§ 4.22 p.m.
§ Mr. Eric Fletcher (Islington, East)
I wish, on the Third Reading of this Bill, to raise with the Colonial Secretary the question of maladministration in the Seychelles Islands. I think it might be convenient if I divide what I have to say under five heads of maladministration: first, the deplorable social conditions leading to much injustice; secondly, the incompetence, particularly the financial incompetence, of Government Departments there; thirdly, the considerable complaints about religious discrimination against non-Catholic inhabitants; fourthly, questions of injustices arising out of the administration of justice generally; fifthly, the question of the lack of faith which has been expressed in the Chief Justice.
For the benefit of those hon. Members who are not aware of the general conditions in the Seychelles, may I remind the House that the Seychelles are an archipelago consisting of about 97 islands, some of which are uninhabited. The total population is about 36,000. Most of the adults are illiterate and about a third of the children are illegitimate. It has long been recognised that it is not a particularly easy Colony to administer. Nevertheless, the facts that have come to my knowledge are such that cannot possibly excuse, in my submission, the neglect and injustice which is taking place in those islands.
With the indulgence of the House, I would prefer merely to read a short selection of the letters which I have been receiving on this subject, some from reputable inhabitants there, others from distinguished visitors in recent months to the Seychelles. One typical letter is from 1416 Mr. Mullery, a very respected resident. His comments are typical of those of many. He writes, quite recently:Outside a small clique, all persons here with even a slight knowledge of the place, are agreed that a cleaning-up is badly needed.You will not need to be told that British prestige has been sinking to a low ebb everywhere, and the Colonial Office seems to aim at depressing still more that prestige, or what remains of it.I had recently a quite unsolicited letter from Lord Modreeny, a distinguished ornithologist, who had visited the Seychelles. He wrote to me:… I went with the idea of a holiday in Paradise,' but after a few days discovered to my horror that it was more like 'Hell,' so I decided to investigate the whole position on foot and not by car, also, without being conducted but entirely alone, and this is what I found.The people are British subjects and entitled to British passports. However, if the lower classes wish to leave the islands to seek work on the mainland they have to deposit £50 … The Governor is not interested and does not help in any way, so that the poor people have to rely on friends on the mainland, which is more or less impossible, or trust an Indian merchant to transmit the money for them.I interpose to remind the House that apart from 3 per cent. or 4 per cent. of the population which is descended, or some of them, from the French slave-owning community which occupied the islands in years gone by, the large majority of the inhabitants are not only illiterate, but very depressed. There is not only considerable overcrowding, but difficulty in getting work and, not unnaturally, there is a great tendency to emigrate if they can. One of the suggestions made by my correspondents is that attempts to emigrate are resisted in the interests of the landowning and employing sections of the community. Lord Modreeny continues:The men are usually employed on the coconut plantations from morn to dusk at a wage of £3 to £4 per month. Food such as fish and bananas is cheap but meat, etc., is very dear. Therefore, there is little variety, as wages do not permit of the slightest luxury … men … live like rats in very small houses of wood with rooms so small that a bed alone would fill them. Can you imagine such conditions in a British 'Paradise', sanitary arrangements being the sea? I walked along the road adjoining the sea and this is what I saw. I entered into talk with some of these poor people and I could go on writing pages on this sort of thing …As regards maladministration, a very startling thing happened while I was there. The Governor had just returned from holiday, but 1417 not one person turned out to cheer him and even the fishermen on the pier took no notice or lifted their hats, yet the town was decorated for his return …I want to pass from that, as a general background, to the widespread complaints of financial maladministration in the islands. In support of that, I do not think that I can do better than to quote from an official Government publication, namely, the Report of the Principal Auditor on the Accounts of the Colony of the Seychelles for 1954. This Report has just been published. It is replete with charges and criticisms of the way in which the public affairs of the Colony are conducted. I propose merely to select at random a few paragraphs from it.
Paragraph 1 states:The manner in which the accounts for the year under review have been kept and rendered cannot be regarded to be wholly satisfactory in view of the adverse comments in this Report and of the large number of queries it was found necessary to issue.Then, paragraph 4:… it was necessary to issue a large number of queries in connection with the faulty assessment of customs duties, warehouse rent, and misinterpretations of the Customs Tariff.Paragraph 8 deals with education:Owing to the inadequate manner in which the departmental accounts for the Trade Technical Centre had been kept it was not possible to carry out a satisfactory audit of these accounts …Paragraph 9 deals with Inland Revenue, and states:Due to the manner in which certain Revenue Registers were maintained it was not possible to verify in audit that all the Revenue due to Government had been collected.The next is a serious one. Paragraph 15, dealing with the Treasury, reads:The standard of examination of vouchers in the Treasury cannot be regarded as adequate. During the year under review it was necessary to issue numerous queries for erroneous claims for transport and travelling and for certain payments in respect of which no authority existed at the time the payments were made.Paragraph 16 is equally significant, although the charge it contains is somewhat vague. It reads:Following the revision of salaries in 1954 many queries were issued regarding the wrong conversion of certain officers. In every single case where an officer was erroneously converted to a salary higher than the correct one, retrospective approval was given for these officers to remain on that salary.1418 I do not want to weary the House, but there is a whole section dealing with checks against irregularity and fraud.
§ Mr. James Johnson (Rugby)
I think my hon. Friend would agree that there are no less than 726 items which are in doubt, some going back to 1951, and that the Auditor says that he cannot find evidence to ascertain where the amounts involved have gone.
§ Mr. Fletcher
That is so.
What I think even more significant is this. This is a matter of public knowledge and public comment in the islands themselves. Indeed, the leading paper there, Le Seychellois, in its issue of 2nd June, 1956—which appeared after the 1954 audit had come out—comments even more scathingly. The writers realise, from their inside knowledge, that the Government Auditor had not gone far enough, because this is what they say:There is much evidence in the Report itself that the tardiness of its issue was caused by difficulty which the Auditor encountered in obtaining from most Government Departments the information and documents necessary for its formulation…. The Report is packed with examples of departmental sloth and of contemptible standards of office work, interlarded with implied censures of departments as collectors, guardians or spenders of public revenue. The judgment quoted is an example of under-statement stretched to the point of being irritating.Another comment is this:The Report comprises 107 paragraphs. The great majority of them are concerned with instances of inaccuracy, or incompetence, or carelessness or even fraud on the part of some one or more members of departmental staffs. In the first 19 of the paragraphs, there are seven references to some instances of sloth on the part of some department or officerThere is a great deal more in the same strain, but I hope that I have read enough on that part of the subject to justify the demand which we are making in this House, on behalf of the inhabitants of the Seychelles, for an independent inquiry into the whole conduct of the administration there.
I now want to say a word about discrimination against non-Roman Catholics. I have had a good deal of evidence of that, and in some cases it is bound up with what appears to me to be a total disregard for the elementary considerations of justice. I will cite only one case that has come to my notice, although it is only one of several.
1419 There was a girl called Yokoro, aged 15, in a Government-aided school at La Digue. She was flogged by the school master, Mr. Emanuel Durup. She was examined by the medical officer. The medical report describes in detail the evidence, the imprints of a cane, and it is clear that the flogging was brutal. The police inspector for that district, Inspector Baillon, said that the girl's mother had suffered terribly.
Inspector Baillon made no attempt to hide the evidence or to suppress it. However, when the corporal of police went to see Mr. Durup, Mr. Durup denied that he had beaten the girl. Nevertheless, there were at least five witnesses to the fact. The police officer informed the director of education, but orders were sent by Mr. A. Sauzier, the Acting Attorney-General, to the effect that no prosecution was to take place.
That is extraordinary when one bears in mind the large number of prosecutions taking place in the Seychelles every month for a great many cases of pilfering and things like that. Indeed, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, one of the complaints about the maladministration of justice is that a large number of prison sentences are inflicted on labourers for breach of contract, i.e., because they have not performed some duty of service to their employer. When one recalls that, in years gone by, this was a slave-owning community, and that a great many of the illiterate poorer people are descendants of slaves, one is shocked at illustrations that occur of some tendency on the part of those in authority not only to try to revert those people to conditions of semi-servile existence, but also to condone such conditions when they are known.
So that the Secretary of State may inquire into precise cases, I will give him the names of merely four such labourers about whom this complaint has been made.
§ The Secretary of State for the Colonies (Mr. Alan Lennox-Boyd)
May I ask the hon. Gentleman how long he has had those particular names? I ask because it would, of course, have helped me if I could have had the precise names before the debate.
§ Mr. Fletcher
I will give them. They are Mr. Michard, Mr. Bastienne, Desnoussnes, and Billy Marie.
I now turn to what is, perhaps, the most serious of all the grievances from which the inhabitants of these islands are suffering, and that is the complete lack of confidence in the Colony in the Chief Justice. In approaching this part of the case, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, I am, of course, aware of the Ruling which was given by Mr. Speaker on Monday, and in what I say I propose to make no reflections on the Chief Justice himself, because Mr. Speaker ruled that to do so would be out of order on the Consolidated Fund Bill. I think I ought to add that I regret that Ruling, because I feel that, in fairness to the Chief Justice, I should at some time have an opportunity to give precise chapter and verse for what I said at Question Time the other day, and, if necessary—
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman the Member for Islington, East (Mr. E. Fletcher). I think that the exemplary calm and dignity shown by the Chief Justice in not answering the charges makes it all the more important that I should be able on an appropriate occasion to deal with them in this House, but I cannot do so in any detail unless a substantive Motion is tabled. The tabling of that Motion is in the hands of the Opposition, should hon. Members opposite wish to do that.
§ Mr. Fletcher
I was proposing to say that it will be my intention to table such a Motion unless, as I hope, the Colonial Secretary is able to give us a satisfactory assurance today in reply to the criticisms which we shall make of his action.
As Mr. Speaker ruled, I am in order on the Bill in commenting upon what I regard as the grave dereliction of duty on the part of the Colonial Secretary in ignoring the petition sent to him in October, 1954, for the removal of the Chief Justice. For the purposes of this argument, I do not mind whether the charges formulated in the petition are right or not. Our complaint against the Colonial Office is that it has quite unwarrantably ignored a 1421 responsible petition signed, in not particularly easy circumstances, by a very large number of the inhabitants of the islands. As I want to challenge the Colonial Secretary upon this, I must read the petition and his reply. The petition was sent to the Colonial Secretary through the Governor.
§ Mr. Fletcher
It was October, 1954. The petition reads:Your Excellency,1. We the signatories present this Petition with the one plea that Mr. M. D. Lyon, Barrister-at-Law, be not returned for yet a third tour as Chief Justice to this Colony; we believe his return to be imminent. We submit, first, that three tours as Chief Justice of this very small island is more than any man can carry out with that aloof independence and strict impartiality which the office necessarily demands.It will be observed that there is no criticism of the individual. It is a perfectly general request, that nobody should be asked or expected to serve three tours of office in the Seychelles.
The petition goes on:But it is commonly said that Mr. Lyon must remain here till he is superannuated, several years hence, for the simple reason that no other Colony will accept him in any circumstances or in any office. We can hardly believe that responsible authority should adopt so tolerant, indeed, so supine an attitude in such a matter to the detriment of the Colony and of the British name.2. The public and frequent drunkenness of Mr. Lyon in this small place is now a byword and a scandal, and we consider that this failing alone renders him unfit for his high office We have reason to believe that his drunken conduct has more than once been reported to Your Excellency: a sorry local jest relates how that the wise, observing his approach of an evening, take hasty steps to conceal all but a very little of their liquor. That he constantly drives his car under the influence of alcohol is notorious, but the police dare not interfere; they have allowed him to drive his car without rear-lights or a rear number plate, and indeed, throughout April of this year, when he went on leave, without even a motor tax licence.3. We have no access to records; but we believe that all his orders taken in appeal to the High Court of Mauritius … every one has either been reversed or so greatly modified as to be tantamount to reversal. These facts can be officially verified, and it would be interesting to know what opinion the Hon. High Court of Mauritius entertains of Mr. Lyon as a judicial officer. We have studiously refrained in this Petition from citing any private complaint against Mr. Lyon in this context.1422 I ought to add—it is, perhaps, of the greatest significance—that the petition was signed by a large number of leading citizens. Obviously, it was very difficult for anybody occupying any official position in the island to sign the petition itself, particularly if they were on the Bench, but, as the Colonial Secretary knows perfectly well, the petition was accompanied by a confidential document signed by—I think it is right to give the names—Mr. Douglas Bailey and Sir Michael Nethersole, K.B.E., C.S.I., C.I.E., D.S.O. As I understand, they are the only other judicial officers in the island.
In their accompanying note they say:We have refused to sign this Petition only because one of us … is a Justice of the Peace and the other … is a petty stipendiary Magistrate; these circumstances apart, we both would have signed the Petition itself without hesitation, for we sympathise with and approve of it.If anything could be more condemning than that, I do not know what it is.
To complete the record, I ought to read the very curt reply sent by the Colonial Secretary to those who signed the petition. The reply was dated 10th December, 1954. It read:I have the honour to refer to this office letter advising you that the Petition sent by you and various other signatories concerning the Chief Justice, Mr. M. D. Lyon, has been forwarded to the Secretary of State. I am directed to inform you that the Petition has been given the most careful consideration by the Secretary of State, but that he is unable to accede to the request therein.Why was that? The Colonial Secretary, who sends Archbishop Makarios to the Seychelles presumably because he thinks it is the kind of place where justice is well administered, declines for no reason to accede to that perfectly proper and reasonable request signed by the inhabitants of the island.
The charge I make against the Colonial Secretary is this. Given, as I have told the House, the peculiarly difficult social, economic, climatic, and perhaps even historic conditions, in the Seychelles, I should have thought that it was more necessary than ever that, if there was one part of the Colonial Empire where justice should be above suspicion, it would be there. Yet, the Colonial Secretary, with knowledge of this widespread public opinion, defies that public opinion.
One asks why it is. First, it is due to the Colonial Secretary's innate inability 1423 to have regard to the best interests of any of the Colonies for the administration of which he is responsible.
