Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a sum, not exceeding £31,123, be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1929, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Department of His Majesty's Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs."—[Note.—£18,000 has been voted on account.]
§ Mr. AMMON
I think the Committee will agree that, whatever differences of opinion there may be, at least we can all congratulate the Colonial Secretary on his eneycloptædic knowledge of the 2719 subject, and upon the fact that he has not been exhausting even on a hot afternoon like this. We also join in welcoming back the Under-Secretary of State, and will look forward to an interesting report from him, though, judging by some expressions in the Press, there were somewhat mixed opinions in various places in regard to his recent visit. The point I wish to bring before the Committee concerns the natives in Southern Rhodesia. It is time the House gave serious consideration as to whether or not the methods should be revised with regard to dealing with natives in these Colonies. The practice of reserve legislation in many instances is futile and gives rise to a good deal of irritation. In the first place the Secretary of State hesitates to make suggestions when the laws are submitted to him and, on the other hand, he is pressed by public opinion in this country when it is felt that the legislation falls below the European standard, and the Colonies naturally resent any criticism of their action by us.
There are two particular Bills to which I wish to draw attention which have recently passed in the Southern Rhodesian Legislature. One is concerned with the indenturing of little children. During the past few months I have asked a number of questions with regard to the tender age at which children are employed. One may congratulate the Secretary of State that he has brought pressure to bear upon that Assembly to the extent that they have considerably raised the age that was first suggested, bringing it up to between 10 and 14, but even that is a somewhat low age at which children should be employed. It is no consolation. I imagine, to say the work is of a light character, and is in some instances tantamount to play, because if it is under restriction, it takes an altogether different complexion from what it does when one does it of one's own free will. I should like to bring forward one or two suggestions in the way of regulations with regard to the employment of these indentured children. First two inspectors should be appointed, whose duty it shall be to watch over the labour conditions and general treatment of these juvenile 2720 workers, including proper provision for their housing, hours of labour, medical care and the diet supplied to them, and to make reports to the Chief Native Commissioner, to be published periodically. If any number of girls are to be indentured, a woman inspector should be appointed specially to watch over the interests of girls entering into contracts under the Act. A minimum wage, payable monthly, should be fixed by the Government, such minimum being the standard rate current for such labour in the district. In areas where there are schools, employers should be required to allow facilities for all employed juveniles to attend school during the daytime. Lastly, at the end of any term of a compulsory contract of service, it shall be made clear to the juvenile by the Chief Native Commissioner that he is free to return to his home or enter into another voluntary contract with the same or any other employer at his own choice. The right hon. Gentleman's action in raising the age will be greatly strengthened if he can see his way, by adopting some such regulations as these, further to safeguard the interests of these juvenile workers.
I leave that and turn to the Native Control Bill. One blot on that Measure is that it puts the Native Commissioners in a very difficult position and gives them power which ought not to be given to any one man. I am not in any way casting any reflection upon these estimable gentlemen nor minimising the work they do, but they come under a certain measure of temptation to which it would be very difficult for anyone not to succumb. The Chief Native Commissioner is placed in the position, so far as the natives are concerned, of being Judge and jury and, in practice, prosecutor. When one has regard to the very wide and indefinite scope of the offences created by the Bill, one can see the danger that arises. I will give the following sentences from the Bill which will indicate to the Committee exactly the position in which these men are and also what is imposed upon the natives, and what are the dangers:Insolence or contemptuous behaviour towards any Government officials. Failure promptly to obey and comply with any lawful or reasonable order, request or direction of any headman, chief, Native Com- 2721 missioner or other officer administering native affairs. The spread and dissemination by native messengers of any false reports or rumours calculated to cause unrest.I submit to the House—and I appreciate the broad spirit with which the right hon. Gentleman approaches all the questions under his Department—that there are possibilities arising out of these acts which make it very difficult indeed for any Native Commissioner to avoid giving the very greatest cause for offence and to administer justice to the natives. