HC Deb 04 May 1925 vol 183 cc568-70

asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies whether he has now received a full report of the speech by Mr. Denham, Acting Governor of Kenya, delivered to a convention of European settlers in March last as to the recruitment of native labour; and whether he has any statement to make on the matter?


Yes, Sir. The full text of the speech, as far as it relates to native labour, is being circulated in the OFFICAL REPORT. It does not, in my view, conflict with the principle laid down in 1921, and published in the Paper Cmd. 1509, that administrative officers and native chiefs should take every opportunity of inculcating among the natives habits of industry either inside or outside the reserves, and the Acting Governor has informed me that that principle is being adhered to strictly.

Following is the text of the speech referred to:.

It is unthinkable that Government can contemplate the efforts of settlers who have —after vicissitudes each of which was in itself sufficient to cripple a less energetic community—converted waste into arable and uncultivated lands into fields of maize, coffee or sisal—being rendered useless for the want of labour when and where such is available, and where it may and should be possible to secure the active assistance of the native and without prejudice to their interests. There is the strongest possible moral obligation on the Government of the country to give the fullest assistance it can in securing to the European settler in this country the benefit of the developments which he has created to the lasting advantage of the Colony. I wish to make it perfectly clear that such is the policy of the administration and that Government expects every administrative officer to give all possible encouragement to the labour within their district to work on the lands which have been opened up by the settlers of the country. Government cannot recruit for the individual—he must necessarily be a competitor in the labour market—but Government can and does say that it is in both the interests of the natives as well as those of the Europeans in the country that labour should go out to work under the best conditions on land which has been put or is being put under cultivation to the benefit of the whole country and of every man and woman in it.

The importance and urgency of labour for public works and for the estates were stressed by the late Governor at Barazas he was able to hold, and I propose while acting as Governor to visit other districts and address the people on this important question.

The critics of this country appear to base their criticism when dealing with the labour question on two arguments. The first is that the native cannot cultivate for himself if he is working fur an employer. Secondly, that he would be happier and a more productive agent if he was cultivating Iris own shamba rather than working on a European's.

The interests of the natives are the interests of us all, and the trusteeship is not arguable—it is a sacred duty. But the critic who condemns the way in which the guardian performs his duty is generally expected to have met the ward.

In Kenya we welcome such inspections. Perhaps the critics might then realise, which apparently they at present fail to do, that the ordinary native labourer is not a whole-time worker on a European estate and that our labour problem can be very largely met if the natives go out in increased numbers during a few months only at the time of pressure and when his own crops do not suffer. There is room for both provided that there is organisation and combination. The value and advantage of the squatter system were recognised by the Parliamentary Commission, whose presence here we welcomed and is admitted in a recent book on Kenya by Dr. Norman Leys. Writing of the Resident Natives Ordinance, he says that it "encourages home-making and family life and will, it may be hoped, provide a type of African notably alert in mind and industrious in habits.".

What I feel is urgently needed at the present time is the presentation of facts and figures, not only in the interests of employers, but also of the employed of this country as a whole. These can only be obtained by an argricultural and economic survey of this country which will show the extent of land under cultivation, the yields, the man-power required on all land under cultivation. It will then be possible to demonstrate to the world and to meet criticism, much of which is at present misinformed, and to show how matters really stand and how every man in this country can play his part in its development on the best lines and in the best interests of all communities. I propose to ask the Economic and Finance Committee dealing with the labour question, in consultation with the Director of Agriculture, to take the earliest steps to formulate a scheme for obtaining the data required. Such can only he obtained with the help and assistance of the settlers of the country. I know I can confidently appeal to the Convention to give Government every possible assistance in securing the information required.

As is pointed out in a thoughtful and useful contribution in this morning's "East African Standard." "Statistics and cold concrete facts" are the best means of meeting arguments which are based on theories too frequently founded on conditions totally at variance with those prevailing in the Colony.

Government does realise its responsibility to the country in the serious question, but it must also require of every community that it should recognise its own reponsibilities. While it is asked of the administrative officers, of the missions, of the chiefs and elders amongst the natives that they should impress on the natives the supreme importance of character building or education—both should be synonymous—of hard work and of labour. Government also needs the assistance of European opinion in the establishment of conditions on the estates which will satisfy present requirements. The question of native housing, medical treatment, of rations, of estate schools of estate stores, of improved methods of recruiting, of supplying fuel and the many other directions in which the employer alone can get into touch with labour are deserving of your most serious consideration. Government is of course aware that settlers are alive to the importance of these questions, and among the resolutions which are under your consideration reference is made to the need for the improvement of medical services in the Reserves, but I would venture to suggest for your consideration that there is lunch which can be done generally throughout the estates and which should not be left only to individual proprietors.