§ The Secretary of State for War (Mr. Antony Head)
I will, with your permission, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House make the statement which I promised as soon as I had had an opportunity of considering the proceedings of the trial by court-martial of Captain Griffiths. These proceedings have arrived, and I am today placing four copies of them in the Library of the House of Commons.
I can assure the House that nobody deplores an incident of this kind more than I do, especially since the good name of the British Army is at stake. I would at the start remind hon. Members that the Army has been carrying out difficult operations of this type both in Kenya and Malaya in a way which has won them universal credit among all races. Nevertheless, I take a very grave view of this incident and of the fact that the proceedings suggest that there may have been other incidents.
I have been in close touch with General Erskine since the case of Captain Griffiths 2183 first arose. He has already taken special steps to ensure that such a thing will not occur again by issuing a special directive to every officer and obtaining written assurances from all Commanders that there are no such things as score boards, monetary rewards or similar practices within units.
He is determined to probe this matter deeply and in a signal to me he stated that he conceived it to be his duty to uncover everything and to force into court even the most unpleasant crimes and that it should in every way be his aim to clean up rather than to cover up. I have fully confirmed General Erskine's interpretation of his duty. In addition, he himself recommended a Court of Inquiry and this, in the circumstances, I think is the correct step. I am therefore sending Lieutenant-General Sir Kenneth McLean and a representative of the Army Legal Services by air to Kenya on Saturday; the third member of the court will be found locally. Their terms of reference will be:To inquire into and report upon the allegations which were made at the trial of Captain Griffiths in regard to—General Erskine will forward the proceedings of the Court of Inquiry, together with his recommendations, to me and as soon as I have examined them I will, if the House so wishes, make a further report.
- (i) the offering to soldiers of monetary rewards for Mau Mau 'kills';
- (ii) the keeping and exhibition of score boards recording official and unofficial 'kills' and other activities in operations against Mau Mau;
- (iii) the fostering of a competitive spirit amongst units in regard to 'kills' in anti-Mau Mau operations."
§ Mr. Shinwell
Whilst I appreciate, as no doubt the whole House does, the anxiety of the right hon. Gentleman to probe into this matter, which has aroused considerable public interest, may I put two short points to him? First, regarding the personnel of the court of inquiry, I commend the appointment of General McLean, if I may do so without condescension. It is a most admirable appointment. But is the right hon. Gentleman certain that it is wise to include on the court of inquiry a legal representative from the War Office?
2184 Secondly—and may I put it rather more positively—is it not unwise to appoint somebody locally who might possibly be prejudiced either one way or the other? Would it not be better to appoint another military officer or perhaps a civilian lawyer from this country, and another person of either category, also from this country, rather than to appoint a local person to the court? Do I understand the answer of the right hon. Gentleman to mean that when General Erskine forwards the recommendations of the court of inquiry, he will take the House into his confidence, apart from what he said about the possibility of the House desiring him so to do?
§ Mr. Head
With regard to the first point raised by the right hon. Gentleman, there is no alternative between a civil inquiry in open court and a military inquiry of the type I have proposed. I gave careful thought to the question of appointing an open inquiry with civilian members of the court, but that has several disadvantages, the main one being that no soldier or civilian can be compelled to give evidence. Furthermore, any soldier giving evidence has to be warned that anything he says may be used in evidence against him, whereas in a court of inquiry of the type that is proposed all such evidence is privileged and cannot be used against him in any subsequent proceedings. For that reason, I believe that in following up this matter and getting to the bottom of it, we are likely to achieve much better results in the way I have proposed than by having it in open court. Therefore, the question of having a civil local officer on the court does not arise because there cannot be one on a court of inquiry.
As regards the question of what I shall do when General Erskine reports to me the findings of the court, I have already assured the House that there is no desire to cover up in this matter. When I receive the proceedings, I shall give the House a frank report of what they contain, tell hon. Members the conclusions, and anything else that may have been uncovered, since I owe it to the House to give hon. Members a full and frank statement.
§ Mr. Shinwell
May I put the short point on the appointment of somebody 2185 local? Can the right hon. Gentleman indicate whom he has in mind? Is he a military person and of what rank?
§ Mr. Head
As I have said, there will be two officers going from this country. I think there is a good deal in having an officer from the Army selected locally who will be able to give the court a background of the geographical and physical situation and the various other problems of operations. [Hon. Members: "No."] I can assure hon. Members that to have an impartial officer who knows local difficulties, and the conditions under which men are operating, in my opinion renders a most useful service to the court. Personally, I have absolute confidence that an officer like General McLean will not in any way be swayed or biased by the fact that one officer from Kenya is on the court.
§ Mr. Shinwell
In order to elucidate this interesting point—because, unless it is cleared up, it might give rise to considerable disquiet—may I ask that this military representative who is to be appointed from local personnel will not be associated with the K.R.R.? He would belong to another battalion.
§ Mr. Strachey
Apart from the composition of the court, can the Secretary of State at least assure the House that this inquiry will be of the most searching character in order to assure the House and the country that the incidents connected with Captain Griffiths' action, and the other incidents which appear to have come to light in the trial, were totally unrepresentative of the conduct of the Army in this sphere and others, and to see to it that they have no parallel elsewhere? My second question is, does the right hon. Gentleman not think that 2186 the inevitable moral which we must draw from this is that if the Army is given more and more of these odious tasks, which are imposed on it by the situation which has arisen from the colonial policy of the Government—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"]—the temper and morale of the Army are bound to suffer?
§ Mr. Head
I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that the object of this inquiry is to go deeply into this matter in order to get to the bottom of everything, and I personally think that we shall find at the end that the good name of the Army has been cleared. As regards the second question, I do not think that I could make any useful comment.
§ Brigadier Peto
Can my right hon. Friend say whether Captain Griffiths is at this moment a free man or is he under arrest on any other charge?
§ Mr. A. Henderson
May I ask the Minister whether, in deciding how much he will report to the House, he will bear in mind the action that was taken in 1943 in connection with the investigation into serious allegations against the conduct of the detention camp at Fort Darland, when the inquiry, which was not held in public, was followed by the whole Report being presented to Parliament?
§ Mr. Bowles
May I ask the right hon. Gentleman—because I think a lot of people do not understand—why Captain Griffiths was prosecuted for murder before a court martial and not a civil court? Secondly, if the court martial disclosed these awful allegations, why are the results of the court martial being inquired into by another military tribunal instead of by a civil tribunal?
§ Mr. Head
The proceedings of the court martial contain the evidence which suggests that there may have been other 2187 incidents which I believe should be gone into closely. The present court of inquiry has been set up to inquire into these matters. As regards the question why he was tried by a court martial and not a civil court, this arose in Kenya and it is a matter in which the judgment of the local civil authorities in Kenya is paramount. A court martial was decided upon. It is perfectly in order, and in accordance with precedent, to have a court martial for a murder trial, and that took place in accordance with the decision of the authorities in Kenya.
§ Mr. Grimond
Can we be told whether other charges are pending arising out of other incidents? If so, whilst I appreciate what the right hon. Gentleman has said about their not incriminating themselves at the inquiry, what will be the position of the people involved in other incidents if they are called before the inquiry?
§ Mr. Head
It would be improper for me at this stage to say whether there are other charges pending, because they might well come out of the inquiry as it proceeds. As regards soldiers or others giving evidence at the court of inquiry, none of that evidence can be used against them at a subsequent trial but that does not prejudice the possibility of their being tried on things that come out of the inquiry.