§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Mr. Speaker
Before calling the first speaker, may I announce to the House that I have selected the Amendment on the Order Paper.
§ 11.13 a.m.
§ The Secretary of State for the Colonies (Mr. Frederick Lee)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
I have it in Command from the Queen to acquaint the House that Her Majesty, having been informed of the purport of the Bill, has consented to place her prerogative and interest, so far as they are affected by the Bill, at the disposal of Parliament for the purposes of the Bill.
The main purpose of the Bill is very simple. Indeed, in the words of the Preamble, it is toprovide for the attainment by British Guiana of fully responsible status within the Commonwealth",and although I see from the Order Paper that some of my hon. Friends have certain reservations at this point in time, I am, nevertheless, sure that the House will welcome the attainment by British Guiana of independence and that we all have the desire that Guyana, as the new nation is to be called, will remain, as she intends to, within the Commonwealth.
I suppose that, on occasions such as this, it is right to look back historically to the beginning of our connections with such territories. The first British connections with this area date back to the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, although it was not until the end of the eighteenth century that we became directly involved in the affairs of what is now British Guiana. and a single Colony of that name was formed only in 1831.
The Colony has suffered, as so many Colonies of this type do, from too great a dependence on one industry, in this case the sugar industry. As we know, when misfortune hits a single industry it can have catastrophic effects on a territory which depends too heavily on it. Today, however, while the sugar industry still makes a very substantial contribubution to the economy, developments of other industries have taken place, notably 1116 the extraction of bauxite and other minerals, and these developments promise increased prosperity for the citizens of Guyana in the future.
It is worth noting, in the political field, that in 1850, with a population of about 150,000 people, there were fewer than 1,000 people on the electoral register. Fifty years later, when the population had doubled, there were 11,000 on the electoral lists, while today, with a population of about 640,000, the electoral roll contains almost a quarter of a million names, and I think that this marks the ways in which progress has been made in the political field.
Turning to more recent history, British Guiana has, I believe, had more than its share of conferences, constitutions and commissions, and, unfortunately, of violence and racial strife. I do not intend to dwell on the rather unhappy history of the advanced form of Constitution which was introduced in 1953 but then had to be suspended in the same year. Nor do I think that this is the occasion to comment in too much detail on the unhappy events of the early 1960s, when violent disturbances in each of three successive years and the failure of political parties to reach agreement at constitutional conferences frustrated our renewed attempts to bring the country to the point of independence.
Indeed, looking back now, it would have seemed almost wildly optimistic to have hoped, in the summer of 1964 when the disturbances which we all recall so well in which so many lives were lost and a great deal of property was destroyed were at their height, that we could today have been considering a Bill to bring independence to the country. I believe that a great deal of stability has been restored. Racial tensions have been lessened, and a hopeful prospect is, I think, now held out of peace and prosperity.
I recall that not everyone was happy with the decisions reached at the 1963 Conference that fresh elections should be held on the basis of proportional representation, and that thereafter a conference should be held to fix any additional constitutional issues and to study a date for independence. I should, however, stress that my predecessor, the right hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Sandys), received 1117 a written request from all three leaders of the British Guiana political parties that he should settle the outstanding constitutional issues.
The elections which were held on the new basis in December, 1964 were, however preceded by a period in which there was certainly a marked improvement in the security situation. Indeed, in the words of the independent Commonwealth team of observers who visited British Guiana to observe the election campaign and the polling, theyreflected the political conviction of the Guianese electorate.The political and economic climate continued to improve under the Coalition Government formed after the election by Mr. Forbes Burnham's Peoples National Congress, and Mr. Peter D'Aguiar's United Force. My predecessor, the right hon. Gentleman who is now Secretary of State for Overseas Development, was able to convene a further conference in November last year.
To all of us, it was a matter of considerable regret that Dr. Jagan's People's Progressive Party, which forms the Opposition in the British Guiana House of Assembly, declined to accept the invitation to attend that conference and rejected the many appeals made to it to reconsider that decision. Nevertheless, the conference, under the chairmanship of my right hon. Friend, had constantly in mind its responsibility for ensuring that decisions were taken in the best interests of all the people of British Guiana, and very close attention was paid to all representations, both from individuals and organisations, on the draft Constitution which had been published in British Guiana before the conference met.
After exhaustive discussion, from which I think no relevant matters were excluded, the conference agreed to a form of independence constitution, which it is proposed to embody in an Order in Council to be made under the Bill now before the House. The conference also agreed that Guiana should take its place among the free nations of the world on the date which appears in Clause 1, namely, 26th May, 1966.
I regret, as I am sure the whole House does—and I am here looking at the Order Paper and the Amendment which has been placed on it—that the British 1118 Guiana Government, in the interests of law and order, still have to make use of emergency powers of detention. I hate powers of detention. I only hate more the incidents which have forced them to be adopted. I stress to my hon. Friends especially that in respect of the present situation the power rests not with this Government but with the Government of British Guiana.
§ Mr. Lee
No. I was looking at the wording of the Amendment, and I will later refer to the wording of the Resolution at the United Nations—of which I know my hon. Friend is aware—which implies that we have responsibility for these matters. The powers rest with the British Guiana Government, and the Governor is constitutionally obliged to act on their advice.
§ Mr. Julius Silverman (Birmingham, Aston)
Under what instrument has this power been given to the British Guiana Government?
§ Mr. Lee
Towards the end of the debate, when the arguments have been deployed, my hon. Friend, who is collecting the arguments together, will reply in detail. But the Acts as they stand and the Constitution as it stands place authority in this matter with the Government of British Guiana, the Governor being constitutionally obliged to act on their advice.
Independence itself will not change that position. I am aware of the fears which have been expressed. I have had correspondence from hon. Members on both sides of the House and from outside organisations, and they all base themselves on the proposition that the British Government have these powers and that they are not vested in the Government of British Guiana. Once it is clear that they are vested there, the issue of independence in no way changes the basis of that power.
§ Mr. Stan Newens (Epping)
Is it not a fact that the Governor, during the period when the previous Administration of Dr. Jagan was in power, overruled that Administration and placed certain persons in detention, and that the British Government were responsible for making available power to the Governor to take that action?
§ Mr. Lee
It may have been by Order in Council that that could have been done. I am not disputing that. Let me deploy my case, because I shall show that the time factor in this matter is of very considerable importance. The basis of what I have said is not disputed—that power resides in the British Guiana Government and that the Governor is constitutionally obliged to act on their advice.
§ Mr. Lee
My hon. Friend says that it is disputed. Before the debate ends, I will have the actual wording of the Act read to the House. Independence will not change that situation. In fairness to the Government of British Guiana, I should say that, with the country's record for murder and violence in recent years, their responsibility for internal security is a very heavy one. It is said that the 15 persons now detained are political prisoners. This is not an accurate description. They were not detained because of their political belief but because, in the opinion of those who judge these matters, they represent a threat to public safety and order. What they have in common—I do not think that this can be denied—is a record of involvement with violence and terrorism, and many of them have been trained abroad in the use of explosives and firearms.
I know that within the present campaign that is going on for the release of these prisoners—which I understand very well—there is the basic belief that these detentions are matters peculiar to the present Government. As a matter of fact, there are far fewer people now detained in British Guiana than there were under the previous Administration.
§ Mr. Julius Silverman
Is my right hon. Friend telling the House that the people detained before were detained by the previous Administration? Surely they were detained on the order of the 1120 Governor, without reference to the Administration.
§ Mr. Lee
They were detained during the period of power of the previous Government, and those numbers went as high as 41. As I understand it, of the 15 now detained 11 were in detention during the period of the previous Government. I make this point in order to show that merely to believe that there is now a period in which people are being detained without trial whereas, under any previous Administration, there were not, is not a correct reading of the situation. In 1964 there were as many as 41 detainees. This number has now been brought down, and I am informed that it will shortly be reduced still further, to 13, by the release of two more.
Eleven of those presently detained were first detained in 1964, before the present Government came to office. I do not part company with my hon. Friend in the least on this question of the detestation with which one views any situation in which men are imprisoned without trial; in my conception this emasculates democracy itself, and I would hope that the present period of emergency powers can be ended as soon as possible. I thought it right to say what I have said in order to put this matter into its right perspective. I have pointed to the fact that shortly two more of the 15 will be released, and I am hopeful that the period during which the others are detained will be no longer than is absolutely essential.
I am confident that the British Guiana Government would have preferred to have brought the detainees to trial under the ordinary criminal law. Unfortunately, witnesses will not come forward to give evidence in court for fear of reprisals—indeed, for fear of being murdered. If these dangerous men are to be prevented from continuing to threaten public safety and order they must be detained, abhorrent though this is to all of us. The British Guiana Government keep each case constantly under review, and releases are made—I have mentioned two which are about to be made—when it is considered safe to do so.
In December, the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted a resolution which, among other things, requestedthe administering power to end the state of emergency and to release all political prisoners and detainees so as to enable them to participate in the political life of the territory".1121 Even on that occasion when the discussions took place, the British representative made it quite clear at the General Assembly that this particular request referred to matters which were the responsibility of the British Guiana Ministers. The British Government could assume this power only by constitutional change, and this constitutional change of itself would quite inevitably mean a postponement of independence which would be contrary to the same United Nations resolution whichrequests the same administering power not to take any action which might delay the independence of the territory.Frankly, to attempt now any kind of constitutional changes would undoubtedly involve a pretty long postponement of the date—a date which is contained within the United Nations resolution—on which independence should be granted.
I have tried fairly and properly, as I see the issue, to present the position. I assure the House that I have looked very closely indeed into these matters. The Bill follows in general the pattern of previous Bills granting independence to other territories, and I think it calls for very little detailed comment. Clause 1 provides for fully responsible status for British Guiana from 26th May. Clauses 2 and 3 deal with nationality matters and follow the normal pattern. The insertion of a reference to Guyana in Section 1(3) of the British Nationality Act, 1948, will secure that any citizen of Guyana will by virtue of that citizenship also possess the status of a British subject or a Commonwealth citizen in our law. Citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies acquiring Guyana citizenship on 26th May will lose their existing citizenship of the United Kingdom and Colonies unless they have one of the kinds of connection with the United Kingdom or its remaining dependencies which are described in Clause 3.
I should like to make specific reference to Clause 4 because it contains a special provision. It has recently been discovered that between 1958 and 1963 a number of certificates of naturalisation were issued in an incorrect form and that they are therefore technically invalid. Clause 4 is designed to validate these defective certificates with effect from their dates of issue.
1122 Clause 5, together with Schedule 2, deals with the modification of various United Kingdom enactments consequent upon the grant of independence. The modifications are on the usual lines, except that certain Sections of the Army Act, 1955, and corresponding Sections of the Air Force Act, 1955, and the Naval Discipline Act, 1957, will continue to apply as if Guyana were a Colony in order to facilitate the implementation by the Guyana Government of certain undertakings to be given by them in connection with the retention of British troops in Guyana for a limited period after independence.
Clause 6 provides that Her Majesty may, by Order in Council made before 26th May, provide a constitution for Guyana to come into effect on that date. The Clause takes account of the fact that Guyana will enter independence as a Monarchy, and in this connection I should confirm that Her Majesty has agreed to become Queen of Guyana on 26th May, but that it has been agreed that the independence constitution should contain provision enabling Guyana to become a Republic should it desire to do so on the passing of a resolution by its National Assembly not earlier than 1st April, 1969.
§ Mr. Eric Lubbock (Orpington)
Could the right hon. Gentleman tell us what undertakings have been given by the British Government in connection with stationing troops in Guyana and for what period these troops will be stationed there?
§ Mr. Lee
It is not a question of the troops being stationed there for a long period. The provisions to which I was referring are designed more in order that courts martial can conduct trials rather than that they should have to go through the civil side of the administration. This is really the point. I cannot give a time. I will ask my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State if he can give a date in order to meet the point raised by the hon. Gentleman.
Clause 7 enables the Order in Council containing the independence Constitution to provide for the jurisdiction of Her Majesty in Council to hear appeals from Guyana to pass to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council should Guyana become a Republic.
1123 I do not think the remaining Clauses need any comment at this stage. Therefore, it remains for me only to commend the Bill and to express, as I am sure I can on behalf of the House, our high hopes for the future of this new nation. I have tried to answer some of the issues raised by the Amendment, and I understand very well the reasons which have prompted my hon. Friends to table it. I hope my hon. Friends will consider what I have said. I give them my assurance that I will keep as close to this as I possibly can. I trust that I have given them some hopes from what I have said about the detainees who are now being granted their freedom.
I have tried to make the constitutional position clear and to indicate where the responsibility lies. This would not in any way be changed whether Guyana became independent or whether British Guiana remained in her present constitutional position. My hon. Friends who have tabled the Amendment are not alone in wanting to see an end to the state of emergency. As I have said, democracy without private and personal liberty is a weak and emasculated thing. But I put it to hon. Members that in a situation where people can wantonly toss a bomb into the middle of a bus of school children, when 200 people can be murdered, one just cannot allow that kind of thing to go on without making a determined effort to stop it. To me it is a sad state of affairs and it is something that we want to avoid whenever it can be avoided.
