§ Mr. Attlee
May I ask the Prime Minister a question of which I have given him Private Notice, and may I, at the same time, offer him congratulations and many happy returns of the day? [Hon. Members: "Hear, hear."]
The question is whether his attention has been called to the practices revealed in the evidence given in the court-martial in Kenya on Captain Griffiths; whether he has any statement to make; and whether he will order a court of inquiry into the whole matter?
§ The Prime Minister (Sir Winston Churchill)
May I express my thanks to the right hon. Gentleman for the kindness and courtesy which he has shown to me and also my humble thanks to the House?
I will ask my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War to make a statement on this matter, to which we have given careful consideration.
§ The Secretary of State for War (Mr. Antony Head)
Captain Griffiths has been tried by court-martial on a charge of murder, and he was acquitted on Friday last. I have called for a full copy of the proceedings and until these have been carefully examined I am sure that the House will not expect me to make any comment, particularly as other proceedings may be taken arising out of the facts disclosed.
Although this incident took place on 11th June it was not revealed until a subsequent inquiry in August. On 23rd June General Erskine, soon after his 769 arrival, and in ignorance of this occurrence, issued a special order to all officers of the Army, police and the security forces. This included the following paragraph:I most strongly disapprove of 'beating up' the inhabitants of this country just because they are the inhabitants. I hope this has not happened in the past and will not happen in the future. Any indiscipline of this kind would do great damage to the reputation of the security forces and make our task of settling Mau Mau much more difficult. I therefore order that every officer in the police and the Army should stamp on at once any conduct which he would be ashamed to see used against his own people. I want to stand up for the honour of the security forces with a clear conscience. I can only do that if I have absolutely loyal support and I rely on you to provide it.It will, therefore, be seen that any such conduct as has been alleged in these proceedings against Captain Griffiths is not only contrary to the traditions of the British Army, but was expressly forbidden by General Erskine's own statement and order. Since these orders have been issued there has been no indication of any recurrence of such practices and I have been in personal touch with General Erskine, who is absolutely resolved that no such incidents shall recur. He is very well aware that the ultimate and successful conclusion of his task in Kenya can only be achieved by the resolute avoidance of incidents of this kind.
I should like to assure the House that if, when I have carefully examined the proceedings, I find any evidence which suggests in any way that conduct of this kind has been widespread or might recur I shall immediately order a court of inquiry into the whole matter.
§ Mr. Attlee
In view of the concern that this has caused in this country, can the right hon. Gentleman say how soon he thinks he will be able to see a copy of the full proceedings and make a further statement?
§ Mr. J. Griffiths
When he receives these documents and has had time to consider 770 them, and after he makes a full statement, will the right hon. Gentleman also consider the desirability of holding an inquiry into the matter?
§ Mr. Brockway
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the moral consciences of a large section of our people have been outraged by the evidence which has been given at this trial and, in particular, the evidence which indicates that monetary payments are made to members of the Armed Forces for the number of Mau Mau suspects killed; and that there has been competition between Service units as to which kills the most? In view of these facts, will he take the most urgent action to secure that the court of inquiry shall be public, so that all of us may know what is the evidence brought forward on this occasion?
§ Mr. Wyatt
Would the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind that when a court of inquiry took place on Fort Dar-land detention barracks, in 1943—which was of a similar character, although not so wide as this—Mr. Justice Oliver was appointed as chairman of the court of inquiry, and other distinguished persons outside the Army were also appointed to sit upon it. Could the similar practice of appointing an outside judge to sit on the court of inquiry be followed in this case?
§ Mr. Wigg
Is the Secretary of State aware that those who know General Erskine would know full well that he would not countenance proceedings of this kind for a single moment, and for him to know of these happenings is an absolute guarantee that they will be stopped forthwith? Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that the honour of British troops has been impugned by these allegations, that they have obtained world-wide publicity, and therefore, it is 771 in the interests of the country and of the Army that they should be investigated at the earliest possible moment? Will he, therefore, carefully consider the setting up of a court of inquiry along the lines mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Ashton (Mr. Wyatt) to satisfy world opinion, and thus decide whether these allegations are true or not?
§ Mr. Head
I should like to associate myself with the hon. Gentleman in what he said about General Erskine, and state that I have the fullest feeling of confidence in General Erskine's capacity to deal with this situation. I can also assure him that it is my wish, and indeed everything I attempt to do will be so aimed, to avoid a recurrence of these things, and to ensure that nothing of this kind, reflecting discredit on the British Army, shall recur.
§ Mr. Benn
I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman when he first heard that money was being paid for Mau Mau suspects being killed; and, secondly, whether General Erskine has issued any more orders containing a specific prohibition, not of inhuman treatment but of the payment of rewards for killing Mau Mau suspects?
§ Mr. Head
I have never heard of any money passing; indeed, it is absolutely forbidden. Whether or not unofficially such things take place, I shall only be able to judge when I see the proceedings. With regard to a prohibition, it has always been, and always will be, resolutely forbidden that any such proceedings should occur in the British Army.
Would the right hon. Gentleman arrange that a copy of the transcript of the proceedings should be placed in the Library of the House, so that Members also may have the opportunity of studying it?
§ Mr. Paget
While sharing the confidence of my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) in General Erskine, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he saw in the court-martial evidence, as reported in "The Times," that 772 the practice of paying blood money and having a competition in scalps was referred to as a continuing practice which appears to be going on now, not just in June?
