HC Deb 30 January 1957 vol 563 cc1130-8

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

10.32 p.m.

Mr. John Dugdale (West Bromwich)

Last Wednesday, for a short period during Question Time, we discussed a matter which is of very great importance to the people of Kenya, namely, the manner in which they should be allowed to exercise their votes at the forthcoming elections. We have just been discussing various matters connected with the Commonwealth and I make no apology for discussing this particular Commonwealth matter tonight. It is strictly limited to one subject, the regulations governing the franchise in Kenya at the next elections.

Many of us were very disturbed at the line taken by the Under-Secretary during Question Time last Wednesday. I am not really certain what he meant and I want him to tell us tonight. In dealing with the regulations I asked him: Does he think that it is in accordance with democratic principles, or is he in this case abrogating all democratic principles? He replied: No. I am saying that this is in the best interests of all concerned."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 23rd January, 1957; Vol. 563, c. 167.] That answer was not very clear.

I believe that it is not in the best interests of the people of Kenya that so many should be deprived of the franchise. I want to quote the regulations, which should appear in HANSARD, because they are very serious. They are regulations the like of which I have never heard in any country for whose government Great Britain is responsible.

They are: No African shall be included in the register for any electoral area who … is the subject of a restriction order made under the Deportation (Immigrant British Subjects) Ordinance, 1949, or is or has been the subject of a detention order made under the Emergency Regulations, 1952. They continue: Provided that a Provincial Commissioner may in any particular case remove such disqualification in respect of an African who has been, but is no longer, detained by virtue of a detention order made as aforesaid, being the Provincial Commissioner of the province in which such African normally resides. What does this mean? It means that people who have been detained without any trial whatever—simply because they are suspected persons, and on no other ground at all—are to be deprived of the vote. On 30th November last year there were 32,000 detainees. They were not convicted criminals, yet they are deprived of the vote. On what grounds is this so?

It becomes a far more serious matter when we look at the question of the detainees who have been released. These people have been released because they are no longer suspect, yet they are still deprived of their vote unless the Provincial Commissioner removes the disqualification. There is no compulsion upon him to do so. If he feels that he does not want to remove it they remain disqualified. It is a most extraordinary state of affairs, to leave it to the will of an official to say whether certain people may or may not have the right to express their views at an election. That includes even the people who have been released after an investigation by the Advisory Committee who should be presumed, at any rate prima facie, to be guiltless, and no longer suspect.

I come now to Section 19 of the Ordinance, which is even more extraordinary. It reads: Notwithstanding the provisions of this Ordinance, no person being a member of the Kikuyu, Embu or Meru tribe shall be eligible to he registered as a voter unless the district commissioner of the district in which such person normally resides certifies in writing that such person, on account of his loyal and active support of the Government in the Emergency, may be so registered and the grant or refusal of any certificate under this sub-section shall lie in the absolute discretion of the district commissioner. (2) A district commissioner, who has granted a certificate in accordance with the provisions of sub-section (1) of this section, may, on account of disloyalty, mistake as to identity or otherwise, or misrepresentation, or for other good and sufficient cause, at any time cancel in writing such certificate and thereafter the person to whom such certificate was granted shall not be registered as a voter or, if such person has already been so registered, the name of such person shall be deleted from the register. (3) Neither the grant nor the refusal nor the cancellation of any certificate under this section shall be called in question in any court or proceedings whatsoever. Words fail me to describe what I think of an Ordinance which not only gives to an official the power to disqualify thousands of people belonging to certain tribes from the franchise but, at the same time, prevents the courts from interfering in any way with the decision of the official. If this had happened in England we should have heard a great deal about it. This House would have been full at this moment or, more probably, there would have been a call for an Adjournment debate upon a matter of urgent public importance, and a debate would have taken place in the middle of the afternoon. But because this happens in Kenya not quite so many hon. Members are interested as there would otherwise be.

It may be said that there is a crisis in Kenya, and that during a crisis there need be less respect for the ordinary procedure of the courts than there would otherwise be. There is certainly a crisis there, but that is no justification for depriving a quarter of the population of a vote unless the official concerned says that it may vote.

I do not think that we often feel that we are behind the Poles in matters of democracy, but Mr. Gomulka has recently had an election in Poland, and I do not think that he had any test such as this. He certainly had a far graver crisis, because he had Russian guns and tanks on his frontiers and he was in great danger—yet he carried out that election in a more democratic manner, apparently, than is likely to be the case in the elections in Kenya, according to this Ordinance.

