HC Deb 29 April 1958 vol 587 cc335-46

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

10.27 p.m.

Mr. John Stonehouse (Wednesbury)

It is with no apology that I raise for a second time on the Motion for the Adjournment of the House the case of a man who is detained in Kenya under the Emergency Regulations.

Mr. Oneko was one of the leaders of the Kenya African Union in 1952 when it sent a deputation to Britain to make submissions in regard to land reform in Kenya. A few weeks after he returned to Kenya he was one of those arrested and subsequently charged with being an organiser of Mau Mau. He, along with Jomo Kenyatta and several others, was accused at a famous trial which took place in Kapenguria.

I went to the trial at Kapenguria and gave evidence of character on his behalf. Partly as a result of that character evidence, he was acquitted on appeal to the Kenya Supreme Court in 1954. Despite his acquittal on all charges brought against him, however, Achieng Oneko has been kept in detention during the last four years.

I submit that this is a case of outstanding injustice. It is not only our privilege, but our duty, to raise in the House, on the Adjournment, any case in which there is substantial injustice, as there is here. It is not good enough to use the Advisory Committee as a defence for the action which the Governor is taking in Kenya to keep this man in detention. The Advisory Committee is, to all intents and purposes, defunct.

In reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Brockway) and myself in the Adjournment debate which took place on 5th June last year, the Under-Secretary of State said that the Advisory Committee had received appeals from 2,476 people. In a reply to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Ipswich (Mr. Foot) on 17th April last, the Colonial Secretary said that the Advisory Committee had received 2,569 appeals. This is a total of 93 appeals in nine or ten months, at a rate of about 10 a month, which we must compare with the total number of detainees of 10,000.

In his reply in June last year, the Under-Secretary of State said that 1,058 detainees had been released as a result of advice from the Advisory Committee. In his reply of 17th April, again to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Ipswich, the Colonial Secretary said that 1,058 had been released as a result of the Advisory Committee's advice. Thus, no case had been acted upon in a full ten months as a result of advice from the Advisory Committee.

I submit that this case must be judged on the basis of the statements which Achieng Oneko himself makes. It is not good enough to quote statements which may have been made behind closed doors in the Advisory Committee.

In a letter which he wrote to me on 12th April, he said: It is as well important to add at this stage my very sincere condemnation and denunciation of any connection with Mau Mau; its obscenity or violence and murders perpetrated by it. I have never approved neither supported violent method as a means of settling our problems in Kenya. Therefore, it was utterly impossible for me to associate myself with the movement in any capacity. Personally, however painful and grim the circumstances seem, trust me for what I say, that I harbour no hate against any individual … In view of the fact that Achieng Oneko was acquitted of all charges brought against him in the Kenya Supreme Court, and the fact that no evidence has been brought out into the open against this man, I submit that we should accept the statement which he makes. It is not good enough for the Colonial Secretary, as he may well do in the debate, to talk about the large number of detainees who have been released. That is of no value at all to a man who continues to remain in detention. We must consider this man's position as an individual, and if we have no right to keep him in detention and no grounds which can be brought out into the open, and as there is now no serious emergency in Kenya, I submit that he should be released.

I wish to use only a few minutes in putting his case forward because some of my hon. Friends who know him also wish to appeal on his behalf. My hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale) also wishes to be associated with this appeal. I hope that the Colonial Secretary will hear it sympathetically and will announce to the House tonight that this man will be released.

10.34 p.m.

Mr. Dingle Foot (Ipswich)

I should like, in a very few words, to support the plea made by my hon. Friend the Member for Wednesbury (Mr. Stonehouse). I, too, have met Mr. Achieng Oneko. I met him in September, 1956, when I visited the Tarkwa Detention Camp, on Manda Island.

Like nearly all the internees on Manda Island, Mr. Oneko has appealed against his detention to the Advisory Committee and he showed me the grounds for detention, which, in accordance with the usual procedure, had been furnished to him so that he might make his appeal.

