HC Deb 03 June 1935 vol 302 cc1518-21
37. Mr. J. DUNCAN

asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies whether he can make any statement as to the recent riots in the copper belt in Northern Rhodesia; and whether order has now been restored?

38. Mr. LUNN

asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies whether he has received any information regarding the disturbances which have arisen out of a strike of miners in Northern Rhodesia, in the course of which a number of miners have been killed; whether any efforts are being made to settle the dispute; whether any inquiry will be held into the cause of the disturbances; and what is the present situation 7

The SECRETARY of STATE for the COLONIES (Sir Philip Cunliffe-Lister)

I apologise for the length of the answer, but I think hon. Members will like to have all the information I have about these disturbances.

On the 22nd of May the natives employed at the Mufulira Mine in the Central Province of Northern Rhodesia went on strike, returning to work on the following day. On the 25th of May notices were posted at Nkana and Mufulira Mines calling upon the natives to strike on the 27th May. On the following day there was a small disturbance at the Nkana Mine when three police were injured. On the 27th May many native labourers at Nkana refused to work and attempted unsuccessfully to prevent those who were willing to work. On the 28th May the Governor reported that nearly all natives had returned to work at Nkana and all at Mufulira. On the 29th May, however, a serious disturbance broke out at Luanshya, when large numbers of natives attacked the offices of the Roan Antelope Mine and the Power Station. The police were compelled to fire in order to ward off this attack, and five natives were killed and six wounded. Troops of the Northern Rhodesia Regiment were at once dispatched to the disturbed area, and as a precautionary measure certain European and native police have been sent from Southern Rhodesia. I am happy to say that the Governor reported yesterday that conditions at Mufulira and Nkana remain normal and that 90 per cent. of the natives have returned to work at Roan Antelope, where the situation is well in hand.

With regard to the second part of the question, there is no actual dispute to settle. Conditions in the mines are admirable and reflect great credit on the mining companies. The opportunity of recent changes in the method of taxation has, however, been used in some quarters to claim an increase in wages. The Government has recently introduced a change in the incidence of native poll tax. The object of this was to graduate the tax, decreasing it in areas where the natives were poor and had little or no opportunity of employment, and increasing it where regular employment and more prosperous conditions prevail. The local officers report that the information at their disposal points to the conclusion that the strikes were instigated by the ring-leaders of a native secret society, who used the change in the rate of taxation as a means to create a disturbance.

The Governor proposes to appoint a Commission of Inquiry which will sit as soon as conditions in the mining area have reverted to normal. The members of the Commission will be the Chief Secretary, the Provincial Commissioner of the Northern Province, who has had more than 20 years' experience of native administration in various parts of the territory; and Mr. Goodhart, who was for a long period the senior unofficial elected member of the Legislative Council. The terms of reference of the Commission will be to inquire into the circumstances attending the recent disturbances at Luanshya, Nkana and Mufulira, and the causes which gave rise to such disturbances.


Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that if workmen in Northern Rhodesia go on strike, like other workmen in the British Empire, for an advance of wages, owing largely to reductions in other directions, that that is a justification for calling out the police, shooting down men and electrifying barbed wires? Is that a justifiable position to take up?


I profoundly regret that the hon. Member should think it desirable to put a supplementary question of that kind, on what must be an entirely imperfect knowledge of the circumstances. I have told the House, fully and frankly, all the information that is at my disposal, and I am quite satisfied on that information, as he will be when he reads it, that it was the obvious duty of the Government to preserve law and order, and that they have acted as any Government would be bound to act.


Will the right hon. Gentleman supplement his answer a little? How were these men killed Were they shot down, and why were they shot down?


I am sorry that the hon. Member did not follow my answer—


I did.


Then I repeat that I stated with particularity what the casualties were and the circumstances in which action was absolutely necessary; that it was in order to prevent further loss of life that the action was taken.


Is there any evidence to show that this secret society is inspired purely from native sources or from some foreign source?


I did say that the experienced officers on the spot were satisfied that there was a large amount of evidence to show that this dispute was organised by one of these secret societies. I thought it fair to say that the Governor, a very experienced man, has given that as the considered opinion of a number of experienced officers, and I thought it fair to give all the facts in my possession. I would suggest that the reasonable thing to do now is to await the full report of the committee of inquiry, which I will communicate to the House as soon as I have the information, and that it is premature to arrive at a conclusion on the matter or even to discuss it.


Is there any trade union in existence in this particular territory or any organised body capable of negotiating wages and terms of conditions?


I do not think that there is any trade union, but the hon. Member knows the conditions obtaining in Northern Rhodesian copper mines and will agree that they are a model which might well be followed in many places.


Is it not necessary that some body should be set up to regulate wages, hours and conditions of labour?


Is it not the case that this strike was not against wages but against taxation, and is it not about time that we had a strike in this country against taxation?

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