§ *MR. LAMONT (Buteshire)
said he rose to call the attention of the House to the affairs of a group of colonies to which their attention was but seldom directed. The West Indies, which had been mentioned in a recent debate in connection with the abandonment of the naval base at St. Lucia, as having been the scene of some of the greatest naval battles in our history, by reason of their ancient sorrows had been the battlefield in this House on which repeated contests had been fought out between the forces of two opposing schools of political economy. What he wished the House to consider was whether there might not be causes for these calamities more deeply seated than those suggested by discussions on the Sugar Convention or upon the bounty question, which had caused those calamities to occur again and again and thus to retard that prosperity which was the rule under the British flag elsewhere. They had seen depressions 695 sweep over the West Indies so prolonged in duration, so acute in their character and so constant in their repetition as to almost reveal the paradox of a chronic crisis. Commission after Commission had been appointed to inquire into these calamities, with various terms of reference, with various results, and making various recommendations. The most recent was that in which the right hon. Member for Berwick was a prominent member. That was appointed in 1897. That Commission made very important investigations and important recommendations which had mostly been carried out. An earlier Commission was that which was constituted under Sir Robert Hamilton in 1893–1894 to inquire into the condition of Dominica, and that Commission also made recommendations still more important in their character, which had been partially carried out. The earliest Commission—to which he intended to allude—was appointed in 1884, and it made recommendations of the very highest political value, hardly any of which had been carried out. The Report of the 1884 Commission remained to-day as true, as practical, and as urgent as on the day on which it was written, and it was idle to recommend further inquiries into the condition of the West Indies until those recommendations and the principles imderlying them had been carried into effect.
Two great themes ran through all the three volumes of the Report of this Commission. The first was the expediency of bringing the West Indian Colonies more closely together, and the second the desirability of inter-colonial free trade with a tariff in common between the whole of these Colonies, a tariff as low as was compatible with revenue purposes. He wished to persuade the House of the vast importance of these reforms in order to make these colonies not only more prosperous, stronger, and more united, but more self-reliant, and that we should never be able to do so long as each island was under a separate Government. Inlands, some of them not larger than those which he had the honour to represent in the House, certainly not richer, and some not more populous, 696 were burdened with all the paraphernalia of the Government of a first-class European State. Governors, colonial secretaries, chief justices, auditor-generals, commandants, attorney-generals, and solicitor-generals were simply jostling one another in the West Indies. Now, governors and chief justices were well enough in moderation; colonial secretaries and attorney-generals, doubtless, had their uses; even solicitor-generals were all very well in their proper place; and he would venture to remind the House that he had the honour to represent a constituency which was a good judge of solicitor-generals and of their proper place. But surely one of each of these dignitaries should be sufficient for a population of 1,500,000. At any rate, one law officer per 100,000 of the population was an altogether excessive allowance. But that was not all. Each island, or each group of islets, had its own separate tariff, imposed, not only against foreign countries and the mother country, but against the other West Indian Colonies, and in the case of the Windward Islands against the other islands in the same colonial group. The West Indies were, in short, the protectionists' paradise; so many islands so many scientific tariffs, and he supposed it ought to be so many scientific tariffs, so many self-sustaining empires. But the West Indies were the reverse of self-sustaining in any sense of the word. He would give the House an instance or two of the conflicting tariffs. Flour, for instance, in Jamaica was subjected to a duty of 8s. a barrel. In Antigua it was 6s. 8d. a barrel, and Trinidad it was 3s. 4d. a barrel. In the Island of Jamaica the ad valorem duty imposed averaged 17 per cent., in the Windward Islands 7½ to 15 per cent., while in Trinidad it averaged 5 per cent. Trinidad was the best in most respects as hers was the lowest tariff, although hon. Members opposite might hold that that of Jamaica was the best because it was the highest tariff.
But in many respects the position was even worse now than it was twenty-one years ago. Two of the worst results of the present system were an excess of highly-paid officials and a chaos of 697 tariffs. A third was the inadequate and unsuitable character of the system of education. There was still no scientific and technical training, and it was only within the last seven or eight years that there had been any agricultural education, either primary or secondary, and the fact that there was any at all was due to the Report of the 1897 Commission, and the able and splendid work done by Sir Daniel Morris. The present system had two defects—it stopped short at secondary education, and agricultural education was confined almost entirely to children of the peasant and artisan class. He wanted scientific training for the captains and non-commissioned officers of industry as well as for the private soldiers. The backwardness of the sugar industry was due to the apathy displayed regarding higher education. The responsibility for providing such education had lain, not with the planters and landowners, but with successive Governments. The 1897 Commissioners recommended the establishment of central factories for turning out a modern class of sugar, but he submitted that it would be useless to establish such factories unless in the first place they established central factories for turning out a modern class of men. It would be impossible for the West Indies to compete with the skilled men turned out by America and Germany until they had scientifically trained chemists for work in factory and field. No one colonial Government could take up this great problem, but if there were a strong central Government for all, it would be quite in its power to deal with what was the crying need of the islands and set up a central technical University for all the West Indies. Such a University should take over the work of the present Imperial Department of Agriculture and affiliate to itself the various secondary agricultural schools, which had been established in the islands as the result of the recommendations of the 1897 Commission, and it should also take over for the purposes of teaching the experimental stations which had existed for some years in the islands. At present the young men of the middle class had only two professions to follow, they either became doctors or lawyers in colonies glutted with law and medicine. 698 They should have the opportunity of education in the great industries on which the prosperity of the colonies must for all time depend.