§ Mr. Fletcher
What did the Colonial Secretary have to test the Chief Justice about? He had to test the interests of one person on the one hand, or, on the other, the well-being of the whole community. The Colonial Secretary may well tell us, as the petitioners told us, that the Colonial Secretary found it difficult to move Mr. Lyon to some other Colony, because no other Colony would have him. If that was so, he should have pensioned him off, or, if not, he should have given him some pro rata pension. There is no excuse for it. The Colonial Regulations, to which Mr. Speaker referred the other day, lay down precisely upon the Colonial Office an obligation for dealing with cases of this kind.
Colonial judges appointed by the Colonial Office are in quite a different category from judges of the High Court here. Judges of the High Court here are protected by the Act of Settlement. They are removable only on a Resolution passed by both Houses of Parliament. Colonial judges have no such protection. They are subject to removal for incompetence or corruption or any other offence, and, indeed, ought to be removed.
The Colonial Regulations, to which Mr. Speaker referred me, in Regulations 63, 68 and 76, lay down a precise code of procedure whereby the Colonial Secretary can act in complete fairness to the Chief Justice. The Regulations provide for a disciplinary procedure, but where a judge is appointed by letters patent and where there is any reason to feel that he should be removed, or ammoved as the Regulation for some reason puts it, there is a code of procedure, and an appeal lies to Her Majesty in Council. It would be open to the Colonial Secretary to accede to that request, and he knows perfectly well that that is what he ought to have done. He ought not to be forced by the painful duty of ventilating these matters in this House to take a step which he ought to have taken months ago.
I do not want to prolong this speech. I think that I have said enough to satisfy 1424 the House on two things—that there is, first, an overwhelming case for an independent review of the whole administration of the Seychelles Islands, and, secondly, that the Colonial Secretary was very gravely at fault in not having acceded to the petition for the removal of Mr. Lyon.
§ 4.54 p.m.
§ Mr. Gilbert Longden (Hertfordshire, South-West)
The hon. Member for Islington, East (Mr. E. Fletcher) has certainly presented a very grave indictment of the Administration in the Seychelles. Speaking for myself, I hope that what he said was very much exaggerated. I cannot help feeling that, having been thwarted from being able to attack the Chief Justice, who was his original quarry, he has been constrained to dig around and try to find some ammunition in order to shoot at my right hon. Friend the Colonial Secretary. At any rate, that is what I hope.
§ Mr. Longden
I am trying to suggest, in response to the intervention of the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan), that they are inaccurate—that at any rate, not the official documents, but the letters are inaccurate. That is what I am trying to suggest. I have one thing in common with the hon. Member for Islington, East. I think I am right in saying that neither of us has ever been to the Seychelles, so that all the information which we are able to give to the House is second-hand.
§ Mr. Longden
I shall try to do something to redress the balance. I do not believe that everything is as black as the hon. Gentleman has painted it in these islands. I recall that General Gordon described them as the original Garden of Eden, but the hon. Gentleman is now trying to make the House believe that a considerable number of 1425 snakes have crept in since that time. Certainly, it is the case that—every prospect pleasesin the islands, but the hon. Gentleman would have us believe that—only man is vile.I think it is a little unfortunate that matters of Colonial administration such as this should be the subject of party dissension. A very similar debate about these very same islands was held in this House in June, 1949, when the two parties were on different sides of this Chamber. That debate can easily be referred to. May I try to put the picture in perspective?
These islands contain under 40,000 inhabitants, including children. The size of the largest island, which is the only large island, is seventeen miles by six miles. In other words, we are discussing a territory which is perhaps as large as half the average constituency in this country. Being so small, its resources are similarly small. The national income is about £25 per head, which is only one-third, for example, of the national income of an island such as Mauritius. The total revenue is £300,000, and the total expenditure about the same.
What have we done there? The hon. Member for Islington, East listed five heads of indictment against the Administration of these islands, and, first, he cited the social conditions. What have we done or tried to do with the resources that we have at hand? I have had to supplement my information from the Report on the Seychelles for 1953–54, and everything is not as black as the hon. Gentleman painted it. In relation to health, we find that the birth rate has risen and the death rate has decreased, and that there are seven Government medical officers of health in charge of the islands' health, which is a very large proportion for that population. That is in addition to four dentists, and of course the private practitioners. There are four hospitals, in addition to a mental hospital and a leper colony, and a tuberculosis sanatorium is being built.
When we turn to the aspect of education, we find that there is a very large number of schools. I am afraid that what the hon. Gentleman said about illiteracy was true, but I cannot but think that it must be getting less very rapidly, because there is a large number of 1426 schools in the island, apart from the private schools which are run by the various religious denominations. There are five Government schools, including two grammar schools and two secondary modern schools. So far as I can judge, there is an adequate number of teachers, and next year there will be a teachers' training college.
As for labour, the hon. Member for Islington, East is right when he says that there is difficulty about people getting work, but I do not think it is right or fair for him to charge the Government of the Seychelles with a lack of interest and a lack of effort in getting work for people. There are development schemes in the islands for building, for roads and for smallholdings, but I dare say that the best development of all would be if the tourist trade could be encouraged to come to these beautiful islands. That could only be done if the external communications were made much better than they are now.
§ Mr. J. Johnson
How does the hon. Member suggest that we could employ almost 2,000 ex-Service men, including Pioneers from the Suez Canal area and elsewhere, who have returned to Mahe and are unemployed?
§ Mr. Longden
I do not think it is my duty to do that. What I am trying to persuade the House is that the Government of the Seychelles are trying to do these things. I did not think there were as many as 2,000 of those men, but certainly that makes the problem more difficult. I think there are about 1,500 of them.
The second of the hon. Member's heads of indictment was that my right hon. Friend had sent out to the islands—the initiative was his—an officer to report and audit the accounts. As the hon. Member himself said, the Report of that officer has only just been published.
§ Mr. Longden
I admit that it is the normal course, but this officer was sent while my right hon. Friend was Colonial Secretary, and he has just published his Report. I am not trying to deny the statements made in the Report, some of which were read to us by the hon. Member. What I am saying is that the Report 1427 has just been published, and I have no doubt whatever that steps will be taken by my right hon. Friend to put right the matters complained of, so far as can be done in so small a community where standards are obviously much lower than they are here.
§ Mr. Stephen Swingler (Newcastle-under-Lyme)
Has the hon. Member read the Report of the Principal Auditor who was sent out? If so, does he not consider that it constitutes a prima facie case for a commission of inquiry owing to the obviously shocking state of maladministration which it reveals?
§ Mr. Longden
I must not deceive the House. I have not read the Report in full—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—but I have glanced at it and have heard many extracts from it, not only today but before. I am not here to deny them but I consider that my right hon. Friend is quite as capable as any commission of inquiry of putting them right. There may be a case for a fiscal review in the islands.
The third head on the hon. Gentleman's list was that there was religious discrimination. I do not know whether that is so, but what I do know is that 90 per cent. of the population in the islands are Roman Catholic; and when there is a position like that, it is at least within the bounds of possibility that some discrimination may be seen.
§ Mr. Longden
I agree that it certainly should not be official. What I have heard this afternoon does not convince me that it is official.
In his remarks about the Chief Justice, the hon. Member read the petition, protesting the whole time that he was not making any allegations against Mr. Lyon. I do not know whether he thought that the petition was a testimonial. In the circumstances, it would have been more honourable if the Opposition had put down a substantive Motion.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Charles MacAndrew)
Mr. Speaker made it perfectly clear on the first occasion that he had been taken unawares and had to look into the matter.
§ Mr. Bevan
What I am pointing out is that when charges are made by the Minister, and followed up by his supporters behind him, that the Opposition have not taken the step of putting down a substantive Motion, it is within the recollection of the House that I took a different view from Mr. Speaker last week, and Mr. Speaker was wrong. Last week, he held that we could attack the Administration for the behaviour of the Chief Justice. It did not seem to me that we could attack the Chief Justice as a judicial person without a substantive Motion. Mr. Speaker, however, took the view that we could do so administratively. On Monday, he altered the Ruling. The weekend had intervened.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I am not aware of the various Rulings but if anybody wishes to criticise Mr. Speaker he must put down a substantive Motion. We cannot have things like that said here.
§ Mr. Swingler
Is it not a fact that not until Monday did Mr. Speaker give his Ruling that the matter must be dealt with by a substantive Motion and the Adjournment of the House on Thursday of this week had already been announced? From that point of view it has been impossible for the Opposition to put down a substantive Motion before the House adjourned.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
The point I was making was that on the first occasion Mr. Speaker said he was unable to give a Ruling but wanted to look into the matter, and that ultimately he gave a Ruling.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
To the best of my recollection, what Mr. Speaker did was not in any sense to make a Ruling, but to say that he would make inquiries as to who appointed the Chief Justice, the process by which he was appointed, how the appointment could be terminated and one or two other matters that arose in the course of discussion. He did not give a Ruling until the recent Ruling, which is the only one which has been given to the House.
1429 I may be in error but I do not think it would have been impossible for the Opposition today, by arrangement, to have put down a substantive Motion. I share the view of my hon. Friend that that would have been a fairer thing to do. It could have been put down at the first opportunity. The Question by the hon. Member for Islington, East (Mr. E. Fletcher) was put down on 10th July and we are now in August. It would have been possible between then and now, even since last week, to have put down a substantive Motion, which alone would have given me the chance to deal properly with these allegations.
§ Mr. Swingler
Is it not a fact that to put down a substantive Motion for today would mean that the Opposition must take the Third Reading of the Consolidated Fund (Appropriation) (No. 2) Bill formally, thereby jeopardising the rights of all other hon. Members to raise other subjects?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I think there is some confusion of language. Anyone can put down a substantive Motion at this moment.
§ Mr. Longden
If I may, I should like briefly to end my speech. In justification of what I said on this subject originally, I should like to say that my recollection accords precisely with that of my right hon. Friend, and that it would have been perfectly possible for hon. Members opposite to put down a substantive Motion. If I am wrong, however, and it would not have been possible, I think it would have been better to leave the whole subject until after the Recess.
I said at the beginning of my remarks that I had not lived in or been to the Seychelles, but I have lived in small communities in other Oriental parts, and I am afraid it is true to say that they are rather subject to what Agatha Christie has called "the poison pen". They are rather subject to the sort of things we read about in the works of Mr. Somerset Maugham. I am quite certain that it would be perfectly easy to collect a few signatures in a community like that for or against anybody.
The hon. Member for Islington, East, no doubt inadvertently, misled the House when speaking of the petition as coming 1430 from the inhabitants of the islands. Although I have not seen the petition, I do not think that that is so. Perhaps in the course of this debate we can be told how many signatures there were to the petition. [HON. MEMBERS: "Fifty."] One cannot say that they necessarily represent the inhabitants of the islands. I do not know Mr. Lyon, and nobody has ever written to me about him or about the Seychelles, but I am perfectly prepared to bet that if anybody went round to collect signatures there for a petition he could easily do so, and could easily collect many more signatures than that.
I think it is a very great pity that this official's name should be bandied about when there is not a proper opportunity to defend him, and when few people in the House know the true facts of this matter. I hope the House will not support the suggestion that a commission of inquiry should be sent out to the Seychelles.
§ 5.10 p.m.
§ Mr. James Johnson (Rugby)
The hon. Member for Hertfordshire, South-West (Mr. G. Longden) said he had not been to the Seychelles. I have not been there either, nor has the Secretary of State; nor has any Secretary of State in the past been in the Seychelles. Does not this show that hon. Members should go out to these small, forgotten, neglected Colonies; where there is—as there certainly is in this instance—a small core, numbering perhaps a few thousands, of a French-speaking plantocracy; where there is no middle class, apart from a few Government servants; and, below this, masses of semi-literate plantation workers; as there are also, for example, in British Guiana and Mauritius? They are places which hon. Members should visit.
The Secretary of State would be well advised to listen to the damning indictment made by my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, East (Mr. E. Fletcher), and, if he cannot send out a judicial inquiry, send out at least two Privy Counsellors, one from each side of the House, to find out exactly what is happening, because there is no doubt whatever amongst those of us who have listened to the speeches on this matter, and who have also had some access to letters sent to us, that there is a need for an inquiry.
1431 My hon. Friend has described some of the circumstances of those islands. There are ninety-odd islands with a population of fewer than 40,000. When considering the petition asking that Mr. Lyon should not have a third term of office, we have to remember that the society in the islands is a very parochial society indeed.
We need not dwell too much on the question of liquor and parties and functions. There is no doubt whatever that in places of that size and in that sort of climate there is a good deal of that, even amongst officials, whether chief justices or otherwise. Liquor drinking was so prevalent in the Seychelles that the local Government forbade the growing of bacca from sugar cane and, as was done in the case of the Carlisle experiment in this country, the Colonial Government instituted Government-controlled liquor canteens. I will not talk about Mitchell and Butler's or Worthington or Guinness.
We must deny the allegations of hon. Members opposite that we on this side of the House are political scavengers. I hope that I am not regarded as a political scavenger or a muck raker. I am only saying what I say because I think that we in this House have a paramount duty to consider the interests of the people of the Colony: and not excluding the many black people, many the descendants of slaves, who have no one else to look after them and their interests. We on this side of the House who are interested in this Colony desire only honestly to say what we believe. We should not be scorned or smeared for trying to do so, but whether we are or not we intend to do the best we can.
I was talking a few days ago to a lady who knows the Seychelles very well indeed, and she had a solution to this difficult and knotty question. We took over the Seychelles, be it remembered, at the end of the Napoleonic Wars. There is a French-speaking society, there are difficulties about religion, and there are other factors. At least 70 per cent. of those people have syphilis and gonorrhoea. There are social and economic problems. That lady's solution was, "Give it back to the French for a pound of tea."
I fear that that was a little cynical, as was also the suggestion made a few minutes ago by one of my hon. Friends 1432 that we should make Archbishop Makarios the Governor of the Colony, as he is already out there. That was an extremely flippant and cynical remark. However, there is food for thought in the idea that, if we want a clean sweep, we should send out a new Governor, not a career civil servant, but, perhaps, a Member of this House or of another place for a term of office to clean the place up. That is one suggestion which the Secretary of State may bear in mind when, whether in the still watches of the night or at other times, he cogitates upon this and his many other problems.
