HC Deb 19 July 1929 vol 230 cc861-76

As amended, considered.

The CHANCELLOR of the DUCHY of LANCASTER (Sir Oswald Mosley)

I beg to move, in Clause 1, line 2, page 7, at the end, to insert the words "(f) surveys."

The House will remember that this is a purely drafting Amendment cones- quent upon the Committee stage. I accepted an Amendment from the hon. Member for Oxford (Captain Bourne), omitting from paragraph (l) the words "including surveys," in order not to intrude into that paragraph any extra matter. It is very necessary to insert these words in another part of the Bill, and I accordingly move to insert them in line 7.

Amendment agreed to.


I beg to move, in page 2, line 31, after the word "may" to insert the words "subject as hereinafter provided."

It might be for the convenience of the House, Mr. Speaker, if you would allow me to pursue the same procedure that we employed in Committee and to discuss at the same time the larger Amendment which is to be moved. The terms of the larger Amendment have already been circulated to both Oppositions and to hon. Members concerned. It is to insert in page 2, line 37, at the end, the words: Provided that the Secretary of State

  1. (a) shall satisfy himself that fair conditions of labour will be observed in the execution of all works the cost of which is to be defrayed in whole or in part out of an advance, and in particular
    1. (i) that the wages paid will be at not less than the standard rates; and
    2. (ii) that no forced labour and no children under the age of twelve years will be employed on the works; and
  2. (b) shall take into account the desirability of securing, so far as possible, that the colony or territory in respect of which an advance is made shall participate in any increase in values directly attributable to the advance."
This Amendment is an attempt to embody in the Bill the views which were expressed in the Committee yesterday. I understood from yesterday's Debate that my hon. Friends behind me would be satisfied if specific provisions concerning standard rates, forced labour, and children under 12 were embodied in the Bill. I understood that hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite would have no objection in principle to the inclusion of these provisions, but that they had some slight doubts on the technical application of forced labour, upon which I will say a word before I sit down. It was the intention of the Government, of course, in the original provisions of the Bill to cover all such questions. They were covered in page 2, lines 33 and 34, by the words: on such terms and subject to such conditions as the Treasury may think fit. But I fully realise the desirability of embodying in the Statute a more specific definition than that which was contained in the original wording of the Bill. We are in this difficulty, that the International Convention, which, we hope, will ultimately determine all these questions, is not in a position to report, and has not yet submitted a report for the ratification of the various countries. When such a report is ratified, these provisions will be defined. At present, such an expression as "forced labour" is rather a loose term. It is not clear whether it applies to such a situation as is purely attributable to the communal supply of labour for a particular concern. That definition, together with other definitions, will be settled by the report of the International Convention, and, automatically, when that International Convention is ratified by this country the definitions of the Convention will naturally apply to this Measure.

The right hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Ormsby-Gore) raised the specific question of Nigeria. I am informed that, recently, conditions have materially changed in that country, and that at the moment there is actually a surplus of free labour available. We do not, therefore, anticipate any delay or difficulty in the execution of the work which the Bill promotes. The second proviso, contained in paragraph (b) covers, in general terms, the whole question of values which accrue as a result of the expenditure of public money. We must here leave the Colonial Office administration a very wide elasticity and discretion; but by the words which we propose to insert, we are definitely instructing the Secretary of State to busy himself in these matters. A further change which is proposed to be made, in order to meet the views of hon. and right hon. Members opposite, is the omission of the reference to the Treasury, and the reference of this matter specifically to the Secretary of State.

The point embodied in the original Amendment of my hon. Friend, concerning participation in the profits, and some measure of control of limited liability companies which may, under the Colonial Governments, undertake this work, is broadly covered by the general term "advance." That will direct the attention of the Secretary of State to the necessity of securing some participation by the State in any profits that may accrue. In one specific instance which has been mentioned in connection with this Bill, the Zambesi Bridge, I stated yesterday that the Government are seeking to secure full control of the company in question. We have gone far to meet the views that have been expressed, and I hope that we shall be able to proceed with an agreed Measure. I think the Hon. Member for Wolverhampton, East (Mr. Mander) has had his point entirely met. I hope that we shall now have that happy agreement which has characterised every stage of this Measure.


