HL Deb 29 July 1959 vol 218 cc757-802

3.0 p.m.

THE EARL OF PERTH rose to move to resolve, That this House takes note of the Report of the Nyasaland Commission of Inquiry and the Despatch from the Governor of Nyasaland there-on, and extends its thanks to the Chairman and members of the Commission for their work; endorses their conclusion that a policy of violence was adopted by the Nyasaland African Congress Leadership and that the declaration of the state of emergency was fully justified, deeply regrets the loss of life that occurred, but acknowledges that prompt and effective action by the Governor prevented the development of a more serious situation; expresses its gratitude to the administration and to the Security Forces for their loyal service in circumstances of great difficulty; and looks forward to the restoration of normal conditions in Nyasaland and to the continued constitutional and economic progress of its people on the basis of respect for law and order. The noble Earl said: My Lords, on March 24 in this House we had a debate on unrest in Nyasaland. During that debate we announced that the Devlin Commission was being set up by the Governor and with the approval of Her Majesty's Government. The Commission's terms of reference were: To inquire into the recent disturbances in Nyasaland and the events leading up to them, and to report thereon. The composition of the Commission was most carefully considered. Our aim was to get members whose standing and wide experience would ensure that we should reach, and would show to one and all that Her Majesty's Government were determined to reach the heart of the matter.

My Lords, four months have gone by. The Report has been published, together with the Despatch by the Governor, and these we are to debate to-day. Before doing so, I would make this comment: that our action, and that of the Governor, was not the action of someone with something to hide. It was not the action of "a police state", but the action of a truly democratic Government anxious to have a firm basis on which to go forward for the future welfare of Nyasaland and of the Federation. The Commission's Report runs to nearly 150 pages; strikingly written, and with a wealth of fact and opinion: fact—and I quote: …in order that those whose responsibility is to approve or disapprove may be provided with a firm basis of fact for their deliberations. As my Motion shows, we have accordingly drawn attention to what are, I believe, the salient findings; and I confidently ask your Lordships' endorsement of them.

First (and on this I am sure there will be no disagreement), I wish to extend our thanks to the Chairman, Mr. Justice Devlin, who is, as it happens, an old Cambridge friend of mine, and to the other members for their work. I know a little of what a tremendous work it has been; unremitting, and under pressure of a timetable which allowed no leisure and the barest of time for quiet reflection. In a document of 146 pages, there is, of course, material for everyone to choose; and this is here even more the case, for this Report has been written in degrees as a summing up, setting out the pros and cons of every issue. I do not pretend that, in the time since it was published, we have been able to decide what action or judgment should be called for on every issue. Further, if I did try to cover every point, I should unduly weary your Lordships. Rather must I call in aid on certain aspects the important Despatch by the Governor—who, let it be well remembered, bears the direct responsibility for law and order in Nyasaland, and for the lives of its citizens.

It is essential to cast our minds back to four months ago, when the Commission were appointed. At that time, what were the questions which were being asked? They were: Was the Governor's action in declaring a state of emergency really necessary? Was the action deliberately engineered by Sir Roy Welensky to gain control of the Colony? Was the African National Congress, of which Dr. Banda was the leader, really seeking its aims through violence and killings? What does the Report find on these questions? After reviewing all the facts, it says about the declaration of emergency: …in the situation that existed on March 3 the Government had either to act or to abdicate". I could quote many other passages in the Report leading to the same conclusion, but this one seems to me to stand alone, and is sufficient.

And what of the rôole of Sir Roy Welensky? Again I quote: Sir Roy's intervention was not directly on the question of whether or not an emergency should be declared". Then, later, in the same paragraph: …we have no reason to think that the decision to postpone the visit"— that, my Lords, was my visit— and declare a state of emergency was not his own."— that is, the Governor's own decision. I have, with the time in view, given only two extracts from paragraph 160 of the Report. There is much more in the same vein.

So much for the declaration of the emergency—and I say this with no particular satisfaction, for no one likes an emergency, least of all a Governor. But his action was clearly and completely justified. Why was it justified?—and here I come to the third question. Because of the deliberate and calculated policy of the Nyasaland African Congress leadership. Paragraph 168 says: We have found that violent action was to be adopted as a policy, that breaches of the law were to be committed and that attempts by the Government to enforce it were to be resisted with violence. We have found further that there was talk of beating and killing Europeans, but not of cold-blooded assassination or massacre. I do not intend, my Lords, to go into the question of whether there was a murder plot, or into what exactly happened on January 25 at that famous meeting in the bush. It was scarcely raised in your Lordships' House, and it has been covered fully in the Governor's Despatch. The Commission disbelieves in the plot: others, on the evidence, might well reach a different conclusion. But, as the Report says: The murder plot has distracted attention from the Government's case against Congress. What is sure is that violent action was to be adopted as a policy.

And what of the rôle of Dr. Banda? The Commission, in paragraph 166, say: We think that Dr. Banda would never have approved a policy of murder and that he would have intervened decisively if he had thought that it was so much as being discussed. But later in the same paragraph the Commission say: …but he did not, as he once frankly said, exclude violence and he never condemned it categorically". And what was the sequel? The sequel, we find, was—and I quote again: We think that the ordinary official"— that is, the ordinary Congress official— did think, and could reasonably have thought,"— and I repeat those words, "could reasonably have thought"— that Dr. Banda would not disapprove"— that is, of violence. My Lords, the issue of the complicity of Dr. Banda may be difficult for some, but of this there can surely be no doubt: that, as Leader of Congress, as their messiah, as the chooser of the extremist lieutenants and as not condemning violence categorically, he must bear a very grave responsibility for the events. In these circumstances, and knowing how the ordinary African views him—"as a national leader setting up his authority against that of the Boma"; that is, of the Government—clearly the Governor must consider carefully before taking any action in regard to his release; and he cannot be treated differently from the other detainees, whose release could not be justified while they represent a threat to the country.

On detainees in general, I would make the following points. Detainees are released as soon as the Governor feels their detention is no longer necessary for the maintenance of public order. The Governor has to review each case every six months. Over half of these cases, of those who are in detention, will be coming up for review in September. I know that the Governor intends to scrutinise each case personally, and he very much hopes that it will be possible for a number of those less implicated than others to be released.

Her Majesty's Government have complete confidence in the Governor and in his handling of the emergency. There was loss of life, and I know that we one and all deeply regret it. But if the Governor had waited, had not acted when he did, then—and I quote: If it"— that is, violence— started in some places and was not checked, it would certainly have spread and might have gone very far; that was the real danger in the situation". The Report covers in great detail all the incidents which led to loss of life, but not those—and they were the great majority—where firearms were not used. I think it is important to remember this, lest the idea becomes prevalent that recourse to firearms was the usual thing. The catalogue is a tragic one, but one thing struck me again and again—the forbearance of those who had to try to deal with the disturbance. The courage of the district commissioners, of the police, and of the soldiers, stands out for all to see; their constant attempts to disperse the crowds without hurt that run through the whole list of incidents.

The Commission saw everyone who was responsible for the shootings, and they say: …we have not found anyone who was 'trigger-happy'…we are satisfied that each man did what he did because he honestly felt that he could not discharge his duty in any other way. None of your Lordships will be surprised at this finding; but, none the less, I am sure you will join with me in expressing, in the words of the Resolution, our gratitude to the Administration and to the security forces for their loyal service in circumstances of great difficulty.

Some of your Lordships will say: what about afterwards? What about the subsequent period, which is covered in Part VI of the Report? What about the use of unnecessary force in arrests, and force in the villages? What about tough, punitive action in areas where lawlessness and acts of violence were being perpetrated or planned? I can only deal with this very briefly; but, for those who wish, the Governor's Despatch deals with it at length in paragraphs 48 to 51. But this I would say—and particularly because the Commission in measure go against what I reported to your Lordships in our last debate: that nowhere did I see or here anything which savoured of vindictiveness or brutality among those acting to restore authority. Instructions, as we read, were that action must be firm but without brutality.

What is the limit of firmness? When does it become aggressive and bullying behaviour? That can be long debated, particularly when one is removed from the scene of action. As the Governor said, if some bullying occurred, "It must be a matter for regret"—a regret which of course we all fully share. He went on to say that it was based on evidence not known to him. I do not believe that anyone not taking part in the operation in the confused and fearsome conditions of riot and disturbance can easily arrive at a right judgment. The action of those during the subsequent operations was, I believe—and the Commission recognised that this might be the case—something which prevented far more serious dis-orders.

That, my Lords, brings me to a phrase at the very beginning of the Report: Nyasaland is—no doubt only temporarily—a police state". When I first read it, I feared it would be misquoted and misused; and that, unfortunately, has been the case. To many, and certainly to me, the phrase "police state" has an evil connotation. It recalls horrors too well known in many parts of the world. But of Nyasaland this connotation is just not true. The Commission itself says: …and since with the forces at its disposal the maintenance of order could not be achieved within the ordinary framework of the law, it had to resort to emergency powers"— to, that is, this so-called police state, since it could not be done within the ordinary framework of the law.

