§ Question again proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."2166
§ 12.14 p.m.
Mr. Creech Jones
I was remarking that we all recognised the quality of the work which was done by the Royal Commission, and that it was a pity that so important and so searching a piece of work will not see the light of day. Though some inquiries do a certain amount of whitewashing, in this case the report was eagerly awaited, and there was a considerable feeling everywhere that the facts should be made known to the British public as well as to the Colonial peoples concerned. In paying tribute to the work done by the Commission, I should like to express from this side of the House our very deep regret at the passing of Mr. Morgan Jones during this strenuous work. He had engaged himself heart and soul in the inquiry, and from the evidence available it is clear that his work was of great importance.
The appointment of the Royal Commission followed a great public demand that something should be done to remove the causes of unrest and misery in this corner of the British Empire. It was obvious from the reports which were coming to hand that there had been an economic breakdown, that social conditions were extremely bad, that there was, in most of the Islands, considerable labour unrest and also that there was a strong demand for political means of expression among these people. The public were anxious to know what the facts were and how the distressing problems revealed could be adequately tackled. Since the appointment of the Royal Commission, those Members of this House who are interested in West Indian problems have shown considerable restraint in questioning the Secretary of State. The West Indian people have, in many cases, put on one side their agitation, because they hoped that with the knowledge of the report, substantial redress and improvements would result.
While we have been waiting for the report of the Royal Commission certain important documents have been issued. We now know the state of nutrition among the peoples of the West Indies. We have had a useful survey by Major Orde-Browne of labour conditions in the West Indies, and the Secretary of State has published an important Paper setting out the limits of the franchise and certain constitutional difficulties which exist in the colonies. But the decision not to publish the Royal Commission's report 2167 is one against which we on this side of the House, at any rate, must enter a vigorous protest.
It may be urged that this country is at war, and that it is undesirable to publish matters which might give further material for use as propaganda by the enemy. I would, however, point out that, already, many of the essential facts in regard to economic and social conditions in the West Indies are known, not merely to ourselves but also to the Germans. Certain evidence given at the Royal Commission has been printed and there has been a series of reports, some emanating from this country and some published by the local administrations, setting out most distressing social and economic facts about these colonies.
It seems, therefore, that the policy of "hush hush" serves no useful purpose whatever when the facts are already known about the conditions and the state of the administration in these Colonies. In point of fact, the non-publication of the report has only made things look very much worse. The value of the report, had it been published, would have lain in the fact that it is a survey of economic and social facts; that, in it, the various problems of these territories have been treated as a whole and have been inter-related, so as to enable one to see how, under any comprehensive plan, the job should be done. By the publication of the recommendations we are told what the remedies are to be, but in testing the value of those remedies, we are left without any diagnosis of the disease. We do not know whether the recommendations are adequate to deal with the evils which have been discovered and we are placed in a great difficulty this morning in discussing recommendations without the assistance of the background of this comprehensive survey.
A further reason why we must protest is that publicity is essentially the colonial peoples' bulwark. It is vitally important, if the colonial peoples are to be defended, that there should be the utmost publicity, not only as to administration, but as to economic and social facts. To deprive them of that weapon is a very sorry thing indeed. We are a democratic people and it seems to me we ought not to shirk unpalatable facts. Democracy cannot work if it is prepared to hide the truth 2168 and run away from criticism. It has a definite responsibility and if it is to discharge that responsibility, it must be in possession of proper information on which to form a judgment. Therefore, we on this side contend that the non-publication of this report is inconsistent with democratic practice. Let me point out that, already, the German announcer has used the opportunity of non-publication for a ribald jest at the expense of this country and the German Press has already been engaged in writing typical declamatory nonsense about British hypocrisy. I do not understand why we should be put into the position of playing the game of the enemy. For those reasons, we enter our strong protest against non-publication.
The Commissioners however, in spite of the fact that the country is at war recommended very strongly that their proposals should be considered and proceeded with immediately and the Government have tried to console us by declaring that they will carry out the pledge, given when the Royal Commission was appointed, that they would act without delay on its findings. We welcome then this important declaration that the matters in the report will be dealt with promptly by the Colonial Secretary. The Government have accepted, in principle, the Commission's main recommendations. They are to see that there is created a special organisation under a Controller with an expert staff to develop social and economic services throughout the West Indies. Further, it is announced that they will appoint an inspector-general of agriculture to develop—what is fundamentally important—the economic organisation of agriculture in those territories. The Government have also promised £1,000,000 a year, plus administrative costs, and have indicated that they will act, as early as possible, in the spirit of the recommendations as a whole. Meantime they are consulting the colonial administrations and will issue a White Paper later, showing what they propose to do.
We admit that, as a piece of consolation perhaps, these statements of policy are of great importance but before proceeding to study in detail the recommendations of the Commission, I wish to refer briefly to the White Paper on the larger problem of Colonial policy. Several paragraphs in that White Paper have an 2169 immediate bearing on the problem which is before us this morning. For instance, we welcome very much the intended provision of £5,000,000 per year as a grant-in-aid to cover not only schemes of capital expenditure in the Colonies but also current expenditure on social services, interest charges, grants-in-aid and matters like housing, education, public health provision and other services. Of that sum, £1,000,000 will be available for the West Indies for all those purposes, including the founding of labour departments, slum clearance schemes, and land settlement, though not the cost of the purchase of land.
The Royal Commission asked that there should be a period of 20 years for constructive planning. They regarded 20 years as indispensable for the fruition of their schemes. There has been much neglect. Therefore they argued that in a brief period little could be done. It was vitally important for social and economic development that the controller when he was appointed, should be able to look ahead for a long period and to plan accordingly. Therefore a period of 20 years for the grant of £1,000,000 per year was of very great importance to them. It is clear that when the Secretary of State informed the Chairman of the Royal Commission that the report could not be published, he said that the Government accepted forthwiththose of your major recommendations which deal with the provision of an annual sum for social welfare and development and the establishment of a special organisation, independent of the West Indian Colonial Governments, to administer this fund.So that, virtually, the Government accepted the principle of a 20-year period.
If we turn to the proposals of the White Paper, we see that the Government visualise a period of only 10 years. I would like to know whether there is any explanation of that ambiguity; whether it is definitely determined that the pledge given by the Colonial Secretary in respect of 20 years will be observed. In any case, so far as these benches are concerned, we shall certainly hold whatever Government may be in office to the 20-year period, because it is a definite liability and a pledge into which the present Government have entered.
There are several questions which I would like to put to the Minister before I proceed much further with the study of 2170 the report. First of all, I would ask whether any part of the £500,000 mentioned in the White Paper is likely to be made available to the West Indies in respect of research on West Indian problems. The second question is, What are the immediate schemes which the Colonial Secretary proposes to put in hand for the expenditure of the £350,000 mentioned in the White Paper? The third question is, How soon is it proposed to set up the office of controller, with his expert staff? Will it function in London, or will it have its base in the West Indies? Further, the White Paper contemplates the setting up of a Colonial Development and Welfare Advisory Committee. I believe it is proposed that this committee should proceed with this work at an early date. Will that committee, in concerning itself with the larger Colonial problems, deal also with the problems of the West Indies? If so, what will be the relation of that committee to the controller, whom it is proposed to set up under the Royal Commission's recommendation?
Then there is the further point which emerges, and to which I would like an answer, regarding the relationship of the committee to the Standing Parliamentary Committee which is to consider Colonial affairs in conjunction with representatives from the Colonies. I assume that, if the Government have accepted in spirit the recommendations of the Royal Commission, they have also accepted those recommendations for the setting up of a Standing Parliamentary Committee. I would like to know whether further progress is likely to be made during the period of the war in regard to this Parliamentary Committee. At the same time, the carrying through of the recommendations of the Royal Commission will involve some degree of internal reconstruction of the Colonial Office itself. From these benches we have for a long time urged that there should be a labour advisory committee and a labour department in the Colonial Office. The Royal Commission recommend that such committee and department should be established. That demand, I believe, has the wholehearted support of the British Trades Union Congress. I therefore ask whether it is the intention of the Government to reorganise inside the Colonial Office and to make available expert 2171 labour advice for the consideration of Colonial labour problems and of West Indian problems in particular?
When we turn to the recommendations of the Commission themselves, we are struck with the severity of the indictment against Colonial administration in this part of the Empire. One can plainly read between the lines of the recommendations. It is clear that the social and economic conditions are deplorable and that this is in part due to past indifference and neglect. It is clear that there is a festering mass of unemployment, a great surplus of unemployed population, wretched housing conditions, inadequate medical services, infinite squalor, illegitimacy and destitution. It is true, too, that the Colonies have been the prey of outside economic forces as well as of inside economic neglect. It is obvious that there has been no co-ordination of economic and social policy, that labour problems have been frequent and bitter, that communication between the islands is poor, that education is inadequate and that the political control of the islands is largely in the hands of a very small section of the respective communities. I submit that this is a pretty bad indictment which can be plainly read in the recommendations of the Royal Commission.
