HC Deb 25 June 1956 vol 555 cc225-34

Motion made, and Question proposed. That this House do now adjourn.—[Colonel J. H. Harrison.]

1.12 a.m.

Mr. A. Fenner Brockway (Eton and Slough)

The fortune of the ballot has given me this very late hour in which, nevertheless, I intend to raise a very important issue. It is the question of the condition of juveniles in prisons and detention camps in Kenya. In a speech which I delivered during a debate on Kenya on 16th June, I made four charges in regard to this matter, which were based on the evidence of Miss Eileen Fletcher.

First, I gave three cases of children who had been sent to Kenya prisons two years ago under 14 years of age. Secondly, I gave instances of how they had been employed on hard and heavy labour. Thirdly, I gave an instance of how they had been kept in solitary confinement for 16 days. Fourthly, I gave evidence that unaccompanied children of under eight years of age had been left in detention camps.

It will be impossible for me in the brief time in which I can speak now to deal with all these points. I shall develop the first point regarding children under 14 years of age, but I would say that the Colonial Office has completely failed to deny all these points which I made in that speech. I propose to make only a brief comment on one point other than that relating to children under 14 years of age in these prisons. It relates to solitary confinement for juveniles in the prisons of Kenya for 16 days. The maximum solitary confinement permitted in prisons in this country, for adults in large modern prison cells, with air and sanitary arrangements, is, by order of the governor of the prison, three days. Even when solitary confinement is given by a visiting committee it is limited to 15 days. Yet the right hon. Gentleman, in reply to a Question by me, has admitted that juveniles in the prisons of Kenya can be sentenced to 16 days' solitary confinement. That is a disgrace which I hope the right hon. Gentleman will very rapidly end.

I propose to devote most of my remarks to the charge that children of 11 and 12 were imprisoned in Kenya two years ago. I gave three cases in my speech. One was No. 13222, who was said in the prison records to be 11 years of age, and who had been sentenced to seven years' hard labour. The other cases were Nos. 12795 and 7966, who were said in the prison records to be 12 years of age and to be detained in prison according to the Governor's pleasure.

The Secretary of State for the Colonies (Mr. Alan Lennox-Boyd)

Would the hon. Gentleman repeat those numbers? I did not quite catch them.

Mr. Brockway

They are exactly the same numbers as I gave in my speech. My time tonight is limited. They are Nos. 13222, 12795 and 7966.

In reply to these three specific charges, the right hon. Gentleman said: Under Kenya legislation no child under the age of 14 may be sentenced to imprisonment, and there are no children under that age in prison in Kenya. The right hon. Gentleman admitted that on 19th May the Governor of Kenya had informed him that there were five girls of 13 years of age and one of 12 serving prison sentences at Kamiti, but he stated that on 29th May this was corrected by the Governor saying that there was an inaccuracy in the prison records.

Even if we accept the Governor's correction, these juveniles were, according to him, aged 15. They had been medically examined. The right hon. Gentleman said they were circumcised women, and were regarded as adult members of the Kikuyu tribe. I make two comments. If they were 15 years of age on 19th May this year, they were 13 years of age in August, 1954, when charged. Secondly, as to their being circumcised women and regarded as adult members of the Kikuyu tribe, there is the very objectionable practice of circumcising girls at 11 and 12 years of age, and that is no evidence whatsoever that they were over that age at that time.

The right hon. Gentleman was good enough to say in relation to myself that I was quite entitled to be misled by what is actually a prison record error, and he added: In a matter of this kind, where the good faith of the Secretary of State and, what is really more important, of the Government of Kenya is involved, I would ask hon. Members to believe definitely that the story that I had given is the true story, a regrettable mistake—"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th June, 1956; Vol. 553, c. 1209–11.] I think I shall be able to show that the right hon. Gentleman's story was not as accurate as he suggested.