The Secretary of State said that my hon. Friend should have put down a substantive Motion. He asked him why he did not tell him about the labourers he mentioned who had been taken to court for a breach of contract. I would remind the Secretary of State that there is nothing new in all this. I have been putting down Questions about the Seychelles for weeks, if not months. I put one down, not on 25th July, but as long ago as 18th April. I asked him:How many labourers in the Seychelles have been sent to prison for six months or less for broken contracts of service within the last two years.There was the right hon. Gentleman's chance to find out the names and who had gone to gaol. It is not good enough that he should try to fob me off by saying, as he did:In Seychelles there is no provision in law for penal sanctions for breach of contract."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th April, 1956; Vol. 551. c. 74.]The right hon. Gentleman knows as well as I do that there are ways of going about this, and people are put in gaol in the Seychelles for refusing to go to an island like Coetivy, which may be a hundred miles or more from the mainland. If the Secretary of State was really doing his job he would not depend upon the phraseology of colonial laws, and he would find out what is happening and do something about it, however far away the Colony may be, whether a thousand or six thousand miles away.
There is nothing new in the question about the Auditor. I asked the right hon. Gentleman a Question to which I had a Written Answer yesterday:Whether he is aware that the Report of the Principal Auditor for the Seychelles Colony Accounts for the year ended 31st December, 1954. was not issued until 24th January. 1956. 1433 and that the tardiness of issue was due to the fact that the auditor found difficulty in obtaining from most Government Departments the requisite information and documents, and that the auditor was obliged to issue 726 queries some going back to 1951 with no action being taken."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 31st July, 1956; Vol. 557, c. 127.]Nineteen fifty-one: that was five years ago. These things have been going on, and it is no use the House burking them. The Secretary of State should know about them.
The right hon. Gentleman really ought, as I suggested yesterday, to have another Minister to help him, for he is overwhelmed with work. There are forty and more Colonies and ten or a dozen major issues blowing up from Singapore and Malaya to Guiana. I say with the utmost good feeling that I think that he and his Department are being overwhelmed with work. We should not have debates like this, perhaps, if the right hon. Gentleman had another Minister to help him in his work. He has far too much work to do. I shall not say how well or how badly he is doing it, but the fact remains that he has a heavy physical burden of work to carry. If Scotland can have five Ministers and the Foreign Office five, the Colonial Office could have more than three to help with the enormous burden of work the right hon. Gentleman has to do day by day.
Without speaking for too long, I should like just to touch on two or three other small matters which the Colonial Secretary, in his high office, with all the cables coming in day by day, should know about. We find, time and again, whether we speak of Mr. Lyon, Sir William Addis, the Governor, Mr. Bonnetard or any of the other actors in this somewhat unsavoury, somewhat foul-smelling drama, there is an eminence grise, a lady whose name is Mrs. Delhomme. I do not want to quote any cloak-and-dagger stuff, but the Minister knows what I mean.
This lady is a member of the Legislative Council, and I hope that the Minister will inquire into this subject. It is alleged that in debates and in executive action inside the Legislative Council—
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
Might I say straight away, as the newspaper Le Seychellois has been quoted with approval, that it is her newspaper. I find it a little difficult to reconcile what I suspect is going 1434 to be a charge against that lady with the obvious approval with which the hon. Gentleman has quoted one of her papers. She does an enormous amount of good work in the Colony. I hope that, prevented from attacking the Chief Justice in detail, the hon. Gentleman will not make personal charges, raised without warning, against other individuals.
§ Mr. Johnson
If I had been allowed to finish my sentence I should have said that this lady, who is always figuring in debates in the Legislative Council, and who is opposing this and that and the other, is part-owner of the Le Seychellois. I was about to say at least one good word in her favour. She has been attacking some of these abuses.
On the other hand, one could also quote many other less happy actions on her part. One need not be too personal, but let me refer to her actions in this matter of labour contracts, wages and so on. This is a Colony where copra fetches about 900 rupees a ton. It is said, and it is correct, that the planters could still make money if copra fell in price to 100 rupees a ton—if it fell to one-ninth of its present price. There is a low income tax and a low export tax. but this lady, Mrs. Delhomme, and people in her clique in the local plantocracy and in the Legislative Council, oppose an increase in the minimum wage of 22 rupees a month, which is about 33s.
I merely say this, in passing, about this lady—there are good and bad things about her, and I say this without attacking her personal affairs—that the Minister might look into this question of the action taken by ladies and gentlemen like her in opposing what are bare minimum demands by semi-literate workers who are not organised in unions and who need to be looked after in this House and by the Governor. I hope that the Minister will pay heed to this question of 33s. a month for workers when copra is making nine times as much in exports as the lowest amount at which it could be sold economically.
This is an important point to emphasise when speaking about the welfare of the Colony and considering how we can make it a better place, giving people jobs and decent living standards, schools and all the other things they need; building roads, a harbour and an air strip at Coetivy Island. I should like to say a 1435 few words about that island. This lady, Mrs. Delhomme, owns it. A few days ago I asked a Question of the Secretary of State for Air. The R.A.F. surveyed the island last November and December, and I asked what had been done about it.
I am informed, rightly or wrongly, that there is an agreement whereby the island will be bought for about £1¼ million. I hope that the Minister will either confirm or deny what is happening. I should like to know whether an agreement has been made, and whether we are to have an airstrip on the island in case we ever have to leave Aden or any other nearby place. Perhaps the Minister would comment on that. It is not only a question of certain people making money by selling the island to the R.A.F.; it is also a matter of providing jobs for the unemployed in the Colony.
There are somewhat fewer than 2,000 ex-Service men who have come back after serving as pioneers in the Middle East. No more loyal Colony exists than this. These men volunteered well during the last war, but now they are unempolyed and there can be mischief here. There is a lot of discontent at the moment among ill-fed, unemployed men, who have known better conditions, better hygiene and welfare, when they were serving in the Army. These matters are fearfully important, Chief Justice or no Chief Justice. That is why we say that it is vital that the Minister should apply himself to this question, not only in the judicial sphere, but in all other spheres.
There is, for instance, the Savings Bank. Those finances ought to be inquired into. We talk about having an inquiry in Eastern Nigeria; I am told that the Savings Bank in the Seychelles might also need inquiring into. I ask the Minister to say something about that later.
I could say much more but many other hon. Members wish to speak. After what has been said about the Seychelles, I would only add that there is a smell here: do not let us deceive ourselves about it. Do not let us shirk the issue. An inquiry should be held—law courts and other matters apart. I hope that the Minister will bestir himself and do something in the very near future.
§ 5.27 p.m.
§ Sir Frank Medlicott (Norfolk, Central)
Like most hon. Members who have spoken in this debate, I, too, have never visited the Seychelles Islands, but I can claim to have one qualification which I think no one who has spoken possesses, and that is that I have known Mr. M. D. Lyon for about twenty-five years. I have known him intimately and had many contacts with him both socially and professionally. In that sense, I must disclose what may amount to an interest, but I can also disclose some knowledge of what we are talking about.
I view this debate with great misgiving and with very great regret about the form that it has taken. Many of us were shocked by the gravity of the original allegations made against a gentleman holding high judicial office. Technically, the debate is quite in order and it enables hon. Members to discuss the affairs of the islands. The hon. Member for Islington, East (Mr. E. Fletcher) kept within the rules of order in what he said, but in my judgment he has, in effect, added to his original offence. In everything he said today about the defective conditions in the islands—the lack of roads, the lack of adequate schooling, the poor educational facilities and the inadequate way in which financial matters are dealt with—by implication he is suggesting that in some way all these questions should be placed upon the shoulders of the Chief Justice.
§ Mr. Swingler
May I ask the hon. Gentleman the same question that I put to his hon. Friend? Has he read the Report of the Principal Auditor which was published a couple of months ago on the state of administration in the Seychelles? It is an official Government publication on which a great number of the statements of my hon. Friend were based. It has nothing at all to do with the Chief Justice. It is an official Government publication on the state of administration in the Seychelles.
§ Sir F. Medlicott
That may be so. I have not mentioned the Report, and 1437 therefore the hon. Member is not in a position to cross-examine me about it.
I have said that, in effect, this debate is an attack upon the Chief Justice. He is, by implication, held in some way to blame for these other matters. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Hon. Members may draw their own conclusions, but that is the conclusion I draw, and it is a point which I am entitled to make.
I now turn to the petition. I think that we can usefully examine the evidence upon which these charges have been laid against Mr. Justice Lyon, because we are in order in referring to the petition. In fact, it was read to us. In support of that petition, we were told that two legal gentlemen said that they would have signed the petition but decided that they ought not to do so in view of their legal position. Nevertheless, they did associate themselves with it because they wrote to my right hon. Friend and said that they sympathised with what was said in the petition.
The hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. J. Johnson) referred to these charges as being an indictment. I should like to know what the hon. Member for Islington, East, who is himself a very experienced solicitor, would have thought of an indictment framed in the terms of this petition. I think that he would have torn it to pieces. I want to give him an illustration.
In the course of the petition—and this is one of the facts by which we can test the value of the petition—reference was made to the appeals which had been made against the judgments of Mr. Justice Lyon, and the petitioners, supported by the two legal gentlemen, were obviously under the impression that the appeal situation was such as to cast a serious doubt upon the competence of the Chief Justice. [HON MEMBERS: "So it is."] Let us look at the facts instead of just repeating the hearsay which is so far all that we have heard.
It has been said by my right hon. Friend on two occasions in answer to lb Questions in this House—not only in this last week, because this is not a matter which right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite have been forced to raise at the last moment; such facts as exist have been known for some time past—that during the seven years —
§ Mr. Bevan
On a point of order, Sir Charles. My hon. Friend the Member for Islington, East (Mr. E. Fletcher), when he made his speech, indicated that he was labouring under a difficulty—a difficulty which we would all like to have removed—that is, he was not striving to prove the accuracy or the inaccuracy of the statement made by the petitioners. If he had attempted to do that he would have immediately been in collision with the Chair because he would have been making an indictment against the Chief Justice. If no indictment against the Chief Justice can be made, then neither can there be a defence. Therefore, the hon. Member for Norfolk, Central (Sir F. Medlicott) is not in order in going outside that and saying that these appeals were or were not valid. In my submission, all that evidence is entirely out of order, otherwise we should ourselves be able to argue all the other evidence against the Chief Justice.
Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Charles Mat-Andrew)
I think that I can answer that point of order. The right hon. Gentleman is perfectly wrong. If anyone wants to reflect on the conduct of a king or a queen, or certain persons, he must put down a substantive Motion. That is to reflect upon them, but if he wants to say something pleasant about them, there is no reason why he should not do so.
§ Mr. Bevan
What the hon. Member is proposing to do is to argue one of the heads of the indictment against the Chief Justice and to argue that that head is perfectly invalid. I agree that he is perfectly entitled to say what an amiable person the Chief Justice may be, what a fine cricketer he was, what a splendid father and what a friend he is, but what, in my submission, he is not entitled to do is to discuss the evidence whether the Chief Justice is or is not a good Chief Justice.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
Further to that point of order. May I ask your advice, Sir Charles, on this matter? The hon. Member for Islington, West—[HON MEMBERS: "For Islington, East."] I apologise to Islington, West. The hon. Member for Islington, East (Mr. E. Fletcher), as a method of getting certain charges across, read out the petition. One of the statements in the petition was that there had been a disproportionate number of appeals from the Chief Justice which 1439 had been won and that these facts could be verified. Is it in order for a statement of that kind to be made and that, when my hon. Friend is attempting to put these appeals in perspective, the right hon. Gentleman should leap to the charge and suggest that it is we, for a change, who are acting improperly?
§ Sir F. Medlicott
The hon. Member for Islington, East, who opened this debate, made, if I may say so, a very grave tactical error in reading out the petition because, as has been ruled from the proper quarter, it is in order to answer anything which is referred to in the petition. If I may be allowed to give the relevant figures and facts—and they are, after all, of some consequence—in the seven years during which Mr. Justice Lyon has been Chief Justice of the Seychelles, there have been tried by him 1,561 cases. [HON MEMBERS: "We have already had this."] There is no reason at all why hon. Members should not have it a second time.
§ Mr. Bevan
On a point of order, Sir Charles. I do not mind the hon. Member pursuing the argument in the way he is doing at all, provided that it is clearly understood that we are in order, therefore, to sustain the petitioners and then adduce the evidence against the Chief Justice. It is not, in my submission, in order for the hon. Member to argue against the accuracy of the charges if we cannot endeavour to prove their accuracy.
§ Mr. Bevan
On a point of order, Sir Charles. Perhaps my command of language is not good enough to enable me to make myself clear. The hon. Member is now proceeding to discuss the validity and accuracy of charges made by the petitioners. My hon. Friend the Member for Islington, East, in reading out the petition, said specifically that he was not in a position to do any other than call attention to the fact that a body of citizens in the Islands of Seychelles held these views about the Chief Justice and that that in itself constituted a reason for an inquiry by the Minister. He specifically said, obeying Mr. Speaker's Ruling—
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
He is perfectly entitled to say nice things about him, but he is not entitled to reflect upon his character. [Interruption.] I have been asked for a Ruling, and I am going to give one. It is perfectly clear that if anyone wants to reflect upon the conduct of certain people, including myself for example, the only way that it can be done is to put down a Motion. On the other hand, if people like to say nice things about me, there is nothing wrong in that.
§ Mr. Bevan
On a point of order, Sir Charles. Arguing about the fate of appeals made against the Chief Justice to a higher court is not saying nice things about the Chief Justice. That is arguing about the evidence, extraneous to the character of the Chief Justice, and if the hon. Member is entitled to say that he is a very good Chief Justice, that his appeals are usually upheld and that he behaves properly in court and all that kind of thing, I say that that goes far beyond the character of the Chief Justice and that it is not saying nice things about his clothes or his eyes or his hair.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I did not say anything about my personal appearance. If one wants to reflect on the character of certain people in high places it can only be done by putting down a substantive Motion. If one is saying something pleasant or making what is normal criticism of him, not reflecting on him, one is quite entitled to do so.
§ Mr. E. Fletcher
On a point of Order. May I ask you, Sir Charles, whether I am right in assuming that if the hon. Member for Norfolk, Central (Sir F. Medlicott) says that there were 1,561 cases tried by the Chief Justice, it would be perfectly in order to retort that the overwhelming number of those cases were unappealable?