I believe that the tendencies are now in the right direction. I assure the House that if I believed that these detentions would go on indiscriminately, I would not be a party to bringing to the House a Measure which would give people who did that sort of thing more power to perpetuate it. I will listen to what will be said on the Amendment, and my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will reply at the end of the debate. But I trust that on the basis of what I have said, the House will agree that here is another great step forward in transforming an old Colony away from the imperial connection into being another indepedent part of the Commonwealth of Nations. This great creation, for which the British alone have been responsible, is something to 1124 which all parties here are now surely dedicated. I would not think it in the interests of either my hon. Friends or the House that any delay should now take place in bringing independence to British Guiana.
§ 11.40 a.m.
§ Mr. Richard Wood (Bridlington)
After a short interval, I am delighted to find myself again face to face across the Table with the right hon. Gentleman. I congratulate him on his high office. I wish him well in the trials which he now, no doubt, clearly realises lie ahead of him. Over the last decade he has dogged my footsteps in various "shadowy" capacities. On a number of occasions he has tried to draw my blood. I look forward in the future to having a chance to getting some of my own back; but this is not the occasion for that.
I am delighted, in the first speech that I make in this Parliament, to be able to give a welcome to the right hon. Gentleman's Bill. My welcome, I understand from the Order Paper and from what he has said, is likely to be warmer than that which it will receive from some of the right hon. Gentleman's hon. Friends.
Other hon. Gentlemen can speak of British Guiana with much greater authority and experience than I can because I have not yet had the good fortune to visit it. I shall, therefore, listen with great interest and great attention during the rest of the debate to the speeches of hon. Gentlemen who have visited the Colony under the auspices of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association or by other means. I am especially anxious to listen to my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devon-port (Dame Joan Vickers) and my hon. Friend the Member for Surbiton (Mr. Fisher), who know the country very well.
However, it is a fact that any of us who have sat for any time in this House have heard a good deal of discussion about Guiana, its problems and its gradual progress towards independence. It has often been in the news. All of us, who have watched each step forward with considerable hope and interest, and have been distressed when the Colony seemed to be taking steps backwards, will join the Government in congratulating 1125 Guiana on the great constitutional change which will take place next month.
Another development which gives us great pleasure is the application of Guiana for membership of the Commonwealth. This is a continuing association which we, like the right hon. Gentleman, naturally welcome and would wish to support. Indeed, Guiana will enjoy the distinction of being the first Commonwealth country on the Continent of South America.
In the recent history of relations between the Colony and Great Britain, it is not difficult to observe—indeed, the right hon. Gentleman mentioned it—the catalyst of my right hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Mr. Sandys), who gave a new impetus and direction at the end of the 1963 conference to Guiana's march towards independence. At the elections that followed, at the end of 1964, the proportion of the electorate which voted, 96 per cent., was enough to make the mouths of any British politician water. But there followed a delay of nearly a year between those elections and the convening of a further conference by the then Secretary of State.
During the course of last year some of my hon. Friends drew attention to the apparently dilatory behaviour of Her Majesty's Government, which seemed to many of us peculiar after the firm pledge which had been given by their Conservative predecessors, who, in their turn, had never been criticised in any way by right hon. or hon. Gentlemen of the Labour Party when they were in opposition.
None the less, I do not intend to spoil the occasion, especially as the purpose of our debate today, in the view of both the right hon. Gentleman and myself, is to ratify the constructive results of the 1965 conference which the right hon. Gentleman's predecessor eventually brought together. No one will be more certain than Mr. Forbes Burnham himself that the transfer of authority on 26th May is far from representing the end but merely represents the end of the beginning. In this country we have a considerable admiration for his statesmanship in the achievement of independence, in the creation of the Caribbean Free Trade Area and in his efforts to bring the Caribbean territories closer together. We admire, too, the way in which the 1126 Coalition Government have begun to tackle the problems that really matter in that country—its economic development, and, perhaps even more important, the urgent and vital need to reduce tension between the races.
Like the right hon. Gentleman, I have no wish to make more than very brief comments about these past unhappy characteristics, but violence seemed to have become one of the unhappy characteristics of British Guiana. All of us hope sincerely that the country's recent relative freedom from it will continue. The Government of Guiana, I understand, have undertaken fully to implement the important report last year by the International Commission of Jurists. Most important of all in my opinion, the ultimate solution of its racial and other problems almost certainly lies in the growing vitality of a favourite conception of, I think, Mr. Forbes Burnham himself—consultative democracy through all walks of life in the country.
There is no doubt of the improved budgetary position in Guiana, due largely to the financial ability of Mr. d'Aguiar. I am delighted to find from a Written Answer of two days ago that Her Majesty's Government intend to continue to help to the tune of about £3 million in our financial year which has just begun.
Those who know Sir Richard Luyt will certainly corroborate that we and the people of that country owe him a debt for the work that he has done as Governor, and will be delighted that he will become Governor-General from next month.
Dr. Jagan's powerful party chose to boycott both the visit of Her Majesty the Queen and, as the right hon. Gentleman pointed out, the constitutional conference. This seems to all of us, I think, a negative and destructive approach at a time when the well-being of Guiana demands able brains and large minds and the willingness of everyone to work together for the country's development, for there seems to me to be hardly a limit to the contribution that Dr. Jagan and his party could make, if they wanted to, to the future of Guiana, and, conversely, without their co-operation it is absolutely inevitable that the country's growth must be held back.
1127 I turn now to the defence forces of Guiana. I understand—I should be very grateful if at the end of the debate the hon. Gentleman would tell us exactly what the military position is—that they will bear a great responsibility. Units of the British Army, including, I am glad to say, my old regiment, have recently made their contribution to peace in British Guiana. The British Army, I understand—the hon. Gentleman will no doubt corroborate this—will shortly hand over to the local forces, commanded initially by a British officer. All of us would like, both for the near future and for the more distant future, to wish the forces of Guiana success in their task. Fortunately, the border disputes between Guiana on the one hand and Venezuela and Surinam on the other seem more likely to be resolved by negotiation than military action. Naturally, we all hope for an acceptable solution.
I believe, and I think my hon. Friends share this opinion, that if Guiana can overcome its racial problems so that its people can unitedly work to build up its economic strength, few of us will have serious concern about its future. This country can envy that country's mineral and other resources. I rather think that the right hon. Gentleman, when he was Minister of Power, would have been glad of some of its hydro-electric megawatts which are still locked up in its rivers. Education and such things as the attack on malaria are going ahead.
It is over 300 years ago that one of my first heroes, Sir Walter Raleigh, searched in vain on this part of the South American coast for eldorado. It is our sincere hope—and I express this hope with all the sincerity at my command—that the dream of eldorado which Raleigh failed to realise will now, at long last, be discovered and developed by the energies of the people of Guiana.
§ 11.51 a.m.
§ Mr. Julius Silverman (Birmingham, Aston)
I beg to move, to leave out from "That" to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof:this House, whilst anxious that all Colonial Territories should achieve their independence at the earliest possible moment, declines to give a Second Reading to the Guyana Independence Bill until such time as the present Government of British Guiana ceases to detain 1128 prisoners for political purposes without charge and without trial, and until such time as Her Majesty's Government and the British Guiana Government have implemented the resolution of the United Nations Trusteeship Committee of 10th December, 1965, calling upon the administrative authority of British Guiana to end the State of Emergency and to release all political prisoners and detainees.I wish, first, to add my congratulations to my right hon. Friend on his new appointment. He is appointed to preside over the liquidation of the British Empire. It is a function with which my hon. Friends—indeed, probably all hon. Members—in the year 1966 agree and we wish him well. I have no doubt that he will bring to bear in this operation that humanity which he possesses in large measure. At the same time, I express my sympathy for him in this particular problem, because it is one which he inherited and had no part in creating. Thus, if I use harsh words today I am sure that he will appreciate that they are not intended against him personally, but because he is the incumbent in his present position.
We in this country, and especially in this party, are proud of Britain's record in the liquidation, the dissolution, of the Empire. In 1947, we took that great act of liberation which liberated India, Pakistan, Burma and Ceylon and which set in motion a movement of liberation which embraced the whole world. We are proud of that, but I am sorry to say that I am not proud of the record of Her Majesty's Government in Guiana. It is not a creditable phase in our history, and I say that bluntly.
Reference has been made to the 1964 election in Guiana and the lack of co-operation from Mr. Jagan. The view of Mr. Jagan—with which, to some extent, I concur—is that the 1964 election was based on a Constitution deliberately organised to keep him out and to put in a Government more amenable to the United States. That indeed happened. When the debate on the Constitutional Order took place my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister called it a "fiddled Constitution", and I believe that it is. The present Commonwealth Secretary described the Constitutional tactics as "jiggery pokery", and I think that they were. However, that has now happened and such a Constitution operates in Guiana.
1129 I am afraid that I am not as optimistic as either of the Front Bench speakers today about a country which is deeply divided right down the middle on the basis of race and politics. For one half of the country it is not merely a question of lack of co-operation, but the knowledge that it is virtually excluded from the seat of Government. These people face the sort of thing I am describing today. The prospects are gloomy and I wonder whether, after independence, even the safeguards of present Constitution will be maintained. I am sorry to say that, but I cannot accept the rosy picture which my right hon. Friend painted.
At present in that country 15 men are detained without trial, without charge having been brought against them and without any specific accusations having been made against them. All are members of the opposition party, activists in the People's Progressive Party. I say that no charge has been made against them, but there is one exception. A charge was made against a man named Heeralall.
I will mention one case, concerning a boy aged 19, to show the sort of thing that has been happening. One of the detainees, Ackbar Singh, was released and was murdered shortly after his release. It has been suggested by the Government—although I cannot find anything to substantiate this—that he was murdered by the adherents of the P.P.P. because he had renounced his support of that party. It is the sort of suggestion which, I fear, is unfortunately made in totalitarian countries to cover up murders by supporters of the Government.
Seven men were arrested and were brought before the court. The court decided—and, fortunately, the courts are, by and large, still independent—that there was no shred of evidence to support the prosecution. The men were discharged. Mr. Heeralall went out of the court, but was immediately rearrested under the detention order. He is detained in prison still. I mention him because he is the only man against whom anything specific has been mentioned. I will mention some of the others later.
Before proceeding I must deal with the conditions under which these men are imprisoned. Amnesty International, the well-known organisation which has no 1130 political orientation, has taken an interest in these prisoners. In respect of the "adopted prisoners", as it calls those in whom it takes an interest, it has received this letter from one man:Conditions here are of the worst I ever experienced. Food of inhuman consumption. You take it or leave it. The camp is of concrete, so you could imagine the heat during the day, and the doors are locked as from six p.m. to six a.m. I am denied cigarettes, beers and limited toilet requests. No proper exercise or fresh air. I was denied the privilege to attend my mother's funeral on 11th January, 1965—not to see her dead face. One time during a visit by my wife I was nearly shot after failing to comply to the officer's demands. I was not allowed to sit by her and was forced to speak for him to hear. An Advisory Tribunal was set up, but its terms of reference, were unacceptable"—I will deal later with that because it has been suggested to certain people. I understand by my right hon. Friend, that these prisoners have the right of appeal to an advisory tribunal.
The letter continues:… even if your release is approved, it shall not be bound to be accepted by the Governor. A late statement by the Minister of Home Affairs says that I have to change my views before my release can be considered.I do not know whether the Minister has investigated to find out whether the conditions are correctly described but, if they are, this man's detention is penal imprisonment and is not merely preventive detention.
Another of those detained is a man in whom I am particularly interested because of his Birmingham connections. He is Vernon Nunes, Minister of Education in the Jagan Administration. It is agreed that he was a progressive and very distinguished Minister of Education. He received part of his education at Birmingham University, and his wife and three children live in Birmingham at present in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, All Saints (Mr. Walden). This man took no active interest in politics, though I think that he was a member of the P.P.P. until 1961, when Jagan asked him to take over the Ministry of Education. Since the end of the Jagan Government he has been political organiser of the P.P.P.
He has been highly respected by all the people with whom he has come in contact, and I might mention that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Sir E. Boyle) especially 1131 asked me to mention, as he cannot be here today, that he has met this man—and also his Chief Officer, who has the extraordinary name of Mohammed Bacchus. The right hon. Gentleman met him at an educational conference, was very much impressed by him, and is much concerned at his detention.
Mohammed Bacchus has been obliged to leave Guiana because he dare not live there. I might mention here that Nunes is not Indian, but African, and this is a sinister feature because I cannot help feeling that one of the reasons why this man—whom I am told is well-beloved and well-respected in the African community there—is being kept in detention is precisely because, as an African, and as a Member of Parliament, his influence is considerable. That is why he is locked up. There is no question of his being a bomb-thrower—that is nonsense.
I do not want to go right through the list of names provided by Amnesty, but another man is Mr. Joseph Jardim, manager of the New Guiana Co. Limited, and also an extremely important member of the P.P.P. He is the owner as well as the manager of the main P.P.P. newspaper. I do not think that he has been put in gaol because of his threatening to throw bombs. It is purely political.
I know of the history of violence in Guiana, and everyone here regrets it. It goes back well beyond 1964, 1963, or 1962. It is a terrible history and, although I dislike detention, if it were shown to be necessary for the purpose for which it is suggested it was made, if the detention were a bona fide and impartial administrative act, I would say, "Very well, I am sorry that it is necessary, but for the preservation of life I agree." But is it?
§ Mr. Silverman
Then let us see whether it is impartial. All the 15 men are members of the P.P.P. Will the hon. Member for Surbiton (Mr. Fisher), who has had a great deal to do with the question, suggest that all the violence was committed by members of the P.P.P.?
