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Public Meetings

Volume 640: debated on Thursday 18 May 1961

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8.

asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies if he will propose to the Governor of Kenya that the ban on public meetings be lifted.

19.

asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies what are the present restrictions on the holding of political meetings in Kenya; and what changes are proposed.

Any person wishing to hold a public meeting must first apply for a licence to the local district commissioner who, if he is satisfied that the meeting is not likely to prejudice the maintenance of public order, is required to issue the licence. Some time ago, district commissioners were advised to bear in mind, when considering applications, that there was a grave danger that public meetings might so exacerbate the already high political feelings that breaches of peace might occur. But with the formation of the new Government this danger seems less acute, and it is the hope that applications can now be granted much more freely.

Is the Secretary of State aware that only yesterday in the Legislative Council in Nairobi the Minister stated that the ban would be lifted and that I had, therefore, hoped to be able to congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on the change? If district commissioners still have power to prohibit meetings, will the utmost influence be used so that the African leaders may guide public opinion in Kenya against violence and against continued oath taking?

There is something of a risk either way, in allowing public meetings and in stopping them, in the present situation in Kenya. I am, of course, aware of what was said in the Legislative Council yesterday, and it is the fact that the Government have decided, with the agreement of all Ministers, consisting of people of all races, that this ban should virtually disappear and that public meetings should be permitted.

There will be a general welcome for the statement which the Minister has just made. Will he bear in mind, in the existing circumstances in Kenya and against the background of anxieties of the kind frequently expressed from the benches behind him, that in politics, sometimes, if one shows too much fear and distrust, one creates the very conditions which one fears and that, although there may be risks either way, there are sometimes important benefits to be gained by taking risks on the side of creating good will?

I do not dissent from that, provided that the hon. Gentleman is prepared to recognise the other side of the coin, that there are risks at present in having a more flexible policy in relation to public meetings. Either way, a risk has to be taken. The decision of the Government of Kenya is that the lesser risk of the two is, in effect, to allow public meetings.