But what sort of a police state is Nyasaland? Leading political figures such as Mr. T. D. T. Banda and Mr. W. Chirwa have not hesitated, and do not hesitate, vigorously to express the opposition of themselves and their followers to federation, and their desire for an African-dominated Government in Nyasaland. These formed the main planks of Congress's own political platform. But there is this essential difference between them: these political figures have openly and consistently condemned any policy of violence, and have said that they would gain their ends by constitutional means. It has been neither unsafe nor unwise for these leaders—or, indeed, others—so to speak and so to act. My Lords, would a police state have appointed a Commission such as the Devlin Commission itself, to roam at complete liberty where it wished through the land, talking to detainees or others without any knowledge of the Governor? Would a police state call a Committee of Inquiry to investigate conditions as soon as there was a whispers of something wrong in one of the detention camps? I do not think I need pursue the point any further.

The Commission recognised that this state is "no doubt only temporary", and that brings me to the last part of my Resolution: that we look …forward to the restoration of normal conditions in Nyasaland and to the continued constitutional and economic progress of its people on the basis of respect for law and order. Our aim is just that: to press forward again in Nyasaland as soon as we can, consistently with the safety of its people.

While I have dealt at some length with the past and with the Report, it is this future which really matters; and to this end the first objective, as has so often been said—as I stressed after my return from Nyasaland; as the Archbishop of York said so movingly in the same debate; and as my noble Leader and others said in the debate on the proposed Commission on Federation the day before yesterday—is to remove the fears of the Africans. What is their basic fear? It is that in 1960, or soon after, the Federation would take them over against their will, and that the protection of Her Majesty's Government would be withdrawn. Again and again we have assured the African peoples that this is not so; and we stand by our pledges that this will not happen. Last week and in another place my right honourable friend the Prime Minister was very explicit on this point. He said that the two Northern Legislatures, in their present state, could not be more than one element in any machinery used for the purpose of obtaining the opinion of the inhabitants; and, later on, he said that he wanted to make it absolutely clear that the purpose of our policy is, as soon as possible and as rapidly as possible, to move towards self-government in Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland—and this was publicly accepted by Sir Roy Welensky.

I would appeal to all members of all Parties—and particularly to the noble Lords opposite who have considerable influence with some of the Africans—to do what they can to make known our position on the pledges. For us all to remove fears where there is common ground is, I am sure, the common aim of all of us. But I know that such action (which, in connection with the pledges, is, in a sense, negative) is not alone effective; and it is with this thought in mind, and with the thought of the need for positive and reassuring action, that a Commission was proposed before the 1960 Review. Whether or not it is exactly the right form, let us again, members of all Parties, try to get over to the people of Nyasaland what is the purpose behind it—for on this, again, there is common ground. The purpose is to take first steps to reach a right answer to the many problems of federation for the Conference in 1960, so that the peoples of the three territories may live in harmony and happiness.

What other positive action can we take? Well, my Lords, there is clearly constitutional progress for Nyasaland. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State announced new steps in another place last week. He said that there were to be for the first time—and this, I think, is very important—Africans on the Executive Council, and, further, that there were to be more Africans on the Legislative Council; so that there would be a majority of Africans on the un-official side. Unhappily, at this time elections to choose these people will not be possible, but the Government will call for these elections probably on a new franchise basis just as soon as it is prudent to do so. Here, too, my Lords, we are on common ground. Some may say that it is not enough and that a spectacular step forward is called for: but I would ask them to help to put over to the Africans that these are moves in the right direction, and that while they and the Africans may continue, and rightly continue, to press for more, in the meantime the African should take full advantage of the opportunity offered to gain ministerial experience and much-needed experience in the art of government, against a future when Nyasaland is a fully self-governing unit of the Federation. My Lords, these constitutional steps are but interim ones.

And lastly, there is economic progress. We—and this is true also of the Federation—are most anxious to do all we can to develop the country, to improve its schools, its roads, its agriculture, and generally to raise the standard of its people. Professor Jack, at the invitation of the Federal Government and with the approval of the Governor, went to Nyasaland a little time ago to investigate means to encourage agricultural and industrial development in the lower Shire Valley. I have recently been talking with him, and he hopes in a short time to bring out his Report. In the Shire Valley water, power and land reclamation may all be developed, and a lot of preliminary work is in hand. We intend to follow it up as energetically and as quickly as we can.

My Lords, the Government Motion is necessarily long, since it covers the vital issues arising from the Devlin Report. There remains much of the Report which can, and no doubt will, often be used to-day to justify criticism of the Government's action. But when a little time has gone by, and when the steps I have just outlined begin to bear fruit, I believe that the Report which the Governor and the Government fearlessly called for when the Devlin Commission was appointed will be found to be the start of new and good times for the great venture of Federation and for the happiness of its people. It is in this firm belief that I move my Resolution.

Moved to resolve, That this House takes note of the Report of the Nyasaland Commission of Inquiry and the Despatch from the Governor of Nyasaland thereon, and extends its thanks to the Chairman and members of the Commission for their work; endorses their conclusion that a policy of violence was adopted by the Nyasaland African Congress Leadership and that the declaration of the state of emergency was fully justified, deeply regrets the loss of life that occurred, but acknowledges that prompt and effective action by the Governor prevented the development of a more serious situation; expresses its gratitude to the administration and to the Security Forces for their loyal service in circumstances of great difficulty; and looks forward to the restoration of normal conditions in Nyasaland and to the continued constitutional and economic progress of its people on the basis of respect for law and order.—(The Earl of Perth.)

3 22 p.m.

VISCOUNT ALEXANDER OF HILLS-BOROUGH rose to move, as an Amendment to the Resolution, to leave out all words after "House" and to insert instead "accepts the Report of the Nyasaland Commission of Inquiry (Cmnd. 814)." The noble Viscount said: My Lords, this debate we have entered on to-day is, I am sure, in the minds of all of us as one of the most important we have had to deal with for a long time. There have been precedents; from time to time in our history when matters which were cognate to the principles involved to-day have also had to be dealt with. I am bound to say that I am exceedingly disappointed in the reception of the Devlin Commission Report by the Government; and not least by the fact that the noble Earl, Lord Perth, agrees with that reception, in spite of the words he quoted—which are worth re-quoting—from his own announcement at the end of his speech on March 24.

After announcing that the Government were satisfied that conditions have improved to such an extent that, with the approval of the Government, he was setting up a Commission of Inquiry, and having given the terms of reference, he said this [OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 215, col. 217]: Mr. Justice Devlin has agreed to serve-as chairman; and there will be three other members—Sir John Ure Primrose, a former Lord Provost of Perth"— I think he was Lord Provost for about nine years and has great magisterial experience and a long exercise of judgment— Sir Percy Wyn-Harris, formerly Governor of the Gambia"— and, incidentally, with twenty years' previous experience in East Africa; with great knowledge of the African mind and character, even in the most turbulent and ignorant areas of the population— and Mr. E. T. Williams, Warden of Rhodes House, Oxford "— with a vast field of experience behind him in contact with Commonwealth, Colonial and similar matters. The noble Earl went on to say: I am sure that I voice the opinion of all your Lordships in expressing our gratitude to them for having been ready to undertake this important inquiry at such short notice. I do not doubt that, with such eminent men of such wide experience, we shall get to the heart of things… Having in mind the speeches to which I listened yesterday, and those that I have read since in the Hansard of another place, I cannot help thinking of a very old saying, which is perhaps not absolutely apposite, but which seems to express my own feelings on the matter: I can understand why you dissembled your love, but why did you kick me down-stairs?

The Commission were introduced on a note of complete confidence: the Government's own selection, everyone appointed absolutely received by the Opposition with confidence because of their experience. Having toured the country for weeks, having taken evidence in varied kinds of territory and among varied populations, they made this judicial Report—for that is the term given to the inquiry by the noble Earl the Leader of the House, "a judicial Inquiry"—and the Government choose to accept only certain bits of it, because they happen to fall in with their particular views and desires. One of my colleagues said to me privately yesterday: "It almost reminds you of the old nursery story of Little Jack Horner", which, as we all know, runs: Little Jack Horner, sat in a corner, Eating his Christmas pie. He put in his thumb, and pulled out a plum, And said, 'What a good boy am I!'. Nothing else is produced by the Government out of the Report except those things which happen to prove to them what good little boys they are. That is an extraordinary way in which to receive a judicial Report from such a judicial Commission and in such important circumstances. I must say that I think it is a great pity.

Moreover, they are doing this in face of the fact of all this qualification in the Commission of four, who have produced a unanimous Report. I wonder whether there is complete unanimity on every one of these points in the minds of all the members of the collective Government in office here now: whether there are not qualms of conscience; whether there are not hesitations; whether it is considered, as has been said in one or two places, that perhaps they ought to trim their action so as not to be too inconvenient in the period of electoral time that is left in the short life that must be for the rest of this Parliament and Government. At any rate, I think that we shall need to consider that very carefully indeed.

There is one other thing I should like to say at the outset, and it is this. However much we may be upset by some of the views of the Government, and however strongly we speak, one thing of which I am sure is that in your Lord-ships' House one can say with confidence that every section of the House wants to see real peace restored in Nyasaland, and in Central Africa as a whole, at the earliest possible moment. That is to me vastly important. I am more concerned about seeing the restoration of confidence that we spoke about on this side of the House months ago as being the most urgent need of the moment—to restore confidence in the minds of the Africans, and to get on the road to such reform as will maintain and expand that confidence—than I am with anything else.

We shall have speeches, and we shall take note as we go on of the fearful cost of this state of emergency. But we have got to keep our eyes in that direction. If hard things are said here and there by people en route, do not let us take our eye off the ball. In our long Island story of building up our Commonwealth, with all its traditions of truth and freedom—freedom in religion, freedom in politics and freedom in the State at large—we have often had very sad stories of interruptions in that policy.