§ Sir F. Medlicott
The reluctance of hon. Members opposite to hear the figures is, of course, understandable. Out of 1,561 cases tried, only 14 were taken to appeal.
§ Sir F. Medlicott
Listen to the facts. This is the best evidence—from the people of Seychelles themselves. We are not here discussing the conditions which would have arisen if an unduly large number of these cases had been upset on appeal. That is not the case at all. The fact is that only in 14 cases out of 1,561 did the islanders themselves see fit to complain against the kind of justice administered to them.
§ Sir F. Medlicott
I think I have been fairly generous in giving way. [An HON MEMBERS: "Not once."] It is no use the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) threatening me with what hon. Members opposite will say about the Chief Justice because of what I have said in his favour, because nothing worse could be said in this House against any man than what has been said against him already. Nothing else that can be said in this House could be otherwise than in his favour.
I want to pass now to a second point referred to in the petition, on which I thought we were going to have some very important and serious disclosures, the reference to lack of religious tolerance. I happen to be a Nonconformist, and I should be very much on the alert to hear of any discrimination exercised against the non-Catholic community. Although in starting his speech the hon. Member referred to religious discrimination, the reference tailed off and he failed to make any further mention of the matter. I suggest that it is very unfair to bring this question at all into what is, after all, a debate arising out of allegations concerning the conduct of the Chief Justice. It is unfair to bring in something concerning a schoolgirl having been beaten. What has that to do with what has come before the House in these attacks on the Chief Justice? There was no reference whatever to any connection between the treatment 1442 of the schoolgirl and the alleged religious discrimination, and I feel that the hon. Gentleman should have taken his points a little further so that we should at least know what he is talking about.
There was a further point made in the petition which seems to me to show how badly it fails on the question of proof. This was the allegation that no other Colony would accept Mr. M. D. Lyon as Chief Justice. What evidence or what knowledge have the persons who signed that petition and the two magistrates who, in my view so unwisely, associated themselves with it, of the attitude of people in the scores, perhaps hundreds, of other areas in our great Colonial Territories as to whether they would or would not have this particular gentleman as Chief Justice?
During the course of the debate, or the Questions which gave rise to the present discussions, the hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. J. Johnson) said that the conduct of the Chief Justice was a matter of comment in the Colony day by day. We know what sort of tittle-tattle can go on in certain types of society. It has been wisely said that one can get people to believe anything as long as one whispers it. We know the sort of whispering campaign which has been going on against this fellow countryman of ours who has been trying to do a very difficult job in difficult circumstances. It seems to me that never has any accusation been brought against a member of the judiciary, or, indeed, against anybody else, on such flimsy and unreliable evidence.
§ Mr. J. Johnson
Will the hon. Gentleman take it from me that there are people who have lived in the Colony and who have come back and said these things? It is not just a matter of tittle-tattle in some bacca shop in Victoria, but of people talking to Members of the House, and of hon. Members having information given to them. We do not lightly make these charges in the House of Commons, believe me.
§ Sir F. Medlicott
It is because these charges have been made so recklessly that I feel I have to say these words in defence. A charge against a holder of high judicial office is one which should never be made without far more consideration and evidence than has been brought before us today.
1443 I do not wish to detain the House any longer, except to end as I began, by referring to my own knowledge of this gentleman for over a quarter of a century. Perhaps I am influenced by the fact that when I first saw Mr. Lyon he was playing cricket for the Gentlemen. I am old-fashioned enough to believe that there is still some virtue in being a gentleman. In all this quarter of a century during which I have known him and his family, I have found that he has behaved with integrity and as one would expect a man to behave who occupies his high position. I am glad to have this opportunity of giving what is perhaps the only piece of first-hand evidence which the House has had today, because I deplore attacks made upon a man who is not in a position to defend himself.
§ 5.46 p.m.
§ Mr. B. T. Parkin (Paddington, North)
It was certainly interesting to hear the closing remarks of the hon. Member for Norfolk, Central (Sir F. Medlicott), telling us of what was one of the deciding factors in his mind in inducing him to make his speech. I hesitate to think of what might have been the fatal effect upon the reputation of the Chief Justice if he had had the misfortune to be a professional cricketer. I do not know whether the hon. Member for Norfolk, Central ever worked as a professional lawyer or as an unprofessional lawyer, but I think it was rather unfortunate that he brought in that implication at the end.
It would be unwise to follow too closely the speech of the hon. Gentleman, because the Colonial Secretary, quite clearly, would prefer a debate in which he could come here as the champion of this much maligned English gentleman on the other side of the world, who has been the subject of most disgraceful allegations and who has no spokesman other than his master, the Secretary of State for the Colonies.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
I think it is important to have it quite clearly established that the Secretary of State is not the master of the Chief Justice. If that is once thought to be the true position, then much on which this House and the judiciary have fought over the centuries would be jeopardised.
§ Mr. Parkin
The Secretary of State is taking a very long time to find out exactly 1444 what the position is. I should have thought that, if he really knew what the position was, he would have been able to pop round to Mr. Speaker a few days ago and explain what the true position was and what sort of debate we could have. Moreover, I should have thought that his own correspondence with hon. Members would have been very much shortened in the last year or two if he had had the true position quite clearly in his mind.
We are not today discussing the personal character of the Chief Justice of the Seychelles, but we are, I think, entitled to refer to an item in the petition which has been read out, which begs the Secretary of State to make a change on the ground that no man ought to serve three terms in the Colony today. We have had no answer and no reference whatever to that today. No man, be he angel, cricketer, drunkard, or King Solomon—who, if he had had the misfortune to lose his job in the Canal Zone at the present time and had read for the Bar and obtained the necessary qualifications could have gone to the Seychelles—could last more than a couple of years there without getting a reputation more like that of Judge Jeffreys or Mr. Justice Shallow.
We are, therefore, entitled to submit this afternoon that the Colonial Secretary has been dilatory in appreciating that aspect of the situation, that he really ought to have bestirred himself to look at the machinery which does place some of these servants of the Crown in a very difficult position in a very difficult part of the world. He ought really to answer that part of the submissions, that nobody should serve that length of time.
The Colonial Secretary, at least, knows how much hon. Members of the House have been disturbed over the last few years by visits and letters from all sorts of people who have come back from the Seychelles, or from those who are related to people who work there. These communications have referred to sometimes minor, sometimes major, administrative inefficiencies which are sometimes very near the scandalous. The Colonial Secretary knows all that because he has had to write a very large number of letters to hon. Members in which, on balance, he has always come down on the side of the man on the spot. That is understandable. But he cannot ride off with that 1445 today, because it is his own responsibility to look at the administrative machinery which puts these men there.
A very large volume and variety of complaints and criticisms reach Members of this House, and we are thankful today that we can have a somewhat more leisurely discussion and put the case in more detail than is possible in the Question and Answer exchange of information. I hope that before this debate moves on to another topic, we shall get an assurance from the Colonial Secretary that he is seriously reflecting on how the Seychelles administration can be brought up to date and how people can be moved around more frequently from one job to another.
I should like to refer briefly to some of the cases with which the Colonial Secretary has dealt and some of the cases which have been brought to the attention of hon. Members. It is a strange thing that almost everyone who comes back from the Seychelles refers before long to the case of Tyndale Biscoe, upon which the Colonial Secretary must have an enormous file in his office. We know that that case cannot in law be reopened because Tyndale Biscoe himself made and signed a declaration to save himself from prosecution for criminal libel, but no one who has met him—and he is a person of some distinction, although he is always described as being somewhat eccentric in his views—casts any aspersion on his honesty and integrity.
When he attempted to defend a maid and ward who, in his view, had been the subject of an assault, and when he tried to get judicial steps taken to bring to justice those whom he thought were responsible for her seduction, he went through a pretty nasty experience. Of course he was unwise in rushing off to the medical officer and asking if the pregnancy could be terminated, which is a wrong thing to say in that part of the world because of the strict views which are held and because of the number of pregnancies which are obviously not terminated.
That was held against him. He was threatened with prosecution for having suggested that way out. But to any normal person that would seem a privileged thing to do, to approach an official and ask about it, in the same way that one would have thought that his 1446 approaches not only to the Chief Justice but to the Governor were also privileged. But these facts were quoted and they were finally used to bring him down in very humiliating circumstances. I know that the case is closed in law, but it is frequently referred to by those who know the territory and who talk about it as an example of the sort of thing which can happen to a man.
The case of Mullery is another example of what happened to a man when the hounds got after him. I do not know where the references to the poison pen, referred to by the hon. Member for Hertfordshire, South-West (Mr. G. Longden) were directed, but some strange things have been said about Mullery in the same way as some strange things have been said about the Archdeacon. That is another case which is now closed, in the sense that Archdeacon Roach is not now in the Seychelles and is happily employed elsewhere.
It is a little doubtful whether private letters from the Governor are included in the suggestion of poison pens, which were referred to by the hon. Member for Hertfordshire, South-West. It is a little tricky when the Governor writes to the Bishop of Mauritius and then seeks to defend himself by saying that he was not writing as the Governor but as a private individual. He was certainly in alliance with Le Seychellois, whose poison pen was working overtime when it referred to the fact that the Archdeacon was not returning. That, again, is in the Colonial Secretary's files.
The hon. Member for Norfolk, Central referred to the question of appeals. We ought to have some more information from the Colonial Secretary, irrespective of the personal character or competence of the Chief Justice, on how many of the offences dealt with by the Supreme Court—let us forget Mr. Lyon for the moment—are such that they can be appealed against, and with respect to those that can be appealed again, what is the cost of getting from the Seychelles to Mauritius or to East Africa to engage a barrister.
The Colonial Secretary will, no doubt, know of the death of bonne femme Marie towards the end of 1954, when he had to have a special inquiry. He is aware of the repercussions. I have no doubt that he knows the special report that was 1447 sent in to him, and he will perhaps recognise the quotation:I must say at once that this inquiry has been bedevilled from its inception by the bungling of the police.These are matters that we can discuss here, irrespective of any one's personal character. This unfortunate woman is supposed to have been found drowned on a Saturday, buried on the Sunday and the police superintendent told about it on the Monday. This is a territory of 94 islands, where everybody is within reach of the sea, and the police have never been told the elementary means of determining whether a body found in the water is, in fact, the body of a drowned person. The most elementary precautions were not taken to ascertain whether evidence of drowning was present.
The magistrates had protracted inquiries, and, finally, came to the conclusion that bonne femme Marie could not have been drowned. But if she had not been drowned, what had happened to her? It is quite certain that under a moderately efficient police system a lot of the rumours which were set about would not have been started. The Colonial Secretary knows about this. He knows about the employer of this woman. He knows about the revolver which was taken away from him by the police and about the approach made to the Governor, indignant that the police should have made inquiries about the revolver. Fortunately, it was possible to establish that there were at least no bullet holes in the skull or the skeleton. The Colonial Secretary will know of this case, and I submit that the evidence which he has in the report on the inefficiency of the police would justify him taking the most energetic steps to improve their methods.
I should like again to refer to the methods of the police in the case of Mrs. Morley Green, who ran the hospital shop. The Colonial Secretary will perhaps know that she had herself asked for an audit of her stock and her finances. But surely it was no part of the duty of the clerk who finally came to conduct the audit to communicate with a policeman on his way back to the other island before he had reported to the public auditor.
The Colonial Secretary will know that the lady was charged with the theft of a thermometer worth 3s. 9d., whereas a 1448 good deal later, when the auditor had conducted his work, it was discovered that there were many errors in the stocktaking, some in Mrs. Morley Green's favour and some against her. It was afterwards admitted that the stocks of insulin showed a discrepancy purely through a clerical error which the auditors should have disclosed. But before any of this, the police had taken action. How did it come about that that silly charge was transferred from the magistrates' court to the Supreme Court in a territory with a population half the size of my constituency, where a man is dressed up as a Chief Justice?
What is worse, this case over a 3s. 9d. thermometer went from that court to the Chief Justice's Court, so she had to try to borrow money from an Indian merchant to pay £22 10s. fee for a Queen's Counsel, M. Bonnetard. The case was adjourned and is still adjourned. We do not know anything more about it. Her name has not been cleared and the case has not been settled. Somebody ought to be in a position to do something about it. I have served under the hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield (Air Commodore Harvey) before now and I know what he would have done. A few postings and a few changes of the training system and a few people livened up, and there would be a vast difference, and individual reputations would not be brought into the matter.
The Colonial Secretary replied to me about the case of Felix Baker, who was committed for contempt of court, The right hon. Gentleman sent back a letter scolding gentle Mrs. Collet for not knowing that the case was one which could not have been appealed against, and saying that she ought to have known that she could have consulted the court records. Why was she not told that in court? Rosetta Valentine, who jeered at a witness, was charged with contempt. Rosetta Valentine is still dead, is she not? The poor old lady got eight months for saying, "Moi baise on."
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
That last statement, if not immediately answered or if I forget to answer it later on in the general stream of replies to the debate, might give a very erroneous impression. As I told the hon. Member, this woman was charged on two counts with wrongfully attempting to influence a witness during the preliminary enquiry, and not at all for jeering at somebody.
§ Mr. Parkin
Of course it was an attempt to influence a witness. Can hon. Members imagine what sort of discipline there is in this preliminary court? We know what the final outcome was in East Africa because someone had the money to see to it. This old woman of 70 disputed some evidence given by someone else, evidence which quite clearly was afterwards proved to be false, and so she passed a comment, as we here, interrupting an hon. Member opposite, might comment by no more than a gesture. She was then hauled up and sent to prison, and there she died. This will not do. It is no use the Colonial Secretary shaking his head and saying that it is all right. He would be shocked if any of these things happened even in the pettiest magistrate's court in this country and, of course, they would not happen.
To end on a lighter note, I should like to refer to the treasure story. The right hon. Gentleman did not answer me when I raised this matter on a previous occasion. Has he the answer now? Can the right hon. Gentleman envisage from this distance how this little society plans its work and how it must have heard that in other parts of the Commonwealth, great schemes were afoot for raising the standard of living by starting big irrigation schemes and the like?
