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Guyana Independence Bill

Volume 727: debated on Wednesday 4 May 1966

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Considered in Committee.

[Sir ERIC FLETCHER in the Chair]

Clause 1—(Fully Responsible Status Of Guyana)

10.1 p.m.

In calling the first Amendment, may I say that I think it would be convenient if the second Amendment were discussed with it.

I beg to move, in page 1, line 5, after "1966", to insert "except as here-inafter provided".

This Amendment is, of course, consequential upon the second, in page 1, line 10, at the end to insert:
"This Bill shall only come into operation on such day on or after 26th May that the Minister shall certify that no person in British Guiana continues to be detained without charge and without trial."
That is the substantive Amendment, which you, Sir Eric, have suggested should be discussed with the first Amendment.

Those hon. Members who were present on Friday or who have read the report in HANSARD of Friday's debate will know that we complained then about 15 men who are imprisoned in British Guiana without trial and without any charge having been made against them. Some of them have been in prison for two years and there is no indication of how long they will remain there. This is a matter in which this House and this Parliament have a responsibility and an obligation.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies did not specify in his reply what were the accusations against these men. Even if it is not possible to bring these men to trial, at any rate this House is entitled to know why they are in gaol and what is the nature of the charges being brought against them. Some of these men about whom I know are men of the highest reputation. I have mentioned Vernon Nunes, whom I know and whose wife and three children reside in Birmingham. He is well known in Birmingham University and has taught in Birmingham. He is a man of the highest reputation. If it is suggested that he is throwing bombs or threatening to do so, I would answer that that is sheer nonsense.

I will mention others. I mention Jardin. Some of these men I do not know, but the least the House is entitled to expect is that the allegations made, upon the basis of which these men are deprived of their liberty, should be specified. They have not been specified. I understand that since Friday's debate one man has been released. He is what I would call one of the smaller fish, and I understand that there is the possibility of another man being released.

I do not consider this an adequate response to the plea which was made by my hon. Friends and myself and, I believe, by the hon. Lady the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Mrs. Knight) on Monday. Vernon Nunes has not been released and, as far as I know, there is not at present a suggestion that he should be released.

The hon. Gentleman is rather implying that this release took place because of Friday's debate. As he told us on Friday, it takes quite a long time for these things to be dealt with in Guiana, and presumably this release was settled long before Friday's debate. Indeed, I doubt whether they had heard of our debate when the release took place.

I said since Friday's debate. I used the word "since" advisedly. I believe that these releases were made in response to a message which was sent by the Colonial Secretary. A number of my hon. Friends and I saw the Colonial Secretary on Wednesday, made certain representations to him and, I understand, he made certain representations to Mr. Burnham. It is almost certain that because of those representations this man has been released and another will be released. However, I do not consider this to be an adequate response to the representations which the Colonial Secretary made.

I regard the men who have or will be released as small fish. While I rejoice at their liberation, however humble they may be, the chief and most important political personalities—who, I still maintain, as I am entitled to maintain in the absence of evidence to the contrary—solely because of their political views and activities are still in gaol and will remain in gaol. This is something for which the House has a serious responsibility.

Moreover, these imprisonments are in flagrant contravention of a resolution of the United Nations of 10th December which called for an end to the state of emergency and for the liberation of these men. The Government of British Guiana have a responsibility to the United Nations, whose resolutions are supported by many countries. The resolution of 10th December was supported by 87 nations, and while it was not supported by Britain, we have a responsibility to see that it is carried out. After all, U.N. resolutions are not passed lightly and we cannot be satisfied with what has happened to date in Guiana.

This Amendment does not delay the operation of independence for British Guiana. According to the Bill, in 24 days time the Writ of Her Majesty's Government ceases to run in that country and the laws passed by this Parliament cease to be binding. Therefore, action must be taken quickly in these last 24 days. The Amendment proposes that the appointed day should be delayed until these men are released. If the Amendment is carried it need not, however, delay independence. If Mr. Burnham, by an act of statesmanship, decides that these men shall be set free, there is no reason why independence should be delayed a single day.

It has been said—and I do not dispute this—that there is a history of violence in British Guiana over the past few years. That is perfectly true, and there has indeed been a dreadful history of violence. On Friday I mentioned a document which, until that day, had had only one reference in a newspaper in this country. The Birmingham Post mentioned it about 12 months after the document was issued. The document was prepared, so I am advised, by the British Senior Superintendent of the Guiana Police for the British Commissioner of the Guiana Police. Commissioner Peter Owen is now in Aden. This is an almost incredible document, headed "Secret". I am told that if I used this document in British Guiana or if I had it in my possession, under the State of Emergency I could be imprisoned for six months. For- tunately I am a British Member of Parliament and am not in British Guiana.

The document is headed "Police Headquarters", and then appear the words "Assistant Commissioner of Crime". It then says:
"I have investigated 19 reports of crimes which occurred between 8th June, 1963 and 21st July, 1963, which include placing explosives in buildings and destroying buildings with explosives and arson. I am of opinion that there is evidence to support a charge of conspiracy contrary to Section 34 of the Criminal Law Offence Ordinance, Chapter 10."
It then say:
"The following persons are involved in these crimes."
It deals with a number of explosions and acts of arson which took place in 1963, such as the blowing up of the Transport and Harbours Department office, blowing up the Campbell Ville Government School, arson and fire at the Georgetown ferry stelling, an attempt to demolish by explosives the Ministry of Home Affairs, the Ministry of Labour, Health and Housing, an attempt to blow up the Central Housing Planning Department, and an attempt to blow up the Education Department in Georgetown. Many of these buildings were demolished. In the case of the Rice Marketing Board a large quantity of dynamite was placed under a wharf where 200 workmen were engaged in loading rice on to a ship.

An interesting point about this document, which was prepared as recently as 11th December, 1963, is that there are 25 people whose names are set down, and in these cases it is not a question of suspicion but the police have formulated charges. I do not want to read the whole of the document. It sets out circumstantial details. The evidence is set out, and it is suggested that there is sufficient evidence of a criminal conspiracy under the Criminal Law Offence Ordinance. Was any action taken about this by the Governor? Were there any detentions? No. Was there any trial? No. One action only was taken. The document was suppressed. At that time the Government in power, or nominally in power, against which these actions were taken was Mr. Jagan's Government.

It is interesting to examine some of the 25 names in the document. One of them is the present Prime Minister, Mr. Burnham. Another is Mr. Graham, now head of the Marketing Division of the Government. Mr. Hamilton Green is the Secretary of the P.N.C., the party now in power. Mr. Llewellyn John is the Minister of Agriculture. Dr. Reid is the Minister of Home Affairs in whose house detonators were found. He is now Minister of Home Affairs. Twelve months before it was suggested that he should be prosecuted for conspiracy, arson and carrying explosives. This is an extraordinary metamorphosis. It is like making Guy Fawkes the Serjeant at Arms of this House. Mr. Richard Ishmail is a large hotel owner, President of the Trades Union Congress and also a supporter of the present Administration.

Does the Minister deny that this is an authentic document? I take it that he does not. I think that I am entitled to ask him why no action was taken on it. Perhaps the hon. Member for Surbiton (Mr. Fisher), whom I see in his place and who was responsible Ministerially at that time, can enlighten the House as to why no action was taken.

10.15 p.m.

I should not have raised this matter, and I should have been content to close this passage in the history of British Guiana, if there had been a response to the appeal which we have made and which, I am sure, the Minister has made to the Government of British Guiana. But, as the response has been so meagre, I am entitled to ask whether these men should be the gaolers of the fourteen who are in prison at present. This is a shocking history for which, I regret to say, this Government also bear a share of responsibility. We are responsible for seeing that these men do not linger in gaol.

I believe that the problem of the future of Guyana can be solved as it could have been solved if there had been no intervention by foreign States, if there had been no intervention by the United States of America. One of the regrettable features of these events is that there have, undoubtedly, been interventions by powerful American unions which, during the Jagan regime, financed subversion and strikes. There is even an accusation which is widely believed—I know not whether it is true—that the Central Intelligence Agency of America also has participated in these activities.

It is a dreadful passage in British Guiana's history, and it is no part of my duty to revive it. I wish it were possible to close the door upon it. But if the door on the past is to be closed, if the people of British Guiana of all political parties and all races are to live in peace together, if we are to say "Goodbye" to the past, one thing is absolutely essential: these men should be released.

I have been thinking about what my hon. Friend said of the police report, and I should like to have a point made clear. He said that the report was suppressed. By whom was it suppressed?

I am afraid that I cannot say by whom it was suppressed. I do not know at what stage it was suppressed, or whether it was presented to the Governor. Perhaps we may learn tonight whether it was presented to the Governor. I know that it was not presented to the Minister of Home Affairs.

By all means let us say "Goodbye" to the past. All hon. Members would desire that the people of Guyana, of all parties and all races, should live together in peace. I shall not raise the question of the elections. They have taken place. History has moved on. We cannot turn the wheel back. But, if the people of Guyana are to live in peace, it is essential that these men be released.

I appeal to the Colonial Secretary and to the Under-Secretary of State. I appeal to Mr. Burnham for this act of statesmanship, an act of statesmanship which would mean so much more than any risk in not keeping these people in prison and which could be the prelude to a new Guyana really independent, really free and really peaceful.

I associate myself with almost every word said by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Aston (Mr. Julius Silverman), dissociating myself from one word only on academic grounds. He said that some of these people were men of good character. Let us start right and say that all people are men of good character until they have been brought to public trial and evidence has been given and proved against them. That, at least, is the rule which we apply in any consideration of the administration of justice or of human rights.

I first met my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State in Uganda and he was there my host. I got to know and admire his real interest and devotion, in difficult circumstances, to the cause of colonial freedom. Therefore, he is the last man with whom I would wish to have anything which even sounded like a quarrel. In referring to what he said on Friday—which is what has brought me here today—I shall do it, therefore, with the utmost—not diffidence, because it is too important—but restraint.

I am sorry that I shall have to say things which sound a little discourteous, but my hon. Friend said: "These people are under arrest, not for political views, not for discrimination. They have done something. They have committed crimes. They have not been brought to trial because the witnesses will not come, but we know that they are guilty." This is Mussolini and Matteotti. This is Senator McCarthy. I know that my hon. Friend does not mean that. He is not that type of "bloke". I am making no personal attack on him, but we must avoid saying these things in this House, where men died for freedom of conscience, where men were prepared to go to the block to protect what some people now call academic principles.