The Colonial Secretary would have appreciated, he thought, the importance of having a central West Indian Government to deal with during the mail contract negotiations. He might be congratulated upon having stumbled on the right solution by accident, if he might say so without offence, of having no contract at all. It would be for the benefit of all concerned; it would probably result in more frequent and efficient service, and would be no injury to the Royal Mail Company, while at the same time other lines would be induced to compete for a share of the traffic and thus bring about a system of free trade in mails which would have all the benefits that free trade and fair competition brought. The case for administrative federation could not be better put than it was by Sir Robert Hamilton in his Report of 1894, in which he recommended for the British Antilles an administrator with specially delegated powers, and through whom communications with the Colonial Office should pass. The federal capital should, however, not bein either Barbados, Trinidad, or Jamaica, because it would undoubtedly create jealousy in those two islands which were not selected for the seat of the capital. It should be located in one of the lesser islands, St. Lucia, for instance, and there it would be some compensation for the loss of the naval base. But wherever that capital was located the Government should have a large steam yacht to convey the Administration from time to time to the different islands. The 1897 Commissioners considered the necessity of a steam yacht as a great argument against federation. It depended, he thought, on whether Britannia ruled the waves, or whether it was the waves that ruled Britannia. He believed that Britannia ruled the waves, and that, to the first maritime power, the calm and placid waters of the tropics formed not an insuperable barrier, but a cheap and easy means of communication. The best form of government would be a strong central Administration, under a benevolent despot. Difficult as it was to find such a man, it was still 699 more so to find a benevolent oligarchy, and to an oligarchy government in some of the West Indies closely approximated. This was why so little attention had been paid to one of the most important recommendations of the Commission of 1897. Among these, and recurred to again and again by the Commission, was the settlement of peasant proprietors on the Crown lands. In spite of neglect by local governments—notably in Trinidad—some progress had been made in this direction, but there should be an organised plan of settlement on suitable areas with extension of means of transport. But instead of this the Crown lands had been given out on no definite plan or system, and, as a rule, no means of transport had been provided for the peasant proprietors, and the result had been an uneconomic system of squatting which had been of no advantage to the colonies, no advantage to the great established industries, nor to the squatters themselves. Having outlined the policy which he believed this House should take with regard to the West Indian Colonies, he thanked the House for the indulgence shown to a new and nervous Member. He asked for no Imperial grants, and rather deprecated that form of assistance. Such grants reminded him of the action of the heraldic pelican drawing blood from the breast for her young, an action generous to the verge of Quixotism, but at the same time indicating some lack of fertility of resource on the part of the pelican. The policy which he advocated was one which he believed would conduce far more largely to the lasting prosperity of those ancient colonies. He begged to move.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That, in the opinion of this House, it is desirable to extend federal institutions in the British West Indies, in order to improve and to cheapen the administration of those colonies."—(Mr. Lamont.)
§ *SIR CHARLES DILKE (Gloucestershire, Forest of Dean)
said the admirable speech of his hon. friend showed that they should have in him an 700 acquisition to the debating power of the House. Not only did his speech contain good matter, but it was relieved by an amount of humour which showed that he, at all events, would be able to treat serious questions in a pleasant fashion. If he rose to move the Amendment of which he had given notice on the Paper, it was not because he differed from the speech of his hon. friend in any way, but for reasons which had been discussed in previous Parliaments. The remedies would, he thought, have to be more drastic for the evils his hon. friend had pointed out. As regarded those evils, he agreed with him entirely, and if he had any criticism to make, it was that he had spoken as though the problem was still one of the sugar industry, whereas now, happily perhaps, sugar had receded into the background as regarded production in the West Indies, and other commodities had taken its place. His hon. friend had gone very far in the direction in which he would ask the House to go still further, when at the beginning of his speech he asked for colonial free trade; and although his hon. friend dwelt on free trade in the West Indies, he did not think that he intended to limit it to the West Indies. Judging from the reasons he gave, his hon. friend desired to have free trade between the West Indies and the Dominion of Canada. That meant free food in the West Indies, where at present the taxation was levied mainly upon food. All desired to cheapen the Government of the West Indies and to take away from the Colonial Office any patronage which was mere patronage exercised to the detriment of the islands. But the main evil was the oligarchic system of government, and the throwing of taxation entirely upon the working classes for food and clothing. The remedy suggested meant giving up a large proportion of the present Customs revenue of the island. It did not mean giving up the present Customs revenue levied upon the export of cotton goods from this country to those islands, which was a substantial portion of their revenue. The revenue was mainly raised upon the food and clothing of the working classes, that upon clothing, which consisted of Manchester cotton goods and in a secondary degree, of slop clothing. Although 701 the West Indies sent us a larger value of cocoa than the amount of Manchester cotton goods which we sent to them to clothe their working classes, the amount of those cotton goods was far larger than the amount of sugar they sent to us.
To what did those facts point? They all wished to cheapen and improve the Government of the West Indies. The patronage had not always been so well exercised that it could be regarded as a credit to the Empire. He did not wish to attack the Colonial Secretary or his predecessor, or any particular Colonial Secretary, but during the time the present Colonial Secretary was at the Bar he probably became aware of the scandals of certain legal patronage in the West Indies which had certainly led to at least two lunatics being sent, and within the knowledge of that House there had been another suspected of being insane. The Colonial Office thought he was mad.
