HC Deb 10 March 1959 vol 601 cc1069-71
39. Mr. Foot

asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies if he will advise the Governor of Nyasaland to follow the precedent set in the Gold Coast in 1948 by appointing a commission of inquiry to inquire into and report on the recent disturbances in Nyasaland and their underlying causes, and to make recommmdations on any matter arising from their inquiry.

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

As my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General said on 4th March, we would not rule out, nor would we ignore, any proposal which would enable Parliament to discharge its responsibilities or to be accurately informed. But we consider that the obvious next course is, as was recommended in both Houses on 3rd March, to pursue the original proposal that my noble Friend the Minister of State for the Colonies should pay his visit to Nyasaland at such time as the Governor of Nyasaland thinks would be appropriate. I am at present considering in consultation with the Governor of Nyasaland whether it would be helpful if my noble Friend were to interrupt his East African visit in order to go to Nyasaland at the earliest practicable date.

Mr. Foot

Would the right hon. Gentleman answer the Question as it appears on the Paper? Does he appreciate that in the Gold Coast in 1948 Dr. Nkrumah and other persons against whom serious allegations had been made had the opportunity at a public inquiry of answering the smear campaign against them, and ought not this precedent to be followed in Nyasaland?

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

I am aware, of course, that the Socialist Government in their time also found it necessary to take strong action against law breakers. If we can learn any profitable lesson from their experience, we will certainly do so.

Mr. J. Griffiths

Is not the Secretary of State aware that the action taken by my right hon. Friend over the Gold Coast helped, first, to stabilise the situation, and secondly, led the way to the constitutional development which brought Ghana independence? Is he not also aware that when we were faced with a similar situation in Kenya, the despatch of a responsible commission from this House did a great deal to inform the country of the situation there? Is not the situation the same now in Nyasaland?

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

I have already dealt with the parallel of Ghana—or the Gold Coast, as it was then. In the case of Kenya the circumstances were different, as those who went in 1954 on the useful Parliamentary mission will realise; but as I have said, we are closing no doors in this matter, and I ask the right hon. Gentleman to read my Answer carefully.

Mr. Callaghan

Is the Colonial Secretary going to follow the parallel of Ghana all the way through? Are the people of Nyasaland to have the opportunity of choosing their own form of Government in the same way as the people of the Gold Coast had that opportunity? Further may I ask, as regards Lord Perth's visit, whilst we shall all be glad if he will get there at the earliest possible moment, will he have the opportunity of talking with the detained African leaders? If not, with whom among any representative Africans will he have conversations?

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

If the decision is that my noble Friend goes out there at an early date, I will certainly tell the House about it and there will then be an opportunity to question me as to the range of his talks and activities there.

Mr. Braine

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the parallel just referred to is not all that close; that a closer parallel was provided in Malaya, where an emergency was not proclaimed by the party opposite until after scores of Chinese, Malays and Europeans had been killed, though subsequently the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) was responsible for detaining 25,000 persons without any charge being brought against them?

Mr. Bottomley

In view of the rising fear, prejudices and conflicting rumours coming from Nyasaland, does not the Secretary of State see the wisdom of sending a mission at once to that land in order to save the situation from getting graver, when we could do nothing to help?

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

I have nothing to add to my Answer.