As the Chancellor of the Duchy has dealt with the two Amendments, I should like to say at once that we on this Bench are quite happy about the wording of the proposed proviso, which states in general terms what we desire, and that the matter—this is the most important—is placed under the sole responsibility of the Colonial Office. It was an extremely bad thing that the responsibility of Colonial administration should, as happened so often in these cases m the past, where Grants-in-aid, or anything of a like character, have been given to the Colonies, be taken out of the hands of the Colonial Office, and transferred to the Treasury, who do not really know anything about the administration of the Colonies, and the particular problems involved. I am extremely glad that the words "the Treasury," and the original phrasing of the Bill, have been amended, and that the Colonial Office is once again allowed to be master in its own house. I am all the more pleased because I understand from the Chancellor of the Duchy that the definition of "forced labour" will be, as I suggested yesterday, in accordance with whatever comes out of the recent prolonged conferences at Geneva. That is extremely satisfactory.

Although I do not object I must enter a caveat against the danger of putting numbers in a Bill like this. This new proviso says "No children under the age of twelve years." I hope that in those colonies where it is the existing practice to admit child labour under the age of 16 years that it will not be taken as an indication that they are to go back to the age of 12. There is always that danger in putting figures and words into a statute. Once you put in 12 years as the standard below which you do not want anyone to go there is the danger of stereotyping that figure as having been accepted by the Imperial Government as the proper age. However, there it is, and I do not wish to quarrel with it. In regard to the final paragraph—territories getting a proportion of the increased wealth that is brought to native and other communities by an extension of public utilities—there, again, I hope there will be no one specific adopted; either the taxation of land values or a special land tax, or even a tent or hut tax. I hope this will be taken only as a general instruction to Colonial administration that it is the view of the Imperial Parliament that where Imperial credit is given for new schemes of public utility it is legitimate that some form of tax or rent revision shall be introduced which will bring back a fair share of the increased revenue to the Colony concerned.

In these matters we must remember that although the State may create new opportunities for work in these colonies, and especially in places like West Africa, it is only by the subsequent increased efforts and labour of the native communities themselves that an increased trade will ensue, and if you pile taxation up to the hilt, as the result of public expenditure, it would certainly have a deterrent effect in some of these communities. So far from speeding them up to growing more cotton it would have precisely the opposite effect. They would say: we do not want your developments; let the taxation stay where it is. You would not get that development which is the object of this Bill. Generally speaking, the phraseology proposed by the Government in this proviso, to deal with the points which were raised in the Debate yesterday, has been singularly well chosen and makes the Bill more acceptable.


The Chancellor of the Duchy has gone a long way towards meeting the desires of those hon. Members who are anxious for some restrictions of this kind to be imposed on expenditure on development works, and I am not going to complain that some of the points which some of us desired have not been included in the Amendment. I very well recognise the difficult conditions under which we operate in this House, and the lengths beyond which it is impossible for us on this side to go. It is a very great satisfaction that in an Act of Parliament providing for works in the Colonies restrictions have been imposed, in the interests of the vast native population, far greater and far more specific and far more effective than have ever been imposed before in a British Act of Parliament. One has only to measure the difference that has been made by the accession to office of the present Government by comparing this Clause with the corresponding Section inserted in the Palestine and East Africa Loans Act of 1926. Some progress was made then in protecting the interests of these vast native populations, but it was very slight, and the protection now inserted goes very far beyond that. I claim that this is a measure of the greater effectiveness of the policy of the Labour party with regard to the protection of native populations, compared with the policy of any previous Government in this country. Speaking for myself, I certainly accept with very great satisfaction the considerable progress that has been made in dealing with the vast and critical problem of native labour.


I have not had an opportunity of seeing the terms of the Amendment. Reference was made just now to "standard wages." Does that mean the standard wages prevailing in the country where the work is done? Is that clear?


Yes, that is so.


As the Mover of the Amendment yesterday, on the subject of forced labour, I am entirely satisfied with the way in which my suggestion has been embodied in this Amendment. I think that a great step forward on that subject has been made.


I would like to say how very gratefully we appreciate the way in which the Government have met us on this point, and we express our cordial thanks to them.


The hon. Member for Elland (Mr. C. Buxton) was rather self-righteous and amusing. He should remember that there was a Commission dealing with the East Africa problem, of which the right hon. Gentleman, the Member for Stafford (Mr. Ormsby-Gore) was the Chairman. It consisted of three representatives, one from each party in this House. It was not a Member of the Labour party who signed the Minority Report of that Commission, but a Member from the Liberal benches. The hon. Member need not be quite so self-righteous in arrogating all the virtue to himself and his party.