While it is said that the West Indians have been extremely loyal in the present crisis and that they have declared great readiness for sacrifices in order that British arms shall triumph in this war, nevertheless, there are indications that the bad conditions set out in the report have, in some respects, been deteriorating since. Already news has come from the West Indies of the imposition of restrictions on certain important economic work; certain social services are in danger of being whittled down. In one group of islands educational schemes are being held up and Colonial development plans are being abandoned. There are signs in British Guiana and British Honduras of economic planning being abandoned of works being slowed down, and in Jamaica of medical services being cut. I hope that the Colonial Secretary will see that the undertaking which he gave at the beginning of the war will be loyally observed in the respective territories of the West Indies—an undertaking which 2172 expressed the hope, at any rate, that so far as the social services and economic development plans of these Colonies are concerned there should be no restriction or cutting of expenditure for the maintenance of these things at their present standard.
So far as the recommendations go, we on this side of the House welcome them because of the practical and constructive contribution they make to this problem. Fundamental, of course, is the question of economic reconstruction. The economic deterioration has resulted from a number of factors during the past decade or two, and it was necessary that there should be this examination of the economic forces operating in these islands before any real constructive planning could take place. Among the important economic proposals to which I want to draw attention is the question of sugar preferences. In recent years that question has always been very much to the fore. I do not know the degree to which restrictions on production and quotas have been removed in the war, but I hope that the importance of this part of the Commissioners' recommendations will be appreciated and that although profits have been made where production of sugar is efficient, the industry will be helped; and that any additional assistance given to planters will be proportionately passed on to the labourers whose conditions are deplorable. I hope that the proposal in respect of the establishment of welfare funds will be carried through and money made available for the improvement of the wretched social, housing, and health services.
Again I want to emphasise the importance among the recommendations of those proposals concerned with intensive cultivation, mixed farming and far greater home production of essential foodstuffs. It becomes exceedingly important—in fact, it becomes vital—to the life of these islands that they should be more readily able to support their rapidly growing population. Access to the land and the teaching of intensive cultivation, together with production for home consumption, are vitally important if health is to return to the peoples of these islands. In days gone by there has been far too much specialisation in export crops; there should be a proper balance and new ways adopted so that at least land settlement can be allowed to develop on the basis 2173 of peasant agriculture. The energies of administration should be demonstrated by pushing on with land settlement schemes which have been far too slow in days gone by. To-day we have in the islands the tragedy of a landless, workless people; therefore, it is important that they should have access to the land and that there should be proper training, intensive cultivation and production of home foodstuffs. At the same time, as the Commissioners point out, attention should be given to marketing conditions, and I would like the Colonial Secretary to tell me what is likely to happen now that the Empire Marketing Board has ceased to function as part of the Empire marketing arrangements.
On the subject of economic reconstruction, one should also stress a matter which does not receive great importance among the recommendations, namely, the importance of establishing local industries. Far too much food and far too many goods of primary consumption are purchased from outside these islands, whereas they could be manufactured on the spot. One hopes that the recommendation about the establishment of local industries will be vigorously taken up. Further on economic reconstruction I want to refer to one other point, and that is that in spite of the poverty in these islands there is still a considerable drain of wealth to shareholders of companies in this country. It would be of great benefit to the people of the West Indies if direct taxation could be increased and this flow of wealth out of the islands stemmed back in order to add to social improvement and the economic development of these Colonies. The only Colony which has any mineral wealth is Trinidad. Oil is yielding reasonable profits, and it would be all to the good if some of that money could be retained for the happiness and well-being of the people in Trinidad. In this connection I should like to ask the Colonial Secretary whether he can give us any indication of the extent to which the recommendations of the Commission following the last inquiry in Trinidad, on which a Debate took place in this House, have been implemented during the past year or so.
I will now say a word on the proposals under the section headed "Labour" in the Blue Book. In my view the labour proposals—the suggestions for setting up labour departments, for freeing the trade 2174 unions, for establishing workmen's compensation schemes and for setting up conciliation machinery—are of the utmost importance, and I hope the Government will not hesitate to implement that section of the recommendations concerned with trade union legislation. There is still considerable labour agitation in the Colonies at the present time, particularly because of the increase in the cost of living. There are Colonies where bitterness is characteristic of the relations between employers and workpeople. There is considerable dissatisfaction in British Guiana. I hope that the Secretary of State will insist that the recent trade union legislation in Barbados be amended so as to permit of peaceful picketing by the trade unions in times of industrial dispute. One hopes also that Administrations will take a much more tolerant attitude towards labour troubles. It is not good enough for us to entertain the idea that these industrial disputes arise because of the work of agitators. That was the charge which was made at the time of the Trinidad dispute a few years ago, but every Commission which has sat has made it clear that the causes of the trouble lie in the economic conditions and the social squalor of the people. It is important that we should appreciate that there are, in respect to both industry and agriculture, very deep-seated causes of unrest; and those causes need to be tackled.
I would ask the House to support my plea that something should be done to extend adult education. What is very important for the Colonies is sound and responsible leadership, particularly for the building-up of trade union and labour effort. If these new powers of combination are to be exercised with responsibility, it is important to provide education facilities so that those who emerge from the labour ranks know how to use their new authority and power with discretion, and for the well-being of the people whom they are called upon to represent. Therefore, I hope that there will be definite budgeting by the Administrations for adult education, after the pattern adopted in this country, and that the Colonial Secretary will see that money is forthcoming for the founding of scholarships, so that some of these responsible trade union workers and labour leaders may come to this country to study our conciliation machinery, our trade union methods, the functions of the Ministry of 2175 Labour, and so on. This proposal is in line with the suggestion made by Major Orde-Browne in paragraph 111of his recent report on trade union and labour conditions in the Colonies. I have no time, in spite of their enormous importance, to discuss the recommendations in respect of social legislation and the social development of the people. As I have said, the recommendations make it clear that the social problem is most acute. The subject of nutrition has already received the attention of the special body appointed to examine it. In Barbados, we are told:there is no reason to doubt that many households live on the borderline of extreme poverty.In Jamaica, we read thatthe nutrition state of a depressing large proportion of the labouring classes is definitely bad.One could go on giving instance after instance, to show how ill is the social condition of these people. I would urge vigorous action in regard to housing, public health services, education, and so on. I should like to make one reference to the very difficult question of surplus population. That is particularly important in respect to Barbados as well as elsewhere. Here you have a great mass of people with nothing to do, in dire poverty. If there are no immediate outlets for this surplus population, as there used to be, I hope that special consideration will be given to the question of whether some schemes of absorption can be adopted in British Honduras. I would welcome co-operation between His Majesty's Government and the Jewish people in making certain experiments, under adequate safeguards for West Indians in British Guiana.
Finally, there is the very important question of political reform. This matter has now become one of desperate urgency. We so often declare our views in regard to the blessings of democracy; we like to proclaim to the world that we encourage freedom and the democratic spirit, that we further the democratic ideal in all parts of the Empire; but the limits of the franchise in the West Indies to-day are deplorable, and cannot be justified. What is being done now to secure a generous measure—which is long overdue—of political reform? It is vitally important that the needs and 2176 aspirations of the West Indian people should have some political expression. A little while ago the Colonial Secretary published a White Paper setting out the constitutional position in each of the territories. One discovers that in many respects, the people have scarcely any voice in the control of affairs in their own lands. For instance, in Jamaica, which has a population of nearly 1,250,000, only 66,000 people are registered as voters. In Trinidad, with a population of nearly 500,000, there are only 26,000 on the register. Further, the difficulty of securing eligibility to be a representative in the Legislature is very great indeed for the common people in those Colonies. I hope that this deplorable position will be immediately put right. We attach importance to what the Commission say regarding the introduction of the committee system, in older that the elected representatives may gain an insight into the practical details of government. I hope that, as a result of the work of the new Controller, of unifying the medical services and other important services, of extending the communications and wireless services, and of linking up the Leeward and Windward Islands, the Colonies will move towards some system of political federation; I hope the Controller can work out some social and educational policy that will lead towards the same end.
I welcome particularly the proposal of the Commission that there should be launched immediately a campaign to break down colour prejudice. In certain of our Colonies of Africa, that social evil is growing; and I am sure that the Colonial Secretary will apply himself with vigour to the breaking down of any unfortunate distinctions which mar our Colonial social relationships in the West Indies. The proposal about the period during which the Governors and high officials should remain in a Colony as the head of administrations, is also of importance. The very best possible officials ought to be chosen for this work. It ought not to be regarded as a dumping ground at the end of an administrator's life. The work in these Colonies ought to be taken seriously and officials of the best calibre ought to be employed. This past scandal ought to be ended. I hope, moreover, that, when the new machinery is set up under these proposals, the Colonial Office will see that, when it 2177 issues circulars or instructions, or when it proposes legislation, all these things are loyally observed and administered. It has been a grave reflection on the administration of the past that, however excellent the intentions of the Colonial Office, too little regard has been paid to the instructions which have come out.
These recommendations of the Royal Commission seem to us to have very great constructive value. We regret that we have not been privileged to see the report, but I urge that the Colonial Secretary will use this great opportunity and will act quickly and do all that is humanly possible, by financial and every other means, to restore health and prosperity to the distressed peoples of the West Indies.
§ 12.58 p.m.