These people have not been tried. There is a wretched history behind it all. I shall be out of order in five minutes, and I give warning to the Chair that it may call me to order now. I came into this first after the burning of Georgetown in 1953, when the present Viscount Chandos said that it was necessary to suspend the British Guiana Constitution. We had a debate about it and it opened—forgive my mentioning it—by the hon. Member for Oldham, West being thanked because he had been much more vigilant and active than he is now. He had spotted that an Order of the Privy Council had been made—I forget the precise circumstances. One knows how these Orders of the Privy Council are made. Usually, in the grouse and salmon season, someone travels to Balmoral and asks whether the shooting is all right, the thing is passed across, people have a glass of sherry, and back he comes on the next train. Nobody ever knows that the constitution of British Guiana has gone at all. And then we put down a Question for written answer and then we have a debate.

I remember the debate. It was opened by the late Lord Chuter Ede, whom we all revered and respected. I think that Clem took part in it. There was a great deal of cacophony about a plot to burn down Georgetown—all nonsense, of course. The former Attorney-General of Ghana, with all his diligence, was engaged in a great deal of research to find out what was the evidence of the plot to burn down Georgetown. It was said that petrol at some of the garages had gone up. As far as I know, it was the motoring season. Anyway, the constitution was suspended.

Everyone can understand the Parliamentary Secretary and his colleagues now saying, "We want to finish all this". Indeed some of the more intelligent newspapers have been saying for the last three years, "Let us get rid of British Guiana at any price and on any terms, and the quicker the better, because it has become a hot potato."

I was told some years ago, and it has been repeated constantly ever since, "We do not intend to have a Communist taking over in British Guiana." This is the most dangerous and difficult thing of all. Not being one of those who dash up and down the corridors of this building every five minutes signing motions about American imperialism, I would say that if I were President Johnson I would probably take the same view. But I am not President Johnson. I am the Member for Oldham, West. This is a British Colony, and these are people for whom we have had some responsibility and care to exercise for a long time.

I am not in favour of letting them remain locked up and handing them over to their enemies, particularly as there is some evidence for my hon. Friend in support of his reference to Mr. Owen. Mr. Owen gave evidence in the trial in British Guiana 12 months ago. I have some papers here about what Mr. Owen said, if I can find it—although I shall be surprised if I do in all this lot. He said in evidence before the trial that there was a plot. This report states that Police Commissioner Owen during the Supreme Court case made allegations about the Burnham People's National Congress. May I interrupt to say that Mr. Owen was a man sent out from London, selected and appointed in London. I have nothing whatever against him and make no criticism of him. I do not know him and have never had a chance of seeing him. At any rate, he was not a tool of Mr. Burnham or of Mr. Jagan, or of anyone else. He was sent out with all the wealth of authority of London, possibly of Scotland Yard.

He said in evidence that the Burnham People's National Congress had a terrorist gang responsible for a series of crimes such as murder, arson, causing explosions to buildings and subversive and criminal activities. My hon. Friend said that there had been something like a censorship somewhere. That is true when this sort of thing is stated in evidence and we have to find it in an American digest of facts with no newspaper quotations to support it.

The most serious of the bomb attacks, the most terrible attack, was that in which several children lost their lives, but the victim of the next most serious attack recorded was Mrs. Jagan. I am sure that she will not mind my saying that she is not reputed to enjoy a universal popularity and that the people who dislike her most are easy to identify. One day we may be told—we might have been told it ten years ago—that she blew herself and her associates up.

This matter is serious—a good deal more serious than has been suggested, for a number of associated reasons. When the House talks about Black South America it starts talking about ten o'clock at night. When it talks about a White Government in Black Africa, it does so for day after day ad nauseam. Admittedly this is a distant comparison, but one of the reasons we give why we cannot negotiate with Mr. Smith is that we cannot do so while there are two African political leaders imprisoned without trial. Of course this is not comparable. I do not suggest that it is comparable. Of course it is a different story. But what is our case against Mr. Smith for locking up African leaders without trial when we are doing it ourselves in Guyana and handing these prisoners over to their enemies?

On Friday the Parliamentary Secretary said, "The real trouble is that we cannot get witnesses to give evidence because they are frightened." This is the usual excuse which a rather tough and hardboiled policeman gives to persuade a magistrate to refuse bail, and most intelligent magistrates say, "You have no right to say anything of the sort, and I hope that you will never say it again."

10.30 p.m.

What is the position? Mr. Burnham was arrested and charged with having an offensive weapon and not declaring it under the Emergency Regulations. He was brought to trial and acquitted. The witnesses were not afraid to give evidence on his behalf. His people, the same people who might be giving evidence against the detainees, were not frightened to give evidence for him.

If in a country it is publicly said, "We cannot put these people on trial because the state of terror means that it is impossible to hold our courts, to have public hearings and to persuade witnesses to appear because they fear for their lives so we must detain the defendants instead", what is the case for giving it independence? It is indefensible.

Quite properly, my hon. Friend the Member for Aston has said that he is not trying to prevent self-government. None of us are. This has gone on too long. This has been the story in all colonial affairs. Arguments that can suddenly be put now ought to have been put 20 years ago, and now it is too late because too much water has gone under the bridge, too many mistakes have been made, too many hearts have been broken and too many aspirations have been stuffed away. Let us be frank about it at least. We may be doing the only thing we can. But it is not a very good situation when one party represents one race and another party represents another race, when the balance of race is 350,000 to 250,000 or so, when antagonisms have grown, and when everyone knows that Mr. Burnham and Dr. Jagan should be working together for the good of British Guiana and no one knows whose fault it is that they are not. Each of us can go through the history of British Guiana and find Mr. Burnham saying "I won't" or Dr. Jagan saying "I won't". But when I first met them in 1953 they were working together. This is the sort of political operation that cannot operate without good will.

No one would have thought a few years ago that Harold and George would join David and Jonathan and Derry and Toms as inseparable allies supporting each other and working together for the common good. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister did a magnificent service to Britain and the Labour Party when he united the party in this way, when he followed the Christian doctrine of turning the other cheek. No one has shown more generosity to his enemies in these circumstances. Perhaps it is regrettable that the New Testament does not give very much direction on how one treats one's friends. But it can be done, has been done in the common interest and should be done.

I have too great an affection for hon. Members from Northern Ireland to mention their election in detail, but in British Guiana there was a strange happening. On 2nd December, half way through the election there, the Governor poked his nose in and said that he would not necessarily send for the man who got the most votes to form a Government. That was the old-fashioned procedure to show that Her Majesty has uncontrolled discretion in these matters.

The election results were about 44 seats for one party, 42 for another and twelve for others. Dr. Jagan's party had the largest number of seats. But the independent committee which observed the election said that it was a pretty good election for British Guiana and that it did not see much wrong, but that quite a lot of people might have voted differently because of the Governor's intervention. So Dr. Jagan finds that getting 44 per cent. of the votes brings him jolly near to gaol, and Mr. Burnham, by getting about 42 per cent., finds himself Prime Minister, not because of the agreement between him and Mr. Peter d'Aquiar, but because the Governor had already said that if they came to an agreement it would be all right. It is a question of order and priority in these things.

Fifteen men are in gaol in British Guiana. They are in detention in circumstances which have been described as deplorable. Letters have been read to show that the food is disgraceful and that the provisions are contemptible, that they are being treated as detainees have been treated, and in the last resort it is by Her Majesty's Government, for we are the people who are still responsible. Heaven knows that we have been doing it for years! There is hardly a Prime Minister of an emergent country who has not been imprisoned by us somewhere, and I thought that we had come to the end.

There are fifteen men imprisoned without trial, and some of them have been there for many months. Some of them are men who are beginning to take an active part in political life. We are told that we cannot be told what the charges are and that witnesses cannot be called to give evidence. It is said that we cannot say, "Before you have self-government, why not let them out?". What is it thought that these men will do if they are let out—form a trade union, or something? Have a meeting? Discuss some form of action? It is a disgrace if this state of affairs continues when everybody knows that a firm telegram to Mr. Burnham—it is probably a matter for the Governor—or to whomever may be in authority, would procure their release. We do not have the right to let this occasion pass without referring to one or two other matters.

As has been said, this state of affairs is against the unanimous vote, at least the decision nemine contradicente of the United Nations Council. It is not so long ago that we were appealing to the United Nations for action in support of the British Government. What is our position with the United Nations if it is watching what we are doing about these things?

Secondly, we know that at the conference convened by the former Secretary of State for the Colonies, my right hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale (Mr. Greenwood), in 1965, a draft constitution, or at least a plan for a constitution was prepared. The first item was a declaration of human rights in British Guiana. What happens about that? Is that just a comedy turn? Is that a bit of padding? Is it a sort of sweetener for something to come? Does it mean anything? Can it mean anything? Does it mean that once again we shall be told that the White Cliffs of Dover are the place where organised hypocrisy starts, as has been unfairly said so often in the past. What is it they are there for? Why are these people locked up without trial? The Minister said that they cannot be brought to trial, that they have not any evidence, except "I have seen some private documents—I cannot bring them to trial because I have not got witnesses."

In fairness to the Minister, he has never said that he has seen any private documents, or anything at all.

With respect, that is rather more unfair to the Minister than my observation, because the Minister said to the House that they were not detained because of political views, but because of acts they have been involved in. This included Mr. Nunes. I am quite sure that the Minister would not have said that unless he had some assurance, either written or verbal, that there was something in it. I do not know where he got the information or whether it was the Central Intelligence Agency. "There is no criticism of their political views," he added. That was one in the eye for Ike. The other strange thing about all this is that when things were going really well, when we had had a conference, when we had had a successful election, and everything was going to be changed, the then Foreign Secretary, the right hon. Member for Leyton (Mr. Gordon Walker), went to Washington on a blanket deal about saving the £, selling the aircraft industry and British Guiana.

This was quite frankly reported in the American papers. They said that, from their point of view, and this is perfectly reasonable, "We cannot have this here. This chap Jagan is a Communist, and if he is not then he looks like one, and what is worse, both he and his missis talk like Communists. We cannot have it."

I do not blame them. If I were President of the United States I would not give President Castro a ticker-tape welcome in New York—not unless I thought that it might serve a useful purpose. I am not criticising the United States over this. It is perfectly fair that as far as aid or generous terms to developing countries are concerned, the United States should make this condition. It is a little hard when they are creating a new democracy, because half the voters know very well that if they vote for Jagan they will not get any American aid, and if they vote for Mr. Burnham they may, provided Mr. Burnham is prepared to agree to one or two conditions, which may or may not be worthwhile.

10.45 p.m.

I am not saying this to criticise the United States. I am just looking at this rather strange world as I see it. In conclusion, the House has had some principles in the past, cherished over the centuries. To go on with this, without some assurance, is a sad breach of those principles.

I rise to support the Amendment put down by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Aston (Mr. Julius Silverman). I do so in the hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will accept it. If he does not, I hope the Amendment will be pressed to a vote and that the Government will be forced to accept it. I say this because I find myself in the position of very deeply regretting that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, whose record in these matters is known to all of us, and is respected, should find himself in the position of defending the indefensible.

