HC Deb 28 November 1949 vol 470 cc782-7
Mr. Eden (by Private Notice)

asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies whether he has any statement to make on the situation in Nigeria.

The Secretary of State for the Colonies (Mr. Creech Jones)

The sequence of events since my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State made a statement last Wednesday is briefly as follows.

On 23rd November disturbances followed by looting took place at Aba. The police had to make repeated baton charges to disperse the crowds and stop the looting but were twice obliged to open fire. The reported casualties are two wounded.

On 25th November serious rioting and looting took place in Port Harcourt. The police carried out repeated baton charges during which they sustained a number of casualties. I regret that eventually the police were twice compelled to fire. The reported casualties are one killed and two wounded.

During the morning of 26th November large crowds attempted to break into shops at Onitsha. After using tear smoke and after baton charges the police were again obliged to fire and three rioters were wounded. On the evening of the same day, attempts were made in Calabar to loot shops but the crowd was successfully dispersed by the police without firing.

It is reported from Port Harcourt that the authorities have received considerable assistance from local residents and are engaged in recovering goods stolen from the shops on the 25th. The situation in other areas of disturbance is under control according to the most recent information. At Enugu no further disturbances have been reported. I am sure the House must deplore the disorders which have occurred and deeply regret the loss of life and casualties involved.

Hon. Members will be aware that the Governor of Nigeria in consultation with me has appointed a Commission of Inquiry with the following terms of reference: To inquire into and report on the recent disorders in Nigeria with special reference to the recent labour troubles at the Enugu colliery and the events which follow.

The members of the Commission are—

Sir William Fitzgerald, K.C. (Chairman).

Mr. Justice S. O. Quashie-Idun (of the Gold Coast).

Mr. Justice A. A. Ademola (of Nigeria). Mr. R. W. Williams, M.P.

The Chairman and Mr. Williams are planning to leave this country by air for Nigeria on 1st December.

On Saturday last the Governor announced that in order to prevent further disturbances and loss of life he had on that day declared a state of emergency and issued regulations under the Emergency Powers Order in Council, 1939. In announcing a state of emergency the Governor said that he had had discussions with Legislative Councillors and responsible leaders. They had all agreed that it is of paramount importance to keep cool heads while the result of the inquiry by the Commission is awaited and that everyone has a duty to stop further disturbances and loss of life. He has made it clear that the regulations are intended to check any further spread of disorder and to assist all those who are working to keep the peace and to prevent violence and bloodshed.

Mr. Eden

Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will accept that we on this side of the House approve the terms of reference and the composition of this body so far as we have been able to study them. May I ask him—I take it that it is so—whether he endorses the decision of the Governor in Council and others to take emergency powers in the present situation, and whether steps will be taken to speed up the completion and publication of this report? It would seem to us very desirable that not a day more than is necessary should be wasted in making the report known. Meanwhile, will the right hon. Gentleman assure us that the Governor and the authorities concerned will be given full support in carrying out their most difficult and responsible task?

Mr. Creech Jones

I should like to thank the right hon. Gentleman for his remarks, and I will convey them to the Governor. The intention is that the Commission should arrive this week and start its work without delay. The two representatives from this country are seized of the urgency and importance of their mission. I have seen them this morning, and they will do everything in their power to expedite the report and its publication.

Mr. Clement Davies

As I did not quite catch the terms of reference, could the right hon. Gentleman say if he considers that they are wide enough, and not confined merely to the rioting itself. This Commission should be enabled to inquire into the causes and conditions which possibly led to the riots. or anything which preceded those riots and was a source of complaint?

Mr. Creech Jones

The right hon. and learned Gentleman will appreciate that there is in Nigeria at the present time an inquiry into all the constitutional and political problems of that territory. We have deliberately framed the terms of reference in this manner, but I think they are wide enough to cover all the attendant causes of the dispute, and a full inquiry into the labour problems concerned, not only in this part of the country but also in the surrounding Eastern provinces.

Mr. Gammans

Will the right hon. Gentleman assure the House that the Governor has at his disposal a sufficient force if, unhappily, this trouble should become more widespread; and, secondly, may I ask him if he has any evidence that these troubles have been fomented from outside Nigeria?