What do they do in the Seychelles? I should like to read to the House a quotation from Le Seychellois. It states that a Captain Wilkins, who bought a share in the treasure hunt, had entered into an agreement with the Government. It added:This document was between His Excellency the Governor, acting on behalf of the Government of the Seychelles, and Reginald Cruse Wilkins and Berthe Morel (the owner of the land on which the loot is believed to lie) It states, in effect, that in exchange for 10 per cent. of the total value of the treasure recovered, the Government will provide all necessary materials and labour for a period of four months at a rate not exceeding Rupees one thousand five hundred per month. The work is to be carried out under the supervision of the Superintendent of Public Works. Any capital value will be tax free, and if nothing is found during the currency of the agreement, the Government's participation will be automatically terminated and no claim made for the recovery of the amount spent in providing assistance.The report continues:Very soon after the signing of this agreement, a great change came over the scene. A squad of labourers commenced excavating 1450 and blasting under the supervision of Captain Wilkins who was constantly on the site, having his meals brought out to him, a day and night police guard was also instituted and later, pumping machinery arrived to deal with the water.Then they got something.Towards the end … a further 'clue was unearthed—the headless body of a china-clay doll. The cryptogram had stated that at a certain spot the 'body of a woman' would be found.Really! That is the contribution by the administration of Her Majesty's Colony of the Seychelles to colonial development and welfare. If quite a small town clerk did something of that kind and had work done by municipal employees in his back garden, the thing would be very properly brought up. The whole machinery of justice would be brought to bear upon him, but this apparently does not matter. The Colonial Secretary, apparently, takes the view that one must co-operate in that sort of society, and it does not do to annoy them. That is all very well, provided conditions are not changing.
But they will change. Half the children in the Seychelles are not at school. Somebody has given figures of the number of secondary schools, but how 260 scholars are spread over them I do not know. The Colonial Secretary says that 5,000 out of 9,000 children are at primary schools. Yet, they are beginning to learn. The people who come back from the Canal Zone will have something to say. They will not stay for ever under the old Creole régime. The Secretary of State has some responsibility, and he must make up his mind whether he is going to reform the administration or take the logical step of scattering on his files the gri-gri powder which is still used in the Seychelles and make his precautionary pact with the Devil.
§ 6.9 p.m.
§ Mr. Francis Noel-Baker (Swindon)
I think that the House has listened with considerable interest to the shocking revelations made by the hon. Member for Paddington, North (Mr. Parkin). I am sure that we have been stirred by the accounts of corruption, mismanagement and maladministration of which so many of us have heard. It has become clear in the debate so far that no hon. Member who has spoken, and perhaps no hon. 1451 Member of the House at all, has been to the Seychelles.
The last hon. Member about whose journey to the Seychelles I know is Mr. Thomas Reid, my predecessor in representing the constituency which I now have the honour to represent in the House. He went to the Seychelles as a financial commissioner on behalf of the Government of the day. I do not know whether, since that time, any hon. Member has been to the Seychelles, but it is high time not only that some hon. Members went there but, also, that one of the Ministers at the Colonial Office took the opportunity of going out there.
I intervene briefly in the debate for a very specific reason. I have been in communication with the Secretary of State for the Colonies for a number of months about a journey which I intend to make during the Recess to the Seychelles. I want to go to other places on the way, to Aden, Mombasa and perhaps to Egypt, and to go to the Seychelles partly because of the state of affairs about which we have heard in the debate, and partly because I want to look at one of the more prominent international figures who happens to be at present on that island.
The Archbishop of Cyprus was deported very suddenly when the talks with him were broken off, at the time when the Secretary of State and I were in Nicosia some months ago. As soon as the Secretary of State was good enough to write to me telling me of the deportation, I replied at once saying that I hoped that facilities would be given to me at a later stage to see the Archbishop in his place of detention.
Since that time the Secretary of State has tolerated some correspondence between myself and the Archbishop, and he was good enough to tell me that a letter which I wrote to the Archbishop the other day had been forwarded to Cyprus for consideration by the authorities. Whether it has been sent on, whether it will be censored, and whether it is the practice of the right hon. Gentleman to interfere in that way with the correspondence of Members of Parliament, has not been made clear.
At all events I followed this series of requests and discussions with the right hon. Gentleman by putting down a Question today asking whether he would allow 1452 me to go to the Seychelles and see whomever I wanted to see there, including the Archbishop. I received a reply, the exact terms of which I do not have in my mind. in which the Secretary of State pointed out that recently his right hon. Friend the Prime Minister had said that if the Archbishop of Cyprus made a declaration or statement regarding the use of violence in the island, a new situation would arise, and that until that new situation had arisen, he would prevent me from seeing the Archbishop in his present place of detention.
I find that difficult to understand. Some people might take the view that it was monstrously high-handed interference with the rights and privileges of Members of Parliament in the execution of their duty, but I can only deplore what I think is an unwise and incomprehensible decision which I do not begin to understand.
The difficulties standing in the way of the Archbishop making any kind of authoritative statement while he is in detention have been pointed out over and over again in this House. Indeed, one of the reasons why the Secretary of State said he had sent him to Mahé was to stop him making declarations which might influence the affairs of Cyprus. The right hon. Gentleman is beginning to realise that he cannot settle that problem without the participation of the Archbishop. He is beginning to realise that such is the influence and prestige of the Archbishop, largely built up by the fact that he has been exiled to Mahé. that he cannot do without him. But it is not reasonable for him at this moment to use the kind of language which will be interpreted in some quarters as blackmail to prevent the Archbishop meeting people with whom he might want to discuss and consult about the situation in Cyprus.
Therefore, I want to ask the Secretary of State a number of questions in relation to this situation. In the first place, how many people has the right hon. Gentleman in detention in the Seychelles at the present time? What are the powers under which he holds them there, and what are the conditions in which he holds them? We were told the other day that the Archbishop is now on parole, that he is free to go round the island and do anything he likes, provided that he does not 1453 try to escape. Does this mean that on the day I arrive in the port at Mahé the Archbishop will be put back behind wire? Or does it mean that the Secretary of State will have me detained and deported, or perhaps locked up with the Archbishop? What are the steps he intends to take, and how does he justify this extraordinary threat to interfere with a Member of Parliament who, after all, is only trying to do his duty?
I think that the Secretary of State knows what my attitude is to the question of the use of violence in Cyprus. He also knows everything that I said to everybody concerned during the time I was in Nicosia, some of it while he was there, during those negotiations. I have been very careful to keep no secrets from him during any of this time, and he knows very well that what little influence I have with the Archbishop and other people in his part of the world I have been using in order to try to get a peaceful and fair settlement which will be in the interests of the people of the island concerned and of this country, to stop the violence and the constant loss of lives which is still going on. The Secretary of State knows that well, and what his purpose may be in trying to stop me, or other people, from consulting Archbishop Makarios at the present time defeats my imagination.
I want to ask the right hon. Gentleman what he says now about the purpose for which he has the Archbishop detained. Is it to punish him for misdeeds about which no evidence has been produced and about which no public charges have been made, and which the Archbishop has been given no opportunity to refute? Is it to humiliate him? Is it to try to destroy the position in which he now finds himself as leader of his people in Cyprus? That is an impregnable position, largely thanks to the act of exiling him to the island and making him into a national hero.
Is the right hon. Gentleman trying to humiliate the Archbishop? If so, it is an unwise game on the eve of the day when he will have to ask him to go back to Nicosia to help the Government out of the difficulties which they have got into. What justification can there be for interfering with his rights to communicate and discuss privately, if necessary, with people who might be able to have 1454 some part in deciding what future line he takes?
As I have said, I find the position of the Secretary of State incomprehensible and I hope that he will take the opportunity provided by this debate, first, to make clear his purpose in making this extraordinary threat and, secondly, to tell us what powers he has to enforce it. I should also like to say that in the light of what the Secretary of State says I shall have to consider with my hon. Friends, between now and tomorrow, whether we do not think that a question of the privileges and rights of individual Members of this House is involved, and perhaps seek a Ruling on it from Mr. Speaker at the appropriate time tomorrow.
At all events I am determined to make the journey about which I told the Secretary of State several months ago. I shall go to Mahé, and I shall seek to see all those people whom I think, as a Member of Parliament. I ought to see in order to inform myself both about the island's problems and also about the problem relating to the important detainees held there at the present time. The responsibility for interfering with that will be on the shoulders of the right hon. Gentleman. I do not want to get into acrimonious discussion with him—
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
Misguided though I think his policy—or shall I say the policy of the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister, because we know what the real situation is—
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
What does the hon. Gentleman mean by that innuendo? This has been a debate of innuendos. If that particular one means any division of view between my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and myself on Cyprus, it is totally false.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
No suggestion of that kind was made—[HON MEMBERS: "Oh!"]—but if the right hon. Gentleman likes to bring up the point, he can. All I say is that the policies announced and discussed in the House by the Secretary of State and by the Prime Minister shock me greatly. I disagree with them strongly. Of course the Prime Minister 1455 has responsibilities in this matter, and everybody knows very well that he has, and the part that has been played. In spite of that, the right hon. Gentleman knows that I shall continue, in the face of whatever provocation may be offered from anybody, to try to do all I can to find a decent, reasonable and peaceful settlement of this problem.
One small thing that might contribute to that would be if people informed of the situation, here and in Cyprus, have an opportunity to talk quietly in private with the Archbishop, telling him their views and telling him how the situation has developed in recent months. I cannot tell the House what I shall say to the Archbishop, for obvious reasons, but I would not object to telling the right hon. Gentleman what line I shall take. I want to make this journey of investigation, and it would be a good thing if other hon. Members went out there during the Recess. So if any hon. Gentlemen opposite would like to come with me, that would be a good plan
I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will give a considered reply. I warn him again that I intend to make this journey and to ask for Mr. Speaker's guidance if, in our opinion, in the light of his answer we think that a question of Privilege is involved.
§ 6.19 p.m.
§ Mr. Stephen Swingler (Newcastle-under-Lyme)
I was amazed to hear what my hon. Friend the Member for Swindon (Mr. F. Noel-Baker) said. I always understood that a British Member of Parliament was entitled to have free communication with any citizen of British territory. A number of my hon. Friends, for example, have been to Cyprus and have visited those who are imprisoned in Cyprus for political offences. My hon. Friends have been permitted to have communication with them.
I cannot for the life of me understand why the Government should use whatever powers they are able to use to prevent my hon. Friend the Member for Swindon from going to the Seychelles and communicating with Archbishop Makarios, who has not been charged or brought to trial or convicted of any offence whatever. I therefore hope that we shall have some explanation on that point, and I certainly hope and believe 1456 that my hon. Friend will pursue it because it affects the rights of hon. Members as much as the case brought forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, East (Mr. E. Fletcher) about the interference, in the Seychelles, with his correspondence.
By this stage in the debate it should be clear that the Secretary of State would have saved himself much trouble had he agreed to the appointment of a commission of inquiry on the maladministration in the Seychelles in the first instance. Had this happened elsewhere, of course, it would have been done. That is obvious. It is also obvious that hon. Members opposite would not have sprung to the defence of those persons against whom grave allegations have been made had they been certain other persons in other Colonial Territories.
We do not find them doing so in the case of Dr. Jagan, in British Guiana, or in the case of Archbishop Makarios, in Cyprus, or in the case, apparently, of Dr. Azikiwe, in Nigeria. Yet hon. Members who have not even read the Government publication on the Seychelles and seen the maladministration it reveals are prepared, on the basis of little or no knowledge of the Seychelles, to denounce these grave allegations.
I do not want to speak about the case of Chief Justice Lyon. I know nothing about it. Nevertheless, I should have thought it reasonable that when very grave allegations had been made by reputable citizens in a British Colonial Territory they constituted a prima facie case for an independent inquiry. I should have thought that in the interests both of the persons against whom the allegations have been made and of the reputable citizens of the Colony making the allegations to the Minister responsible, an inquiry was necessary. If these allegations are made in circumstances in which many other criticisms are being made of the standard of administration in that Colony, I should have thought that they constituted an opportunity and a challenge to the Secretary of State to carry out a general commission of inquiry.
The House has very recently had an example of such allegations being made against the Prime Minister in another Colony, and in that case an independent Commission of Inquiry was set up. When one thinks back over other colonial crises 1457 in which allegations of personal corruption or incompetence have been made, one finds many examples of the situation being met immediately by the Secretary of State granting a commission of inquiry.
Some hon. Members were under the illusion, when the debate started, that those hon. Members who had asked for it were concerned merely with the allegations against Chief Justice Lyon. I believe that far more serious issues arise which should more deeply concern hon. Members, very few of whom, obviously, have read the recent official Report on the Seychelles. Very few have read the allegations of the Minister's Principal Auditor on the accounts of the Seychelles. I ask those hon. Members who have been interested in this discussion to read, during the Recess, this official Government publication, which was published two-and-a-half months ago, and then decide whether or not they think there is maladministration or a prima facie case for a commission of inquiry.
This Report of the Principal Auditor discloses, in the first place, that in most of the Departments of Government in these islands, populated by 30,000 people, no kind of check on administration can be carried out because no books and documents are kept concerning either revenue or expenditure. Is it not extraordinary that in a British Colonial Territory the Auditor should report to the Secretary of State and the Governor that not in the Education Department, not in the Labour and Welfare Department and not in the Health Department was he able to carry out any kind of check on what was being done, on taxation or on expenditure, because no books or documents were available?
Is it not also extraordinary that the Auditor should discover that for a period of four years the Customs Department of the Islands was under-assessing Customs duties? We have the story, now confirmed by the Secretary of State, that £89,000 has been lost to the revenue of the Seychelles between 1950 and 1954 as a result of the fact that the Customs Department was wrongly assessing the duty on rum and wine. The Department was making a guess which was always an under-assessment, and it has been calculated that the loss, as a result, has been £89,000.
1458 What is the excuse? It is that the Department did not possess the correct kind of hydrometer or spirit conversion table and that it took four years to find that out, in spite of all the queries submitted to the Department by the Auditor.
Is it not extraordinary that we should have a state of affairs in which it is alleged that senior officers of the Government have upgraded themselves to a salary higher than their qualifications allow and that the Governor has then given retrospective approval to enable them to remain on a salary higher than that of their correct grading? Is that a state of affairs which the House can allow to pass, when it is put down in black and white in the official Report of the Auditor that the senior officers of the Colonial Government in the Seychelles are permitted to upgrade themselves to any salary they wish and then can be given retrospective approval by the Governor?