A week later I followed up that speech by asking how it came about that the official records showed that No. 13222 was 11 and Nos. 12795 and 7966 were 12. In reply, the right hon. Gentleman concentrated on the case of No. 13222, and explained that the age had been altered in the prison records from 18 to 11. I think that I am within the recollection of the House when I say that everyone who heard the right hon. Gentleman make that statement about one particular case assumed that the inaccuracies in the prison records applied to all children stated to be under 14. Indeed, the right hon. Gentleman said: I am deliberately concentrating on the age of this particular prisoner, the first on the list of the hon. Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Fenner Brockway) which was put down as 18. Indeed, in the course of his answers the right hon. Gentleman added: I also stand by everything that I said during the debate …"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th June, 1956; Vol. 554, c. 569.] namely, that there had been no child under 14 in prison.

The following week, on 20th June, I therefore returned to the two cases 12795 and 7966 about which the right hon. Gentleman had not replied. I asked him the minimum age at which a person sentenced to detention during the Governor's pleasure could be placed in prison in Kenya and whether, in those cases, the entries in the prison records stating them to be 12 years of age were subsequently altered. Earlier, there had been a Question from my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby (Mr. J. Johnson). There were many supplementary questions. There was still no acknowledgment by the right hon. Gentleman that children under 14 could be confined in prison in Kenya.

However, on the same day in a Written Answer to me the right hon. Gentleman acknowledged that, in the case of a person held to be criminally responsible—I understand that in Kenya it is the same as in this country, eight years of age—there was no minimum age for the detention in prison of persons sentenced to be detained under the Governor's pleasure. He went on to say that the ages of the two juveniles to whom I referred were given in the court proceedings as "under 18" and "about 12." He said that on entry into prison they were each held to be 12 years of age, and he added that in their cases there were no subsequent corrections of those prison records.

I brought before him three cases. In one there had been an alteration of age. He concentrated on that and did not reveal to the House the ages of the other two, although at the same time in a Written Answer he acknowledged that there is no subsequent correction of those two cases. He said: The prison records showed the age as 12 in both cases and there were no subsequent alterations. On that evidence it is clearly untrue that children under 14 could not be confined in prisons in Kenya. He gave to the House the impression that the allegation by Miss Fletcher was not justified and yet, in a Written Answer to me, he acknowledged that children under that age could be imprisoned.

Perhaps he will say that these children are detained rather than imprisoned. My answer is that they have exactly the same treatment as children sentenced to terms of imprisonment, they live in the same huts, suffer the same discipline, undergo the same labour and are accommodated in the same compounds. The right hon. Gentleman was very scathing with my right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) who described these children as "lifers". The right hon. Gentleman spoke of … the mischief that can come from sweeping charges unrelated to the facts."— That was his comment upon a supplementary question of my right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale. It is the Secretary of State for the Colonies himself who has not ascertained the facts. The right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale was correct in saying that the official prison records referred to these cases as "lifers". I quoted a document in my speech of 6th June, dated the 12th May, 1955, signed by the commandant of the prison, referring to these juveniles as "lfers". I now quote another document, the Monthly Report for June, 1955, dated 27th June and signed by the Commandant of Kimati Prison, Mr. C. B. Alison. Referring to juvenile prisoners, he says, Schools for 26 life imprisonment convicts (female), and 36 long term convicts, continued their good work under the supervision of Miss Fletcher. These life imprisonment convicts included the two girls to whom I referred in my questions. The distinction was deliberately made between juveniles who were there under the Governor's pleasure, described officially as "life imprisonment convicts" and those described as "long term convicts"; yet the right hon. Gentleman dared to use the kind of words which he addressed in this House to the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale when he described them in a similar way.

He said that the statement of the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale that they were kept in prison indeterminately, subject only to review once every four years, was inaccurate. The right hon. Gentleman said: Once more the right hon. Gentleman enters the lists without having troubled to ascertain the facts".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th June, 1956; Vol. 554, c. 98, 1414–15.] The right hon. Gentleman remarked that it is up to the Governor at any time he likes, without waiting for four years to elapse, to look at every case in the light of the circumstances. Of coure it is in the power of the Governor. These sentences are at his pleasure; but the accepted practice in Kenya is that the review shall take place every four years. I ask the right hon. Gentleman, whether there is a single case since 1954 in which the Governor's pleasure has been used to release a juvenile prisoner before the four years' review. The right hon. Gentleman remarked that he wished that the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale would trouble to ascertain the facts before he lent his oratory to the mischievous continuance of untruths. I would be out of order if I described the replies of the right hon. Gentleman on these occasions as dishonest, but I do say that they were grossly misleading.