There was next the remedy of further federation, a remedy which he believed the West Indies, generally speaking, were agreed about. But federation upon what terms? There his hon. friend stopped short; he condemned what he called, and rightly called, the oligarchic system of the present government, and he suggested that one great official from home—one despot—would be the remedy. If they could not introduce a government for the people in the West Indies he (Sir Charles Dilke) admitted that such a proposal was infinitely better than the existing system of government, but he should be sorry to admit there were not at least some of the islands fitted for more democratic government. He doubted whether it would be wise to aim at uniformity in the government of the islands. The matter was discussed in this House in 1896 and 1897, and the then Colonial Secretary supported the oligarchic system. Some of them then asserted that either a benevolent despot or some democratic system of government, in some, at all events, of the islands, would be better than the oligarchic system, but the Colonial Secretary defended the oligarchic system as being the best. In the West Indies as in Ireland those who had declined 702 to trust a representative body of people had attempted the opposite plan of killing Home Rule by kindness. A system of doles had been given by those afraid to trust the people, and whenever any attempt had been made to widen the suffrage, the answer had always been "Look at Haiti." Anything was better than the elective system such as existed in many of the islands at present, and which was a mere shadow of an elective system among a very limited class, whose own interests were different from the labouring class, which formed the majority. Members were apt to look upon Barbados as having the most liberal Constitution of the islands, yet in Barbados he believed less than one in 120 of the inhabitants formed the electorate. It was a mere pretence of an elective system, and was in fact an oligarchy, a government by a small body of persons whose interests, notably in taxation, were different from those of the great majority. It would be impossible to maintain a system which levied more than a half of the whole of the expense of this unduly costly government on the food and clothing of the people if there were a wider electoral basis. Experimentally he thought a more democratic system might be tried in some of the islands, and he agreed with his hon. friend that if they could not, or would not, widely extend that system, then the plan which his hon, friend proposed was infinitely better than the present one.
It would be impossible, with a High Commissioner, to maintain such a fiscal system as that in the islands at the present time. He would quote the opinion of one who was formerly Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies, and had intimately studied the question from the Government point of view, and carried weight in the House. He referred to Mr. Leonard Courtney, who had just published a new edition of his book called the "Working Constitution," in which he used the following words with regard to the West Indies—The Governors were from early times associated with representative institutions which sometimes claimed to control taxation. Had the claim been effectually established responsible government must have followed. When 703 it has been found impossible to overcome the … local Assemblies by other means they have been suppressed.Of Jamaica he said—In 1900 Mr. Chamberlain placed the nominated members of the Assembly in a majority.Of the West Indies generally Mr. Courtney said—Where the character of the mass of the population forbids the establishment of throughly democratic principles the determination of authority oscillates between government from at home and government by a privileged racial minority. The existing political organisation of the West Indian Islands cannot be regarded as permanent. Some movement must be expected either towards a clearer establishment of the authority of the delegate of the Crown or towards fresh experiments in responsible government.With those words he entirely agreed, and he thought the time had come when they must face the fact that a more drastic remedy than merely federation was required, and that the time had come to try a democratic government in the islands ready for it; and, if not, to adopt the benevolent despotism suggested by his hon. friend. Take the two great islands doing the largest trade. Jamaica and Trinidad exported about the same amount of products. Jamaica exported about £2,250,000 worth, of which sugar was less than £250,000. Trinidad's exports were £2,500,000 sterling, of which sugar was less than £500,000. They had already reached the time, therefore, when sugar had taken a back place. As the peasant proprietors increased in numbers more and more attention would be paid to fruit and to products like ginger and arrowroot. In the case of Jamaica there were already 120,000 persons holding less than ten acres apiece. His hon, friend spoke of the decline in the prosperity of the islands. The decline was often taken for granted, but it hardly bore examination tried by the test of figures. Look at the money the islands were raising by taxation at the present time of so-called ruin as compared with the period of slavery and so-called prosperity. In the most palmy days of the sugar industry the total revenue of the islands was under £500,000 sterling a year; now it was £2,500,000 sterling, and was rapidly increasing. That enormous 704 revenue was raised under an oligarchic system, and the only way to get rid of such a fiscal system was to give place to democratic interests. Far more than half of the taxation was levied from Customs, and chiefly upon the necessaries of the poor, except in Jamaica, where it was only a third, thus reducing the average to a half. The average duties mainly raised upon food and cheap clothing were 15 per cent., taking the whole islands through.
Then look at the grievances of the working population. A large portion of the money, for example, raised in Trinidad from taxation was spent in introducing the destitute alien to compete with the native population. In South Africa the Kaffir had not been made to pay directly for bringing the Chinaman in, and in this country the destitute alien came in without being paid to do so, but in the case of the British West Indies, as M. de Lanessan, the French Minister of Marine, had pointed out, there was a working population taxed upon the food and other necessaries of life to bring in the people who were to compete with them in their land. His hon. friend had very properly suggested that although he was opposed as he (Sir Charles Dilke) was to a policy of doles, this country owed the West Indies some consideration on account of the sudden cessation of local expenditure on our Navy and Army, which from loans besides that from taxes, since 1896 amounted to £1,500,000 sterling. He moved as an Amendment "That no change in institutions of the British West Indies will be satisfactory which does not recognise the predominant interest of the majority of the taxpayers in the administration of the colonies."?
To leave out from the word 'That,' to the end of the Question, and add the words 'no change in the institutions of the British West Indies will be satisfactory which does not recognise the predominant interest of the majority of the taxpayers in the administration of the Colonies.'"—(Sir Charles Dilke)—instead thereof
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ *MR. MALCOLM (Suffolk, Stowmarket)
said he should have liked the honour of seconding the Resolution, because, although he did not see eye to eye with his hon. friend, he was exceedingly glad that the question should be open for discussion, and he made no secret of the fact that he should have liked to have been the first to congratulate his fellow-countyman upon his excellent first appearance in the House. It was most appropriate that on his first appearance he should have delivered so excellent a speech upon a subject of which he was so well entitled to speak by virtue of his intimate connection and acquaintance with the West Indies. No one who heard the speech could doubt that his earnest desire for the federation of those islands was dictated by the wish that they should become a stronger part of our Imperial organisation by reason of that union which was supposed always to give strength. All were anxious to see the West Indies stronger than they were at present, less dependent upon the mother country, and more largely inhabited by the white races of energy and initiative. Especially was that the case when these islands of the Carribean Sea were likely to assume, in the immediate future, a position of gigantic international strategic and commercial importance consequent upon the making of the Panama Canal, and to become, as they were in the days of Cromwell and Nelson, once more the nerve centre of our maritime power in the future. Not only so, but these islands of the Carribean Archipelago were outposts, as Captain Mahan told them, of the Panama Canal itself as surely as Aden was an outpost of the Suez Canal. The fact that Nelson went to the protection of those islands, and risked the security of the English Channel in so doing, afforded a gauge of the value set at that time upon the West Indies, isolated as they were from one another in the days of sailing ships, and a measure of their enhanced importance now that could be united by a service of fast steam vessels.