§ Mr. Silverman
I suggest that that is nonsense. I believe that even the Com- 1132 mittee of International Jurists admitted that the Indians were the worst sufferers. While a good deal of this violence was sporadic, spontaneous and emotional, some of it was organised. There is a good deal of reason to think that the organised sabotage and violence that occurred during the Jagan Administration—the blowing up of public buildings—was done by members of the P.N.C. I have a whole list of the buildings in Georgetown that were blown up at that time, and, obviously, that was not done by the P.P.P., but by supporters of the P.N.C. Yet the only people who were put in gaol, or who are in gaol now, are P.P.P. supporters. Of the 41 people mentioned by the Minister, 37 were P.P.P.
I will now describe the circumstances in which a number of P.N.C. members were detained. In 1964, a large quantity of explosives was found in the house of a man called Fairburn. He was interviewed by the police. He said—and it is probably true—that he was beaten up by the police. He disclosed the names of a number of people whom he alleged were his co-conspirators. Incidentally, I understand that Fairburn works in Mr. Burnham's chambers as some sort of caretaker or assistant caretaker. Then four men were detained. Fairburn was brought to trial, but he was discharged because it was found that his statement was made on the basis of beating up. The other four men were detained for four weeks and were then released.
Apart from those men, all the others who have been detained, not only under the present Burnham Administration but even under British Government administration, were members of the P.P.P. I suggest that there is a list of acts of violence on the part of the one side which, if not greater than the other, is at least as great. Hon. Members will regret all instances of violence, but in this case one side is no better than the other, and I suggest that these people are being kept in prison by an act of gross political discrimination—
§ Mr. Ian Percival (Southport)
Is it not a fact that the organised violence which the hon. Member conceded had happened has stopped since these 15 people have been in detention? Would he not agree that that at least suggests that the right people have been stopped from engaging in those activities?
§ Mr. Silverman
It does not prove that at all. It might conceivably prove that those who have engaged in violence have now secured their objective of getting their own Government in and there is therefore no more need for violence.
§ Mr. Lubbock
Does the hon. Gentleman think that the argument just advanced by the hon. and learned Member for Southport (Mr. Percival) would be accepted by a court of law?
§ Mr. Silverman
I do not think that it would, and I do not think that it is a fact.
I now call the attention of the House to an extremely interesting secret document prepared by a British superintendent of police there. It is dated 11th September, 1963. I have seen no reference to this document in the British Press except for a small piece in the Birmingham Post about a year afterwards which states:Mr. Peter Owen has told the country's Supreme Court that the country's main Opposition party, Mr. Forbes Burnham's mainly negro People's National Congress, has a terrorist gang responsible for a series of crimes such as murder, arson, causing explosions to buildings, subversive and criminal activities.I have this secret document, and it is an extraordinary one. I do not want to read it out in detail, but, obviously, I will place it at the disposal of the House. I do not think that it is denied that this is authentic. It has been suppressed.
So far as I know, it was never brought to the attention of the then Minister for Home Affairs in British Guiana. It sets out 25 names, including the name of Mr. Burnham himself and Mr. Graham, who, I understand, is now proposed for an extremely important position in the military affairs of Guyana and a number of other active members for the P.N.C. This document sets out a deliberate conspiracy on the part of these people to indulge in violence and sabotage.
Perhaps the Minister can tell us about this document. Is it an authentic and valid document? "James Bond" is not in it compared with the kind of situation as has been seen in Guiana. I want to apply my mind impartially to this matter. It may be that this document was prepared on the basis of false evidence and false accusations, though it is an official police document. If the Minister tells us that that is so and that is why it was not acted on, how can he 1134 know that the accusations against these 15 men are not equally false and baseless?
This is an extremely important matter. I shall not read the document, but I think that it shows that the chapter of events in British Guiana should now be closed. It cannot be closed, however, until these 15 men are released. It is not possible to suggest that to imprison these men is an impartial act of administration. The Minister of Home Affairs, Mr. Reid, has told a deputation that these men will be released only when they change their views. This clearly has nothing whatever to do with security; it is a political act of discrimination.
It is all very well for the Minister to talk about people going to Cuba and bomb-throwing. We all detest bomb-throwers and agree that they should be apprehended and, if they are dangerous, they should be put in prison, but is it not right for men deprived of their liberty under such conditions to have the charges made against them specified? They have not been specified. Therefore, I say to the Minister that this act was neither impartial nor bona fide, nor has he discharged the obligation on him to show that it was necessary.
It is said that these men can appeal to a tribunal. It has been suggested that the three people at the head of the tribunal were not appointed by the present Government but by the Governor and that therefore they are impartial. I am sorry, but I cannot necessarily accept that they are impartial because the Governor appointed them. I draw the attention of the House to a document setting out procedure to be followed by this advisory tribunal. It is one of the most astounding documents I have ever seen. The tribunal is an advisory one and is in no sense a court of law, yet this is the only appeal body available to these men.
The document says:The tribunal, which is merely an advisory tribunal, is in no sense a court of law and will not be bound by the rules of practice, procedure or evidence normally applied in a court of law. The proceedings of the tribunal willIf a totalitarian country could do better than that, I should be very much surprised. Would any hon. Member on either side of this House—however innocent of a charge, care to submit himself to a tribunal such as that? Would he have any hope of justice or fair play?
- (a) not be open to the Press and public
- (b) be conducted as an administrative rather than a judicial inquiry.
- (c) be quite informal in character.
- (d) As the tribunal will have perused all relevant documents before the hearing, the
1135 case on behalf of the applicant will not be presented by the Governor.
- (e) The tribunal will give each applicant a document informing him of the ground on which the order has been made against him and containing such particulars as will enable him to present his case as in the chairman's view are sufficient.
- (f) No witnesses will be allowed, although the applicant can consult with the chief security officer and his assistance.
- (g) The names of applicants will not be disclosed nor information by which they can be identified."
The Minister has already referred to the United Nations resolution upon this matter. It is a United Nations Trusteeship resolution which was supported by 87 members, including all the Asian countries and the African countries as well. The only abstentions, apart from Britain, France and Australia, were the United States of America and the South American States. I presume that the resolution was fairly considered by the United Nations before it was passed. It has not been implemented. It is no good "passing the buck" to British Guiana and saying that it is that Government's job. I do not accept that this is merely the responsibility of British Guiana.
The Minister said that there were detentions in British Guiana before it was proposed to give these powers. I am sorry to say that those detentions also were not conducted in an impartial way, but in a partisan way. I therefore do not accept the idea that we should "pass the buck" and say that it is not our business. That is what Cain said, as we read in Genesis:Am I my brother's keeper?So long as this is an independent country, these men are the Minister's prisoners. Is he telling us that if he told Mr. Burnham to release these men, they would not be released? Of course they would be, whatever the constitutional niceties involved.
The Bill says in Clause 6(1):Her Majesty may by Order in Council made before the appointed day provide a 1136 constitution for Guyana to come into effect on that day.According to the Clause, we can provide a Constitution which is binding on Guyana and not tell the Guyana Government to release these 15 people who are improperly detained. This is constitutional nonsense.
§ Mr. Fisher
The present position, I understand, is that British Guiana is acting under the 1961 Constitution and the Governor acts on the advice of his Ministers in matters of this kind. That for a time was abrogated, but I think I am right in saying that the Order in Council of 14th April, 1965, restored the constitutional position to the situation I have described and from then on it reverted to the 1961 Constitution under which British Guiana is now governed. Therefore, any question of alteration would involve cancelling it and making a new one.
If the hon. Member for Birmingham, Aston (Mr. J. Silverman) thinks that is practicable on the eve of independence, he is living in cloud-cuckoo-land.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. Interventions should not be speeches. The hon. Member for Surbiton (Mr. Fisher) may have a chance to catch my eye later.
§ Mr. Silverman
I think that it is the hon. Member for Surbiton (Mr. Fisher) who is living in cloud-cuckoo-land and not I.
It seems an extraordinary reflection on the partisanship of the British Government that powers taken away from the Jagan Government in 1961 are restored to a Government representing half the country in 1965 at a time of crisis and when men are in gaol. I adhere to my point that, whatever may be the precise constitutional position, this right has been taken from the Guiana Government before and that the mere threat of action would be sufficient to get these men released. If my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State wants the Guiana Government to do this, he can get them to do it.
I have made a very long speech, but this is a very important subject of great significance and concern to the integrity of Britain and the House of Commons. I have made serious charges—some so serious that I hesitated to make them in 1137 case I was charged with immoderation. I am not concerned about the politics of either Mr. Burnham or Mr. Jagan. Their ideologies and personal positions are not significant when compared with the main job in British Guiana, which the right hon. Gentleman fairly states as being to get the people of the country to live together and to end this fratricidal racial conflict.
If we are to achieve that, and if Mr. Burnham really wants to do it, he can produce an act of statesmanship. Let him set these people free. Let my right hon. Friend get him to do so. The act of political discrimination now taking place will be a bone of contention that will prevent any sort of "get together" of the Africans and the Indians and the two political parties in British Guiana.
I appeal to my right hon. Friend even now to say to Mr. Burnham that he should let these 15 prisoners go free. Others who have faced more specific charges are free today. Let the release of these 15 men be the beginning of a new era in British Guiana, without the exertion of influence from outside fomenting these differences, so that the people of British Guiana may get together and fulfil the aspiration of all of us that their country should have true independence and live in peace.
§ 12.24 p.m.
§ Sir William Teeling (Brighton, Pavilion)
I have been in this House since 1944 and in that time have covered every single debate on the granting of independence to any part of the Commonwealth. But I have never come across quite such a sad approach as that just made by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Aston (Mr. Julius Silverman). I wish that it had not been made, because, although only fifteen people are mentioned at the present moment, we must remember that many more people than that were in detention at one period. They have gradually been released, and I wonder whether it is in the right proportion with the great possibilities of giving independence to British Guiana that we should try to concentrate on that one point.
It will be for the Under-Secretary of State to go into the detail of the points raised by the hon. Member. I want to speak a about the Guiana I know and have seen, and in doing so I shall occasionally 1138 refer to one or two of the points made by the hon. Gentleman because, not unnaturally, when I was there these subjects were very much under discussion.
Last September, a group of four of us were sent out by the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association to British Guiana. There were two hon. Members from each side of this House. We were sent not only to visit the country and learn about it, but as far as possible to discover before talks took place on independence the general state of feeling in the country. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Southport (Mr. Percival), who was the other representative of this side of the House, greatly regrets that he has had to leave for his constituency in order to get to a meeting, but he has asked me to associate him in expressing our appreciation of the very charming way in which we were all looked after.
It will link up a little with what the hon. Gentleman has been saying when I tell the House that the moment we arrived we were greeted by an official party representing the welcoming party from Parliament and also by one gentleman from Mr. Jagan's party. This gentleman was a Chinese and said that he was going to Peking for Christmas—I do not know whether he did go. The Chinese gentleman told us that Mr. Jagan did not intend to take any part in our reception and in looking after us because the Parliamentary group that had organised our visit had overruled all his suggestions about what we should see. Mr. Jagan's view, we were told, was that we were to be shown far too much of the business side of the country.
We afterwards found out that Mr. Jagan himself had been on the committee, together with another member of his party, but that they had never once attended a single meeting for the preparation of our visit, although they could have done so had they wished.
Then, a little later, the question of the Queen's visit arose, and again Mr. Jagan was invited to send representatives to join in preparing the programme for the Royal visit. He and his colleagues refused to turn up. They never once attended.
Thirdly, during the whole of the first six months of the life of the Parliament, Mr. Jagan and his party never attended. 1139 Yet they complained that debates on the budget were rushed through and that there was no opportunity for proper debate. But the only reason that everything was rushed through and that there was no debate was that the Opposition was not present to debate. They would not attend the sittings.
The attitude of Mr. Jagan's party was alarming over the talks in London. He said to us that he did not intend to come to London because the talks would be a farce, that the whole thing was being pressed by the United States because it did not want a second Cuba in that part of the world. I have not seen or heard before of the documents quoted by the hon. Member for Aston, but almost all the points that he made were put by Mr. Jagan when he met us. Almost word for word, these were the complaints that he made all along. But this has gone on for such a long time now, and Mr. Jagan never will come to the point of a meeting; so that one begins to suspect he is afraid of showing up his weakness.
On the first day of our visit we went to Parliament and met the Prime Minister, who put everything at our disposal. We could have seen these detained people had we wished, but we decided amongst ourselves that it was not for us to do so. We were not a judicial body or any of the groups mentioned by the hon. Member. We were there to try to bring about good will and friendliness and we thought that we ought to keep out of internal politics.
Dr. Jagan with his group came to meet us just once and put his complaints. His complaints were very much the same as those of the hon. Member for Aston. We never met Mrs. Jagan. Later, we naturally discovered bits and pieces about what was going on in Guiana and we discovered that Dr. Jagan's party was getting steadily weaker and that he was a little frightened himself about putting anything to the test now.
In the old days, it was very much a question of negroes versus Indians and today it is quite true that there are already far more Indians in the country than there are negroes, largely because they are breeding much faster. He said that he had hoped to try to get the vote 1140 at 18, but he never bothered to come and put that suggestion forward in Whitehall at that time. He said, and I believed him, that if there had been the vote at 18, he would probably have got a complete majority, but another election is not due for another three years. It was suggested that it should be four years but I think that the last Colonial Secretary felt that it would be wrong to alter that period and he kept it at three years.
