HC Deb 16 April 1957 vol 568 cc1879-90

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Legh.]

9.59 p.m.

Mrs. Barbara Castle (Blackburn)

I think that the Under-Secretary of State will welcome this debate, because I believe that he himself was rather surprised, or even shocked, at the reply he had to give me on 13th March. I asked him then about the rate of new arrests in Kenya under the Emergency Powers, and the answer which the hon. Gentleman produced revealed that in the two months from 8th January to 7th March this year no less than 8,989 persons had been arrested in Kenya under those Powers.

As all of us who have taken an interest in this matter know, the Administration at the moment is congratulating itself on the rate of releases from detention camps which are now taking place at the rate of 1,600 a month.

It being Ten o'clock, the Motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Barber.]

Mrs. Castle

But we can hardly congratulate ourselves on the situation at the end of the emergency, when we were arresting people at the rate of 4,500 a month and releasing them at the rate of merely 1,700 a month. I am very well aware from the various Answers which have been given to Questions in the House that most of these arrests are not for Mau Mau offences. They are for illegal movements and the breaking of curfews. The figures which the Colonial Office has supplied show, for instance, that out of the 8,989 arrests, no fewer than 8,648 have been for illegal movement and pass offences.

I am bound to say that that shows how important it is to examine this situation, because the fact that the offences are themselves so innocent makes it all the worse that we should be using Emergency Powers which were taken solely for the sake of fighting Mau Mau. I know that the Under-Secretary will say as part of his answer that the sentences are light and that nobody is treating these offences very seriously. To spare him the trouble and time of reading out the sentences, I can assure him that I am aware that in the majority of cases the sentences were only a fine—in 4,800 cases—while in another 2,300 there were sentences of imprisonment from one to six months. There were also more than 1,300 people acquitted or discharged when their cases were brought to court. But, presumably, they were at any rate sent back from the homes from which they had illegally travelled.

It will not do for us just to dismiss a fine, a short term of imprisonment or banishment back to home as a sign that we have a perfectly beneficent and understanding administration in Kenya. Nobody likes to be in prison, if only for a month, and a fine to an African already living at subsistence level is a hardship. We must, therefore, not say that the sentences are so small that it does not matter if the arrests were unfair and in any normal sense unlawful.

My purpose in raising this matter tonight is to ask that as the British Parliament responsible for these Africans we should look at the nature of the crimes for which these people are being rounded up like cattle in such large numbers. What is the crime involved in these curfew offences, illegal movements and pass offences? I am sure that the Under-Secretary will agree with me that we must at all costs avoid creating in this British Colony any of the atmosphere which now pollutes race relationships in South Africa. He would be the first to avoid that. What is the crime of these people?

The Colonial Secretary admitted in the House in answer to a supplementary question of mine on 13th March that one of the motive powers behind this movement of people is unemployment. He said: .. I recognise that, particularly in the Kiambu district, where there is overcrowding, steps must be taken to provide employment—there and elsewhere—which will tend to make people less anxious to enter Nairobi"—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 13th March, 1957; Vol. 566, c. 1120.] In other words, the Colonial Secretary himself has admitted that the reserves are overcrowded in many cases and that there is no work for the men, but that if they move without a pass, they will commit an offence. They will not get passes to go to Nairobi just to look for work, because there is no employment exchange system for the African in the reserves. He cannot get a pass and so he has to risk it. Because of sheer financial and economic desperation, they go looking for work. Then they are arrested and imprisoned, fined or sent home, to start the whole vicious circle again.

The Under-Secretary may argue that that is not the only reason and that by no means all these arrests take place in Nairobi. A number have taken place in the Nyeri police area. It is not a sin to travel around, perhaps in order to see relatives, or even merely to see the world In these times we must have a very good excuse if we wish to stop people from moving about just because they wish to do so. The Colonial Secretary has been the first to deny that these arrests were made for Mau Mau reasons.

I suggest that he is trying to have it both ways. First, he says that the majority of arrests are not taking place in the Nairobi district, and advances that as an excuse. He will argue that we cannot allow Africans to get into Nairobi because they will bring disease, crime and overcrowding. Secondly, he says that in any case most of these arrests do not take place in Nairobi, but elsewhere. If they take place outside they are even less justified, because then the excuse that they are made for reasons of health, crime or overcrowding does not arise.