I would draw attention again to the point put by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Stafford (Mr. Ormsby-Gore), for it was a point of considerable importance. The Amendment, as moved, may not effect the purpose which the House has in view, in respect of the age of child labour. As it reads the Amendment would provide that the Secretary of State should satisfy himself that no forced labour and no children under the age of 12 years should be employed on the work. That would appear simply to preclude the Secretary of State from insisting upon any higher age. Although such higher age might be proper in the circumstances, it might be legally held that he could not impose such age, since Parliament had decided that the only condition was that children under the age of 12 should not be employed. Therefore, merely as a matter of drafting, I would suggest that instead of the words "no children under the age of 15 years," we should insert "no children under such age as may be appropriate in the circumstances but not in any case being less than 12 years." That would enable a higher age in appropriate circumstances to be applied but not a lower age.

Amendment agreed to.


I beg to move, in page 2, line 37, at the end, to insert the words— Provided that the Secretary of State

  1. (a) shall satisfy himself that fair conditions of labour will be observed in the execution of all works the cost of which is to be defrayed in whole or in part out of an advance, and in particular
  2. 868
    1. (i) that the wages paid will be at not less than the standard rates; and
    2. (ii) that no forced labour and no children under such age as may be appropriate in the circumstances but not in any case being less than 12 years, will be employed on the works; and
  3. (b) shall take into account the desirability of securing, so far as possible, that the colony or territory in respect of which an advance is made shall participate in any increase in values directly attributable to the advance."
I am very glad in this Amendment to accept the words suggested by my right hon. Friend the Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel). I am assured that no such restriction as he suggests would in fact rest upon the Secretary of State for the Colonies, but it is always well to make these things quite clear and the words suggested by my right hon. Friend are certainly designed for that end.


On a point of Order. Is not the Amendment which is now being put, different from the Amendment as moved?


No, I am taking the Amendment as moved.


I wish to raise the point as to cases where no standard rate of wages is observed. That is the case in many of these Colonies or Dependencies, and I wish to know if the Department will assure themselves in such cases that the wages paid are sufficient and proper.


My hon. Friend raises a pertinent point. There are of course cases of that kind under the ordinary Colonial Office administration and those cases are dealt with. Where standard rates prevail it is the usual practice to pay higher than the standard rates because that is the only way to get the labour. Where there is no standard it is a matter of ordinary Colonial Office administration.

Amendment agreed to.


I beg to move, in page 2, line 42, to leave out Sub-section (4).

This is of the nature of the Amendments with which we are familiar on the Estimates, where one thinks an Estimate is too low and, in order to call attention to it, one is obliged to move a reduction of it. I regret that this Bill does not provide for a fund of £1,000,000 a year cumulative, but it was explained very candidly to us by the Financial Secretary to the Treasury yesterday that the intention of the Treasury is that there shall be paid into this fund just so much as, and no more than, is necessary to meet the liabilities of the fund during any financial year, that it is true that, if there is any surplus in the fund at the end of the year, that will continue in the fund and not be surrendered to the Treasury, but that the Treasury will do its best, quite frankly, to see that there is no appreciable surplus in the fund by not issuing to the fund more than the fund actually has to spend in any year. If that be so, why should you provide for a fund at all? Had we not better say that there is not a fund and that the Treasury may make advances on the recommendation of the Committee, and get rid of all this purely delusive paraphernalia of a non-existent fund? The Financial Secretary to the Treasury explained to us that the Treasury was not going to allow this Bill to cover any such profligate proceedings as had been indulged in under the Empire Marketing Board. If that be so, let us get rid of the paraphernalia of the fund altogether.

The FINANCIAL SECRETARY to the TREASURY (Mr. Pethick-Lawrence)

When I first saw this Amendment, I confess I was rather surprised. First of all, obviously it could not stand alone, but would necessitate a large number of other Amendments; and, secondly, in so far as it has any effect, it would be in the opposite direction from that intended by the Noble Lord. I understand, of course, that it is not to be taken seriously as a proposal, but simply as a peg on which to hang an argument for doing the exact opposite to what the Amendment proposes.


It is the only course open to us.