§ Sir Walter Smiles (Blackburn)
We have listened to a very fair speech from the hon. Member, except that at times I think he painted the colours a bit too dark. I do not know that he gives sufficient credit for what we have already done. One of the last points that he mentioned was colour prejudice. I can remember landing in one of the Colonies and there was a dinner that evening. There were coloured people and Europeans present, and the guest of honour was a coloured lady. As far as I could see, no discrimination at all was made. I can only say that that happened on my first evening in this Colony—I will not mention which it was—and it struck me that, if there was colour prejudice, it was certainly slight and it was not apparent that evening.
Before I start upon the West Indies, seeing that the Secretary of State is on the Front Bench and we very rarely have a chance in war-time of seeing him there, I should like to mention a question which has been exercising me very much for the last month, and that is the growing of flax in Kenya. I have had interviews with an expert from Kenya on flax who is in this country, and I have had some correspondence with my friends in Northern Ireland. The Members for Northern Ireland are unable to be present to-day, but I discussed the matter with them before they left for home, and they gave me full permission to take the matter up. During the last war the planters in Kenya started to grow flax and, there is no doubt, made a very good profit out of 2178 it while the war lasted, getting prices as high as £400 a ton. Immediately the war was over the price was allowed to slide, and it fell to £60, and the people who had put their estates under the crop and invested money in it lost very seriously. I would ask the Secretary of State, when he is encouraging them to grow flax in this war, to give them some guarantee that they will be kept going for a year or two afterwards at least. The advances of science in flax have been very great during the past 20 years. I have here a letter from a large flax spinner in Ireland, dated yesterday. He writes:Twenty years ago flax was grown in Kenya on a large scale but the slump came and killed the industry before it was fairly launched.At that time there were two ways of preparing flax, dew-retting and water-retting. I understand that water is too scarce in Kenya for the latter process, but during the last few years machinery has been developed which enables the straw to be scutched, without any retting at all, producing what we call green fibre. I should like to ask the Secretary of State to consider easy advances to these planters to put in that machinery. They would pay it back to him or to the Colonial Development Society, during the next five years or so. And I ask that he will interest himself in the matter and guarantee the people who put their land to flax a secure market for at least two years after the war finishes.
Turning to the West Indies, I do not very often break the Tenth Commandment, but I certainly broke it in the case of the people who were selected to go on the Royal Commission, because, of all places in the world, I think it is one of the most interesting, and it is also one of the places where some of the most good can be done. This report is one of the most interesting Blue Books that have been published. It is of very great interest to us all. One of the most important recommendations is about Income Tax. I put a Question to the Secretary of State last month as to the rate of Income Tax paid in the West Indian Colonies, and there is the most extraordinary difference. In one island, I think Domingo, the rate was practically the same as in the United Kingdom, but in some other islands it was not a tenth part. I agree with the late Lord Leverhulme, who said, "Give me the income, and I am ready to pay 2179 the tax." I think that is the view of most of us, and I think it would also be the view of the people in the West Indies. It is only fair that the Income Tax should be more or less equal in all these West Indian Colonies.
Comparing India with our Colonial Empire, and the West Indies in particular, what struck me in the West Indies was that our officials there grossly overworked. The Colonial civil servant has to work a great deal harder than civil servants I have seen elsewhere. The Governor in Jamaica presides over the Council. He told me he liked to preside over the Council. It gave him an interest and an insight into the way people were thinking. But there is no doubt that, when he has finished in the Council and goes home and has to go through all the files, it must give him a great deal of work. I saw in a paper that the Governor of Jamaica was giving up a large proportion of his pay during the war, and we ought to recognise the generosity of this sacrifice.
Another thing that struck me in Jamaica was the very poor standard of agriculture. A planter pointed out tome places where thousands of tons of the best soil in the island are being swept down from the hills into the sea every year. Whereas the Minister of Agriculture in this country is giving a bonus of £2 an acre for ploughing-up land, the Secretary of State for the Colonies might well consider the proposition of giving £2 an acre to the native producers who are losing their land on the hillsides. If they do not terrace, it is absolutely certain that they are wasting the capital of the island. The rainfall in various parts of Jamaica varies considerably but if the soil and the forests of Jamaica are not preserved there are likely to be very serious troubles in the future.
My opinion, when I came away from these islands, was that the principal problem was an economic one, and I think that the whole trade policy of this country has been largely responsible for it. When you go to Cuba and see along the front in Havana the beautiful marble palaces and the clubs there, and then go along to Kingston, Jamaica, and see how it compares with Havana, one is disposed to think that, although it is under the British flag, it does not compare very 2180 well. When I look at the exports and imports between this country and Cuba, I find that we have been taking very much more from Cuba than we have been taking from Jamaica, and that Cuba has been taking very much less from us and Jamaica very much more. A very strong case is made out for preferential treatment of our West Indian Colonial Empire. They cannot speak for themselves in this House, and we have to do our best to speak for them, and a very grave responsibility rests upon every Member of this House for the state in which the West Indies is at the present time. It is no use looking back and thinking of what has been happening there during the past 30 years, but we have to do something now.
Here is a new thing in this Debate. Generally we hear very eloquent speeches. We may still hear eloquent speeches, but we are now definitely seeing something being done. It is not a question of issuing blue books, which are filed, but money is definitely being spent. There would be more good done in the world if people were not so careful as to who should get the credit, but it is very probable that, as a result of this new action which is being taken in the West Indies, the present Colonial Secretary will go down to history as perhaps one of its greatest benefactors. The previous speaker said that too high profits and too much wealth have been taken out of the West Indies in the past. I am not prepared to disagree with him on that, but I would point out that one very large company has invested over £1,000,000 in Jamaica during the last three years. I do not think that they have had one penny back in dividends of any kind. I am not financially interested in any of the West Indian Islands, but interested only from the Colonial point of view. If we did not encourage these companies to go there, how could we expect any development to take place at all? We do not want to see them take excessive profits out of the West Indies, but so long as we are under the present system it is perfectly legitimate to allow them to take moderate profits. Every credit ought to be given to these people who have put £1,000,000 into Jamaica during the last three years.
When I went out there I asked the Governor to be kind enough to give me introductions to various people, and I 2181 said that I wanted to see the oldest sugar plantation on the island and the newest one. The new factory put down by this company struck me as a most marvellous piece of work. I am not an expert in sugar machinery at all, so that I cannot really appreciate that point of view, but I can appreciate the houses that are being built for the workpeople, and the wells that are being sunk and the various other things that are being done for the workpeople. I can appreciate and understand all that. There is no doubt that the housing accommodation on the very old sugar estates in Jamaica is very bad indeed, and I put it down as being entirely due to the price of sugar during the past few years. It is up to this House of Commons to look after these people and enable them to get a fair but not an excessive price for sugar, so that they can in return look after their own labour forces.
There is another question. The Governors of these Colonies are moved too often. In India you generally keep the Indian civil servants in their own provinces. You do not move them all over India. A man in Bombay is not moved to Madras, except when he comes to the very highest post of all, the governorship. Where a Governor is a success and is doing good work it is wise to keep him there instead of moving him on to somewhere else. The trouble is that there are certain plums in the Colonial Service in the way of salary and position which a man who is doing good work in the Colonial Service naturally expects to obtain at the end of his time. Ceylon, Singapore, and possibly Hong Kong, are looked upon as the three plums. I suggest that it would be worth while subsidising some of the other Colonies from this country, so that a good man who really understood West Indian conditions would not at the end of his service be moved away to Singapore, Hong Kong or Ceylon. I believe that it would encourage him to take more interest in the islands of which he was Governor at the moment.
It was a very great day for the West Indian Colonies when the Government decided to implement this report at once with the offer of money, and I am very glad that they have done this. With regard to the labour trouble, I met some of the trade union leaders. I have 2182 nothing to say against them, and I do not think that anybody has, but we want to see the trade unions put upon a proper legal footing so that everybody may receive fair play. One of the things I was asked to do when I came home from Jamaica was to see the Secretary of State for the Colonies about the appointment of a labour adviser to go out there. At that time I was told that there was not such an adviser available, but I am very glad to say that two or three months afterwards a labour adviser was appointed and sent out there, and, from what I hear, he is doing good work. We have to thank the Government for having implemented the report of the West Indian Royal Commission.
§ 1.14 p.m.
§ Mr. Wilfrid Roberts (Cumberland, Northern)
The hon. Member for Shipley (Mr. Creech Jones), who initiated this Debate, spoke about what German propagandists had to say about the conditions in our Colonial Empire. I do not think it comes very well from those who believe in the superiority of one race to criticise the administration of another Empire for failing to consider sufficiently the welfare of the local inhabitants. But in any case that is not the main basis on which German propagandists make their claim for a Colonial Empire. I think Dr. Goebbels stated recently that the Germans were entitled to a share in the vast riches of the Colonial areas. One thing is clear from the reports from the different parts of the Colonial Empire, including the West Indian report which has just come out, and that is if the Governments of those territories give proper consideration to the welfare of their inhabitants, there are no vast riches for the taxpayers of the home country. The striking thing about these reports is that they all set out claims for immense sums which the British taxpayer has to find for welfare and capital development of various kinds. I find that the total sums required to be spent in the Colonial Empire amount to £90,000,000 or more spread over the next 10 or 20 years. Undoubtedly there are even larger sums which could be spent in other parts of the Empire and which, perhaps, should be spent, and I think that does suggest that the Colonial Empire is not a gold mine, but a liability, providing always that the welfare of the inhabitants is considered and that the 2183 social services are maintained and developed in those countries. But if we are to spend these large sums—and I am sure that Members in all parts of the House wholeheartdly welcome the decision of the Government to carry out the main recommendations of the West Indies report—the question of the level of direct taxation in the West Indies must be thoroughly dealt with. There is no reason why the Colonial Income Taxpayer should get off with a very light Income Tax when the British taxpayer has to find a large sum to carry out work, some of which could have been done had the taxpayer in the West Indies been paying the same rates of taxes, and other direct taxes, as have been paid for some time in this country. If we are to provide the services those who draw their income from the Colonial Empire must bear their full and equal share of the necessary development.