I know that the Colonial Secretary is concerned about the problem of overcrowding in the reserves and of unemployment. The Under-Secretary of State will probably say that the Government are trying to deal with the matter in this way or in that, but I would make this submission to him: is not there an enormous temptation that so long as we maintain these Emergency Powers to control the effects we shall not get down to dealing with the causes. In terms of modern colonial policy, are we right in maintaining control powers merely for our own administrative convenience when there is absolutely no justification for them?

Secondly, how are we going to deal with the causes? I do not believe that we can, until we remove these control powers which deaden and blunt their real impact. One of the serious factors is that the land consolidation programme, upon which we have been congratulating ourselves in that it is a sign of advance in Kenya, is creating a landless proletariat for which the Kenya Administration and the Colonial Office have not yet made provision. The Colonial Secretary has admitted it, and, writing on 28th December last, in the Kenya Weekly News, Mr. Michael Blundell says: We shall undoubtedly have to deal with a landless section of our population, accept that the old-fashioned security of the African land unit in old age and for the weak and helpless has gone, and deal with such social problems as creating a wage level which will enable an African to live without the added support of the family holding in the African areas and despite the difficulty of raising his production and efficiency. He goes on to say that it is true that land consolidation is creating a class system among the Africans, and that the rich African farmer is now employing some of these dispossessed and landless proletariat. He welcomes this new division into the "haves" and "have nots" in Kenya because he hopes that it will encourage in certain sections of African society an inherent tendency towards conservatism.

So it will for those who come out well from this arrangement, but we can have a new unrest in Kenya, not upon the same lines as Mau Mau, but none the less dangerous, and leading to personal violence and rioting if no preparations are made to deal with this landless proletariat that we create by making a rich class and leaving a large section of the population—the "have nots"—inadequately provided for by employment schemes. There are no signs yet that we are really facing and getting ready to deal with the, consequences of the land consolidation programme before its effects are felt in this great migration of aimless, goalless Africans who are wandering round committing these pathetic little offences, not because there is a crime wave, but because there is no provision and no social roots for them in the new Kenya.

I think this a serious and challenging problem. I believe that the land consolidation programme has been entered into too hastily. I am not by any means satisfied that the creation of individual tenures now is necessarily the correct way of dealing with agricultural reorganisation in Africa. It cuts across the tribal communal habits of the African, as another white settler in Kenya, replying to Michael Blundell said in the Kenya Weekly News on 11th January. I ask the Under-Secretary to read what Mr. Lindsay said and how he warns the white settlers in Kenya that if they press ahead with these modern western ideas of new individual land tenures, uprooting thousands of Africans and giving them no kind of communal association through which to survive, they will be facing a deep social unrest which may prove more dangerous than Mau Mau.

I suggest to the Under-Secretary that to continue a potentially dangerous situation by using Emergency Powers only taken and justified because of the Mau Mau emergency is a short-sighted and tragic mistake. I hope that he will bring pressure to bear on the Kenya Government to provide, first, a long-term social policy to meet Kenya's needs and, secondly, to abolish the Emergency Powers.

10.13 p.m.

Mr. John Stonehouse (Wednesbury)

I am glad that my hon. Friend the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle) has drawn attention to this important problem in Kenya. I wish to underline some of the things which she has said, and also to refer to the fact that the Emergency Regulations also enable the Kenya Government to keep in prison many thousands of Africans who have committed no offence at all. There are approximately 30,000 of these men and women in gaol. If we had a like proportion of people in prison in this country, without a charge being brought against them, it would amount to the population of three constituencies put together.

Although the rate of release has been increased, I ask what date the Colonial Secretary has set for these releases to be completed. Are we to wait another twelve months or even two years before these men are released, men who have had no case brought against them at all? In The Times today we read a report from the Nairobi correspondent of the way in which these detainees are being treated. Admittedly they are on their way to camps where they are investigated before they are released. But do we have need, in one of our own territories, to transport men in batches of 250 by launch and then in heavily protected railway coaches, with their legs in irons throughout the journey "?

Mr. A. Fenner Brockway (Eton and Slough)

Shameful, absolutely shameful.

Mr. Stonehouse

These are men who in the majority of cases have had no case whatever brought against them. Furthermore, in the next paragraph of this report from The Times correspondent, we read that: The new arrivals are separated from the real fanatics (who prove to be a surprisingly small percentage of the total) … If the real fanatics are such a small percentage, why is it that these men have to be transported in batches of 250 with their legs in irons? This is an injustice which we must beg the Colonial Secretary to have put right.