Those were very interesting grounds, which I have already quoted in the House. It was not alleged against him that he had been actively associated or, indeed, associated in any way with Mau Mau; it was not alleged that he had taken an unlawful oath; it was not alleged that he had been a terrorist. All that was said against him—and I use the actual words—was: You made inflammatory speeches against the Government of Kenya and Europeans calculated to stir up sedition and inter-racial enmity. That was all. It was not alleged that he had been guilty of sedition, or that there was any other offence for which he could be brought again to trial. There were not even particulars of the speeches which he was supposed to have made. There was only this vague, woolly allegation. On that ground, and on that ground alone, he has been kept imprisoned for the last four years.

I hope that we shall not hear anything tonight from the Colonial Secretary about rehabilitation, because rehabilitation does not apply in a case such as this. The only people who can be rehabilitated under the present system are those who confess to Mau Mau activities. If a man denies that he has ever had any association with Mau Mau, he does not even become a candidate for rehabilitation.

According to the information which Mr. Oneko himself gave me on Manda Island, he was interviewed by a screening team in 1956 and he was asked to give an undertaking that if he were released he would not take any part in politics. That was an entirely improper request, and it was very properly refused.

I hope that the Secretary of State will not take refuge tonight behind the Governor's discretion. Naturally, he is advised by the Governor in these matters, but I hope that he will bear in mind that in a case such as this, where we are dealing with the rights and liberties of one of Her Majesty's subjects, the responsibility rests with him and with this House.

10.43 p.m.

Mr. A. Fenner Brockway (Eton and Slough)

I hope that the Minister will not regard this as an occasion when the Opposition are trying to make a political case against the case of the Government. We have our criticism of the detention system, and we have our criticism of the retention of the emergency laws, but that is not what we are arguing tonight. Tonight, we are arguing on the simple point of human justice to one individual whom five responsible Members of this House know. We are unanimous in our belief that a very great injustice is being done to Achieng Oneko.

I knew Achieng Oneko in this country during the latter months of 1951 and the early months of 1952. During that period, there was scarcely a day when I did not meet him. I have known other Africans, just as I have known men of other races, who might be guilty of the crimes of Mau Mau. However, Achieng Oneko is a man of a character and of a depth of mind which make it absolutely impossible for us who knew him to believe that he is guilty of any responsibility for Mau Mau.

Achieng Oneko was acquitted on appeal in the famous case of Kenyatta and his colleagues, a case where there was the utmost pressure from the prosecution, representing the Government; but, after acquittal, he was arrested and detained without charge and he has been detained ever since. During that period, the temptation put to him was, "If you will only confess responsibility for Mau Mau, the way will be eased for your liberation." But his convictions were so deep that, despite the pull of his family and the love of his wife, he did not feel that he could try to secure release by making a confession which would be untrue.

I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman, in the name of all that is best in the traditions of this House, where we are concerned with individuals and individual justice, on this occasion to meet the request made by five Members of Parliament who know this man, and to do justice by releasing him from the detention which he has suffered during these last four years.

10.41 p.m.

Mr. Kenneth Robinson (St. Pancras, North)

I support the plea of my hon. Friends for the release of Achieng Oneko. Just over a year ago I was a member of a Commonwealth Parliamentary delegation which, visited Kenya under the leadership of the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Sir T. Dugdale). At our request, we visited Kakwa Camp, on Manda Island, and I believe that we were the first Parliamentarians to do so. In view of the physical difficulties in reaching the camp that is not really surprising.

When we were there we found that the detainees in Takwa Camp were divided into two roughly equal halves—those who were non-co-operators, and those who were co-operating with the camp authorities. Between us, we had interviews with all those who were amongst the section who were co-operating. The others preferred not to do so. It fell to my lot to talk with the group which included Achieng Oneko. I talked with him for a very brief time—perhaps ten minutes—and, for what it is worth, the impression that I formed during that time was that Oneko was in no sense a man who was likely to have been associated with any of the excesses of Mau Mau; nor was he a man whose release from detention could be in any way a threat to the security of Kenya.

When I came back to Nairobi and discussed his detention with people in the Government in Nairobi, it was borne in on me that the grounds on which he was detained were about as flimsy as those which caused the detention of any other person in the Colony. Therefore, I beg the right hon. Gentleman to take this plea seriously and to regard this man, as I believe all of us who know him regard him, as a victim of most serious injustice which can only now, all too late, be set right.

