HC Deb 03 June 1949 vol 465 cc2456-74

11.7 a.m.

Mr. Gammans (Hornsey)

I want to raise the question of Seychelles. It is not often that the affairs of this small island come before this House, but I would remind Members that we here are responsible for what is happening in the Seychelles, and that a state of affairs exists there which, I think, should be brought before the House. By a somewhat curious coincidence, it was on the last day of the Summer Session last year that I also referred to affairs in the Seychelles, and I am sorry to say that since that time, far from getting any better, conditions have got considerably worse.

I would say without any exaggeration that in my experience of the Colonial Empire I cannot recall a more shocking case of political jobbery and maladministration, which is a disgrace to the Colonial system. In fact, it is a sort of mixture of "Alice in Wonderland." "Treasure Island" and the history of Tammany Hall politics in the Bowery district of New York. I am sorry that I have to mention the name of an official, but there is no other way round it, and in view of what has been said about this particular official by the Chief Justice of the island, I think that the House will agree that what I have to say is excusable.

The story starts in 1947 when Dr. Selwyn-Clarke was appointed as Governor. Dr. Selwyn-Clarke is a man of very considerable medical reputation and a man who earned for himself the highest possible praise for valour and devotion to duty while he was a prisoner of war in Hong Kong. When I was in Hong Kong a few months ago, people there were talking about what a wonderful job of work he did at the risk of his own life, so I have nothing to say against him on that score. He is one of the few medical officers, if not the only one, ever appointed as governor of a colony, and whatever his medical qualifications and record, I think that we shall find that he unfortunately lacks those qualities of fair-mindedness and compromise which the governor of a colony requires. I would like to quote a short extract from this month's "Crown Colonist," which expresses what I am trying to say. The article says: Executive action in the Seychelles during the last two years has on occasion been beyond general comprehension. The present Governor is high-minded and obviously well-intentioned but is sadly out of touch with the people. One of the first things which Dr. Selwyn-Clarke did was to appoint as acting Attorney-General a Mr. Collet. Mr. Collet was only called to the Bar in 1943 and before that time was the Secretary of the League of Coloured People in London. He has never disguised his anti-white prejudices. His wife is also a barrister, and, as the House will see later on, she too comes into this extraordinary picture.

The first thing Mr. Collet seems to have done was either to appoint himself or get himself appointed as collector of income tax. I admit that income tax has been collected in the Seychelles in a somewhat haphazard manner, but that is the fault of the Government—I only wish that income tax was collected in an equally haphazard way in this country. Mr. Collet proceeded to send out accounts for income tax going back as far as 1927. In other words, people were called upon to pay 20 years' back income tax. When this matter was raised last year, I mentioned the case of a planter who received an arbitrary assessment from Mr. Collet to 98,000 rupees and who, before he could either pay or lodge a complaint, had his property attached and was finally arrested in the street and searched. He was then told that unless he paid within eight days he would be made bankrupt.

The second case is that of Mr. Loizeau who was prosecuted in the same way by Mr. Collet. When he asked whether he could get a lawyer from Mauritius to defend him, Mr. Collet told him there were perfectly good lawyers in the Seychelles and that no lawyer from Mauritius was necessary. It is perfectly true that there were two other lawyers in the islands besides Mr. Collet, but one happened to be Mrs. Collet and the wretched man had a certain amount of diffidence about employing the wife of the man who was prosecuting him.

Dr. Segal (Preston)

Can the hon. Member mention to which particular island he is referring?

Mr. Gammans

If the hon. Member had been here at the start of the Debate he would know that I am talking about the Seychelles.

Dr. Segal

But the Seychelles comprise a group of over 100 islands.

Mr. Gammans

The one I am talking about is the main island, where the capital is situated, Mahé.

To return to Mrs. Collet. The man objected to employing Mrs. Collet, whereupon there was a certain amount of misunderstanding and Mr. Collet appears to have threatened to bash him on the face for insulting his wife. The case came before the Supreme Court, and the acting Chief Justice of the time declared that Mr. Collet's action was ultra vires. He finished by saying that it represented "topsyturvyism in excelsis."