We also read in this report that before these men are released they have to make a full confession. I read in this morning's issue of The Times: This is a first and vital step towards a return to normal life. These detainees are expected to make a full confession of their activities within Mau Mau. What is the position of those detainees who are in no way connected with Mau Mau and who deny any association with Mau Mau in the past? There are several people in Kenya in prison today who are known personally to me, and who I do not imagine for one moment would have been associated with Mau Mau or its atrocities at any time; and yet, before these men are allowed to be considered for release, they are apparently expected to make a full confession of crimes which they have not committed. It is time that the Colonial Secretary gave this House a full report on this question and, above all, a target date for the complete release of these detainees.

10.17 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies (Mr. John Profumo)

I very much welcome hearing the hon. Member for Wednesbury (Mr. Stonehouse) speaking, so far as I am concerned, for the first time. I do not think he could have been doing me the honour of making his maiden speech, but I shall be interested to study with considerable interest what he said.

I hope that he will acquit me of any discourtesy if I do not follow him into the realms of some of his arguments, which were rather more about the existing detainees than about the arguments of the hon. Lady the Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle), and who concentrated primarily on the Regulations which have caused what I readily agree appears at first sight to be a very large number of arrests in a short period of time.

I am indeed glad of the chance to give a fuller explanation to the House of this matter, and to show why the Regulations must continue for at any rate the time being. In this country, thousands of miles away from the recent horrors of Mau Mau, we are inclined sometimes to regard Kenya as a territory which has by now gone back to a normal state of existence. It is no longer constantly in the headlines and, thank goodness, murder, arson and even the power of the oath are now things of the past.

Yet even today, there are nearly 300 terrorists, including a handful of known leaders, who are still unaccounted for. A major security problem is presented by those whose secret sympathies have been and perhaps still are with Mau Mau. There may still be some, even among the 40,000 released detainees. The hon. Member for Wednesbury will wish to know that figure; 40,000 have already been released. These are people who could form rallying points with these missing terrorists for a further violent outburst.

The threat to security does not end there. Unofficial estimates have placed the number of those who took the oath and whose allegiance was shaken as high as 90 per cent. of the Kikuyu tribe. That is not counting the Embu and the Meru. No responsible Government can ignore those facts. Those Kikuyu who are loyal are openly recognised as such, and many of the restrictions apply to their fellows do not apply to them. It is those whose loyalty has swerved whom the Kenya Government must take primarily into account, and it is for these that the Regulations are primarily necessary.

Mr. Brockway

Would not the hon. Gentleman agree that if 90 per cent. of the Kikuyu had sympathies with Mau Mau there must have been very deep grievances which led them to that position?

Mr. Profumo

I do not really think these grievances should blind us to the threats under which these people were when, under the emergency, many of them forced to take Mau Mau oaths. Since they once had sympathies there, it is logical to say, although one may not agree with it, that a responsible Government, so soon after the emergency, have to bear that in mind.

Mrs. Castle

On 13th March the Colonial Secretary explained this high rate of arrests as a reason for people flocking back to normality.

Mr. Profumo

I am trying to sketch the background against which the Kenya Government have felt it necessary to keep these rigid restrictions about which the hon. Lady has been complaining. I want now to pass to some of the figures, but perhaps I might first be allowed to correct an inadvertent mistake in the information given to the hon. Lady on 13th March. The actual period concerned covered only the seven weeks from 8th January to 28th February and not right through to 7th March. I wished to correct that because I know and recognise that the hon. Lady and many of her hon. Friends have been taking this matter very seriously.

As to the figures of the passbook and identity card offences totalling 2,680, only 673 took place in the Nairobi area. Of the 2,118 arrests for breaking curfew, only 836 took place in the Nairobi area, and of the 3,850 travel arrests, only 1,700—or less than half—were made in the Nairobi area. Most of the rest took place in the Nyeri police area, which, as the House knows, covers five of the districts most affected by the emergency.