I am glad to see that the Bishops are represented this afternoon, for this particular matter will be by no means divorced from the influence of the Christian Church. Following inquiries into the influence of the Presbyterian Mission in Nyasaland the Commission have obviously completely cleared the Mission of some of the unkind things that have been said in the meantime. Its activities have been completely justified by the Commission. I did not hear any mention of that fact in the Government speeches yesterday. I think it is rather important that we should realise it, because in the Island story about which I was speaking we have often had this sort of thing before. Before Wilberforce was able to marshal sufficient public opinion behind him to bring about the abolition of slavery in British Colonies in the West Indies, there was one William Knibb, who belonged to the denomination to which I am proud to belong, the Baptists. He went as a Baptist missionary to Jamaica. When he had been out there a year or two he came back to his native city of Bristol, and he tramped England asking for the immediate action of the Government to remove this blot upon our escutcheon, the slavery there. What was his reward? Whenever he held a meeting which got excited he went to jail.

The man who is the principal leader of Congress in Nyasaland is one who has the early influence of the missionary upon him. He has taken great advantage of the education he received through both mission and South African schools. He took a degree, as we are told in the Report, in both history and politics in a United States university. He turned his attention to medicine and completed his medical qualifications in Edinburgh, and from his Christian experience and aspirations became an elder of the Church of Scotland. Where is he at the moment? For nearly five months he has been separated from his family: arrested and held without trial. If all the things that were attributed to him indirectly by the noble Earl this afternoon are true, why is he not brought to trial? Is the record of this man so shameful and horrible that he is dangerous? In face of all his academic, civic and educational experience, and his Christian service, has he not the right to a trial before he is locked up like that? I want to know what the answer is from the Government on that particular issue.

We are bound to put these questions forcibly and seriously to the Government, because, believe me, there is a considerable growth of feeling—not a reduction of feeling—in Nyasaland on this matter. I am not going to quote it, but I ask your Lordships to do me the honour of reading an extract that you can easily find in Mr. Callaghan's speech yesterday in Hansard, quoting the executive of a big industrial company in Nyasaland, begging the Government to realise what the situation is, and begging the Government to do something which is entirely contrary to the line of action they are proposing to-day. Moreover, when the noble Earl talks about the fears of the Africans, we know what the fears of the Africans are. I detailed them the other night when we were discussing the Commission which is to be sent out. I am glad that The Times correctly reported the noble Earl when he replied to all these items so that they got publicity through him—better publicity than The Times usually gives to me, so it was a very good way of getting it.

The whole point of the fears which have grown so rapidly since 1953 is that, in spite of what the noble Earl said, there has never been sufficient endeavour made to put the real facts of the objective of Her Majesty's Government over to the people at large. On the contrary, if I read in between the lines, as it were, of this Commission's Report, I seem to learn that all the tendency has been in the other direction; that is, to use both school and general circulation, and every other means, to bring home to the people the advantages of Federation only. During the whole of this time (about six years now since the beginning of Federation) there has not been, until the announcement made within the last few days, and repeated by the noble Earl this afternoon, any really substantial progress made in providing further advance politically to the native population in regard to their representation. It seems to me that the Government have something to answer there.

It is not sufficient answer, as the noble Earl seemed to indicate to me the other night, to suggest that the Labour Party did not make much advance in that particular direction from 1945 to 1950. Considering the state of unsettlement in the Commonwealth at large, which was bound to go on for some years after the war, I do not think that was to be wondered at. But in fact the whole situation was being examined before the actual Conference of Officials on possible Federation or the subsequent discussions with Ministers. Therefore, I rule that out. But when we come to the last six years, since 1953, there has been ample time and ample motive, in view of the ascertained view of the succession of Governors of what the true opinion of the Africans was in Nyasaland, for them to make some substantial progress in the offers they would make of constitutional reform. It has not happened.

As I had to point out the other night, and I must repeat it, nothing could have been more damaging about this time than the way in which the delegation led by Dr. Banda and two of his so-called very Left and revolutionary assistants (and we now charge Dr. Banda with responsibility for having chosen them) were received by Mr. Lennox-Boyd at the Colonial Office. They raised with him the question of reforms to give them greater African representation. He said he could not tell them anything then, but that in a few weeks' time, in August, of last year, the Governor would be returning to Nyasaland from his leave in this country, and that he would then be able to get from him his recommendations as to what should be done.

The first announcement we have of anything at all effective being done since that time is after the state of emergency is proclaimed. That is an extraordinary way to do what the noble Earl wants to be done: to cancel out, to restrain, to reduce, to abolish—whatever word you like—the fears of the Africans with regard to Federation. In our view, it is quite unreasonable that we should appear to the Africans to be wavering in any sense or degree on the pledges which were so properly given by the noble Earl, Lord Swinton, when he was piloting the 1953 measure through your Lordships' House. I do not need to quote them. We had them over and over last March in your Lordships' House. They were vitally concerned with what finally became the Preamble, which commits us to certain responsibilities. I feel that the only person who has really stood up to the declaration of responsibility is the noble Earl the Leader of the House. I have looked at what he said on two occasions and I feel certain that he recognises what those obligations are, and I hope very much that he is going to see them through.

But what on earth can we think of the measures now being taken to assist him in that direction? Here we have hundreds of people under detention, many of them since the early morning of March 3 last, although some were arrested during the week or two following, and the noble Earl, Lord Perth, says this afternoon that they are not even going to consider letting any of them out. True, from another place they let Mr. Brock out, but they are not going to consider any of the others until some time in September. Is that removing African fears in Nyasaland? Do the Government think that the families of the men who are so detained are not talking to all the Africans? Have they made any provision for the sustenance of their families? Are they being taken care of while these men, without trial, are still in durance vile?

I think that we ought to have answers to those questions. Is this the way the Government are taking away the fears of the Africans? When they talk about a certain organisation, about some effort to bring back confidence to the Africans, do they think it possible to remove the alternative of violence and force from the minds of people whose organisation has been absolutely trampled on and broken and from whom they have taken away the constitutional method of expressing their objection? I looked at the OFFICIAL REPORT of the proceedings in another place yesterday and found that a great deal had been said on various matters, but I felt that sufficient attention had not been given to one aspect of the Report of the Commission, which supports me in my view on this matter. I refrain from referring to the numerous quotations and comments on them that are in the OFFICIAL REPORT of another place, but perhaps your Lordships will forgive me for reading from the Commission's Report at some length.

What do I want to show? I want to show that without any doubt the Nyasaland Government considered Congress to be a dangerous political movement rather than a terrorist organisation, and used its powers, legal and illegal, in order to crush its political critics. I am convinced that this point is of the highest possible importance. That is my statement. Now I read from the Report at paragraph 177: We think that before there was any suggestion of a murder plot it had been contemplated that all branch officials of Congress should be arrested in the event of an emergency. The decision to suppress Congress, we think, owed more to the belief that its continued activities were making Government impossible than to the feeling that it was, or might be, a terrorist organisation. On the whole therefore we think that belief in the murder plot did not materially affect the conception of Government policy. When the time came to prepare the justification for Government policy the murder plot began to play a larger part; no doubt it was natural to make it the frontispiece of the story. Those are judicial words from the judicial report of a well-qualified judicial Commission.

Let us look at paragraph 258. It says: It was decided that there should next be a vigorous policy of harassing and breaking up Congress organisers, supporters, and hoodlums at a lower level, an aggressive policy being needed to break up the existing pattern of intimidation, threats and truculence and to demonstrate the Government's determination to break the Congress organisation". That is the mouthpiece of native opinion opposed to the Government, founded in 1944. It has been in existence for fifteen years and is led by an educated man, who says that he still trusts British justice.

Let us now look at paragraph 259: We have included this section upon it first, because it shows so clearly the need for privacy in our inquiry; and secondly, because it may be evidence of a belief, perhaps only half-conscious, in the murder plot. Methods which may be justifiable when dealing with even the outer members of a terrorist organisation might, when employed at large upon a political party, be regarded as the persecution of permissible beliefs. These are very strong words from a judicial report of a judicial Commission. Let us look at a following part of that paragraph: The main object of these searches was to discover evidence of membership of Congress. Until 3rd March Congress was of course a lawful body and membership of it no offence. I repeat: Until 3rd March Congress was of course a lawful body.

The paragraph goes on: Without the aid of some special provision in the law the prosecution would, we presume, in order to secure a conviction have to prove the commission of an act after 3rd March showing some activity consistent only with continued membership. But in most cases the prosecution appears to have relied upon a provision in the law (Penal Code section 73 (3)) which says that when any document relating to an unlawful society is found in the possession or under the control of any person, it should be presumed, until the contrary is proved, that such a person is a member of the unlawful society. In some cases a search of premises has shown a membership card or a receipt for a subscription dated after 3rd March; then the position is clear. But in most cases what has been found is a membership card or other similar document dated before 3rd March. A liberal construction of section 73 (3) would be that a document did not 'relate to an unlawful society' unless at the time of its issue the society was unlawful. This view has not so far been taken by the courts in Nyasaland. Indeed, the discovery of old documents has been held in a number of cases to be virtually conclusive proof, for it is said, that the failure to destroy the docu- ment after 3rd March shows that the holder intended to continue his membership. Amazing evidence from this judicial Report from the Judicial Committee!

