HC Deb 18 December 1912 vol 45 cc1647-54

I desire to call attention to some information I have recently received with regard to the allocation of stations to officials in Nyasaland in respect to some answers which the Colonial Secretary gave to me at Question Time. Without going into any details, I think all parties are agreed that in countries like British Central Africa it is in the public interest, as far as possible, to allocate those stations to married officials instead of bachelors. It is certainly desirable in the interests of morality. One has to remember that those officials are much alone, with practically autocratic powers over the tribes. It is their duty, as far as possible, to lay the foundation of a code of morality, customs, and usages which are acceptable to us in this country, and which profoundly affect the imagination of the natives. It is their duty to lead regular lives, which are an example to any white settlers in their neighbourhood. I do not desire to make any criticism of the bachelors in these stations. I think we all ought to congratulate ourselves that, taken as a whole, the duties are admirably performed by our officials, but from time to time there are certain lapses from duty on the part of those officials, and we have undesirable matters brought to our notice. We are all agreed that if we can get married officials for these stations it is highly desirable. The information I have, which is perfectly reliable, is that in British Central Africa, in Nyasaland, instead of encouragement, discouragement is given to married officials. Nyasaland is not a healthy country, and the hill stations are greatly desirable. The one thing the officials desire is to be in a healthy station. I do not exaggerate when I say that the officials would rather take an assistant's post than a chief post if they can get a healthy station. I find that in Nyasaland, in the nine most healthy stations in the hill country, all those stations are allocated to bachelors with one exception. On the other hand, I find in the six unhealthy stations, with the most undesirable climates, they are allocated to married men with wives, and most of them have children. On the banks of the Shiré and of the Nyassa there are practically nothing but married officials, but in the hills around Blantyre there are nothing but bachelors, and the only two married doctors in that district are located at unhealthy stations. My information is not actually up to date, and I am talking of the summer of this year. These facts are notorious in Nyasaland, and they are a matter of common criticism. It is obvious that discouragement is given to the married officials in those districts. I quite admit if it is in the interests of the public service one would have nothing to say. One knows Nyasaland is not a disturbed country, and the duties which these officials have to perform are similar in healthy and unhealthy districts. I stand under correction by the right hon. Gentleman, but so far as I know there is no distinction of duties in a healthy district or in an unhealthy district. With these facts before me, I asked the right hon. Gentleman on the 8th November whether it was with his knowledge and consent this state of affairs existed, and whether he would make arrangements by which officials might be encouraged to marry instead of continuing the practice referred to as being opposed to such an end. The right hon. Gentleman informed me he had no knowledge that was the case. Consequently he did not answer the rest of my question. On the 13th November I gave him the names of the stations and the actual facts, and asked him again if he would inquire into the matter with a view of altering the present state of affairs. The right hon. Gentleman answered me again that the facts in his possession did not bear out the statements in my question, and that in any case the assignment of officers to particular stations was a matter for the discretion of the local Government in the interests of the public service with which he did not propose to interfere. Again I asked him whether it was within his jurisdiction to interfere, and he told me, as I expected, that it was within his jurisdiction. Further, I asked him specifically if he would cause definite inquiry to be made whether or not these facts were the case, and he referred me to his former replies. Last Thursday I gave him a résumé of the facts, and asked him again practically the same question. I got practically the same answer. I asked him if he would reconsider his refusal to give me the facts and to go into the question, and he referred me to his previous answers, one of which was that it was a matter for the local Government, and that he declined to interfere in the matter. Consequently I have thought it my duty to take the opportunity of endeavouring to extract from the right hon. Gentleman, if possible, some information with regard to this question. I think the House will agree with me, the right hon. Gentleman's replies have been evasive. He has in no way answered the questions which I put to him. I suggest, with respect, that a Member of this House has a right to some more direct replies on a matter which is of importance and has a principle behind it. I do trust the right hon. Gentleman to-night will see his way to give some fuller information, and, at any rate, assure us he will give consideration to the matter, and, if possible, right this wrong, as I consider it, to married officials in this far-off district. These officials have very little opportunity of making complaint. It is only on such occasions as this anyone can do anything in their interests. I would also remind him that I think our public service taken as a whole does not give that encouragement to young married officers which is given by some foreign nations, like Belgium, who actually give certain allowances to young men who are married, which we do not do at all. I do suggest it is a matter which might be very well considered. The information I have got has in no way come from any official in British Central Africa. I have had no communication whatever with any official. I should be very sorry to think any remarks of mine conveyed any imputation as to the character of the most distinguished and able officer who represents His Majesty in Nyasaland.

The SECRETARY of STATE for the COLONIES (Mr. Harcourt)

