HC Deb 02 February 1960 vol 616 cc792-5
The Secretary of State for the Colonies (Mr. Iain Macleod)

With permission, I will make a statement regarding the demonstration which occurred in Blantyre on the occasion of the Prime Minister's visit on 26th January.

I should prefer not to say anything at this stage about the circumstances and the course of the demonstration, because a formal inquiry is to be made. The Governor is proposing to appoint a judge to investigate the incident and, in particular, to report on the allegations which have been made against individual members of the Nyasaland Police Force.

I should like to make it clear to the House, however, that it does not follow from the establishment of this inquiry that I accept allegations which have been made. As the House will appreciate, the allegations which have been made against individuals are a serious matter and it is primarily for this reason that I have felt it desirable not to rely on the ordinary Departmental form of inquiry. I hope the House will agree that, in all the circumstances, this is the most satisfactory procedure.

Mr. Callaghan

We welcome the proposal to set up a formal inquiry and to appoint a judge to conduct it. Will he be a colonial judge, or is it proposed on this occasion to send out a judge of the High Court from this country? Will the inquiry be held in public?

Will the right hon. Gentleman look into a related matter—the conditions under which these police officers serve? In this country every police officer serves under a very rigid code of discipline. Does he do so in the Colonial Territories? Does the code of discipline which applies here, for example, in the treatment of the public and the behaviour of the police in certain circumstances, also apply in Colonial Territories?

Is there a similar code in Nyasaland and other territories? If not, will the right hon. Gentleman look into this matter, because where the protection of law is removed, as it is in a police State, it is doubly important that the police should be under very rigid conditions of discipline.

Mr. Macleod

The Governor is consulting with the Chief Justice and will put forward the name of a judge to me. I have not given him any instructions on that matter. I will see the name which he puts forward to me. I am bound to say that I do not think that it would be appropriate or desirable to send out a judge from this country, and I am certain that the Governor, in conjunction with the Chief Justice of Nyasaland, will put forward a suitable name. It is normal for the person who conducts the inquiry to decide whether the hearings will be held in public, but I can, of course, give an undertaking that the report which is made to me will be published and will, therefore, be available to the House.

The hon. Gentleman raised a rather complicated matter about the exact relationship between the code of discipline which is in force here and those which are in force in the Colonies. I should like to look into that question and either write to him about it or find another way of making the relationship clear.

Mr. Stonehouse

Is the Colonial Secretary aware that the demonstrators were carrying posters reading, "Free Dr. Banda now"? When does he propose to accede to that very reasonable request?

Mr. Macleod

I am not sure that that arises directly out of my statement. Perhaps the hon. Member has read a speech which I made in Leeds fairly recently.

Mr. C. Pannell

It was not a very good speech.

Mr. Macleod

I thought that it was a good speech. From that speech the hon. Member will see that an accelerated release of detainees is going on. I have said that I hope to see an early end to the emergency.

Mr. Dugdale

In view of the fact that the right hon. Gentleman has decided to set up an inquiry, which we all welcome, has he released those people who were arrested as a result of the riots, which may or may not have been provoked by the police?

Mr. Macleod

I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman is very well informed on this matter, for 35 people were arrested at the scene of the demonstration but none of them was held overnight.

Mr. Grimond

While I welcome this inquiry, and hope that its findings will be acted upon, as there is some chance that there may be valuable witnesses to these incidents who are no longer in Nyasaland, and as the inquiry will be held in Nyasaland, may I ask whether there will be any means of taking evidence from these people?

Mr. Macleod

In his message to me the Governor suggested that if people who were there, such as Press reporters, liked to send sworn statements and photographs, or anything of that sort. they would be taken into account.

Mrs. Castle

Will the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance that any African in Nyasaland who gives evidence before this inquiry will receive protection against civil or criminal proceedings under Emergency Regulation No. 35?

Mr. Macleod

I cannot imagine that such an assurance is necessary. If it is necessary, of course I give it.

Mr. Fernyhough

In considering names, will the Chief Justice put on the list of judges for consideration the name of Lord Justice Devlin?

Mr. Thorpe

May we hope that the Government will give greater weight to the report of this judge than they gave to that of a previous judge on these matters even if, when the report is published, they find it necessary to put up the Attorney-General as their chief colonial spokesman?

Hon. Members


Mr. Macleod

I thought that the question was a little over-rehearsed.

Mr. Callaghan

In that case, may I ask the Colonial Secretary an under-rehearsed question? I want to say how much we welcome his approach in this matter. [HON. MEMBERS: "Ask a question."] It will be phrased interrogatively. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of the striking contrast this is to the attitude of his predecessor, who, in relation to a much more serious matter at Hola, when 11 Africans lost their lives, appointed only a Departmental inquiry into the circumstances?

Mr. Macleod

I am quite certain that in these circumstances, and with the special feature which, in my view, gives added gravity to it—that of named allegations against particular members of the police—my predecessor would have taken exactly the same action as I have.