Let us have a look at paragraph 275. it says: Cordoning and search operations had another object besides the search for wanted men and evidence against them. Indeed, we are inclined to think that the search for wanted men was hardly more than incidental to the main purpose of the operation, which was to impose a form of collective punishment upon troublesome villages. In the Central Province where separate operation orders were prepared, the object of the operation is always stated as being the restoration of law and order or something in similarly general terms; the apprehension of wanted men is not referred to. You will remember also that when this type of operation was originally planned, it was made clear that what was intended was tough, punitive treatment for troublesome areas and swift and offensive retribution. We have received numerous com-plaints about the behaviour of the security forces in the course of these operations. But we are satisfied that there was a great deal of aggressive and bullying behaviour, frequently accompanied with blows from fists and rifle butts inflicting minor injuries which sometimes necessitated medical treatment. Men were herded into the middle of the village, shouted at, told to stand up, sit down, hold their hands over their heads and so on, and if they were not completely submissive they were beaten. They were also struck for 'not being co-operative'. Not being co-operative embraced such things as not at once giving information about where people who were wanted by the security forces might be found or giving it in a manner which the questioner found unconvincing.


My Lords, the noble Viscount has quoted a very long passage. I noticed that he started his speech by saying that he wanted to make a case against the Government. I would ask the noble Viscount to be fair. In the last passage he has not quoted these words, also in paragraph 275: We heard allegations of rape and other outrages and we are satisfied that there is nothing in any of them. Only once or twice did we obtain even the name of anyone who was said to have been raped and we never heard any first hand evidence about it. I should just like the noble Viscount to quote the whole passage otherwise it might be thought that he is biased.


All right. It is not we who are in the dark, because the Government do not accept the Report of the little plums out here and there to show Commission. They only want to take what very good boys they are. I am very glad to go back to the original document itself, paragraph 275. Certainly. It just takes a little longer. I will read on from the point where I skipped over that sentence: We heard allegations of rape and other outrages and we are satisfied that there is nothing in any of them. Only once or twice did we obtain even the name of anyone who was said to have been raped and we never heard any first hand evidence about it. But we are satisfied that there was a great deal of aggressive and bullying behaviour, frequently accompanied with blows from fists and rifle butts inflicting minor injuries which sometimes necessitated medical treatment. Men were herded into the middle of the village, shouted at, told to stand up, sit down, hold their hands over their heads and so on, and if they were not completely submissive, they were beaten. They were also struck for ' not being co-operative'. Not being co-operative embraced such things as not at once giving information about where people who were wanted by the security forces might be found or giving it in a manner which the questioner found unconvincing. It was not co-operative to protest if other people were being struck. We also heard many complaints about the manner in which the searching of houses was done including allegations that property was seized or stolen. Apart from implements, which we deal with in a separate paragraph, we are not satisfied that there was seizure or stealing of property on any large scale; but we think it very probable that a great deal of the searching was rough and did unnecessary damage. That little sentence in the middle did not make much difference to the general tenor.


And the next paragraph?


Certainly I will read the next paragraph if necessary. I know who will win on that. Paragraph 276 says: These tactics were employed only in areas where gangs had been perpetrating arson and sabotage.…


Hear, hear!


We shall come to evidence about that. I take paragraph 278: The complaints we received said that houses were burnt simply because they belonged to persons who were thought to be Congress sympathisers. We believe this to be the case. We do not doubt that looting on a very considerable scale was going on, but we do not believe that the burning of houses was or was intended to be a punishment for looting only. Memoranda in justification of the burnings were at the time addressed by the District Commissioner to the Southern Provincial Commissioner and by the latter to the Nyasaland Operations Committee. More than two-thirds of each memorandum is taken up with a description of the degree of disaffection in the area in which the burnings were authorised, the strength of Congress there and the presence of alleged agitators; none of this has anything to do with looting. Looting is of course a crime; no prosecution for looting was brought against anyone in the district. You just burn the house! Let us look at another paragraph. This is the last one I shall quote, and I am sure you will be glad. Paragraph 280: In the Mlanje district, in the area where houses were burnt, the D.C. imposed a fine of £8,734 to cover damage assessed at £8,510; the assessment was of course his own and it was not our business to check it. He considered that the main damage was caused by at most 200 men but that the remainder of the people in the district had 'tacitly assented' to what the 200 were doing. The adult male population of the district amounted to 5,823 so that the suspected perpetrators represented about 3 per cent. of the population. 'My own view is', the D.C. wrote, 'that the levy on all the people, whether guilty or not, will have the effect of making Nyasaland African Congress really un-popular'. I left that quotation until last, because that, I think, very largely proves the case I have been submitting against the Government. Through their action it is going to be very dangerous indeed for the future efforts we want to see made to regain African confidence. They have destroyed and trampled on the one constitutional means the Africans had to get any support or sympathy from the so-called local Government, not a representative Government but an official Government. They destroyed the one means by which they could constitutionally agitate for the reforms and changes that they not only desired but obviously deserved from every human point of view. I put that at some length, because that is one of the main points we want to get over.

I want to say to the House—I said there would be some hard things said—that I am most anxious to see, and I am sure all the Members of your Lordships' House are, too, some progress made towards establishing not only confidence in the African scene but a permanent peace in this great responsibility of ours there. What sort of approach to permanent peace amongst them is being made at the present time? May I quote for a moment from the last part of the speech of the Secretary of State for the Colonies last night. I read it this morning in Hansard. I thought it was fundamental. After tying as far as he could the guilt, as he would regard it, of Dr. Banda in all the violent and other charges which have been made against Congress, the Secretary of State finished as follows [OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, Vol. 610 (No. 156), col. 444]: Under those circumstances, there can be no possible suggestion of treating Dr. Banda differently from other detainees,"— Then there was an interjection from honourable Members, the Report says, "Police State"— and I am pleased to say that the Governor, who is responsible in these matters, will have my full support in ensuring that, while we are all anxious to bring the emergency to an end as soon as we can, there cannot be releases of detainees who are dangerous to the State until that danger has been withdrawn. When is it going to be withdrawn? Is that view come to by the Government, and particularly by the Secretary of State, about Dr. Banda, for example, something which can be cancelled? When does he cease to be a danger? You have convicted him against the real views expressed about this person in leadership by the judicial report of the judicial Commission. You have rejected that. I hope you will not think it very unworthy, but I am tempted to say—and I think I will—that last Friday a very popular pictorial paper, referring to this Report, had two large words in a banner headline, "No whitewash". It was the Daily Sketch, not exactly a Socialist newspaper.

The only conclusion to which I can come at the present is that the Government have deliberately, on studying this very carefully drawn Report—as was said in another place yesterday, a Report drawn up mainly on a narrative basis and not making recommendations, so that no facts could possibly be unfairly stressed or overlooked one way or the other—accepted entirely the reply of the Governor to these things. They have found him, as I hope will be shown later on in the debate in detail by my noble friend Lord Silkin, very often to have been at variance with the Commission in what was contained in the original White Paper. The Governor answers in detail in his Report, and the Government clearly have accepted his Report as against what these four men, highly qualified, and with a greatly experienced jurist in the chair, have found in the matter. And on that they hope to get the whitewash and the cover by putting their case over through their multitudinous methods of publicity, which are not afforded to us in our limited journalistic control, and to be able to interest the people for long enough to persuade them they were right.

The noble Earl the Leader of the House last month in his speech spoke about certain aims that he had and the desire to come to whatever best arrangement could be made. I was particularly struck by the manner in which he differentiated in his speech between the granting of independence to the Federal territory now and whether that was to be of a particular type—and he was going to watch it very carefully—or whether it was to be within the Commonwealth as accepted generally in the Act of 19.53. I am very glad that he made a statement. I do not know at the moment how we can assist him to make progress in that direction whilst the present Government policy exists, That is the difficulty. We could have been all pretty well on a bipartisan basis on this matter if we had got together, as we offered months ago, in order to secure the best interests of the African population.

My noble friend Lord Ogmore, speaking on March 24, took a very moderate line; and we all wanted to help. I do not think your Lordships will find anything which is wrong or criticising in an injurious way in our speeches in this House on March 24 or March 3. We wanted to help. But the rejection of the Commission appointed with such confidence by the Government, as I have quoted from the noble Earl, the rejection of the Report, in its main parts, seems to me to have created a situation in which collaboration cannot usefully be offered unless we have some more details from the noble Earl as to what he would propose immediately in the way of reform. Or maybe that can come only from the head of the Colonial Office; and he, apparently, having been duly whitewashed, is to remain in office. I do hope and pray that our nation as a whole will see how necessary it is to bring this state of emergency to an end as soon as possible. It is for the Government to move now; it is for them to bring the state of emergency to an end. It is for them to decide whether it is their duty to give justice to the detainees. I hope they may be able to satisfy their consciences in the end, whatever may happen, that they have been right. I beg to move the Amendment in my name on the Order Paper.

Amendment moved— Leave out from ("House") to the end of the Resolution and insert ("accepts the Report of the Nyasaland Commission of Inquiry (Cmnd. 814)").—(Viscount Alexander of Hillborough.)

4.7 p.m.


My Lords, in private conversation and in the national Press, and of course in another place, and again to-day, with two extremely interesting speeches from either side of the House, this matter has been discussed in very great detail and over a very wide range, and I feel it would be the wish of the House that I, at least, for one, should not speak for more than a very few minutes.