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to give some attention to the matter. Under this particular Bill, the Courts of Magistrates are largely set aside in certain native parts in favour of the Native Commissioners. That seems to be an extraordinary state of affairs, and I hope that even now the right hon. Gentleman may consider, and realise, the inherent dangers of the proposal. While it is true that under Clause 21 provision is made for a final right of appeal, I am sure that it will not need any arguments of mine to show that it will be very difficult to exercise that right and that any native will be dubious about it. I will read one or two extracts from the Native Control Act concerning the offences created by that Act. As far as I understand the purpose legislation, the last thing that we ought to do is to create offences. Article 15 days:Courts of magistrates shall not have jurisdiction in civil cases in which the rights of natives only are concerned, nor in proceedings for contraventions of the provisions of this Act.That is, in effect, what I have already pointed out, namely, that Courts of Magistrates are set aside in favour of the Native Commissioner. The next Article is largely a repetition of what I have read just now, namely, the trying and punishing of any native guilty of insolence or contemptuous behaviour, of insulting conduct towards certain officials and of disseminating false reports, etc. These offences are made so wide as to be distinctly dangerous. Another Article—Article 42 (3)—says:Any native moving from one district to another without the above-mentioned consent or wilfully disregarding any order given under Sub-section (2) of this Section shall be guilty of an offence and shall be 2722 liable to conviction by the Native Commissioner.Further, it is provided in Article 52 as follows:Should any chief or headman be guilty of insolence or contemptuous behaviour towards any Government officials, he shall be deemed guilty of an offence, and shall upon conviction be liable to a fine not exceeding £20, or in default of payment of any fine imposed, to imprisonment with or without hard labour for a period not exceeding six months, and shall further he liable, in addition to any such fine or imprisonment to be deprived of his office.I submit that that is far too drastic. Having regard to the way in which such an Act is being administered, it does not give a fair chance to the native under such conditions. Article 53 provides that:Should any native other than a chief be guilty of insolence or contemptuous behaviour towards a Government official or a chief or a headman or head of a kraal in authority over him, or should he be twice convicted of an offence under this Act, he shall be liable upon conviction to a fine not exceeding twenty pounds or, in default of payment of any fine imposed, to imprisonment with or without hard labour for a period not exceeding six months.I ask the right hon. Gentleman, having regard to the age at which children may be indentured to labour, that he should adopt such regulations as we have suggested, and that he will see whether it is possible to have some regard to the power that is vested in the native commissioners and the danger that there is in setting aside the ordinary course of justice, especially in regard to a law which is so wide and so very indefinite in its character.
§ Mr. PETHICK-LAWRENCE
I desire to associate myself with my hon. Friend who has raised this question in regard to Southern Rhodesia. It will probably be within the knowledge of the Minister that, during his absence abroad, I raised this question in connection with the Native Control Bill, on a Motion for the Adjournment of the House, and the Prime Minister, who was then acting for the right hon. Gentleman, dealt with the matter in his absence. The points to which my hon. Friend has referred were amongst those to which I directed attention at the time when the suspensory power of the Government was still being used to delay the passage of the Bill. My hon. Friend has dealt so exhaustively with most of the points that there is only 2723 one to which I desire particularly to draw attention, and that is the phrase "contemptuous behaviour." When I read that phrase in the Bill, I imagined that the word "contemptuous" was used in its ordinary sense, and I thought that this was very vague and indefinite and that it gave very great powers with regard to punishment for contempt; but from the Prime Minister's explanation and from what has been said at other times I gather that the word "contemptuous" is mainly used in the technical sense in which "contempt of Court" is used.