I thank the hon. Member for his courtesy in postponing this discussion from Monday night when I was too ill to be present. I think he somewhat misunderstood the circumstances of the situation in the East Africa Protectorate. It is quite true that there may be divided opinions as to the desirability of early marriages or the reverse in the Colonial Tropical Service. The advantages are obvious; disadvantages must be clear to those who know the circumstances. Especially, I think, are marriages desirable in the higher positions in the Service, but I do not therefore mean that they are undesirable in the lower ranks. If a man desires to enter the Service, when he first becomes a candidate he is given a paper which sets out all the conditions under which he will serve, and in that paper there is this special warning:— Accommodation for European women and children is only available to a very limited extent at certain stations, and the conditions of life in many parts of the Protectorate are unsuitable to them. Married officers are therefore warned against taking their wives out with them until they have acquired personal experience of the local conditions, and have ascertained from the Governor or Commissioner whether suitable accommodation is available. In no case should an officer on first appointment take his wife out with him without notifying his desire to the Colonial Office, in order that the Governor or Commissioner may first be consulted. I am afraid it would be true to say that probably 75 per cent, of the posts occupied by these gentlemen are not really fit for women, and I dare say in some tropical protectorates it would not be untrue to say that 99 per cent, of the posts are unfit for the upbringing of children. Under these circumstances—and they are circumstances which we are unable to change, except very gradually (and climatically not at all) the allocation of the officers must be left to the discretion of the Governor on the spot. It is quite impossible for the Colonial Secretary, with the best will in the world, to interfere from home with the location of individuals throughout the Protectorate, because the location has necessarily and properly to be made according to their capacity and suitability for the district in which there is a vacancy, and it ought not to be influenced by their domestic circumstances. The Governor of a Protectorate, I know perfectly well, always tries to do his best for each candidate who comes under his direction. But after all the advantage of the colony or of the Protectorate must be the supreme law and custom. If an officer after the warning I have quoted, and after his experience of the Protectorate, brings his wife out, he does so with a knowledge of the climate and of the circumstances. If he and she go together they are often performing a very gallant act, but it is one for which they have accepted the risks in anticipation. Of course, in many solitary stations the presence of a wife is a solace, but it frequently means added anxiety, and humanity must often hamper a governor's appreciation of the capacity and merit of an individual. That is not good for the service, and it is not good for the individual career.

As to this special case of Nyasaland, on which I am afraid I have endeavoured, without success, to give the hon. Member the information which he required, when he put his question last week, I telegraphed the text of his final query to the Governor with a request that he would give me the information. I received a telegram on Monday morning from the Governor of Nyasaland to this effect—Of married district officers in Nyasaland there are in healthy stations nine, and in unhealthy six. Of married officers of other departments, there are in healthy stations nineteen, and in unhealthy stations thirteen. So that, out of a total of forty-seven married officers in Nyasaland, twenty-eight are in healthy and nineteen in unhealthy stations.

The Governor adds in his telegram to me on the text of the hon. Member's question:— Accusation referred to has no foundation whatsoever. So far as the exigencies of the service permit, each officer is given his fair share of healthy and unhealthy stations. Under the difficult circumstances of the British Colonial service in the tropics we cannot hope or expect better conditions for our most deserving married men than have been provided by Sir William Manning.


I think my hon. Friend was fully justified in bringing this matter forward. I happened to be present when he asked his questions last Thursday, and I cannot congratulate the Colonial Secretary on the manner in which he answered perfectly courteous inquiries directed to him. I know nothing of the merits of this case, and it was impossible to get the information until the right hon. Gentleman gave it to us this evening. What I submit to the House, and what I trust will be remembered by the right hon. Gentleman hereafter is that when there is a primâ facie case vouched for by a Member of this House of the standing of my hon. Friend as having been vouched to him by good information, the very least that can be expected of the Colonial Secretary is that when he is asked to make inquiries that he will make them. Really it is not a proper response to courteous inquiries in this House for information upon a matter which seems, on the face of it, somewhat remarkable for the Colonial Secretary to say that it is entirely a matter for the local administration. No doubt we should all be perfectly willing to give the local administration a very free hand indeed, but when criticism is made, upon good information, of that local administration, and inquiry is sought, it is always advisable, in the interests of all, that that inquiry should be made. It has now been made by the right hon. Gentleman, and a reply which can be investigated has been received. I acquit the right hon Gentleman of any desire to show any feeling against married officials, because he has shown in the higher parts of the service, notably in the case of Sir Frederick Lugard, that he has consulted the domestic life of the higher officials serving the Empire abroad. It seemed remarkable to me that the facts stated by my hon. Friend to-night should have existed. The right hon. Gentleman said that these places were unfit for the upbringing of children. That is quite true. So is India, yet there are many married officials there. He did not tell us why it was unfit for the reception of married men. I should like to know why it is?


Not married men—married women.


For their wives?


For the continued residence of women.


But not for the residence from time to time of women; and yet it seems, according to my hon. Friend's information, all the healthy stations are given to bachelors.


The right hon. Gentleman cannot have listened to the telegram.


I heard the reply which was given by the right hon. Gentleman which, as far as it went, is quite satisfactory.


Not my reply. The Governor's.


Why was that reply not made in the first instance, and why did not the right hon. Gentleman telegraph for this inquiry, which would have allayed the fears which my hon. Friend felt. Had that course been taken our presence here to-night would have been unnecessary. I suggest that fuller information should be given by the Colonial Secretary to those who, like my hon. Friend, take an interest in these far-off subjects.


I want to add a word or two because I have been extremely surprised at the remarks of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Lyttelton). Really, that they should have fallen from him when he himself has administered for some time the Colonial Office, is a matter of very great surprise—at any rate, to me and those sitting on this side of the House. What does it amount to? It amounts to this, that if you are going to satisfy all the demands or suggestions he makes, you are going to set up certainly a large number of buildings and quarters of a very different character to what you have at present, and, in fact, even then you would not succeed, because unless you make access to the various stations where our officials are placed much easier than at present, you could not make them suitable for the continued residence of married men. I do not wish to labour this point, but I would like to say that this matter has had a considerable amount of attention from several hon. Members on this side of the House, and especially the hon.

Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Cathcart Wason), who has interested himself in this subject in a practical way for a great number of years. I very much regret that he is not able to be present, because I know that he has felt very strongly on this matter.

Notice taken that forty Members were not present. House counted, and forty Members not being present,

The House was adjourned at Fifteen minutes after Eleven o'clock.