Skip to main content

Khartoum (Disturbances)

Volume 524: debated on Wednesday 3 March 1954

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

With the permission of the House, I should like to make a short statement on the regrettable disturbances which took place in Khartoum on 1st March.

The House will have seen the newspaper reports of these events, and I have no further details to add. I regret to say that in the course of the rioting total casualties amounted to some 30 persons killed and about 100 injured. This includes casualties among the police, which were 10 killed, including the British Commandant of Police in Khartoum and his Sudanese Second-in-Command, and 66 injured. I am sure the whole House will join with me in expressing deep regret at this loss of life, and sympathy with the relatives.

As the House will have seen, the Governor-General has declared a state of emergency and has announced that the opening of Parliament will be postponed until 10th March. I must make it plain that this state of emergency was made under the Defence of the Sudan Ordinance and not under the Self-Government Statute. The Council of Ministers therefore remains responsible for law and order and public security and the orders giving effect to the Governor-General's declaration have been made by him on the advice of the Council. Several thousands of the demonstrators have, I am informed, now left Khartoum and the situation is quiet.

I do not propose, nor is it my duty, to pass judgment on these events. Sir, no one would wish to condone violence. But the fact remains that a large measure of responsibility must rest upon those who have in the recent past sought to raise the emotional temperature in the Sudan. We have repeatedly emphasised that the Sudanese people should be allowed to work out their political development free from all outside interference, and we have scrupulously observed this principle. It will, I am sure, be the sincere hope of the whole House that these tragic events will have brought this lesson home to all concerned.

Can the Foreign Secretary say why the elections themselves should have passed off without any incident—certainly not an incident of this nature—whilst the opening of Parliament, which put the seal on the democratic liberation of the Sudan, should have been attended by these unfortunate circumstances?

The right hon. Gentleman no doubt knows that not only did the elections pass off without incident, but that there have been meetings of Parliament previously which also passed off entirely without incident. I do not think I can add anything to my answer, but I think the House can measure for itself where I think the responsibility lies.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that his statement dealing with propaganda in recent months will be received with gratitude in this country? May I ask him if he has noticed that, within a few hours of this commandant being killed in the performance of his duty, General Neguib made a most unseemly and untruthful broadcast? Does the right hon. Gentleman think that any good purpose would be served by making a protest about that? Does the Foreign Secretary know whether any of the broadcasting centres in the Sudan were used in this connection, and if so, if that is in order?

I have seen the newspaper report to which my right hon. and gallant Friend refers. It is, of course, obviously absurd to suggest that either Her Majesty's Government or any British administrators in the Sudan had any responsibility for these events, where the officers were carrying out their duty impartially in defence of General Neguib and others.

So far as broadcasts are concerned, we are not going to join in any competitive attempt to raise temperatures hi the Sudan. But what we are doing regularly through the B.B.C. is to give the fullest and, I think, an objective account of what the true facts of the situation are. May I just add, as this has been raised, that the reports I have received from Cairo about the critical situation between the Governor-General and the Prime Minister of the Sudan are, I am informed in a message from Khartoum, if I may use the words, "a complete fabrication "?

May I ask my right hon. Friend two questions? First, would he agree that the dangers of the situation in the Sudan would be greatly eased if some kind of understanding or accommodation could be arrived at between the leaders of the Khatmia and the Ansari sects, and would he use his influence to promote such understanding? Secondly, could the Foreign Secretary confirm quite explicitly that the Governor-General, in declaring a state of emergency acted in concert with the Council of Ministers and after consulting the Prime Minister?

As regards the first part of my hon. Friend's supplementary, it is our desire—and I am sure that of the whole House—to do all that we can to promote the unity of the Sudan. It is for that purpose we have been working, and we are very sorry we have not had cooperation from other quarters to bring that about in the sense that we might have had it.

In regard to the second part of my hon. Friend's Question, as I made it quite plain, all the orders which the Governor-General has issued since his declaration were issued in consultation with the Council. I think it is quite clear, therefore, that all those steps following on the declaration of emergency—-which was on the Governor-General's own responsibility —have been taken in conjunction with the Council.

May I ask my right hon. Friend if he will seriously consider the wisdom of proceeding with negotiations over the Egyptian situation— [Interruption.]

Would the right hon. Gentleman take it that we are in general agreement with the statement which he has made, and that we would like to express our very sincere sympathies with those bereaved in the loss of their relations and friends in this unfortunate experience?

I am much obliged to the right hon. Gentleman. There have been generations of Britishers who have done their very best to bring about a situation in the Sudan where there could be reasonable hopes of self-Government in accordance with the traditions we all cherish. It is a deep disappointment to us all that those events should have occurred. I hope that despite that we Shall all do our best to help Sudan along the road she wishes to, and which we have wished she should, travel.