We have this new Government now starting with three more years to run with complete power. Will it do all the terrible things which the hon. Member for Aston suggests? I wonder how many hon. Members realise that Guiana is the size of Great Britain and yet there are only 60 miles of road in it altogether, the distance from Brighton to Southampton or possibly Brighton to London. That is all the roads there are in the whole of this huge country. One has to travel by air or river and it is, therefore. not always very easy to be able to track down who is doing different things against the Government, or even against the opposition.
On the one side of the country there is Venezuela with which our own Government have done well to reach an arrangement about the border question, at any rate for the time being. On the other side are the Dutch who have somehow managed to do a lot more in the way of friendliness than we ever did. They have members of Dutch Guiana in their Parliament at The Hague and we have never thought of doing a similar thing here.
The country has the most tremendous possibilities and has had for a long time, but, because of the wretched actions of both sides—and it is a great pity to bring them up at the moment—it has been the most disturbed Colony which we have had, until two or three years ago. At that time, my right hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Mr. Sandys)—I know that some people called this a fiddle—found that the only means of trying to get a balance between the two parties which were almost neck and neck in size, was to have proportional representation.
At the election with proportional representation. representatives were sent from 1141 Malta and one or two other proportional representation parts of the Commonwealth, and they all said that the elections were most fairly conducted and went extremely well. They gave a number of seats to Mr. Peter d'Aguiar and his party which is not, as some people think, just a white, capitalist group. It includes almost all the original natives, the Amer Indians, and many other races and they now hold the balance which is making it possible. for the country to develop. Dr. Jagan's party not having attended Parliament, I suppose that it has been made that much easier to carry on.
Mr. d'Aguiar has not always found it very easy to control Mr. Burnham, but what he has been able to do is to use a very clear business brain as Chancellor of the Exchequer. He gave us a list of the conditions in which the country was found after Dr. Jagan's Government had ceased—civil servants had not been paid sometimes for two or three years; practically nothing was balanced in the way of budgets, which were all out of date, and much had to be done to try to improve these matters, which are only now reaching the sort of level which we would understand. Bit by bit he has been able to get a large amount of money out of the Guianese themselves to invest in their own roads, plus a lot of money from both the United States and Britain and many other countries, and he is slowly beginning to build up businesses, making offers of no taxation for the first year or two so as to attract business to the country. All this is at last making the people more confident. Negroes and Indians were terrified of the various things about which we have heard today—the blowing up of schools and the taking of whole families and burning them in the middle of Georgetown and other horrible incidents. All of those are now more or less stopped.
In passing, I ask the hon. Member for Aston to realise that perhaps one of the reasons why they have stopped is that some of these people have been put into prison, some of the leaders, the 15 about whom he has been talking.
§ Sir W. Teeling
There were many more than 15 and quite a lot have now come out and nothing seems to have happened one way or the other. The hon. Gentleman remarked that nobody could be tried and that there was only a court of appeal, I think he called it.
§ Mr. Silverman
What I said was that for these 15 men there was no trial, no charge and no specification of what they were accused. They have an appeal to what is called an advisory tribunal. I set out the procedure of this advisory tribunal which is not in any sense a judicial body.
§ Sir W. Teeling
When we were there, we were told that they all had the right to this appeal but that not one of them had tried to use it, although many had been in for six months. One rather wonders why.
§ Mr. Silverman
I read the procedure of this tribunal. If the hon. Gentleman had listened to my description of the procedure in their own words, he would have known that it is quite easy to understand why.
§ Sir W. Teeling
One presumes that the head of the tribunal, or the man behind it, would have been the Chief Justice, Sir Joseph Luckhoo, who is probably one of the best judges in the British Commonwealth. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Southport, who is a Queen's Counsel, told me that he would like me to say that he was more impressed by him than he has been by many other chief justices in many parts of the Commonwealth. He considered that the judiciary in British Guiana was so good that it was an absolute insult to suggest that it was not as interested in democracy and the rule of law as we are in Britain.
§ Mr. Newens
Would the hon. Gentleman feel satisfied if he were in the position of being able only to appeal to a 1143 tribunal which was restricted by the terms of reference quoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Aston (Mr. Julius Silverman)?
§ Sir W. Teeling
Yes, if I thought that it had been properly worked out by the Chief Justice of the country when he is such a very good man.
Let us turn from that to the possible future of the country. We now have Mr. Forbes Burnham, a very effective Prime Minister, as everyone will agree who has met him. He has a first-class brain and is very ambitious for his country. One must feel that there is at long last a chance of Indians and Africans coming together. The Indians are very shrewd business men, and they see the possibility of happening at long last what they knew could not happen when Dr. Jagan was in control—the possibility of peace and quiet and making money.
Dr. Burnham is trying very hard to get a large number of immigrants into the country. We all know the problems we have here with West Indian immigrants. Surely there is no more suitable place than British Guiana, with the same climate, same language and same type of people, to which people from Jamaica and other parts of the Caribbean can go. This is why Dr. Burnham has been trying to bring about a Caribbean common market, and he is succeeding. In an area the size of Great Britain, there are immense possibilities of bringing up to 100 million people into it. This is one thing for which we should hope in wishing luck to the starting up of this new country.
I should like to make an appeal to Dr. Burnham concerning the Amerindians, the original natives of the country. I did not feel that either side was very interested in them. They are a very lovable people. They are tucked away in settlements, and it is very uncertain how far these settlements are really theirs or whether they are likely to remain theirs. Some of them are very near the edge of oil interest areas, especially around Venezuela.
The Amerindians in Venezuela are much better looked after than those in British Guiana. I beg Dr. Burnham not to go on with his policy of saying, "We 1144 will educate them, teach them and make them like ourselves." He will never succeed in doing that; they will die out. They find themselves in Georgetown, after having travelled for two days, possibly by river, and they are terrified. They do not understand the people there or anything about them. But when one meets them in their own settlements one finds that they are very lovable and, oddly enough, very loyal to the British. We are not to keep control over them in any way. We have made an arrangement with Dr. Burnham that everything possible will be done for them, but I make the plea that they really should be looked after.
If we really want a united country, we can get it under Dr. Burnham and Mr. Peter d'Aguiar, working with Indians and many others. Please do not let us cause bitterness by bringing up too much the problem of just 15 men. What we really want to do is to make a great country for the future. As my right hon. Friend (Mr. R. Wood) said, it will be our first dominion in South America, probably the only one we will ever have there, but one where we can show what we have been able to do.
§ 12.43 p.m.
§ Mr. Hugh Jenkins (Putney)
The hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Sir W. Teeling) says that we should not make too much trouble about just 15 men. This seems to me to be an extraordinary proposition for a Conservative to advance, a member of a party which is supposed to be primarily concerned above all about the fate of the individual. Surely if it were a case of the wrongful detention of only one man without trial this House should concern itself with his fate.
I am horrified that the proposition should be advanced that because there are only 15 men detained without trial we should not worry ourselves too much about them. If we were to accept such a proposition, it would be the negation of everything in which we are supposed to believe in this Chamber.
My interest in British Guiana began in the early 1950s, when I was fortunate enough to meet Mr. Burnham and Dr. Jagan together at a much happier time. They were members of the same party, and it seemed possible that the country would advance along a course which 1145 would proceed to independence, not without difficulty, trouble and trial, but without violence. Unhappily, that hope was not realised. As has been said, it is not worth spending too much time discussing the unhappy events which have taken place in that country. In almost every country which aspires to independence, it seems inevitable, unfortunately, that the years immediately prior to independence are characterised by violence, sometimes flaring into open revolution.
When I met Mr. Burnham and Dr. Jagan I had fairly recently returned from Burma. I had been in that country during the pre-independence period. There was violence there, culminating in the tragedy of the assassination of almost all the members of the Government Front Bench of that country. I sometimes feel sympathy with the motives behind that action when I survey my own Front Bench, but I have no intention of pushing the matter to that extreme. We should realise, however, that the motivation which drives people to those extreme lengths, which we all deplore, is universal.
It is true that in British Guiana the faults have been fairly equally divided. I am not one of those who believe that Dr. Jagan's actions over the last 15 years have always been wise—on the contrary. Neither, however, do I take the view, which the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion, takes, that we are about to approach the millenium and that things will look after themselves, because they will not.
My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Aston (Mr. Julius Silverman), in his moving speech, summarised the case for the Amendment so admirably that all I need to do is to add a few points. My hon. Friend referred to the document prepared by British Guiana's British police commissioner on the activities of the party which is now led by the Prime Minister of Guiana. It said that Mr. Burnham's party had a terrorist gang responsible for a series of crimes such as murder, arson, causing explosions of buildings and subversive and criminal activities. This is precisely what is said on the other side. The charges flung from side to side are virtually identical.
However, I have not seen any document which seems to carry the authority of the document which my hon. Friend the Member for Aston quoted. It is diffi- 1146 cult to discover where the balance between good and evil lies. I doubt whether it is on the side of that party to which we are now handing over authority. It is not a majority party; it is a minority party. It is not even the largest party. The largest party, by the last test made in the country, is the party of Dr. Jagan. Whether his party will be more or less strong when the next election comes is probably as much open to argument as whether the Labour Party or Conservative Party will be more or less strong when the next election comes in this country. Therefore we should not be moved by considerations of that sort.
What should move us more, perhaps, is a consideration, for example, of the plight of Mrs. Nunes who is in this country with her three children and whose husband, a distinguished man, as we have heard, is held in prison without any charge being preferred against him. I have seen the document on which he was committed. It merely says, to paraphrase it, that he is held in prison, not because of anything that he has done, but because of what he might do. Which of us could stay out of prison if we were charged on the basis of what we might do? Theoretically many of us may be capable of committing an offence in future. This is an abominable situation.
When we consider the circumstances in which the detainees are being detained, we can get little comfort. According to a report which I have received, at the Sibley Hall detention camp a rapid deterioration of conditions has occurred in recent months. The report states:The food given to detainees is so bad that they can no longer eat the meat and fish supplied. The Committee for the Release of the Detainees has received at least four reports that spoiled meat and fish are supplied to the detainees; when they refuse to eat such rotten food, they were told 'take it or leave it'. Efforts to supplement their diets with fresh greens and vegetables supplied by relatives from outside have been rejected.Medical treatment is constantly neglected and it is reported that one of the detainees has been waiting for four months to be taken to Georgetown for treatment in the physiotherapy department. He has at least eight teeth requiring immediate attention. Two others who use spectacles have requested glasses to replace broken ones and this request has been ignored. Families are required 1147 to spend much money to send their relatives clothing, which is not supplied by the Government. Formerly, this was done in the early part of detention, but the detainees are now said to have to provide their own clothes.
It is said that treatment by prison officers is becoming more and more harsh and that these prisoners, who have never been charged, let alone convicted of any offence, are treated more harshly than the most seasoned criminals who have convictions. Greater and greater difficulties, it is said, are experienced by the families in obtaining the allowances which the Government have agreed to pay during the detention of the wage-earner of the family. Sometimes monthly payments are delayed two or three months due to the callousness and neglect of Government officers.
I am quoting from a report which I have received. I do not wish it to be thought that I am accusing those Government officers of callousness and neglect—I do not know. I do know, however, that these people are in prison without trial and that when people are detained in prison without trial, it is reasonable to suppose that some such treatment as this might occur.
In these circumstances, what is the duty of our Government? If we go outside to ask what other people think should be the duty of our Government, we might turn reasonably to the United Nations. The United Nations Trusteeship Committee resolution on British Guiana states clearly what it thinks the duty of our Government is. That resolution, which was carried with 87 votes in favour and none against, with 19 abstentions, including our own, and which was approved by the General Assembly on 16th December last,requests the administering Power to end the state of emergency and to release all political prisoners and detainees so as to enable them to participate in the political life of the territory.That is what the United Nations says we should do. My right hon. Friend the Minister says that we cannot do it. Of course, we can do it. The Governor, Sir Richard Luyt, was the man who, under the emergency powers, which still exist, determined that people should be 1148 put in prison. Just as he has the power under the authority of my right hon. Friend to detain them, equally he could have the authority to release them. There does not seem to be any doubt about that.
In spite of what my right hon. Friend says, the situation will change after independence if nothing is written into the Bill. If no Clauses are written into the Bill, the situation will indeed change, and as far as I can see Mrs. Nunes and her three children have no reasonable guarantee or even hope that they may ever see their husband and father again. What is to prevent the new Government of Guiana from renewing the legislation virtually indefinitely? In The Times this morning there is a letter on the subject. It is signed by Donald Bell, General Secretary of Amnesty International, by Mr. Ennals, the Director-General of the United Nations Association, and by three members of this House, including the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock), who is leading for the Liberal Party in this debate. It is an important letter.
Instead of reading the letter, as the hon. Member for Orpington is present I will paraphrase it. It points out that, as was reported in The Times itself, Mr. Burnham, so far from agreeing with the line which has been urged upon him in this debate today, has said that his new Government plans to introduce a Preventive Detention Bill in British Guiana when it becomes independent on 26th May. This statement, as the signatories of the letter point out, appears to have passed without much comment.
It therefore would not be sufficient for the Government, as they are requested in this letter, simply to decide, if my right hon. Friend the Minister agrees with us, that the detainees should be released. It would be necessary for the Government to take action to ensure that the consequence of the passage of independence is that they are not immediately put back into gaol. This is something which is within the responsibility of my right hon. Friend, because it is noteworthy in this connection that it is intended that the High Commissioner, who signed the order putting the men in prison, shall continue as High Commissioner after independence. What he has done before, presumably he could do again.