We now come to an even worse case, that of Mr. Lemarchand. He was called upon to pay 6,000 odd rupees by Mr. Collet and asked there and then to sign a cheque for this amount under duress. He appealed to the Supreme Court, which found that the cheque had been signed under duress, and the Chief Justice proceeded to make the following remarks about the attorney-general: This man is revealed in his true colours—spiteful, malicious, vindictive to anyone who opposes his will, full of venom and so unscrupulous that he is clearly the kind of person who without compunction would resort to blackmail. He added: Mr. Collet has brought disgrace on our profession. Later he said: No doubt, the fullest inquiry will be made in England as to how it came about that this man was appointed even temporarily to a responsible post in British territory in the Colonial Legal Service. The Chief Justice finished by saying: O.G.P.U. methods are not yet recognised in any British colony. The methods adopted to extort money from the Plaintiff are absolutely appalling … British administration of a colony overseas has been brought into grave disrepute. I hope Members will agree, in view of that statement, that I am justified in bringing this case before the House.

Last year, the Under-Secretary of State rather chided me because I referred to Mr. Collet as a "pocket Hitler," but since then the Chief Justice, as I have shown, has referred to "his O.G.P.U. methods"; and if it does anything to salve the right hon. Gentleman's conscience I will speak of Gestapo methods. To add to this unbelievably sordid case, there is evidence that one of the chief witnesses, Mr. Jenkins, the chief revenue officer, was allowed to go on leave or, as he claimed, was sent on leave before this appeal came off. The result was that the Chief Justice said there must be an inquiry into why Mr. Jenkins left the jurisdiction of the court. I suggest to the House that never before in the history of the British Colonies has there been a more scathing indictment of a law officer of the Crown by a Chief Justice.

There is one other case to which I want to refer. It is a case of one of the other local lawyers named Loizeau. He was called upon to pay 100,000 rupees in Income Tax going as far back as 1927. Mr. Loizeau protested, quite naturally, and was apparently in tears, whereupon Mr. Collet knocked the amount down from 100,000 rupees to 20,000. I do not know whether this is something we could try out here with the Inland Revenue officials. For my part, I would be prepared to burst into tears at any time if I could get four-fifths of my Income Tax knocked off. However, Mr. Collet knocked the amount down, provided the man signed a declaration saying that he had fraudulently evaded taxation. The predecessor of the Chief Justice I have just referred to, said this about the matter: I am unable to make head or tail of the haphazard manner in which serious charges are brought up, resurrected and buried at the sole discretion of the Attorney-General. As to the confession, the acting Chief Justice found that it was a document which to say the least had not been made voluntarily. As a result of the case of Mr. Lemarchand and the other cases, the Government has had to refund all the Income Tax collected by Mr. Collet in this illegal manner. But the most amazing part of this fantastic story is to follow. In September last a new chief justice was appointed to fill the acting post held by the second man to whom I have referred and as a result Mr. Collet became redundant, which was, I think, a very nice way of saying he had been got rid of. The right hon. Gentleman wrote to me on 22nd September and said: It is not my intention to offer Mr. Collet any official post in the administration of the Seychelles. At the same time I had a very nice letter from Mr. Collet, in which he gave me some reason to doubt his complete sanity. He asked me to look at this case with what he called "my valid eye." I do not know what that is meant to be, but he then went on to offer to pay half of my passage out to the Seychelles and said he would put up a bed for me and lend me his car with a chauffeur. The letter and the offer were rather spoilt by his calling me an "undeflatable gas bag."

But what happened next? In spite of what the right hon. Gentleman told me, that he was never to be re-employed, we hear that the Governor proposed to take Mr. Collet on at £3,300 a year to revise the laws of the Colony; that is after the right hon. Gentleman made that statement, after we had heard the story in this House last year of Mr. Collet's goings on, and after the chief justice had called him, among other things, "spiteful, malicious and blackmailing." However, the right hon. Gentleman appears to have plucked up courage and refused to sanction this appointment, and Mr. Collet did not, as far as I can gather, actually start to draw his £3,300 a year.