§ Mr. Head
I saw the report in "The Times"; but, as I said before, I shall wait to see the full report of the proceedings. I can assure the hon. and learned Gentleman, however, that it is absolutely forbidden, and that there is no question at all of it going on, unless it is going on without the knowledge of the authorities, which, under the circumstances, I very much doubt.
§ Mr. Anthony Greenwood
Can the right hon. Gentleman say why it was that this incident was not brought to light until two months after it happened, and what steps are being taken to see that the orders of General Erskine are complied with by British officers under his command?
§ Mr. Benn
I beg to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 9, on a definite matter of urgent public importance, namely, the fact that in the East African Command commissioned officers offer and pay sums of money to individual members of the Armed Forces in Kenya for each Mau Mau suspect killed by them.
§ Mr. Speaker
The hon. Member asks me for leave to move the Adjournment of the House to discussA definite matter of urgent public importance773 namely,the fact that in the East African Command commissioned officers offer and pay sums of money to individual members of the Armed Forces in Kenya for each Mau Mau suspect killed by them.The hon. Member was kind enough to give me notice that he was thinking of seeking leave to move this Motion, and at the time I did not know that there would be a Question and answer on the matter. I had quite an open mind on it. Having, like other hon. Members, heard the answer today, I feel that the House has not got all the information before it. The Secretary of State said that he was sending for the proceedings and that after studying them he would make a statement to the House. In those circumstances, I think that the best course to adopt and for me to rule is that this matter is postponed until we know more about it and the Secretary of State makes a statement on it. I think that that safeguards the right of hon. Members and yet does not plunge the House into a debate without sufficient knowledge.
§ Mr. Benn
Further to your Ruling, Mr. Speaker, the question to be considered, I submit, is not whether all the information is before the House but whether sufficient information is before the House for us to decide that this practice does take place. May I also submit to you that it would be a very dangerous precedent if a Minister who quite openly admitted, in reply to a supplementary question to me, that he did not hear of this practice until a few days ago, was able, when some such Motion of this as this was moved, to get out of it by appointing a commission or announcing that he would go into it further?
May I further submit that this is something which is very well authenticated from the reports in "The Times" to which I have referred, and that in those reports there is also the very strong presumption that this is a continuing practice in that these statements were made under oath and were not disputed by the prosecution and defence or the officer in charge of the court-martial?
May I make a final submission to you, Sir, with regard to the statement made by the Secretary of State for War that General Erskine had put an end to these practices. It is not, of course, only General Erskine who has deplored this 774 sort of thing. On 12th February, the Governor of Kenya and the Colonial Secretary issued a joint statement in which they said that the use of inhuman methods was to be condemned and that severe disciplinary action will be taken. May I suggest that simply saying that a thing is prohibited is not the same as saying that it is not the practice?
§ Mr. Speaker
I have considered all these matters. First, the hon. Member says that the evidence is that there is a general practice. That is what he bases his request to move the Adjournment of the House on, but that is, I understand, denied and is to be the subject of further inquiry. Like other hon. Members, I listened to the answer, and there was no admission that this was a general practice. Therefore, in so far as that is concerned the facts are in dispute, and when the facts are in dispute the House cannot proceed with a Motion like this within the terms of the Standing Order.
Secondly, the hon. Member suggested that a Minister might evade a Motion under Standing Order No. 9 by saying that he would have an inquiry; but it must be for me and for the House to distinguish whether that is a proper and reasonable course for the Minister to take or whether it is being used as a subterfuge. In this case I am certain—or I have formed the opinion—that that is a proper course for the Minister to take. All that has appeared are a few Press reports of the court-martial, and the House should proceed on surer ground.
§ Mr. S. Silverman
May I submit that from the evidence given at the court-martial some of the witnesses, at any rate, thought that they were justified in killing anyone found in a prohibited area? If it is claimed that these facts are not admitted, are we not entitled to draw attention to, and ought you not, Mr. Speaker, to take into account, the fact that the Colonial Secretary, when asked last week about sending Lincoln bombers to hide-outs in prohibited areas, said that if anyone got hurt it would be his own fault, because he had no right to be there? In view of that statement of Ministerial policy, which is quite in line with what these witnesses on the spot seem to have thought, can it be seriously said that the facts are in dispute?
§ Mr. Speaker
The hon. Member is now raising a different point from the "definite matter" put as a ground by the hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) for seeking leave to move the Adjournment of the House. He says that he wants to draw attention to the fact thatcommissioned officers offer and pay sums of money to individual members of the Forces…That is quite a different matter. I am sure what, in the circumstances, is the proper course for the House to adopt. I rule that the House has not sufficient information before it, and that the matter is, therefore, postponed.
I wish to raise a point of order, or to seek your guidance, Mr. Speaker, on an allied matter. Could you give us any help as to how long you think the Colonial Secretary would require, in these days of rapid news communications, to check this information? I understand that he could be in communication with General Erskine or other authorities in less than 24 hours. Above all, can we have an assurance that this matter will come before the House before we break up for the Christmas Recess?
§ Mr. Speaker
It was the Secretary of State for War who was involved, not the Secretary of State for the Colonies. One should take into account the fact that information can be transmitted rapidly. I think we had better wait and see what the result of the report is.
§ Mr. Wigg
On a point of order. Would it be in your recollection, Mr. Speaker, that on 19th December last I raised in this House a question of Privilege, and gave notice to you, Sir, very late at night. By 11 o'clock the next morning the Colonial Secretary managed to get sufficient information to persuade you that the point of Privilege should not proceed? Can we have an assurance that if information can be got for your guidance in less than 12 hours when it suits the Government we can also have similar despatch on this occasion?