This is the kind of thing about which the Auditor, sent out by the Minister, complains—that he has issued 726 queries and has failed to get an answer to them. I recently asked the Secretary of State to which years these queries of the Auditor on the Departments which he could audit were relevant. Two of them go back to 1951, 34 go back to 1952, 48 go back to 1953, 90 go back to 1954, and there are now 135 on the year 1955. These are all queries on the accounts issued by the Principal Auditor, to which he can get no reply from the Department.
That is not the only thing about which he complains. He complains that in the year in which he was last inspecting he discovered that the Supplies Department of the Seychelles Islands reported that it had made a net profit of 74,000 rupees, but that when he carried out his audit he discovered that it had made a loss of 29,000 rupees. That was the standard of accountancy in the Supplies Department, and it was better than that in the Education Department, which had no books at all. The Auditor reported that he was unable to carry out an audit on the Education Department, the Labour and Welfare Department and the Health Department. In a Department in which an audit could be carried out, he discovered that a net profit of tens of thousands of rupees was being declared when it was, in fact, a net loss of tens of thousands of rupees.
1459 Quite apart from the case of Chief Justice Lyon and the very grave allegations made against him by reputable citizens in petitioning the Secretary of State, I say that the official Report which is in the possession of the Colonial Office warrants an inquiry. Unfortunately, the Report is not in the possession of the Library of the House. Apparently the Seychelles Government do not send their official publications to the Library of the House, although we are responsible for the Seychelles Islands; we have to go to the Librarian and to demand that the Colonial Office file copy should be brought over here. Perhaps that is a matter which might be remedied.
The Secretary of State, who only now has taken the action of asking the Governor to make his observations on the Principal Auditor's Report, having examined that Report, which has been in his possession for two months, should have seen that there was a prima facie case of maladministration in the government of the Seychelles and that an independent commission of inquiry should be sent out there immediately to put matters right.
§ 6.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Godfrey Nicholson (Farnham)
I must apologise for intervening in the debate, not having heard the opening speeches. The reason was that I was serving on a Select Committee on Estimates. I rise only to reply to some extent to the speech of the hon. Member for Paddington, North (Mr. Parkin). Some months ago I interested myself in the affairs of the Seychelles Islands and had correspondence with somebody who had been there.
I want to say something about the Chief Justice. This has been a most unfair debate. Attacks have been made on the Chief Justice, although hon. Members opposite have not taken the opportunity to put down a substantive Motion. They have so over-painted the picture and so over-egged the pudding that if the administration of justice in the Seychelles is anything like that which they have attempted to portray, I am astounded that there has been so little evidence of any scandal or maladministration—[HON MEMBERS: "What does the hon. Member want?"] I want something substantial.
§ Mr. Nicholson
I have not read the Report. I have listened to what has been said in the House and I went into some of these cases in correspondence with someone who was recently in the islands.
One cannot pin down hon. Members opposite. The hon. Member for Paddington, North made a most amusing speech, but in it there was nothing but hearsay, nothing but tittle tattle, and nothing which one could pin down. The real truth about the islands is that these allegations are, so far, just a lot of tittle tattle. General Gordon said that the islands were the Garden of Eden. Certainly they are full of serpents and serpents' tongues. This is a small community on small islands and whenever there is a small population, there is bound to be tittle tattle. In addition to that, they are largely influenced by the Roman Catholic Church, with the resulting strains and stresses. I should be amazed if there were not this tittle tattle, but I am even more amazed at the attitude of hon. Members opposite, who have dared to suggest that there is anything in these cases which can be substantiated. [HON MEMBERS: "How does the hon. Member know?"] Because they have not been substantiated.
Hon. Members speak about these islands as though they are places which nobody has ever visited and about which we know nothing. Does not the fact that there has been this stringent and condemnatory audit prove that close attention is paid to the islands? The hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme, (Mr. Swingler) said that the allegations showed a prima facie case for an inquiry. Is any community with an unsubstantiated grievance to have a commission of inquiry?
I put it to the House, while by no means saying that everything is happy in the islands, that such gross overstatement and such gross assumption over a little bit of tittle tattle as evidence of substantial maladministration of justice is not doing a service to the inhabitants of the Seychelles or the colonial administration. I hope that hon. Members will show more sense of proportion.
§ 6.35 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for the Colonies (Mr. Alan Lennox-Boyd)
The usual practice when the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) and I discuss colonial matters is that I have the privilege of hearing what he has to say and then winding up the debate. I should have been glad to have done that tonight. I am speaking first only because the right hon. Gentleman wants me to do so and I am not in a position to dispute that wish, but I ask hon. Members to remember that if the right hon. Gentleman makes charges to which I am not able to reply, it was because, to meet the right hon. Gentleman's convenience, I was prepared to speak first.
On the Consolidated Fund Bill his wish must be my law and, there being no Motion, if I had not risen now we should have been looking at each other until ten o'clock. One of the most agreeable consequences of the House rising is that we shall not have to look at each other for very much longer. I think it is as well that I should do what I have to do with as much grace as I can.
I am sorry that in the past we have not had more debates on territories like the Seychelles. Certainly I have always been anxious that we should have as many days as possible devoted to colonial problems. One of the difficulties—and this is common to all of us—is that there are so many great issues in so many Colonies of the first importance that when a day is chosen for a colonial debate the issue is always a great headline issue, or some matter of world-wide importance, so that the problems in the smaller territories tend to get less examination in the House than they deserve.
I am awaiting the recommendation of the right hon. Gentleman's party about how we can devote more time to discussion of Colonial Territories, and I very much hope that we shall use any extra time which we can get in discussing problems of smaller territories.
§ Mr. Ellis Smith (Stoke-on-Trent, South)
The right hon. Gentleman could refer that to the Select Committee on Procedure.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
Being a Minister, I am not in a position to refer matters of that kind, but I shall do anything I can behind the scenes to encourage anything that results in more time being given 1462 to colonial matters. I recognise the opinion that it is very important that we should bring the Parliamentary searchlight to bear on smaller Territories such as the Seychelles.
I feel extremely strongly about the failure of the Opposition to put down a substantive Motion and so enable me in detail to answer the wild accusations against the Chief Justice of the Seychelles, who has not made a public statement and who has maintained, since the campaign started, an attitude of the utmost correctitude. I should welcome a discussion on the problems of the Seychelles. About 40,000 people are on the islands, the largest of which is Mahé. There are many problems which are by no means solved, and many urgent problems where the solution is not even at the end of the tunnel.
I recognise my responsibilities in this subject, and with the help of the House I shall always do what I can to help forward the economic development of the Seychelles, which is their first need and consideration. In doing that we have to recognise that, without an airport at the moment and not lying on any of the main shipping routes, the islands are remote, and development is consequently a great deal more difficult. In addition, their almost entire dependence on copra makes them particularly susceptible to movements in the price of that commodity. One of the few good consequences of the Korean war was good prices for copra, and the Seychelles profited accordingly. The basic problem remains the need to increase production and to try to introduce better communications and a more up-to-date agricultural procedure.
The consequence of this being a small and isolated community, with a far from buoyant revenue, is bound to be seen in all aspects of the islands' administration, not only in the Civil Service but in the development plan and development progress in general. People of high technical quality are required, but naturally, with the limited rewards now available in the Seychelles, they prefer to go elsewhere. It must be our task to find some means whereby the relative poverty of those territories does not prevent them from receiving the help which is necessary in order that they can improve the lot of their inhabitants.
1463 In addition to the consequences in commerce and economic development, caused by their remoteness and relative poverty, there is also the consequence, which we all recognise, that personalities and individual rivalries and animosities play an extraordinarily depressing and continuing part. Some of the difficulties in relation to the Chief Justice, which I cannot discuss in detail—although certain suggestions and statements were made earlier—go back for some years, to the days when the party opposite was responsible for the administration of the Seychelles. At that time the acting Attorney-General, Mr. Collet—as is well known, because I believed it appeared in the course of a debate in Parliament—had been recommended to be acting Chief Justice. Another appointment was made and, without wishing to enter in any way into the local controversy, I think I can say that from that time on Mr. Collet, who went on living in the islands, and the Chief Justice have been on the very worst of terms, to put it mildly. The animosities which that has caused and the wild charges against the Chief Justice which have in part ensued from this must be a matter of regret to us all.
One or two statements of a disparaging and totally unjustified kind have been made against the Governor of the Seychelles, Sir William Addis. The hon. Member for Islington, East (Mr. E. Fletcher) quoted somebody whom I did not know personally. Perhaps I failed to catch the name correctly, but there were approving murmurs among the hon. Member's friend, so it sounds as though he were an eminent gentleman. It appears that he had a number of criticisms to make about the Governor. I would say that we are lucky to have a governor of the quality and distinction of Sir William Addis in that small community. The one thing that has worried me is that I have unintentionally added to and increased his burdens by the deportations from Cyprus to the island of Mahé.
There are only two senior administrative officers in the islands—the Governor and the Secretary to Government. I know that they are overburdened with matters of detail which should be resolved at lower levels. On occasions, at the Colonial Office, I find myself charged with more responsibility than I 1464 can adequately discharge at the moment, and I am sure that the Governor of the Seychelles feels exactly the same, together with the only other senior administrative officer, the Secretary to Government. I realise that they are carrying out tasks which should be done by other people, but I also recognise that the salary scale which they are at the moment in a position to offer would not provide a wide enough range of candidates for administrative posts.
There is also the regrettable consequence that adequate facilities are not available locally for training some of the very good local material which exists. The Governor has long been anxious about that and has been in consultation with me for some time about the need to improve and reorganise the Civil Service and to carry out a salaries revision. The smallness of the funds is a great handicap, however, and the Governor and I have to pay regard to that depressing fact. I agree with him that expert advice for the Seychelles should be sought from outside the Colony. Suitable measures should be put in hand for the reorganisation and general modernisation of the administration and, at the same time, a fiscal commissioner should be appointed, who might examine that position, as well as the fiscal position in general.
Apart from that, I agree that expert technical advice should be made available to help the islands in their development plan. It was suggested some months ago that a senior officer of my Department should very shortly go to give help in Seychelles. Though helpful, that by itself will not be enough. It is important that suitable technical help should be given. We have not heard as much today as we should have done about the development plan, so I will not give further details to the House, but I hope that a chance will arise in a general colonial debate, or during some further discussion about the Seychelles, to deal with the problems of development in general and the things which have to be done, and the need to find the material means whereby they can be done.
As the hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. J. Johnson) said, the position has been made considerably more acute by the return of 1,400 ex-Pioneers from the Suez Canal Zone, which has increased by 25 per cent. the number of men in the labour 1465 market. I heard the suggestion made that selfishness and cupidity were keeping the people from a proper examination of the possibilities of emigration. I have no reason to believe that that charge has any truth in it, and I am quite sure that if ways can be found both of employing people locally and encouraging them to settle elsewhere, all the worth-while people in the territory will be behind these schemes.
Other charges have been made with which I should like to deal briefly before coming to those points which formed the main cause of this debate, and in connection with which I am conscious of the need to keep most carefully in order. Reference has been made to the Report of the Principal Auditor. I do not pretend that anybody who has read that Report could be complacent about it. It certainly shows up many of the problems of the islands in a very vivid fashion. But reports of this kind—as the House should recognise, in fairness—are bound very often to fasten upon the unsatisfactory features in any landscape.
That is to be expected, but if one took out of the Report of the Comptroller and Auditor General those things which reflected upon the United Kingdom from time to time—such as the Report of the auditors, Cooper Bros., who examined the ground nuts scheme—and suggested that they were representative of the whole field of activity, we should get the matter out of perspective. I recognise that this Report contains a great deal which requires careful examination and remedy, in so far as it is possible.
It would be a great mistake to imagine that with the limited resources available and the. smaller staff than elsewhere, we can, overnight, bring the auditing and accounting system to anything approaching the standards we would like to see. Apart from the fact that reports of this kind invariably concentrate upon the things which need remedying, I would point out that this is the Report for 1954, and that in the course of that year a number of improvements had been made. In 1955 and in this year there have also been improvements in many of the matters to which the Report drew adverse attention.
The hon. Member for Rugby spoke about the 700 or so queries which were still unsettled but, as a result of the real 1466 drive which has gone on since the Governor instituted it, 367 queries have been settled, and the number now outstanding is 362, of which nearly 200 relate to 1955–56.
One of the misfortunes of these long delays in the publication of reports—as we know from the reports of public commissions in the United Kingdom, and documents of that kind—is that, so often, although there has been an improvement since the report was published, the facts having been brought to the Government's attention, the House is unconscious of that improvement until it is too late to debate the report. New finance and stores regulations have been drawn up, and the Governor intends to issue these shortly. But he is still not satisfied with the accounting organisation, and the Director-General of Overseas Audit, who visited Seychelles in 1953, has expressed the belief that the main weakness lies in the lack of qualified and experienced staff. I recognise that it must be my duty, along with the people who are working so hard in the Seychelles themselves, to try to remedy that.
I should like to make a brief reference to two other specific charges regarding matters in the Principal Auditor's Report. We heard that, with my approval, Customs duties totalling nearly £90,000 had been written off. The hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Swingler) asked me a Question about that, and he referred to it again a few minutes ago. The hon. Gentleman spoke as if this was revenue lost to the Seychelles. Of course, that is not true. Perhaps I may remind the House of the Answer which was given on Monday to a Question by the hon. Gentleman:The Seychelles Legislative Council, with my approval, authorised the write-off of Customs dues totalling £89,651. These sums ware uncollected between the middle of 1950 and the beginning of 1954 owing to the application of the minimum rate of duty on still wines in cask which, because of their alcoholic content, should have attracted duty at a higher rate. The bulk of;he sum arose from the import of low-priced South African wine."—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 30th July, 1956; Vol. 557, c. 89–90.]There should have been a higher duty levied on this wine than was in fact arrived at, but then it would clearly have been impossible to have sold it at a reasonable profit. Had the duty been as high as it should have been there is 1467 every reason to believe that nothing approaching the same quantity of wine would in fact have been imported; and so we cannot claim that the £90,000 is money lost to the revenue. [HON MEMBERS: "Oh."] It is a perfectly logical consequence of taxation going beyond the point at which the consumer is prepared to pay.