What the Governor did do, however, was to appoint him as a nominated unofficial member of the Legislative Council, a post which, so far as I know, he still holds. I suggest that this is a flagrant disregard by the Governor of the assurance given by the right hon. Gentleman to this House, that this man would never again be employed. When I raised it with the right hon. Gentleman he suggested that appointment as a member of the Legislative Council was not an appointment such as that about which he had given me a guarantee. Whatever may be the letter of it, I am sure that every reasonable-minded person would agree that the Governor was acting contrary to the spirit of the right hon. Gentleman's assurances, and certainly contrary to what should happen with a man with this record.

I received two telegrams a few days ago which, I think the right hon. Gentleman, has had. One is from the elected members of the Seychelles Elected Council. Dated 10th May, it says: The Governor has announced that he is to leave the island. We earnestly trust that he will not return, and refer to our telegram of 30th April In order to make a fresh start, and obliterate the hatred of the administration which has been aroused, we recommend the immediate secondment of an East African officer for the Governorship, as recommended by Financial Commissioner Reid 16 years ago and insisted upon by us with Mr. Eastwood. Mr. Eastwood was the Colonial Office official whom the right hon. Gentleman sent out to the Seychelles a few weeks ago. The telegram goes on: The exclusively official and nominated, character of the Executive Council has contributed to the Government's failure. We claim that there should be at least two unofficial members, and that all unofficial members should be chosen by the elected members of the Legislative Council. This would be enthusiastically welcomed as a first step towards the participation by the people in their own Government. The day before there was another telegram, from the Taxpayers and Producers' Association, from which I will read a brief extract: In view of the condemnation of Mr. Collet's action by successive Seychelles judges, and now by the Appeal Court of Mauritius in the Gresle case, the Governor's appointing him to the Council and continuing him thereon seems intentionally provocative to the community. I should say that that was a masterly understatement.

That is the story. I cannot recall ever having heard such a fantastic tale about a part of the administration for which the right hon. Gentleman must accept a large share of the responsibility. I want to ask the Under-Secretary, frankly, three questions: First, when the Governor goes on leave, as I believe he is about to do, is he going back to the Colony? Second, is Mr. Collet who, I believe, is now in England, to continue to be a member of the Legislative Council, in face of the shocking indictment of the Chief Justice against him—an indictment not only of his capabilities, and certainly not of his politics, but of his personal character? Is Mr. East-wood's report on the Seychelles to be published or, better still, would not the Minister agree that things have reached such a state that a committee of inquiry ought to be sent to the island composed, possibly, of Members of this House and people outside this House, not only to deal with constitutional matters but also with the economic situation, which is bad, and to which I have not had time to refer today?

Third, what progress has been made with the linking up of the administration of this small island with, say, East Africa? A small island of this sort, with only 35,000 people in it—about half the size of an average electorate in this country—should not have a top heavy administration. Any man who goes into the Seychelles service has very little hope of promotion. These recommendations were made 16 years ago by the Financial Commissioner, who is now the hon. Member for Swindon (Mr. T. Reid). What he suggested then is equally applicable today.

I hope the Under-Secretary will reply to these specific points. I have not brought forward one piece of what I might call "tittle tattle". Many worse things than I have mentioned today have been said in private correspondence to Members of the House, but I have not mentioned one of them. I have based my charge of maladministration merely on what has been said by the Chief Justice of the Colony, and the promise given to me by the right hon. Gentleman about the re-employment of this man. I say that that promise has been broken in the spirit if not in the letter by the Governor, and I hope the Under-Secretary will give some explanation of what has happened and an assurance that things will be improved at once.

11.25 a.m.