The Government's case has been put very ably by my hon. Friend. I think it is this: There is a history of violence and bloodshed in British Guiana; there are faults on both sides; there has been violence on both sides; the position of these men is that they cannot be assured of a fair trial; for this reason we have to hand over independence to a Government with emergency powers in force. This, I think, is what the Government are saying: "We do not like this, but we have no alternative. We cannot put off handing over independence; the United Nations have told us to do so; although we ourselves did not vote for the motion which told us to do so, we must, nevertheless, respect it, and the whole process cannot be held up any longer." I believe myself that most of us in this House would accept that last statement—that the whole process cannot be held up much longer.

But what is the truth of the position? The truth, I think, is this, that so far as violence and proof and evidence are concerned, there is some evidence—which has not been produced in a court of law, and therefore is not proved—but there is some evidence against members of the present Government in Guiana. So far as the other side is concerned, there is at the moment no evidence at all. The Under-Secretary of State has said that he is convinced that these men who are in gaol without trial have been guilty of some offences, but he has not said what. At no time at all has anybody said, "We cannot prove it; we cannot bring these men to justice, but this is what they are said to have done." Nobody has even said that. if that were said it would be something. If somebody could say, "These are the matters they are accused of, though we cannot give them a trial", if at least we were told what they are supposed to have done, that would be something.

Can we possibly hand over power to a Government who are holding men without trial and are not even in a position to say precisely what the charges are? We cannot do this. I believe there is a widespread sentiment in the House tonight that this is something which we cannot bring ourselves to do. It is not that we do not understand the problem. When I went and discussed this with my right hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale (Mr. Greenwood), who was previously responsible, he told me—and I am sure this was true—that he thought of this business of detention without trial with the utmost repugnance; it was something which caused him great unease. I am absolutely sure it still causes my hon. Friend now sitting on the Front Bench equal unease.

He told me, however, that the reason the men could not be brought to trial was that they could not be convicted, that a jury could not be found who would convict these men. Since then we have been told the opposite. We are now told that witnesses cannot be found to give evidence against these men. At first we are told that these men cannot be convicted; now we are told, apparently, that the men cannot be tried. Where is the truth?

The truth of the matter is that they cannot be brought to trial, and we are bound to ask ourselves, is there not considerable substance in what my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale) has said? Can we really hand over authority to a Government if that Government are unable to uphold the rule of law in their own country without emergency powers?

My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State may well say that this is not the case so far as these men are concerned. There were originally 44; the number came down: so gradually the rule of law is being established in Guyana, and there are now only—10 is it, 11, 13, 14?—14 exceptions to the general operation of the law which otherwise applies in Guyana.

Cannot we say, as the Amendment suggests, that these 14 exceptions shall be removed, and that there is to be no exception to the operation of the rule of law in Guyana? If we can say that, we shall all be happy to say, "Let us take a chance", and it is a chance. Every country which enters into independence takes a chance. We know of cases in which independence has been handed over, and after the event the rule of law has been lost, and it has been regretted on both sides of the House.

To hand over independence at a time when emergency powers are in force is without precedent. I do not believe that there is a case in which the Government have handed over power to any other Government at a time when emergency powers were in force. Sometimes they have been in force before the hand over. Sometimes they have been taken afterwards, but as far as I can see there has been no case in which, at the time of hand over, we were able to say, "We are handing over to a Government which cannot enforce the rule of law in its own country without the operation of emergency powers".

If no evidence is produced against these men, why are they being held in gaol? I can say precisely why in one case. I have here the text of the detention order which was used in the case of Cedric Vernon Nunes, who has been mentioned. It is an order made under the Emergency Powers Regulations, 1964, and the Governor says:
"Whereas I am satisfied with respect to Cedric Vernon Nunes of 110, Bonasika Street … that with a view to preventing him acting in a manner prejudicial to public safety and order it is necessary to make an Order directing that he be detained.
Now, therefore, in pursuance of the power … I do hereby order and direct that the said Cedric Vernon Nunes be detained".
That is all. That was on 25th January, 1965, and he has been there ever since.

He is detained to prevent him acting in a manner prejudicial to public safety. This could apply to anyone in this House. We could be put in gaol to prevent us acting in a manner prejudicial to public safety. On this basis, who is safe? Which man cannot be put in gaol to prevent him doing something that he might do? For these reasons, it seems to me that we are not talking about something of party importance. We are talking about something which I know disturbs hon. Members on both sides of the House, and I believe that if my hon. Friend were to take the action which would reflect great credit on him, if he were to take his Parliamentary career in his hands and say that in his position tonight, having considered the situation as it has been illustrated to him, having given thought to his own excellent record in this matter, he feels that he ought to accept the Amendment, he would do a great service to the House, and a very great service to freedom.

I hope that my hon. Friend will feel able to follow that course. If he does not, it will be with great reluctance, but if my hon. Friend the Member for Aston pursues his Amendment to a Division, as if need be I hope he will, I shall, unhappily, be forced to support him in the Lobby.

For some little time now many of us have been very interested to hear some of the remarks made from the benches opposite. Perhaps some of us have wondered whether precisely the same sort of speeches would have been made had there been a triumphant Left-wing Jagan régime and some of his political opponents had been detained at the present time. I hope that perhaps the same force, the same enthusiasm, would have been shown tonight if that event had taken place. Perhaps I can be forgiven if I have my personal very sincere doubts whether the same—

Order. If the hon. Member who has the Floor of the House does not give way, the hon. Members who are seeking to intervene must resume their seats.

If you ask me to withdraw anything I have said, Mr. Irving, you will so direct me.

We have just heard insinuations made against Members, Mr. Irving. The hon. Member is smiling now. That smile should be wiped off his face. He has made insinuations against hon. Members of this House and will not allow Members to answer back. I ask for your Ruling on the point.

I am afraid that the hon. Member has said nothing that is out of order.

Thank you very much, Mr. Irving, for what I expected would be your answer, because there is no need for a great deal of giving way tonight. There is plenty of opportunity for any hon. Members who catch the eye of the Chair to reply in any way they wish to what they may interpret as an insult. Hon. Members on this side are quite prepared to see the Government Benches go through the formalities of co-operation between their two wings. We are not worried, and anything we want to say will be said.

There is no reason for me to give way, because later any hon. Member can make any speech he wishes to make. I repeat that I am very doubtful whether there would have been the same show here tonight had the political situation in British Guiana been rather different from what it is.

I say straight away, after those introductory remarks, that I have no intention of allowing the smile to be wiped off my face at any stage tonight. All I would say is that I support the Minister in his somewhat difficult task, because I well remember another occasion when he came to my aid, when he and I were members of the same "club" in that we had been declared persona non grata by Governments on the way to independence. On that occasion, although we were on different sides, he forgot all party preoccupations and came to my aid and expressed strong disapproval of this sort of arbitrary act before independence. I support him tonight quite genuinely, without any wish to cause him any embarrassment. [Laughter.] Hon. Members who want to interrupt will find that I am quite prepared to go on indefinitely, so if they want to speak later they had better remain quiet now.

I would like to know the purpose of this move tonight. Do those hon. Members opposite who are making these criticisms really think that they will have any practical effect at all—except an adverse one—on what is likely to happen in British Guiana at present? I ask hon. Members opposite to remember that if these sort of speeches are made the only effect will be to prevent the sort of moderating and softening of the situation which we would all like to see. I cannot help believing—and again I hope that this will not be interpreted as an insult—that no such speech made here tonight will do other than harden attitudes in British Guiana at this late stage.

We have had debates before this on the eve of other countries' independence. I can remember a Second Reading debate on the Bill granting independence to Uganda. At that time there was a distinct dispute, for which the British Government were responsible, between the Kingdom of Uganda, and a number of hon. Members on both sides of the House thought that Britain should take the responsibility of putting right something which we felt should be put right before independence was granted. One of my right hon. Friends, then the Minister responsible, will remember that occasion. But having made our protest, when the matter reached Committee everybody, on both sides, realised that we could do only more harm by pursuing an adverse criticism about a Government that was about to become independent.

I say to those hon. Members tonight who say that they will go into the Lobbies that I hope they will if they want to do so, but whether they go into the Lobbies or not—the Minister knows this, and so does his opposite number on my Front Bench—nothing will stop British Guiana becoming independent at the end of this month, and the most we can hope for is to send Guiana into independence with or without the good wishes, co-operation and fellow-feeling of this House of Commons.

11.0 p.m.

If we are to achieve anything along the lines suggested tonight, it can only be done by unanimous good wishes going out from the House, both during the Committee stage and during Third Reading. Hon. Members opposite know that if they went into the Lobbies tonight and if by chance this Amendment were carried, this would not have the effect they desire. Guyana would still become independent at the end of the month, but with a feeling of frustration and resentment against this country and the House of Commons. The Under-Secretary knows this. This is a point of complete unanimity between both sides—that we cannot prevent detentions by any self-governing régime anywhere.

I have been doing a little research, and I am sorry if I am not completely accurate over the data, but the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Hugh Jenkins) said that this was without precedent. In contradiction, I would say that it is almost without precedent for an independent Commonwealth country not to transpose the preventive detention arbitrary powers it inherited from the colonial Power into its permanent legislation almost the day after independence. I will read the list. India and Pakistan, both of whom received independence before the hon. Member for Putney or I came into the House, both have the most rigid form of Preventive Detention Acts, and I can remember no occasion like tonight when an attempt was made from the benches opposite to hold up the independence of either country. Ghana and Nigeria went into independence with preventive detention arbitrary legislation—[Interruption] I will give the name of the Acts, if required, which they incorporated in their permanent legislation after independence. It may be that there has been 24 hours and 48 hours legislative delay, but I doubt whether any hon. Member would seriously suggest that we are having a battle to let people out for 48 hours. What we are talking about is whether a Commonwealth country ought to have the powers at all.

I will continue with the list. Sierra Leone has had the Emergency Detention Act since its independence. Malawi and Singapore have had their Preservation of Public Security Acts, giving the power of arbitrary arrest and detention without trial. The Gambia has the Emergency Powers Act. Ceylon has the emergency Public Security Act, which allows detention without trial. Malaysia has its Internal Security Act which allows these same powers. Trinidad and Uganda have Emergency Powers Acts which give the same powers. Malta, Cyprus, Kenya and Zambia are all examples which I could find.

My hon. Friend and others remember the number of independence debates which we have had in Committee, and we do not remember one like tonight. Why was there never this fuss about these other countries which went into independence with, if not these Acts actually in being—

That is not really borne out by the facts, although I cannot give the exact details. In every case, whether these countries actually transposed this legislation immediately upon independence into these powers or actually carried them over, this is a fact about all the countries I have mentioned.

I think the hon. Gentleman has missed the point. I agree that what he has said is most regrettable. But I hope that he is not suggesting that this sad history is something which should give us cause for satisfaction. It is true that country after country has reintroduced such measures. I am suggesting that the present case is unique and entails actually handing over emergency powers. I agree that it is possible that the Burnham Government may reintroduce these powers and rearrest these men, but they should be released now and we should hope that there will be no rearrest.