I should like to divide my observations into the three categories adopted by the noble Earl, Lord Perth; that is, the past, the present and the future. As to the past, I feel that Her Majesty's Government cannot be absolved from responsibility for to-day's sad state of affairs, because I think of their insufficiently sympathetic handling of the very genuine trepidation felt by Nyasaland in facing the implications of federation and all that it meant. That point could be expanded largely, but I leave it at that and pass to the present.

I still fail to understand how a party to a dispute—because virtually that is the position—can voluntarily go to arbitration and then refuse to accept the award, even when the court concerned is presided over by one of Her Majesty's most eminent Judges. I do not expect this or any other Government to be perfect, and I do not for a moment doubt the personal integrity or great ability of our Colonial Secretary. But I do deplore the endorsement by the Government of every finding of this Devlin Commission which is favourable to their policies while rejecting every critical finding; because it seems to me that by doing that they are throwing away a really magnificent opportunity of making this objective Report, as I consider it, the starting point for a new and imaginative approach to the difficult problems of Africa, and in particular, of course, to those of Nyasa- land. If this Government is, if I may so put it, so self-sufficient as to believe that any stricture upon it in any degree from any quarter on any point of its policy must automatically be a distortion of fact, then I say that that is a symptom of megalomania for which the only cure is a quick dose of General Election.

Now I turn to the future. I would ask the Government to realise, please, that most normal, sensible people deplore the violence of those seemingly of the Left, in these under-developed territories, even though that violence stems from fear of losing freedom, and of having a misfitting administration possibly imposed upon them, just as much as normal, sensible people deplore the oppressive measures of reaction which, unfortunately, are evident in other parts of the African Continent. Those of us who believe in more justice for the Africans do not believe in less justice for the whites, or that that is any sort of corollary: although, of course, more privilege for the African, which we also seek, may involve a certain readjustment of responsibility.

I do ask those—I think in this matter I am probably addressing noble Lords on the other side of the House in particular—of the traditional and conservative view, to which they are, of course, perfectly entitled, to cease from classifying all those who may not agree with them as irresponsible, unpatriotic and un-British. Britain has an enviable and quite unparalleled record in the past, if not quite virginally unblemished (the noble Earl referred to slavery), and a quite unique record in at least trying to raise backward peoples to a fuller and happier life. If the Government of the day, of no matter what Party it may be, appears at times to falter in that high task, then criticism is not only justified, but is a national duty. For that reason, I propose to follow the noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, into the Lobby in support of his Amendment.

4.12 p.m.


My Lords, on an occasion like this, when the feelings on both sides of the House are deeply stirred, there is I think, always a tendency to widen, and ever more widen, the scope of debate; and especially is that so in this House, where the permissible limit of discussion is, I think, almost non-existent. I thought that that tendency was visible in the powerful speech of the noble Viscount the Leader of the Opposition when, a few moments ago, he moved his Amendment. But, if he will forgive me, I do not intend to follow him into those spheres of general policy regarding Central Africa with which he so largely dealt. We have had a good many debates in recent times dealing with the wider issues of Central Africa, and I hope we shall have a good many more. But to-day, both the Government Motion and, even more, the noble Viscount's own Amendment, are strictly confined to the Report of the Devlin Commission, and to that I would, in what I have to say to your Lordships, propose to stick. The noble Viscount, in the speech in which he moved his Amendment, I thought advanced a rather novel doctrine. If I understood him aright, he implied that the Government, having appointed a Commission, had bound themselves in anticipation to accept its findings in toto. That was the impression I gained, but I do not think many of us could accept any such doctrine as that.

The purpose of Government in appointing Commissions of this kind, as I understand it, is to clarify the issues, and for that purpose they may be extremely useful; but they do not pledge themselves beforehand to accept the findings—at least, I can never remember a case where that has happened. To do any such thing would be to surrender the functions of Government to some outside body; and no one, I am sure, in any part of the House, would approve of that. Indeed, it has been our unfortunate experience in this country of recent years that Royal Commissions and other officially appointed bodies which have been brought into being to clarify a situation and to lead to a more general agreement on subjects in dispute, only too often lead to an increase in just that controversy which they were intended to heal; and I rather feared, as I listened to the noble Viscount, that in some ways that was likely to be the fate of the Devlin Commission Report, which the House is discussing this afternoon.

But, at any rate, it has, I think, achieved one important result. The Commission were not, of course, concerned with questions of wider policy—they constantly stressed that in the course of their Report. Their terms of reference were extremely limited. Those terms of reference, to quote their own words, were To inquire into recent disturbances in Nyasaland and the events leading up to them. In effect, that was a mandate—I think the noble Earl, Lord Perth, has already emphasised this—to report whether, in their view, the Governor of Nyasaland was justified in declaring a state of emergency, with all the results that flowed from that decision at the time when he did it. On that vital point, the Commission came to the conclusion that he was justified. That fact, I may mention, was never referred to at any single point of the noble Viscount's long speech—it never emerged; but it is a fact that the Commission said that the Government was justified.


My Lords, we accept the whole Report. That is the answer.


But the noble Viscount never mentioned that fact in any part of his speech. That was the main conclusion of the Report, and it is I think a most important conclusion; for, after all, the main problem before any Government in times as troublous and as threatening as those with which the Government of Nyasaland was faced, is when—at what particular point of time—it is right to take emergency powers, which would not be justified in normal times, to prevent a total collapse of law and order. On this occasion the Commission think that the Governor of Nyasaland made the right decision. They think he was justified. They think he had either "to act or to abdicate." Where they differ from him, and where on some points they differ very strongly, is first, as to the validity of the reasons which he gave to Her Majesty's Government in support of his decision, and secondly, as I understand it, as to the nature of the measures which he felt it necessary to take, once the emergency had been declared.

I should like, if I may detain the House for a short time, to say something about both these criticisms. First of all, the Commission make it perfectly clear that in their view—at least, that is how I read their Report—the Governor misstated his case to the Secretary of State, and that the Secretary of State in turn misstated the case to Parliament on two points in particular: first, the Governor misjudged the character of Dr. Hastings Banda; and secondly, he reported that there was a murder plot, when in fact, in the opinion of the Commission, there was no murder plot, in the strict sense of the word. That, I think, is a fair statement of the main grounds of criticism, at any rate during the pre-emergency period. But before we condemn the Governor of Nyasaland, I feel that we, who are so much more happily placed than he was, ought to face fairly the position with which he was confronted in the early part of this year.

For some months the situation had been steadily deteriorating. There was steadily mounting tension in the country which he governed. The immediate cause was, of course, the return of Dr. Banda to the country in July, 1958. At first—and the Commission make this very clear—the Governor was in no way hostile to Dr. Banda. He did not start with any preconceived bias against him. On the contrary, he hoped he might play a great part in assisting towards a compromise over the constitutional proposals. But very soon it became clear (and the Commission are quite frank about this) that Dr. Banda was beginning to flirt with the more violent elements in the African National Congress. He appointed one well known extremist, Mr. Chipembere (if I have his name right) as Treasurer and Mr. Chiume as Publicity Secretary—and that, as your Lordships will realise, is a post of very great importance in a movement such as that.

His speeches, too, began to resemble more and more the tones of the demagogue—those are the words of the Commission. They became more and more violent. To give one instance, his audiences were urged to hate the Government. "They are the ones," he said, "I am fighting." And what he said in public, he was writing also in private. In a letter to one of his supporters, of November 1, 1958, he used these words: You have heard of the so-called riots. Well, things are hot here. I have set the whole of Zomba on fire. Very soon I hope to have the whole of Nyasaland on fire. This particular letter plays such an important part in the Report that I feel it is right that your Lordships should examine it with some care, because I think it has a considerable bearing on the mentality with which the Commission approached the problem. What, if any of your Lordships had been Governor of Nyasaland at the time, at a moment of mounting tension, would you have regarded as the most important words in the passage which I have just quoted? I have no doubt at all what would be the most important for most of us. It would be the words: I have set the whole of Zomba on fire… I hope to have the whole of Nyasaland on fire. That would have been the reaction of most of us; but not so the Commissioners. What they regarded as far more important—what in their view, it might almost be said, was alone important—was Dr. Banda's use of the adjective "so-called" in connection with the riots at Zomba. They enter into a very elaborate argument on this. They say that Dr. Banda could not possibly have had violence in mind, or he would not have used the word "so-called" in connection with the riots; he would just have called them "riots" pure and simple. All he can have meant—and again I use their words—is: I have kindled great enthusiasm in Zomba"— apparently in the nicest possible way— and I hope to kindle great enthusiasm over the whole of Rhodesia. That is the view of the Commission, and of course they are entirely entitled to their view. All I can say is that I should be very much surprised if that were the meaning the words conveyed to the African to whom the letter was addressed.

And my Lords, it certainly is not the meaning which the words conveyed to the authorities in Nyasaland—the Governor and his Government—with all their long experience of the country. To them the words meant: I have conducted a successful agitation in Zomba and I hope to conduct a successful agitation throughout Rhodesia. And with their long experience of Central Africa—experience which I may say was not shared by the majority of the Commissioners—successful agitation meant sooner or later violence and bloodshed.