What this Clause mainly intends to do is to make an instruction on the part of a native commissioner have the effect of a decision by a Court of Law. I cannot help feeling that that is a very wide and dangerous power, because what it really amounts to is that any native must obey a native commissioner, whatever that native commissioner directs him to do. According to my information, the individuals who are at present native commissioners in Southern Rhodesia are highly respected men, in whom we and most people who know anything about them have every confidence; but we must remember that Acts are passed not for the individuals who are alive at the moment but for a very considerable time after those individuals have passed away. Therefore, we on this side of the House complain that the Government after, I have no doubt, fully considering the matter, decided to allow this Act to pass and come into force in spite of this very wide provision, which we hold to be of a very dangerous character.
For my part, now that it is a fait accompli, I hope the Government will watch the operation of this particular Section in the Act very carefully, and, if it is found to be in any way detrimental to the interests of the natives, that they will not allow similar powers to be put into operation in any other Colony. I would remind the Government that if there are any complaints they will be made in a very small voice and that they must listen to the slightest word of complaint. One of the grounds on which they consented to this was that there was a similar provision existing in Natal. I hope, however, it will not be used as a precedent and that the Government 2724 will watch carefully the result of any action taken under it.
With regard to the Children's Bill, I support my hon. Friend in suggestions he has made. They are not made in any hostile spirit, either to him or to the Colony. We recognise that the people in Southern Rhodesia are men on whose judgment and integrity we can rely, but at the same time the law is not made for the majority of the citizens who are good but for the majority who are not always inclined to act for the best. We consider, therefore, that these suggestions should be looked into very carefully, and if the Colonial Secretary can suggest to those who are responsible for carrying out this law in Southern Rhodesia that they should be put into operation, I hope he will take the opportunity of doing so. At the present time I understand that the franchise in Southern Rhodesia is open to persons possessing property to the amount of £150, and one of the effects of that limit is that a certain number of natives are in possession of the franchise. It is quite a small number, something under 100, but there are a few who either have or potentially may possess the franchise. I understand it is now proposed to raise that limit to £500, which would have the effect of excluding all natives.
§ Mr. PETHICK-LAWRENCE
That is precisely the point I was going to put to the right hon. Gentleman. It is quite true that in form this increase of the limit of property for the franchise does not discriminate between whites and blacks, but if in fact the actual result would be to exclude all natives from the franchise who at present possess it, does that, in the opinion of the Minister and his advisers, bring it within the suspensory powers which he possesses under the Constitution of the Colony? I put that to him as a question, and if he decides that it does, I would further suggest that his powers should be used to prevent the exclusion of natives from the franchise by what I think we may reasonably call a device designed for that purpose.
With regard to the question of these suspensory powers, my hon. Friend 2725 pointed out some of the difficulties which inure to the possession of this suspensory power—difficulties which I am sure the Secretary of State, and the Prime Minister who is acting on his behalf, have no doubt felt during their term of office. I hope very much however, that difficulties of that kind will not induce them to agree to foregoing this suspensory power, because it is undoubtedly of very great value to the position of the natives in Southern Rhodesia that we should have some revising suspensory power here in this country, where are those of us who have had considerable experience of the Colonial Office and of native affairs in other parts of the world. But, on the other hand, these difficulties, I think, are of importance for this reason: If in other areas which are at present Colonies, the Minister is contemplating giving a constitution, and it is being suggested to him that this constitution should be safeguarded for the natives by means of the suspensory powers, I suggest that the experience of Dominions where those powers are in operation will prove to him that they do not give really a very great power to the Colonial Office in that regard, and that he should hesitate, therefore, in a place like Kenya, to give a constitution with suspensory powers, in view of what has taken place in Southern Rhodesia.
In conclusion, the points that I want to make are these: In the first place I should be very sorry if it was thought that those of us who watch carefully matters concerning the natives are hostile to or unduly critical of our fellow white citizens, who occupy high positions in parts of Africa. But at the same time we recognise that we are trustees here in this House, and that the Minister is a trustee for the native races, and that therefore it is of supreme importance that in any proposals which are made the interests of the natives should be most carefully considered, and that the Minister should watch over their interests in any proposals that are made. Taking these two Acts which are already on the Statute Book of Southern Rhodesia, we hope that the Minister will watch them and, in so far as it is possible, see that they do provide the safeguards that I am sure everyone in this House, including the Minister, would wish to see there, and that he will take care 2726 that other legislation is not brought about in a roundabout way prejudicially affecting the position of natives in future.