It is not only a question of people being deprived of the franchise because they are disloyal; they have actually to be actively loyal. What would happen in this country were there such a rule? It would mean that well-known leaders of the Communist Party in this country would have to prove that they were actively loyal to this country, and they would obviously find that exceedingly difficult to prove. If they could not prove it, neither they nor any of their followers would have a vote; yet we allow them to vote here and we deprive of a vote all these people in Kenya who have not passed this loyalty test.

We are supposed to be leaders of democracy. We are supposed to be an example to these countries which are hesitating whether they shall join the democratic camp or the Communist camp. I do not believe that this is the kind of way in which we should give them a lead. If we give a lead in this direction it is likely that they may have second thoughts about joining the democratic camp and may join the Communist camp instead.

I ask the Under-Secretary to repeal this wrong-headed and stupid Ordinance, which is completely out of keeping with the whole British way of life and with all that this House stands for.

10.41 p.m.

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

As you know, Mr. Speaker, I have only very recently been called upon to concern myself officially with the matters which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Bromwich (Mr. Dugdale) has been discussing this evening. Although I have, ever since I entered this House, taken a deep interest in colonial matters, I have approached my study of the origins and the background of this legislation which the right hon. Gentleman has called in question with what I hope is a fresh and unprejudiced mind.

I do not believe that the right hon. Gentleman will expect me to go into the reasons why, in the conditions of emergency in Kenya, where the whole structure of government and the orderly life of people of all races was threatened by a resurgence of barbarism—why it was necessary, in those conditions, to detain certain people in the public interest. I believe that that was necessary, just as I believe that the Government of Kenya have clone, and are doing, their utmost to redeem those who have been duped by Mau Mau and return them to play a useful part in a peaceful society.

Nor do I believe—although I may be wrong in this—that the right hon. Gentleman seriously holds the view that in the conditions in Kenya today it is intolerable, because it is not consonant with our democratic principles, to make the right to vote, in these first African elections on an individual franchise, something to be earned rather than something automatically granted to all adult Africans.

I think that the right hon. Gentleman will agree with me that, except in a very narrow coastal belt, Western European influences in East Africa have been at work for little over half a century as contrasted with the long evolution of our own institutions in this country or, indeed, the centuries of contact and the spread of education and experience in certain other Colonial Territories.

We are here initiating an important experiment in the development of representative institutions. The African in Kenya, as Mau Mau itself demonstrated, has yet to emerge completely from his tribal past. He is only beginning, as far as the mass of the people are concerned, to think and act as an individual and not as a pliable unit in a larger group.

The passage from collective responsibility to individual judgment cannot be brusque without causing serious strains. In the electoral field it can lead very easily to demagogy and indeed to corruption. In Kenya, the transition has been deliberately made from the submission of a panel of names by district councils, acting as sounding boards of local opinion, in 1948, to the creation in 1952 of electoral colleges of representative men voting by secret ballot. Now, under the scheme worked out by Mr. Coutts, individual Africans are to vote directly for the first time by secret ballot for one candidate or another in accordance with their individual judgment of the policies put forward by those candidates.

It seems to me right and well suited to the conditions in Kenya that on this occasion the franchise should be limited to those who can reasonably be expected to be capable of exercising an individual judgment and that their claims to do so should be based on education, demonstrated capacity to attain an individual position of authority or material success, experience of responsibility of various kinds and similar criteria.

The point I wish to make is that by introducing this system into Kenya the Government have not deprived anyone of the right to vote; its introduction simply extends the right—and, indeed, that duty—to those best fitted to exercise it.

Mr. Dugdale

I am not disputing the whole basis of the franchise—that is quite another question—but will the hon. Gentleman limit himself exclusively to those people who come under this particular section?

Mr. Profumo

I was coming to that, but I thought it wise to ask the right hon. Member if he would share my view, first, that a qualitative franchise for Africans in Kenya today is the right system to introduce at the present time. We have to settle that before we get down to the basic problem and I think the right hon. Member has agreed that he will accept that fact—

Mr. Dugdale

No; I said that I did not want to discuss that tonight.

Mr. Profumo

If the right hon. Member will allow me to make this point—my argument does to some extent depend upon it—though even if the conception of a qualitative franchise is accepted I do concede that there could be considerable scope for debate on the precise qualifications to be adopted at this stage.