With this and similar information before them, the Government, I think naturally, became steadily more apprehensive as to the trend of events in the country, for which, after all, they were responsible. That was the position at the end of 1958. And then, in the early part of this year, as your Lordships all know, a new element was added to this witch's brew which was already simmering in Nyasaland. The Government began to get reports through secret sources of a secret meeting which had been held in the bush on January 25 and where much more extreme plans were discussed. There was to be a regular campaign of violence, including, at some stage, the murder both of Europeans and of loyal Africans, the drawing up of black lists of intended victims, and so on.

The Commissioners suggest that not too much importance should be attached to the reports of informers; and it is indeed true, as we all know, that informers are not always the most reputable of men. But would the Commissioners say—would anyone say—that Governments in Africa, at the present troublous times in our history, should have no Secret Service, or that they should pay no attention to what that Service says? If I remember aright, one of the main charges against the Government of Kenya after the Mau Mau troubles broke out was that the Government's secret service had been allowed to decay during the war and that therefore the Governor knew nothing of what was brewing. Moreover, it is, I think, a significant fact, which Sir Robert Armitage divulges in his Note which has been circulated, that these reports came from seven different sources, situated in different parts of Nyasaland and with no knowledge of each other. These reports were believed by his Chief of Police, who had a most intimate knowledge of local conditions. They were believed, as is clear, I think, from what he has said later, by the Bishop of Nyasaland, who also had very wide contacts.

Could the Government possibly ignore those reports? In these circumstances, I, at any rate, feel that the point which is made so much of in the Commissioner's Report as to what is a murder plot and what is not a murder plot seems rather legalistic. After all, it was admitted by most of the detainees—I am not sure they did not say all the detainees—who were interrogated, that violence and murder were discussed without disapproval. Moreover, the Governor knew very well that as far back as 1955, three years before, Mr. Chipembere, who is now one of the chief leaders of the National Congress in Nyasaland, had written, with reference to a plan of extraction of Nyasaland from the Federation, these words: My belief is that any such plan must include something quite akin to Mau Mau. No mention, it is true, was made of black lists by those examined by the Commission; but the Commission themselves seem to have accepted the fact that that was the "Party line" and therefore could not be regarded as conclusive. What was important—what was vitally important—was that at this meeting of January 25, a policy of violence was approved. Whether Doctor Banda was aware of that we shall probably never know for certain. The Commissioners think not. They think he is a charming and moderate man, who would be shocked by any such idea. On the other hand, my Lords, I remember a time when some people believed much the same about Jomo Kenyatta, and I must say I find it extremely difficult to believe that a man whom the Commissioners themselves say was the undisputed leader of his Party was kept completely unaware of this vital change of policy. At any rate, never over the whole of that period did he repudiate violence. He could have done it at any moment. There was no time when he could not have got up and made a speech and repudiated violence, but he never did so. Surely, it is quite as likely he knew about the decisions of the meeting, but preferred, as other leaders of the same kind have done, to remain in the back-ground.

The Commissioners seem to have formed the impression—I am quoting from paragraph 174 of the Report—that the Government themselves were unconvinced of the existence of a murder plot. That is the underlying suggestion in that paragraph of the Report: it was regarded by them only as a convenient excuse for the declaring of an emergency. I feel that that at any rate is a matter which ought to be cleared up to-day, and I hope that my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor will say something about it in his closing speech, because, after all, it is a direct attack both on the good faith of the Governor of Nyasaland and, through him, on the good faith of Her Majesty's Government in London.

I must say that, on the face of it, I should have regarded any such suggestion as very improbable. Even when I was in Rhodesia at the end of January of this year—that is, just before these events happened—there was a feeling of tense anxiety about the situation in Nyasaland, which was very noticeable. I met one old friend in the streets of Salisbury who spoke with the gravest anxiety about the safety of his wife and children who were in Nyasaland. There was no doubt about his sincerity. He was really in a state of torture. And one had other indications of the same kind. I was pretty sure that there was a general expectation of some early outbreak of violence, with inevitable murder and bloodshed. To split hairs as to whether this constituted a murder plot, or a conspiracy, or as to what was the correct definition, seems to me only to show the wide differences which exist between the legal niceties of the law courts and the harsher realities of administration.

Such was the situation which faced the Government of Nyasaland at the beginning of March, 1959. They had been driven to the conclusion—and I recommend this thought to the noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough—that the African National Congress, which hitherto had been accepted as a political Party, must henceforth be regarded as a subversive organisation, committed to the overthrow of law and order by methods of violence. They were convinced, as the Commission itself was convinced, that The African did not think of Dr. Banda as a party leader whose policies happened to be opposed to those of the Government; he thought of him as a national leader setting up his authority against that of the Boma. The Governor reluctantly concluded that the only course before him, if law and order were to be preserved and widespread violence was to be avoided, was to declare a state of emergency, suppress this subversive organisation and arrest its leaders.


My Lords, I cannot understand how the noble Marquess, with far greater academic qualifications behind him than I have and a much greater knowledge of history, cannot see my point that if you proscribe an organisation like this, which is asking only for Parliamentary reform and political advancement, you will have the same trouble that you have had always in history in the past. There is no other way out than to meet them, or, sooner or later, instead of having to deal with the situation as it is now, you may have to shake hands with real murder.


My Lords, the noble Viscount is against the Commission there. They say that the Government of Nyasaland had no alternative but to govern or abdicate. The noble Viscount is now recommending that they should have abdicated. That is, of course, a possible point of view, but it is not one which most of us hold, I think. Anyway, that was the view which the Government of Nyasaland took and that is why they declared an emergency on March 3. And I believe, as the Commission believe—though I understand that the noble Viscount does not believe—that they had no alternative. They had either to act or abdicate.

I am sorry to keep your Lordships so long; but I will not keep you much longer. But I would now come for a few minutes to the second phase and the methods by which the Nyasaland Government carried out what they believed to be the necessary steps. Over these—and in particular over the arrest of the Congress leaders—I cannot pretend that I do not feel a little more uneasy than I did over the decision itself. No doubt, in the circumstances of great tension such as existed at that time, it was necessary for the Government to act swiftly, secretly and with great resolution, if they were not to invite just that explosion which they were so anxious to avoid. But, according to the Report, very strong-arm methods indeed seem in certain cases to have been employed—much more than seem to have been used in Southern Rhodesia, when a similar operation took place.

In Southern Rhodesia there was no injury to any of those who were detained. In Nayasaland, in the course of what I think was called "Operation Sunrise", there were a number of Congress leaders injured with baton and other wounds. In some cases, according to the Report, those leaders were clearly resisting arrest. In others, this is not so clear. The probable reason for what occurred, I imagine, is that the number of police available was not nearly adequate for the job they had to do. That is always liable to make men act more roughly than would otherwise be the case. They simply cannot afford to let the situation get out of hand. We should all I feel be very conscious that we, sitting comfortably here 6,000 miles away, are hardly in a position to censure men who were acting in conditions of such danger and such strain.


Has the noble Marquess really read the Report?


I have read it from beginning to end.


Does the noble Marquess remember the numerous instances of brutality it reveals?


My Lords, I understand the noble Viscount is going to address the House later. But I must confess that it is with regard to this particular part of the Report that I feel the least happy, and I say this frankly.

So far as later measures are concerned—what is called, in the Report, phase 3—it is clearly very difficult for any of us to speak with authority, without more knowledge of local conditions than we have at our disposal. I was a little surprised, if I may say so, to hear the noble Viscount the Leader of the Opposition speak on this topic with such Olympian confidence about what were and what were not the proper steps to be taken in an area and in circumstances of which probably he, like most of us, has so little personal experience. But I should have thought, reading the Report—and I assure the noble Viscount, Lord Stans-gate, that I have read the Report—that, on the face of it the minimum force was used which those responsible thought absolutely necessary. Of course, strong measures were taken, and these we must all of us deeply regret: but, as has already been emphasised, they were adopted only in areas where gangs had already perpetrated arson and sabotage. The noble Viscount does not agree, but it is in the Report. I recommend him to read paragraph 276.

Are we to say pontifically, here at Westminster, that such steps were not justifiable—were not indeed necessary—if law and order were to be preserved and if anarchy were not to take its place? There was one very moving account, I thought, of an incident at a place called Nkata Bay, where a district commissioner risked his life again and again to avoid having to shoot. It is interesting to note that the verdict of the Commission on this incident is that if he had acted with greater firmness in the earlier stages, the death roll might have been less. That perhaps is the answer to those who criticise other officers for being too precipitate.

In what I have said to-day, I have tried to comment on the Report of the Devlin Commission in, I hope, a not too controversial spirit. There are things in the Report which, I frankly confess, I regret and which I think probably other noble Lords regret, too. I wish that the Report had not begun by describing Nyasaland as a "police state" and had not then, by implication, put the whole blame for this on the Nyasaland Government and apparently none on the African National Congress, whose activities were largely responsible for a situation that, on the Commissioners' own admission, made the declaration of emergency necessary. Once, as we all know, a situation of that kind has arisen, things have to be done which none of us would countenance in normal times.

We had, after all, experience of that in our own country during the period of the war, when large numbers of our fellow citizens were imprisoned for up to six years under Order 18B without trial of any kind, because they were thought too dangerous for the State to leave them at liberty. Having had that experience ourselves, and having acted at that time as we did, it hardly befits us to throw stones at those who, faced with an emergency probably in its way just as dangerous to the State as we had here, have taken similar action. In this particular instance, I could not help thinking as I read it that, however pure their intentions were, the Commission showed themselves more judicial than impartial.

