HC Deb 18 May 1938 vol 336 cc391-5
36. Mr. Gallacher

asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies whether he has seen the report on wages in the Westmoreland sugar estate, Jamaica, submitted by the local collector of taxes, which is attached to the Collector-General's report; and will he circulate these wage rates to this House?

Mr. M. MacDonald

Yes, Sir. I have seen the report, which is dated 20th May, 1937. The Collector of Taxes there stated that the wage rates in the parish of Westmoreland were 5s. per diem for artisans, 2s. 6d. per diem for praedial workers and 6s. per week for domestic workers. The House will remember that the Governor appointed last month a Commission to inquire into the rates of wages paid throughout the Colony. The Commission is still at work.

Mr. Gallacher

Is the Minister aware that the latest figures I have been able to obtain, those for 1935, show that the wages for labourers as distinct from cane cutters average is. 6d. per day, and for women 9d. per day? Is it not time something was done to put an end to this terrible exploitation?

Mr. MacDonald

I understand the figures of the hon. Member are for 1935. The figures which I have quoted for 1937 show that there has been a considerable increase in the last two years.

Lieut.-Commander Agnew

Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether the terms of reference to the Commission include an inquiry into the cost of living, such as clothing, rent and fuel?

Mr. MacDonald

No doubt the Commission will take into consideration all questions which are relevant to the question of wages.

Mr. Kirkwood

Is there any truth in the statement generally made, that our race has gone out there and bled nearly the whole of the West Indies white?

37. Mr. Gallacher

asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies whether any agricultural labourers' union is operating either in the Westmoreland sugar estate or in Jamaica generally?

Mr. MacDonald

I have no information as to whether any agricultural labourers' union is operating on the sugar estates in Westmoreland. As to the general question of existing trade unions in Jamaica, I have nothing to add to the reply given by my predecessor to the hon. Member on 9th May.

Mr. Gallacher

In view of the abominably low rate of wages paid to these labourers are the Government in favour of their having complete freedom to organise independent trade unions in order to better their conditions?

Mr. M. MacDonald

I understand that they have freedom to do that at present.

Mr. Gallacher

I want to clear this matter up. Do I understand that the Government lay it down that these agricultural labourers have the right to form independent trade unions?

Mr. M. MacDonald

I understand that the law in regard to trade unions in Jamaica is approximately the same as the law in this country.

Mr. H. G. Williams

Is not the president of this union safer than the late M. Tomsky?

49. Mr. David Adams

asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies to what extent loans have been raised in recent years for Jamaican development purposes; and to what extent these loans have been spent upon objects of social development, such as health, housing, relief of unemployment, and upon other objects?

Mr. MacDonald

As the detailed reply to this question involves a considerable number of figures, I will, with the hon. Member's permission, circulate it in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

Following is the reply:

Under Laws Nos. 22 and 23 of 1935 the Governor is empowered to raise sums totalling £2,000,000 for public and municipal works and other purposes. The amount so far raised is £1,100,000. Of the total of £2,000,000, £135,000 is to be allocated for medical services, £100,000 for housing schemes, £250,000 for water supplies, £646,700 for roads and bridges, £100,000 for irrigation schemes, £100,000 for land settlement schemes, £100,000 for harbour works and £105,300 for school buildings. The balance is for public buildings and other works of public utility. Detailed information is not available of the actual expenditure to date, but it will be observed that in general the whole sum has been allocated for the objects referred to by the hon. Member.

51. Mr. David Adams

asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies whether he is aware that when Messrs. Tate and Lyle purchased estates in Jamaica recently considerable economies in native labour employment were effected; and, as this reduction of employment, without corresponding measures of relief, was calculated to disturb the native mind in a way which could not be immediately counteracted by the beneficial works which this firm has instituted; whether any Government action was taken in respect of the immediate suffering caused by the diminution in employment?

Mr. MacDonald

since a Commission has been appointed to investigate and report on the causes of the disturbances at Frome and the steps taken by the police to deal with the disorders, and the general position regarding wages and conditions on this estate, I must await the Commission's report before expressing any opinion as to the causes contributory to the disturbances there. I would, however, remind the hon. Member that, according to recent correspondence in the Press, the company in question has not made any reduction in the number of labourers employed on its estates.

Mr. Adams

In view of the fact that there is no unemployment insurance for the natives, are any steps being taken in cases of unemployment to remedy this?

Mr. MacDonald

That is one of the matters which will have to await the report of the Commission of Inquiry.

57. Mr. Riley

asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies what steps are being taken to deal with the bad housing conditions and social and industrial unrest in Kingston, Jamaica; and is he aware of the discontent expressed by demonstrations, meetings, and strikes now taking place in the island?

Mr. MacDonald

Approval was recently given by my predecessor for expenditure totalling £48,400 upon two schemes for the improvement of housing conditions in the Kingston area. The first was for improvement of the slum area in Smith Village, and the second for the establishment of model tenements at Trench Pen. As regards the latter part of the question, I am aware of the situation in the Colony, but I cannot add anything to the reply given to the hon. Member for West Leyton (Mr. Sorensen) on 9th May.

Mr. Riley

Have any steps been taken to implement proposals for expenditure of money on the improvement of housing?

Mr. MacDonald

I have already said that steps are being taken and money is being spent on improving housing in two areas in Kingston.

Lieut.-Commander Fletcher

Has the right hon. Gentleman asked for a special report from the Governor concerning the discontent which is referred to in the question?

Mr. MacDonald

I have said, in reply to two or three other questions, that there is a Commission of Inquiry going into the matter at the moment.