HC Deb 04 March 1942 vol 378 cc635-8
27 and 28. Mr. Creech Jones

asked the Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies (1) whether African labour in Kenya will be conscripted for use in private European employment; what classes of work Africans will be required to do; whether it is proposed to move Africans from the reserves to work in the European Highlands; whether penal sanctions will operate; what proportion of men will be removed from the native areas; and what arrangements made for their wives and dependants;

(2) whether steps will be taken in Kenya to implement the report of the recent committee which inquired into the question of legal compulsion of African labour; whether compulsory labour will be applied to men and women of European and Indian origin; and what steps have been taken in Kenya to test the alleged shortage of African labour on European farms and to secure the most economic use of the African labour available on the farms?

Mr. Harold Macmillan

I welcome the opportunity which my hon. Friend has afforded me of making a statement on this subject; but as it is of considerable length I will, with his permission, circulate it in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

Mr. Creech Jones

Will the hon. Gentleman keep in mind the importance, in any proposals of this kind, of conforming strictly to the I.L.O. Convention with respect to forced labour, and that no proposals should be adopted which involve discrimination at the expense of the Africans?

Mr. Macmillan

I think it would be better if my hon. Friend would study the statement.

Following is the statement: —

It has proved impossible by normal means to secure sufficient labour in Kenya for the increased production campaign which was launched at the request of the Minister of State in Cairo to assist in providing supplies for the Middle East and so save shipping from the United Kingdom or elsewhere. A Committee, whose membership included one of the members of the Legislative Council representing native interests, the Labour Commissioner and Archdeacon Owen, has examined the figures of a special Labour Census held in December, 1941, and has reached the conclusion that the two main reasons for the present shortage of labour are:—

  1. (1) An expansion of nearly all the major industries with the consequence that more Africans are in employment now than ever before; the figure in 1941 was 40,000 greater than in 1936; and
  2. (2) that a further 47,000 have been absorbed into the Army.

The Committee has unanimously recommended the introduction of a system of compulsory labour for Africans, of which the principal features will be:—

  1. (a) An Essential Undertakings Board to declare what undertakings are essential to the successful prosecution of the war, the defence of the Colony or the maintenance of supplies and services essential to the life of the community. It can be assumed that the cultivation of certain crops in the 637 Highlands will be scheduled as essential.
  2. (b) District Labour Committees, including a representative of the employers and a representative of the employees, to consider applications from persons carrying on essential undertakings for Government assistance in recruiting labour; to gauge the need for the number of Africans applied for and to take into consideration the conditions of life at the place of employment.
  3. (c) Provisional Selection Committees, composed of Africans only, who will select a sufficient number of male Africans of less than 45 years of age to comply with requirements approved by the District Labour Committees. There will be a medical examination. Each labourer selected will attend before the District Officer before beginning work and may enter an objection. The District Officer will co-opt not less than o Elders of the area from which the African has been selected to assist in the disposal of these objections.
  4. (d) District Exemption Tribunals composed of the District Commissioner, one or two European Unofficials, two Chiefs and two members of the Local Native Council to hear appeals on grounds of hardship, including cases where the recruitment of the appellant will cause undue hardship to his family or be detrimental to the economic life of the community.
  5. (e) A Central Wages Board to fix wages, rations and tasks for conscripted labour in each District on the basis of recommendations made by the District Labour Committees. The conditions of service laid down by the Board will also apply to any voluntary labour working for an employer of conscripted labour.
  6. (f) A minimum period of service of 84 days and a maximum period of 12 months. After 4, 8 or 12 months of employment a labourer will be exempt from further employment for 1, 2 or 3 months respectively.
  7. (g) Penalties:
    1. (1) for employers failing to comply with terms or conditions attached to the employment of conscripted Africans; and
    2. (2) for employees wilfully failing to comply with the provisions of a notice 638 or of any lawful order, of £5 and/or two months' imprisonment. (The penalty is the same for employers and employees. But it will be appreciated that it is likely that employees would be concerned with only single offences and employers with offences in regard to batches of employees, each of which offences would be punished separately.)

These proposals have been approved by the Secretary of State. It is understood that the immediate shortage of labour for agriculture is in the neighbourhood of 22,500, but it may not be necessary to recruit up to the full extent of the shortage.

The Governor has powers to call upon all British subjects or British protected persons between 18 and 50 to perform compulsory service. These powers have been, and will be, exercised in regard to non-Africans as necessity arises.

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