Mr. Thomas Reid (Swindon)

I believe that I am the only Member of the House who has been to and worked in the Seychelles, where I was sent as Financial Commissioner. The Seychelles is an archipelago and a garden of Eden to look at, but I can assure the House that, politically and in some other respects, it is nothing like a garden of Eden. I do not propose to go over the ground covered by the hon. Member for Hornsey (Mr. Gammans), but I am aware of all the facts he has put forward and, subject to what the Colonial Secretary may say, I am of the opinion that recent proceedings in the Seychelles have been entirely disreputable.

With regard to the suggestion to link up the Seychelles with the adjoining territory of Kenya, I went into that when I was Commissioner to the Seychelles and recommended that it should not be carried out. Kenya is a thousand miles away and so is Mauritius. I could not see, then, what would be gained by attaching this unfortunate little Colony to either of those two adjoining Colonies. The Government of the day accepted my proposals, and decided upon separate administration for the Seychelles. I did, however, make one recommendation, which was not accepted. It struck me that on this island, with its small population and small administration, the Governor had to be more or less in charge of everything. Such a Governor, I thought must be, first of all, a trained administrator. I thought it was no use sending out to the Seychelles a Governor who was not a trained administrator who, in my view, is as much an expert as a trained bacteriologist. In the Seychelles a Governor has to do things of which a Governor in a bigger colony would have no knowledge.

In addition to being small, the Seychelles is about as difficult a colony, politically, as any in the world. There is a virulent public opinion, and there are all sorts of intrigues going on in the various groups and races. There could not be a better testing place for any man to be tried out as a future governor of a colony. The salary, I think I am right in saying, of the Governor was equivalent to that paid to a second-class civil servant in Ceylon or Malaya and it was obvious to me that it would be almost impossible to get any man who had real ability and prospects to go to such a place for such a salary. It was difficult to get people to take up the governorship of this Colony.

It struck me as being common sense that there should be sent to the colony not a man who, according to Civil Service jargon, should be given something at the end of his days, not a mediocre man, but one of the best Colonial civil servants, young, able and ambitious, who would be willing to go there even at some financial sacrifice, in the hope of obtaining promotion to a better post. What was required was an even better man than would be required in a bigger colony, where a governor's deficiencies can be made up to some extent by the efficiency of some of his subordinates. That suggestion was not adopted, as I was informed in a letter at the time. I did not reply, because I felt that I had done my part and the decision rested with the Colonial Office.

I renew this proposal today. It has been done in other Colonies. They get men for Borneo from the Malayan Civil Service, youngish men. They are tried out. Some of these men have made good afterwards and have reached the highest positions in the Colonial Empire. I would ask my right hon. Friend why this suggestion was not adopted, and why it cannot be adopted today, and whether it is proposed to go on with the present system of appointing men about to retire to take up these posts in the Seychelles? A governor in a small Colony can make or mar the administration. If he is not first-class, he can paralyse the whole administration. We talk glibly in this country about sending only the best to the Colonies, but it is no use sending our best into the civil or the technical services unless the best is at the top. Otherwise the man at the top can destroy the efforts of all the best people below him. I suggest that it is our duty to send to the Colonies as governors only men of proved and tested ability.

In this connection I would point out that we cannot test for their capacities future governors even by sending them to huge Colonies where there are no political difficulties. Ceylon has now passed into the status of a Dominion. It has been an excellent testing ground for the whole Colonial Empire for future governors. There was there an intense political atmosphere, where men could be tried and tested and a high almost Western, standard of administration. The Seychelles is a very small Colony. There is not a first-class standard of administration there but a first-class standard of political instability. My suggestion of 16 years ago should be adopted now. The present juncture should be used for sending to this Colony as Commissioner a first-class man, a junior member of one of the Colonial Civil Services so that he can redeem the appalling position into which this Colony has fallen at the present time.

11.33 a.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies (Mr. Rees-Williams)

I agree that, on the case made by the hon. Member for Hornsey (Mr. Gammans), the House would naturally feel some disquiet on this matter. I shall, however, be able to show that he has very much over-emphasised some of the bad features but has not made any statement of the many difficulties that naturally arise in a series of islands of this character. Perhaps I might paint the picture as it should be painted, not only in the dark places, but in some of the light places as well. I think the House will see that we are in a great difficulty with this type of Colony and that we have been trying to tackle it in the way that it should be tackled.