Mr. Creech Jones

I know of no evidence to show that these troubles have been fomented from outside. In regard to the force at the disposal of the Governor, it has only been necessary for him to employ the police services in Nigeria. I hope those forces are sufficient for the trouble with which he has to cope.

Mr. Sorensen

Would it not be far better to leave the matter of police or military protection entirely to the Governor?

Mr. Creech Jones

The Governor is responsible for internal security, and obviously if he should want any addi- tional assistance then His Majesty's Government must consider it.

Mr. Ivor Thomas

Would the right hon. Gentleman agree that Nigeria has one of the most advanced Constitutions in the Colonial Empire; that it is economically more prosperous than it has ever been before; that the Governor is one of the most sympathetic and experienced civil servants under the Crown; and is it not essential, when studying this case, that these facts should be known by the whole world?

Mr. Creech Jones

It must be admitted at the present time that there are certain social and political strains on the Constitution, and that is the reason for the discussion particularly about the Constitution. In regard to the Governor, as my hon. Friend says, he is one of the most humane and enlightened of all men in the Colonial service.

Mr. McGovern

Will my right hon. Friend give us a guarantee that all responsible, active organisations will be given an opportunity to present their evidence, and that the course will not be followed, which has so often been followed in the past, of evading the people on the spot who have knowledge?

Mr. Creech Jones

Yes, Sir, the Governor has already made it perfectly clear that the Commission will be prepared to meet those who seek to give evidence to it. I myself have already seen certain leaders of Nigeria in this country and have informed them accordingly.

Mr. Turton

Would the Minister say what steps are being taken to ensure that irresponsible organs of the Press in Nigeria do not inflame the position further?

Mr. Pannell

The hon. Gentleman should look after some of the newspapers in this country.

Mr. Creech Jones

That, of course, is a matter for the Governor, and he will have adequate powers under the regulations which he has now taken.

Mr. Platts-Mills

Is the right hon. Gentleman not yet aware that if he treats coalminers like cattle, he is bound to have trouble? If this is so prosperous a Colony why cannot we see that these men are paid at least the 5s. that they are asking for?

Mr. Creech Jones

I wish that before the hon. Gentleman puts questions of that kind, he would acquaint himself with the most elementary facts regarding Nigeria.

Mr. Erroll

Could the Minister say from what part of Nigeria comes the sole Nigerian member of the Commission?

Mr. Creech Jones

I would prefer not to answer that question. I was anxious, in consultation with the Governor, that the most able and best Nigerian for the task should be found, and that has been done. I have not inquired whether he is a Hausa, an Ibo, a Yoruba or anything else.

Mr. Collins

Could my right hon. Friend say, in view of the fact that increased wages are said to be one of the troubles, how long ago demands for increased wages were put forward, and whether they were put forward by responsible trade unions?

Mr. Creech-Jones

That is a matter, of course, which the Commission will inquire into.

Mr. Platts-Mills

Does that mean that the right hon. Gentleman does not know?

Mr. Creech Jones

To the best of my knowledge there have been no negotiations in regard to wages and no trade dispute has been declared. This is not a normal breakdown in labour relations such as we have in labour affairs in this country. It is no ordinary industrial dispute. It does not arise from a breakdown of negotiations over any wage claim so far as I am aware.

Lord John Hope

In view of the supplementary question asked by the hon. Member for Finsbury (Mr. Platts-Mills), is the Minister just as certain since that supplementary as he was before, that nothing has been or is being done from outside to foment these disturbances?

Mr. Creech Jones

I can only answer that I have no evidence whatsoever that any of this trouble has been fomented from outside.

Mr. Geoffrey Cooper

Is my right hon. Friend aware that Colonial officials on the spot very often have information which is not always available to Govern- ment House? Although Colonial officials of that order are not able sometimes to request to be interviewed by a commission, can my right hon. Friend see that special facilities are granted in the circumstances?

Mr. Creech Jones

The Commission will attempt to obtain their information from whatever source they can obtain it. There never has been any hindrance to officials who have information relating to a problem, coming forward and giving it.

Mr. Braddock

Does my right hon. Friend mean to say that firing on coal-miners is a suitable way of dealing with an industrial dispute?

Mr. Creech Jooes

I really must ask my hon. Friend to await the findings of the Commission.