10.44 p.m.

Mr. Richard Body (Billericay)

May I briefly add something to what has already been said from this side of the House? All of us realise that this man held high office in an organisation which was associated with Mau Mau, although there seems to be no evidence that he himself was actually involved in Mau Mau itself.

Although I know very little about the facts of this case, I do know—and this is largely general knowledge—that there is a great deal of concern amongst many English people in Kenya about the working of the Advisory Committee and the whole process by which a very large number of people are still being detained in these camps.

I have complete faith in my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I am quite certain that this matter will be cleared up fairly soon. I am sure that justice will be done, but let us also hope that justice will appear to be done, and be done very soon.

Mrs. Eirene White (Flint, East) rose

10.45 p.m.

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

I am sorry to prevent the hon. Lady the Member for Flint, East (Mrs. White) from taking part in the debate, but if I am to give any answer at all, as we are limited to half an hour, I must reply now. I do not, of course, quarrel with the right of hon. Members to raise this subject, nor with the earnestness and zeal with which they have done it. It is entirely proper, and I have listened with great interest to what hon. Members, on both sides, have had to say.

As, I think, everybody knows, and as my hon. Friend the Member for Billericay (Mr. Body) has just said, Achieng Oneko held high office in the Kenya African Union. There is always a danger that these things get forgotten, but the House needs no reminder that this Union was proscribed in 1953 for deep involvement in Mau Mau. Mr. Achieng Oneko was General Secretary of this Union from August to October, 1952.

As hon. Members have said, the sentence after the trial at Kapenguria was not upheld and he was acquitted on appeal by the Supreme Court in January, 1954. He was then detained by authority of a detention order made by the Governor of Kenya which authorises such action whenever the Governor is satisfied that it is necessary for the purpose of maintaining public order. I must repeat what my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary said a few months ago, that acquittal on a charge of helping to organise Mau Mau does not provide any reason why the Governor should not, if he thinks it in the interest of public safety to do so, order the detention of anyone.

Five hon. Members have made it quite clear that they feel that a great injustice has been done in this case. Some of them, I think, knew Mr. Oneko when he came over to England and one, the hon. Member for St. Pancras, North (Mr. K. Robinson). visited the camp where Mr. Oneko is now detained. Incidentally, I have, of course, read the C.P.A. Report with great interest. Speaking of conditions generally, that Report said: The conditions in the camps appear to be reasonably good within the limits of an} detention system. I hope that nobody believes that I am anxious that detention should continue for a day longer than is necessary in the interests of public order in Kenya.

Those hon. Members feel that an injustice has been done. I must remind the House that the Governor and his Advisory Committee have all the facts of this case at their disposal locally, including knowledge which is not available to hon. Members, however genuinely they may feel that an injustice has been done.

Mr. Stonehouse

Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that once the appeal has been turned down by the Advisory Committee, no further appeal is allowed?

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

I was coining to that. The Governor and the Advisory Committee have all the facts at their disposal locally, including, of course, a close knowledge of the state of law and order in Kenya at the time.

Mr. Foot rose

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

I cannot give way again.

The Governor and the Advisory Committee are, and were, fully satisfied of the need for this detention. No one can possibly feel that the Governor is not himself desperately anxious to reduce the number of detainees. By 31st March this year, 66,000 people previously in detention had been released and now there are only 10,000 left.

However strongly hon. Members may feel, one must look at these individual problems against the general security background still in Kenya today. I need not remind the House of the spread of K.K.M., of the Mau Mau type of oaths in remote areas in recent weeks and of the 100 fanatical Mau Mau men who are still at large, all of which show the utmost need for care. By and large, those who remain in the camps are those who were most deeply involved in the movement and whose rehabilitation is taking relatively longer. There are, I am sorry to say, signs of a drop in the release rate to a little more than about 1,000 a month. Because of the thorough nature of the excellent work that is being done in rehabilitation, however, we are entitled to think that far more detainees can now hope for freedom than we ever dared at one time to hope.