In the recommendations of the West Indies report it is suggested that the basic industry—the sugar industry—is suffering at the present time from restriction of output due to the action of the International Sugar Commission, and it recommends that the quota from the West Indies should be increased by about 20 per cent. One of the subsidies recommended is £1,500,000, of which about two-thirds will go to the West Indies. I do hope that some day we may get a co-ordinated policy on this question, because we have been for some time in this country subsidising the British sugar industry to the tune of several million pounds a year. We are now asked in the interests of the West Indies themselves to increase their output of sugar and to spend about £1,000,000 a year on it. Moreover, it is suggested—and I think this is an additional reason why one wishes that the whole of the report could have been published—that the production of sugar in the West Indies is probably the root cause of many of their difficulties at the moment.
I should have liked to know more about what the Commission thought about that. If that is the case and this money is to be granted to the West Indies, and some of the other subsidies are necessary because of the restriction of West Indies sugar, it means that we have been subsidising British sugar for many years at a considerable and uneconomic cost 2184 and are now asked to subsidise the West Indian sugar industry and pay very large sums for development, welfare and other social services which the West Indies could not find because we are subsidising the British sugar industry. This is really a rather fantastic position, and I hope the Minister will give us the benefit of some further clarification on that basic economic position.
I do not want to go into any detail of the recommendations of the West Indies report. We all want the proposals which, so far as one can see from the recommendations themselves, amount to no more than bringing up the standards of social legislation to that which obtains in this country, or, at any rate, nearer to our standards. We regret that this matter has been so long neglected, but we congratulate the Minister now on making this determined effort to meet abuses and on starting on it during the war. It will, I think, form one of the main internal peace aims of this country when the war is over.
I would like to draw attention to the recommendation which was referred to by the last speaker with regard to the colour question in the West Indies. I am sure it is true that colour prejudice in the West Indies has not developed as it has in some other parts of the Empire. We hope it will never develop. I would like to draw the attention of the House to this recommendation of the Commission:The active assistance of persons of all parties to upset this practice should be enlisted in an organised attempt to prevent any further extension of the colour prejudice.I hope the Minister will develop what he thinks can be done under that recommendation. We hear of the introduction of the colour prejudice into the West Indies from other parts of the Empire, and I hope it will be combated with such energy as this recommendation suggests. Finally, can the right hon. Gentleman tell us a little more about the new policy which is being developed in France in connection with the French Government? I assume that this will not greatly affect the West Indies, but it may have repercussions there, and if he can tell us a little more of what is proposed, we shall be interested to hear how this new and welcome co-operation with the French Colonial Empire is to be carried out.
§ 1.27 p.m.
§ Sir Stanley Reed (Aylesbury)
I do not propose to follow the hon. Member for Shipley (Mr. Creech Jones) in telling the Colonial Secretary exactly what he should do in detail and how he is to do it. I should like to refer to one question which he only touched upon incidentally in the last part of his speech, but which is really the greatest question—it is the terrific question of population. While we may have remedial measures in other directions, that is a problem which is not confined to Barbados and Jamaica; it confronts us in other parts of the world; it has the irresistible movement of a glacier and presents one of our most anxious problems. The hon. Member for Blackburn(Sir W. Smiles) spoke of the marble palaces of Havana. I am not so much interested in the marble palaces of Havana or in the bullet holes in the backs of houses from recurrent revolutions, as I am in the homes of the working classes of Jamaica and Barbados. I should like to touch upon a question which has so far not been indicated in the Debate and which has not been disclosed as having been dealt with in the report of the Royal Commission.
Let me say at once that I welcome as entirely wise and prudent the decision of the Government not to publish the report; but to issue the essential recommendations. I welcome the prompt decision to implement, although at a heavy cost to the taxpayer which we shall cheerfully bear, the main recommendations of the Commission. There is one point I should like to ask my right hon. Friend to consider, and it is this: Why is it that conditions in this part of the Empire so developed that a Royal Commission was necessary and that these drastic steps should now have to be taken? I lived for many years in the west country, with its close associations with the West Indies. I can still remember the sugar ships coming in from the West Indies until their industry was strangled by the bounty-fed sugar of the Continent and Mr. Gladstone advised us to turn from sugar to jam. Perhaps the Colonial Secretary has not lived along enough to remember the advent of one of the greatest men of our times, Mr. Joseph Chamberlain, to the Colonial Office. Everybody said that for a man of his standing it was madness to accept
2186 an office into which various Governments had put the least attractive of their candidates for office. But within a year of accepting office Mr. Joseph Chamberlain electrified every part of our Colonial Empire from the West Indies to Fiji, from Cyprus to Western Africa, and breathed new life into the dry bones. That is a task as well as an inspiration which I am certain my right hon. Friend the Colonial Secretary accepts.
The fact is that between the date when Mr. Joseph Chamberlain laid down his office and that when the right hon. Gentleman accepted it a period of stagnation set in, paralysing so many parts of our Colonial Empire and so many branches of the Colonial Office. It is because of that stagnation we have to sit here and consider the report of a Royal Commission and its recommendations and the burdens which it means for us. The Colonial Secretary in putting these proposals before the House has a much less difficult task than he will have to face in so reorganising the system of Colonial administration and the Colonial Office that these periods of stagnation do not recur. With the sanction of the Treasury and this House he is now able to distribute these large sums of money; but he will not find it so easy a task when he sits down to deal with the form of administration which has made the expenditure of this money and these special efforts absolutely imperative. He will require all the support we can give him in cutting away the deadwood of Colonial administration and vivifying it on the constructional side, so that this House may never again have to direct such special attention to special measures.
A matter which is of first importance is the overhead costs of administration, not only in the West Indies but in other parts of our Colonial Empire, and my right hon. Friend will have to consider at an early date the federation of the West Indies and the appointment at the head of that Federation of a Federal Governor, and make that office attractive enough to bring in men of the highest intellectual power and administrative capacity. I can understand the intense opposition which he will have to meet. Island Governments, which for centuries have enjoyed and treasured their independent existence, will be very reluctant to come under a federal administration 2187 and accept a more economical administration in their own island. Now that we are asked to vote these immense sums of money, which we shall vote cheerfully, for Colonial development, this House is entitled to exercise direct control over the form of administration in the West Indies and elsewhere and in the Colonial Office. I want to put this very strongly indeed, because it is not confined to the West Indies. We shall have to carry the same practice further into other parts of our Colonial Empire. We shall have to consider the appointment of a Governor for East Africa; a Governor for West Africa; a union of the Rhodesias which would take over the responsibility of Nyasaland and improve its administration out of mineral profits, so that we shall have in every part of our Colonial Empire positions of high responsibility, which will attract and keep the very best men who will be content to spend several years of their lives in these offices and bring their special knowledge to bear on administrative, economic, and social problems.
I think my right hon. Friend will have a very severe task there, and will find it difficult to carry it through without the constant support of a Parliamentary Committee who will stand behind him in this and other policies. I should like to press that point upon the House and upon my right hon. Friend, because of the experience we have had in other parts of the Empire. We have seen how a purely administrative service, carefully chosen and ably manned, can become completely static in relation to the new social and economic problems which now confront us wherever we turn, either at home or abroad. The main corrective is to bring into the highest posts men having experience in public life, and a wide outlook, so as to graft on to the administrative system the knowledge of economic and social progress and the driving power which can only come, as a general rule, from experience in our own strong and virile public life.
§ 1.36 p.m.
§ Mr. Riley (Dewsbury)
At the beginning of his speech, the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Sir S. Reed) referred to the discontent and disturbances in the West Indies. I think that if he will reflect on the remarks he made, he will agree that his description of what took place was 2188 rather a caricature of what occurred in the West Indies in 1936, 1937 and 1938. He spoke of bullet holes in the backs of houses, and recurrent revolutions. I was not aware that bullets had been flying about in Jamaica, Trinidad or Barbados. What happened was that demonstrations took place demanding better wages. Unfortunately, it is true that there was shooting, largely on the part of the forces, to try to bring the disturbances to an end. The hon. Member also seemed to be somewhat puzzled as to what were the conditions which made the present policy and the present recommendations necessary. I should have thought that he would have been well aware of the revelations that have been made during the last three or four years about the extraordinarily unsatisfactory social conditions, in the widest sense of the term, which have prevailed, and which still prevail largely, among the working-class sections of the West Indian Colonies.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Mr. Creech Jones) has dealt at length with those aspects of the problem into which the Royal Commission inquired and on which they made their recommendations, I shall restrict myself to reminding the House of one or two outstanding facts. As recently as January of last year, there were in the town of Kingston, Jamaica, no fewer than 15,000 unemployed workers in a population of 73,000. In the three large towns of Jamaica, with a combined population of less than 100,000, no fewer than 14,000 patients attended clinics, in 1938, for the treatment of some form of venereal disease. In Kingston, Jamaica, in 1938, in two rural parishes, out of 2,207 school children who were medically examined, no fewer than 39 per cent. were found to be suffering from malnutrition. In December, 1937, there were in the Kingston poor-house, 842 inmates, although the accommodation was for only 500 inmates. These facts give some idea as to the conditions that have prevailed.