I have looked at the OFFICIAL REPORT of the debate on Kenya on 6th June when although this subject was touched on briefly by several hon. Members it was never seriously maintained that Mr. Coutts's proposals were at variance in any fundamental respect with the views of the majority of the African witnesses he had heard.

As we have not much time, however, I will go straight to the aspects of the system specially raised by the right hon. Member. In the discussions which Mr. Coutts had all over the country particular stress was laid by those Africans who had stood firm against the onslaught of Mau Mau that only those who were loyal should be permitted to qualify to vote in the forthcoming elections and I think it would be difficult to quarrel with that contention. The Kikuyu spokesman, Mr. Mathu, observed in his speech in the Legislative Council on this Bill, that he agreed with the provisions in it which applied particularly to K.E.M. tribes.

It is, admittedly, very difficult to devise any scientific test of loyalty or any method of determining such a qualification judicially. The Kenya Government considered that to insist that no would-be voter had ever taken an oath—as the Africans suggested—would be too restrictive, since many took an oath under overwhelming compulsion and some of those originally swept into Mau Mau had demonstrated their renunciation of it by active loyalty to the Government.

It was, therefore, decided that active support to the Crown during the emergency should be the test of fitness to qualify for registration for this first elec- tion for the Kikuyu, Embu and Meru. I think it follows quite logically that those detained in the interest of preserving public order should also fail to qualify. Powers of detention were exercised to curb the power for evil of those who were believed to have adopted the aims and methods of Mau Mau even though the information against them came from witnesses, such as accomplices or those afraid to testify in court, whose evidence could not sustain a judicial charge against them.

If persons were detained who believed they were wrongly detained they had—and exercised—the right of appeal to the Advisory Committee, which considered most carefully whether their detention was necessary in the interests of public order. This Committee has already heard about 2,400 appeals and has recommended more than 1,000 detainees for release. Many thousands have been redeemed through the rehabilitation process and are now at liberty with the opportunity to work their way back to full acceptance by their communities—and I want to stress that very much. Many thousands more are on their way through this process now, but I believe, together with the loyal Kikuyu they must be required to show by their conduct over a period that they have fully abjured their attachment to Mau Mau. Thus, all ex-detainees have been required to obtain clearance certificates and, in fact, no ex-detainee has applied for removal of such disqualification.

The right hon. Gentleman finished his speech by asking whether I would take some action to repeal this law. With all respect to him, this is an academic point, since now the registration of voters has finished and, therefore, it would not be any good; it is too late to do anything about it. But I wish to support the action which has been taken. The right hon. Gentleman also talked about a quarter of the population being deprived of their vote because of these regulations. I think we should try—

Mr. Dugdale

I said that a quarter were liable to be deprived of it. How many are actually deprived, I do not know.

Mr. Profumo

I am sorry. I did not mean to be inaccurate. What the right hon. Gentleman says is much better.

We should try to see whether we can get this into its perspective. We cannot assume that anything like all those who are or have been detained would otherwise have qualified for registration or would have wished to register. In the Central Province, for example, the proportion of registered voters to the total adult population is 7.4 per cent. It seems reasonable to assume that no larger a proportion of the detainees would, if allowed to do so, have qualified for registration or have wished to register, and on this basis it is fair to say that no more than 5,000 or 6,000 people are disqualified from voting because they have been detainees.

Since, as I have maintained, the loyalty test could not be made susceptible of application by a court of law, it is surely best that this discretion should be exercised by the Governor's representatives. Whatever the right hon. Gentleman may think of the Provincial Administration, it really is regarded by the great majority of law-abiding Africans as an impartial and sympathetic authority.

Africans would prefer the decision to rest with such an authority rather than with a tribunal of the sort proposed by Mr. Coutts.

In conclusion, I would like to say this: in the immediate aftermath of the agony which Kenya has suffered under the brutal scourge of Mau Mau I am satisfied that these disqualifications are right and fully justified. As the situation is restored, and as the detainees are reabsorbed in the life of the country, a new situation will, I believe, be established.

Then we can hope, with the restoration of confidence, that in the review which has been promised of these arrangements before the next elections, a further step can be taken in bringing back those affected by Mau Mau into fuller participation in the life and affairs of the country.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at six minutes to Eleven o'clock.