§ Sir N. MOORE
I wish to ask the Secretary of State whether it would not be possible to leave the Dominions Vote over for another day. There are several matters which we wish to discuss. The Debase to-day has been confined practically to the Crown Colonies and a portion of South Africa. There are other very important matters in connection with migration, more particularly of foreign people, to Canada and Australia, and several of us would like to discuss that question. Would it be possible to leave the Vote open, so that we could have an opportunity of discussing these questions? The Secretary of State must of necessity now reply to the hon. Members who have just spoken on other matters.
§ Mr. HURD
May I reinforce that request? There is a very serious situation arising in Canada, as indicated in a speech by the Premier of Ontario in London the night before last, and it seems a thousand pities that this House should have no opportunity of discussing important matters affecting the future of Canada as part of the British Empire.
§ The CHAIRMAN
It is difficult for me to rule on this matter, because I do not know precisely what arguments hon. Members have in mind, but I imagine there is no reason why the Vote should not be kept open. At the same time, neither is there any reason why the Overseas Settlement Vote should not be put down for the same day, so that if there is anything which cannot be discussed on the one it may, perhaps, be discussed on the other.
§ Mr. AMERY
I have no desire to close this Vote, but I wish to reply briefly to the points raised by the two 2727 hon. Members who have just spoken. May I make it clear that we are dealing here not with a position like that of Kenya where the Secretary of State for the Colonies has a general controlling authority, but with a special position in regard to a self-governing Colony, where the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs has the right to hold up legislation which is discriminatory as between natives and Europeans. The hon. Member who spoke last asked whether a law which was not discriminatory in form, but which might, in fact, prejudice natives would be subject to review by the Secretary of State. That is a question which only the Law Officers could answer, but I imagine that in the ordinary way an alteration of the franchise qualification, even, if, to some extent, it tended to limit the native franchise, without, to the same extent, limiting the European franchise, would hardly come within the sphere of the intervention of the Secretary of State.
§ Mr. AMERY
Oh, yes, but the hon. Member will see that the Prime Minister of Southern Rhodesia announced in Parliament that because of the indirect effect of this Measure, he proposed, himself, to move an Amendment retaining the present figure, unless someone else moved such an Amendment. I have no information as to whether he has in fact taken such action, or as to what has happened. As regards the other two Measures referred to, one is that dealing with native affairs which the hon. Member opposite raised on the Adjournment some time ago. That is a consolidating Measure, the main object of which is to strengthen the hands and the authority of the Native Commissioner. I should like to assure the Committee that the interests of the natives in Southern Rhodesia could not have been committed to better, to abler, or to more sympathetic hands than those of the Native Commissioner, Sir Herbert Taylor, who has been looking after them now for many years past. I would particularly like to pay this tribute to Sir Herbert Taylor because he has retired after serving for 27 years as Chief Native Commissioner 2728 for Southern Rhodesia. I was pleased to see for myself, in the personal interviews which I have had under his guidance with the representatives of the various native tribes, that the relationship between the tribes and the Native Commissioners have been of the most satisfactory character, and I can assure the Committee that it is in the interests of the natives themselves that nothing should be done which would weaken in any way the power and influence of the Native Commissioners, as the champions of the natives with the civil administration.