As some hon. Members have said, it is regrettable that we have to debate these recommendations without having the evidence of the Royal Commission before us. We have to form conclusions as to the recommendations without seeing the evidence on which they were based. However, those of us who have followed the conditions and developments in the 2189 West Indies have sufficient evidence upon which to judge the merits of the recommendations. In spite of the fact that, for some reason or other, the Government have not thought it wise to publish the report of the Royal Commission, I think we ought to congratulate the Secretary of State for the Colonies on his immediate response to the Commission's recommendations, on the spirit and sympathy he has shown in trying to ensure that something practical is done to carry out the recommendations, and on the energy with which he is tackling the social sore that has been disclosed.
There are one or two practical questions I should like to put to the Secretary of State. One of the things which I welcome is the Commissions' recommendation, which is endorsed by the Government and the Secretary of State, that an Inspector-General of Agriculture should be appointed. That is one of the principal recommendations made for the new organisation which is to build up an organised system of amelioration, social welfare and economic progress. I welcome the inclusion of this key appointment of an Inspector-General of Agriculture to survey the whole of the agricultural needs of the West Indies. When I went to the West Indies just over a year ago, the impressions which I gained there convinced me that the outstanding problem in the West Indies, in dealing with the social conditions, is to concentrate on the development of the natural resources and the agricultural possibilities of these Islands. It is well known, apart from Trinidad and British Guiana, that in the West Indies the only means of development and progress is by way of agriculture. Apart from Trinidad and British Guiana, there are no other sources of economic progress, except by making the best use of the land. There are no minerals and no possibilities of great industrial development. The whole economy of the West Indian Islands, as far as we can see, is in making the best use of the natural resources. They are very fruitful and only need organisation and attention. I welcome very much thiskey position, the Inspector-General of Agriculture, whose prime duty is to survey the needs of the whole of the Islands from the agricultural point of view. In that connection I would like the Secretary of State for the Colonies, 2190 when he replies, to tell us what has been taking place during the last 12 months.
The House will remember that in 1938 it was decided, following the disturbances in Jamaica and Trinidad—I am speaking of Jamaica in particular—that a sum in the neighbourhood of £500,000 should be provided in Jamaica to afford land settlement to deal with unemployment. A little later that sum was increased to £650,000, and after more than 12 months it has been understood that the Colonial Government in Jamaica were organising, vigorously and extensively, so that land settlement could absorb large numbers of unemployed, and the 15,000 in Kingston to which I have already referred. It would be interesting to know how far that work has gone—the numbers employed on public works and the numbers absorbed in the last 12 or 18 months by this land scheme.
In the White Paper on Colonial policy the Secretary of State informed us that it is the intention of the Government to bring forward legislation in planning expenditure from this new source, and to enlist the help of a Colonial Development and Welfare Advisory Committee composed of a number of official and unofficial members. That is to say, this body is to have the task of developing and advising on schemes for the administration of this £5,000,000 for the Colonies as a whole and how it is to be utilised. I want the Secretary of State, in setting up this Development and Advisory Committee, to be the brains for carrying out the schemes described in the White Paper, to tell us whether that committee comprises members with active knowledge and experience of working-class conditions and members who are associated with trade unions. The White Paper says that it shall be composed partly of official and partly of unofficial members, but the House will see at once that if this new policy of clearing away social unrest, social evils, inequalities and bad conditions is to be dealt with adequately and properly, there must be associated with it people who have the confidence of the working classes and who have the necessary knowledge and experience. I would appeal to the Secretary of State, in considering the composition of the committee, not to content himself with having on that body some retired, superannuated representatives of labour, but 2191 people associated actively with the work of trade unions who are in touch with the working class, who know the conditions, who are in harness to-day, and who can make useful and fruitful contributions to the work.
In connection with the distribution of the £1,000,000 per annum to the development scheme for the West Indies to be under the administration of the controller of the central organisation, he will be independent of the Colonial Government. Will the Secretary of State bear in mind the necessity, in connection with that, and the administration of the money, of not conveying unintentionally by administration to the respective Colonial Governments in Trinidad, Jamaica and British Guiana, that now that this new source of finance is available, and a new organisation is being set up, it is intended that the Colonial Governments need no longer carry out their duties as local governments responsible for local conditions?
As Members will be aware, in the report alongside the existing Colonial Governments and the finance in their own Colonies we are now creating a new body, a central organisation, and at its head a Controller, appointed by the Secretary of State, who will not be responsible to the Jamaica Government, the Trinidad Government, or the British Guiana Government. They derive their funds to finance schemes in these Colonial territories from Imperial sources. The Colonial Secretary might consider whether the Colonial Governments themselves ought not to make their contribution on, say, a pound-for-pound basis. The hon. Member who spoke from the Liberal benches mentioned a Vote of £19,000,000 for 10 to 20 years which we are to provide in legislation shortly. I suggest, therefore, that the Government representing this country have a right to say to these Colonies that as we are going to help them, they should make a contribution towards what we are doing.
An hon. Member opposite referred to Income Tax. It is notorious that whereas in this country we have an Income Tax which might rise in its higher reaches to 17s. in £, and in ordinary middle class circles to 7s. 6d., in the West Indian Colonies rich business men, oil, sugar and banana merchants, and so on enjoyed Income Tax of 2s. 6d. in the £. It 2192 has recently risen to 3s. 4d. and three years ago it was only 2s. We have a right to say that if the Imperial Parliament do their share to help in the development of Colonial life and the improvement of social conditions, the people who derive large incomes and grow rich out of Colonial life must make an equal contribution to that of this country.
§ 1.58 p.m.
§ Dr. Haden Guest (Islington, North)
I am afraid that I cannot join in the chorus of congratulation which has been showered on the Colonial Secretary because I take a more gloomy view than those who preceded me about the situation in Jamaica. I consider that, although some of the remedies indicated in the report are in the right direction, they will have to be applied very drastically and in a different order of precedence from that indicated in the speeches and in the report itself. We are facing now the result of a few years of mismanagement, deterioration and demoralisation in the West Indies. The situation dates from the times of slavery. In every country which has experienced slavery—the Southern States of America, parts of Africa, Liberia and Sierra Leone, where the slave problem has been particularly prevalent so far as its connection with Europeans and other parts of the world is concerned—there has been the social and economic demoralisation which there is at the present time in Jamaica.
A great many of the suggestions in the West Indies Royal Commission's Report are excellent in themselves, but they are rather technical. There is nothing which rouses tremendous enthusiasm in me—at any rate, not in the order in which they are put. I do not see in the report the steel framework of a new constructive policy which will put the West Indies on their own feet as economic equals of other countries. Take the proposals in pages 9 to 10 of this report. There is a number of proposals for social welfare, a long-term programme of social reform, and so on, ending with a statement that the expenses of the new organisation amount to £100,000 per annum, which should be borne by the West Indian Welfare Fund; and the further suggestion that there should be an increase in the Income Tax in the West Indies to bring the rate up to something like the rate it is here. I am not sure that that will do very much good. 2193 In the West Indies there are two methods of finance. One is a grant from the Imperial authorities and the other an increase of Income Tax.
In addition, there are other proposals. One is to increase the income obtained by the West Indies from the export of sugar. There is a pathetic reliance in this report on the idea that there will always be an expanding market for sugar. There is likely to be nothing of the sort. There is a controlled market for sugar in the ordinary way, and whatever the temporary effect of the war may be, it is only a temporary effect. Furthermore, there is a fact which is not recognised and ought to be brought into prominence. It is that, in the opinion of those whose word now carries so much weight—the higher dietetic authorities—it is probable that the amount of sugar consumed by the world is in excess of what ought to be consumed and of what is dietetically desirable. That statement will be found in the report of the technical committee of the League of Nations Committee on Nutrition. Whereas they indicate the importance of increasing the amount of milk consumed, increasing for many places the amount of meat consumed, and increasing in practically all places the amount of fresh vegetables and fruit consumed, the one article of common use in diet which they suggest should be decreased is sugar. You cannot found an expanding prosperity on what is likely to be a decreasing consumption.
With regard to cocoa, did the Commissioners forget, when they were dealing with that important item in the Budget of the West Indies, the enormous importance of the West African cocoa trade? There must be a co-relation between West African cocoa and West Indian cocoa, or both of them will go down into a condition where the prices will not be remunerative either to the producer or to those who handle it for merchanting. If we are to deal with cocoa adequately there must be control of world supplies as there is control of sugar. The report also refers to fruits. There is and should be an expanding market in fruit, but it will not be a very tremendous market.