Is what the hon. Gentleman is trying for in tonight's exercise the release of these men for 48 hours' jollification during the independence celebrations—

It is not a question of having faith in Burnham. Our task has become clear during the past few years, that, when these emergent territories gain their independence, for all sorts of reasons, for some of which we bear responsibility, we send them into independence with a whole variety of internal strains. In order to try to solve these problems, they resort to legislation of the sort to which the hon. Gentleman and I both object in principle. If we are talking about objecting to insults, I say at once that I have no liking at all for any of this sort of legislation. I have spoken—

—against it, whatever country it might have been, which introduces it.

As far back as 1951. Hon. Gentlemen opposite will have plenty of opportunities to study what I have said in the past on this issue. Time and again my hon. Friends and I have objected in the House of Commons to arbitrary forms of detention and arrest. I say straight away that I will continue to object in principle to this type of legislation. I am seeking tonight—

I want hon. Gentlemen opposite to know this. I am seeking tonight to discover why—I want them to give me one reason why—other than a natural fellow feeling for those who are detained at present, we are having this exercise now. Why, in the list of other countries I detailed, did we not have Amendments intended to delay independence?

This is what the people of Guiana will be asking tomorrow and the morning after. I am willing to lay a heavy bet that the Guinanese will ask, "What has happened to this county? Why are we having our independence held up through the determination of a section of Her Majesty's Government when we are doing what, almost without exception, every other Commonwealth country did on becoming independent"?

I ask hon. Gentlemen opposite to tell me why they are taking this line in view of the number of debates we have had in the past, often on Fridays with hardly any hon. Members here—certainly not with Amendments of this nature, supported by so many hon. Gentlemen opposite—as one country after another was granted independence. They went into independence with this country hoping that they would follow our example by having the minimum possible amount of restrictive legislation.

I am pleased to have this opportunity of telling the Committee that in Guiana today there is an enormous fund of good will towards Britain. My hon. Friends who know the country will agree with that. They will also agree that by the sort of action proposed by some hon. Gentlemen opposite tonight, we will not do any good for those who are detained there in prison. I may be anticipating the Minister's reply when I say that nothing that we do tonight by way of attacking the Guiana Government could possibly help to secure the release of the detained men.

I am willing to support Her Majesty's Government on this issue because, whatever some hon. Gentlemen opposite may say, independence will come to Guiana at the end of the month. Undue sniping at the Government of that country at this stage is not only malicious but ineffective.

The hon. Member for Torquay (Sir F. Bennett) has been in the House of Commons for a number of years—long enough to know that debates are conducted in a civilised manner, preserving the practice of giving way to one's opponents when one has made an outrageous charge against them. However, despite his years of service here, the hon. Gentleman does not seem to appreciate that agreeable Parliamentary custom. As he does so often, he takes refuge in his cowardice by refusing to give way to the hon. Members against whom he made the most outrageous charges.

He accused my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale), my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) and others of discriminating in their concern for freedom and liberty. When the hon. Gentleman has anything approaching one iota of the record which my hon. Friends have for showing concern for the freedom and liberty of others, he will be a much more respected libertarian in the House of Commons than he is tonight.

Having said that—and I will give way to the hon. Member or to anybody else who wishes me to do so, with your permission, Mr. Irving—I want to turn to the Second Reading debate on Friday, which unfortunately I was unable to attend. I read the report of the debate, and I was very shocked indeed by the speech of my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary. I was shocked because, like others, I know something of his attitudes and his record before he took office. I am one of those old-fashioned Parliamentarians—old-fashioned Socialists, if you like—who believe that one's performance in office ought to approximate one's performance in opposition. It seems to me to be a good sort of democratic practice to bear in mind.

Before I deal with what brings me here tonight to support my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Aston (Mr. Julius Silverman) and to refer to the Under-Secretary's speech on Friday, I want to refer to the very extraordinary revelations made in the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Aston tonight. Let us see what we are discussing. On both sides of the Committee, with the possible exception of the hon. Member for Torquay, we are concerned about the detention of people without trial in British Guiana, and we are anxious to see whether it is possible for the British House of Commons to exercise an influence on the side of liberty in these matters. I do not think there is anything between us on that—on the Liberal benches, some of the Opposition Members, and ourselves on the Government benches.

What we have to consider and give enormous weight to—unless they are refuted—are the revelations made by my hon. Friend the Member for Aston tonight. He has quoted from a document which he says—and I had not heard of it before I heard his speech—was compiled by expatriates, British officers employed by the then Governor in British Guiana. This document says that Ministers of the present Government were guilty, in the opinion of the investigating officers, of conspiracy to murder, to commit acts of arson and offences against the then Government of British Guiana. This. I think, is what my hon. Friend said.

He said that some of the individuals named in that document are, in fact, Ministers in Mr. Burnham's Government at the moment. Therefore, I say to hon. Members that, on the face of it, if my hon. Friend's document is one which cannot be challenged, we are entitled to be suspicious of the people at present in the Government of British Guiana who are responsible for the safety and welfare of their detainees, their fellow countrymen, whether they be Indian or African.

What my hon. Friend said tonight is very serious. There was an exchange between my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West and my hon. Friend the Member for Aston, and I gather from what they said that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary had not seen this document. I hope that when he comes to reply he will tell us whether he has seen it. As I have already said, in previous years he and I have been abroad looking into questions of political prisoners. We did not have the hon. Member for Torquay with us. But my hon. Friend and I were in Africa a few years ago looking into this very question of people imprisoned without trial. We did our best, and together we were reasonably successful.

In the OFFICIAL REPORT of Friday's debate, in col. 1179, I see that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary said:
"I repeat that Mr. Nunes is not under detention because of his political views or his race. He is committed because he was or could be immediately associated with acts of violence."
Whereupon my hon. Friend the Member for Aston intervened to say:
"… but it is clear that, to satisfy hon. Members, the nature of the allegation being made against Mr. Nunes should at least be stated."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 29th April, 1966; Vol. 727, c. 1179.]
Of course, they should. If it is not possible in British Guiana, because of racial tensions or political differences, to make the charges stick in the courts, what is to prevent my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State or other British Ministers expressing their view on the matter in the House of Commons? What is wrong with that? If my hon. Friend really believes that Mr. Nunes or any other of the detainees is a threat to public order in British Guiana, as he implied in the debate on Friday last, he should give the House of Commons some explanation.

11.15 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of States says, "I cannot give you these details because the courts in British Guiana cannot prove the case. The witnesses cannot be produced and the charges cannot be made to stick." That may be the situation in British Guiana, but it does not let my hon. Friend out in the House from giving an explanation. He cannot have it both ways. He cannot say, on the one hand, "We have no jurisdiction over British Guiana, and we have no real power. Therefore, I cannot intervene," and then act in the House as though he is just a mouthpiece for the present Government in British Guiana. He said that Mr. Nunes was committed
"because he was or could be immediately associated with acts of violence."
My hon. Friend the Member for Aston then said that the Under-Secretary of State ought to bring the charges, and the Under-Secretary went on to say:
"I am not in a position to give details of this case. We are satisfied that the general point I am making—that none of these 15 men is detained on racial or political grounds—is correct."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 29th April. 1966; Vol. 727, c. 1179.]
If he believes that it is correct, let him at least give in the House of Commons chapter and verse to sustain that view.

None of us wants to hold up the independence of British Guiana. I say to the hon. Member for Torquay and anybody who thinks like him—happily, in the House of Commons they are few and a disappearing race—that we fully understand that in every former British colonial territory which becomes independent there are unpleasant hang-overs of imperialism which are inherited and sometimes used by nationalist leaders. We fully understand that, but hon. Members on this side of the Committee—there is chapter and verse for this through the years—have time and again protested against people's liberty being withheld from them without trial in every former British colonial territory. If the hon. Member for Torquay does not believe that, let him go to his friends in the Library and do a little research to see how many times in this connection the names of my hon. Friends on the front bench below the Gangway are mentioned and compare their record with his own.

I hope that, when British Guiana has its independence, it will prosper, but I feel that Mr. Burnham and his friends, with the suspicions attached to their own past record, would do well to bear in mind the voices which have been raised in the House and in this Committee. I hope that they will give a good send-off to independence by releasing the detainees or bringing them to trial.

I hope that, apart from the message which I send out from the House of Commons to Mr. Burnham, by hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State will carry the case a little further tonight and defend his position rather more explicitly than he did on Friday last.

Part of the discussion tonight and part of the discussion last Friday has been directed to the question whether we should have a discussion about this matter at all. Some hon. Members opposite seem to take the curious view that a discussion of this kind in some way does harm. No discussion about the protection of people's individual liberty ever did any harm. There is never a wrong time for discussing it, and I am sure that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State will agree with that. It is absolutely right that the House of Commons should sustain the tradition which it has had for generations of having debates on questions of individual liberties.

On general grounds I cannot understand how anybody should claim that this debate would do any harm. The Hon. Member for Torquay (Sir F. Bennett) has said that nobody is going to take any notice of what happens in this debate. He said a most insulting thing. I think it is insulting to Mr. Burnham himself. I do not think Mr. Burnham would advance that proposition. Therefore the hon. Member for Torquay has not done any service to the cause he was supporting. Nobody wants to discuss the hon. Member for Torquay. So we come to the hon. Member for Surbiton (Mr. Fisher), a very different, a very much more honourable, Member.

The hon. Member for Surbiton also suggested in the debate last Friday that he did not think it was quite right that we should have this discussion. He would not say he was going to suppress it, but he did not think it would perform any good service. The impression he gave was that when we got to this stage of an independence Bill the proper thing was to let it get through without debate. That is not correct. I can remember quite a number of debates on the eve of independence when we have discussed precisely these questions. There was the debate about the independence of Malta, when some of us were very concerned up to the very last moment that we should take every step we could in the House to protect the liberties of the people of Malta. Events that have occurred since have justified everything we were seeking to do at that time.

We have had evidence of how things we were seeking to protect in Malta have been denied to them, and their liberties have been suppressed in the manner we were then trying to prevent. At that time members of the present Government, including the Commonwealth Secretary, moved an Amendment to the Malta Independence Bill at the last moment to try to extract from right hon. Members on the other side who were then on this side protection for the people of Malta. So it is no good trying to pretend that there is anything unconstitutional, out of the ordinary or out of keeping with the traditions of this House, that we should discuss this matter up to the last moment.

Of course, if we had received more satisfaction from Her Majesty's Government or from Mr. Burnham in response to the debate on Friday, it would not have been so necessary to proceed with these Amendments today. It is precisely because we were not satisfied with the reply given by the Government and there was not sufficient response from British Guiana that we think it right to proceed with this debate and make clear to everybody in British Guiana how deeply we are ccncerned about the situation there, and how much we believe they can contribute to the future welfare of independent Guyana by listening to what we have to say on prisoners.

