HC Deb 11 March 1942 vol 378 cc1046-8
36. Mr. Sorensen

asked the Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies the percentage increase of wages in Sierra Leone, compared with the increased cost of living; whether he will expedite information from West African Colonies respecting cost of living and increase in wages; whether he will indicate the nature and scope of measures taken by West African Governments for the relief of hardship; and, approximately, how many wage earners exist in the West African Colonies?

Mr. Harold Macmillan

As the information asked for by my hon. Friend necessitates a statement of some length, I will, with his permission, circulate the reply in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

Mr. Sorensen

Does the right hon. Gentleman appreciate that there is still considerable disturbance in the public mind regarding the conditions of the natives in East Africa, and will he speed up the inquiries that are being made regarding the discrepancy between the high cost of living and the low wages?

Mr. Macmillan

Perhaps the hon. Member will read my reply and put down any further Question.

Following is the reply:

The detailed survey made by the Sierra Leone Government, to which reference was made by me in my reply to my hon. Friend's previous Question on the 25th February, was confined to Freetown where it was known that the rise in the cost of living had been exceptionally high. The survey was limited to households whose heads earned less than £3 a month. As stated by me, the Governor has explained that the figure of 75 per cent. rise estimated by the Committee which conducted the survey must be accepted with reserve, owing to the difficulties experienced in securing reliable information from the households from whom information was sought. The difficulties included suspicion of the objects of the investigation, and the tendency of persons who were approached on the one hand to exaggerate their expenditure, and on the other hand not always to disclose full particulars of their income. In this connection I may mention that a profitable source of income at the present time is petty trading, which, on account of the great increase in the prices of native produce, has become a very remunerative sideline in Freetown. The Committee found it very difficult to assess this item. The report concludes by saying that although the increase in the cost of living in Freetown has been extremely marked, the earnings of the average household have increased considerably at the same time, although it is not possible to obtain sufficiently accurate data to determine how large these increases are.

The survey was made in February, 1941, at which time the lowest paid class of Government workers was in receipt of wages of 1s. per day. The Government, after careful consideration of the report, reached the conclusion that a fair bonus would be one at the rate of 5d. per day for such labour. In May, 1941, the basic wage rate for such labourers was raised from 1s. to 1s. 2d. per, day, and the cost of living bonus which was authorised in November, 1941, was consequently fixed on the basis of 3d. instead of 5d. per day. The bonus takes the form of an issue of food to that value or cash in lieu. Other labourers up to and including those earning 5s. 11d. per day receive bonuses ranging between 5d. and 1d. per day.

The answer to the second part of the Question is in the affirmative. With re- gard to the third part, the reply I gave on 25th February indicates the nature and scope of the measures taken and shows that all the West African Governments are fully alive to the necessity for ensuring that hardship arising out of the increased cost of living shall so far as possible be minimised. The position regarding the number of wage earners in West Africa has substantially altered during the war, and reliable statistics of the present number of wage earners are not available.