personally to give evidence. The Sierra Leone Opposition allege that he did this in order to signal to the judge what sort of verdict he required.

I shall not comment on that, but I wish to direct attention to the nature of the Prime Minister's evidence. Mr. Loshak's article—here I quote from the Daily Telegraph—read as follows: Issue of a warrant for the arrest of Dr. Easman, a leading Opposition figure, has high-lighted a political dilemma facing the Sierra Leone Government. With a general election approaching, the uninhibited flow of criticism is increasingly embarrassing to the Government. That is what Mr. Loshak reported. The Prime Minister, upon oath, told the court that no such warrant had been discussed. I must tell the House that, although that evidence was given upon oath by the Prime Minister, my information is that it was false. A warrant for the arrest of Dr. Easman was issued. It was discussed by Ministers. It was signed by the acting chief justice Mr. Christopher Cole, although, in view of the political situation which then supervened, that warrant was not served. That is not merely my opinion. It is the opinion of the entire Bar of Sierra Leone.

I come next to the Attorney-General, who prosecuted Mr. Loshak. He has not been fortunate in his legal career. He had been disbarred for 18 months for misappropriation of his clients' money, though he was reprieved on a technicality. He is currently, at this very time, under censure by the Bar Council of Sierra Leone for persecution and vendettas against political opponents, the reason being that he has prosecuted the same man again and again on charges of sedition, and, if there is an acquittal, he simply enters a new indictment.

The Attorney-General himself had to answer manslaughter charges, and has had the case transferred to an up-country court. During the case against Mr. Loshak, he acted as a bully—I suggest as a vindictive bully—and that again is not merely an expression of opinion from me, because I have been to some care to find out what happened. The judge himself, speaking to the Attorney-General of his own Government in the presence of the Prime Minister, said that his conduct "savoured of persecution." The eminent Q.C. who went out to defend Mr. Loshak expressed similar views.

Then one comes to the verdict. That, as my hon. Friend described to some extent, was "not guilty" of publishing a false statement likely to cause fear and alarm, but guilty of sedition by publishing the same statement. That is a verdict which, I suggest, is apparent nonsense.

If one looks at the case itself, one finds that Mr. Loshak was never even accused of doing anything at all in Sierra Leone itself. How one can cause public disaffection when one has not written a word which was published in Sierra Leone would defeat the intelligence or curiosity of any normal person. All that he did was to send a telegram to London. Whatever he may have said in it, one would have thought, could not sustain the charge of sedition in Sierra Leone. I suggest that his imprisonment and the conditions under which he was imprisoned were uncivilised. The attiture of the Sierra Leone Government was inexcusable, and the verdict was a farce.

Then one comes to the whole nub of this small debate: why is this important? The security of the person of any individual is important, but there is more to it than that. The point to which I should like to draw the attention of the House is that, within the last 18 months, no fewer than 10 correspondents of British newspapers in one place or another within the Afro-Asian bloc have either been deported or imprisoned, as happened in the case of Mr. Loshak. In the preceding 18 months, the score was extremely small. Incidentally, my figure is derived from information supplied to me by the Commonwealth Office. In other words, a new trend is setting in, and that trend can have but one objective. It is to silence the British Press. Broadly, I think that it can be said that British reporting is fair. The aim seems to be to prevent the House having the information that it ought to have. From conversations which I have had with journalists who have served in African States, it is clear that they are already being affected. They find that they cannot carry on their work properly. They say, "If I am to report at all, I must go to the country, leave the country, and send home my report only after I have left it."

These are trends far beyond the case of Mr. Loshak itself. Only the Commonwealth Office itself, in its dealings with those countries, can bring home to them the seriousness of what they do. If such countries think that this House or the country will be influenced by the fact that unfair and undue pressure or intimidation is to be exercised upon our journalists, they must understand that that is an idea which is wholly misconceived.

We are all conscious—and nowhere more than in the Commonwealth Office—of the evil of racial discrimination, and I share that view. But I put it to the Minister of State that if the Government were to expect lower standards of African States than they would demand of European States, that would be patronising and offensive to the African himself. We cannot, for the sake of the safety of the British subjects concerned, submit to that kind of discrimination. One of the first duties of Her Majesty's Government of any complexion is to ensure the freedom of the persons of British subjects travelling abroad, and no political motive ought to interfere with that duty. When I say that, I express not only my own view but the view of the whole House of Commons traditionally expressed through many generations.

1.45 a.m.