706 He agreed with his hon. friend that these islands should be kept strong. The question was, would federation do this? Could a legislative bond enacted by this country cement together many islands of greatly varying conditions, different creeds, and widely different states of prosperity? The only common basis for federation that he had been able to discover was the common basis of complete dependence on the mother country. He could not say he had found them anxious to advance with a stride to legislative and financial independence. On the contrary, their first impulse in times of pressure, or at times likely to lead to pressure, was not to help themselves but to come to the British Treasury for assistance. Nor could he wonder at it: for the black population had no true sense of independence and, since the abolition of slavery the white population had been, to use a vulgar expression, spoon-fed by the British Treasury. In addition, nature seemed to have heaped up all her horrors and poured them down upon the head of these islands, and the vitality of both white and black races seemed to be totally unable to cope with them. Nothing would disturb the inhabitants of the West Indies more at the present moment, when all the islands were financially sick, than to think that anything was being done to weaken their hold on the heart and purse of the British Treasury. The idea of a Federal Legislature under a beneficent despot might be dismissed as impracticable. Questions of distance and climate militated against any scheme of a great central administration. The second scheme of Federation was that of grouping, with a Federal Legislature super-imposed upon local Legislatures in the different islands. This plan left Jamaica practically as at present, grouped Trinidad with British Guiana, and the Windward and Leeward Islands with Barbados. Outside the Treasury difficulty, which would always abide, this plan had less inherent difficulties than the system of a central federal administration. But even under the grouping system, the residents in British Guiana would probably declare it to be a thousand pities that their colony should be grouped with Trinidad, seeing that British Guiana had prospects of gold and diamonds 707 before it, and might shortly become so rich that it would have to be treated under quite a different system; while the people of Barbados would object to the alteration of the second oldest Colonial Constitution under the British flag. In any case it would be very difficult to destroy the local Legislatures or to super-impose upon them the federal central body suggested by the Resolution; and his hon. friend would probably agree that it should not be done without the consent of the great majority of the inhabitants of the islands.
He doubted whether much economy would be effected by federation. There would probably be scores of letters of protest against every proposal to abolish any of the existing posts. The residents and natives were extremely proud of their officials; and, even if many of the smaller posts were dispensed with, it was questionable whether the necessary work could be done by fewer men in the trying conditions that obtained unless much larger salaries were paid. It was not actual administration that cost so much in the West Indies, but education, poor relief, and the distribution of medicine. He admitted that the West Indies were not in a satisfactory state at the present time; but the proposal to extend to them responsible government could not be entertained in view of the slight interest of the inhabitants in political life. He could not help thinking that the right hon. Baronet opposite was mistaken in the figures he had given to the House.
§ *MR. MALCOLM
suggested that possibly 16,000 had power to vote, but only 1,600 exercised their power. At any rate very little political interest was shown by the black inhabitants of the islands. If the solution suggested by his hon. friend of a federal central authority was wrong, and if the solution of the right hon. Baronet was equally inapplicable, then least of all were the West Indies likely to gain strength through the policy of the Government at the present time in abandoning St. Lucia as a naval base and denuding the West Indies of British white troops. In warning the Colonial 708 Secretary against this strange military and naval change, with the permission of the House he would read an extract from a letter he had recently received from a resident proprietor in Jamaica, as follows—The military advisers of the Army Council seem to have forgotten the Gordon riots, and the Bedwell troubles which took place not long ago; and only just now a man who calls himself Prince Mackaroo or some such name has been disposed of, after asking the Negroes for 600 men to enable him to introduce reforms. So long as the police are backed by white troops these things can be dealt with, but no longer. People in England are apt to think that all police are like the wonderful police of London; and yet when the Hyde Park railings were thrown down even they had to confess themselves unable to cope with the mob. The worst to be feared there was for a few panes of glass; here it would be murder and arson.He also quoted the following from a New Orleans paper as showing how the matter was looked at from a purely outside point of view—The garrisons of British troops are to be entirely remove and the colonies permitted to do without military altogether or provide it themselves. While the withdrawal of Imperial troops from Canada and Australia would cause little trouble, as both those Commonwealths are amply able to safeguard their own borders by local troops, with the West India Colonies the case is entirely different. In every one of these islands the black or coloured population exceeds the whites by twenty or thirty to one. The whites fear, and with justice, that with the troops removed the colonies would always be in danger of uprising of blacking against the whites, and with the former in such over-whites, and with the former in such over the situation, as they may very well be. People who are familiar with the race problem in the Southern States can readily sympathise with the fears of the people of the West Indies. … It seems incredible that the British Government should meditate such a supreme act of folly as the withdrawal of all troops from the West Indies with the conditions in the islands such as they are.This particular policy of His Majesty's Government was the least likely of all to contribute to the strength of the West Indies. His own solution would be to wait until cotton-growing and other industries in the islands could enable them to pay their way before altering the Constitution. He would then like to see the Government enter into negotiations with Canada in order to find out whether some of the islands, at any rate, could not be better administered by that great Dominion than they were by the home Government. 709 If the West India Islands were attached to Canada they would form something like a southern zone for the Dominion. The reorganisation and the revitalizing of the West Indies would result; and the alteration would add enormously to our Imperial strength on the strategic highway of the world and in the commercial centre of the New World.