1149 Those are some of the reasons which have motivated my hon. Friends in putting down the Amendment. I would like to draw attention to its wording. It states:That this House, whilst anxious that all colonial territories should achieve their independence at the earliest possible moment, declines to give a Second Reading to the Guyana Independence Bill until such time as the present Government of British Guiana ceases to detain prisoners for political purposes without charge and without trial, and until such time as Her Majesty's Government and the British Guiana Government have implemented the resolution of the United Nations Trusteeship Committee of 10th December 1965 calling upon the administrative authority of British Guiana to end the State of Emergency and to release all political prisoners and detainees.I believe that that aim is the policy which Her Majesty's Government should adopt. I hope that in replying to this debate they will give us an assurance which will make it unnecessary for the Amendment to be pressed to a conclusion. It, however, no such assurance is forthcoming, it is my hope that the Amendment will be pressed to a Division. If that should be done, I should vote for it.
§ 12.58 p.m.
§ Mr. Nigel Fisher (Surbiton)
A Bill which gives independence to a British Colony is normally a completely uncontroversial Measure and, indeed, an occasion for rejoicing and for congratulation to the new member of the Commonwealth. It is, therefore, a matter of considerable regret that a large number of hon. Members opposite should have felt obliged to take the unusual course—probably the unique course—of putting on the Order Paper of the House of Commons an Amendment to reject the Second Reading of an Independence Bill.
I understand, of course—
§ Mr. Fisher
I shall say much more controversial things later; I should not bother to interrupt at this stage.
I understand, of course, the motives of hon. Gentlemen, which I am sure are entirely sincere, but which I believe to be based, in this case, upon an almost total ignorance of British Guiana and of the facts and background which gave rise 1150 to the detentions in the first place and which still make them necessary today.
At the time these detentions were made I was responsible to my right hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Mr. Sandys) for British Guiana. I have been there on several occasions during the last 10 or 12 years, and I know all the personalities involved. I do not think—I hope I am right in saying this—that any Member of this House, on either side, would accuse me of being reactionary or Right-wing in my approach to Commonwealth and colonial affairs. At the time when these men were detained there was a situation of near civil war in British Guiana, and the very worst sort of civil war, racial civil war. It was based upon fear, and there is a legacy of that even today.
Those of African descent were afraid of the Indians, and vice versa, and with reason. These men were not detained at the time as political prisoners. They never were. None of them, so far as I know, was or is a politician, with the exception of Mr. Nunes. These men were not and are not detained because of their political views. They were and are detained because they were responsible for violence or for organising violence—
§ Mr. Fisher
The hon. Member goes on saying "No", but everybody in British Guiana from the Governor downwards knows that this is true.
§ Mr. Jenkins
The hon. Member will forgive me, but I have seen the documents on which they were detained, and they were not detained on the grounds the hon. Member says.
§ Mr. Fisher
Yes, they were. I saw the documents at the time and I know perfectly well why these men were detained, and so does everybody else in British Guiana.
There were 41 of them. Most of them have now been released. There are 15 hard-core cases left, most of them trained in Cuba. Since their detention there has been peace in British Guiana. I do 1151 assure hon. Members that these two facts are directly related. I know hon. Members will say, "Very well, then they should at least be brought to trial." That sounds very fair and very easy if one does not know British Guiana, but British Guiana in the past has been like Aden is at present, only far, far worse. One cannot bring these men to trial in open court because witnesses are afraid to come forward and juries are afraid to convict.
It is not really very surprising, as I think the hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham, Aston (Mr. Julius Silverman) himself said that one defector from the P.P.P. has already been murdered, and intimidation—
§ Mr. Fisher
I want to finish this sentence—and intimidation and violence to witnesses has been, unfortunately, a perfectly normal feature of life in British Guiana for long enough to make even brave men unwilling to risk it. And bear in mind that they have to think of the safety of their families as well as that of themselves.
§ Mr. Silverman
I am sorry that the hon. Member should say that someone from P.P.P. was a defector and that he was murdered by the P.P.P. We do not know why he was murdered. He may have been murdered by P.N.C. There is no evidence about this at all.
§ Mr. Fisher
I heard the hon. Gentleman say that in his own speech. He is merely repeating himself. He does not know; I do not know; he put one point of view that the man was murdered by the P.N.C.; I put another point of view, which is founded on information supplied to me, that he was a P.P.P. defector murdered by his own side. I will not go into the detail of this, but I know the name—so does the hon. Gentleman—of the accused, or the person thought to be responsible for this particular crime.
Of course, it is true that these detainees could take their cases to the independent judicial tribunal where they would be heard in camera, but they have not chosen to do so. The judicial tribunal, as the hon. Gentleman knows, is composed of an ex-judge and an ex-Crown Solicitor and the senior practising 1152 solicitor in British Guiana. Its recommendations have in the past been accepted.
Perhaps now I may be allowed to say something about the case of Mr. Nunes, the former P.P.P. Minister of Education. The responsibility for his detention is, of course, that of the British Guiana Government, but I know that the Colonial Office has been very carefully into his case, and is completely satisfied that there are no grounds whatever for Britain to intervene.
Mr. Nunes is not under detention because he is an ex-P.P.P. Minister. He is detained, like the others, only in the interests of public order and of public safety—and these are not just words, to those of us who remember the events of 1963 in British Guiana. I was there in 1963 and I saw for myself the results of the anarchy, the arson, and the murder of those days. These were men—I promise you—these were men of violence.
And I must honestly say this to the House, that it is mainly due to the Premier, Mr. Forbes Burnham, that the violence of those days has been replaced by the peace and relative good will which exists between the races today. His Government has been fair and it has been firm. I believe that he has been scrupulously fair to the Indians, because he knows that it is only by banishing civil strife, which was such a terrible feature of life there, that he can build a new and a united nation.
Hon. Members want Britain to intervene. I have tried to explain—perhaps in an overlong intervention earlier—that we have no legal right to intervene at all, because the position is now governed by the Order in Council of April, 1965, which restored in this particular respect the 1961 Constitution. So we have no legal right to intervene at all. And quite apart from the fact that it really would be extremely difficult—I think that all hon. Members will agree with this—for the British Government to intervene in a domestic matter of this kind in a country within three weeks of complete independence, I would not myself care to intervene on the merits, because I think that it is simply not fair to the people of British Guiana to release prematurely men who have been responsible in the past and might be again for the violence which very 1153 nearly wrecked their country two or three years ago. In any event, we could intervene only by altering, as I said—
§ Mr. Julius Silverman
These men were in office two or three years ago. Mr. Nunes was Minister of Education two or three years ago.
§ Mr. Fisher
I am talking of 1963-64—I cannot remember what exactly the date was—when we took powers of detention and gave them to the Governor. This has since been changed, but at that time the Governor had power to detain. The hon. Gentleman knows this perfectly well.
§ Mr. Fisher
Now we can only intervene by altering the Constitution on the very eve of independence.
What do hon. Members think would happen if we sought to do that? I believe that, if we did, Mr. Burnham would either—and in my view rightly—put these people back again into detention as soon as the country was completely independent. So very little would have been achieved by the exercise, or, naturally infuriated by the interference of the British Government three weeks before complete independence, he might—I do not think he would, because I think he is more statesmanlike—but he might well resign, and then we should be back in a position of complete chaos in British Guiana. Is that the sort of situation that hon. Members wish to see? That would be a possible result of their action.
§ Mr. Silverman
In Clause 6 of the Bill there is a provision for Her Majesty in Council, before the appointed day, to provide a constitution for Guiana.
§ Mr. Fisher
As the hon. Gentleman knows, that is the constitution which has already been agreed at the Independence Conference, held in London not so very long ago. That is the constitution that we are to provide for the newly independent country. It is surely not seriously proposed by anyone that the 1961 Constitution, which is now the operative constitution, should be abrogated three weeks before independence in the sense that a rejection of the Second Reading of this Independence Bill sug- 1154 gests. It is the most unrealistic Amendment that I have ever seen on the Order Paper. It pays tribute to the hon. Gentleman's heart, but nothing whatever to his head.
Having been rather rude to the hon. Gentleman—and he knows me well enough to realise that I did not mean to be—I want to turn to a more pleasant topic. I paid a tribute to Mr. Forbes Burnham, and I meant it. His statesmanship has transformed the scene. He has restored harmony to his country and he has gone far towards eradicating the fear which has been the basis of all the troubles of British Guiana. I believe that his Government have been fair and forward-looking. I say nothing whatever against Dr. Jagan, who is an old friend and a man of great personal charm whom I like very much as a man. But, with the best will in the world, I could not say that he presided over an efficient Government when he was Premier of British Guiana.
I would like also to pay tribute, as my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Sir W. Teeling) did, to Mr. d'Aguiar for his sound financial policies in a country which was sorely in need of them. He has done and is doing a splendid job which probably no one but he could do. These Ministers and their colleagues—I must not mention any more of them by name, because time is getting on and I know that other hon. Members wish to speak—have been encouraged and supported throughout by the Governor, Sir Richard Luyt, who succeeded Sir Ralph Grey at a most difficult time. Sir Ralph had borne the heat and burden of the troubles with amazing courage and endurance, and Sir Richard Luyt, latterly with an easier task, has been just as dedicated in his discharge of it.
Finally, it was exciting for old friends of British Guiana to read in a recent Daily Telegraph article of the immense potential mineral wealth in that fascinating and romantic country. It was also very nice for his many friends in London to read the tribute in that article to Sir Lionel Luckhoo. He was a brilliant lawyer and advocate in British Guiana and, in my view, is a brilliant choice as the first High Commissioner designate for his country in Great Britain. We 1155 and Guiana are equally fortunate that he is to be his country's representative here.
I believe that the wives are very important in diplomacy, and I would, therefore, add that Lady Luckhoo's charm and beauty have already made diplomatic parties in London a good deal more gay and enjoyable than they used to be. I would like to extend a welcome to this charming pair and the wish that they will stay very happily with us for many years.
We wish British Guiana, as a country, peace and prosperity in the years ahead.
§ 1.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Peter Archer (Rowley Regis and Tipton)
It has been said more than once during the past week by hon. and right hon. Members that the House might be seen to be a microcosm of the community which we are trying to build. May I relate the experience of new Members that in one important respect the House is already such a microcosm. The qualities of kindness and humanity which we hope will characterise that community, as well as energy and keenness for production, are already much in evidence in the House. I can only venture to hope that the indulgence which has been shown to me since I came here will be extended for the next few moments.
I am privileged to succeed a well known and well loved Member of the House and a great lover of the Commonwealth, Arthur Henderson. He represented the constituency of Rowley Regis and Tipton since it was formed 15 years ago and a considerable proportion of the electors for 16 years before that. I cannot hope to emulate his learning and experience. I can only hope that one day I may attain to his kindness and commonsense.
I feel that it was possibly a tribute to him that, when he retired, the electors chose as his successor a member of the same profession. I have already discovered that it is a profession which the House sometimes views with mixed feelings, and no doubt there are occasions when that view is well deserved. I venture to hope that there may be other occasions when the training and experience entailed in that profession may 1156 make a helpful if rather prosaic contribution to the deliberations of the House.
I rose today largely on an impulse, for two reasons. The first was that in the matter of a maiden speech, not unnaturally, I sought the advice of more experienced hon. Members. That advice was more than generous and unstinting. Unfortunately, it was less than consistent, and I decided that unless I grasped the nettle at once I might be facing some form of schizophrenia over the next few weeks.
The other reason, which is a more serious one, has placed me in a difficulty. My constituency is situated in the industrial Black Country. Its beauty is evidenced less in its landscape than in the character of its people. What is not immediately apparent is the direct interest which they might have in the subject matter of the debate.
I was fortified because one of their chief characteristics, as they will tell you, is their forthrightness and outspokenness. If they were told that there are 15 men in prison who may be there—I deliberately say no more—because their offence was that they expressed views which did not commend themselves to their Government, they might be tempted to comment that to do that on occasion was perhaps one of the functions for which they elected their Member of Parliament.
There are many of us on this side—and no doubt the feeling is shared in some measure by hon. Members opposite—who feel a real anxiety about the matter. The 15 men who are at present detained have had no charges formulated against them, much less investigated, and they are in a position to appeal to no one for protection but to Her Majesty's Government.
Our fears would be very much alleviated if we could have some assurance that in the not too distant future there might be the prospect of an international authority to whom members of the public could appeal in such cases.
It is more than 17 years since the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It was then hoped that it would immediately be followed by measures of implementation. There 1157 have been no measures of implementation. There is no one to whom those who complain of a breach of its provisions can appeal, and there is no procedure prescribed by way of redress. That these things are possible has been evidenced by the activities of the European Commission on Human Rights, and more recently by the European Court, and if we could feel that either in the United Nations or in the Commonwealth some provision of this kind might be forthcoming in the fairly near future, many of us on this side of the House, quite irrespective of the political merits of the dispute in Guiana, might feel very much less anxiety.
I hope that when that machinery is implemented some rôle might be found for organisations of a non-Governmental nature. Already there is provision within the United Nations for non-Governmental organisations to take part in a consultative capacity, and I have been privileged to attend as a spokesman for the organisation which has been mentioned by my hon. Friends the Members for Putney (Mr. Hugh Jenkins) and Birmingham, Aston (Mr. Julius Silverman) this morning, Amnesty International. I was impressed, as I have been in this House, by the courtesy and patience shown to a new boy, but it is possible that a more positive rôle might be found in the future for organisations of this kind, possibly the rôle of presenting petitions and of acting as a mediator between international organisations and those who complain of breaches of the Universal Declaration.
