§ 38. Mr. Sorensen
asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies whether he is aware that an orderly procession of hunger-marchers in Spanish Town, Jamaica, on 18th May, requested a public works official to provide work for hundreds of them and that he was only able to offer them stonebreaking many miles away; whether he is aware of the dangerous resentment this has caused; when the construction work in Kingstown is likely to commence and how many it will employ; and whether he will take steps to arrange for the granting of adequate relief to all those now suffering from unemployment?
Mr. M. MacDonald
I have seen an account of this alleged incident in the Press, but I have received no official report on the subject. The Government of Jamaica is making every effort to relieve unemployment by providing work, and the Governor has recently authorised the commencement of certain extraordinary works with this end in view. It is estimated that an average of 1,500 labourers will be employed on public works during the year. I have no doubt that the Governor is doing everything in his power to see that relief is granted where necessary.
§ Mr. Sorensen
Will the right hon. Gentleman make special inquiries into the conditions in Jamaica at the present moment? Has he anything to say with regard to the incidents that have occurred in the last few hours?
I am giving the whole situation in Jamaica my most careful consideration. With regard to recent incidents, I will make a statement in reply to a later question.
§ Mr. Maxton
Is the Minister aware that his predecssor removed a Governor from Trinidad because he considered the situation instead of taking action?
Action was taken in the case of Trinidad after very full in- 1197 quiry and examination and the report which was presented. I have no reason to suppose that the situation in Jamaica is in this respect at all similar to the situation in Trinidad.
§ Mr. Maxton
Is not the situation in Jamaica very serious and dangerous, and is it not a fact that no action other than punitive action is being taken by His Majesty's Government?
I do not deny for a moment that the situation in Jamaica is very serious indeed, but I thought the hon. Member's question made a reflection on the Governor. I do not agree that any such reflection is justified.
§ Mr. Macquisten
Is not the real trouble that we do not help the sugar industry in the West Indies in the way that America does?
§ Mr. Maxton
May I make a personal explanation? I was casting no reflection on the Governor of Jamaica, but on the Minister himself and his predecessor.
41. Captain Arthur Evans
asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies whether he will make a statement on the riots which took place in Jamaica on Monday last?
In view of the length of the answer I will, with the permission of Mr. Speaker and the leave of the House, make a statement at the end of questions.
On the evening of Monday, 23rd May, the Governor of Jamaica reported that a serious situation had developed in Kingston. The position regarding unemployment had considerably eased up till Friday, 20th May, when there was a strike of wharf workers in connection with the loading of ships. It was hoped, however, that the strike would not continue, as a number of labourers were still anxious to work. There was a strike on Sunday, 22nd May, of conservancy men in the Corporation area. Up till the morning of Monday, 23rd May, no acts of violence had occurred, but during the day the situation deteriorated owing to an attempt, without any warning, at a general strike of labour. The mob got out of control and large disorderly gangs started to force the closing of premises, molesting and 1198 stopping workers at many points, and endeavouring to interfere with essential services at the pumping station, gas works and elsewhere. The situation was beyond coping with by the police alone, and the assistance of the military was obtained, local forces being called up and special constables sworn in.
A further report was received from the Governor last night. According to this report the situation was still serious. Yesterday was a public holiday and there were considerable crowds in the streets; there was obstruction at the fire brigade station. A strike by the fire brigade was threatened, but bodies of volunteers were obtained under military protection. There have been a few cases of firing by the police; and I regret to state that, according to the Governor's latest report, two people were killed and two others injured sufficiently seriously for admission to hospital. There have been 67 arrests. Several injuries have been suffered by the police and local volunteer forces. Though the control of the military and police is effective, the Governor has asked the Commander-in-Chief, America and West Indies Station, to send a cruiser in order to have reserves to ease the strain on all local forces; and, as announced by the Admiralty, His Majesty's ship "Ajax" has sailed from Bermuda.
It appears from reports that the purpose of the general strike movement is to attempt to force all-round increases in pay. It is all the more regrettable that this should have occurred at the very time when an official Commission appointed by the Governor is inquiring into the question of wage rates in the island.
§ Sir Patrick Hannon
Is my right hon. Friend taking measures to make it quite clear to the people in Jamaica that the Governor is having the full support of the central Government in this country?
I have assured the Governor that he will receive my support in any measures which he considers necessary.
I am aware, as the whole House is, that there has been a series of disturbances of this nature in the West Indian islands, and that the situation in the Islands generally is a matter for very serious consideration and thought. With regard to the latter part of the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question, I can only say that I am giving the whole question, not only as it arises in Jamaica, but in the West Indies generally, my very careful consideration. I could not add anything further to that at the present time.
§ Mr. Sorensen
Will the right hon. Gentleman assure the black population as much as the white of his interest in their welfare?
The interest, not only of the Government, but of the whole House, is in the well-being of the other populations as well as of the European population.
§ Mr. de Rothschild
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that it was announced to-day that Mr. Bustamente had been released, after having been ill-treated by the police? Is there any truth in that?
I have not seen that report. The latest information I had from the Governor was that this particular individual was under arrest. I have no reason to suppose that that is not the position still.
§ Mr. Gallacher
Arising out of the Minister's statement, in which he said he would give full support to the Governor in the use of punitive methods—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Arising out of the statement, in which he said he would give full support to the Governor, is it not the case that the Minister's predecessor refused to give full support to the Governor of Trinidad because he showed consideration for the natives; and is it not the case that he is considering punitive methods against the natives, and that a woman and her child have been murdered as a result of those punitive methods?
Trinidad is another matter. All I said was that I had given 1200 an assurance that the Governor would have my full support in any methods he considered necessary. I am sure it is in the interests of all sections of the population that this trouble should be brought to an end as soon as possible.
§ Mr. Herbert Morrison
Will the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance to the House not only that he will support the Governor, but that he will support any legitimate efforts by the people of the Islands to give themselves a decent standard of life?
Certainly any legitimate efforts. But, as I have said, I am not satisfied with the position in Jamaica. The whole matter is receiving my very careful consideration.
§ Mr. Macquisten
The thing to do is to assist the sugar industry, so that it will be able to pay decent wages.