On general grounds, everyone, I would think, who cares about liberty—and nobody includes the hon. Member for Torquay in that category—should wish to see the Preventive Detention Acts abolished and no action taken to keep people in prison without trial. It is most deplorable that in some former British territories the independent States have continued these Acts which have been operated in the past by British Governments, but certainly nobody on this side of the House will defend preventive detention Acts on that account. We think that they are odious, and I am sure that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary thinks so, too. The basis of our liberties is that people should not be imprisoned without trial, and therefore only exceptional circumstances could justify such measures.

What are the exceptional circumstances in British Guiana? I think that the arguments there are all the other way round. There may be a case, although most of us would find it detestable, for saying that in certain circumstances people may have to be imprisoned without trial, but we should wish to examine all such cases with the utmost care and to be given the most overwhelming evidence. We have not been given the evidence about British Guiana. From what has been said—and this is the significance of the very important evidence presented by my hon. Friend the Member for Aston on Second Reading and today—the offence of continuing imprisonment without trial is made all the worse because the Government in British Guiana which is doing it is composed partly of persons who themselves were suspected of these crimes and who have been suspected of committing exactly the crimes of which they are accusing these men. That makes it all the worse. It should make them all the more eager to wipe the slate clean. Members of the present Government, who have known what conditions in British Guiana have been and how violence has been threatened and may be used on both sides, should be all the more eager to be magnanimous now that power is so nearly in their hands.

There has not been the slightest scrap of evidence given by the Minister on which we can make up our minds. The Parliamentary Secretary would never have accepted the situation, when he was in Opposition, that merely on a Minister's assurance we should agree that people should be kept in prison. The evidence provided by the Minister himself is contradictory. In an attempt to reassure the House he said at the end of his speech,
"I have every confidence that, within the next weeks or months, more of the detainees will be released. …"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 29th April 1966; Vol. 727, c. 1182.]
That is a most astonishing statement. If he has every confidence that they will be released, has he been given some assurance by Mr. Burnham? If so, we should like to know, because we are responsible as well as he. If he has an assurance that although it cannot be done before independence, it will be done afterwards, we should like to know. He says that he is confident that it will happen. Earlier in his speech, however, he said: "These are very dangerous and wicked men who will blow up the place." At the end of his speech he says that he is confident that they will be released. Which one? How many? Which are we to believe? Are we to believe what my hon. Friend said at the end of his speech, that he is confident that more of them will be released or what he said at the beginning, and what the Minister has said previously—that these are very dangerous men and that that is why they are kept in prison?

11.30 p.m.

It does not fit. My hon. Friend contradicted himself in that speech. Which case is he making? Is it that these men are still so dangerous that they must be kept in prison? If so, he makes nonsense of that appeal towards the end of his speech. We all have great sympathy for my hon. Friend. I do not believe that he has altered his views because he has become a Minister. He has not been at the Department very long and, as realists, we know that the whole decision about independence for British Guiana was settled before he and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State arrived at their new posts. It was signed, sealed and delivered and only the formalities, apparently, were left to them to carry through.

But that does not mean to say that my hon. Friend must not tell us what he means. I think that he was trying to say in his Second Reading speech that he would like to see more of these prisoners released and that he does not think that their release would destroy stability and peace. Perhaps this was his way of making an appeal. Let him make it more strongly or tell us that the Government since Second Reading have made direct representations on behalf of the House of Commons and probably the majority of hon. Members on this side. I hope the Government have made such an appeal. If they have not, I hope they will assure us tonight that they will do so. I hope my hon. Friend will tell us that he has been impressed by our arguments.

There are other factors which make it so important that the situation should be understood. I shall not go into detail again. We all know that the United States Government have had considerable interest, of course, in what has happened in British Guiana. There is nothing secret about that. It has all been published in the American press. Indeed, some American papers have alleged that the Central Intelligence Agency has played a considerable part in British Guiana and that when President Kennedy came to England in July 1963 part of his mission was to make representations to Mr. Harold Macmillan about British Guiana in order, so it is claimed, that it should not go the same way as Cuba. All these allegations have been made by Mr. Drew Pearson in his newspaper on 22nd March, 1964.

All this makes it all the more important that we should clear up the matter as far as we can before independence comes. We are not trying to hold up independence. There might have been an argument which perhaps we should have pressed earlier for holding it up, and some of us may have been lax in failing to press that argument earlier. There was an element in the last Government and there is an element in this who think that perhaps the best way to deal with the problem of British Guiana is to put it out of the way for it is too difficult for us to solve.

Many of us remember over the years, however, how appeal after appeal has been made to Dr. Jagan and Mr. Burnham to come together in some form of coalition. When we were in opposition this appeal was backed by prominent right hon. and hon. Gentlemen on behalf of the Labour Party who had had most detailed and continuous association with our colonial territories.

I remember the appeal made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. James Griffiths). I remember the appeal made by Lord Brockway. I remember the appeal which was made by the present Commonwealth Secretary from the Opposition Front Bench prior to the election of 1964 when the Commonwealth Secretary in the Conservative Government had decided that the elections should be on proportional representation. As my hon. Friend knows perfectly well, at that time the Labour Party was unanimously opposed to the form of constitution which was being imposed on the people of British Guiana. We protested against it most strongly. The present Prime Minister protested against it.

I am not saying that all that can now be reopened, but no one can come along and say that what has happened is all Dr. Jagan's fault, because up to that point he had the overwhelming majority of Labour Party opinion on his side. Indeed, although he may have been mistaken in thinking that it could happen he was entitled to believe that it was a possibility that when the Labour Party won the 1964 election, it might hold up the elections in British Guiana. I believe that it was very difficult for my right hon. Friend to do so, because the election here was within a week or two of the elections there. We all know that Dr. Jagan asked the previous Colonial Secretary to intervene and arbitrate about the form of constitution.

But what I am emphasising is that Dr. Jagan has every right to say on many of these matters that his view was overwhelmingly accepted by the Labour Party and that he has now been abandoned by those who had previously supported his view and who, for one reason or another, good or bad, have changed theirs while he has held to the same view. He and his party think that they have been gravely ill-used. Looking at the facts, I think that they have a very strong case for that view.

But whatever might be thought about who is right and who wrong, nobody can deny that Dr. Jagan and the overwhelming bulk of his party suffer from a deep burning sense of grievance. My point is that at this critical moment in the history of British Guiana a wise Government should do everything it can to try to remove that sense of grievance. We cannot remove it all. We will not be able to wipe from their memories all that has happened during these years, but we can take some steps to ease it. This is the first.

Some of these men who are in prison are comrades of Dr. Jagan, his political associates. It is no good the Under-Secretary or anybody else saying that they are not in prison for their political opinions. They have not been tried for their political opinions because they have not been tried for anything, but everybody in British Guiana inevitably thinks that that is why they are in prison.

I want us to use all our influence to make independence successful. Although Dr. Jagan and his party are against what the Labour Government have done and what the British Government have done over the years, whenever I have met him—and I have known him now for ten years or more—I have said, particularly since the disputes of October 1964, "Despite all your grievances, your right course is to try to make the constitution work and to go into Parliament". This was at a time when he and his party were absenting themselves from Parliament. I still urge him to do so.

That would be the wisest course for Dr. Jagan and his party, despite all their grievances and hardships. They must make independence succeed and they must make the present constitution work, even under this unfair system of election which was imposed upon them. I believe that he could regain power in a few years' time and rule in Guyana. He has every right to hope for that, and I am sure that that is the proper course for him to take. It is a lot to ask, but I hope that is what he will do, and I hope that my hon. Friends on this side of the House would also urge him to do the same. Even if we do not succeed with this plea tonight, I would still urge him to do it because the safety of the people of British Guiana rests upon it. One cannot work British Guiana with the biggest party opposed to the whole system.

Because of this I plead with Dr. Jagan to make it work, to do his best to make it work. If we are going to plead with Dr. Jagan to do that, and all the House agrees that it is right to do so, then we have every right to ask, to demand, that Mr. Burnham shall make his contribution. He can do it. He can help. We have an even greater right to demand that the Government should use all their power with Mr. Burnham to see this is done. This is the way for the Government to be magnanimous. I do not think that it will solve everything, but I believe that they can ease the situation. So I plead with the Government, at this very late hour, to speak to Mr. Burnham and to make it clear that they are speaking on behalf of the British House of Commons.

The hon. Gentleman has not been here very long. We are trying to have a serious debate, to ensure that the future of British Guiana shall be a prosperous and peaceful one, and we do not believe, at least I do not believe, that it can be done on the basis of keeping these people imprisoned on the kind of trumpery evidence which is all that we have been offered. One cannot be expected to believe this stuff. It has not been tested anywhere, and I am not prepared to accept evidence of that nature. In any case, this is a time when something has to be done for the people who speak for the biggest party in British Guiana, and without whose co-operation the country's future can be even more bloody than the last few years.

Since October, 1964, the British Government in almost every action they have taken over British Guiana have favoured or have appeared to favour, Mr. Burnham as against Dr. Jagan. Almost every action has appeared to have that result. That is certainly the sense in which it has been interpreted by Dr. Jagan and his party. I plead with the Government to use their imagination, to try to see this, and to make sure that we do not miss this opportunity to do the last thing that we can to help British Guiana. We cannot do anything more after this. We are responsible for the circumstances in which they go ahead, and there could be outbreaks of bloodshed.

There will not be such outbreaks, in my opinion, because there are 15 dangerous people in British Guiana. More people are capable of stirring up trouble than those 15. On my hon. Friend's own showing, he is hoping that some of these 15 are going to be let out within a few weeks or months. If these dangerous men can be let out, this is all the more reason why he should use his influence before independence comes in the middle of May to make it clear in the name of the House of Commons that there is a readiness to heal old wounds. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Sevenoaks (Sir J. Rodgers), who came in for a moment, intervened, and has fortunately lapsed into quietness, should know that we on this side of the House speak on behalf of the country, in what I hope is a voice speaking in the interests of magnanimity. One cannot heal old wounds on the basis of saying that we are going to keep these people locked up behind bars, without putting them on any charge.

11.45 p.m.

I appreciated very much the eloquent and moving appeal of the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) for racial tolerance and peace in British Guiana, and also his very genuine appeal to Dr. Jagan to co-operate, but I must say that all the evidence of our own eyes shows that Mr. Burnham's Government have made a far greater contribution to the easement of racial tension in the Colony than Dr. Jagan did when he was in that position as Premier.