I am not going to suggest that movement into the city does not constitute any problem. Indeed there is a very real problem about entry into the city. Hon. Members will recall that a Parliamentary delegation visited Kenya in 1953, under the chairmanship of my right hon. Friend the Member for Kelvingrove (Mr. Elliot). The deputy leader was the right hon. Member for Rochester and Chatham (Mr. Bottomley). I want to remind the House of some of the words used in the unanimous Report of that delegation. The Report said: In Nairobi, which is one of the most important centres in Africa, the situation is both grave and acute … The situation in Nairobi derives not only from Mau-Mau, but also from other political activity and agitation… There is also a third factor, the growth of criminal activities, particularly of violent crime … Such conditions as these, in the heart of Kenya, strike at the roots of public security and of respect for law and order. There followed after that delegation's visit, what was known as "Operation Anvil", and the situation in Nairobi was only restored by strict and careful control. The point I want the House to note is that the trouble had developed in the lack and absence of that control. One element in that situation was the high rate of crime, to which the delegation quite rightly drew attention. Of course, I realise that three years have elapsed since then, but all is not well even today, because the figures for crime in January and February this year stood at no less than 1,316, or 155 above the pre-Anvil total.

That means that at least one of the main factors which made Nairobi such a danger to Kenya in early 1954 is with us again, and the rise in the crime rate has naturally caused concern to the authorities.

Mrs. Castle

Is the hon. Gentleman really suggesting that the Emergency Powers should be kept on to deal with the normal crime wave which may have social causes?

Mr. Profumo

If I have time, I will try to develop that.

The point that I am trying to make is that after any great emergency, as after the end of the war in this country, there are special circumstances to be dealt with before a country returns to normal. Any Government must bear that in mind. I have no desire to make any political point on this, but the Government of the party to which the hon. Lady belongs did see fit in this country to keep a very large measure of control at the end of the war, including, I think, identity passes, during a period of peace. It was felt necessary by the Government, because we had emerged from a period of emergency in this country, and the same state of affairs, I submit, exists in Kenya today.

Quite apart from security, there are, as the hon. Lady recognised, other problems in Nairobi, such as housing and public health. As she recognised this, I do not wish to go into great detail about them, but they exist.

A large number of the arrests which took place in fact took place outside Nairobi itself and in the Kiambu District. The hon. Lady made a point about employment and the difficulties which exist, as we readily recognise, and I should not like it to be thought that the Government in Kenya are not taking vigorous measures to solve this problem. By relief agricultural work, by placing families in forest settlements and in the Rift Valley with farmers, by great irrigation schemes now afoot and by encouraging a daily supply of workers and traders to enter Nairobi, the authorities have done a great deal to improve the situation. There are signs that the pressure is being reduced, and that workers can pick and choose to a certain extent the jobs they want to do.

I think we must recognise that in Kenya we are dealing with a situation which is still highly inflammable and that the country has only just emerged from a very great upheaval. The hon. Lady reminded me that I might probably say something about the fact that the courts over there have not regarded these as very serious crimes. That is so. The fact remains that if we have Regulations and if there is a law, then when the law is broken we must take action in order that it shall be respected. As a result, the crime rate in Nairobi has dropped in the last month.

No one likes these Regulations, least of all the Governor and the Government of Kenya. Only recently we have seen a great many of the Regulations relaxed. There was extensive relaxation early in this year, including the abolition of the death penalty for every remaining capital emergency crime. Further progress can be made, provided that the law is maintained and is kept, and that law and order are preserved during the still existing emergency situation.

May I mention again the various points which make us feel that these Regulations must continue? First, there is the short lapse of time since the end of widespread violence; second, the aftermath of the recent upheaval; third, the deep implication of the Kikuyu tribe in Mau Mau; and fourth, the special dangers of a lack of control in Nairobi—dangers to both peace and public health.

All these circumstances make it essential, however distasteful, that these Regulations should continue for the time being, but if the Regulations are properly observed and if the people in Kenya settle down, as we fully believe they will, to a full state of peace, nothing will please the Governor or his advisers, who already have a proud record of relaxation of the Regulations, more than to carry forward as swiftly as they can further relaxations of the Regulations until a state exists where these measures will have their place only as an unpleasant memory of the past. I am grateful to the hon. Lady for having given me the chance to say something further about this problem.

10.28 p.m.

Mr. A. Fenner Brockway (Eton and Slough)

May I say how disappointing the Minister's reply has been to the protests which have been made on this side of the House? We take the view that Mau Mau itself arose from the economic, social and psychological frustrations of the African people and that unless these conditions are changed now we are likely to have a continued struggle of the African people in the economic, political and social field.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at twenty-nine minutes past Ten o'clock.