I hope that it will not be considered highly controversial if I say that there may be a case for examining whether the people of the world can be represented in international discussions only by their Governments. The House has shown great concern for the protection of the rôle of back benchers. The non-Governmental organisations are the back benchers of international relations.
I hope that I might be permitted to say one other thing without being accused of being controversial. I fully understand, and sympathise with, some of the views expressed by the hon. Member for Surbiton (Mr. Fisher). The history of the detentions in British Guiana is not simple. What is concerning a number of us is that the detainees 1158 are detained under regulations which, in the first instance, were emergency regulations, and throughout the world there are thousands of people who are at present detained under regulations which at one time may have been justified by an emergency. The difficulty which one always encounters is to persuade a Government that the emergency which may once have justified their assuming unusual powers has terminated. This House has always shown a vital concern for the right to speak out and to associate with whom one will. There are some of us who believe quite sincerely that in this issue that right is at stake.
§ 1.24 p.m.
§ Mr. Eric Lubbock (Orpington)
It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Rowley Regis and Tipton (Mr. Archer) and to be able to congratulate him with genuine sincerity on his maiden speech. I listened with great pleasure to the tribute which he paid to Mr. Arthur Henderson and to what he said about his kindness and common sense, because I remember how very kind he was to me, when I was a new Member of the House and how, on many occasions, I had the benefit of his advice.
The hon. Gentleman spoke about the forthrightness and outspokenness of his constituents, and I think that we shall hear something forthright and outspoken from him in future. He chose a somewhat controversial subject on which to make his maiden speech, but I think that he did so rightly, because he has a solid background of qualification from which to speak on this subject. He is, I understand, particularly interested in the United Nations and in human rights, and he is a member of Amnesty International. I hope that we shall hear from him very frequently on this question of individual liberties, which are obviously of so great importance to him and, I think, to his constituents as well.
Not everybody who has expressed anxiety about the detention of 15 persons in British Guiana is a member of the party opposite, or a sympathiser of Dr. Jagan, as the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Sir W. Teeling) seemed to imagine. The letter to The Times has already been referred to by one hon. Gentleman opposite, but he did not mention that one of the signatories to it was the hon. Member for Norfolk, Central 1159 (Mr. Ian Gilmour) and, of course, one of the other signatories was the General Secretary of Amnesty International, which is a totally non-political organisation.
In this letter it is suggested that the Government of British Guiana should themselves take steps to end the emergency regulations and to release the political detainees before independence, as advised by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Aston (Mr. Julius Silverman). I appreciate that under the present Constitution this is a matter for the Government of the country, and not for the Secretary of State himself, but it seems to me—and here I agree with the hon. Member for Aston—that if the Secretary of State were to intervene and use his influence with Mr. Burnham he could bring about the release of the 15 detainees before the date set for independence—26th May—and thus give effect to the resolution of the United Nations, which has already been quoted.
The Secretary of State is wrong in saying that the United Nations resolution is inconsistent in calling, on the one hand, for the release of political detainees, and on the other, for no delay to be imposed on the granting of independence to Guiana, because if the Secretary of State were to intervene with Mr. Burnham on a personal basis, as we are advising him to do, we are reasonably confident that the result which we are seeking to secure in this Amendment could be secured.
In the White Paper, Cmnd. 2849, the Report of the British Guiana Independence Conference, 1965, which was published last December, it was agreed by both Mr. Burnham and Mr. d'Aguiar—this is in paragraph 13—thatThe Constitution will safeguard the fundamental freedoms of the individual irrespective of race, place of origin, political opinions, colour, creed or sex.Yet it appears—and I do not think that this is disputed by either the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion, or the hon. Member for Surbiton (Mr. Fisher)—that all the 15 persons detained at the moment are members of the opposition party, and therefore that the emergency regulations are being used as an instrument of political warfare.
I am astonished to hear hon. Gentlemen defending this on the ground that 1160 that the detainees must have been responsible for the violence in British Guiana because there has been a restoration of law and order since they have been incarcerated. This is not an argument which would cut any ice with a British court of law, and I am ashamed that it should have been seriously advanced in the House of Commons, this historical guardian of individual liberties.
I do not think that these hon. Gentlemen can have studied the document which has been sent to us by the Committee for the Release of Detainees in British Guiana, parts of which have already been quoted by the hon. Member for Aston. I want to draw attention to a paragraph in this Report which deals with a delegation which met Dr. Reid, the Minister of Home Affairs and acting Premier, on Human Rights Day, 10th December, 1965, to discuss the release of the 17 men—there were 17 then—who were held in detention without trial.
The Minister said at that meeting that these people would continue to be detained unless they changed their views, and the Daily Chronicle, a newspaper which is owned by leading members of the United Force, the second opposition party, in an editorial on Dr. Reid's statement on 14th December, contained the following astonishing statement:Detention is in this case really an ideological therapy.This is a most monstrous proposition for a responsible newspaper to advance on behalf of Government policy, and I hope that every hon. Member will condemn it, on whatever side he may sit.
I was glad to hear from the Secretary of State that two of the 15 persons at present detained will be released, but I am afraid that this does not mean that we can expect them all to be released in the near future. If we look at The Times for 4th April, referred to in the letter to The Times this morning, we find that Mr. Forbes Burnham has stated that the Government plan to introduce a Preventive Detention Bill similar to the Acts which have been enforced in Ghana. He has not said whether this will be done before or after independence date but he has given a categorical assurance that such a Bill will be introduced.
Unlike the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion, I would find these emergency 1161 regulations, and the charade of the tribunal which is supposed to protect the rights of detainees, absolutely repugnant, even if there were only one person detained, and I am not prepared to see the emergency regulations given the force of law by an Act such as that which is proposed to be passed by Mr. Forbes Burnham. I do not believe that democracy can flourish if there is coercion. I do not believe that this House should connive at the incorporation of totalitarian provisions in the constitution of a Commonwealth country which is about to receive independence, when we have rightly censured the introduction of such provisions in the constitutions of countries such as Ghana after they have already become independent, and when, at present, we are trying to prevent the illegal régime in Rhodesia from doing the very things that some hon. Members on this side of the House are seeking to defend.
As a Liberal, I believe that the Amendment raises a fundamental issue of individual liberty, and if the hon. Member for Aston presses it to a Division he will have my support.
§ 1.32 p.m.
§ Mr. Robert Edwards (Bilston)
We have had a very important debate today. Most of the points that I had in mind have been adequately covered, but there are a few issues concerning fundamental human rights which have not so far been discussed. I agree with the hon. Member for Surbiton (Mr. Fisher) that it is a very melancholy occasion, when we are discussing the independence of a country that was a Colony, to have to introduce a highly controversial Amendment of this nature. But we have had some bitter experiences in the past few years when we, with great enthusiasm and idealism, have applauded independence Bills for new countries which have, in a short time, wiped out their Constitutions as if they had never existed, and when the military have moved in and taken control of those countries.
It is a great pity that we have not had a more thorough debate on human rights, and written into new independence constitutions charters of human rights as a condition of continued economic aid. Had this been done many of the great tragedies in Africa—where six emergent countries in the last year have been 1162 overwhelmed by military dictatorships—might not have occurred.
In a debate of this nature, where some of us have taken rather a strong line in the past about British Guiana, it would be easy to take sides on the basis of history, but there is no purpose in apportioning the blame for the welter of controversy that has arisen over the years about British Guiana. We have seen a form of power politics between two great Powers, one trying to bring in the idea of a new society—America—and the other trying to influence events on the mainland of America. I am certain that the good people of British Guiana have been the victims of the great conflict that divides our world today.
In a debate like this nothing good will come of trying to apportion blame. The fact is that 15 men are in detention, living in deplorable conditions—badly fed, unable to meet their wives and loved ones in any kind of civilised circumstances, unable to make a proper appeal to an authority that has the right to make a judicial decision, and with no guarantee whatsoever that they will be tried or charged. Why should this House which, over the years, has defended human rights, allow this Bill to go through unopposed?
Is it not our duty and our business, and should it not be our privilege, on occasions of this kind, to remind the new nations that there are certain rights—the right of free assembly, the right of a free Press, the right of movement, the right of free speech and the right to trial—which the people must have? Is it not our business to remind these good people, before they move into complete control of their State, that we are jealous of these rights, which we fought for and which our forebears fought for, often enough on the barricades of the world?
That is what this debate is about. It is not on the question whether we support Mr. Forbes Burnham or Dr. Jagan. I know both men personally. It is not so many years ago that I presided over a meeting in this House when they were both speaking from the same platform. It is a dreadful state of affairs that these two men of great ability, who can make a very constructive contribution in statesmanship to the Caribbean and to Latin America, should be involved in this 1163 bitter personal struggle, which has involved the supporters of both their parties.
I listened with close attention to what my right hon. Friend said, and to his argument—"Well, you cannot release these men and bring them to trial because if you put witnesses in the witness box they can be assassinated, and their families can be victimised". That has been the excuse of dictators right through the pages of history. I remember having a bitter discussion with Dr. Nkrumah, in Accra, when I was protesting against his policy of detention without trial. That was his excuse. He said, "We dare not try these men, because the witnesses are in danger". If we accept this philosophy these men will be in detention for ever. They will never be tried. When do circumstances change? That is why this House cannot allow the Bill to go through without a legitimate protest.
Let us consider some of the points raised by the Secretary of State. I insist that the authority to release these men, to bring them to trial, or to charge them, is the authority of this House. British Guiana is ruled under the 1961 Constitution. That Constitution was suspended by one of Her Majesty's Government's Ministers by an Order in Council which gave the Governor power to create an emergency and to arrest people without trial.
It is still in the hands of the Minister to instruct the Governor and to bring forward an Order in Council so that these men can be released or charged and tried. We all want to wish godspeed to this new emergent country, with its tremendous natural resources. We want its people to use their natural resources to the limit so that they can have a good life. But it is not enough to provide a good material life if people have no freedom. Unless the people are enabled to enjoy elementary freedom, all the reconstruction that men can perform is meaningless because people still have to fight the battle for human freedom—for that is what human progress is all about. That is what this debate is all about.
I understand that immediately this Bill is passed, and British Guiana becomes independent, we shall he signing a defence pact with her. We shall guarantee that British soldiers, sailors 1164 and airmen will go to the rescue of that country if it is threatened by some foreign aggression. If we are to offer these tremendous facilities to this new country, surely there should be a hint from the Minister that it would help him and us if these 15 detainees were either charged or released. This is all we are asking. We are not asking too much. We are suggesting that if this is done firmly enough, a quick decision can be made.
One of the things which surprised me greatly in this House when Governments change is that many of my good hon. and right hon. Friends who were very revolutionary on the back benches when in opposition become very conservative when they speak from the Government Front Bench. This happens to parties on both sides of the House, of course. The hon. Member for Surbiton, who is not here at the moment, was a great revolutionary fighter for the freedom of the colonial peoples when he was a backbencher but, as I know from experience of the situation in Aden and British Guiana, he changed when he accepted the responsibility of government. It may well be that the responsibility of government compels a man or a woman to accept the advice of the so-called experts, and that is why from time to time we are disappointed in some of our hon. Friends who accept the responsibility of government and then do the very opposite of the things for which they were campaignind and the ideas that they held.
My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary, who is to reply to the debate, has a fine record of struggle and protest on behalf of underdogs all over the world. I remember the great battle he conducted to have released and compensated the "Tolpuddle martyrs of Arabia" as they were called—those men who were arrested in Bahrein and deported to a remote island. I hope that he will be just as forthcoming in this case, too, and that he will tell the House today that the Government will contact Forbes Burnham immediately, conveying to him the very strong feelings of many hon. Members who wish his country the very best in the future, and who will help his country to the best of their ability to develop a viable economy, that we would like to see the beginning of the new Guyana founded on the principles of freedom.
§ 1.45 p.m.
§ Dame Joan Vickers (Plymouth, Devonport)
I am very glad to follow the hon. Member for Bilston (Mr. Robert Edwards), because I am aware of his concern for the individual, but I assure him that we on this side of the House are equally concerned, despite what was said about my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Sir W. Teeling).
In this case, however, I think we have to balance 15 individuals against many thousands. I have been to British Guiana on two occasions, and both times I have seen for myself the difficulties under which the people have been living. It is easy for us in this House, including the Under-Secretary who is going to reply, to feel sympathetic with what has been said by hon. Members opposite, but it is not so easy when one has to live in the country concerned. This is the point that worries me, as these people, the two or three different races, have got to live side by side peacefully if they are to have a prosperous country in the future.
We know that the Wynn Parry Commission said that there was no real racial tension amongst the people but only political racial tension. I wish to make it plain that one does not incite terrorism only by throwing bombs. One can incite it just as well by words or by writing, or by holding marches. There are many ways of doing it besides throwing bombs, such as walking about with placards. These people were inciting real fear and terror among the people in the villages. This is what we have got to think about today when we are about to grant independence to this country—how we can safeguard the majority of the people, because they are all individuals, too. We cannot sacrifice hundreds of thousands of individuals for perhaps 15 individuals on this occasion.
I was particularly interested in the documents produced by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Aston (Mr. Julius Silverman). He said they were secret . I do not know how he got hold of secret documents. On the other hand, it seems to me strange that he should produce this document which denigrates Burnham's party. I agree with the hon. Member that this is not the occasion for us to take sides, but it is a pity he could only quote against the patty now in power. I would have 1166 hoped that he could produce other documents to put the other side of the picture.