Or, let me take one other example. The Commission, on page 10 of their Report, describe the common view of the African as being that …in the Protectorates he is treated as a human being, and in Southern Rhodesia he is not. I think it is a great pity that, having gone so far, they did not decide to carry their inquiry further to find out whether this view was well founded or not, instead of merely saying, as they do, that …it would be quite outside the scope of our inquiry to examine its validity. If that was so, why include at all a statement which was so damaging to the reputation and credit of Southern Rhodesia and which, indeed, I believe to be quite untrue? The Commissioners may fairly retort that these difficulties to which I have drawn attention—and there may be others of the same kind—have been due not to any bias on their part, but to the limitations of the terms of reference which governed their inquiry. But if so, why mention the matter at all?

Having said that, I do not want to fall into the same error and range too wide myself. I have done my best throughout this speech to confine myself to the Report, and I would end by saying, as I said at the beginning, that on the main question, whether or not the Governor of Nyasaland was justified in declaring an emergency in the situation with which he was faced, the answer of the Commission is clearly "Yes". That is one obscurity, at any rate, which has been cleared up by this Report. And there is one other. The Report has declared unequivocally—and I was glad to see it—that the Government of Nyasaland was not influenced in any way in coming to its decision by pressure from the Federal Government. That has been said in the past, but I hope it will never be said again. These, at any rate, are solid gains from the Commission, for which I think we should all be grateful.

With that I think the Government and the House should rest content. I very much hope, therefore, that the House will approve this Motion which has been moved by the noble Earl, Lord Perth, to-day, and so enable the Government—and the Opposition, too—to turn from the past to the future and to bend their efforts to devising a Constitution for Nyasaland which will both allow progressive advance for the African and safeguard the lives and properties of the Nyasaland people, whether they be white or black, who live in that beautiful but sadly distracted country. But, my Lords—and this is the last thing I want to say—the essential condition for this is, of course, a return to normal conditions. That is not a question merely of politics, but also of security. And here, not only the Government but, as I see it, the Opposition, too, have a responsibility. It is by their sense of responsibility, in the difficult months that lie ahead, that the Party of noble Lords opposite, just as much as the Government, will be judged by those who come after us when the history of these times comes to be written.

4.45 p.m.


My Lords, I certainly shall not try to speak pontifically, but I find my-self in the queer situation of having a good deal of sympathy with all four of the speeches so far delivered. At the same time, what I have to say, though different, is not, I think, irrelevant. When Central African Federation was debated in this House in 1953 the late Bishop of Chichester, Dr. Bell, and I both spoke from the same premises, but we came to different conclusions. Our common premises were two. The first was that the primary concern of every European in Central Africa must always be the temporal and spiritual welfare of the African peoples, adopted by us as our neighbour—a duty more difficult to fulfil, but all the more insistent because we had the monopoly of power, wealth and experience. The second premise was that in Nyasaland, with its 2½ million Africans and fewer than 10,000 Europeans, the whole idea of federation was intensely disliked by almost all the Africans, for understandable reasons. The late Dr. Bell concluded that the introduction of federation should be delayed; I concluded, in support of the Government, that the balance of argument was in favour of going ahead, in the hope and belief that federation would justify itself to the African.

That, my Lords, was six years ago, and now a day of reckoning has come upon us. A balance sheet of a sort is recorded in the Devlin Report, not, as the Report itself says, judicially, nor clearly to serve any political interest—and I think it is a great pity that it should now have become involved in political controversy—but, I should say, as an expert (possibly wrong) analysis of the unchanging psychology of conflict. The pattern of conflict between authority and popular desire is only too familiar in all ages. What has happened in Nyasaland—and this is why I hesitate to discuss the details in the Report—is nothing new in such conditions: it always happens like that. The fact remains—to my mind, the governing fact, however regrettable—that the people of Nyasaland are as resolutely and unitedly opposed to federation in 1959 as they were in 1953, and less ready now than they were then to be converted. The cleavage was there in 1953.

By July, 1959, the Devlin Report says: The difference between the Government and the Congress had got almost beyond discussion. It was not simply that the two sides were far apart. Each had an attitude of mind which the other was beginning to find exasperating. I have said that this is a Report on psychology: there is the unresolved dilemma. The Governor, as I should not hesitate to say, was in duty bound, as the Report shows, to declare a state of emergency; yet to have to do so was to record a failure to win the confidence of the people. Alas! that was the record. Dr. Banda, by becoming a demagogue, and a dangerous demagogue——


Oh, no.


—by bringing about this state of emergency, had won a kind of perverse but powerful victory, as demagogues always do, and he now stands for all the six-year-old fears and frustrations of the Africans of Nyasaland and is the embodiment of all their hopes.

My Lords, what I have said is a record of fact. What had gone wrong between 1953 and 1959? Authority in Nyasaland—I saw some of it for myself—had done almost everything possible to care for Nyasaland as a true Welfare State. I will not give the details; they are well known to your Lordships. There was hardly a thing lacking, except the one thing necessary—there was still present this worm of discontent; perverse, no doubt, but there. Nothing had diminished the fear of federation. Nothing had assured them—it is their fault, no doubt—that their freedom was assured or that real powers of self-government to safeguard it were on the way. I could develop that point, but let me go on.

Of course, the root of all these fears is not in Nyasaland at all, but is now, as it was in 1953, in the Federation, in Southern Rhodesia and in the Federal Government. The battle of wills in Nyasaland becomes part of a general political encounter in the Federation. If I may be allowed to say it, the worst thing we have contributed from this country to Central Africa is to have allowed their dilemma to be seen by us over here in terms of political struggle: on the one side, those who in general pride themselves on being the supporters of reason and authority, wise judgment and economic welfare, and all the other good things, and, on the other, those who in general pride themselves on being the supporters of rights, of justice, of freedom and of Divine discontent. Both those sides have been admirably represented in the two opening speeches made here this afternoon. But because we have allowed it in this country to become a sort of political conflict, almost every discussion here may do harm, and few can do any lasting good. They help to put asunder just what God is trying to join together. The advocates of each side provoke the other. Conscience clashes with conscience. Each has an attitude of mind which the other finds increasingly exasperating. We have seen the exasperation showing itself even this afternoon. And where we ought, from this country, to be able to speak with one voice of wisdom to Central Africa, we find ourselves in the lamentable situation of speaking with two voices.

If I may say so, and if the Government will forgive me, I think the Government's Motion itself is open to some criticism on the ground that it says just too much and ends by not saying quite enough, and so itself becomes political and a source of fresh division. But be that as it may, as I said, Nyasaland looks with fear to the Federation and to Southern Rhodesia. In Salisbury, much has happened in these six years—and I have seen this for myself—which might, in a happier climate, have served to remove, or at least to relieve, the fears in Nyasaland. The leaders in Southern Rhodesia are, to my own knowledge, many of them, eager to work a real and a fruitful partnership and to give proofs of it in action. From this country the Colonial Secretary and others have reaffirmed the solemn pledge that Nyasaland and Northern Rhodesia would retain their separate Governments, responsible to this country for so long as their respective peoples so desired. But I am often told that my wise words from the pulpit do not get through to the audience, and so the mistrust in Nyasaland remains, and the sense of frustration has been growing.

And we must admit that there was reason for it to grow, for they could perceive in Salisbury, as I perceived, not only the forces of reason and of brotherhood and of slow advance, but also powerful forces of another kind which were an obstacle to any advance at all. There were, what appeared to sensitive minds, the discourtesies and cruelties of social ostracism. I suffered myself in a minor degree in that way when, by a public official, I was rebuked because I dared to shake hands with two Africans. This is one of the things which has to be set out clearly: with the Government trying to do all that they could, Nyasaland was aware that there were features which moved them to fear and indignation. Another is that a certain lack of political sensitiveness caused the Federal Government itself, in whose good intentions I fully believe, from time to time to undo all the good it was trying to do.

Two instances occur specially to my mind. The African Affairs Board declared two of the Federal Government's Bills discriminatory, and they were therefore referred to the British Parliament, and Parliament approved both Bills. On the merits of the Bills, so far as I am competent to judge, Parliament was probably right, in that they advanced what I firmly believe in—the cause of a common Voting Roll. But there is no doubt that the effect on the people of Nyasaland was bad. They had been told to regard the African Affairs Board as a safeguard and protection against injustice, and all they could perceive was that it proved no safeguard and no protection at all, but had served only to bring the British Government in to support the Federal Government. Your Lordships will observe that I am not arguing about anything but the kind of things which produced fears in the people of Nyasaland.

But far worse was the Federal intention, openly declared, to seek Dominion status as an immediate goal to be achieved when the Constitution was revised in 1960. The people of Nyasaland regarded that as putting a final end to all hope and all confidence. Nothing could now induce them to accept federation with that threat hanging over them. There is the terrible dilemma which so often occurs in clashes all through history: reason and good will set against what people want and think they have a right to.

The Devlin Report presents us, as I have said, with the psychology of the situation—that is why I have spoken at this length. But it needs far more than debates in Parliament to retrieve it. The Devlin Report was made to Parliament, and I wish it had marked the end of a chapter. That was what it was designed to do. The only question I am interested in now is to consider how the next chapter is to be written. That is a question—I say it deliberately—not of politics, certainly not of economic interests, but of psychology or, to speak truth, of religion. Again I would wish that the Government Motion had not invited the charge of being political, and I wish that the Opposition Amendment had been less open to being described, as The Times put it, as "a trap for the Government." To my mind, the first clause of the Government Motion down to the first semicolon says just enough. It stops short of saying too much. But the Motion itself is not of any importance. All that matters is what can we do to win back the trust of the people of Nyasaland and at this late hour reconcile them to Federation. For that, I believe is the real task.