The review of the facts which I have given in this brief speech shows that it is the Minister who has given an untrue impression to the House and to the country of the facts regarding these juvenile prisoners. There are no children under the age of 14 in prison in Kenya, he said; yet in his Written Answer to me he acknowledges that children can be sent to prison under that age and does not deny that in two of the three cases which I gave him the ages had not been altered. I submit that I have proved that children under 14 can be sent to prison in Kenya, and that Miss Eileen Fletcher's evidence that there were children of that age under her care in Kimati Prison in 1954 is undisputably true.

1.30 a.m.

The Secretary of State for the Colonies (Mr. Alan Lennox-Boyd)

I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Armagh (Mr. Armstrong), who wanted to add a few words to this debate, has been prevented from doing so by the shortness of the time available. I hope another opportunity will arise for someone like him, with such close personal experience of Kenya, to be able to add his contribution.

The hon. Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Fenner Brockway) will recollect, I think, that when I was last asked a Question on 20th June in this House as to whether I proposed that there should be an inquiry, I said: What I am proposing to do is to assemble all the information, which is being most carefully gathered—and my asking the Attorney-General of Kenya to come was an indication that I intended to take any such suggestions very seriously—to assemble this information and then find the appropriate means of letting hon. Members have access to all the information to which I have access myself."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th June, 1956; Vol. 554, c. 1415.] I think it may be argued by those most anxious to get at the truth and not to score points in a discussion of this kind that further discussion of these charges might well await my being able to produce for the information of my colleagues all the information which is available to me and after discussion with Miss Fletcher all the information she has made available to us.

A very full record of a very long meeting Miss Fletcher had in my office, lasting over two hours, has been prepared, was sent to Mr. Foot with his agreement for his concurrence. When agreed, this will be sent to the Government of Kenya for their comments, and—I hope this will be so—Miss Fletcher will be considering which of the statements which she has made she would be prepared to put into a statutory declaration. I would repeat that if we are really anxious to discern the truth in each one of these charges, we should be better employed in waiting until that information has been made available.

The hon. Gentleman made one general charge, of course, as he, no doubt, felt obliged to do, against what he called my lack of candour. If he will look at Hansard for 13th June, he will see that in a long oral examination of this matter at Question Time I said: Under Kenya legislation no child under the age of 14 may be sentenced to imprisonment. A person under 18 who is convicted by a court on a capital charge must be sentenced to detention during the Governor's pleasure and such detention may be in prison."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th June, 1956; Vol. 554, c. 567.] I deliberately inserted those words to make quite certain that the House was not misled by the circumstances of these cases, and those words were inserted with the full intention that Parliament should be given that fact, as, indeed, every other fact at my disposal.

Very briefly, because time, alas, is not adequate for me to deal in detail with the hon. Gentleman's charges, here are one or two comments upon them. He raised the question of the detainees. There are 30 male detainees aged 13 at Wamumu and one aged 12 at Makurweini, but I think he knows that the detainees are in fact in approved schools—the male detainees.

Mr. Fenner Brockway

The male detainees, yes.

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

The male detainees are in approved schools. All the 47 female detainees in the 14–17 age group are at Kamiti and there are no female detainees under 14 years of age.

Mr. Fenner Brockway


Mr. Lennox-Boyd

I cannot give way, for I have not much time in which to answer the hon. Gentleman's sweeping charges.

As to the children sentenced to imprisonment, I repeat that no child under the age of 14 years may be sentenced to imprisonment. The imprisonment of young persons between 14 and 18 is governed by the Ordinance, and only in exceptional circumstances do the courts order imprisonment. Wherever possible, they find other punishments than imprisonment, probation, fines, corporal punishment, or committal to a remand home.

