§ 11.22 a.m.
§ Mr. Walter Fletcher (Bury)
It has been very noticeable during this short Session that there have been a large number of speeches about Malaya and questions about Malaya—a great number of questions. Last Wednesday week the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, in the long statement that he made, included several remarks about Malaya. These were in reply to several questions asked from these benches. Then we had the rather extraordinary spectacle of the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster coming in, and with great levity and with no sort of knowledge saying, "Oh, these matters will all be looked into," and refusing to answer in more than about two sentences the questions which had been asked. It is that sort of levity, that sort of way of handling Malayan questions by Ministers, that has provided the series of shocks for ourselves here and for others in many parts of the world and led to the Government's noticeable failure in matters connected with Malaya.
However, the whole question has been raised to an entirely different level by the statement of the Foreign Secretary 1240 and I shall quote one or two passages from his speech. Referring to some remarks made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden), he said:The right hon. Gentleman was nearer to accuracy when he said that throughout the whole of South-East Asia there is a Cominform and Communist plan to eliminate from that territory every Western association of trade and of everything else …I would remind him that this problem has been in existence ever since the Marxist-Leninist theory was adopted. It has existed not only in Malaya but elsewhere.A clear indication that the Government knew and were aware that this was a Communist move. Then he went on:It is quite true that His Majesty's Government have known for some time that this policy on the part of the Communists of the world was working, but no one knew exactly in what form or where it was going to break out. Even if we suppress it in Malaya, as we shall, it may break out in Africa or somewhere else tomorrow.It seemed to me that that particular statement had a sign of weakness in it, a sign of hopelessness and despair, as though the right hon. Gentleman—following history—had stopped up with his finger a great flow of water about to burst through the dam and found he had not enough fingers for the job. He went on rather surprisingly:I think that the way in which His Majesty's Government have tackled the Malayan position does great credit to them."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th September, 1948; Vol. 456. c. 91–93.]I note that here, according to the OFFICIAL REPORT, the hon. Member for Bury interjected the word "Nonsense," with which I entirely agree.
It is established by these quotations quite clearly that the whole aspect of this problem has changed. Hitherto, a great many of us thought that it might not be entirely a Communist problem. We thought it might be a spasmodic outbreak of lawlessness following the disturbance of the war. But who should be more acquainted with the facts on Communist methods than the Foreign Secretary, and who can speak with greater authority than the Foreign Secretary? How can we contradict him? I thought at first that he was looking for a neat exit for himself and his friends from the troubles of Malaya a sort of Malayan rope trick, throwing the Communist rope high into the sky, saying "Gentlemen, this is Communism," and then climbing 1241 up it with agility to disappear in a cloud of verbiage at the top. But the right hon. Gentleman said that it is an old-established thing.
Mr. Malcolm MacDonald used the word "insurrection" in the first week of August, altering the whole status of the movement, and calling for further action and new legal powers. Why did he say that? Let us examine the reasons he had in his mind. At the end of the war Indonesia was one of the greatest scenes of unrest, and it was our troops who finally reconquered part of Indonesia. We sent an observer there, a mediator, in the person of Lord Killearn, who did excellent work. That unrest spread across the Straits of Malacca. As I have pointed out in the last few years, there was a Communist movement which associated itself with the nationalist movement in Indonesia, for which a great many Members had some sympathy. That is the well-known Communist technique. How often has the entry of the Communist wolf been made in Socialist sheep's clothing?
Communists associate with a movement which, in itself, may have great merit, and for which a great many people have sympathy, and then, gradually, and by methods we all know, they turn that movement into something very different. We saw it from 1945 onwards in the perfectly good example in Indonesia, close to Malaya. We saw all that was happening. We knew it perfectly well in Malaya. I went to Malacca in the past year to address a meeting and study the movement. We knew this thing in Indo-China, where Viet Nam has changed its character very largely from what it was originally. We have seen it in China for years since the days of Borodin. In Burma, the warnings were sounded from this side of the House. A new Government was set up there which contained men who had been actively engaged against this country in the war. That was the "Come-on" sign to the Communists in Burma. We observed in Indonesia; we contributed in Burma; and we connived in Malaya. We connived by failing to take action in time—the quite simple action that anybody who knew anything about the situation knew was absolutely necessary.
What did happen? Let us go back to Malaya after the re-occupation, re- 1242 membering always that it was a re-occupation not by force of arms: it was a re-occupation caused by bombs dropped in Japan. Therefore, in the eyes of the local inhabitants there was something rather "phoney" about it. We were forced out by Japanese arms, but came back through what might have seemed to the local inhabitants the result of some "under the counter" arrangement. To what did we devote our main efforts in Malaya after the re-occupation? We erected a fine democratic constitution. We started it; then we had to alter it; it went through its growing pains. Admirable as it was in itself, was that really the first thing to set about doing in the country? Was not the first thing to do to ensure law and order? That certainly was not done.
We knew perfectly well when we went back there that there was a considerable quantity of arms in the country introduced by ourselves. We had trained men to use those arms. There was Force 136. I was attached to it from its inception in India. That Force took the risk of sending the first men over to Malaya, in Dutch submarines; and risked boarding native fishing boats in the Straits of Malacca and so at last landed in Malaya; we would hear nothing of them for months; and they got wireless contact with men in Malaya who were carrying on with the Resistance. The commander of that Force, Colin Mackenzie and his assistants have not been properly rewarded, nor has their work been recognised. But what has happened? Everybody says now that that work was the root and cause of the present troubles—quite wrongly.