A leader in The Times yesterday (or was it the day before?) set out a list of the fine things done recently to reconcile African feeling; and they are very substantial. All these things, offered of our own free will in 1953, would have made Federation secure. Are they now too late? Please God not. Certainly not, if now and in the immediate future the Government of Nyasaland can make some new offers or proposals which, whatever their political value, will recapture the imagination of the people of Nyasaland and set them free from the fixed idea with which they are obsessed so that they become once more the friendly, imaginative and charming people they really are.

I had set down one or two suggestions of imaginative proposals, but I will not mention them, as perhaps they would not strike other people as being imaginative at all. I come to my final word. Dr. Banda is reported in the Devlin Report to have said that he could not get a following by putting forward a carefully phased plan. Well, my Lords, nor can the Government of Nyasaland. Nor can we here. A carefully phased plan, well-intentioned, will not capture the imagination and affection of the people of Nyasaland. The task, I would say, is too hard for politics, or indeed for paternal government alone. It is a problem of psychology, to be solved by patience, by taking friendly risks, and by generous action in advance of necessity.

5.4 p.m.


My Lords, the speeches to which we have listened so far have fallen into two categories: those which dealt with events leading up to the trouble, and those which dealt with the recent disturbances. My noble friend the Leader of the Opposition has in the main dealt with the events leading up to the present difficulties, and so has the most reverend Primate. The noble Marquess dealt mostly with the actual disturbances, and I propose to speak on the disturbances that have arisen and on the Report of the Commission dealing with them.

First, I should like to say a word about the Commission. I wonder why the noble Earl who moved the Motion thought it necessary to change its terms from the terms in which it originally stood? To draw attention to the Report of the Nyasaland Commission of Inquiry and to the Despatch by the Governor of Nyasaland relating thereto. That would have left us with a perfectly open Motion, which we could have discussed without feeling; and we would have put forward different views about the Report without necessarily taking one side or another. Instead of that, a day or two after that Motion was put down it was withdrawn and a new Motion was put in its place. This thanks the Commission for all the things they have reported on which are favourable to the Government, but omits all reference to matters which are not favourable; by implication, therefore, not thanking them for those. By specifically drawing attention to a number of matters which the Government regard as favourable to them they have created the impression that they were expecting a Report which would whitewash them in every possible respect. But that has not happened. I am bound to say that the impression I received, both from the Motion and from the speech of the noble Earl, was that the Government are bad losers.

The noble Marquess referred to the Commission as splitting hairs, and as more judicial than impartial. These are rather extraordinary terms to use of a Commission whom you are thanking for their efforts. He said, and in another place the Attorney-General said, that the Government had not bound themselves to accept in toto the findings of this Commission. Of course they had not. They had not bound themselves to accept anything; and they are not being asked to. But the Commission were asked to find facts. They have done so; and they have not gone beyond that. After all, the Commission were appointed by the Government themselves; the personnel are the best they could find for this purpose, the best equipped; and they have found facts. It ill behoves the Government to dispute the facts which this Commission have found.

The Judge who presided over the Commission has great experience and training. He was on the spot. He saw the witnesses. He and the Commission thad the best opportunity—far better than the noble Marquess or anybody else in this House—of assessing the facts, and he has come to certain conclusions. It was said in another place by the Attorney-General that it is not uncommon for an appeal to be made against the decision of the Judge to another Court and to find that the decision is upset. But I see two most distinguished lawyers in front of me, the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack and the noble Viscount, Lord Monckton of Brenchley, and I am sure they will agree that there is no appeal on facts. If this Report were a decision of a court on facts there would be no possibility of appeal against them. I do not want to be legalistic——


Forgive me, but I hope you will not think that I am in support of that view. A judge could be upset on facts if there were not evidence to support his opinion, or if the Court of Appeal thought it was a perverse decision.


Of course I was speaking very broadly. I do not think anybody would have the impertinence to say that the findings of fact of this Judge and the Commission were based on no evidence at all. I do not think anyone would dream of suggesting such a thing. Not even the noble Marquess himself suggested that, and I hope the noble and learned Viscount is not going to suggest it. Therefore my contention, I think, is right; that we have to accept the findings of this tribunal that we ourselves set up. And speaking for myself I do accept them; on the terms of our Motion we accept them.

We have been challenged on the question as to whether we accept the fact that the declaration of the state of emergency was necessary. I would draw the attention of the House to a statement I my-self made in a speech on March 24 when the Commission was set up. I said this: [OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 215, col. 223]: I accept the fact that the Governor acted with sincerity, and that on such facts as he had available to him he was right to declare a state of emergency. He carries a great responsibility, and whether, in the result, those facts are justified or not, I think that a responsible Governor was bound to take note of them and, as a precautionary measure, declare a state of emergency. The tribunal has accepted the fact that he was right to declare a state of emergency, and certainly in that respect it does not differ from the view which we took at the time, both in this House and in another place. The issue between noble Lords opposite and ourselves is not on the question of whether or not it was right to declare a state of emergency. The issue resolves itself really into two parts: first, what was responsible for that state of affairs; what brought about this condition which we agree was a condition of disturbance in the country which justified the state of emergency? Secondly, was the action of the Government of Nyasaland beyond criticism in the way it dealt with the disturbances? I want to say a few words—and they will be very few—on the second point: whether the action of the Government of Nyasaland went beyond the necessities of the case in dealing with the disturbances. I do not propose to quote at length from the Report; my noble friend and Leader has already done that.

The Report of the Commission criticises the action under a number of heads, and the noble Marquess himself accepted the fact that in certain instances the Government had gone beyond what was necessary. There was the question of collective fines and the confiscation of implements. The Report of the Commission point out that perfectly innocent implements, implements which are normally used for agricultural purposes could be used for offensive purposes; and in order that there should be no doubt about it the police confiscated every possible weapon, whether it was used for innocent agricultural purposes or otherwise, and without paying any compensation at all. The Commission found as a fact that force was used in villages beyond what was necessary; that unnecessary force was used in arresting people. They found as a fact that whole villages had been burned; that houses and contents had been burned without any justification. They found as a fact that the simple fact that a person had at one time been a member of Congress, the mere possession of a card, without any further action on his part, justified detention—and not only that, but imprisonment for a period of from six months to two years. If, further, such a person had been collecting subscriptions or taking part in the management of Congress, even in a minor degree, he was liable to imprisonment of up to five years.

Every possible assumption was made against every person who was detained. Instead of the assumption that a person is innocent until the reverse is proved, the opposite took place, and people were rounded up and detained or imprisoned on pure suspicion. Whenever people got together the assumption was that it was an unlawful assembly, and it was dealt with as such. But assemblies are not always unlawful or for the purpose of making trouble. There have been complaints both by the noble Earl and the noble Marquess that the conditions were described by the Commission as, at any rate temporarily, something equivalent to a police state. Is it any wonder, with all these things taking place?


My Lords, the noble Lord has quoted various things as facts. I was out of the Chamber for a moment. Particularly he said that whole villages had been burnt. I wonder whether he could find those facts anywhere in the Report. I think it is important that we should be accurate.


I was not going to weary the House by making quotations from the Report; I thought that everybody had read the Report and that these facts were there.


Perhaps it would help if I said that paragraph 277 deals with "Burning of houses".


Paragraph 277: We heard many complaints that in Mlanje district the security forces had burnt houses or huts. It is admitted that 38 houses were burnt by the order of the D.C. given on 9th March, 1959, and it is not suggested that the order was legal. Eleven of the houses were said to be shacks near road blocks and were assumed to have harboured persons responsible for erecting the blocks. The remaining 27 were said to be houses in which looted property had been found. The D.C. did not satisfy himself personally that looted property had been found in any of the houses burnt; nor did he, as he might have done (leaving aside the question of legality) give any verbal warning of his intention to burn, or burn one or two houses first by way of warning to see what effect that had. He says that he issued a general order to security forces that, if they found loot in any house, they were to burn it and that they had no discretion in the matter. You will have observed that in some of the Northern Province burnings by Africans the householder was first allowed to remove his goods; this mitigation was not adopted in Mlanje and the house went up with all the property, except the supposedly looted property, inside it".


My Lords, I think that brings out very clearly that there was no finding by the Commission that whole villages were burnt. Thirty-eight houses were burnt, of which 11 were shacks near road blocks, and the other 27 we have heard about. I think it is important that when we make these statements about what is to be found in the Report, they should be exact.


Well, I leave the House to judge whether the statement I made was correct or not.


There were 38 houses burned, and do not forget it!


My Lords, I wonder if I might intervene. This is a matter of argument, and perhaps the noble Lord will allow me to tell him that there is a Royal Commission at 5.30, and if he could find a convenient pause in his speech in the next three minutes it would help us to make arrangements. I hope that the noble Lord will not take it amiss, but I thought it convenient to indicate that. It is a matter for him to decide when he will pause.


My Lords, that is an entirely non-controversial statement. I was at the point of establishing that the Commission were justified in saying that this was, at any rate for the time being, a police state. If the noble and learned Viscount so desires, I will pause at this stage in order to work up the case for establishing that this was a police state.

House adjourned during pleasure.

House resumed.