Photo of Mr James Dickens Mr James Dickens , Lewisham West

I rise basically for three reasons. First, I believe it important to express the view of the Government back benches on the deep, underlying principles affecting this sort of incident; secondly, I have known Mr. Loshak personally for 14 years; thirdly, I believe there is a case for making a plea for a wider understanding of the current conditions of Africa by visiting Western journalists.

Many of us who share the concept of a free and independent Africa are none the less very deeply disturbed about some current tendencies in that con- tinent. The case of Mr. Loshak is an example. He is, in my view, an honest and reliable journalist who has built up a sound reputation for authentic reporting.

When he was in Sierra Leone en route—abortively, as it happened—for Guinea to interview ex-President Nkrumah of Ghana, he found that, in Sierra Leone, he was being prevented, in effect, from doing his job as a journalist—namely, from sending back to the readers of the Daily Telegraph the reports he had prepared on the political and economic situation there as honestly and as objectively as he could.

Mr. Loshak was arrested and charged with sedition, and the sedition involved was, I understand, simply filing a cable—which was not fully printed in the Daily Telegraph by the way, early in July. There was no serious endeavour to prove against him a case to the effect that the Daily Telegraph either had remarkable circulation in West Africa or that West African newspapers were reprinting matter from it against the interests of Sir Albert Margai and the Sierra Leone People's Party.

Mr. Loshak came to the view that Sir Albert Margai and his friends were busy trying to establish a single party dictatorship. He was right to make this report to the readers of the Daily Telegraph. It was his duty to do so. It is important that those of us on these benches should make it clear, on occasions like this, that liberty is indivisible, that we stand for freedom of expression everywhere and that this includes West Africa in just the same way as it includes Eastern Europe, the Soviet Union, North and South Vietnam and elsewhere.

So the feeling the House expresses on this case is not at all confined to Right-wing Conservatives on the benches opposite. I refer here to Motion No. 143 which appeared on the Order Paper on 18th July.

This Motion contains a most unfortunate reference to the fact that Sierra Leone is in receipt of economic aid from this country. It is interesting to note that the hon. Member for Dorset, South (Mr. Evelyn King) and his hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. Allason) made no reference to this. It is just as well, because I took the opportunity earlier tonight to speak to Mr. Loshak about this and he has given me his authority to make it clear that he would deplore any endeavour to work up a campaign, either in this Chamber or in the country, against African States, such as Sierra Leone on the grounds that they were receiving economic assistance from this country, but acted in an autocratic way towards British journalists. We regard this as irrelevant. I am very glad that this insinuation, which was explicitly contained in Motion 143 has not been repeated in this Chamber tonight.

It would be disastrous if we sought to adhere to a policy toward African States which said that, because they did not act in accordance with our particular wishes from time to time, especially in what they do to our journalists or other British residents, we would reconsider our economic assistance to them. The time has now come for Great Britain and other western nations to face the fact that we have not been making adequate contributions to these countries.

I am fully aware that this country faces enormous economic problems, but I am dissatisfied with our contributions to Sierra Leone and other developing countries. At present we devote ·7 of 1 per cent. of our gross national product to economic assistance. Yet the gap between industrial and developing nations is widening year by year. In 1965 the developing countries were only able to raise their total food production by 1 per cent.—rather less than half the increase in population. Last year 200 million people in developing countries, most of them in Africa, almost certainly ate less than in 1964 and the position in 1966 will almost certainly be worse. It would be very foolish to reduce aid to any country with whom we happen to have had a difference of opinion, on their attitude towards visiting British journalists, or if we were to attach any consideration of this nature to aid.

It is interesting and significant that hon. Gentlemen opposite raise a question like this which, on its merits, is an important case, yet we never hear from any of them any concern expressed about the deportation of journalists from Southern Rhodesia.

Photo of Mr Evelyn King Mr Evelyn King , South Dorset

What the hon. Gentleman says is quite false, because I have condemned, in this House only a week ago the deportation of journalists from Rhodesia.

Photo of Mr James Dickens Mr James Dickens , Lewisham West

I was unaware of that and I unreservedly withdraw my imputation so far as the hon. Gentleman is concerned. He is very much an exception on the opposite benches—[Interruption.]—excluding the Parliamentary Liberal Party, who represent another honourable exception. I pay tribute to the distinguished record of the Parliamentary Liberal Party in this respect. The vast majority of Opposition Members have made no protest whatever about the fact that Southern Rhodesia has the highest rate of expulsion of journalists of any African country and continues to carry out this policy.