In my view, despite the arguments of the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale, this is really a totally unrealistic Amendment to bring before us. We have already argued it in principle, and in detail, on Second Reading. Everyone interested in the matter has made his points, both for and against, and nothing anybody may say this evening is likely to bridge the difference between our points of view. Of course we all dislike the need for preventive detention. I think everybody in the House of Commons feels that, but, with a little personal knowledge of British Guiana, I must say that I share the view of the Government in this matter.

Without, so far as I know, very much personal knowledge of British Guiana, hon. Members below the Gangway on the other side take, perfectly genuinely, a very different view. They are arguing on the basis, I believe, of very sincere moral conviction. The Under-Secretary of State, if I anticipate correctly—I hope I do—is going to take, broadly, the same attitude as I, and we are arguing on a less emotive basis; we are arguing on the realism of the facts of the situation in British Guiana, as it has been and as it now is.

Whatever our views—and I do not propose to repeat what I said on Second Reading last Friday—the fact remains that this is an unrealistic Amendment, because the matter at issue falls within the jurisdiction of the Government of British Guiana and not of the British Government. Under the existing 1961 Constitution, that is the position purely and simply. We have no possible right to intervene, even if we wished to do so. If we wanted to intervene we should have to alter the 1961 Constitution of British Guiana within three weeks of independence.

I always listen to the hon. Member with, I hope, courtesy and attention. Surely he is at the moment mistaken about the Amendment. The Amendment says unless the Government of British Guiana, acting within their powers under the 1961 Constitution, do release these prisoners, then the House of Commons should not go further on the road to the self-government of British Guiana. It has been presented in that way; the Amendment is moved in that way. It is perfectly within our rights. All of us recognise, of course, that if we refuse self-government at this stage that is a very serious step to have to take. All we are saying is that we think the Colonial Secretary should say, "The House of Commons has taken the view that we ought not to give self-government unless you are in a position to restore freedom from persecution, freedom from imprisonment without trial, and so on." Anything wrong with that?

I entirely follow the hon. Member's point. There are two alternative actions on the part of the British Government which could arise out of this Amendment if it were carried. The first is the one I was on at the moment, that we should have to alter the Constitution of British Guiana. The other is that we should delay independence.

I am coming to that point in a moment. I believe that to seek to alter the Constitution of British Guiana—which was the point I was on—within three weeks of independence, and to take powers to do so which we do not at present possess, is not a very realistic thing to suggest at this time.

What could fairly be said is, that for the sake of those—I think it is now 13 or 15 people—who are, on the evidence which was always put to me at the time of their original detention, a danger to peace and public safety in British Guiana, the Amendment suggests we should take powers which we do not possess at the present time in order to deny to 500,000 people the independence which they expect on 26th May.

I think that it was the hon. Member for Oldham, West himself who called in aid the United Nations resolution, but that resolution also says that we should not delay the granting of independence to any colony. One can pick which part of the resolution one likes best; but even the P.P.P., so far as I know, do not suggest that independence should be delayed.

If the Amendment were carried, I believe that it would create a great sense of frustration in British Guiana if independence were delayed as a result, and it might indeed create a situation almost of chaos if we tried to take powers which we do not possess to alter the Constitution and force British Guiana to take this step. It might even lead to a return to the conditions of racial tension and strife, and almost of civil war, which used to be a feature of life in British Guiana, but which, happily, has not been so during the past year or two. The Amendment therefore seems to be not only unrealistic, but, if I may say so without sounding offensive, irresponsible and dangerous.

The hon. Member for Oldham, West said that a firm telegram to Mr. Forbes Burnham would bring about the immediate release of the detainees, but what could possibly make the hon. Gentleman think that? There is no foundation at all for that view. It is pure wishful thinking on the part of the hon. Gentleman.

I do not know whether hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway opposite will force this Amendment to a Division. If they do, and if they win, they will do a great disservice to British Guiana. If they do not, this whole debate is a mere charade.

I do not propose at this late hour to speak for more than a few minutes, but there are a number of things which I should like to say.

I am sorry that the hon. Member for Torquay (Sir F. Bennett) is no longer in his place, because I think that some of his remarks with reference to hon. Members on this side of the Committee were resented, and I have a particular reason for so doing. It so happens that a few years ago I was an administrative officer in the Colonial Service. Nearly 10 years ago I was serving in Ghana, and I had a part to play—though perhaps quite a humble one—in the preparation of the independence of that country.

Hon. Members will remember that Ghana became independent in 1957. There were long discussions in the months before that when people were trying to find a proper way to provide safeguards for civil liberties, for the independence of the judiciary, and for the independence of the Civil Service from corruption or undue influence, without at the same time stultifying the whole purpose of independence, or making conditions for government intolerable for a new country. We managed, I think, to provide quite a good constitution. Certainly most of the things that were in our memorandum—and I had a hand in drafting it—were incorporated in the Ghana Constitution which was promulgated in, I think, February, 1957.

It was a melancholy task, for more than one reason. First, because if one genuinely believes in colonial independence, one hated doing things which might seem almost insultingly to circumscribe the powers of a new independent country. Secondly, because most of us believed that some kind of restraint was necessary. It was a melancholy task for me as a Socialist, though a member of the Civil Service, because I agreed, and still agree, with much of the domestic policy which Dr. Nkrumah's Government carried out, or were due to carry out and continue to execute in the years ahead, until this year when he was overthrown.

I do not regret the fact that we made this attempt, even though it failed in the end. I do not regret that among the many things enshrined in the first constitution of Ghana were provisions against detention without trial. It forced upon the new Ghana Government moral responsibility for reintroducing the powers that all of us ought to regard as abhorrent. At least we had done our duty, and if there is one good thing that Lord Boyd of Merton did in his long and singularly disreputable reign as Colonial Secretary it was in the preparation of the Ghana Constitution.

Even if we regard this as a mere academic exercise—as some hon. Members opposite seem to think it is—and even if the hon. Member for Torquay were right to ask, "What is the use of releasing people for a 48 hours' junket in celebration of the attainment of independence," this would still give them, at worst, an opportunity to flee the country and get away before they could be put in prison again. But the argument does not end there. Even if Mr. Burnham were so minded as to re-arrest them after independence—and I am putting the worst possible interpretation on the situation—it would be rather a rash man who would do this immediately following independence, and Mr. Burnham does not answer to that description.

Again taking the example of Ghana, when Dr. Nkrumah set about un-rooting the safeguards that we had placed in the constitution it took him a full two years. There was a two-year period of respite. I therefore hope that my hon. Friends will press this matter tonight. I hope that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, who has had a splendid record during his years on Opposition—especially in matters connected with Cen- tral Africa, during that melancholy and disgraceful episode—will reconsider these matters. I hope that Mr. Burnham will take our criticisms in the spirit that we intend them. Mr. Burnham is already a Left-winger; indeed, this dispute in British Guiana is an ideological one between two parties of very much the same political persuasion, where other problems have exacerbated the situation.

Merely because we are about to discharge our responsibilities once and for all we cannot push them on one side and say that the fate of a handful of people is not our concern, when even now it is possible for us to do something to help them.

12 m.

We have listened during the last two hours to a number of very sincere speeches, and we have just heard the hon. Member for Reading (Mr. John Lee) give the Committee the benefit of his personal experience in what I thought was an excellent speech, unfortunately spoilt by a quite unnecessary reference to a former hon. Member who I believe—and I think the House believes—to have been a great Colonial Secretary. We have been discussing for the last two hours the position of 15 men in detention in British Guiana, one of whom, I understand—and perhaps the Minister will corroborate this—has been released since our last discussion of the matter on Friday. Perhaps the assumption that one of his hon. Friends made was not correct. Mr. Nunes has been particularly mentioned. My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Mrs. Knight) has been taking a very active interest in Mr. Nunes' position, because Mrs. Nunes lives in her constituency.

As I listened to the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot), I seemed to detect, at the beginning of his speech, a certain self-consciousness about the Amendment. It surprised me very much. I do not believe, and from what he said later on in his speech I gather that he does not believe either, that there is any need for self-consciousness about an Amendment of this kind. It is on occasions like this, when the House of Commons has spoken sincerely about the liberty of the individual, that the House, over the centuries, has been at its best.

I think that one message has been made perfectly clear by the Committee, and that is that detention of this kind is an object of our universal and unanimous dislike—

There is no question of self-consciousness. I merely raised the matter because one of the right hon. Gentleman's hon. Friends had said that we were actuated by malice—I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will repudiate that—and a much more honourable Gentleman, the hon. Member for Surbiton (Mr. Fisher), had also questioned the wisdom of having the debate. That is why I raised the matter.

I will come to the question of the wisdom of the conclusion of the debate in a moment. But I must apologise to the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale if I have misrepresented his attitude. I thought that he was talking with self-consciousness. I shall learn to do better in future—

Well, I am getting to know him better.

The Committee has very clearly made its view apparent tonight, that it universally dislikes detention of this kind, whether it is preventive detention or the deprivation of liberty without trial. All these things are offensive to our ideas of justice, wherever we sit in the House. I am nonetheless certain that it is essential for this Committee and the House of Commons at all times to be prepared to face the realities of any given situation.

The Committee needs no reminding that a very few months ago British Guiana was in the grip of violent disturbances which caused us great distress and anxiety. The Committee is just as well aware that these violent disturbances have now, thank goodness, given way to relative calm and peace. All that I have observed—this is only a personal conviction: there is no possible way of proving it—leads me to the conclusion that this relative calm is no mere coincidence and that the detention of at least some of these 15 men has contributed to the improvement of this situation. This is something which it is impossible to prove. It is a conviction which I and a number of other hon. Gentlemen happen to hold and I believe that it is one of the realities which we have to face tonight.

The hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale) made, as was his wont in previous Parliaments in which I have sat, not only a most entertaining speech but a speech, as I have come to expect of him, full of deep human feeling. I have no doubt, and I do not think that he would deny it, that his speech would have been considerably less light-hearted if this debate instead of taking place in the calm of the House of Commons was taking place in the context and the vicinity of some of the abominable crimes which took place in British Guiana not long ago.

I hope I am not entirely lacking in the moral conviction which has informed a good many of the speeches tonight. In the circumstances which exist today in the Colony, it is unavoidable, as it is often unavoidable, to try to balance two things which we all recognise as evil—the evil, which I mentioned, of continuing preventive detention against the other evil, the evil of the violent disturbances which very nearly wrecked the prospects for the country a short time ago.

The hon. Member for Ebbw Vale used a phrase with which I profoundly agreed. He said that the object of us all—the object of the Amendment—was to try to use all our influence to try to make independence successful. I can only assure him that I sincerely share the objective which he stated. But I understand, as my hon. Friend the Member for Surbiton mentioned, that there is no difference of opinion in British Guiana among all the political parties about their anxiety for independence in the near future.

