HC Deb 29 July 1960 vol 627 cc2101-10

3.32 p.m.

Mr. H. A. Marquand (Middlesbrough, East)

In the short time available, I shall not be able to give a full account of the treatment meted out to the Rev. Marcus Kooper. Hon. Members who are interested will find the whole story in the official records of the General Assembly of the United Nations in Supplement No. 12 for both 1958 and 1959. The Rev. Marcus Kooper was born in South-West Africa. He is a member of the Red Nation tribe, or the Rooinasie tribe as it is known in Afrikaans.

As the House knows, South-West Africa was brought under German rule at the time of the grab for Africa in the nineteenth century. Though the German treatment of the native people of South-West Africa was anything but admirable, they did at least recognise the right of the Red Nation tribe to 50,000 hectares of land. They put the education of the native people and their introduction to the Christian religion in the hands of the Rhenish Mission.

As we know, after the First World War the League of Nations entrusted its mandate for South-West Africa to the Union of South Africa. At the same time it entrusted the mandate for Tanganyika, which had also been German territory during the nineteenth century, to the United Kingdom.

What a contrast there is between the history of Tanganyika under a mandate directly administered by the United Kingdom, and the history of South-West Africa administered, on behalf of His Britannic Majesty at that time, by the Union Government of South Africa.

Tanganyika is rapidly approaching independence and has in charge of its affairs today an African, Mr. Nyerere, who is universally admired for the way in which he is handling his responsibilities.

Mr. A. Fenner Brockway (Eton and Slough)

An inter-racial group.

Mr. Marquand

An inter-racial administration and Government Assembly in Tanganyika.

How different it has been in South-West Africa. Again, there is no time to tell the whole story of the administration of South-West Africa by the South African Government. I can refer only very briefly to what the South African Administration in South-West Africa have done to the Red Nation tribe and to the Rev. Marcus Kooper in particular. The Administration informed the Red Nation tribe in 1945 that the activities of the Rhenish Mission, which had been in charge of their general education and their education in Christianity, were to be taken over by the Dutch Reformed Church. It was not long before experience of the Dutch Reformed Church as an educating authority and as a so-called Christian church caused the Red Nation people to break away. They could not for very long put up with the ministrations of the Dutch Reformed Church.

They broke away in 1946. Nobody who knows the doctrine preached by that church will be really surprised about this. They broke away and joined the Methodist Episcopal Church, which is well-established in the United States of America, and by this they established communion and contacts with their brethren in the United States of America.

Mr. Kooper is a minister of that church. This is how it has come about that this man living in South-West Africa is a pastor of the Methodist Episcopal Church. After this separation from the Dutch Reformed Church and adherence to the African Methodist Episcopal Church, the Red Nation people were divided. Some of them remained attached to the ministration of the Dutch Reformed Church and the remainder adhered to the Methodist Episcopal Church. Those who adhered to the Methodist Episcopal Church had to carry on as best they could the education of their children and their religious work without any help from the Administration in South-West Africa.

After a time, however, the policy of the present South African Government—the Nationalist Government now in power in South Africa—of the deliberate incorporation of the.mandated territory into the Union of South Africa reached its culmination. One of the results of this was that instead of the 50,000 hectares of land which the Germans had regarded as belonging to the Red Nation people, they were now allowed to occupy only 14,000 hectares. The remaining 36,000 hectares were taken away from them and given to the white settlers as part of the deliberate policy of the South African Union Government of incorporating South-West Africa into the Union itself.

I will now quote from one of the documents of the United Nations Committee on South-West Africa—on the administration of the mandate from the old League of Nations, which should now really have been fully entrusted to the new United Nations—to describe the sort of thing which went on during the period from 1956 to 1959 when, as I say, the South African Union Government's policy reached its culmination and when that Government proceeded to carry to a final conclusion the application of their policy of apartheid in South-West Africa. It is a very short extract and all that I can reasonably give in the time available to me. It is a quotation from a petition put forward by the leaders of the Red Nation to the United Nations Committee: The state-police was the executives of the horrible barbaric and unchristian devil's business. The members of the Dutch Reform German Rhenish Mission was their tools. They were beaten"— that is, the people of the Red Nation— by the police, tortured, strangled and dictate to say what is not true. This is one short extract from a long account which, in their wretchedness, these people took to the United Nations Committee hoping for relief from the treatment they were receiving.

In these circumstances, the Rev. Marcus Kooper, as was indeed his duty and right, did his best to protect them. He took the lead in petitioning the United Nations on their behalf. Several petitions were sent until at last Mr. Kooper himself was arrested. A petition dated 18th February, 1959, from the leaders of these people described the event in these words: A detachment of police headed by Colonel N. J. Dorfling, South West Africa Police Chief, armed with rifles and bayonets, a machine gun, spears and batons was marched upon us demanding the arrest of Marcus Kooper and members of his family. We strongly objected to the arrest after which the police attacked us injuring 18 men and 7 women. Thereupon Mr. Kooper and his family were forced into a lorry and driven to Itsawises. Later documents show that this was a desert place in which it was extremely difficult for him to look after his injured family. Subsequently, he sought refuge in Bechuanaland, one of the High Commission Territories for which the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations is responsible, and he is there now.