First of all, the article from which the hon. Gentleman quoted in the "Crown Colonist", by Mr. Harry Wald who is described as a business man with varied interests in the City and elsewhere, is a damning indictment of pre-war Governments because it reveals a state of affairs which has been created not in the last few years but is the result of many years of neglect. It shows that this Colony, like so many others, was put by pre-war Governments on a care-and-maintenance basis—not much care and very little maintenance—and that no development was done unless private enterprise came in and helped the Government out. There was very little planning from here. The caretakers were such as we would not wish to employ in any position of trust.

That is the situation with which my right hon. Friend was faced when he took office. He had to consider this little group of islands forming the Crown Colony of the Seychelles in which the social educational and health services were almost non-existent, where there was a very small population of grands blancs, as they are called, who were descended from the old French plantation and slave-owners. They amount in all to about 3 per cent. The other 97 per cent. are mainly derived from slaves, who had a very slight, if any, effect upon the machinery of government. They had no representation and their needs and interests were very little regarded.

I can give examples of the social conditions. About one-third of the children born in the islands are illegitimate. That is not as bad as some other Crown Colonies, where two-thirds are illegitimate, but it gives an indication of the social problem that my right hon. Friend had to face. He was also up against the economic factors that arise in nearly all these small islands, where there is increasing over-crowding because the population is constantly increasing, while the resources do not increase in proportion. The resources are continually, I regret to say, becoming less and less apparent, the land is becoming less and less fertile, very often owing to bad methods of farming, and, if there are any minerals, they are becoming worked out. That was the situation which confronted my right hon. Friend.

In the circumstances he took a decision which I think the House would approve. He said: "We must have a man as Governor who has a social conscience. We must have a man who will realise how essential it is that the health and education of the people should be looked after." It has long been a complaint of many of the senior officers in the technical services of the Colonial Empire—I am sure that the hon. Member for Swindon (Mr. T. Reid) will substantiate this statement—that they never get a chance to go up to the higher ranks and positions. However famous a man may be as a doctor, a veterinary officer or an agricultural officer, he can never become a governor, because governorships and chief secretaryships, the plums of the Service, are always concentrated in the hands of the administrative grades.

My right hon. Friend thought that he could do two appropriate things at the same time by making possibly the most distinguished medical officer in the Colonial Empire into a Governor. He chose Dr. Selwyn-Clarke, who had an unrivalled reputation as medical officer of health in Hong Kong. He appointed him as Governor of the Seychelles to inaugurate the new system. As the hon. Member for Hornsey has quite rightly said, Dr. Selwyn-Clarke had a magnificent record when the Japanese were in occupation of Hong Kong. He was one of the people whom they never managed to break down. They browbeat him and tortured him mentally and physically but they never got Dr. Selwyn-Clarke to agree to do what they wanted. He stuck out for what he wanted, and for what he thought right for the Chinese and British people, who were in their clutches. This House and country owes a great debt of gratitude to Dr. Selwyn-Clarke for taking that attitude and maintaining in difficult circumstances the British character and the British tradition of service.

This is the man whom my right hon. Friend appointed to this backward colony of the Seychelles and who can blame my right hon. Friend for doing so? As a matter of fact, an enormous amount has been done by Dr. Selwyn-Clarke for the economy of the Islands as well as for hospitals and in other directions. He concentrated largely on preventive rather than curative methods, and in doing so he has aroused the ire of the grands blancs, the wealthy people, because they were rather more interested in hospital services for themselves than preventive services for the people as a whole. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Hornsey this morning was speaking only for three per cent. of the people. Dr. Selwyn-Clarke has been trying to speak for 100 per cent.

Mr. Gammans

First of all, the hon. Gentleman said that Dr. Selwyn-Clarke was appointed because he had a social conscience. Does he imply that no other Governor had a social conscience, and would he, sooner or later, come to what is my charge, and that is, the remarks made by the Chief Justice about Mr. Collet?