Other questions were asked on the—
§ Mr. Swingler
The right hon. Gentleman has just made a remark which is a little peculiar. He said it was an example of taxation going beyond the point at which the consumer was prepared to pay. Is he saying that there is something wrong with the duties and that they should have been lower? The point was, how were these Customs duties originally assessed? Surely, the right hon. Gentleman is not trying to justify the assessment?
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
Certainly, I am not doing that. It was the absence of a machine to which my right hon. Friend has referred, but that has now been provided. I think it is called an ebulliometer, or something of that kind, which tests the alcoholic content. I do not suggest that a higher duty should not be levied, but were it levied, there is no reason whatever to think that there would have been orders for anything like the same quantity of wine as was imported into the Seychelles.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
It has applied here, and that is one of the lessons which we are vainly trying to teach to the Socialists.
Another charge was made, with regard to the Auditor's Report, about the conversion of themselves to a higher salary by Government employees. The answer has been given to that question today. Only two cases of conversion to salaries higher than Grade I are known to have occurred, although nine other cases are under investigation. In one case the officer concerned has reverted to the proper salary, and in the other the conversion made, though not considered strictly equitable, was confirmed by the Governor with my approval. I am ready, now or on another occasion, to explain in more detail the circumstances of that case. Perhaps I can write to the hon. Gentleman, and he can take the matter 1468 up with me again on an early occasion when the House reassembles after the Recess.
§ Mr. Parkin
Would it not be more useful if the right hon. Gentleman made a communication to his colleagues who are junior Ministers?
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
We all speak with a united voice—I am not sure what point the hon. Gentleman has in mind.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
I know that the hon. Gentleman had a particular interest, and I think it is probable that his personal needs and ambitions could best be satisfied if he went to the Seychelles and took part in the marvellous draw the full details of which he gave an account.
I am conscious that the main purpose of this debate is to discuss the suggestion that there should be some inquiry into the position of the Chief Justice of the Seychelles. I have read again your Ruling, Mr. Speaker, with the greatest care, and I shall do my best not to transgress it. I understand that I should be in order in making references, not very detailed references, to the petition which I received, because it was my failure to act on that petition, which is executive, about which I think I can quite rightly be called to account by this House.
There is no question—as the hon. Member for Islington, East seems to think—about the Chief Justice being reappointed or not reappointed by me. The Chief Justice holds office, as do others, during Her Majesty's pleasure. Were reappointment required after the conclusion of a period, and if that reappointment could be vetoed or challenged in this House, all sorts of serious consequences would ensue. I was asked in the petition that the Chief Justice should not return for a third tour. I could not properly take such action; the only action which I could properly take was to consider whether there were sufficient grounds for a judicial inquiry.
I consulted the Governor, and I examined the petition which I had received with the greatest care, and in many consultations with all those people in my office who are experienced in problems regarding the judiciary, and on whose advice I naturally place considerable regard. But 1469 the decision not to accede to the petition was mine and mine alone. As I say, I looked very carefully indeed into that petition. In it reference was made to aloofness and the need for some aloofness on the part of the Chief Justice in the Seychelles. I decided that the maintenance of aloofness in a territory like the Seychelles was a difficult operation for anyone and I did not believe that I should be justified in setting up a judicial inquiry of that particular kind.
Stories about the private life of the Chief Justice appeared in the petition. After a great deal of thought and consideration, I decided that the Chief Justice is—as I hope I am—a gregarious, convivial and friendly person who likes to relax and who does not—any more than I do—refuse a drink. But I was quite satisfied that there was no evidence whatever that that fact had ever been obvious in court, any more than I hope the fact that I do not refuse a drink has ever been obvious in this House. I was absolutely satisfied that there was no justice whatever in the charge that the Chief Justice had driven a motor car while under the influence of drink.
I was also satisfied that there was no evidence whatever—save in his one relationship with Mr. Collet—that he had been other than strictly impartial. There was no evidence of partiality whatever.
I was completely confident that the charge of corruption against the Chief Justice was a monstrous charge to make, and totally unjustified, and that there is not a shred of evidence that that charge should have appeared. It is the most serious charge in the petition, and, naturally, I attached much importance to it. I examined it very carefully.
There was also a charge made about appeals. It was said that judgments had been upset on appeal. I think that the House knows the figures, and the only new point which has emerged was made by the hon. Member for Paddington, North (Mr. Parkin). He asked whether I could say how many of the cases decided in fact allowed for an appeal to take place. I am afraid that I cannot do that, but I will get the information and let the hon. Member and the House have it as soon as possible. Perhaps the House is not aware that appeals from the Supreme Court of the Seychelles in civil 1470 cases go to Mauritius, but since last year, 1955, the system has altered, and in criminal cases they go to the Eastern African Court of Appeal.
The hon. Member asked about the cost, and I answered a Question on the subject on 22nd February. There is no court fee at all in criminal cases and in civil cases they are very moderate fees. If people are suffering from extreme poverty, no fees at all are charged, except a minor registration stamp duty. Having taken up this matter personally with the Governor, I am satisfied that there is no justification for the charge that there would have been more appeals had it been cheaper to do so.
No doubt, as frequently happens in this country and elsewhere, people are slightly overawed with the whole machinery of appeal and do not exercise their proper rights. I have no reason to believe that cost is a criterion in the Seychelles, but if any hon. Member has a case that he would like to bring to my attention, I will take it up straight away.
§ Mr. Parkin
Surely, it costs a lot of money to travel to East Africa and engage a lawyer, and surely fees are paid to lawyers in the Seychelles.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
In criminal cases, which are the most important of all, no fees are charged. If the hon. Member for Paddington, North has any evidence that anybody has been prevented by poverty from exercising his rights before the proper tribunal, I hope that he will let me have it, and I will see that the matter is thoroughly investigated.
Having examined the position with great care, what was my next step? I was satisfied that there was no evidence whatever to justify me in invoking the very heavy machinery which it lay in my power, or that of the Governor, to invoke, for a judicial inquiry, and then there would have been an obligation on me, unless the Chief Justice asked that it should not be done, to refer the matter to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. I was satisfied that there was no such evidence. Was it possible that, if there had been a judicial inquiry, more evidence would have been forthcoming? I asked the Governor this as a direct question. The Governor made inquiries and assured me—and I accept this absolutely—that had there been an inquiry, such 1471 further evidence as would have been forthcoming would have been quite inadequate to justify me in taking such a serious step.
Reference has also been made to the search of Mr. Mullery's house. The hon. Gentleman did not go into that matter in great detail, but I hope a chance will arise for me to give more details to him. I will certainly write to the hon. Gentleman and if, as the result of my letter, he is satisfied that this search had nothing whatever to do with the fact that Mr. Mullery was in correspondence with a Member of Parliament, I hope that he will give that recognition the same wide publicity as he gave to the original charge.
I have two more points to make. I Was asked a question about religious discrimination. I looked most carefully into that. There were many letters from Archdeacon Roach, some to Members of Parliament and some to other people. I was very concerned about that matter. I think it is proper for me to say that I also spoke to the Archbishop of Canterbury himself about the matter, because I am very concerned that in the territories for which I have responsibility there should not be religious discrimination.
I was satisfied, after my discussion with the Governor, that there was no evidence of intolerance or persecution. I find it very difficult to deny that, knowing that the population is 90 per cent. Roman Catholic, but finding that, none the less, the Protestant community has two out of the six members of the Executive Council and six out of twelve members of the Legislative Council, and that a number of most important posts in the Administration are held by Protestants.
I was assured by Archdeacon Roach's successor that he was not aware of any incident in which it would be true to say that there had been persecution of the Anglican community. Though I would not wish to enter into any personal charges in this House, I wish that those, whether reverend gentlemen or otherwise, who give currency to this serious charge, would themselves show something of the sort of tact which is necessary in a predominantly Roman Catholic community.
I share the view that there ought to be visits to the Seychelles both of Ministers and Members of Parliament, and T hope that the time will come when 1472 there will be visits. I hope that during my period of office it will be possible for me to visit the territory, though it is a little difficult to give any firm indication now. I share the view that there ought to be more visits.
The hon. Member for Swindon (Mr. F. Noel-Baker) told me that he wished to go to the Seychelles. I made it clear to him from the start that I could not be held to have given any undertaking of any kind that if he decided to do so he would be able to see Archbishop Makarios. The hon. Gentleman asked me under what charge the Archbishop was detained in the Seychelles, and under what authority I, or the Governor, with my full approval, would refuse to allow visits at this moment to the Archbishop. The authority is the Political Prisoners (Detention) Ordinance No. 1, 1956. The Archbishop is there with three other detainees. There are four in all. That is the answer to the second question.
The Archbishop and the other detainees have given their parole, and that has enabled them to have much greater freedom to move in the island. If visits are paid by them or attempts are made to pay visits to them, in circumstances which I and the Governor consider would not be in the interests of the pacification of Cyprus, steps would have to be taken to limit for the time of the visit the freedom enjoyed by the detainees. I have no intention whatever of allowing the Archbishop to resume his leadership and his association with E.O.K.A. by firing long-distance artillery from the Seychelles. If, as my right hon. Friend has said, the Archbishop denounces violence, a new situation will arise.
§ 7.6 p.m.
§ Mr. Aneurin Bevan (Ebbw Vale)
In answering the Colonial Secretary I give an undertaking that I will not do what he has done so frequently, import fresh material at the very end of his speech. I propose to deal only with what has become known to hon. Members in the course of the debate. It would be unwise and ragged to start another debate at this stage.
What the right hon. Gentleman has just said was received with an extraordinary amount of complacency by hon. Members 1473 in all parts of the House, but I know that some of my hon. Friends are alarmed at its significance. If this sort of thing had been done by a Communist country it would be universally condemned. When we take part in visits abroad—when I went to China, for instance—we asked that we should see Chinese prisoners and Chinese prisons. The members of the delegation who went were allowed to, and did, see the prisons and the prisoners and talked to them. The same thing was true a little while ago in Yugoslavia. There were certatin political prisoners in prison there who we know were Socialists. We had access to them, although we were foreigners. We were able to examine them, see the conditions under which they were incarcerated, and find out whether they were justified or not.
Here is one of Her Majesty's Ministers at that Box talking about Archbishop Makarios, who has been sent to the Seychelles by an act of physical force by him and under an Order made by him. There was no specific charge made against the Archbishop or trial of any sort. The Archbishop was taken by an act of naked violence for precisely the reason that Hitler, Mussolini or Nasser would plead, and with no more justification. There was just the use of naked force, with nothing behind it but naked force. The Archbishop was taken to an island.
We are calmly told now by the Minister that if a Member of this House goes to the Seychelles he will not be permitted to see the Archbishop. That is a Fascist point of view. There is nothing different in that from the behaviour of Fascist countries. It is a Fascist principle. The Minister says that he will stand between Members of this House and an interview with a person imprisoned by the Executive without any court action of any sort. I say to hon. Members opposite that that makes a lovely present to Mao Tse-tung, to Mr. Khrushchev, to Colonel Nasser, and everyone now attacking British imperialism.
The right hon. Gentleman says, in conclusion, "If, however, Archbishop Makarios will do what I want him to do I will reduce the penalties." That is precisely what he said. Hon. Members know what I said about this the other day in this House. It is no use attacking me about this. I have already pointed out that if the Cypriots in Cyprus were 1474 wise enough to abandon violence they would see how naked Her Majesty's Government are. This is the only plea they have left to hide their bankruptcy of statesmanship. The right hon. Gentleman says that the duress in which the Archbishop is detained will be relaxed if he is prepared to say what the right hon. Gentleman wants him to say.
§ Mr. Bevan
Do not hide mean intentions behind flatulent sentences. The right hon. Gentleman has said what every tyrant in history has always said, "If you will do what I want you to do I will reduce the penalties." I say to hon. Members opposite most solemnly and seriously that behind that philosophy and behaviour there is no distinction whatever between the conduct of Her Majesty's Government and that of every tyrant in Europe whom we have been fighting in the last fifteen years. I should have thought it would have been much more sensible for the right hon. Gentleman to have said, "We are willing that any hon. Member who is able to travel to the Seychelles should see Archbishop Makarios." What possible damage could be done by that? Even the Archbishop's letters are intercepted.
I must say I am rather amused by the petty tyrant we are now seeing opposite saying that he dares to invoke the authority of British democracy for conduct of this sort. We were hoping for the sake of his reputation that his conduct over Cyprus was due to the fact that he lay under the shadow of the Foreign Office, but he now assures us that he subscribes to every bit of this foolishness and is part author of the nonsense that has been condemned in every part of Britain and the world. As my hon. Friend the Member for Swindon (Mr. F. Noel-Baker) has said, he will find his humiliation—which, unfortunately, we shall have to share—because some time or other Archbishop Makarios will have to be brought in to settle the Cyprus matter. Then we shall have another galumphing speech, consisting 50 per cent. of testimonials and 50 per cent. of votes of thanks such as we have had today.
One would have thought that the right hon. Gentleman would have taken into account the condition of the Seychelles before he sent Archbishop Makarios 1475 there. Did he send him there as an example of a model colonial administration? As he himself said, it is a small island. It being small, by now Archbishop Makarios will know all the cornucopia of benefits which have been poured out by the Colonial Office on it. He will know of all of them and everything revealed in this debate and much else besides. Do not let us hear any more of what we have heard from hon. Members opposite, who have not even bothered to read the documents before they made their defence, that we have not been to the Seychelles and, therefore, do not know anything about it.
That is really a remarkable argument to fall from the lips of hon. Members whose party have been governing the Colonies for hundreds of years and who now on their own showing have been ignoramuses the whole time. Are we to have this Babbitt argument? I suppose they will tell school teachers that they must not teach the children about the Seychelles because the teachers have never been there.
§ Mr. F. Noel-Baker
I apologise for interrupting my right hon. Friend, but I am bound to say that the last remark of the Secretary of State took my breath away. He appeared to make an allegation that my purpose in going to the Seychelles would be to carry out long-range propaganda to Cyprus. If that was the imputation it was unjustified, and I ask the right hon. Gentleman to withdraw it.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
I said I was not prepared to allow anything to happen whereby the Archbishop could carry out long-range artillery. The hon. Member might be a genuine but rather simple bearer of ammunition.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
It is not any good to say that I might be a simple instrument in the hands of someone else. The right hon. Gentleman knows what the situation is. I hope he will have the courtesy to withdraw the imputation he made, or to correct it.