The third reason is to make a plea for a wider and more sympathetic understanding of the turmoil which is embroiling Africa. We all know that there have been revolutions in recent months in no fewer than seven African States; in Nigeria, the Sudan, Ghana, Buganda, Upper Volta, Algeria and the Congo.

The reason for this turmoil is complex and it would indeed be a bold person who would try to give an answer at this hour of the morning. But these developments in Africa are the first reactions after a decade of independence following five centuries of European influence and control, and we have to look at Africa sympatheticaly and against such a background. The situation is confusing and bewildering not only to people in the West, but also to Marxists from the Soviet Union and from China. Africa is not fitting into the preconceived patterns we held prior to the granting of independence.

We are seeing a reaffirmation of African culture by some of the territories now independent after five hundred years of European influence. It must be remembered that the Africans, unlike other former colonial subjects, never disintegrated as a social unit as, for example, have the American Indians or the Australian Aborigines. To newspapers in Britain, especially those which support the Conservative cause, I say take cognisance of the fact that there are very deep and profound attitudes in Africa today towards the redevelopment of African society on a new and higher level than it has known hitherto.

Mr. Loshak, in articles on his return to this country, has made one or two references to this climate of opinion in West Africa, and despite his earlier remarks about tendencies towards single-party government in African States, he has stated in an article which appeared in the Sunday Telegraph of 31st July, Political freedom has existed since independence in 1961 and exists still. One difficulty is the fact that there is a lack of the Parliamentary system of government as we know it because of an absence of the economic base which supports that system in Britain. There is in Sierra Leone the problem of the Government going to a forthcoming election, facing an Opposition party with which the differences are acute. My hon. Friend cannot tonight comment on the wider implications, but I wonder if she could state what are her reactions to Mr. Loshak's article of 31st July? He stated there, categorically, that … every request, for whatever minor comfort, for permission to contact my wife in England, or to go out for a breath of fresh air, even for permission to speak to the British High Commission's representative, was baulked by likeable but little men …". Did our High Commission office in Sierra Leone make efforts to speak to Mr. Loshak to see that his interests were being adequately looked after?

Other matters have been referred to on which I want to touch briefly. There is some ground for hope in Sierra Leone. The fact that the judge imposed only a nominal fine is a matter of great significance, as are also the tremendous demonstrations after the trial of popular feeling and support for Mr. Loshak. In his more recent article in the Daily Telegraph, of 1st August, Mr. Loshak summarises his analysis of the trial as showing to the political opposition in Sierra Leone that the Government of Sir Albert Margai was determined to pursue its critics to the bitter end. It would be only right and proper for me to say—and I address my remarks to the Government of Sierra Leone—that many hon. Members on this side of the House are deeply concerned about the current antidemocratic trends in Sierra Leone.

We are sympathetic about the problems that that country faces and we wish to help. We hope that those with latent trends to authoritarian Government will recognise that a healthy Parliamentary opposition is essential to the political democracy of Sierra Leone, and that oppositions can be troublesome but are inevitable and worth while and necessary if they are to maintain any semblance of Parliamentary or political democracy.

2.02 a.m.

Photo of Mrs Judith Hart Mrs Judith Hart , Lanark

I am glad that this issue has been raised by the hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. Allason) tonight because it is an issue that it is right for the House of Commons, with its traditions, to discuss. First, I want to put on record the facts; secondly, to state the position of the Government, and thirdly, to try to state the matter against some of the wider perspectives, which my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Dickens) has been seeking to do. I want to comment separately on the quite extraordinary and astonishing speech of the hon. Member for Dorset, South (Mr. Evelyn King).

I accept that Mr. Loshak has sought to be neither pro-African nor anti-African. I accept that he has a reputation as a journalist of great skill and integrity. He was convicted under the Public Order Act of Sierra Leone because he wrote a cable—and to that extent writing a cable, as in our own libel laws, constitutes publishing—containing the statement that a warrant had been issued for the arrest of the leading Opposition figure, Mr. Easmon. It has not been contested that the cable that he sought to send to the Daily Telegraph contained this statement, nor is it contested that the statement proved to be unsubstantiated.

The pity of it, in my opinion, is that though it may have been written in the best of beliefs that the sources from which Mr. Loshak had got it were accurate, it had not been checked with Government sources and was, in fact, quite unsubstantiated. We have to bear in mind the fact that Mr. Loshak, while extremely experienced in other African countries, had not been very long in Sierra Leone, and no doubt had not had the time that he would normally have taken to distinguish between his reliable contacts and his less reliable ones.