Mr. Rees-Williams

Yes, I will, but the hon. Gentleman himself realises that at the beginning of his speech he attacked the Governor, and my right hon. Friend for appointing the Governor.

Mr. Gammans


Mr. Rees-Williams

That is as I understood him.

Mr. Gammans

I will not let that pass. I have made no criticism of the right hon. Gentleman's appointment of Dr. Selwyn-Clarke. I have paid the highest tribute to his character. All I am suggesting is that as a result of his having been Governor for two years he has now shown himself to be lacking in certain qualities which the governorship of these islands demands.

Mr. Rees-Williams

We shall see in HANSARD. The impression made on my mind was that the hon. Member was attacking, first of all, my right hon. Friend for appointing the Governor; secondly, he was attacking the Governor; and thirdly, there was Mr. Collet. It is rather odd that if the hon. Member for Hornsey is not attacking the Governor and my right hon. Friend, that his first question should be whether the Governor is going back. If the Governor is perfectly good, and if the hon. Gentleman is not attacking him and my right hon. Friend, what does it matter to the hon. Member for Hornsey if he is going back.

Mr. Gammans

I am sure the hon. Gentleman does not wilfully distort what I said. I have made no criticism whatever of the right hon. Gentleman's appointment of Dr. Selwyn-Clarke, and I have made no criticism of Dr. Selwyn-Clarke, his medical record or his character. What I am suggesting is that as a result of his being Governor, he has shown himself lacking in certain qualities which a Governor needs, and I am justified, in view of the fiasco of his having apparently refused to accept the assurance that the right hon. Gentleman gave me, in asking whether he is to remain Governor.

Mr. Rees-Williams

Now we have got it clear. We know what are the views of the hon. Gentleman, and what he desires to know, which we did not know before.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter (Kingston-upon-Thames)

Some of us did.

Mr. Rees-Williams

Sonic of us may not be as good at telepathy as the hon. Gentleman the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter), and we on this side of the House prefer to listen to what an hon. Member is saying and try to draw conclusions from that.

The hon. Member for Hornsey has asked me a series of questions arising out of the employment of Mr. Collet. Mr. Collet was never, in fact, appointed as collector of income tax in the Seychelles. He was legal adviser to the chief officer of what here we would call the Inland Revenue Department. It was in his advisory capacity that he came into this picture at all. The Governor was in a difficult position. The Attorney-General had been temporarily promoted to take the place of the Chief Justice, and it was necessary to get a barrister temporarily to take the place of the Attorney-General. Barristers in a place like the Seychelles, with a population of 35,000, most of whom are illiterate, are not easy to find. Therefore, as Mr. Collet was to hand and was a very distinguished man, who had studied in Paris and in London and was a member of the English Bar, the Governor decided to appoint him temporarily to fill the post of Attorney-General.

From this, most of the events which have been described certainly took place. But some of them did not. For instance, Mr. Jenkins was never sent on leave to get out of being called as a witness. Mr. Jenkins asked to go on leave three months before the case referred to by the hon. Member for Hornsey came on. There are one or two discrepancies like that, but in the main the facts he has given are true. The difficulty in a place like the Seychelles when one undertakes these reforms, is that one is bound to arouse a good deal of ire, and if people, who for many years have not paid income tax or have paid very little, are asked to pay more, they object. I am not going to justify some of the actions of Mr. Collet, because we think Mr. Collet, as a public officer, went too far. We would not deny that for one moment, but I would say that it was excessive zeal.

It is essential in a place like the Seychelles to remember that everyone is living in everyone else's pocket even more than is the case here at home. There is one point which the hon. Gentleman the Member for Hornsey brought out very clearly, and that is that there has been no breakdown in justice in the Seychelles. In fact, British justice is exemplified by this case, because the speeches from which the hon. Gentleman quoted are not speeches of critics of the Government or of newspapers; they are speeches in court. They are judgments of the two Chief Justices, and, therefore, it shows quite clearly that in the Seychelles, as here, the Executive is always subject to the survey, as it were, and to the criticism of the Bench. That is a point which comes out very clearly from the hon. Gentleman's speech, although he himself did not realise it. He talked about a breakdown of justice and of administration, but this case shows that British justice is still a strong force in the Seychelles.