§ MR. BRYCE (Aberdeen, S.)
said that no one could visit the West Indies without feeling that nature had been unusually prodigal to them, or without desiring that they should attain a prosperity commensurate with the gifts of nature. These islands, as some of the oldest and most interesting portions of our Colonial Empire, had a claim on the sympathy and the interest of the mother country. He agreed with the view that when the Panama Canal was made a streams of oceanic traffic would pass through these islands, and a chance would come to them which they had not for a long time enjoyed of being associated with the great trade movements of the world. His hon. friend had dwelt upon the desirability of improving the financial condition of the islands, first, by the simplification or consolidation of the Administration, and, secondly, by the abolition of tariffs between the different islands. One could scarcely conceive anything more absurd than that there should exist high tariffs, or, indeed, any tariffs at all, among islands which ought to be regarded as one fiscal entity. It was difficult to understand why the home Government should have allowed these duties to grow up, for they must have the effect of interfering with the tree exchange of commodities among the islands.
The other question was whether a considerable saving might not be effected in their executive and judicial administration. He might explain that his own personal knowledge was confined to Jamaica, and that he regarded British Guiana as being in a somewhat different position from the other islands. Many of the islands were too small to require the sort of civil administration which we now gave them. That, he thought, particularly applied to the judicial administration. He did not see why, instead of having an official who was 710 called the Chief Justice for each island, they could not have a somewhat simpler and more comprehensive judicial organisation, which, while having competent police magistrates for the local work would give a better kind of law by way of appeal, and allow the highest judicial officers or Court to travel about from island to island and administer civil justice in that way. In the same way they would have a more efficient Executive Administration if they organised it on a larger scale and brought a certain number of the islands into a comprehensive scheme. There would doubtless be objections on the part of individual islands; they would not want to be deprived of the kind of importance they now possessed; but he would meet that line of argument by saying that any economies that were effected in this way, and they might be considerable, ought to be devoted to improving the islands themselves in the way of railway improvements, modernising methods of cultivation, and so forth. A good deal might be done in this way for education, and more might be done for the industrial and technical instruction of the negroes. The great difficulty of the islands was the imperfect quality of the labour. If they gave the natives a better industrial instruction it would give them a permanent upward movement, the result of which would be felt in many directions, and would have a far-reaching effect upon their prosperity and the character of the population. He trusted that the Colonial Secretary might be able to hold out some hope that these economies, which would have to q, carried out with consideration and tacto might be effected. So far as Jamaica was concerned, he did not think any apprehension need be entertained at present of danger to society by reducing the number of troops. The population was peaceful and contented, and he should be surprised to hear that those who knew the islands thought it was in any danger of relapsing into a state of disturbance.
§ MR. BRYCE
said he did not mean to suggest that we should altogether withdraw white troops. Those who knew what the great capabilities of the West Indies were, and recognised that we owed something not only to the white but also to the negro population, would feel that we had a serious duty towards the islands, and that we must not forget that they constituted a valuable and interesting part of our Colonial Empire.
§ *MR. RANDLES (Cumberland, Cockermouth)
said the House was indebted to the mover of the Resolution for bringing so interesting a subject forward. It was a misfortune that they did not devote more time to considering the particular interests of the different colonies in detail, as they were enabled by this Motion to do to-night in reference to the West Indies. It was not difficult to make out a good case for the reduction of official expenses and charges or for the abolition of tariffs between the various islands, or an improved system of higher education. He very much appreciated the line of argument adopted by the mover of this Motion up to the point of the remedy he suggested, which he thought was hardly sufficient to meet the requirements of the case. A benevolent despot might be an ideal remedy if it was a practical one, but he did not think that it would meet the case. The alternative suggested in the Amendment seemed to him to be altogether too drastic for the present time. The quotation which had been given from Sir Robert Hamilton to the effect that the time was not yet, in his opinion pretty much met the case. Hon. Members hardly appeared to realise the varying conditions of these islands. Scarcely any two of the islands in their conditions were alike, and their prosperity was also very varied. Some of the islands had found it possible to change their cultivation of sugar into more profitable growths. Other islands had not found this to be possible, and the islands best adapted for the growth of sugar were not always best adapted for cocoa or bananas. There was also a great difference in the population. Some parts of the population were more impregnated with modern ideas, and other islands were absolutely 712 indifferent as to progress. Consequently any cut and dried scheme would be likely to prove a disappointment.
In regard to what had been said about responsible government, he should like to know if this House would attempt to veto any wild scheme that it might be within the power of some enterprising contractor to make with such a form of government. Take, for example, what actually occurred in Newfoundland. There it was shown to be possible for a large contractor to practically get the whole island at his disposal. A large majority of the people there wished the veto to be put upon what amounted to nothing less than the sale of the island to a railway contractor by the Government, but the Colonial Secretary was not favourable to the exercise of that veto. Newfoundland was a responsible self-governing colony, and ever since the conclusion of the contract the people of the colony had been paying large sums of money in trying to get rid of that most unfortunate contract. That might easily be the case with the larger measures of self-goverment which had been suggested. Take the religious question. That was a subject which even in this country divided them in their opinions, and caused bitterness even when they were able to discuss it from a broad point of view. They would be able to judge from that fact how acute the religious question might become in those Islands. As an illustration he might mention what had happened in the island of Guernsey in 1904. They passed a law for that island which placed the whole of the elementary education of the children under the control of the Anglican Church, and it was ordained that the doctrines of the Church of England should be taught in all the elementary schools. What was more, this was agreed to and approved by the Privy Council on the advice of the Member for East Fife, then Home Secretary. He gave that as an illustration to show that the veto could not so easily be imposed when they once granted responsible self-government except under very exceptional circumstances. Those were some of the practical difficulties which would arise if the Amendment was carried. He thought they 713 must endeavour to improve the government by the steady infusion of the popular and representative element, so that the best men available, irrespective of colour, should be utilised in the government of these islands.