Does the Colonial Secretary really think that by giving a subsidy from the Imperial Exchequer and by raising the Income Tax of the West Indies all round, or getting them to do it themselves, we shall be able to finance the big social schemes 2194 which are requisite to put the West Indies on their feet? I suggest that we cannot have an Empire run by subsidies. Agriculture here is run by subsidies, and we cannot have this done by subsidies.
May I also draw attention to a painful fact relating to the expenditure, and that is the proportion which the cost of administration in the West Indies bears to the general expenditure, I wonder whether the House is aware that 40 per cent. of the income of the West Indies is spent upon administration. Will this always need to be so? If the conclusions of the Royal Commission are adopted, we shall be creating another great service which will add to the cost of administration. Shall we be able to pay for these services? The point I am leading up to is that throughout this report there is no definite suggestion of how to create the new wealth which is necessary both to feed the people in the West Indies and to finance the schemes of administration which will be needed. We cannot feed the West Indies out of their own poverty, and I venture to say that this report, admirable as it is in patches, does not see the problem in real perspective and does not face the brutality of the real facts. The West Indies are so poor that they are down to starvation level. I suppose all in the special group in the House who are discussing Colonial affairs know what the term "predial larceny" means. I confess that when I first came across the term I did not know its meaning. It is the stealing of crops, poor people going out into the fields at night to steal food which otherwise they could not obtain, a condition indicating the most abject and miserable poverty; the kind of thing which occurred in this country when men and women went out into the fields in the hungry forties to steal turnips. That is the level of poverty in the West Indies.
Another fact to which sufficient attention has not been drawn, although the report stresses it very definitely, is that there has been in the West Indies, and it is going on now, a very rapid increase in population. The report says that the rapid growth of population has the effect of preventing improvements in various economic and social directions, but, unfortunately, it does not make proposals which are adequate for dealing with that 2195 position. How are these growing populations to be enabled to feed themselves? It cannot be done by the method of putting up the Income Tax or getting an increased subsidy from the Imperial Exchequer. They must produce more food themselves and the only way they can do that is by working with their own resources and their own people. The Commission have various suggestions and one of them is a very good suggestion, but, unfortunately, it comes rather late in what I regard as a somewhat disconnected series of suggestions. They say that the most urgent need of the West Indies is the development of peasant agriculture.
Of course, there is a series of other recommendations, including the appointment of an inspector-general of agriculture, the increase of agricultural research and land settlement, but only on page 24 of the report do we get the suggestion which I think ought to be regarded as the most important in the report. It is that the Government should take powers for the compulsory acquisition of agricultural land needed for land settlement and similar purposes. I am quite prepared to believe that welfare officers and other expert officers will be appointed, and that they will do their work very well, and that this will confer certain advantages on the people of the West Indies, but the only thing which will really cure the evil of the West Indies is that the Government should take compulsorily large amounts of land and put it at the disposal of the West Indian people themselves in order that they may work on that land and grow the food they need.
The insistence upon the growing of export crops is a fundamental error. What should be of first and primary importance—I confess that the Commission certainly agree to this up to a point—is agricultural production from the Africans own holdings for the support of the Africans themselves. We ought to put forward a definite plan of subsistence agriculture for the Africans on a very large scale indeed. We have in the West Indies a considerable territory, and if we take in Guiana and Honduras a still greater territory, with a total population of 2,500,000. It is not an enormous problem and it can be settled, but these people must be able to get on to the land 2196 themselves. The figures quoted by the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mr. Riley) regarding the number in the poor house at Kingston and the number with various tragic allowances are very discreditable indeed, as indicating a condition of poverty in a country where there is a great deal of rich land and a splendid climate and where, with reasonable labour, anything will grow.
Furthermore, we have a situation in the West Indies which is quite different from that in this country. In this country and in some of our Dominions we have to persuade people, with some difficulty, to go on to the land, but the West African, who is the man who is in the West Indies at the present time, is an agriculturist who loves working on the land. When he went to the West Indies, even as a slave, he took his own seeds with him. Some of the crops grown there now and those grown in the Southern States of the United States originated in seeds brought by the original slave population. He worships the land, he loves it, and in his own country he is an indefatigable worker on his own communally-held land. Not long ago I paid a visit of some three months to Nigeria, where the bulk of the population of 20,000,000 are entirely self-supporting on their own communally-owned land, and would not need anything which is imported or any cash—which they get from selling export produce—if they did not have to pay taxes to the British authorities. In parts of Nigeria there is a self-supporting population of a density approaching the density of the population of Belgium supported entirely off the land.
The Africans in the West Indies, who have maintained many of their customs—I am sorry to say they still go in for shifting cultivation—are people who, given the opportunity and the land, would be able to produce all their own food. If we get the West Indian African people on to the land and let them produce everything which they require for themselves, they can do it. Let them grow their own food. Let that be the first principle in the reconstruction of the West Indies, because it will increase their well-being and increase their standard of life, and then there will be a foundation upon which to build. You have the foundation of a healthy population who will be properly fed, and to whom you can apply 2197 the social services which are mentioned in this White Paper. But the first preliminary is that you should have people who are fed and who can provide for themselves and produce new wealth. The prosperity and the improved standard of life of the West Indians should be the foundation of any economic reconstruction of the West Indies. Base your policy on that, and then all the admirable suggestions of this report can be added. Attempt to put into force a policy which you pay for by this expedient of an increased Income Tax, on incomes which will very likely be falling—because your economy is wrongly founded—and by subsidies from the Imperial Exchequer, and you will not get your healthy economic organisation, because you will not get your new creation of wealth.
I also want this new creation of wealth for another reason. I think it is extremely important from the standpoint of world Colonial policy that all the individual citizens of the Colonies should be economically independent, and the Colonies themselves should feel that they really are independent. This is needed as a basis not only for ordinary life but for greater political independence. I was glad to hear an hon. Gentleman opposite say that he looked forward to West Indian federation. I have looked forward to West Indian federation for very many years, and I want West Indian federation to be a federation which will enable the West Indies to take up the status of a Dominion, which I believe they could do at the present time. I think they should be given that status, and that it should be quite clearly laid down that that is the aim which the Government hold before them, with regard not only to the West Indies but with regard to all the Colonial Dominions in the British Empire. But in order to make that political equality of status a reality, you must give their citizens individual economic independence; and the only way you can do that in the West Indies at the present time is, not by tinkering with preferences for sugar—although that may be some alleviation—not by putting up the Income Tax—although that may bring some revenue—but by getting the Africans on to the land and enabling the Africans themselves to create new wealth, and build up from that foundation.
§ 2.18 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for the Colonies (Mr. Malcolm MacDonald)
This House is a superb instrument for the levelling of constructive criticism at the policies of His Majesty's Government, and the critical faculty of the House is customarily as sharp in Colonial Office Debates as it is in Debates on any other question. I readily agree that the criticism which has been offered on the different parts of Colonial policy, both at Question Time and in our occasional Debates, has very often resulted in unsatisfactory positions being righted and the general policy of Great Britain in her Colonial administration being improved. However, although criticism is always present on these occasions, Colonial policy, like other Imperial policy, is a matter which really is raised above ordinary party controversy. There is a great deal of agreement between the different parties in the House on Colonial policy. There is certainly, I think, complete agreement between Members in every part of the House as to what is the main object of our Colonial policy, and that is the steady improvement of conditions, and the promotion of the well-being in the widest sense of the term—physical, mental and moral—of our fellow subjects in the Colonial Empire. I think that this Debate to-day has been conducted in that spirit of complete agreement on the main objectives of our Colonial policy, and of co-operation in trying to pursue that objective.
I would like to thank hon. Members in every part of the House for the spirit of co-operation in which they have addressed themselves to the subjects which have been raised to-day. The greater part of the discussion has been concerned with the report of the West Indies Royal Commission, but two other matters have been referred to in the course of the Debate, and I should like to say a sentence or two about each of them. I hope the hon. Member for North Cumberland (Mr. W. Roberts) will forgive me if I confine myself to a sentence or two, but I understand that it is required that we finish this Debate at a fairly early hour, so that some other discussions may follow, so I shall have to clip my remarks as much as I can. The hon. Member asked me whether I could say anything this afternoon with regard to the discussions I had with M. Mandel, 2199 the French Colonial Minister, last week-end, and particularly whether I could give the House any information about the machinery for co-operation which has been established. I gave an answer to a Question at Question Time this morning which sets out that machinery, and I would ask my hon. Friend if he would ask his hon. Friend to study that answer, and I think he will find that it contains the information which he requires.
The second non-West Indies point was raised, in this case by the hon. Member for Blackburn (Sir W. Smiles), who referred to a question in which I know he is keenly interested, the growing of flax in Kenya. May I say in a sentence that I am extremely anxious to encourage the production of flax in Kenya, and to increase it as far as may be wise during the war? The main difficulty at the moment is to procure seed for sending out to Kenya. We have made certain arrangements about the seed, but it has not been as easy as I had hoped it would be. But I assure the hon. Member that anything that can be done to promote this production during the war will be done by the Colonial Office and by the authorities in the Colony itself.