I understand, as the Noble Lord has explained, that it is the usual method adopted in this House for calling attention to something when it is not possible to move an Amendment in the appropriate form. In answer to the Noble Lord, I would only say that I think there is a certain advantage in retaining this idea of a Fund. It is true there is not a very great deal of difference, but there is something. I do not think I said quite as much as the Noble Lord alleges that I said about it. I did not say the Treasury would never allow any amount to go into the Fund except what it was actually intended to use. I said we would retain the right of the Treasury, as the Treasury always does, to short issue. That is not quite the same thing, because there might be occasions when there might foe some balance, probably a small amount, which would not be surrendered. But there is an advantage in retaining the Fund and so to have it in line with the Development Fund, and it does enable certain machinery to be carried out with advantage. On the wider issue, the Noble Lord takes one view, and the Government takes a different view. The Noble Lord would like to see £1,000,000 or some fixed sum going into the Fund every year, and piling up, even though it was not required in the particular year. The Government of the day do not think that desirable, and that on the whole it is better that the grants paid over by Parliament each year should be limited approximately to the amount which is actually required If there should come a year in which a larger sum was required, it would of course be possible to come to Parliament for further powers in order to exceed the £1,000,000 in that particular year. That is the view of the Government, and I am therefore afraid that we cannot accept the Amendment.

Amendment negatived.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the Third time."


Before the House passes from this Bill, are we to be told anything more with regard to the committee? After all the whole administration of this Bill and its whole value will depend upon the work of this new committee, on its ability to attract money from the Treasury, to get schemes from Colonial Governments and make arrangements with Colonial Governments in regard to the schemes, and, generally, to advise the Colonial Office. All that we have been told is that this committee is to be a small committee of about five members on which business interests are to predominate, that is to say, they are to have an unofficial majority, and we are not told in any way who they are to be, though the whole success of this Bill will depend upon the drive and energy of the members of the committee. The Noble Lord the Secretary of State and his Under-Secretary will not personally have time to go through and survey all the possible schemes, or even the schemes likely to be put up by Colonial Governments and private enterprises. The work will fall on the committee who will have to work, I will not say from day to day, but very frequently, and will have to thrash out the matters and, above all, convince the Treasury each successive year as to exactly what sum up to £1,000,000 will be required by the next 31st March, and which will have to be presented to this House in the form of Estimates. Therefore, we are to-day in effect arming a new and an unknown committee with very great powers. Before this Bill is passed, we should be told what progress has been made in regard to this committee, and just what Ministers have in mind in relation to its composition and methods of work.

I should like to ask one question, which is very important to anyone who has had actual experience in the working of government, and it is whether the secretary of the committee, the official who has to run this committee, is to be an official of the Treasury or of the Colonial Office? Is the operative secretary of this committee of business men, dealing with the preparation of documents and schemes, to be a Colonial Office man or a Treasury man? A tremendous lot will depend upon the decision between those two alternatives.


There is one portion of the globe where there is no unemployment; that is in tropical Africa. There the problem is not how to find work, but how to get work done. The problem there which has been bothering both employers and statesmen for the last 20 years has been how to get labour, and how much labour can be spared from the native's own cultivation in order that they may work for somebody else. Committees have gone through Africa looking at this question. It has been shown in the careful inquiry which was held in the Belgian Congo that 25 per cent. of the able-bodied males was all that could be spared from the reserves to work outside. It has been shown in the report of the Chief Native Commissioner that in Kenya, where so much of this money is to be spent, there are 407,000 men between the ages of 15 and 40, and 40 per cent. are normally working within the reserves. In other districts the proportion goes up to as high as 78 per cent. Then the problem of these poor blacks is not how to find work, but how to escape it under the present industrial system, and it is a tragedy to me that the first act of a Labour Government is to make these poor devils work harder.