Mr. Gammans

I have not said that there was a breakdown in justice, but merely that there was a breakdown in administration. I am quoting the Chief Justice; he said that. I did not say it.

Mr. Rees-Williams

We know perfectly well that there is no breakdown of justice in the Seychelles. If that is so, and if we agree that the Governor is an estimable man, who has rendered great service, if we agree that my right hon. Friend was perfectly correct in appointing him, and if we agree that there has been no breakdown of justice what does this case come to? It comes to this—it is over one Government officer, over-zealous in the performance of his duty, that my right hon. Friend has been brought here. I do not grumble at that at all. It is quite right that these matters should cone up, and this is the place where they should be brought up and answered. This case turns on the personal idiosyncrasies of one man, who is a Government servant appointed on a temporary basis.

I do not propose to chase after the various cases to which the hon. Gentleman referred, because in every case they have been the subject of proceedings in court and judgment has been made upon them. Further, in most cases action has been taken. The appeal which was at one time being made to the Court of Appeal in Mauritius from a decision of the High Court in the Seychelles has now been discontinued, and those people who were said to have overpaid Income Tax as a result of the original assessment by the Inland Revenue Department have had those excess payments repaid to them. I may say that there was a good deal of legal doubt as to whether Mr. Collet was or was not correct in assessing as far back as 25 years, and it took this case to clear up the point. What happened was that he levied the assessment under the civil procedure as a civil debt, and under that, it appeared at one time as if he was quite justified in doing so. That was the basis of the case brought to the High Court in the Seychelles. The Government have now accepted the decision of the Chief Justice in the Seychelles and are not proceeding with the appeal. As I have said, those people who have paid arrears as a result of the original assessment over a period of 25 years, have had their money refunded.

The hon. Gentleman the Member for Hornsey asked me some questions. He asked me whether the Governor is going back? To that I would say, "Yes." So far as I am aware, the whole matter of the administration of the Seychelles will be discussed between the Governor and my right hon. Friend, and, so far as we know now, he will be returning. The hon. Gentleman asked me whether Mr. Collet is to remain a member of the Legislative Council. This is an appointment by the Governor. It is not an official appointment at all. Mr. Collet is sitting as an unofficial nominated member, and one surely must not lose the services of a person like Mr. Collet in an unofficial capacity. After all, the unofficial members to some extent are the Opposition in these places. One must not forget that. If everybody who was to become a Member of Parliament had to go through all the tests which the hon. Gentleman suggested, we might find that some very colourful figures would not get back to this House.

Mr. Gammans

Is the hon. Gentleman really taking a stand on the proposition that a man who has been called by the Chief Justice a blackmailer, an extortioner, vindictive, malicious and spiteful, and whose papers he recommends should be sent to the Bar Council, is a fit person to sit on any legislative body—Parliament, committee, or anything else—in the British Empire?

Mr. Rees-Williams

I do not agree that that language was justified. I think it was extreme and flamboyant language for a judge to use, particularly as no personal matter was involved. The man did not get anything at all out of it. In fact he had a big practice at the Bar and he was very much worse off financially as Attorney-General.

Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)

Will my hon. Friend tell us what this gentleman said about the Chief Justice?

Mr. Rees-Williams

That is another story and I would not like to go into that. It is not relevant now, and everybody has apologised to everybody else.

Mr. Gammans

Did the Chief Justice apologise?

Mr. Rees-Williams


Mr. Gammans

Then why say that they all apologised? Is the hon. Gentleman trying to mislead the House? He knows perfectly well that the Chief Justice who made these remarks about Collet was Chief Justice Lyon. Has he apologised to Collet or anybody else?

Mr. Rees-Williams

I did not say that the Chief Justice had.

Mr. Gammans

The hon. Gentleman said "everybody has apologised to everybody else."