It is perfectly true that it may be strange to our notions that for an offence of the kind mentioned, namely, insolent behaviour to a Native Commissioner, the Commissioner should also be the Judge. Let me put it in terms that may be more familiar to us at home. What would we think of discipline in a school if a master were to be allowed to inflict punishment on a boy for insolent behaviour or disobedience to other masters, but were not authorised to inflict any punishment on a boy who disobeyed the master himself? Obviously it would be quite impossible. The relationship between the Chief Native Commissioner and the tribes is much more that personal direct relationship which exists between master and boy than the kind of relationship which we are contemplating in our ordinary legal procedure. The native looks to his Chief. You would not find any native law within the tribe providing that anyone but the Chief himself should order punishment for disobedience to himself. To the native the Commissioner is his super-chief, the chief above the chief of that district, and any other principle than the one embodied in this Act really is one which is unintelligible to the native mind and not easily worked. The same principle is in force in Northern Rhodesia, in Nyasaland, Tanganyika, Kenya and Uganda. In fact, in the whole of British East Africa, where there are Native Commissioners, they have authority to assign punishment for disobedience to their instructions or for insolence to themselves. There is nothing, I am sure, in this legislation which was intended otherwise than to strengthen the power of the Native Commissioner as the native's friend and help.
2729 Now I come to the other law that has been criticised and in regard to which there has been correspondence between myself and the Southern Rhodesian Government. That is the law dealing with juvenile employment. Here again there is grave misunderstanding arising from reading the terms of such a law in the light of our ordinary environment at home. The whole object of this legislation was to protect these children against undesirable employers and companions, and to do so it was necessary to give native commissioners certain powers both with regard to taking children away from employment and returning them to their parents and also in one case, the one to which reference has been made, to put under definite employment and supervision juveniles found without employment and whose parents or guardians could not be traced. Actually in the tribe at the kraal that condition does not obtain, but what has happened is that children who have run away from their employers or otherwise left employment have been found wandering about and consorting with every sort of bad companion and without any supervision. In such a case if their parents or guardians can be found the natural thing is to send them back to their kraal. But if nobody can be found it is very much better to put these children under someone's supervision and in regular employment.
With regard to this Measure, I came across the report of Sir Herbert Taylor, to whom I paid a well-deserved tribute just now, of which I should like to read a few sentences, to show the actual effect of this legislation:The immoderate and baseless condemnation which has in England been directed against the Native Juveniles Employment Act calls for some observations. For the past 30 years there has been no lack of voluntary—insistent even—'child labour.' "Wherever employment has offered children have been among the first applicants for it. It may be doubted whether throughout the far from Dark Continent the measure of piccanin labour has not been the availability of employment. There is probably no missionary's home without it.Then he goes on to say:The reports of Native Commissioners for the past year make it clear that the Act has not resulted in an increase of juveniles in employment. On the con- 2730 trary a decrease, slight in proportion to the whole, has resulted through the return of children to their parents on account of extreme youth, undesirable conditions of employment and improper surroundings.In regard to the alleged harsh provisions of the Act, in the Salisbury district, where a thousand juveniles were registered, no prosecution took place. In Charter district two juveniles were warned, and others were sent back to their parents. From Urungwe it is reported that one juvenile was prosecuted and a fine of half-a-crown inflicted. The Act has brought juveniles under proper control and reduced their number, through their employment in unsuitable work being prohibited. Adults are now as a result of the Act employed in work formerly done by juveniles. The employment of juveniles is purely voluntary on their part (this, it need hardly be stated, is universally the case), and their work is carried out under healthy and pleasant conditions. In most districts it has been found unnecessary to take any disciplinary measure under the Act.Then he gives a list of districts whereparents have expressed appreciation of the protection and control afforded, and the channel of inquiry which registration has provided. The juveniles themselves are generally reported to prize their registration certificates on account of an imagined improvement in status conferred through their possession.
§ Mr. AMMON
Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman has rather overlooked the point of my observations, not so much criticising. I did compliment him on having caused the age to be raised, but what I suggested was that certain other regulations might be made for inspection to see that all these admirable things were carried out.