However, I have no doubt that at that moment Mr. Loshak was sure that he was right, and no doubt that his newspaper would have done some checking at its end to ensure that it thought that he was right, before publication. Be that as it may, this was the background, and he was charged under the Public Order Act of Sierra Leone. The charges concerned the publication of a false statement, first about the issue of the warrant for the arrest of Mr. Easmon and then about the Government's "state of nerves"—the phrase used in his cable. On both of these he was acquitted.

The third charge was that he published a false statement likely to injure the reputation of the Government of Sierra Leone. It is, of course, common in most of the newer independent States of Africa for newspapers to publish a good deal of the critical statements about them which appear in the British Press, although not necessarily in full. Both Government and Opposition newspapers republish something which has been published in London to support a point of view which they are trying to put at the time. To that extent, it was maintained that the statement made was likely to injure the reputation of the Sierra Leone Government. He was convicted on one count and acquitted on the other, on which he was cautioned and discharged.

On a fourth charge, that of causing fear and alarm to the public, he was acquitted. The next was that he published a false report likely to injure the reputation of the Government of Sierra Leone. On this he was convicted and again cautioned and discharged. Finally, he was charged with the publication of a seditious publication, namely a cable, under Section 33(1) of the Public Order Act, and on both counts, he was convicted and fined £100. He left Sierra Leone on 29th July and arrived back in London the same day.

These are the facts of the charges made against him. He was of course tried without a jury and I know that he is aware of this. This was, however, in accordance with the laws of Sierra Leone. He was detained for six days without being charged. On this, our High Commissioner made very strong representations. Those matters in which any Commonwealth country is acting according to its own laws are ones in which the British Government cannot intervene, but where, as in this case, there is imprisonment without charge, it is rather different. On this it was felt proper that the High Commissioner should convey the views of the British Government.

A good deal has been said about the treatment of Mr. Loshak. Our information is that he certainly did not have all the facilities normally taken for granted by anyone in custody in this country. Nevertheless, we must accept that we cannot apply all the standards even of custody in this country to countries in West Africa. My information is that the conditions under which Mr. Loshak was detained, as distinct from the fact that he was detained without being charged, were no different from those which generally prevail in most of West Africa.

After initial difficulty, our High Commissioner had complete opportunities to act on Mr. Loshak's behalf in assisting to arrange for his defence and one or two other matters which were felt to be useful at the time. We have no complaints of any lack of access for our High Commissioner. These are the facts.

It is probably best to leave on one side the statement of the hon. Member for Dorset, South, who seemed to impugn the trial and the evidence given at it. He quoted the opinion of the entire Bar of Sierra Leone. It would not be proper for me to comment on these matters. They concern the legal trial according to the law of Sierra Leone. I have no reason to suppose that any of his statements were particularly well-founded. I will state the Government's position——

Photo of Mr Evelyn King Mr Evelyn King , South Dorset

The hon. Lady is disregarding what I said. Is she also disregarding what the judge said, that the Attorney-General's conduct savoured of persecution?

Photo of Mrs Judith Hart Mrs Judith Hart , Lanark

No. I was referring rather to the other remarks which the hon. Member made about Sir Albert Margai and the nature of the evidence he gave, and the basis on which the judge reached his conclusion, and what the hon. Member said about the Attorney-General in his personal capacity rather than as Attorney-General.

May I come to the position of Her Majesty's Government? Our High Commissioner took every step which was open to him on the question of detention in custody and of making sure that Mr. Loshak had full legal representation in his defence. He also had a good deal of discussion with the authorities in Sierra Leone about aspects of the question. But I must emphasise that it would have been quite improper for the High Commissioner on behalf of Her Majesty's Government in any way to seek to intervene in the processes of the law of Sierra Leone, which were being followed out, because that would have been tantamount—as I said in a letter to one of my hon. Friends who wrote to me about this case—to asking the Government of an independent Commonwealth country to interfere with the discretion of its judiciary, and clearly that would not be correct.