I am convinced that the results of postponing this grant of independence, even if there were justification for doing so, would be not only highly unwise but might well be extremely dangerous. I say that because, if the Amendment were carried, I cannot see any alternative to the beginning of the life of Guyana taking place in an atmosphere of deep bitterness. I cannot see that an attempt by Great Britain at this stage and in these circumstances to tell the Government of British Guiana and the future Government of Guyana how to administer their affairs would help Guyana smoothly to overcome the very real difficulties which the Colony will have ahead of it after independence. Nor do I believe that it would be of help to the men in detention if this course were adopted.

I sincerely hope that, for these reasons, the Amendment will not be pressed to a Division. If it is, I would find myself bound to support the view of Her Majesty's Government, and I expect that a number of my hon. Friends would join me. But I feel that great damage would be likely to be done to the future of the Colony if we proceeded to a Division on this matter and I therefore very much hope that, after the Minister's reply, those who tabled the Amendment will be willing to withdraw it.

I shall be brief at this late hour. The right hon. Member for Bridlington (Mr. Wood) spoke in moderate terms, but within that moderation—although he did condemn preventive detention as such—he might have extended his remarks to call for the release of the 15 detainees. That is the crux of the problem with which we are dealing.

The hon. Member for Surbiton (Mr. Fisher) pointed out that while he and others were familiar with the conditions in Guiana, other hon. Members might possibly not be, and that is perfectly true. However, we are familiar with Mr. Jagan, who is the leader of the P.P.P., and we have met Mr. Forbes Burnham. We met him at a Labour Party rally at the time of one of the party's conferences. Mr. Burnham made the type of speech on that occasion which would have turned the hon. Member for Torquay (Sir F. Bennett) grey, so revolutionary was he in the Socialist context of his remarks. From his speech, one could say that Mr. Burnham was at that time to the left of any Trotskyist in this country. This is absolutely true. Hon. Members can remember this. That was at a time when Dr. Jagan appeared to be a very moderate Socialist.

We have seen a change of events in British Guiana which have led to some of the unhappy circumstances to which reference has been made by the right hon. Member for Bridlington and the hon. Member for Surbiton. I happened to meet Dr. Jagan last year in Germany, and he was very concerned not only for his own life but for the lives of many of his supporters in British Guiana. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) that possibly he placed too much importance on the return of a Labour Government in 1964 and he expected too much from that Government. I believe that he expected the elections to be postponed so that the inequalities, as he believed them to be, in the Constitution could be rectified. But, as we know, the elections went forward and, under proportional representation, Mr. Burnham was elected Prime Minister.

It is worth noting that when Dr. Jagan was Prime Minister, while affairs were very much under the old Constitution, under the Governor, people were not placed in preventive detention as they are now when Mr. Burnham is Prime Minister.

This debate has certainly done no damage. It has not damaged those people who are in preventive detention. It will not damage the people of British Guiana when independence is granted. We have urged Dr. Jagan, despite the bitterness, to try to make this Constitution work and to play his part in the Government because we can see a greater danger of racial conflict between the African and Indian communities in that country. This bitterness has been inflamed in the past by elements particularly from the United States, including the C.I.A., which is not to their credit, and we do not want to see this situation exacerbated.

I appeal to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary. Many things have been said about his position as Under-Secretary and about his past stand on colonial matters. I join with my hon. Friends in acknowledging that his convictions are as strong as, if not stronger than, they ever were. But it is imperative that the Government should send out the word to Mr. Burnham that we want something done about these detainees before independence is granted. It would be wrong of us to grant independence when we know that there are political detainees of a major party, people who have been in detention for many months, with no reason given, with no chance of a trial.

We are debating this matter tonight because we know that what we say will get through to the people and leaders of public opinion in British Guiana. We know that they will take heed. They know that the British connection will not be entirely broken with the granting of independence and we are to reserve certain rights in relation to troops, bases and so on.

Those of us who signed the Amendment and have pursued this matter tonight have done so because we believed that it was right in the interests of the people of British Guiana as a whole. It is our hope to prevent racial discrimination and to see the majority Government continuing to rule, with Dr. Jagan and the P.P.P. themselves also playing a part in it. We have a right to ask that independence be started on a proper footing, and, if we ask that of Dr. Jagan, we must ask, equally, for the removal of preventive detention as it exists today.

That is the case we make to the Colonial Secretary and to his UnderSecretary of State. It is the case, we feel, which should go out from the House of Commons tonight. We believe that, if it goes out firmly and clearly enough, it will have the desired effect. But it must not be muffled, and we must not try to dodge or hide the facts.

12.15 a.m.

I regret that the hon. Member for Torquay (Sir F. Bennett) has had to leave the Committee because there were two points in his speech which I wish to take up at the outset. The first was an implication conveyed throughout his speech, and the second was something which he specifically said.

The hon. Gentleman seemed to imply that, because other countries had preventive detention ordinances or Acts or had emergency powers, this somehow was a justification for the situation in British Guiana. I do not accept that at all. The fact that other countries have seen the need to operate certain emergency powers is no excuse and no reason for British Guiana to operate such powers. The reasons, as I hope to convince the Committee, are not in other countries; the reasons are in British Guiana itself. That is the case I ask the Committee to accept tonight, not a justification because it has been done elsewhere, as seemed to be implied in the hon. Gentleman's speech.

The other point on which I disagree profoundly with the hon. Member for Torquay is his argument that the debate should not take place. It is in the best traditions of the House of Commons that this sort of debate should take place, that hon. Members should stay here till gone midnight, after many hours of debate on the Budget, in order to discuss, with such sincerity, the imprisonment without trial of a few—13 or 14 men—in British Guiana, a country many thousands of miles away. This is in the best traditions of the House, and although I do not agree with the speeches which have been made by my hon. Friends in support of the Amendment, I do deny that their speeches should not have been made or that they should not have debated this question with such moving sincerity.

Nor do I believe that this debate as a debate should necessarily do any harm. It may do some good. But what I do believe is that, if the debate resulted in the Amendment being forced to a vote and if, by some mischance, it were passed, it would do a very great deal of harm to British Guiana. It would embitter relations there. I shall develop that point, but I do not disagree with the putting forward of the views which have been expressed. Hon. Members have been moved by much sincerity, most of them by genuine emotion, and I thoroughly applaud their energy instimulating and speaking in the debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Aston (Mr. Julius Silverman) moved an Amendment which I was glad to see omitted the words which he used in his Amendment on Friday—" for political purposes". This is important. It seems that he is beginning to accept the case which we are putting from the Box that these people are not in prison because of their political views.

While those words are not in the Amendment—for very definite reasons—I made it clear in my speech that I still believe that these people are in prison for political reasons.

I do not agree with my hon. Friend. These men are not in prison for their political views. They are in prison because at the time they were detained they could have been, and in the opinion of the Ministers responsible in British Guiana at this time they could be, a danger to public order and safety. That is why they are there—not because of their political views. If these men are being imprisoned for their political views, why is it that only one of them is a man of any great political significance—Mr. Nunes? He is the only man of any considerable political influence. The others may have political opinions but they have no political influence.

One or two may be political activists, but Mr. Nunes is the man with the political influence. Most of the men are comparatively young men. They may have political views but they cannot be said to be of any great political weight yet in Guiana. Dr. Jagan and his associates are completely free to campaign and to boycott if they wish. These are not men who have been detained. If Mr. Burnham's Government were anxious to use their powers in a Draconian way to inhibit and control the opposition, there are men of greater political weight than those who have been detained who would be in jail today. I therefore refute the case which has been built up on the basis that these men are in prison for their political views. They are not. They are there because of the acts for which they have been responsible or could be responsible if they were released.

The acts for which they have been responsible and which have been reported on and which they would have an opportunity to refute before the tribunal which has been set up if they chose to take advantage of the opportunity to be heard.

Nobody in the debate has denied that the background to the story in British Guiana has been most unhappy, with much violence, racial conflicts and many dead. It would be a terrible thing which would be very heavy on our consciences if, as a result of holding up independence by passing the Amendment, we helped to contribute to a return of that violence and racial conflict.

I do not disguise from the Committee that I am profoundly unhappy that in a territory for which we are ultimately responsible, and remain responsible until 26th May, there are any men in jail without any charge being brought against them in public. But, as I said on Friday, I do not believe for one moment that if we were to hold up independence it would help these men to be released. ft would probably mean that they would be kept in jail longer, and because of the violence building up as a result of holding back independence, it would probably mean that other men would be put in detention.

I repeat what I said on Friday—a point picked up by my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot): I believe that more of these men will be released. One man was released over the weekend. I can confirm that he is already out. I confirm that another is about to be released within a very short time, which would reduce the number from 15 to 13. I have every confidence that more of these men will be released, not because they were not dangerous at the time they were imprisoned—I believe they were—but because circumstances have changed and, with the improved stability, particularly with the advent of independence, it is possible for more of these men to be released. I believe that to be true.

On that point, I wonder whether the Under-Secretary can go a little further? He is saying that he does not think that, if independence is granted, they will be in any more danger; but can he give a guarantee that because independence is granted there will not be a great deal more hardship when we will have no say at all?

I believe that there is a good deal of good will on the part of Mr. Burnham and his colleagues. Those hon. Members who have met him and know other Ministers in British Guiana would agree with me that there is more likelihood of these men being released than there is that their conditions will be worsened as a result of independence.

I should like to repeat what I said and invite anybody to dispute it if they will. Can it be denied that to hold up independence would add to racial conflicts in British Guiana? The effect of the Amendment if passed up independence. There is no doubt about that.

I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Mr. Hugh Jenkins) has said that he does not want to hold up independence, but the effect of passing the Amendment would be that unless Ministers agree to release the men forthwith, which they do not intend to, independence cannot come on 26th May.

Then the position is either deadlock, or that we revoke the powers transferred to the British Guiana Ministers and take them back into our own hands so that Her Majesty's Government are responsible, through the Governor, to see that these men are released. We would have to take the power back.

Is it suggested that if we had that sequence of events, we would be adding to stability in British Guiana? I do not think that anybody would sustain that point of view.

My hon. Friend the member for Aston said that history has moved on and we cannot turn the wheel back. He is right, but if we pass the Amendment, we will be turning the wheel back two or three years to when there was violent disagreement between communities, death and rioting; turning it back and perhaps preventing British Guiana having independence for many years. It would keep these men in jail. I ask the Committee to reject this Amendment because its rejection will contribute to stability, the improvement of stability and eventually to the release of these men.

I was asked specifically by my hon. Friend the Member for Putney—

I wonder whether the Under-Secretary can tell us why these men are in jail. That was the real question I asked and it has not been replied to.

I want to go on in a moment to the tribunal procedure, but they were responsible for acts or could be responsible for acts which would contribute to the breakdown of law and order and public safety. I will come, in the course of my speech, to the stage in the tribunal when it is possible to reveal to the men in question and counsel who act on their behalf the acts for which the men were held responnosible.

In reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Putney, who asked what precedent there was for a country proceeding to independence in a state of emergency, I refer him to two. There was Sierra Leone, where there was a state of emergency and six prisoners were detained at the time of independence. In Malaya also there was a state of emergency and about 250 people were in detention at the time of independence.

12.30 a.m.

Now I come to the question of the tribunal. This matter has been neglected by my hon. Friends. The Tribunal of Inquiry set up in British Guiana is completely non-political and independent of the Government. The Chairman is a very responsible and respected Queen's Counsel, an ex-judge, a man who has had very much experience at the British Guiana Bar. He is Mr. Van B. Stafford, appointed by the Chief Justice.

Mr. Stafford is sitting as Chairman, with Mr. Nasir, a senior solicitor who has, incidentally, acted for members of the P.P.P. in the past. Although he is non-political, no one would suggest that he is against it as such. The other member is Mr. George King, who is one of the oldest practising solicitors in Georgetown.

These three non-political lawyers sit on this tribunal which has been set up to consider the cases of any of the detainees who choose to use its facilities. Only two have chosen to appeal to it. We would appeal to the detainees to use the opportunity of having their cases heard by the tribunal. I accept that it is not as good as a court of law, where everything can be heard in public and witnesses can be called and cross-examined before the public eye.

It is not as good as the sort of tribunals Mussolini set up in the early days after the march on Rome. It is not as good as any that preceded the loss of liberty in the world anywhere. My hon. Friend says that these people are charged with something that is not a crime, or with some remote approach to a crime, or with preparatory activity in the direction of doing something that could be a breach of some sort of law if there were such a law. They do not know what it is and cannot say anything about it and must be locked up. We are asked to pass a blank constitution that we have not seen. Most of us have read the speeches in 1906 about what would happen in South Africa after independence. We are getting a little cynical.

If my hon. Friend is suggesting that the three gentlemen I have mentioned are Fascist I profoundly disagree with him. They are honourable lawyers with distinguished records and I believe that they can be trusted to do the job they have been given, which is to act as an independent tribunal.

My hon. Friend said some exaggerated things and referred to Mussolini, and I would ask him to reconsider.

The position is that if a detainee chooses to have his case heard by the tribunal, he is given a copy of the case against him and can have counsel to act for him to present his case to the tribunal. Witnesses on his behalf can be called, including character witnesses. This opportunity is available but I repeat that only two of the detainees now in prison have taken advantage of this facility. We very much hope that more of them will choose to do so.

Is it not a fact that the Governor did not accept a decision of this tribunal? My hon. Friend says this aspect has been neglected but I remind him that, on Friday, I dealt with the procedure of the tribunal in great detail. It is not a judicial body. On its own admission it is an administrative body. It is obvious that the chance an appellant gets to submit his case is minimal if it exists at all.

I acknowledge that my hon. Friend referred to the procedure of the tribunal on Friday and I replied to some of the points he raised. The procedures were chosen by the tribunal itself and in the circumstances it considered them to be the best procedures which could be adopted.

I confirm that the decisions of the tribunal at this point are only advisory and that the Government does not have to act upon them, but the British Guiana Ministers have given an undertaking that after independence they will do away with the general emergency powers and, if there is need to have anybody detained, introduce a Preventive Detention Bill which will then make the findings of the tribunal binding on the Executive rather than advisory as they are now. This new procedure will also make it possible to control individuals without subjecting the whole community to emergency rule.

There is another point about this. It will also ensure that the cases are automatically heard by this independent tribunal. There will not have to be an initiative on the part of the detainees. The tribunal by law will have to hear the cases of the detainees and, having heard them, if the tribunal advises that the men should be released, the Governments of Guyana will have to act on that advice. This will be some improvement on the existing position, although one hopes that all the men will be released by executive act by the Ministers concerned before or after independence. I give this information to the Committee because it demonstrates that the Guyanan Ministers are anxious to improve the position in their country.

Who appointed the tribunal? Was it not the Chief Justice, who is considered to be one of the most respected Chief Justices in the Commonwealth?

Yes. As I have already said, the Chairman is appointed by the Chief Justice and two other members are appointed by the Judicial Service Commission. Nobody will deny that they are independently appointed. They are not political appointees in any way.

Is it not the case that the proceedings of the tribunal are held in camera? Is it not the case that the accused are required to apply and to prove their innocence even though no charge has been made against them? Is not the tribunal specifically against the Human Rights Convention of the United Nations?

The detainees are given a copy of the charges against them so that they know to what it is they are replying. They are allowed to have counsel appear on their behalf and argue their case before the tribunal, and witnesses can be called, if they so desire, to speak on their behalf. I freely acknowledge that this is not as good a procedure as a court of law and I am not suggesting that it is. But I am saying that it is available and that it is regrettable that only two of the detainees have chosen to take advantage of it. I hope that in time all will, and that will contribute to an improvement of the position and perhaps reduce some of the suspicions.

My hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale) said something which I should like to take up and which demonstrated a fundamental misunderstanding about the situation in British Guiana. He said that one party represented one race and one party represented another. That is entirely wrong. The party of Mr. Burnham includes a number of Indians, not only in the rank and file, but as Ministers. On Friday, I gave some details of the portfolios they hold. The Attorney-General himself is an Indian. It is, therefore, not correct to say that one party represents one race. Indeed, Mr. Nunes, whose case has been mentioned tonight, is a non-Indian and a member of the opposition party. It is, therefore, not correct to say that there is a sharp racial division between the two political groups.

Indeed, we should not say such things, because it contributes to the climate of opinion which encourages this division. We want both these parties to act in a non-racial way and to encourage members of all communities to play their part. I believe that that is what is developing.

One of the unfortunate aspects about the public service in British Guiana has been that its racial composition has been largely non-Indian. This was investigated by the International Commission of Jurists, in a remarkable report, which I have here. I would recommend any hon. Members who are interested in this development in British Guiana to read this report. It has been said that the Constitution has not been seen. It is available if Members will inquire. One interesting point about the Constitution is that which would allow the only discrimination between races. It is that by which Indians will be recruited for the police force in the ratio of 75 per cent. Indian and 25 per cent. the rest. This is in order to try to correct the imbalance that has existed in the police force, so that the Indian community in British Guiana would have more confidence in the force. This will be the only discriminatory aspect of the Constitution and I think that the Committee will agree that it is a right one.

The Committee has had a long debate on this Amendment and I do not regret that it has proceeded last night and this morning. It is a tribute to this House that we have had it. I respect the sincerity of my hon. Friends who have spoken to this Amendment. I know that they want these men released and I am with them in that. Where I disagree with them is on the method they are pursuing. I want these men released but I do not believe that if this Amendment is passed it will contribute to their release. It will set it back and add to the frustration and to the racial tension. It will make instability greater.

The way to get these men released is to allow independence to take place on 26th May. We have already had a demonstration of the good will of the British Guiana Ministers, in that most of the men detained have been released. More are being released all the time, one during the last week and another in a few days' time. I repeat what I said on Friday, that I have confidence that more will be released. Having transferred, as we have done, the power in regard to detention to British Guiana Ministers, who should now act responsibly, British Ministers are not responsible.

We cannot, just before independence, begin to take that power back. We must allow British Guiana Ministers to operate responsibly. If we do not believe that they can behave responsibly then we should deny them independence. Any Member who knows the background of violence and disorder in British Guiana would agree that in the circumstances, regrettable as they are, there was no alternative but that a few of these fellows should be detained.

My hon. Friend is coming to the end of his speech and I have been waiting with great patience to hear him deal with a certain point. He keeps on saying that he is satisfied that these people were properly detained, but he has not yet advanced one scrap of evidence to support his conclusion. He has also not met the charges made by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Aston (Mr. Julius Silverman). He has said that Ministers in the present Government were judged guilty of plotting to commit murder, arson and other things. If my hon. Friend believes this, let him advance some support for this, and not go on smearing these people without evidence.

What I am saying is that these men were detained, not as political prisoners, but because of the acts for which they were responsible. That is something which, according to the legal situation in British Guiana, should be judged by the tribunal set up in British Guiana.

12.45 a.m.

The fact is that these men are being detained without trial because of the circumstances—we all regret them, but it is because of the circumstances—in British Guiana. Of course, it would be more satisfactory if they were brought before a court of law. Of course, it would be more satisfactory if here tonight I could read out a long list of things they were said to have been responsible for. But, of course, the Committee will recognise in all fairness that it would be more unfair of me to read out a list of charges here tonight without any chance of their being refuted or debated, than to refer to them in the way I have.

The fact of the matter is—I repeat what I said a few moments ago—that the responsibility for these detentions is in the hands of the British Guiana Ministers with the powers we have transferred. If the Committee suggests we should take those powers back, let the Committee be frank about it. It would put independence back two or three years. I do not believe this would be the right course.

My hon. Friend referred to a statement in a document which my hon. Friend read out when he moved the Amendment. I do not believe that that document has any relevance to this debate. It comes from 1963. That is not a final police report. If I heard it correctly, it sounded to me as though it was a preliminary police report. I do not think it assists the Committee in its deliberations on this Amendment to refer to a document of that character. I have no doubt, bearing in mind the situation in British Guiana over the past years, that there must be dozens of documents like it. If we were to dig in the files what should we find about President Kenyatta, about President Banda, about President Kaunda, and all the rest of them?

Order. Unless the Minister gives way the hon. Member for Birmingham, Aston (Mr. Julius Silverman) must resume his seat.

Is the Minister suggesting that there are hundreds of documents like this which affect responsible Ministers of the present Government of British Guiana, including the Minister for Home Affairs, who is responsible for these men's detention?

My hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Mr. Hugh Jenkins) said in his intervention something about smearing. I think it unfortunate that a document going back some three years was referred to in this debate; bearing in mind the situation over the last few years in British Guiana there are probably several documents concerning various individuals. Surely, we can regard them as past, and not keep bringing them up to the surface and make the situation worse?

If we have, as I believe we have, confidence in Mr. Forbes Burnham now, and in his Ministers now—and I have heard no hon. Member in this Committee tonight say he has not got that confidence—then let this independence go through on 26th May, and let us allow the people of Guyana to operate in a country which has achieved what is the ambition of almost everybody in that country, political sovereignty and independence. Let them operate that, without feeling the ties of supervision from the United Kingdom. Let them have that political independence which, I think, many of them, in Opposition as well as in the present Administration, have fought for for so many years. If they have that independence, which I trust this Committee will allow them to have on 26th May, there is every possibility—and every Member in this Committee in his right mind will acknowledge this—that the races in British Guiana will come together. There will be a dying away of this racial tension. There will be improvement in stability, and then it will be possible for more of these men to be released and to play their rightful part in peaceful political campaigning in their own country.

That is the way ahead for Guyana. and I commend it to the Committee and ask the Committee not to support the Amendment.

Amendment negatived.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 2 to 4 ordered to stand part of the Bill.