§ *MR. CATHCART WASON (Orkney and Shetland)
said he had listened very carefully to the speeches of the mover of the Motion and the mover of the Amendment, and he had failed altogether to notice any discordant note whatever in them. The hon. Member for Buteshire laid great stress upon the necessity of simplifying the Administration in those islands, and the right hon. Baronet the Member for the Forest Dean only carried them a step further with regard to the self-government of those islands. He was sorry that the hon. Member for Buteshire did not give them more details about the enormous material and the great cost of the Administration, and no doubt the reason was that he did not desire to occupy too much time. Nevertheless the main point of his argument throughout was the great waste of material and money upon the salaries of officials in those islands. He desired the House to look at this question even from the point of view of the task imposed upon the Colonial Secretary. The amount of work and responsibility thrown upon the Minister who happened to occupy that important position was something overwhelming and appalling. If instead of the vast amount of corresponidence he had at present to deal with over every little local affair in the West Indies, he had a Governor-General to deal with those matters, the right hon. Gentleman's task would be enormously lessened and the affairs of those islands would be conducted very much more in harmony with the wishes of the people. He had no objection to the governor having a steam yacht, because in those islands a yacht would practically be his motor-car. He thought that the suggestion which had been made to hand over the West Indies to the Dominion of Canada would involve them in considerable trouble and was not worthy of a moment's consideration. The West Indies were at the present moment of enormous importance, and would be of still greater importance in the future. He thought 714 The hon. Member for Buteshire had rendered an extremely valuable service by bringing this question before the House and giving them such an extremely instructive speech upon this important subject.
§ *MR. LAWRENCE (Liverpool, Abercromby)
pointed out that the disproportion between the whites and the blacks in all those colonies was very great. Up and down the West Indies the electors would be blacks. It would be well to look outside to see how other countries met the great black question. In the Southern States of America, where the question was acute, it had been made acute by extending the suffrage to the blacks. As things were, there was, practically speaking, little racial feeling at all in these islands. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Aberdeen had been for a few days in Jamaica, and he wished to endorse what the right hon. Gentleman had said about there being no racial feeling there. He had met an American engineer in that island, and he said that any man, woman, or child might go up and down that island, night or day, without any fear of injury, but he could not say the same thing of the Southern States. He thought that was a very high compliment to their institutions, which for several centuries had been gradually evolving themselves to their present state. He agreed that in some of the islands this oligarchy which had been spoken of was not at all perfect in its operations; and when they considered the great difficulty which they had to face, namely, that there was only a very small minority of whites and a great preponderance of blacks, it was clear that they could not lay down any hard-and-fast rule, and notions which were formed here were not always suitable to be carried out on the Spanish Main. The right hon. Baronet the Member for the Forest of Dean had referred to the present system as being prejudicial to the advance of the system of peasant proprietors. That certainly was not true in regard to many of those islands. He thought the important question was whether these people should not devote themselves more to the exportation of goods than the mere cultivation of provisions. In British Guiana there was an enormous exportation of goods to the great advantage of 715 the community, whereas in Jamaica, an island where there was the largest amount of small proprietors, the amount of their export trade was practically nil.
§ *MR. LAWRENCE
said that was not grown by the small proprietors. Apparently in the case of right hon. Gentlemen opposite this was an instance where a little knowledge was a dangerous thing. He had been informed that a large company which had introduced the banana industry in Jamaica was contemplating going back to sugar production, and this in regard to an estate which had grown bananas for many years. He thought that showed that it was not by any means true that the production of sugar was receding. He congratulated the hon. Member for Buteshire upon his speech, but more that he had to approach the subject of the West Indies under more favourable auspices than those of recent years. The hon. Member had spoken of the educational advantages of Germany and Louisiana, and had made a comparison in regard to the backwardness of education in the West Indies. He wished, however, to remind the hon. Member that both those countries were strongly protective in regard to the sugar industry. After the abolition of slavery, the West Indies had to contend against the slave-owing sugar grown in Brazil, and then came the bounty system. He agreed that considerable economy might be effected by amalgamating certain islands under one Government, and particularly in reducing the judicial establishment. The islands had every reason to complain of the class of men sent out there to fill the legal posts. He knew lawyers, who, though they never had a brief in this country, blossomed into Judges in the West Indies. It was time to see that men fit to fill the posts were sent out, and that they gave a good year's work for a good year's salary.
§ *SIR BRAMPTON GURDON (Norfolk, N.)
said he had listened with very great interest to the speech of the mover of this Motion, and he associated himself 716 most heartily with the views which he had placed before the House. The late Lord Carnarvon had in his mind some scheme for federating these West Indian Colonies, and nobody could doubt the immense advantage that would be derived from an uniform Customs tariff. It was an open question as to how far it would be possible to combine all the West Indian Colonies under one Governor-General. But the four groups of islands which formed the Lesser Antilles, contained a population which did not exceed some 600,000 or 700,000, and he thought they would gain very much if they could be placed under one Administration. It did not much matter where the seat of Government was, because the time of the Governor would be spent mostly in his yacht. He hoped the subject of the government of the West India Islands would have the serious attention of the Colonial Office, for he felt sure that if the islands were to be made happy, contented, and prosperous, it was not by maintaining large garrisons there, but by good government and efficient administration.