We have to be quite clear that any Commonwealth country has the right to expel United Kingdom citizens in accordance with its own laws, but we take the view that this right should not be abused by proceeding arbitrarily. We therefore reserve the right to make representations to any Commonwealth Government in any individual case if the manner in which the power of the courts is exercised causes hardship or seems to be arbitrary or unjust. This right has been exercised, and continues to be exercised. For example, this summer it has been exercised in the case of Major Boyle's expulsion from Nigeria in June, and in the case of Walter Schwarz, the Guardian correspondent in Nigeria, who was arrested in June. The latest example is the protest which we made concerning the staff of Salisbury University College. There have been a number of cases recently in which we have not refrained from exercising our right to make representations if we have felt that there was arbitrary exercise of authority or hardship being caused.

This is different from representations, which we cannot make, concerning the operation of the laws of a country perfectly correctly according to their concept of their laws. It has been suggested that we deny ourselves in this House the opportunity to be fully informed about matters which might enable more accurate assessments to be made as to whether increased aid should be given to a country if we do not have full, unfettered and free reports from journalists from those countries. The answer to this must surely lie in making certain that there are plenty of opportunities for journalists from Britain to visit the countries concerned and to tell us about them on their return where the political situation in the country they have been visiting is very delicate; as my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, West said the situation is indeed very delicate in a number of African countries at the moment. We must understand that they are extremely sensitive to what they regard not merely as damaging criticism but as a misrepresentation of the facts which may exacerbate the situation in their country. In those countries where there is this sensitivity to criticism we have to await the return of journalists to Britain before they can tell us the true story which they would like to tell. I do not think that we are denying ourselves information which we ought to have.

The Government, of course, have many other sources of information, so that we need not fear that the Government are losing accurate assessments which are necessary to us. Moreover, no hon. Member has suggested that the hard reporting of news does not come through to us accurately from any African country. I think that no one suggests that even in this case there was suppression of the actual reporting of events. In this case the whole issue centres around a non-event rather than an event. It is not, therefore, hard news reporting with which we are concerned.

To try to set this in what I see to be its right perspective, one must consider the general question of the freedom of the Press in Commonwealth countries. This must, in the first place, be a matter for the sovereign Governments concerned. It is, as I have said, inappropriate for Her Majesty's Government to make representations except where we feel that British journalists have been unfairly treated. But, of course, non-governmental bodies can take whatever steps they feel it right to take.

As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said on 7th July, there are influential bodies in journalism. There is the Commonwealth Press Union and the International Federation of Journalists, both of which are well suited to exercise a great deal of influence; indeed, influence which is probably more important in this sphere than the direct influence of Governments. However, we must be sensitively aware that the freedom of the Press is a mark of a highly sophisticated and fully educated democracy.

I wonder if hon. Members who have spoken in this issue tonight have remembered our history from the point of view of the freedom of the Press. The British Press began in the 16th century and developed in the 17th century. It consisted of a series of news and snippets of gossip from the coffee houses of London. It was not until the late 18th century that we had anything that could be said to be equated with freedom of the Press. The relaxation that took place at the end of the 17th century was only comparative in relation to the hand-written news letters of the time. It must be remembered that we had a Parliament in Britain at that time and that it had existed for many years. And yet Government censorship prevailed on anything published by way of news and the printed Press was licensed and, therefore, censored. It was not until after the whole story of John Wilkes—after all the stories of those who were sent to prison for their criticism of the Government that, in the late 18th century, the laws of libel were changed in Britain so that, for the first time, we really removed Government censorship from the Press.

If we look back at the way in which the freedom of the Press in this country developed pari passu with the growth of effective democracy and a more sophisticated Parliamentary system of government, we cannot be surprised if the newly-emergent African State which have had independence for, perhaps, only one, two, or five years, have not yet felt confident to reach the position in which we now find ourselves in the 20th century. These States are still very vulnerable and sensitive to external criticism.

I hope that we can, in the years ahead, encourage them to feel that they can allow free criticism by the Press and that they need not regard that criticism as a threat to their security. However, I fear that it may be—and I am being realistic—some time yet before all of them can feel confident enough about their internal security. Until it can rest on a fully informed politically educated population, it must rest on other things. Until they reach that point, they will find it difficult to afford to the Press the luxury of free criticism—something which we no longer regard as a luxury; although for some years to come in Africa a free Press may continue to be regarded as a luxury.

Everyone who has felt concerned about the case of Mr. Loshak should remember the high reputation he has had on the various newspapers for which he has worked, and I am sure that he will not find this in any way damaging to his career. I am sure that he will continue to give us information from the various parts of the world to which he is sent and I am certain that, in this case, the difficulty arose mainly because he was less well acquainted with and had spent less time in Sierra Leone than in most of the other countries about which he had been keeping his newspaper so fully informed in the period before then.