I am sorry the hon. Member for Aston is not here, because I wanted to refer to the Tribunal. He did not mention the fact that paragraph (4) of the document relating to the procedure to be followed by the Advisory Tribunal under the Emergency Powers (Advisory Tribunal) Order states:… the Tribunal will give each applicant a document informing him of the grounds on which the order has been made against him …"—we are told that these people do not know what charge has been made against them—and containing such particulars to enable him to present his case as are, in the Chairman's opinion, sufficient.It goes on to say:The name of informants will not be disclosed nor any information by which they might be indentified.That is a very good safeguard. Furthermore it says:An applicant may given oral evidence if he so desires and may call witnesses to give oral evidence. No oath or affirmation will be administered to any applicant or witness.I would have thought that this was a pretty good safeguard. Paragraph 13 says:From time to time, the Chairman will give the Press such information in respect of the work of the Tribunal as in his opinion can be given with due regard to the interests of security"—that is, the security of the individuals who have been before the tribunal—and without infringing the spirit of the Tribunal's procedure.I should have thought that the tribunal as constituted would be quite able to make a reasonable judgment in these cases. I should like to know from the Parliamentary Secretary how many have opted to go before the tribunal and put their case.
§ Mr. Newens
Is it not also true that in point No. 4 it is stated that no formal charge will be preferred against the applicant, but, with due regard to the interests of security, the tribunal will give each applicant a document informing him of the grounds, and so on? Is not this a most unsatisfactory state of affairs? Would the hon. Lady be happy if such provisions applied to any tribunal which was to hear a case in Great Britain?
§ Dame Joan Vickers
I should have thought that we had to safeguard 1167 security. The individual has the right to know why he has been charged and to prepare his case, and he can question the tribunal. I should have thought that he had sufficient safeguards in the provisions set out with regard to the tribunal's duties.
We have also had some talk about the question of political power. People have said that the proposition by my right hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Mr. Sandys) in regard to voting and the electoral rolls would be rather biased. However the P.P.P. got 45.8 per cent. of the votes and 24 seats, the P.N.C. got 40.5 per cent. of the votes and 22 seats, and U.F. got 12.4 per cent. of the votes and 7 seats. If it had not been for the fact that there was a coalition between the P.N.C. and the U.F., the P.P.P. could have been the Government today. I should have thought that, when one saw the large numbers of those who voted, one would have felt that Guiana had formed a Government which the people of the country were prepared to support.
We have been told about a team from seven Commonwealth countries which reported that the electors were not intimidated into keeping away from the polls. Therefore, it would seem to me that there is far more freedom of expression in Guiana than has been suggested in the House today. Command Paper 2849 says in Chapter II, which deals with protection of the fundamental rights and freedom of individuals:The period during which a proclamation of emergency remains in force without being extended by resolution of the National Assembly will be limited to six months, and the case of any person lawfully detained under emergency measures will come under automatic review by a tribunal constituted in a manner to secure independence and impartiality.This will be written into the Constitution. I should have thought that that would be a safeguard for what hon. Gentlemen opposite are asking today. I was very interested to read in Command Paper 2849 that, in order to help individuals, there is to be an ombudsman to protect them. At the moment we are not even going to have that. So it appears that there will be this extra safeguard for the people of Guiana.
1168 Guiana has had a very unhappy history. I would have hoped that, unlike other territories which have perhaps gone into their independence more easily, Guiana would have put its troubles behind it. It has had so many difficulties that it must have learned by experience. Guiana can be a very prosperous country indeed.
The two other parties are in coalition at the moment, I hope that in future the P.P.P. will play its real part in opposition. Otherwise, as has been said today—I am not accusing Mr. Forbes Burnham of being a dictator or having totalitarian ideas, for I am certain that he is not; he is a very liberal and wise Minister—there is a danger, without an Opposition, that one may have a one-party system. I would make a particular plea today to the P.P.P. to play its full part after independence in the government of its country. Guiana needs them. The party has a majority of votes and a majority of seats, but one day it may become the major party again.
I turn now to one or two remarks about the future of Guiana. I was very glad that in 1965 the exchange control regulations were allowed to relax with regard to the transfer of funds within the Sterling Area and the Scheduled Territories. As was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion, Guiana is rich now and can become even richer. It has a seven-year development plan, and I want to see the country so settled that it can carry out its plan.
Guiana had a record amount of rice in 1965. 1 am delighted to know that Jamaica is now taking packeted rice as it is not always easy to sell rice in markets in that area, and it has been agreed this year to sell rice in packeted form. Guiana's sugar crop is also doing extremely well, and the banana trade is being developed and extended. There are also timber, bauxite, manganese, diamonds and gold. Encouraging results are coming from the mineral exploration by the Geological Society. Consequently, the Government of Guiana will expect a record revenue. Guiana has a great future before it if it can be kept peaceful.
I pay tribute to Guiana's present High Commissioner in this country. It is largely through his hard work that so many firms have taken on interest in Guiana. I also 1169 pay tribute to the Foreign Secretary. I went to a lecture given by Mr. Forbes Burnham in London, and found him very much in praise of the excellent work done by the Foreign Secretary in regard to the agreement with Venezuela. Mr. Burnham said that he had to look at the Foreign Secretary sometimes to make sure that he was not a British Guianese himself because he took such a great interest in that country.
The Caribbean Free Trade Area, with British Guiana, Antigua and Barbados, should be able to open up further areas of trade. Guiana is an under-populated territory. I gather that there are only 7 persons per square mile there, whereas Barbados has 1,700 persons to the square mile. I trust that the liberal policy which we hope to see developed there—one has to remember that Guiana was originally made up of an immigrant society—will lead to the encouragement of immigrants from the already overcrowded other West Indian islands. Guiana is short of labour, particularly in the timber trade, and its prosperity will not be helped if it cannot get more labour. I suggest to the Parliamentary Secretary that we might give aid to the other countries of the West Indies should they wish to send emigrants to Guiana.
I was interested in what was said about basic principles. The hon. Member for Bilston said that something might be written into the Constitution about human rights. I suggest to him—I am sure he knows this better than I do because he has had more experience—that constitutions can easily be torn up or breached whatever is written into them. To have a section on human rights might be desirable, but I do not think that it would have any particular meaning. Paragraph 13 of Command Paper 2849 says:The Constitution will contain a recital of the basic principles of human rights on which it is founded and a reference to the Deity.When I looked at the annexe I found a reference to human rights written in, but the reference to the Deity had apparently been left out.
There are also to be a Director of Public Prosecutions and, as I mentioned, an Ombudsman. I should have thought that it ought to give encouragement to hon. Members opposite, who are feeling very worried about the fifteen detainees, 1170 that the new Constitution will be based on the very liberal principle of helping those who really need help. I emphasise that we really must think of the hundreds of thousands of people who are equally individuals as the 15 men who are at present interned. I pay tribute, too, to the Attorney-General for the way in which he drafted the Constitution, for that was extremely helpful in the recent constitutional talks.
I hope that the Amerindians will have the full protection of the Government. They are fairly nomadic and live in fairly segregated areas. As my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion said, when many of them go to Georgetown they get lost. I would like to see much more done for them to bring them into our world, as it were, by way of educational facilities and knowledge of farming, which would be of help to them in the future.
I am pleased to have had this opportunity to take part in this debate. I wish all the people of Guiana a very happy time in future and I hope that not only the Government will work well but the magnificent voluntary work that is done—it is indeed outstanding in Guiana, particularly that done by the Red Cross and other organisations which help the blind, deaf and crippled—will continue because this brings neighbourliness and happiness and makes for better understanding between the races. Having said that, I trust that the House will give the Bill its Second Reading so that Guiana may go forward as an independent member of the Commonwealth able to play its part in the future of the Commonwealth of Nations.
§ 2.2 p.m.
§ Mr. Stan Newens (Epping)
I support the arguments which were advanced by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Aston (Mr. Julius Silverman) and other of my hon. Friends. It is no part of my object—and this goes for my hon. Friends whose names appear in support of the Amendment—to oppose independence for Guiana or even to postpone it. It is our objective to see that no political prisoners are held when independence comes.
My hon. Friend the Member for Aston made a weighty and grave statement. There is something contradictory about 1171 an act which grants political freedom to Guiana but which perpetuates the denial of political freedom to some of its citizens. The basis of the detention of these 15 men has been denied as being political, but let us be clear about this. All the detainees are members of the P.P.P. and all are strong opponents of the present Administration.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said that the situation had improved during the period between the previous Administration going and the new Administration taking office. Let us remember, however, that the detentions made under the previous Administration were made against the wishes of that Administration by the Governor. If the basis of these detentions was not political, and if certain crimes had been committed, the individuals now detained should have been brought to trial or at least charges made against them.
If the detainees are where they are for preventive purposes—and the hon. Member for Surbiton (Mr. Fisher) said he knew that these people were responsible, although he did not produce evidence to show that; indeed, no hon. Member has any real evidence which would stand up in a court of law—and if there is evidence available to show that investigations have proved that some of the detainees were responsible for terrorist plots, why are all the detainees members of the P.P.P.? Why, for example, are there no members of the P.N.C. being detained? I understand that virtually all of those detained during the period about which I spoke were members of the P.P.P.
We have been told today that some of the present detainees have been informed that they will not be released until they change their views. This is an extremely serious statement, and I hope that when the Minister replies he will answer it clearly. Had we given the Bill its Second Reading without raising these matters, this would have been an unpropitious beginning for Guiana's independence.
Some of my hon. Friends have referred to the United Nations Trusteeship Committee's resolution of 10th December, and my right hon. Friend said that it was not the responsibility of Her Majesty's Government. But if Her 1172 Majesty's Government had considered the matter serious enough, they could have done what they did previously, by means of an Order in Council, to see that these 15 men were released. I am not suggesting that this serious course of action should be embarked on now, but everybody knows that if Her Majesty's Government had chosen to use their influence through the normal channels with the present Administration, there is little doubt that the political prisoners would have been released. I hope that the Minister will inform us that we will make an attempt to get them released.
Let us remember that we have an opportunity today which, in a few weeks time, will be denied us. It will soon be impossible to put the record right. Let us ensure that it can never be said that Britain granted independence to Guiana without first making every possible effort to see that no political prisoners were being detained in this matter at that time. I appreciate, of course, the argument that, after independence, the new Government might decide to re-arrest the detainees or pass a law to detain political opponents without trial. I hope that that will not be done. Be that as it may, at present Her Majesty's Government have the responsibility for seeing that the new independent Guiana makes a clean start.
This is important because it connects with our views on the merits of democracy. One of the principle merits of political democracy is that it gives people an opportunity to change their Government by peaceful means. If it appears that the possibilities of changing the Government by these means in Guiana are blocked, it will be more difficult in future to persuade people not to have recourse to violence when a change of Government is wanted.
It is often argued that keeping people in prison may help to safeguard law and order, but I believe that to hold political prisoners in detention may not be a safeguard against violence but an incitement to it. We have had experience of this in many parts of the world. My right hon. Friend referred to people tossing bombs into buses, conduct which we all deplore. Let us remember, however, that quite a number of the terrorist incidents occurring during that period could not conceivably have been produced by P.P.P. 1173 supporters. Therefore, if the British Government really want to see Guyana make a good start they have the duty of insisting on the release of all political prisoners, to whatever party they may belong, so as to see that the country has the best possible chance of overcoming future difficulties.
There will be difficulties. The United States Government have in the past expressed considerable opposition to the idea of a P.P.P. Government coming to power or remaining in power. We know that there has been a very unfortunate record of political unrest, and that this has taken racialist forms. In such circumstances, political prisoners could prove a factor in future unrest. I remember during the last Session arranging for a letter signed by hon. Members to be sent to President Nkrumah asking him to exercise clemency in dealing with certain political prisoners. His record did not ensure a happy state of affairs there, and I maintain that it is unlikely that the continued detention of the 15 people of whom we are speaking will ensure a happy state of affairs in Guyana.
I therefore hope that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State will be able to tell us something a little more constructive than did my right hon. Friend when introducing this Bill. The Minister undertook to keep as close to this matter as possible, but he will not find himself able to keep any closer to it than now, before independence. The grant of independence is not a trivial matter and the liberty of individuals is no trivial issue, whether there are 15 or 15,000 individuals.
All hon. Members want Guyana to have a prosperous and happy future, and because of that I consider that the Ministers in charge of this Bill have a duty to satisfy us all that every possible effort will be made to ensure that this detention does not mar what otherwise might have been a very happy occasion.
§ 2.13 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies (Mr. John Stonehouse)
My first task is to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Rowley Regis and Tipton (Mr. Archer) on an admirable maiden speech. He comes to the House with a good deal of experience as a lawyer, and he has just demonstrated that he is using that experience and training to very great effect. He also brings with 1174 him a good deal of humanity—I am sure that we were all moved by what he said—and we look forward to his further contributions.
I have particular pleasure in congratulating my hon. Friend, because he represents the neighbouring constituency to mine. Having been born in Wednesbury, he is almost one of my constituents, and the fact that he now represents Tipton gives a great deal of pleasure to my constituents.
I follow my hon. Friend in his references to Mr. Arthur Henderson, who was a very good friend of mine when he and I were here together. I and many other hon. Members enjoyed Mr. Henderson's good counsel, friendship and advice, and we all wish him well in his retirement.