Little wonder that the United Nations Committee wants to see Mr. Kooper and that it wants him to come before it to testify. Quite recently it has met to consider its application for him to be received by the Committee. I quote now from the official Press release of the United Nations dated 13th July, 1960: Committee on South West Africa Discusses Report to Assembly. The Committee Secretary … informed the Committee that he understood appropriate authorities in the United States were ready to provide the usual visa for the Reverend Marcus Kooper, a petitioner granted a hearing before the Committee, as soon as he called at the nearest consulate. It was announced in the Committee on 5th July that Mr. Kooper was unable to leave Bechuanaland for New York because of the absence of the necessary travel documents. The chairman of the Committee asked the Secretariat to keep the Committee informed of developments in this matter. He said it was 'intolerable' that a man could not come to the United Nations when the United Nations wished because he had no passport.

Mr. Brockway

Hear, hear.

Mr. Marquand

My hon. Friend says, "Hear, hear", and I believe that the whole House will feel that it is intolerable.

I am told that the Committee met again last Friday—I spoke to a member only this afternoon—and decided to approach Her Majesty's Government with a request for travel documents to be provided so that the visas promised by the United States could be affixed, and that he should go before the United Nations. Therefore, we were shocked to hear yesterday from the Minister of State for Commonwealth Relations that a travel document would not be given. He said—I quote from the OFFICIAL. REPORT— The problem is that the man is not a citizen of the United Kingdom oar the Colonies or a British protected person, and, therefore, the problem about providing him with travel documents does not rest with the United Kingdom Government."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 28th July, 1960; Vol. 627, c. 1847.] He is, of course, not a citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies, but he is a citizen of a territory of which the mandate was given to His Britannic Majesty after the First World War.

At the moment he is in a territory administered in the name of Her Britannic Majesty by a Government which itself is a signatory of the European Convention on Human Rights and which itself is a member of the United Nations, which contains in its Charter a Declaration on Human Rights. Surely, Her Majesty's Government can find a way to enable this refugee now within their control to go to the United Nations, and so fulfil their obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights, with which our dependent territories are associated under the Charter of the United Nations, which guarantees and pledges every member to uphold elementary human rights? Surely it is the duty of our Government to find a way round a technical difficulty, whether a man is or is not an actual citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies.

So far the movement of this persecuted man, this heroic pastor of a persecuted people who wishes to go to the United Nations to plead their cause, has been prevented and he is refused facilities to go to protest to the United Nations. Surely Her Majesty's Government can find a way of doing this. So far he has been debarred by a decision made by the former Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations. In this House a few hours ago, we discussed the question of whether or not he was an appropriate Foreign Secretary. The Prime Minister told us that one of the reasons—not the only reason, of course—for selecting him for his post was that he would find it easier as a member of the House of Lords to absent himself from Parliament to attend meetings of bodies like the United Nations.

What is to happen when the Foreign Secretary goes to the United Nations Assembly next autumn, as undoubtedly he will? Is the new Foreign Secretary to defend the actions taken by the former Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations? Surely he cannot possibly do that. He will have to get up in the United Nations Assembly and say, "At the time I was Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations I had to take a difficult decision. It was one which vexed and worried me a great deal. I felt I was hampered by certain legal obligations, but I now see as Foreign Secretary of Great Britain appearing in the United Nations General Assembly and trying to uphold the Charter of Human Rights incorporated in the foundation of United Nations, that it would be wrong to impede this gentleman whose whole story is heroic and who is trying to stand up for the rights of an oppressed people. We must no longer impede him in coming to the United Nations."

I hope that is the attitude the Foreign Secretary will take when he goes to the United Nations. I hope that today the Under-Secretary of State will assure the House that a way will be found for doing that. If that cannot be done, the Government will stand disgraced in the eyes, not merely of this House, but of the whole of the United Nations.

3.45 p.m.

Mr. Peter Emery (Reading)

I shall be very brief in my speech on this matter, but I realise how important it is. I think it should be said from both sides of the House that it is intolerable that refugees in one of our British-protected administrative areas, who look to this country, as they have all looked to this country even while living in South Africa and considered to be South African citizens, for protection, it is absolutely crazy that refugees in British Bechuanaland, some of them causing a problem of unemployment, should be able to get out of Bechuanaland only if they obtain an Indian laissez passer, or are smuggled aboard a plane to fly to Ghana.

I realise, as, I am sure, the whole House realises, that my hon. Friend and his right hon. Friend have tricky legal problems to cut through in dealing with this matter, but it seems to me that this gentleman and many more of the refugees in the British Protectorates should have the support of this House and that we should urge Her Majesty's Government to cut through the legalistic red tape in order to provide these people with travel documents.