As I say, the main part of the discussion has been on conditions in the West Indies, as revealed by the recommendations of the Royal Commission. Some hon. Members have referred to the fact that over a number of years—over two or three years at any rate—we have been receiving a series of reports—reports on labour disturbances in two or three Colonies, a report on nutrition in the Colonial Empire, the report of Major Orde-Browne—reports which indicated that conditions in the West Indies were not satisfactory in many respects. I accept that entirely, but I do think it is a disservice to the reputation of this country as a Colonial Power to speak, as some people, perhaps outside this House, are inclined to speak, as though the bad conditions in the West Indies were unique or as though they were much worse in the West Indies than in other parts of the world.
The fact is that the sort of unsatisfactory conditions that prevail in some matters in the West Indies can be discovered in many other countries—I was almost inclined to say all other countries throughout the world. It is a feature of 2200 the stage of social evolution at which human society has arrived that in country after country there are unsatisfactory housing conditions, there are sometimes unsatisfactory conditions of labour, there are inadequate medical and health services, the education system has not been developed to its maximum power; and, for the matter of that, in many countries which are far richer in natural resources than the West Indies are we can find conditions at least as bad as those which have been revealed in these reports. Of course, the condition of things in the West Indies is made much more difficult than it would otherwise be, because the West Indies are comparatively poor. It has been pointed out in this Debate that only one of them has any mineral wealth of any great importance, Trinidad with its oil. Apart from that, the West Indian Colonies have been dependent very largely on agricultural production. Therefore their economic and financial capacity, as well as their social standard in housing, health and so on, has been rendered wry difficult indeed.
I do not say that as an excuse. Nothing that can be said about the West Indies can be accepted as an excuse for complacency about the situation there to-day. We are very far from being complacent about the state of affairs revealed in these reports. Because we felt that, although we were doing a great deal gradually to improve conditions, the pace was not fast enough and that new methods were required in some cases, if conditions were to be improved, as they should be, the Government decided some 18 months ago to appoint a Royal Commission to go into the question. It is not the case that the membership of the Royal Commission was to be—to use the phrase of the hon. Member for Shipley (Mr. Creech Jones)—of a whitewashing character; on the contrary. We deliberately chose members who were distinguished not only for their ability, but for their independence of view. We chose as members of the Commission certain people who could represent the views of each of the three big parties in this House. The Royal Commission was given a completely free hand as to the recommendations it would make. It was given very wide terms of reference, and we did look forward to the Commission making a conscientious and thorough inquiry into all the conditions, social and political. We asked them to 2201 make whatever recommendations they thought were required to tackle the situation properly.
I think we can congratulate the members of the Commission on having done their work with very great thoroughness and in a very constructive spirit. The Government appointed the Commission in that sort of situation and with that kind of view, and pledged themselves before the Commission started that the report and recommendations would not be put into a pigeonhole and forgotten. We pledged ourselves to act to the best of our ability and judgment upon the general recommendations which the Commission would present. Despite the fact that war has intervened and that certain other preoccupations engage our attention, the Government are fully determined to carry out that pledge to the utmost. I think that the West Indies can rest assured on the word of the British Government and on the word of this House that the recommendations will be acted upon energetically and will be faithfully adhered to.
A few weeks ago, in a statement of policy, we gave some indication of the way in which we were going to work. It is a little difficult for me at this date to make any further pronouncement of policy. The Debate is taking place in a sort of interim period. In the course of the statement of policy a few weeks ago we accepted straightaway, and without qualification, some of the most important recommendations of the Royal Commission. We accepted the proposal that there should be a Controller of Development and Welfare for the whole of the West Indian Colonies. We accepted also the important recommendation of which the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mr. Riley) spoke, relating to the appointment of an inspector-general of agriculture for the whole of the West Indian Colonies. Perhaps above all, we indicated clearly that, in our own financial provision for Colonial development and welfare generally, we were allowing for an expenditure in the West Indies which would be the equivalent of the vast expenditure recommended by the Royal Commission.
§ Mr. MacDonald
We are extremely short of time, and I should be glad to go on with my speech, if the hon. Member 2202 will forgive me for not giving way. We have already made a statement accepting three or four of the main recommendations of the Royal Commission. In the statement of a few weeks ago the Government said that the other very varied recommendations were being all taken up with the Governors of the Colonies, and that before we arrived at a decision and made an announcement on those recommendations we should have to have consultations with the Governors. Those consultations are proceeding, but they have not yet been completed. We will, in due course, make an official statement of Government policy on these various matters. At the present moment we are, as I have said, in an interim period between the first statement and the other which is promised for later. Although a great deal of work on preparation and planning is going on in the West Indies, nothing has ripened to the extent of enabling me to make any further statement of policy to-day. Hon. Gentlemen have, therefore, been freer in being able to express their opinions on many of the long-term recommendations of the Royal Commission.
With regard to the establishment of local industries in the West Indies, the extension of the franchise, constitutional changes, the desirability of introducing up-to-date labour legislation in the West Indian Colonies, the question of Income Tax and so on, I would ask to be excused from making any expression of view. They must fall to be dealt with in due course, when the examination of these questions with the West Indian Governors has been completed. I can promise the House that we are losing no time in having a thorough examination of these matters and we shall make a further statement of policy as soon as we possibly can.
In these circumstances I had better content myself this afternoon with answering some of the specific questions which have been put to me. I will simply give a straight answer to straight questions, and if, as I fear, I shall not give answers to all the questions, I promise to look through the Debate again and to write to hon. Gentlemen on points which I shall not be able to deal with in the space of the next 10 minutes. The first question was as regards schemes for spending the £350,000 which, we said in 2203 our White Paper, we were to devote to organisation which would give immediate employment in the area of the West Indian Colonies. Perhaps I might give one or two examples of the schemes which are actually approved since the White Paper and of some which are already in hand. Let me give simply a statement of what is proceeding in Jamaica. We have already approved the expenditure of £82,500 on schemes for swamp filling, clearing land for settlement, road construction, road improvement and cleaning of rivers. Take another case. In British Guiana we have approved an expenditure of £28,125 on reconditioning of drainage. We have approved an expenditure of £7,625 on the reconditioning of roads in that Colony, and of £16,220 on the reconditioning of buildings. This sum of £350,000 spread over the West Indian Colonies will be spent on that kind of constructive work which will help in the well-being of the community as a whole and which will give employment to the people who otherwise would remain out of work.
The second question I was asked was whether the £500,000 a year which is to be spent on various research schemes in the Colonies was available for research in the West Indies. The answer to that is, "Yes." The West Indies will be exactly in the same position as other Colonies in making allocations out of that sum for assistance. I was also asked in regard to the recommendation of the Royal Commission concerning the expenditure of £1,000,000 a year on welfare and development, whether that expenditure would continue for 20 years, and a great deal of importance was attached to that period of 20 years. The hon. Member for Shipley asked whether that recommendation had been accepted, in view of the fact that the statement in the White Paper seemed to indicate that we are committed only to 10 years. The statement in the White Paper is to the effect that we will introduce legislation to provide for the expenditure of £5,000,000 a year on development and welfare for 10 years in the Colonial Empire as a whole, and that statement does refer to this development policy over the whole of the Colonial Empire.
I think hon. Members will agree that it is rather difficult to look ahead more than 2204 10 years in connection with a vast area like that; indeed, perhaps one is being optimistic in looking ahead 10 years, except that I have complete confidence in the fact that there will be a British Colonial Empire not only 10 years hence but for a very much longer period. The fact that this policy is guaranteed for 10 years does not mean that we shall stop the expenditure of money on these works after 10 years. In fact, the statement of policy itself makes it clear in paragraph 9 that the whole question will come up for review towards the end of this 10-year period and that we shall then be able to consider in the circumstances of that day to what extent it should be continued beyond the first 10 years. In this statement there is a very strong implication that it will go beyond 10 years, because the last sentence in paragraph 9 says that so far as concerns the provisions for development and welfare the position will have to be reviewed before the expiry of the initial 10-year period. There is a strong indication there that over the Colonial Empire as a whole this policy will extend beyond the 10years. When one comes to the position of the West Indies in particular there is a double implication that this policy will continue beyond 10 years, because, as the hon. Member has pointed out, we have declared formally that we do accept the recommendations of the Royal Commission generally, that we are anxious to act in the spirit of those recommendations, and, of course, one of the important recommendations is that this assistance shall be spent on a period not of 10 years but 20 years.
Two or three other questions were asked, and I will deal with them as briefly as I can. I was asked whether the Advisory Committee on the welfare and development of the Empire as a whole would have its functions extended to the West Indies as well as to the other parts of the Empire. The answer is "Yes." The Controller of the West Indies, with some £1,000,000 at his disposal, will not be independent of the Advisory Committee. He will send his plans to the Advisory Committee, and they will go through the Advisory Committee in the same way as other matters in connection with the Empire. I was asked when we would set up the Controller to begin work. I would point out that we cannot establish him until we get legislation through Par- 2205 liament, but we are already considering a short list of names of those who might be suitable candidates for the post, and he will be established with his advisers as soon as the situation permits us to do it. Finally, I was asked whether we would accept the recommendation with regard to the establishment of a Labour Advisory Committee in the Colonial Office. I can only say that the recommendation is receiving consideration, but before taking any decision on it one way or the other, I would like to have a chance of consulting my labour adviser, Major Orde-Browne, who at the moment is in the West African territories but who will be back in this country before very long.