§ Mr. AMERY
I was coming to the hon. Member's point, but on that I must point out that I have no authority to make or to instruct anyone to make detailed regulations, or to take this or that administrative action. My power is limited to dealing with legislation which discriminates against the natives. I shall certainly be glad to communicate the suggestions of the hon. Gentleman to the Prime Minister of Southern Rhodesia. But administrative action is entirely outside the scope of His Majesty's Government. I think what I have read out does indicate that the Southern Rhodesian Government is alive to its responsibilities towards the native population.
§ Mr. HURD
I think it would be a great pity if this opportunity was missed for some review of the large questions of Empire policy which come within the survey of the Dominion Secretary of State. Opportunity has not arisen this afternoon for that review, but I hope the Minister may be sympathetic towards the desire that later opportunities should be given. At all events, if we pass the Vote this afternoon it is quite certain that those opportunities will not be so easily attained.
§ The CHAIRMAN
In reference to what I said just now, I think it is clear that the best opportunity the hon. Member could have would be on the Oversea Settlement Vote.
§ Mr. HURD
I desire to raise the larger questions of which that is only a part—the larger questions between ourselves and the Dominions on the question of status, the relation of foreign affairs, and all those matters which are passing before our eyes, and which could not come under review except under the Department of the Dominion Secretary of State, and I hope that if we keep this Vote open, we may have an opportunity of hearing the views of Members in various parts of the House as well as the Secretary of State himself. I suppose that the only way to keep this Vote open is that I should continue to speak until four o'clock. I cannot attempt anything like a survey, but I would like to indicate the position which, presumably, the delegation of Members of this House when they go to Canada will find there. They will find that, since quite a number of them went to the Dominions, an entire change has taken place in the relations between Canada and this country, between Canada and the United States, and between Canada and Japan, and it is most desirable that in their contact with the Canadian people and representatives they should have some idea of the views of the various sections of this House and of the Government on these matters which are never discussed on the Floor of the House, but which vitally affect the future of the Empire.
May I refer to one or two of these changes. There is, for instance, the 2732 change of status. That is reflected in the Minister that Canada has at Washington with ambassadorial powers, and in the position which is to be brought about in the relationship of Canada with Tokio. In Paris, where there has been an ordinary Minister, he is now to be given the status of representative of Canada. Consequent upon this relationship of Canada with foreign Powers, we shall have the same sort of thing arising between other Dominions and other foreign nations. That is inevitable, and it is desirable that these matters should be taken into consideration on broad lines. We are proud of the self-government which has made this Empire what it is, and no one has done more to foster the idea of self-government than the right hon. Gentleman who has always kept foremost in view the management of their own affairs by the Dominions, and the co-operation of this country with them. The other day we had a memorable speech in London by the Prime Minister of Ontario. He came to a great gathering of business men, shipping men, bankers, and representatives of the governing classes, and he said that a new atmosphere is being created concerning the North American Continent, and that there are very vital changes which must have a profound effect upon the course of a democracy like Canada as well as upon the future of an Empire like ours. He advised us that we should lose no opportunity of giving Canada the fullest opportunity of joining with us in safeguarding the British Empire, which he believed to be the best protection and bulwark of freedom in the world. Coming from a man of the high status of Mr. Ferguson, the Prime Minister of Ontario, it is an appeal which this House cannot afford to neglect. What shall be done? He says that this matter should be less in the hands of politicians and more in the hands of those who are not primarily concerned with political parties, and I presume what he is leading up to is the idea that these big matters should be quietly considered by those who have not to think of votes at the next Election. If some means could be found of following up that conception, and of developing opportunities of discussion between Members of this House in their 2733 private capacities and Members of the Canadian and Australian Parliaments, we should begin to feel that we were getting a new background in the discussion of this Empire question——
§ It being Four of the Clock, the Chairman left the Chair to make his Report to the House.
§ Resolution to be reported upon Monday next, 16th July.
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again upon Monday next.