HC Deb 07 May 1959 vol 605 cc563-7

The following Questions stood upon the Order Paper:

72. Mrs. CASTLE

To ask the Secretary of State for the Colonies if he will now make a statement on the action he proposes to take following the inquest on the deaths of 11 detainees at Hola detention camp, Kenya.


To ask the Secretary of State for the Colonies if he is now in a position to make a statement on the deaths of 11 detainees at Hola Camp, Kenya.


To ask the Secretary of State for the Colonies what action the Kenya Government intends to take to ensure that there is no repetition of the incidents which led to the death recently of 11 detainees at Hola, Kenya.

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

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I will now answer Questions Nos. 72, 76 and 77.

The coroner found that illegal assaults had taken place against the detainees, but that specific offences by known persons had not been proved beyond reasonable doubt.

The Attorney-General of Kenya is considering what further investigations are necessary and whether any prosecutions should be launched. I do not wish to say anything which might prejudice any criminal proceedings on which he decides. The Governor has told me, however, that he wishes to obtain expert advice on the future administration of the four remaining emergency detention camps, and, in particular, the arrangements for their systematic inspection and the investigation of complaints by detainees.

I am glad to say that I have been able to secure the services for this purpose of Mr. D. Fairn, a Prison Commissioner and Director of Prisons Administration in this country, who has taken part in the work of my Advisory Committee on the Treatment of Offenders and has previously carried out inspections of colonial prisons, and of Sir George BeresfordStooke, a former Governor with wide colonial experience. I hope that they will be able to begin their inquiry next month.

I should add that the International Committee of the Red Cross has also come forward recently to offer the Kenya Government the help and advice of its delegates, who would visit the camps in the same way as they visited them in 1957. The Kenya Government have asked me to accept this offer on their behalf and I have done so.

Mrs. Castle

Is it not a fact that the coroner found that the Cowan plan, under which the violence took place which led to these deaths, had the backing and approval of the Kenya Government? In view of this, is it not essential that a totally independent inquiry should be made, not merely one by a number of expert advisers attached to the Kenya Government, which is directly involved in the accusations made in this case? Secondly, would not the Minister agree, since the coroner has found that these men died as a result of violence, that it would be intolerable if no charges were to be preferred, so that justice can take its stern course in Kenya just as it is doing in this country?

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

I am very anxious indeed that justice should be done, but it would be most unwise of me to prejudice any decisions which the Attorney-General may reach. As soon as I receive the full report of the proceedings, of which so far I have received only a summary, I will place it in the Library of the House and I will gladly answer any questions about it then; but I ask the House to wait until that full report has cone, when I shall be quite ready to be closely examined on it.

Mrs. Castle

Will the right hon. Gentleman answer my first point?

Mr. K. Robinson

Could not the right hon. Gentleman say that at least the camp commandant, who was found by the coroner to have lied to the court, will be suspended from duty at any rate until this further inquiry takes place? Does he not agree that this shocking incident, about which The Times said there was no redeeming feature, would probably never have taken place, and the 11 Africans might be alive today, if the Government had not rejected the demand of the Opposition for a judicial inquiry into conditions in all the camps?

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

I cannot accept the second part of the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question. [An HON. MEMBER: "It is very true."] In reply to the first part, he mentioned an individual. I think that it would be very wrong of me to comment on the action of any individual mentioned in the report until the Attorney-General has made up his mind on any action he may decide to take.

Mr. Braine

Could my right hon. Friend tell us a little more about the interesting offer made by the International Red Cross, which, I understand from his statement, he has accepted? Could he say what would be the terms of reference of any action taken by the Red Cross?

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

Yes, Sir. They will be the same as on their previous visit in 1957, namely, to visit institutions in which persons are detained under the emergency regulations; to consider the possibility of providing material relief on behalf of the families of detained persons deprived of their bread-winner; and to consider and to arrange the possible distribution of comforts, books, etc.

This by itself is not adequate under these very distressing circumstances, valuable though it is, and that is why I asked my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary whether Mr. Fairn would be ready to go to Kenya, in view of his considerable experience of prison management, and he, together with Sir George Beresford-Stooke, will go shortly. I share with the House the desire that, in circumstances which have caused the Governor and myself as much distress as anybody else in this House, nothing should be covered up.

Mr. Callaghan

Although we have to wait for the decision of the Attorney-General about the criminal charges, does the Colonial Secretary recall that when two policemen recently were accused of having cuffed a boy in a lane in Thurso, they were suspended from duty? Does he not think that some action should be taken against the prison commandant and the senior prison officer, who have been held by the coroner to be fully aware of what was taking place in these incidents? Surely he will review that, and decide whether these gentlemen should not also be relieved of the responsibilities of office until the inquiry has been held.

May I ask one further question? While we all appreciate his considerable anxieties, does the right hon. Gentleman remember that it is only a few weeks ago since the whole of the Government Lobby voted against a Motion to set up an independent inquiry into the conditions of administration in these camps? That being so does he not think that he owes an apology not only to his own side, but also to some of my hon. Friends, who pressed this matter in the face of considerable contumely from hon. Gentle. men opposite?

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

No, Sir. I do not think that that is quite fair. In my opinion, there is no case for a judicial inquiry into something at Hola which has been the subject of judicial inquiry through the coroner's sittings and findings, and which may again be the subject of a judicial inquiry should the Attorney-General decide to take action that might involve prosecutions.

On the first part of the hon. Gentleman's question, I understand the anxiety he may feel. It is only my desire to say nothing at this moment which might prejudice the position of an individual officer that makes it impossible for me to answer more fully.

Mr. Callaghan

The Colonial Secretary cannot get away with putting words into my mouth which I did not use and which were not in the Opposition Motion. No judicial inquiry was asked for. We asked for an inquiry into the administration of these camps. That is exactly what the right hon. Gentleman now proposes to undertake. Does he not feel that he ought to be considering his own position, in view of the fact—[HON. MEMBERS: "Resign."]—that these details have been brought out from this side of the House time after time, and that he has emphatically denied them in specific terms and has said that the administration was all right?

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

I think that the hon. Gentleman is relying a little on the lack of recollection of hon. Members of the House. I have never denied the seriousness of the charges brought at Hola. As soon as any charge emerged which warranted investigation, both I and the Governor of Kenya were at pains to see that the fullest investigation took place. It would be a wholly erroneous impression to convey that we have been frightened of following up any information which might lead to the detection of gross misconduct of the kind that happened at Hola.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order, order. This will all come up again.

Mr. J. Griffiths

Does the Colonial Secretary realise that in these circumstances, without prejudice to whatever the Attorney-General does, this commandant should be suspended from duty forthwith?

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

I note what the right hon. Gentleman says, but I can add nothing to the answer I have already given.

Mr. Gaitskell

Do we understand that the matter is under consideration, and not that the Colonial Secretary has made up his mind that the commandant should not be suspended?

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

Yes, Sir.

Sir L. Ungoed-Thomas

As the Colonial Secretary has refused to answer questions about an individual pending the decision of the Attorney-General, will he let the House know immediately the Attorney-General has arrived at the decision, whether the decision is to prosecute or not?

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

Yes, Sir, I will do so with the same speed that I have answered these Questions today after the normal Question Time, because I am very anxious that the House should he kept fully informed.

Sir P. Agnew

Will my right hon. Friend agree that the incident at Hola, deplorable as it is, shows that under British colonial administration coroners do not shrink from making their reports even when those reports are somewhat critical of the colonial administration?

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

Yes, Sir.

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