I also congratulate, if I may, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bridlington (Mr. Wood) on his appointment as spokesman for the Opposition on Commonwealth and colonial affairs. We look forward to his taking part in succeeding years in our debates on the subjects with which he will be concerned. He raised a number of questions about the Bill, and about certain responsibilities that Britain will have in relation to Guyana.
We expect the British troops to stay in Guyana until October of this year, by which time the Guyana Defence Force will be fully trained and able to take over the responsibility for internal security, which is so important. We have, how-even, at the request of the Guyanese Administration, agreed to the secondment of men from Britain to assist during the next few months, or years perhaps, in the training of forces there. I am sure that the whole House will agree that this is a very important assistance that we can give to the Administration after independence.
The right hon. Gentleman also referred to the fact that Guyana will apply to join the Commonwealth. We all applaud that decision. For our part, we will support and sponsor that application, which we are sure will be approved unanimously by the other members of the Commonwealth.
A number of detailed questions have been raised in this debate, and I propose to deal with those before replying to what has been said in support of the 1175 Amendment. The hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Sir W. Teeling) pointed out the important part played in the Guianese community by the Amerindians, and the need that their interests should be protected in the future. We fully agree with the hon. Gentleman, and I believe that the Guiana Administration also agree that every protection should be given to this very important community.
I would refer the House to Cmnd. 2849, which is the Report of the British Guiana Independence Conference. Annex C shows the consideration that was given to the problem of the Amerindians; and guarantees that they shall be granted legal ownership and rights of occupancy of areas and parts of Guyana where any tribal community of Amerindians is now residing. That is a very important guarantee, and will help to ensure their security and prosperity in the future.
I was glad that the hon. Member for Surbiton (Mr. Fisher), a predecessor in my present post, referred to economic development, because the future of the people now living in Guiana very much depends on the possibility of economic development and the development of the infrastructure—roads, communications, land development and mineral exploitation. I go with the hon. Member in emphasising the importance of this development.
We are very glad that during the past year or so there has been such an important and useful acceleration in economic development. During 1965, the production of sugar, rice and bauxite all increased. Export earnings from sugar and rice, which had been affected by low world food prices, were offset by the increased value of mineral exports. There was a considerable increase in economic activity, as is shown by an increase of about 20 per cent. in imports.
Capital expenditure has increased to about 20 million dollars, double the 1964 figure, and I am glad to say that it is being concentrated on the infrastructure—sea defences and roads—which is so important. It will have a very big impact on the serious unemployment, which a survey made in March, 1965, showed to be about 20 per cent. of the manpower force.
1176 The capital budget has had the benefit of aid from the United Kingdom. I am glad to be able to say that this aid will be continued. We are hoping, subject to approval by this House, to provide a total sum of about £3 million for the financial year 1966-67. Much of this will be in the form of technical assistance and development loans and really constructive aid of that character. I was glad to see the other day in the Financial Times a report from its Georgetown correspondent showing the tremendous importance of the bauxite developments in Guyana. This shows what a great opportunity there is before Guyana if these developments can go ahead.
I am sure that the whole House will agree that it is important that the value of this economic development should be enjoyed in major part by the Guyanese themselves and that there should be opportunities provided for this money to be ploughed back into further economic development. I am sure that all concerned with this development have this in mind. It is extremely important that the welfare of the people of this territory—small though they may be in number, only about 600,000 in all—and their future prosperity should be ensured by improving economic development. The development of the bauxite industry will be a very important part of that.
I turn to the important questions raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Aston (Mr. Julius Silverman), my hon. Friends the Member for Putney, (Mr. Hugh Jenkins) and for Bilston (Mr. Robert Edwards) and others in support of the Amendment. I much appreciated the courteous way in which my hon. Friend the Member for Aston introduced the Amendment. He has been good enough to give us advance warning of the points he intended to raise. That has given us an opportunity of consulting the Governor in Georgetown to seek his advice on the points to be raised in this debate. I shall thereby have the opportunity of giving the advice we have received from Georgetown during the last 24 hours about this question.
I should like to correct one misunderstanding which was brought out in the speech of my hon. Friend. He said that from the Government a whole community is being excluded. This is simply 1177 not correct. The Government of Mr. Forbes Burnham includes several distinguished Indians. They include the second Deputy Prime Minister, who is responsible for housing, the Minister for Works and the Minister for Health. The Attorney-General, who, although he is not elected attends the Council of Ministers, is also an Indian. So it is not correct to say that a whole community has been excluded.
I also wish to make absolutely clear that the men who are now detained are in no sense political prisoners. They have all been detained because they were involved in acts of violence and sabotage mainly through the use of explosives. It is certainly not true, as suggested in a number of speeches from this side of the House, that these men are in prison because of the political views they hold or have expressed.
§ Mr. Hugh Jenkins
Is my hon. Friend saying that Mr. Nunes has been detained because of acts of violence and sabotage? I have seen the committal order, which says nothing about this at all.
§ Mr. Stonehouse
I am saying that every person detained, including Mr. Nunes, is detained not because of political views but because of acts they have been involved in. There is no criticism at all of their political views. The detention is concerned with the actions they have taken, or are likely to take—[HON. MEMBERS: "Ah."]—in disturbances of the public order and peace.
§ Mr. Jenkins
May I point out that these men have not been charged? The only one who was charged has been found not guilty.
§ Mr. Stonehouse
It is not correct to say that the one who was charged was acquitted. It is correct to say that the charges were not proceeded with because witnesses refused to appear as they were so scared.
§ Mr. Stonehouse
It was not an acquittal; the charge was not proceeded with. None of these individuals is detained because he has expressed political views which are not approved. They are detained because of the actions for which they were responsible or for which they would be responsible.
1178 A question was raised in an intervention about the constitutional position of the Governor in respect of emergency powers. Article 22 (1) of the Constitution required the Governor to exercise his functions in accordance with the advice of Ministers in British Guiana. This was revoked in June, 1964, but reimposed by an Order in April, 1965, which in Section 2 made it quite clear that this requirement was again to have effect. So the constitutional position is that the Ministers in British Guiana make decisions now under their exercise of these emergency powers.
My hon. Friend the Member for Aston referred to the fact that the tribunal considering these cases had certain procedures to adopt. I should like to make clear that these procedures were adopted by the advisory tribunal itself on 18th June, 1964, and a copy of these rules of procedure was given to each detainee.
The question of the composition of this advisory tribunal has also been raised. It is a completely independent tribunal. It is not appointed according to any racial characteristics or political views. The chairman is appointed by the Chief Justice, as required by Section 4 of the Emergency Powers (Advisory Tribunal) Order, 1964, and the remaining members were appointed by the Governors on the advice of the Judicial Service Commission. In the circumstances in British Guiana, I think that this a very fair, objective and independent tribunal. I think that we can rely on it to do an effective job in considering the circumstances under which these 15 men are detained.
I also wish to make clear, as I think has been revealed in the debate, that the number of men detained is being reduced almost every month. As my right hon. Friend said, the number will be further reduced by two within the next week or so. I am very glad about that. I have every hope that it will be still further reduced as independence comes near, and after independence. The total number detained in June, 1964, was 36. By the second half of 1964, it had risen to 41. Since then the number has gone down progressively to 15 today. It is not true, as was implied in a number of speeches, that detentions are on a racial basis in the sense that those 1179 detained belong almost wholly to one community. This is not correct.
§ Mr. Stonehouse
I repeat that Mr. Nunes is not under detention because of his political views or his race. He is committed because he was or could be immediately associated with acts of violence.
§ Mr. Silverman
I thank my hon. Friend for giving way again. This is an important matter. This may only be a suspicion—and I do not complain that it is—but it is clear that, to satisfy hon. Members, the nature of the allegation being made against Mr. Nunes should at least be stated.
§ Mr. Stonehouse
I am not in a position to give details of this case. We are satisfied that the general point I am making—that none of these 15 men is detained on racial or political grounds—is correct. I would point out that no fewer than six of them are Indians. The implied suggestion in a number of speeches that this is an attempt to restrict members of one community is not correct.
§ Mr. Stonehouse
Nor is it correct to say that this is an attempt to imprison men because of their political views, or to claim that they have been told that they can only be released when they change their views. That claim was communicated to Georgetown and I now have a report from there which has arrived within the last few hours. It says:The Minister of Home Affairs confirms that he did not say or imply that a prerequisite of release is a change of political allegiance. He says that he stated clearly that the detainees would not be released until they had learned that other people had a right to live in the community. The view that needed changing was that violence could be used.That is what the Minister says and I think the House would want to accept his assurance. We certainly would not countenance any suggestion that people were being imprisoned because of their 1180 political views and were being refused release because they refused to change their views.
§ Mr. Silverman
It would be useful to be clear about this. Does this mean that if these people give an assurance that they will not use or be involved in acts of violence they will be released?
§ Mr. Stonehouse
Such an assurance would obviously help tremendously, but I cannot say that they would be released automatically. I am sure that, in consideration of the cases of the remaining 13 under detention—because two will be released shortly—such an assurance would help. I hope that a message can be conveyed to these men from this House that it would be our unanimous wish that they should give such an assurance.
My hon. Friend the Member for Putney and my hon. Friend the Member for Bilston raised a number of points about the conditions under which the men are detained. I am advised that these are very good. I do not use that as any defence of detention. Surely no one would want to defend detention of men even if they were detained in the Savoy Hotel, but I am told that they have good and fresh food and excellent facilities.
The apprehensions of my hon. Friends about the conditions of detention cannot be confirmed. I give that assurance for what it is worth to the House. [Laughter.] I am being frank with the House. I am not defending the detention because conditions are good. I am simply giving information to the House because it was suggested in the debate that detention conditions are bad. I am not saying that this is a defence for detention.
The true defence is that, if these men were released, we would have to face the danger of violence and racial conflict breaking out again just before independence. This would put the clock back a long way and I do not believe that any of us wants that. The crucial question we have to consider—particularly those of my hon. Friends supporting the Amendment—is whether we would see an improvement in the situation in British Guiana by delaying independence. If we were to follow advice proferred today, we would delay independence for an appreciable period.
1181 I ask my hon. Friends to consider the effect not only of African but of Indian opinion in British Guiana. What would be the effect among P.N.P. supporters as well as among P.P.P supporters? Without exception the political parties have stated that they approve of a date being fixed for independence The effect of following the Amendment's advice would be to delay independence and upset most people in British Guiana. We would then possibly have a return to racial conflict which would put the situation back several years and destroy some of the excellent work done in recent months in building up racial co-operation.
§ Mr. Hugh Jenkins
Will my hon. Friend seek from Mr. Burnham a public assurance that if a detainee gives a written undertaking to abjure violence he will advise his release from detention?
§ Mr. Stonehouse
My hon. Friend is well aware that I cannot give any such assurance at this stage. But I can assure him that every word spoken in this debate will be conveyed to the Governor in Georgetown and on to the Prime Minister so that he and his colleagues will be able to consider the views expressed today. I am sure that, being fair-minded men, they will be influenced by what has been said.
As the hon. Member for Surbiton said, we cannot, just before we grant independence to this country, tell them how to run their affairs in this way. We would produce such a reaction from them that we would perhaps do far more harm than good. We have had a demonstration of good will in the information received in the last few hours, following the representation made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, which arose from the helpful information given us by my hon. Friend the Member for Aston in conveying to us what he intended to say.
We have had the assurance about the men who will be released. I have every confidence that, within the next weeks or months, more of the detainees will be released and that what was said during the debate will help enormously. I ask my hon. Friends to consider the dilemma. Of course, I acknowledge that the present situation is unsatisfactory—and I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Bilston for what he had to say about my actions in past years. If I thought 1182 that there was any possibility of contributing to individual freedom and interracial co-operation in British Guiana by doing as he advises, and holding up independence, I would support him. But I do not believe that to be the case.
If we did what is advised and held up independence we would see a return to conflict in British Guiana and the holding back of economic development—including work on mineral development—educational advance and reforms of all descriptions. We should contribute not to stability, but to instability. I repeat that the present situation is unsatisfactory and that we do not like it any more than my hon. Friends do. It would be far less satisfactory to hold up independence, for that would contribute to a worsening of the situation and hold back worthwhile developments in Guiana.
I appreciate the feelings with which my hon. Friends have spoken and I applaud the humanity which inspired them to make their speeches, but I now implore them to withdraw their Amendment and not vote against the Bill and to let Guiana have a message from a united House that we look forward to its making a success of its independence from 26th May onwards, an independence which can give the people an opportunity for better relations with Surinam and Venezuela being a very important part of their becoming a sovereign State, to concentrate on the priorities of providing better education and to provide economic development, to allow individual standards to improve and, above all, to contribute to a stability which can help racial co-operation which is so essential if Guyana is to succeed.
To the supporters of Dr. Jagan and to Dr. Jagan himself, who was a very old friend of mine, I would say, "Accept independence now; make sure that you help your country to be successful in tackling the priorities which I have just outlined; make sure that your political campaigning is directed to the elections which must take place in about three years; work towards democratic elections at that time and do not allow your actions to contribute in any way to instability and violence in the years ahead; make sure that democracy can be successful in British Guiana, because that is what the people of Guiana want and expect".
1183 I commend the Bill to the House.
§ Question, That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question, put and agreed to.
§ Bill read a Second time.
§ Bill committed to a Committee of the whole House.—[Mr. R. W. Brown.]
§ Committee upon Monday next.