I am afraid I have not answered every question that I have been asked—questions dealing with sugar and so on—but I will get in touch with hon. Members who have asked those questions and will give the information. I would only say, in conclusion, that I think this Debate does show again that not only the Government but the whole of this House are committed to carrying out in general the recommendations of the West Indian Royal Commission, and I hope that this Debate will reinforce the impression which has been created in the West Indies that this country will be as good as its word in this matter. I am certain that the Debate will help the Government in getting ahead with this work as rapidly as it possibly can.
§ 2.42 p.m.
§ Mr. Paling (Wentworth)
I understand that time is short, and I will therefore do my best to keep within the time-table. First of all, I would like to say that I, with many hon. Members in this House, particularly hon. Members on this side, were very disappointed at the non-publication of the report. A few weeks ago I happened to be talking with a man interested in Colonial affairs. We were discussing the fact that the publication had not then been made and was a long time in coming, and he suggested that it might be that when the publication was made it would be abridged. I said I should be surprised if it was abridged, but I never dreamed that it would be stopped altogether, that no report would be made and no evidence issued. I dare say that in the minds of the Colonial Secretary and the Government there are good reasons which have made them take this course. They may think so, 2206 but I think it is possible to argue in the opposite direction. It was perhaps the worst thing that could be done that this evidence—I do not think I am using too strong a word—should be suppressed. Some of the facts with regard to the West Indies, of course, are well known now, and I do not think it would have made very much difference if this report had been published, although it may have been bad and may possibly have given some ammunition to our enemies, because it would have given us the background to enable us to understand why these recommendations are being made and would have made us understand the vital necessity for doing something in particular in the West Indies. For that reason I am sorry that it has been thought fit to suppress the report.
Generally speaking, we welcome the recommendations. We think that most of them are on the right lines, and that most of them are in advance of recommendations which have been made by previous Royal Commissions. We are hoping that they will be implemented and will be put into operation, and that a real, drastic attempt will be made to deal with this festering sore in the West Indies. I know that one of the reasons why recommendations of Commissions in the past have not been put into operation has been in some cases lack of money to deal with the recommendations made. There has been a fairly good attempt to overcome that trouble here. A million pounds is to be spent in a year in the West Indies and about £5,000,000 a year in regard to these matters concerned with the Colonies. That should allow something of a fairly substantial nature to be done in overcoming these problems which confront us at the present time. On the other hand, it has become, almost, a custom under which, when Commissions are sent out to investigate troubles that have arisen in various parts of our Empire, their recommendations will be pigeon-holed, and nothing will be done about them. I hope that that will not happen in this case.
These West Indian problems are very old. As long ago as 1865, when trouble occurred in Jamaica, a Royal Commission investigated it, and stated that the evidence which they had taken tended to show that the movement in a great measure was a no-rent movement, aggravated by the fact that there were no rent 2207 laws or tribunals suited for the easy settlement of labour problems. We, on this side, have been pressing on every conceivable occasion for the setting up of machinery which would deal with these recurring labour troubles in the West Indies. A recommendation to that effect was made by the Commission in 1865, and we have only just got to the stage of dealing with it. Something has been done now, but there remains much more to be done in the creation of trade union machinery, so that these people may be enabled to fight their own battles without having to depend on subsidies from this country. It is a fact that poverty in the West Indian Islands is rampant. Wages are low, hours are long, diet is bad, health and medical services are bad, housing is bad, education is terribly deficient; nearly everything making for the welfare of the people is lacking.
I went through Major Orde-Browne's report, and I want to suggest that, for good or ill, you have in the West Indies what might be called a landless proletariat. The land has been taken over, and used for big estates. You have a wage-earning population in Trinidad; you have an industrial population also. A tremendous proportion of the working-class people are dependent on wages. If you want to raise the standard of life among the people and get rid of the troubles that affect them at present, you must find ways of improving the wages of these scores of thousands of men and women. You must also deal with the long hours and with the intermittent labour system, which is very common indeed. Of course, unemployment is rife also. In Jamaica, in the banana and sugar industries, which engage about 60 per cent. of the wage-earning population, wages for labourers are as low as 1s. 6d. to 2s. 6d. per day. Those, I admit, are the lowest rates: skilled labour is much better paid; but the bulk of the labour is unskilled. Conditions are not much better in Trinidad; they are about the same in Barbados; and in some of the lesser islands, they are even worse.
I could read out quotations, which I have here, about nutrition, infantile mortality, and poverty generally and the low standard of life. How can it be otherwise, when the income on which the bulk of the labourers depend is so low? I hope 2208 that the Colonial Secretary will make a real, first-class attempt to deal with this matter, and to improve these wages, so that the people can feed themselves adequately. A great proportion of the people do not get the food which is necessary to keep them in bodily health. In some cases they are badly fed simply because they cannot afford proper food. The diet they have does not provide sufficient nutriment. That arises from their poverty. The same thing applies to their hours of labour, which are abominably long. In the sugar and banana industries, I believe, piece-work is the rule. Even there, hours are long. In the industries where wages are paid by the day, the hours are very long. In the baking industry, men work from 70 to 80 hours a week. A Committee considered this industry, and recommended a week of well over 60 hours. Their excuse was that that would be much better than the hours which are being worked now. In Jamaica, the infantile mortality rate was about 200 in the last year for which we have figures. All this indicates a terrible state of affairs, which must be drastically dealt with, as early as possible.
I was interested, when reading these recommendations, to learn that it is the intention to put as many of these people as possible on the land. It is a pity that they have not had the opportunity before. That is the best thing that can be done, even if it means breaking up the big estates. These people should be taught to grow their own food, and, as the Commission says, to grow a bigger variety of food and to reduce their present dependence on export, which makes their poverty even worse in years when exports are bad. In paragraph 19 the Commission say, with regard to non-agricultural industries, that they do not recommend that the West Indian Governments should finance or conduct speculative industrial enterprises, but that there are certain industrial projects which the Governments might do well to foster, especially a cement works in Jamaica, which might be incorporated with a scheme for the development of local manufactures and local products in Jamaica and elsewhere. I am rather disappointed to see that recommendation. I should have preferred that either the Commission, which is to administer the £1,000,000, or the Government themselves, should experiment in this direction. 2209 Capitalism has had its opportunity in these islands, and, to a great extent, the failure must be laid at the door of capitalism itself. It has gone there for profits. It has exploited the islands and the islanders for the sake of profits. We are paying for it. We are having to find £1,000,000 a year to try to bring some prosperity back to the islands.
That being so, I should have liked the Commission and the Government to face this possibility, whether, in face of the fact that capitalism has had its chance and failed, it was not wise to develop it on other lines and let the Governments themselves develop the Colonies in the interests of the people, and not so much of the white people as the natives. This again is an invitation to the capitalists to come in. I think this is wrong, and I am sorry to see it. It is highly probable that you will not be able to get an overwhelming number of these people on to the land. I want to see as many as can be got there, but the number will be limited, and you will have to trust to industries of some description to employ at least a fair proportion. I should have liked the Government to launch out in this direction and say, "We have tried all this for generations. Capitalism, with its profit making, has had its opportunity and failed. This is the result. Now we have to come in and try to retrieve the situation. We have to spend public money in order to retrieve it and we will take it out of the hands of the capitalists and do it ourselves." There is a growing disposition to do that in this country and for Governments to take these things into their own hands. I do not see why they should not have done the same thing with regard to the West Indies. With regard to trade unions, I hope the Colonial Secretary will give the fullest freedom possible to the people to develop their own trade unions, with all the rights and liberties that we have in this country. In the course of a few years, if they have those rights, that will tend to rectify the low wages position. They have done it in this country, and, if they have the same opportunity, they will do it out there.
I hope the right hon. Gentleman is going to crush the desire of Governors in these Colonies to suppress any attempt on the part of the low wage-working 2210 population to better their conditions. We are always bringing to his notice cases of labour troubles which are suppressed, or meetings which are stopped, and the Administration seems to use its power, not to allow the people to ventilate and remedy their grievances so much as to keep them in the dark. There has been too much of it in the Colonies in the past, and it is operating in the West Indies to-day, in spite of what happened two years ago. Let these grievances be ventilated, and it will teach these people to stand on their own feet. I also want to see them helped in the direction of political facilities. We have adult suffrage and full trade union rights. We ventilate our grievances openly, and very often we get remedies. We have learned to stand on our own feet, and, if it is necessary that these people should stand on their own feet and have full trade union facilities, it is equally necessary that they should have political facilities also. There is no question about their being able to use the vote if they get it. They are as capable of using it as we were when it was first given to the working classes, and they would make just as intelligent a use of it. If the recommendations of the Commission work in these directions, the right hon. Gentleman will find in a few years that he has done one of the best pieces of work he has done in the whole of his administrative experience.