HL Deb 25 November 1952 vol 179 cc534-8

3.30 p.m.


My Lords, perhaps I may intervene for a few moments to make a statement to your Lordships similar to one that is being made in another place at this moment by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Colonies. The statement is as follows:

"The situation in Kenya has changed for the worse since I last made a Statement in the House. It is clear that the Government of Kenya will be faced with serious trouble in certain localities for some time to come. There are some encouraging features showing that, although the disturbances are more serious, they are also more localised. Accordingly, large-scale sweeps by troops and police are being abandoned, save in exceptional circumstances. In Nyeri, Kikuyu Home Guards are being successfully formed for four or five locations.

"There have been several serious incidents, including the stealing of weapons, and some members of Mau Mau are becoming more violent. The Governor proposes to concentrate action in areas where serious crime or Mau Mau meetings occur. This will involve the distasteful, but necessary, procedure of punishment of certain defined areas and the area of punishment will be closely restricted. Stock or bicycles and other transport will be seized if the inhabitants fail to take reasonable steps to prevent crime committed in their locality. In the light of a report or other information, the Governor will decide whether a forfeiture order applying to all or only part of the seized property should be made. Before coming to his decision he will have regard to the extent of the co-operation of the people of the area with the police since the commission of the crime.

"During the week-end the following serious incidents occurred.

  1. 1. News was received from a small police patrol that a meeting at Kirawara was planning to resist the establishment of a police post. Accordingly, a party of three European officers and 535 twenty-three Askaris left Thika Police Station to investigate. They found 2,000 Kikuyu being addressed by a young man who was inciting them to violence. He was arrested and he shouted to the crowd to release him. In face of warnings the crowd rushed at the police party. Two shots were fired into the ground. The crowd fell to the ground but quickly got up and rushed, shouting at the police. A third warning was given and the police did not fire until the crowd were less than ten yards from the nearest policeman. The Governor reported yesterday that fifteen Africans had been killed and twenty-nine wounded.
  2. 2. A gang of Kikuyu, armed with long knives, burst into a European farm near Thompson's Falls and attacked the farmer, named Meiklejohn, and his wife. He has since died, unfortunately, and she is in a dangerous condition.
  3. 3. Another European farm was entered in the same area when the owners were absent. Three rifles, a shot-gun and 250 rounds of assorted ammunition were stolen.
  4. 4. In Fort Hall district, two tribal policemen were murdered.
  5. 5. In South Nyeri, five Africans supposed to have given information to the police were murdered.
  6. 6. A gang of ten or more Kikuyu attacked two Asian shopkeepers near Thompson's Falls shouting, 'We are the Mau Mau.' The Asians fired on them and drove them off.
"One of the disturbing features of recent incidents has been the theft of arms and ammunition. Although trouble may be less widespread in future, it is likely to be more serious when it does occur. The Kenya Government have already modified their plans to meet the changing situation, and I am in consultation with the Governor about further steps which may be taken."

3.35 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Earl, Lord Munster, has set before us the serious state of affairs in Kenya, which we all very much regret. I was glad to hear that the trouble has not spread to other tribes. As we are to debate the matter to-morrow, I do not intend to pursue it at any length to-day, but I should like to clear up one point in the statement which the noble Earl has just made. As I understand it, he said that the Governor would have to authorise the imposition of any serious measures, such as the seizure of the stock. In the Press to-day there is a report that not the Governor but district officers now have power to close shops, markets, and even the huts where Africans live. In the highlands, where Europeans live, and in the forests, they will be able to seize the crops of resident labourers and their contracts—I do not quite know what that means. I do not see how one can seize contracts, but that is what the report says. I should like to ask the noble Earl whether, in fact, it is the Governor who authorises these actions, or whether it is a district officer. Further, I should like to ask him whether it is true, as reported in the Daily Telegraph to-day, that out of 3,000 cattle seized in Nyeri, 1,000 have died through lack of food and water, and whether he considers that is the right way to treat animals, whether belonging to Kikuyu or otherwise.

3.37 p.m.


My Lords, as my noble friend said, this is not the occasion for discussing this matter, but I am sure we shall all wish to express our sympathy with the victims, African and European, of these dastardly attacks, and with their relations. I think this is the right moment to ask the noble Earl whether he will carefully consider a suggestion I wish to make. The suggestion is that a committee of inquiry should be appointed to look into and make recommendations about the incident at Kilawara, to which he has just referred. I have been looking up the precedents and I see that the precedents since the war show that it is now a general rule in the Colonies that a committee of inquiry is appointed (that is the appropriate Governmental procedure) when the police are obliged to fire on a riotous crowd and, as a consequence, a number of people are killed and injured. This seems to be very much in accordance with British ideas of justice and fair play.

I listened very carefully to the noble Earl's statement and I think there are one or two questions which it did not clear up and which could be cleared up by an impartial and independent committee of inquiry. First, how was it that a gathering of 2,000 Africans was able to assemble when public meetings were banned under the Defence Regulations? How was it that this illegal gathering had not been detected earlier at a less dangerous stage? Secondly, how was it that this small body of police tried themselves to arrest members of this hostile crowd, instead of waiting for reinforcements? They knew that the temper of the crowd was extremely hostile and dangerous. Why were the police not supplied with tear gas? This might have saved them from having to use their firearms. I do not know whether the Kenya police are equipped with tear gas or not. If they are not, that is a question that deserves the most careful consideration.

There may be, and probably are, perfectly satisfactory answers to all these questions, but I think these questions ought to be answered, and the right body to answer them is not the Government, which some people might consider a biased and partial body, but an independent body such as has been appointed on the previous occasions—I will not mention them because the noble Earl knows them as well as I do. I do hope—especially as this single event will have wide repercussions, and will be greatly misrepresented and distorted, both in Africa and elsewhere, by people who dislike our system of Colonial rule—that we shall have the advantage of the views of an absolutely independent body, views which we can point to as being the authoritative record of the facts which the noble Earl has just described.

3.41 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to ask the noble Earl, Lord Munster, in addition, whether this proposed committee will also inquire how it came about that three youths, two with no experience at all, one having had only six weeks, and the other only a month in the Army, were sent into this difficult position; and what instructions they received. Those are points which should be included in the inquiry, which I trust the noble Earl will grant, as it is entirely in accordance with precedent.


My Lords, perhaps I may endeavour to reply to some of the questions which have been addressed to me. In the first place, the noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, asked about the number of cattle that, according to a report which he read in the Press, have died. I have no information about that matter at the moment. I hope that I shall have information upon it by the time your Lordships discuss the Kenya situation to-morrow, and that I shall then be in a position to reply to the noble Lord. He also asked whether the district officers have powers to close shops, markets, and the like. I should imagine that the authority which the Governor has is probably delegated to the district officers, and that gives them the power which they necessarily need in those circumstances.

I now turn to deal with the question raised by the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, about whether a committee of inquiry will be set up to consider this incident. I should like to consult my right honourable friend on this particular point. So far as I am aware, with the information which is at our disposal at the present time, the incident which took place is fairly clearly outlined in the statement that I have just made to the House. Nevertheless, I will consult my right honourable friend between now and tomorrow, and I hope that I shall then be in a position to give the noble Earl further information on the point. As to the matter raised by the noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate, I think I should point out that, as I understand it, these three European officers and twenty-three Askaris were not soldiers, but police officers. I will check up on that point also between now and to-morrow.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Earl. It does seem to me to be overstraining the capacity of boys (and they are only boys) to send them to face a hostile African mob—I do not know on what instructions. When forty-four casualties were inflicted by twenty-three soldiers, there must have been a good deal of firing.