HC Deb 28 June 1937 vol 325 cc1632-4
35. Sir John Mellor

asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies whether he has any information to give with regard to the recent disturbances in Trinidad?

36. Mr. David Adams

asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies whether he will make a statement as to recent events in Trinidad and the present position there?

Mr. Ormsby-Gore

I apologise for the length of this reply. From information received from the Governor it appears that there has been for some time unrest among the employés on the oil-fields due to the rise in the cost of living. On Saturday, 19th June, a sudden strike began among the workers in the oil-fields. Violent speeches were made, and on the police attempting to arrest the ringleader under a warrant at Fyzabad in the oil area in the south of the island, riots broke out and two policemen were shot dead by the rioters. The Governor immediately asked for a cruiser to be sent to the island. On Monday, 21st June, the strikes spread and became very serious, the trouble tending to develop on racial lines. Women and children were brought into Port of Spain under protection and the Governor asked for a second warship. Further violence and rioting occurred on the oilfields, including an attack on the San Fernando Telephone Exchange. The strikes spread northward to the sugar areas and to Port of Spain on 22nd June. Some 350 special constables of all races were enrolled, and there were many more volunteers. His Majesty's Ship "Ajax" arrived on the same day and platoons from the ship were posted at various points, and the situation was generally got under control.

On 23rd June the Governor reported that trouble had occurred at Rio Clara in the south-west of the island, where the rioters fired at the police, wounding three. The police returned the fire and four rioters were killed. His Majesty's Ship "Exeter" reached Trinidad on the 23rd, and platoons were posted at strategic points. The naval reinforcement was invaluable in restoring public confidence and in affording rest to the local forces, and the situation improved generally. The Governor then issued a proclamation in which he urged that the strikers should resume work without delay and promising that as soon as work had been resumed the Government would take all the steps in its power to promote a settlement fair to employers and employed alike. The latest information received from the Governor indicates that the situation though tense, is again quiet throughout Trinidad, but that there has been no return to work.

The Governor has appointed a committee of the Executive Council for the purpose of bringing employers and employed together and making recommendations to him for a settlement, and has appealed to both sides to refer their differences to it. This committee has already taken steps to establish personal contact with the disputants, and it has reported optimistically to the Governor who states that he is convinced that the majority of the strikers sincerely desire to return to work. Information has reached me to the effect that a statement has been made that His Majesty's Ship "Exeter" brought regular troops from Bermuda to Trinidad. There is no truth in this statement.

Sir J. Mellor

Is the right hon. Gentleman satisfied that the Governor now has sufficient forces at his disposal to control the situation?

Mr. Ormsby-Gore

Two warships have been sent with marines who have been landed but no regular troops have been sent. I hope we shall not have any further incidents of violence and that the dispute will be settled without the necessity for sending Army troops.

Mr. Morgan Jones

Have these workmen any facilities for representation through trade unions and, if not, what facilities are afforded them to provide themselves with some spokesman to conduct negotiations with the employers?

Mr. Ormsby-Gore

Certainly, I understand there are some organisations of the workers in Trinidad. It may be, as the strike has spread, that there are groups of other workers and stevedores who may not be organised.

Mr. Gallacher

Do we understand from the answer that it is always lawful to kill strikers?

Mr. Ormsby-Gore

I would point out that the first people to be killed were two unfortunate policemen, killed by strikers.

Mr. Creech Jones

Will there be an investigation into the grievances of the strikers, and are we to understand that, while disputes are pending, peaceful picketing is definitely prohibited?

Mr. Ormsby-Gore

Certainly, in view of the violence that has taken place, all forms of picketing will be prohibited. There will certainly have to be an inquiry when this is over into all the circumstances.

Mr. David Adams

The Minister certainly indicated one of the causes of the trouble in Trinidad and surrounding areas, namely, the rising cost of living. Independent of that, there are——

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Member cannot make a speech.