I am in many ways somewhat upset. I put down a Question for Written Answer on 18th July, not giving merely three days for a reply but in the expectation of a reply on 25th July. I allowed a full week, and I am told that the reply is on its way to me today. This is not good enough. This would appear to be symptomatic of the Department's approach to these matters, and they should be rather more prompt and definite in dealing with the problem of providing travel facilities and documents to these refugees if they desire them.

3.51 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations (Mr. Richard Thompson)

I speak again with the leave of the House. The main subject matter raised by the right hon. Member for Middlesbrough, East (Mr. Marquand) was the question of a travel document for the Rev. Marcus Kooper. I am bound to say, as the House knows, that there was an answer to a Parliamentary Question by the hon. Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Brockway) yesterday on this subject, to which I have not a great deal to add, although I can perhaps add something today.

First, I should like to reiterate the point which my right hon. Friend the Minister of State for Commonwealth Relations made yesterday. There is no intention whatsoever on the part of Her Majesty's Government to prevent Mr. Kooper travelling to New York or anywhere else if he wishes. Let that be quite clear. He is perfectly free to leave the Bechuanaland Protectorate at any time. That is not quite the same thing as say- ing that we should give him a passport or a travel document. Before that is done, various questions have to be settled about his status, and I assure my hon. Friend the Member for Reading (Mr. Emery) that there is no question of a delight in red tape and making difficulties. All this depends on certain legislation which has to be interpreted, and, the situation being what it is, it is nothing like as easy as perhaps he thinks it is.

Let us spend a minute considering the status of Mr. Kooper. So far as we know, he did not enter the Bechuanaland Protectorate to get away from the emergency regulations in the Union. Nevertheless, he has been issued by the Bechuanaland Protectorate authorities with a temporary residence permit precisely similar to those issued to people who claim to be political refugees. As the hon. Member for Eton and Slough said, he was born in South-West Africa and his father was believed to have been born there also. While his exact status is doubtful, it is clear that he does not belong to the United Kingdom for passport purposes because he is not a citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies, nor is he a British protected person under the protection of the United Kingdom.

Mr. Brockway

The Minister said yesterday that the Rev. Kooper had not applied for recognition as a refugee. We have now heard that he is in the same position as refugees. Is it not the case that refugees in Bechuanaland have been able to get certain travel documents to leave the High Commission Territory? If this is so, is it really impossible to enable the Rev. Kooper to obtain a travel document—not necessarily even from the United Kingdom; it has been done from other sources—so as to enable him to go to the United Nations to state his case?

Mr. Thompson

What my right hon. Friend said yesterday was that he was treated as other political refugees have been treated. To my knowledge, he has not made an application for a travel document. As far as I know, that information still stands.

Mr. Brockway


Mr. Thompson

If I am wrong, I will accept the hon. Gentleman's correction, but he has not been treated any differently from other political refugees.

Mr. Brockway

The right hon. Gentleman said yesterday that Mr. Kooper had not even applied to be treated as a refugee and he did not regard him as such.

Mr. Thompson

No, but he has a temporary residence permit, as other political refugees have.

The general rules underlying the citizenship legislation of Commonwealth countries were worked out at a conference of officials held in London in 1947. It was on that that the British Nationality Act, 1948, was founded. It is a highly complicated subject and not suitable for discussion in this debate, but clearly one in connection with which one ought not to take exceptional steps without very close study indeed.

Reference has been made to the position of the United Nations. The situation is that the Rev. Kooper has not been invited by the United Nations to appear before them. What has happened is that the South-West Africa Committee has told him, in reply to his own application, that it would be ready to give him a hearing whenever he arrives in New York. As recently as Tuesday of this week, the chairman of the South-West Africa Committee asked the United Kingdom delegation to assist Mr. Kooper on his journey.

In view of the doubts about his entitlement to get a travel document from us, for the reasons which I have briefly tried to explain and which are valid reasons, the request is being discussed further in New York. We are in touch also, as we naturally should be, with the High Commissioner for Basutoland, the Bechuanaland Protectorate and Swaziland.

That is as far as I can possibly go today. I think that what I have said will show that we have done our best to help Mr. Kooper. He is definitely not one of our people for passport purposes, but we are exploring the matter to see whether in this situation any constructive step can be taken.

Mr. Marquand

Will the Under-Secretary undertake that when the discussions take place in the United Nations our representative will not say, as he himself has said this afternoon, that the Rev. Marcus Kooper is free to leave? Does this not merely amount to saying that rich and poor alike are free to sleep under bridges at night?

Mr. Thompson

No. I do not accept the implications in the right hon. Gentleman's statement. It is true that the Rev. Kooper is free to leave the Protectorate at any time. We are naturally anxious to co-operate with the United Nations and its committees, but we have to pay regard to the accepted international practice in the matter of issuing travel documents. We should find ourselves in great difficulty if in any and every case we drove a coach and four through the existing legislation. I repeat what I said earlier. We are in touch with the United Nations about this, and I think we had better wait and see what eventuates from that.