§ *THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE COLONIES (Mr. LYTTELTON, Warwick and Leamington)
said that with the Amendment of the right hon. Baronet the Member for the Forest of Dean in the abstract he had no quarrel at all. Although kindly and generous, the proposal was impracticable. The system had been tried in America of giving in comparatively uncivilised communities equal rights of voting to the coloured population, with the result of greatly embittering racial feeling and tempting the whites to action practically cancelling the advantages. The working out of the native problem in South Africa also illustrated the impracticability of the proposition; and he respectfully said that the right hon. Gentleman had not made out that part of his case, and, indeed, had hardly tried to make it out. With the right hon. Gentleman's other suggestion, that a benevolent despotism should be established, he was much more in agreement; but neither did he think that a practical proposal at the present moment. They must, after all, have regard to the feelings of the islanders 717 themselves; and the right hon. Gentleman was well aware that some of those colonies formerly enjoyed what was practically self-government. In Barbados the white population had decreased very much. Between 200 and 300 years ago there was a white population both actually larger than at present, and relatively larger in proportion to the blacks; and the Barbadians of Charles II.'s day had a very stout view of their Parliamentary privileges and resented the idea of being governed by this country without consultation. About 1660 or 1670 they actually made a suggestion, which was, perhaps, the first mention of Imperial federation, that certain members of their own Parliament should attend the Imperial Parliament. Jamaica had had elective representative institutions since 1662, with the exception of a few years. It would not be possible for this Parliament to express an intention of governing these islands as despots when the most considerable of them had enjoyed representative government for so many years. It was not the fact that the interests of the negroes were neglected by the so-called oligarchies. If we were free to take action without regard to history or tradition, there might be a good deal to be said for making the government of these islands more autocratic; but the House would not find it practicable in view of their history to make so violent and revolutionary a change.
With much of the general tenor and many of the sentiments of the mover of the Resolution he had no quarrel, and he desired to identify himself with the compliments the mover had received on the ability with which he presented his case. No doubt the "man in the street" supposed that the West Indies were a group of islands similar in character and homogeneous in population; and when such a man, looking superficially at the matter, learned that there was a separate Government in Jamaica, Trinidad, Barbados, the Windward Islands, and the Leeward Islands, and that there were three separate Governments in the Windwards and five in the Leewards, he was startled, and thought unification was not only necessary, but should be at once provided for. But the premises were not 718 quite accurate. There was a very wide geographical separation of these islands. It took four days to get from Jamaica to Barbados; and when they spoke of a benevolent despot situated in Barbados having effective knowledge of Jamaica, the colonies might present an argument to which there would be little answer. It would be regarded as a very extraordinary proposal if they were asked to federate the Isle of Man with Madeira, but the distance was not very much less from Barbados to Jamaica than it was from the Isle of Man to Madeira. Communication was not at all good; it cost money to make it better, and the House of Com-Commons did not like paying large subsidies to the West Indian Islands in addition to those which it already gave. Moreover, there were very great historical differences. Barbados and Jamaica had, from first to last during the two to three centuries in which they had been British colonies, been entirely British; Trinidad was in origin a Spanish colony; and British Guiana was once a Dutch possession. In several of the colonies, in Dominica and St. Lucia, for instance, a French patois was talked, and there was therefore great difference of language. The products differed and the systems of law varied in the islands. These were all very substantial differences. But he did not wish for a moment to deny that there was very much community of interest and of sentiment in the West Indies as a whole.
The proposal of appointing a Governor-General had a great attraction to many people at the present time. He had been pressed to appoint Governor-Generals in West Africa and East Africa, and now in the West Indies. He had no doubt that it would be a great relief to the Colonial Office if a distinguished man of the type, say, of Lord Cromer, could be induced to take such an office and remain for a long time in one of these great regions to carry out a continuous and definite policy. He had looked into the matter with great care and anxiety, because the idea was an attractive one; but his personal opinion was that these proposals were premature simply because of the physical obstacles in the way. Until they had railways, or, at any rate, good roads, the difficulty 719 of getting about these great regions would be immense, and the burden of travelling placed upon the Governor-Generals would be almost intolerable. In the West Indies communication was not sufficiently good to make it easy to travel; and whereas, among a number of different communities, speaking different languages, with different institutions and different kinds of commerce, they wanted a man to spend a continuous time in their midst, they would have a man who would only be able to spend a few weeks sporadically throughout the year in one or other of the islands.
The authorities on this subject, it would be noted, were very reserved on the point. It was perfectly true that in 1884 a Royal Commission did recommend, not the federation, but the unification, of Grenada, St. Lucia, St. Vincent, Dominica, and Tobago; and some advance, at any rate, had been made towards carrying out that recommendation. Then in 1894 Sir Robert Hamilton went rather further, and recommended an administrative union which might ultimately lead to federation; but it was very important to note that that able administrator concluded his Report with the proviso that, if any union of these colonies was to be achieved, in order that it might rest on a solid basis it must come as a spontaneous growth from within the colonies themselves. Then in 1897 another very strong Royal Commission was appointed, and the Commissioners—Sir Henry Norman, the right hon. Member for Berwick, and Sir David Barbour—were against federation altogether and spoke of it as doubtful economy. They spoke of the possible union of Barbados, the Windward and the Leeward Islands, but only when an improved system of steam communication had been in existence for some years. He wished the House to understand that union was the policy of His Majesty's Government, a union, however, not forced upon the colonies, but one which they hoped would come from within and result from various administrative operations. It was said very often that sentiment should not be allowed to militate against cash results, but he thought that it would be useless and unwise to disregard 720 the sentiment of the islanders in dealing with this matter, and it must be remembered that these islands valued their traditions and history all the more because they were more prosperous and distinguished in former times.
The aim of His Majesty's Government was not to coerce the colonies into accepting federal government, but to promote measures of administration from which union might naturrally spring. The Imperial Department of Agriculture had done some admirable work in promoting a feeling of unity, and an annual agricultural conference was held. There were some common regulations in regard to public health, such as in respect of quarantine matters, and they had endeavoured to obtain some uniformity in Customs, but the difficulties were extremely great owing to the financial necessities of the islands. The land tax being the utmost that could be imposed, it was not possible to raise the required revenue without resorting to duties on imports, but, as a fact, these were imposed for revenue purposes only. There had been no suggestion during the debate of any other system of taxation. Economy of administration had been effected by the loan of expert officials by one island to another, and in this liberal way had assistance been given to poorer neighbours, and links of unity had been established among the populations of the different islands. These were, of course, gradual and patient operations; but he believed it would be wiser to let amalgamation work out in that way and to let the expression of the desire come from the colonists rather than to endeavour to impose it as a policy upon them.
