HC Deb 28 April 1959 vol 604 cc1088-90
42. Mrs. Castle

asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies why Miss Grace Kahumbe of Nyasaland, who was convicted of being a member of an unlawful society, has had her conviction set aside by the Governor; whether this was done whilst an appeal by her was pending; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

Miss Kahumbe was charged with being a member of an unlawful society under Section 72 of the Penal Code, to which she pleaded guilty and was bound over. Subsequently her solicitors applied to the High Court to exercise its powers of revision to reconsider her plea of guilty on the grounds that she had not intended to admit membership of the society in question after it became unlawful.

Her conviction, however, was set aside by the High Court on the grounds that the consent of the Governor to the prosecution had not been obtained as required by Section 73 of the Penal Code, and the trial was therefore null and void.

Mrs. Castle

Is not the Colonial Secretary aware that there is a great deal of anxiety in this country about the fact that large numbers of Africans are now being arrested in Nyasaland on the ground of belonging to an unlawful organisation and are being found guilty, and in some cases imprisoned, without any more evidence being brought in support of this charge than there has been in this case? [HON. MEMBERS: "No. "] No evidence at all was brought in this case, yet this woman was dismissed from her post.

Is it not a fact that many African civil servants, being accused in this way, may have the threat of dismissal remaining over their heads—[HoN. MEMBERS: "Speech."] I am sorry to take such a long time, Mr. Speaker. Hon. Members opposite do not believe in free speech; that is their answer.

Mr. J. Griffiths

On a point of order. Is not an hon. Member allowed to put a supplementary question without noises from other hon. Members?

Mr. Speaker

I think that there is a little fault on both sides, to be accurate. That is how it appears to me. I dislike hon. Members trying to take the law into their own hands in these matters. At the same time, I would ask the hon. Lady to condense her question into shorter terms, and I would ask hon. Members to give her a chance to do so.

Mr. S. Silverman

On a point of order. May I draw your attention, Mr. Speaker, to the fact that the noise which you deplore began before my hon. Friend had got out more than a word or two of her very first supplementary question? It is really a little hard to blame both sides for a situation for which one side is clearly responsible.

Mr. Speaker

I think that there have been faults on both sides. I hope that we shall not argue the point. I know that the hon. Lady is very interested in these matters, but this is not the time to make a speech about them. If she could contrive to put her question shortly I should be obliged, and so would the House. I would ask hon. Members on the Government side to keep quiet.

Mrs. Castle

In conclusion, is not the Colonial Secretary aware that the obvious disregard of hon. Members opposite for the maintenance of civil liberties and free speech adds to our anxiety about the way in which these helpless Africans are being treated in Nyasaland?

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

No, Sir—that is indeed a bit of a distortion of the facts. It was open to this lady to argue, through her solicitors—as she did—that she thought she was being charged with being a member of the society before it was declared illegal. It would be equally open to anybody else to argue similarly if he thought he had been wrongly charged. The conviction was set aside not by the Governor but by the High Court, for reasons that I have explained.

Mr. Gaitskell

Can the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance that no further charge will be made against this lady—[HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"]— because her conviction has been set aside on a technical point, according to the right hon. Gentleman? I am therefore asking, at any rate in respect of the information available at the moment, that no further prosecution will be laid. Would the right hon. Gentleman also care to confirm, as he has been good enough to do in a letter to me, that these ordinances are in no sense retrospective?

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

I can confirm that the ordinances are in no sense retrospective. As to the first part of the right hon. Gentleman's supplementary question, no further charge will be preferred on the evidence which was then available, and for the particular offence with which she was charged.