§ Mr. Bevan
It is not really good enough for the Minister to use language like that about hon. Members of this House and to talk about "A simple instrument." Good heavens, look at the Front Bench opposite. A bigger collection of guileless ignoramuses I have 1476 never seen in my life. The right hon. Gentleman should not use language of that sort in describing hon. Members of this House who, after all, would not be here unless they were responsible members of the public.
I suppose that the same language would apply if my right hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Mr. Grenfell) went there. Supposing that by a happy accident I managed to get the money to be able to travel to the Seychelles, then, I suppose, I, also, would be too simple an instrument to go there, would I? Would the right hon. Gentleman answer the question? Supposing that a right hon. Member, a Privy Councillor, went to the Seychelles on a visit and wished to see Archbishop Makarios. what would happen? Can he tell us?
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
The right hon. Member and his right hon. and hon. Friends were considering whether to raise a question of Privilege. Before answering a hypothetical question of that kind, while it would be an enchanting prospect. I had better wait until they make up their minds.
§ Mr. Bevan
The reply of the right hon. Gentleman is not worthy of a village debating society. He has already answered my hon. Friend the Member for Swindon and the question of Privilege obviously did not arise in his mind because he gave that answer. He told my hon. Friend that if he goes to the Seychelles and asks to see the Archbishop he will not be allowed to do so. I want to know if a member of the Privy Council went to the Seychelles and asked to see Archbishop Makarios what would the right hon. Gentleman say? [HON MEMBERS: "Answer."] The fact is that the right hon. Gentleman is really not worthy of his office and ought to reflect much more seriously before he makes statements of that sort.
I want to come back to the main paragraph with which I was dealing when I was interrupted by my hon. Friend the Member for Swindon. The Archbishop has been sent to the Seychelles as a perfect example of colonial administration. Fifty per cent. of the speech of the right hon. Gentleman was devoted to an admission of the charges made against the Administration. If he looks it up tomorrow he will see 1477 that it was a plea that it has been put right and an explanation of how it had gone wrong.
The right hon. Gentleman did not rebut any of the charges made against the Administration for which the Governor is responsible—not one. He said, "Of course, this is a small island—or a number of small islands. The resources are inconsiderable. They are not sufficient to attract officials of high standing and, of course, we can expect these things to happen." He protested, as usual, that we did not say what was right. Auditors do not go through books to find out what is right; they go through them to find out what is wrong. And when they do find out something that is wrong, what is found out is not a testimonial to those who have been wrong but a testimonial to the accuracy of the audit—although one would have thought, from what the right hon. Gentleman said, that there was something right in being wrong—in the Seychelles.
I must say that I am rather worried about the effect of what the right hon. Gentleman says on the administration of his Department. He did not appear to regard this as very serious at all. I am bound to say, after having had many years of experience of local government and experience of the Ministry of Health, that if the auditor had presented a report of that sort to me about any local authority in Great Britain I would have ordered an immediate inquiry—even concerning a local authority. Yet the right hon. Gentleman says that there is nothing wrong. There is hardly a paragraph in the Auditor's Report in which something quite serious is not reported as having gone wrong, yet we are told that the Governor, who is responsible for this Administration, is a person who has the Minister's complete trust.
I wonder what would have been the position if we had been sitting there and he had been sitting here and we had had this Report? I wonder what hon. Gentlemen opposite would have said? I do not expect the right hon. Gentleman to be fully aware of what is happening in every one of our Colonies. No one in the House expects that. Everyone knows that the right hon. Gentleman is overburdened by too extensive work—and too few good principles. We know that. But when conditions of this sort are brought 1478 to light he should have a little more humility and say, "I am very glad to say that this Administration is being overhauled."
The Secretary of State should be more grateful to the Opposition for bringing this to light, rather than admonish us because we say certain things about individuals. How can we do our duty in this House unless we can fearlessly attack individuals if we think that they are wrong? Of course, we ought not to do so frivolously and we ought not to exploit our privileges, but the whole purpose of Privilege in this House is that we may fearlessly do our public duty.
If we did not use that Privilege we should not be worthy of our position—and my hon. Friends cannot be said to have acted maliciously in this matter. We do not know the people involved. We have never met them. It is not as though we were parties to the gossip of the island. We have to act upon the evidence which we receive, and to act upon what we consider to be the credibility of the witnesses giving the evidence. On the face of it, they appear to be credible witnesses.
The Secretary of State is correct in saying that in a small community of this sort there will be personal antagonisms. It is the normal characteristic of village life—and this island is very much like a village—where every difference of principle is converted into elements of personal malignancy. We know that—it happens in all places—but, surely, that is the more reason for the right hon. Gentleman acting a little more sensibly.
What does the first paragraph of the petition say? It could not be more objective. It recognises the validity of the very arguments which the right hon. Gentleman has been addressing to the House. It says:We submit, first, that three tours as Chief Justice in this very small island is more than any man can carry out with that aloof independence and strict impartiality which the office necessarily demands.Could anything be more objective than that? What they are saying is that even if the Archangel Gabriel was occupying his office and his personal idiosyncrasies and peccadilloes became known to everyone and repeated every day, his wings might be slightly tarnished. That it what they say. They are saying that a person 1479 in that position ought not to be left there as Chief Justice. That is all they are say-in that paragraph. I should have thought that, on the face of it, that sounds sense. I should have thought that it should move the right hon. Gentleman to say, "Well, we ought to move these judges around a bit more."
I do not think that he is quite right in saying that he has not the power to remove the Chief Justice to another place. I think that he is wrong there, as he has been wrong, indeed, quite frequently in the course of these discussions on the position of colonial judges. In fact, I am rather shocked to find that, after he has been Minister for so many years, the right hon. Gentleman still does not seem to know what his position is in respect of them. Last week, for example, he thought that the Chief Justice was his official. He said:I have the assurance of the Governor, in whom I have full trust"—of course—that the petition contained no evidence that that was so.He refers there to the charge of non-impartiality. He went on:In so far as the charge is that a disproportionate number of cases or decisions have been upset on appeal, I would point out that in the last seven years, the Chief Justice has tried 1,561 cases and only 14 of the litigants have thought fit to appeal.The right hon. Gentleman knows that that is a nonsensical answer. As has already been pointed out in this debate, a very large number of the sentences could not have been appealed against.
But this is where he gives himself away:Finally, I venture to suggest that Question and Answer in the House of Commons on matters touching individual honour of this kind of an official"—An official, be it noted—whose only spokesman in the House is myself …".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 25th July, 1956; Vol. 557, c. 419–420.]The right hon. Gentleman is not the spokesman for the Chief Justice if the Chief Justice is a judge and not an official. He has no business to speak for him or against him in his judicial position—and he is not an official. So the right hon. Gentleman got it entirely all wrong. I am bound to say that, even now, the position of the judges in the 1480 Colonies is not quite clear, Mr. Speaker, because with due respect to you, Sir, you have not agreed with your predecessor in this office.
There are two entirely different conclusions. I do not wish, of course, at this moment, to be foolish enough in any way to disagree with what you have said, Mr. Speaker. I accept it, but when this matter came up last week, I ventured to point out that I did not know of any animal known to the law that could be an administrative official and a judge at one and the same time. This sort of juridical schizophrenia is unknown to our system—
§ Mr. Speaker
If I may say so, I appreciate what the right hon. Gentleman says, and perhaps he will permit me to remark that I was asked to find out about this judge, and whether he was on one side or the other of the line. The matter came up as an afterthought. I had ruled of the submission of Privilege made by the hon. Member for Islington, East (Mr. E. Fletcher), and it was following that that I was asked a number of questions by the Leader of the Opposition and others as to what the status of this gentleman was. At the time, I did not know. I made my inquiries, not with the object of making any general classification of colonial judges, as to whether they are judges or not, but with the object of finding out what was the status of this chap—this man. What I said on Monday was said after studying the terms of the appointment and the powers of dismissal of this particular gentleman.
§ Mr. Bevan
I must, however, say, Mr. Speaker, that you have not found him to be the same sort of chap that your predecessor found him to be. We understand that we cannot really discuss the conduct of a Chief Justice except on a substantive Motion; but your predecessor in the Chair said that applied only to judges in this country. But, if I may say so without the slightest element of even appearing to support him, I would say that what lies behind your Ruling is 1481 perfectly sound, namely, that it is, of course, absolutely impossible for the judiciary to discharge its duty if it is to be subject to political pressure.
This is an absolutely vital principle in our Constitution. One hopes that some of the Communist countries will eventually reach that state of affairs where there is a separation between the judiciary and the legislature, so that judges are not subject to criticism in the legislature except on Motions properly moved. Otherwise, their position would be quite intolerable, and, as you were good enough to point out to the House, judges would be in very grave danger of becoming instruments of the Executive if they ever fell into that position. That is perfectly true.
It is true, also, of course, that judges are not liable to be popular with the people whom they try. Those who receive an unpleasant decision from the courts do not usually take it with enthusiasm. The judge, therefore, is not likely to be popular with them. As far as I can see, in the Seychelles such a considerable proportion of the population seems to appear before legal tribunals on one charge or another that the judiciary in the Seychelles is liable to be unpopular at any given moment with a considerable number of the islanders.
Therefore, when we received complaints against the Chief Justice of the Seychelles, we received them, as I ask the right hon. Gentleman to believe, in a responsible mood. We did not say, "Ah, here is a chance of chucking something at the Colonial Secretary; let us do it." We have had experience of administration ourselves, and we know what litigants feel about judges. But the fact of the matter is, as I said before, that on the face of it there is a case. Furthermore, what appears in the petition is not alone. I have documents here, which I cannot read to the House, but which, if I were Colonial Secretary, would incline me to the view, either that the time had come for the Chief Justice to go somewhere else so as to refresh the relationship between the judiciary and the population in the Seychelles, or that there should be a commission of inquiry.
Is it not in the best interests of the Chief Justice that there should be a commission of inquiry now? Is it desirable that the Chief Justice should lie in the 1482 shadow of these accusations, and the only defence be that the Minister, who has the power to recommend him to Her Majesty, is satisfied with him? Surely that is not a state of affairs we want to see in any part of our Colonies.
I really do assure the right hon. Gentleman that we are not trying to drag prejudice into this matter when we ask him to consider for a moment the difference between his attitude here and his attitude towards Eastern Nigeria. When we were told of allegations against the Prime Minister of Eastern Nigeria, we did not receive those allegations in anything like the precise form in which these accusations are made against the Chief Justice of the Seychelles. They were only general; there was no precision about them at all. When I had to consider my attitude towards them, when the right hon. Gentleman announced his Commission of Inquiry, I did not disagree with him. Why? I did not even know that a prima facie case had been made out against the Prime Minister of Eastern Nigeria; and, in point of fact, no prima facie case against him has been made known to the House. The only thing we knew was that allegations had been made questioning the relationship between the Prime Minister of Eastern Nigeria and a certain bank in which he has an interest. I took the view that as soon as those allegations had been made in responsible quarters, nothing at all could be done except to have them thoroughly investigated. That was my view, and I hope that I shall always take that view.
Why did not the right hon. Gentleman do the same in this case? In this case, the allegations are precise and detailed; they do not relate only to the idiosyncrasies of the Chief Justice. I quite agree with the right hon. Gentleman that what a person is or what he does privately has nothing whatever to do with the carrying out of his public duties. If any person or any judge is given to drink, what has that got to do with it, if his judgments are correct and if the people who come before him get justice?
The fact that he gets liquor as well is of no importance to anybody. We are concerned about his public administration. I should have thought that that was obvious, though it is not so obvious to right hon. Gentlemen opposite, of course, who prepared the White Paper on 1483 Security, because in that case all kinds of curious things were brought into question. Apparently, a judge can be guilty of every sort of offence, but if a private citizen is guilty of them he is a bad security risk; and the offences have not even to be proved against him. He has merely to be suspected of them.
I should have thought that when these reputable citizens made this petition, that was of itself enough, added to what the right hon. Gentleman has said, to indicate that the long propinquity of the Chief Justice in the islands with the small population had poisoned his relationship with them, and that those two matters taken together were enough to justify a commission of inquiry, if the right hon. Gentleman were really concerned about good administration and not always with a 100 per cent. defence of everything in his Department.
The letter which my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, East read out is an exceedingly sober letter. It is signed by gentlemen—I do not know them—whom the Crown has seen fit to honour with high honours, and who occupy judicial positions on the islands. They say that they have refused to sign this petition, but only because they are in judicial positions on the islands; but they also say:We sympathise with and approve of it.Here are their names—Mr. Douglas Bailey, O.B.E., J.P., and Sir Michael Nethersole, K.B.E., C.S.I., C.I.E., D.S.O., Police Magistrate.
When the right hon. Gentleman says that he is satisfied that the subjective situation on the islands is responsible for these accusations, he is, in defending the Chief Justice, making an accusation against these persons. He is now leaving them under a cloud, because what he is now saying is that these two reputable gentlemen, who still occupy positions of trust on the islands, are guilty of bitterness, sourness, hostility and malignancy against the Chief Justice. He cannot leave the matter there. He must either clear them or clear the Chief Justice.
Although the islands are a small affair in the general Administration of this House, nevertheless justice should alight upon everybody, however humble, however small and apparently insignificant. It 1484 just will not do that we should have all the heavy armament and panoply of a commission of inquiry into general charges against a black Prime Minister in Eastern Nigeria and, on the other hand, a blank refusal to make even any inquiry at all into charges made against white people in the Seychelles.
It really will not do, and I say, in conclusion, that I am very sorry about this. When the right hon. Gentleman has to deal with homogeneous African populations, his reputation is as good as the reputation of his predecessors, but when he has to do with plural communities, his reputation is becoming rotten. We know that when he has to make any judgment or choice between black and white, he invariably chooses the white. [HON MEMBERS: "No."] I say "Yes." It has been the case in Kenya. [HON MEMBERS: "No."] Certainly, and it is the case here. I say that if the right hon. Gentleman is to be exempt from charges of that sort, the best thing he can do now is to order a commission of inquiry into the administration of justice and civil administration in the Seychelles.