A word or two should be said in reply to allusions to cost of administration. The right hon. Member for Aberdeen had referred to the excellent work done by a Judge whom he mentioned, and while the right hon. Gentleman was speaking he referred to the Colonial Office list to see what salary this excellent lawyer and efficient administrator received, and he found that this gentleman, who might be called Chief Justice, received about a third of the amount paid to a London magistrate£500 a year. It must be allowed that 721 his services were given at a cheap rate. There were a number of such cases of salaries ranging from £700 to 81,000 per annum—in the smaller islands rarely more than £800. The Administrator of Dominica, distinguished among the Leeward Islands as having a kind of Home Rule of its own, joined to great administrative qualities high financial abilities, and his salary was £1,000. That could not be considered exorbitant. There were a number of officials, but their salaries were not high, ranging from £300 to £400 a year, and he doubted whether with amalgamation economy could be effected in this respect. The Royal Commission of 1897 gave a dubious note on this question. Efforts to cut down some offices had met with consideration. In the Leeward Islands the number of Supreme Court Judges had been reduced from three to two, the reduction meeting with unanimous opposition, and in St. Vincent the treasurership had been abolished and the work put on the Administrator, with the result that the latter was overweighted with office work and unable to visit the outlying districts of the island.
The Government agreed in principle that it was desirable to have unification, but the present moment was not an opportune one for moving in the direction of a constitutional change. The colonies were still writhing under the economic losses and physical distresses from which they had suffered in recent years, and the Government thought that the endeavours which were being made to reconstitute the fabric of economic prosperity had better not be interrupted by constitutional experiments. Progress was being made in regard to agriculture, sugar, fruit-growing, and other industries of that kind, and political conditions should be left at rest for a short time. The adoption of the principles of unification would be better achieved by patiently waiting for a while before further proposals were made. He hoped that this Motion would not be pressed to a division, for the Government would be unwilling to oppose a policy of unification.
§ SIR EDWARD GREY (Northumberland, Berwick)
said he had not got anything 722 to add to the debate which was of any great value or novelty. The Report of the Royal Commission of which he was a member had been referred to by the right hon. Gentleman the Colonial Secretary. He had very pleasant recollections of the Commission eight years ago. It was true that the Commission did not report in favour of the federation of the West Indies as a whole. But the primary object of the Commission was not to inquire into the question of federation. They were sent out to deal with the acute economic distress that prevailed at that time in the West Indian Islands, and to recommend substantial remedies for that state of things. It was only from that point of view that they looked at the question of federation. He was glad to think that the acute distress had been very much ameliorated since those times. The Report of the West Indian Commission did distinctly encourage a beginning in unification. How far matters might be more ripe for a step towards federation than they were at the time the Commission was in the islands he was not sure. It was quite possible that if the Commission reviewed the circumstances of the islands as they were to-day they might report still more in favour of federation than they did some years ago. Certainly, after going through the islands for two months, the impression left on his mind was that he had seen more Chief Justices than he had ever seen in his life before, or was ever likely to see. The Colonial Secretary had said that these Chief Justices, or some of them, only had small salaries—that was to say, the title was an imposing one, but the salary was the reverse of imposing and was not to be regarded as a great burden on the colony. He thought it would be better to have a Supreme Court, or a Supreme Judge, highly paid and supreme over a large area, rather than a number of comparatively poorly paid officials who were supreme in the particular area that was entrusted to them. What they wanted was, not many men, but a few very good men. He thought if one added up the total population and resources of the smaller islands, and then counted up the list of the officials required to administer them, he would come to the conclusion that the total official element was 723 somewhat top-heavy. If that was so, it ought to be the object of the Government to see what could be done to make a beginning towards some federation, or, at any rate, of the smaller governments. It was true there were difficulties; but he did not think the difficulties, considering that some of the islands were so small, were any reason why they should not be more brought under the same Government than they were at the present time. Nor was the difficulty of distance of very great importance. The right hon. Gentleman dwelt on the difficulties of travelling, he ought rather to have dwelt on the delights of travelling among that group of islands. He could not imagine any place more delightful for yachting, apart from the season of the hurricanes. The travelling involved would not take an excessive time, and would certainly add to the delights of the post.
It would not be the desire of any section of the House that they should be harsh in imposing upon what were, after all, very old colonies anything which was really offensive to the sentiment of the colonies themselves; and he agreed especially that in the case of Barbados, which had got a very ancient Constitution and set great store upon the independence they enjoyed, they had to take account of the sentiment which was very deep in the feelings of the people. He was satisfied that increased economy and efficiency would be gained, at any rate, with respect to the Windward and Leeward Islands by some step towards federation. He agreed with the Colonial Secretary that it would be desirable to encourage as far as possible any tendency in the sentiments of those groups to draw together. He was sure he interpreted the speech of the Colonial Secretary correctly in saying that he, too, wished to encourage some step towards federation, and that the right hon. Gentleman's whole tone was not unsympathetic to the Motion. If that was so, he hoped the Colonial Secretary would lose no opportunity of encouraging that sentiment, and if he came before the House with any proposal towards the federation of some of the islands it would be received with every sympathy and approval by the House.
§ *MR. LAMONT
said he was quite satisfied with having made his Motion and with the interesting discussion to which it had given rise. He wished to thank the right hon. Gentleman the Colonial Secretary for his sympathetic speech, and was glad to hear from his own lips that the policy of the Government was unification. He asked leave to withdraw his Motion.
§ *SIR CHARLES DILKE
said that after what had been stated it would be very ungracious on his part to press his Amendment, and, therefore, he asked leave to withdraw it.
§ Amendment and Motion, by leave, withdrawn.