If it were a chance of people here getting work, how gladly we would vote the money, but most of this money is not going to be spent on the Tyne, Tees and Wear, although some of it may be; the vast bulk of it is intended to get labour for these railways and reclamations and and other works in East Africa, for the Zambesi Bridge, and so on. I have seen this work, and I will tell you what it means. Making a railway in Africa does not mean using machinery. There is no comparison between making a railway in this country and making a railway in Africa. It is like a mass of brown ants, all of them filling baskets with earth and carrying them on their heads or on their backs, and dumping it down—a continuous stream of coloured humanity labouring like the beasts of the field. That is what it means to provide work in East Africa. These people are recruited in all sorts of ways. Nominally, there is no forcing, but through the pressure of taxation, the pressure of the Government, and the pressure of the chiefs, they have to work two months of the year to earn the money for the tax. I have seen the labour; they are vast colonies of workers, not as here in this country going back to their homes at night, but taken away from their homes and families, without anybody in charge who can enter into their feelings, and hardly speaking their language, except to give orders, no hospitals, and not even a missionary to look after them. They suffer from horrible diseases, parasites bore into their feet, they die of dysentry like flies, they suffer from the cold far worse than we do, their clothes get wet through in the rainy weather, and they have to sleep in their clothes. They are not naked, and the first thing that a native in Kenya does when he has any money, is to buy an umbrella with which to keep the rain off his clothes.

These people have been working and working, carrying loads on their heads, ever since we got into East Africa. That is all that civilisation has done for the coolies. The population is dying out. They have not enough men to till the fields, and the women have to work in the fields because the men are taken away, with one child on the back, and the other dying in the womb. That is what you are doing for the natives in East Africa. Suppose they want to leave the job, they cannot do it once they are recruited. If they get unfairly treated there is no redress and no escape; for their period they have to continue to serve. If they do, there is an Act which will punish them as criminals for having left their job. Under that Act they will not be sent to prison—oh dear no—but to labour camps where they do the same work as before under rather severer discipline. This is labour in East Africa. When I was in East Africa I saw 90,000 of these wretched devils die carrying those loads for us. It is not so bad now. Those were only men. Now men and women have been driven into the labour market in Kenya.

It is not as though those people could read or write. The man leaves his home and goes out to work in a strange country. He cannot write and the wife he has left behind cannot write. They know nothing of what is happening to each other. The wife does not know whether the man is alive or dead. No notification of his death goes to the wife. The first news she will get of his almost certain death, in the long run, is when her relatives gather round to separate her from her children, to sell the widow to one relation and her children to another. This is what you are accentuating. You are all supporters of this Bill. I am not. To me it is the creation of more slavery, more labour and more horrors in East Africa. There is no hope of stopping it now; but I would beg hon. Members, when they think of what they have done for East Africa, to remember that they have added to the curse of Adam on the entire population.


My right hon. and gallant Friend has just made one of those speeches which have never failed to move me, coming from him, during the time I have spent in this House, but I do not think it is really fair to say that this Measure adds to the burden or the horrors of the African natives. I think it can be shown, as I will try to show, that it makes the most notable advance in regard to their conditions ever made in this House. But before I come to that I would like to reply to the right hon. Gentleman opposite with regard to the committee. I am very sorry that I cannot yet announce the names of the committee, but I think I can give him some pleasure by telling him definitely that a Colonial Office official will be secretary.


When the Government are considering the composition of this Committee will they nominate one Member who has special knowledge of and who will watch specially the interests of the native workers?


I discussed that point yesterday, and I will certainly convey to my right hon. Friend the representations which have been made in that respect. I think that is the only point raised from the Benches opposite. My right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Colonel Wedgwood) has just said that nothing would be done on the Tyne or other areas here as the result of this Bill—or very little. I think I can tell him straightaway that as regards the Zambesi Bridge and the railways connected with it orders for something like £1,000,000 worth of steel will come to this country, and that, after all, is something. In regard to the general question of native labour, I would only say this. As he had admitted, things are better than when he was in that country.


In the war.


There has been some gradual improvement. I understood him to admit that, and I would draw his attention to this, that embodied in this Bill are the most specific safeguards in regard to native labour ever contained in any Statute. I do not pretend that in a Bill devoted entirely to different purposes you are going to wipe away every abuse, but within a statute which I think will be passed with the unanimous approval of the House of Commons, we are making the most notable advance in that respect that has ever yet been made. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme, has referred at length to the ravages of disease in Africa. May I point out that under this Bill we are providing £1,000,000 a year, part of which is available to be applied towards remedying those diseases. Of course, we cannot with one stroke of the pen abolish abuses which go down deep into the roots of history, but we are embodying certain great principles, and by giving a passage to this Measure, I feel sure that we shall produce results which will be benignant both to the workers in Great Britain and in Africa. I am myself most grateful to hon. Members for the consideration which our proposals have received, and I appeal to the House to give this Measure a Third Reading.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read the Third time, and passed.