Historical Colonial Documents: Kenyan Mau Mau
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Howell of Guildford): I wish to inform the House that, as a result of searches in connection with a legal case brought by Kenyan Mau Mau veterans against the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, the FCO has decided to regularise the position of some 2000 boxes of files it currently holds, mainly from the 1950s and 1960s, which were created by former British administrations overseas. The intention is to make as much of this material as possible available to the wider public.
These files are the property of the UK Government and have been classed as public records for the purposes of the Public Records Act 1958. I have therefore instructed they now be dealt with under the terms of the Act. The documents will be reviewed and those selected for permanent preservation will be transferred to The National Archives for the public to access.
This work will begin shortly but given the size of the archive the process may take some years to complete.
The domestic records of colonial administrations did not form part of British public (i.e. official) records and they were kept by the individual States created at independence. It was however the general practice for the colonial administration to transfer to the United Kingdom, in accordance with Colonial Office instructions, shortly before independence, selected documents held by the Governor which were not appropriate to hand on to the successor Government.
FCO holds around 8,800 files from thirty-seven former British administrations including: Aden (and protectorates), Anguilla, Bahamas, Basutoland, Bechuanaland, British Indian Ocean Territory, Brunei, Cameroons, Ceylon, Cyprus, Fiji, Gambia, Gilbert and Ellice Islands Colony, Gold Coast, Jamaica, Kenya, Malaya, Malta, Mauritius, New Hebrides, Nigeria, Northern Rhodesia, Nyasaland, Palestine, Sarawak, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Singapore, Solomon Islands, Swaziland, Tanganyika, Trinidad & Tobago, Turks & Caicos, Uganda, West Indies Federation, Western Pacific High Commission and Zanzibar.
I am arranging for a copy of this statement to be placed in the Library of the House of Commons.
ANDERSON RESPONSE TO LORD HOWELL'S STATEMENT:
'The astonishing statement from Lord Howell confirms what some of us
had long thought to be the reality. In effect, Lord Howell has
admitted that the British government has illegally held more than
8,800 files from its former colonial dependencies for some fifty
years, failing to declare these holdings under the Public Records Act
of 1958. They in fact exploited a loop-hole in that Act to secretly
hold these records - the documents did not emanate from a British
department of state, therefore they could be neatly 'excluded' from
the Act without anyone asking any questions. This is a deplorable
slieght of hand. The government was placed in further jeopardy with
the passing of the Freedom of Information Act, because these records
were being held by the FCO but were not anywhere listed so could not
be searched in any FOI request. Again, this is a blatant infringement
of the law, and clearly must have been evident to anyone in the FCO
who knew of the existence of these documents.'
'So, while we can welcome the decision to 'come clean' with this
material, we do need answers to some very important questions. And we
must also not be complacent about what Lord Howell has said will
happen next. The documents will be subjected to a process of review
and possible retention or redaction. That is to say, it remains for
the FCO to decide whether any of these documents wil in fact be opened
to public scrutiny. Under the Public Records Act it is quite in order
for the FCO to decide that all these materials should be retained for
a further period of years. This would be totally unacceptable, and we
must now be vigilant in pursuing the FCO further to ensure that as
much as possible - and indeed why not all - of this material comes
into the public domain speedily.'
'Lord Howell warns us that it may take many years to review these
materials. Why should that be the case? To put this right as
speedily as possible the government should now prioritise the review
of these materials as a matter of urgency, and not leave it to
flounder for another fifty years without resolution. One hopes that
is not what the minister intends, but given our experience in this
matter to date I think we have to maintain pressure on the government
to deal with this in an effective and timely manner.'
The struggle continues .......
best wishes to you all,
David M Anderson
Professor of African Politics, University of Oxford
Fellow, St Cross College, Oxford