Mr. Rees-Williams

There were two Chief Justices and two judgments. In the first case an allegation was made by the Chief Justice against Mr. Collet and Mr. Collet made a criticism of the Chief Justice. Everyone apologised to everybody else——

Mr. Gammans

That is not this one.

Mr. Rees-Williams

All right. I am going to clear this up. So far as I know, the present Chief Justice has not apologised for these words. I think that the language he used was extreme in view of the fact that there was no personal benefit to Mr. Collet. Therefore to talk about a man as a blackmailer and the like when he is rather over-zealous as a public servant is not language which one would expect to be used.

Having regard to those facts there is no reason why my right hon. Friend should say to the Governor that this man must not be interested in and must not take part in public life in any capacity, even if it is at his own expense, and even as what is in effect an Opposition. That is going too far. That is hounding Mr. Collet out of all public life in the Seychelles, which I would assure the House would have a very bad effect, because Mr. Collet has a great deal of support, as I shall show, among the under-privileged, the 97 per cent. Recently there was a local government election in Praslin Island where there is adult suffrage with a simple literacy test, and all the six seats were captured by Mr. Collet's party, which broadly supports the Governor's policy, the Progressive policy. Is my right hon. Friend to say that a man whose party in his first election captures all the seats is not to be allowed to sit on the Legislative Council? Really, I have never heard such undemocratic nonsense in my life. It would be quite fantastic.

Mr. Wyatt (Birmingham, Aston)

The Opposition think democracy is funny.

Mr. Rees-Williams

I want to say in conclusion a few words about the revenue and so on of this Colony because we have heard nothing about that. It has been stigmatised as a "sink of iniquity" and so on, but we have heard nothing about the very great improvements which have been made during the Governor's term of office and during the period of the present Administration. In 1939 the trade figures were imports £86,265, and exports £96,309, a favourable balance of £10,044. On 1st January this year the Colony's surplus was £250,000. Last year the Colony had a trade balance with exports at £388,000 and imports at £359,000. That is a vast increase over the pre-war figures.

Mr. Gammans

Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that the Governor has power to influence the world price of copra?

Mr. Rees-Williams

I am just showing that the Government politically, economically, and socially has been doing a great deal of work to benefit the island, and so far from it being a disgrace to British administration economically and in other ways, there has been an immense improvement upon prewar days. We have set aside a sum of £250,000 under the Colonial Development and Welfare Act to deal with various schemes for improvement, but here as elsewhere it is a matter of great difficulty, as the House knows only too well, to learn exactly how to develop these territories where we have this ever-increasing population. That is what we are up against the whole time. However, so far as it can be done, with the limitations imposed upon us by finance, disease and other things, the Governor has done great work, and he has done work which is highly appreciated by the 97 per cent. of the population of the Seychelles. Up to now the 97 per cent. have had no voice in this House and it is only now that they are being heard, just as the voice of the 3 per cent. has so often been represented by the hon. Member for Hornsey.

Mr. Gammans

Is the hon. Gentleman then attacking my bona fides in bringing forward this matter? Would he not agree that when I have sent him a judgment of a Judge of the Supreme Court in those words, I am entitled to bring it up? Why should he turn round and say that I am only talking about the affairs of 3 per cent. of the population? Cannot he keep class hatred out of any speech he makes?

Mr. Rees-Williams

I told the House at the beginning that I thought the hon. Gentleman was justified in bringing up this case and that, as he put it, it was a case which we had to answer. I am answering it, and I say that in the main the contentions which he has been putting before the House are the contentions of the 3 per cent. and not the contentions of the 97 per cent. who are fairly solidly behind the Government.

Sir William Darling (Edinburgh, South)

Would the hon. Gentleman make some comment on the remark made by the hon. Member for Swindon (Mr. T. Reid) which I thought was helpful?

Mr. Rees-Williams

Yes, we are considering all these matters. I could not say anything today which would commit my right hon. Friend, but my hon. Friend the Member for Swindon may rest assured that we are taking into account what he said and, of course, we have read his Report carefully.