When I was first in Kenya as Secretary of State, the figures of those we felt might have to be indefinitely detained were terrifying, but those figures are now, I am glad to say, fears of the past; but these hopes cannot possibly be fulfilled unless the rehabilitation workers are given opportunity and time to complete their task. One cannot give any target date, but the number of those released already is, I think, a very encouraging sign.

The hon. Member for Wednesbury (Mr. Stonehouse) drew attention to the fact that there had been many applications to the Advisory Committee in recent months and appeared to draw from that the idea that the Advisory Committee was a sham, or defunct, or a rubber stamp. I think that it would be very unfair to regard the work of the Committee in that light. I circulated recently in the House the number of appeals which had been heard by the Advisory Committee: 2,569 appeals had been received; 2,318 had been heard; it had recommended 1,088 for release; 217 were released before the Committee came on to hear the appeals; and only 1,230 were recommended for continued detention. Those figures included Mr. Achieng Oneko, whose case in 1954 was considered carefully by the Committee but was rejected.

Mr. Stonehouse

It is most important in relation to the figures that the right hon. Gentleman should confirm that in June last year the Under-Secretary gave the House the figure of 1,058 people who had been released as a result of the advice of the Advisory Committee, but that he himself, in answer to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Ipswich (Mr. Foot), gave the figure of 1,058 detainees having been released as a result of the advice of the Committee.

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

That is, of course, perfectly true, but the vast majority of applications, naturally, went to the Advisory Committee in the earlier days. There have been virtually no new detentions in recent months, and that, of course, is the explanation for those figures. Some who have finished recently prison sentences and cannot go back at once to the reserves until they have undergone re- habilitation, are being detained, but there are virtually no new detentions.

The hon. Member asked me what provision there was once an appeal had been heard before the review at later stages of the case. The cases are dealt with administratively at regular intervals. I can assure the hon. Member that this is no mere form of words, but this does in reality take place.

I am assured by the Governor that in this case he could not possibly take action to grant the release, but this case, like every other case, is reviewed at regular intervals administratively.

I personally take the view that no one is irreconcilable. When I was in Kenya for the first time as Secretary of State I made it perfectly clear that those who were irreconcilable could not be allowed to return to the reserves. I made it equally clear that no one was irreconcilable, and I therefore hoped that the good work of rehabilitation would be as universally successful as was possible.

The hon. and learned Member for Ipswich (Mr. Foot) asked me how it was possible for anybody who had not confessed at all, because he had nothing, in his view, to which to confess, to find himself released—if he did not go through the arrangement for confession. Confession is not the test by which the decision is reached whether detainees should be released or not. It is, of course, important that they should confess, but release depends, in the final analysis, only on whether the Governor is satisfied that it is no longer necessary to exercise control over the individual concerned.

I am sorry that I have been obliged to repeat very largely the argument used by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary when this matter was raised last year, but circumstances have not changed. I must once more repeat my hope that with the gradual restoration of law and order it will be possible for there to be even more releases than there has been up to date. I hope that the drop in the number of releases will give way to a further expansion in the future. I cannot, I am afraid, add to the answer which have given about Achieng Oneko.

10.56 p.m.

Mrs. Eirene White (Flint, East)

I am sorry that we have had such a disappointing reply from the right hon. Gentleman. I knew Achieng Oneko before Mau Mau became evident, and I always believed that he had been more sinned against than sinning. He has always denied that he had any knowledge of what was going on. I do not think he is a strong character, but I do not see why he should necessarily be detained for ever.

The ordinary processes of rehabilitation are remarkable in dealing with many detainees, but do not apply to some who are of a completely different kind and of different intellectual capacity. Many of us know Achieng Oneko. I met him last year. I feel that he is worth taking a good deal of trouble about and, if necessary, taking risks over. I do not deny that he has had bitter feelings against the Administration but he is the sort of person whom, if properly handled—if he felt there was co-operation on the side of the Administration and some sort of confidence placed in him—it might be possible to release.

I hope very much that the right hon. Gentleman will have further consultations with the Governor about this man, whom some of us know. I am not denying that there are difficulties. It might be intuition, but I believe that Achieng Oneko could be released, with safeguards.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at four minutes to Eleven o'clock.