I wish I had time to deal in greater detail with more of the statements made, but once more I would deal again with the three particular cases. 13222/J, Nyakaru, wife of Gitonga, was convicted on 21st September, 1954, by the Resident Magistrate at Nyeri, sitting at Nanyuki, on two counts of taking illegal oaths, to which she pleaded guilty, and was sentenced to two years' and five years' imprisonment, the sentences to run consecutively. The sentence was confirmed on 30th September, 1954, by Mr. Justice Rudd. Her age was given on the charge sheet as "Adult". It was entered on the prison record at 18 and was subsequently, as I told the House, altered by some person unknown to 11. On 8th June, 1956, a medical officer determined her age as then being 15½—that is, nearly 14 at the time of conviction—while the three Kikuyu women of equivalent standing to tribal elders determined her age then to be 18½—that is, 16½ on conviction. I do not believe that anybody would quarrel with the accuracy likely to be obtained in this very difficult sphere by Kikuyu women of that type.

The second case mentioned by the hon. Member was, as I have it, 12795/J, Nyamburu, daughter of Kanyoru, convicted on 20th September, 1954, by the Supreme Court, Nairobi, on the capital charge of consorting with an armed person, ten other persons being charged with her. The court determined her age to be under 18 and she could not, therefore, be sentenced to death. She was, therefore, sentenced to be detained during the Governor's pleasure.

The prison record sheet gives her age as 12 and there has, as I said, been no alteration to this figure. On 8th June, the medical officer determined her age as then being 15—that is, 13 on conviction—while the panel of three Kikuyu women determined her age then to be 18, or 16 on conviction. I repeat, however, that she was sentenced to be detained during the Governor's pleasure. That is not a life sentence and it means exactly what it says: that the Governor is perfectly free to re-examine the case and is not bound by the general tradition that four years elapse before such examination takes place.

The third case which the hon. Member mentioned is 7966/J, Wanjiro, daughter of Kariro, who was convicted on 12th June, 1954, by the Supreme Court, Thika—Acting Judge Clive Salter—again on the capital charge of consorting with armed persons. The judge recorded the evidence of a medical officer that the prisoner was then about 12½ years old. As she was under 18, the court could not sentence her to death and sentenced her to detention—again, during the Governor's pleasure. I repeat that that gives the Governor absolute discretion to use his own discretion in deciding at any time to terminate the sentence.

The prison record shows her age as 12 and there was no alteration in this figure. On 8th June, the medical officer determined her age to be 15½ then—that is, 13½ on conviction—while the panel of Kikuyu women determined her age then to be 20—that is, 18 on conviction.

I recognise that there is something a little unsatisfactory in the method of keeping the various ages of juveniles who come before the court. The present arrangement—I hope I have two minutes more to explain this—is that an African warder/clerk makes out a record sheet from the commitment warrant and the answers of the prisoner. In normal times, this function would be performed by a European prison officer. The Prisoner's age is not shown on the commitment warrant, which shows only whether the court sentenced the prisoner as a juvenile or as an adult.

It is perfectly reasonable to assume that some people in this position are inclined not to tell the truth about their age when they get to prison, putting it as too low in the belief that they may thereby get a quicker release and lighter work. The prisoner then goes before the medical officer, who merely certifies fitness for work. The record sheet and the prisoner then go to the officer in charge, who considers the medical officer's certificate regarding fitness for work and assesses age only in regard to work and segregation as a juvenile. I think that there is a need to make certain that the finding of the court in regard to age is transmitted by means of the warrant to the prison officer taking custody of the prisoner. This would be a worth while improvement and would prevent a good deal of misunderstanding.

On the general question whether or not there should be very severe punishment for juveniles, I would respectfully remind the House that some of these youthful prisoners have a horrifying maturity in crime. They have been brutalised by months of association with Mau Mau in the forests and we have, unhappily, considerable evidence of their general debasement and their persistent attempts to incite others to mutiny.

Until the Mau Mau tragedy is completely cleared up, it is essential not to lose sight of the fact that some of the people of whom we are talking as if they were juveniles in the strict sense of the term have themselves played a terrifying rôle in the Mau Mau conspiracy. I am at all time anxious that the information I give the House should be strictly accurate, and I can only ask those hon. Members who are concerned with getting the truth, and with no other purpose, to await the marshalling of all the evidence, which I have promised the House I will do as soon as I can.

Adjourned accordingly at nineteen minutes to Two o'clock.