I should like to ask one or two specific questions on that, taking always as the background the Foreign Secretary's statement that this was a big Communist movement, and that, therefore, everybody concerned should have been particularly alert and particularly on the watch to stop the small, insidious beginnings which grow so rapidly in a country like Malaya. May I ask if there was a round-up of arms and dangerous men? There were many of the officers of Force 136 and other organisations of that sort who were left in Malaya. Were they consulted? Was a real effort made to seize arms which were known to be in the country? Was there not, on the contrary, a great 1243 deal of complacency because the arms were not used immediately, and did not fear of that danger die down too easily, because too much attention was being devoted to constitution-making? What about rapid demobilisation of local Forces, including police forces, and their under-payment?
Let us come to the question of the police. Were the police armed and reinforced in time, when these dangers began to make themselves apparent? I have seen in the local Press, and have been informed from local sources, that His Majesty's Government did at the beginning of this year, before this had taken on its present magnitude with the power which is behind it, offer to the local authorities a large number of Palestine Police, and they were refused. Is that so or not? I hope to have an answer to that later in the Debate. Were arms, which were easily available here, sent out, and, if so, when? We have had very vague phrases by the right hon. Gentleman that now big quantities of arms have been sent; that now the police are being reinforced. We were given considerable figures. The point is, when? Now we are in for an expensive cure when we could have had a less expensive prevention. That is the onus of the charge we are bringing against the Government.
Was anything done about the secret societies and the fact that Malaya was being used as a fighting ground between the Communist and anti-Communist Chinese? Was anything done about that? Was any notice taken of the Communist organisation in Siam? The Soviet Embassy in Siam has swollen and increased to a size which cannot be necessary for the justified activities of an embassy. Quite the opposite. There were obvious sources from which a great deal of Communist activity was being poured into Malaya, in trained men, arms, gold and everything else. Was anything done about that, while we were always receiving the sort of complacent statement that His Majesty's Government had tackled the Malayan position with great credit to themselves?
We come now to an even more difficult and ticklish question. Not long ago we were paying justified tribute to Sir Edward Gent, that devoted public 1244 servant, who gave in the armed Civil Service many years of his life to public service, and who worked extremely hard in a most selfless and disinterested way. Having paid that tribute, we must ask this question: Why was it he came back? Was there disagreement? Was it because action had been taken here which he could not accept, or was it that such action had been taken there? We are entitled to know. I have been informed this morning, on the best possible authority, that one of the reasons why he was coming home was because the measures for which he had asked authority to bring into action against Communism in various forms had been refused him by the Colonial Office—that "valley of indecision."
Is that a correct charge or not? It is very important that the House and the country should be told. May I say en passant that there is one thing in which all Members would join with me, and that is in wishing well to the new officer who is taking on the appointment. Sir Henry Gurney who is going out, has accepted a task which he knows is onerous, difficult, probably thankless and most certainly dangerous. One thing which we can all be unanimous about is that he has from this House our very best wishes for carrying out his difficult task, and the certainty that he will receive the fullest possible support in any measures which he may wish to take, to grasp and grapple with the appalling problems which he has before him.
I shall want replies to these questions. There are many others which were put in previous Debates still awaiting replies. I will come later to one of the economic questions. I had hoped to omit it together, but owing to the extreme woolliness of the statement made by the Secretary of State for Colonies on Wednesday, I shall have to come to the insurance question later. Meanwhile, knowing what the situation was, were extradition orders brought in? Were they used? Or was there any difference between the Governor of Kuala Lumpur and the Governor of Singapore on the use of extradition?
Has this difficulty arisen as one of the effects of the new constitution on which so much time has been spent during the last three years? There were differences of opinion between the two Governors 1245 on this. Even today, there is a difference of opinion on a number of points. The Governor of Singapore has quite recently pointed out that insurrection may seep into Singapore. He may have to take certain powers which he has not taken up to date. One curious effect of the whole constitution which has had its effect on this Communist impelled movement has been the exclusion of Singapore and Penang from the Federation of 600,000 to 700,000 Chinese. Was not that a hot-bed for breeding malcontents—fodder for Communists to take over everywhere?
We have seen this morning how grave the situation may become from the news in the stop-press that a Communist insurrection of a major order has broken out in Java itself. That certainly does not throw a very much more rosy glow on the situation in Malaya than there was before. We want answers to these questions, and we also want to know when something is going to be done, so that we can have at least put an end to the ridiculous situation in which the Singapore mind and the Kuala Lumpur mind remain apart; the Singapore officials thinking one thing and the Kuala Lumpur officials thinking another thing, with clashes and delay. That provides one of the greatest dangers of all—the slow-motion functions of democracy compared with the quick action taken by the Communists. That is always dangerous, because it sets up in mens' minds the idea that democracy may not work quickly enough in present situations. The greatest monument erected to the efforts of the right hon. Gentleman is that on the causeway between Johore and Singapore there is a Customs post. At this moment, to be erecting customs barriers between countries where they did not exist before, instead of knocking them down, seems to be a curious commentary on the Government's efforts in Malaya.
Let us turn to something infinitely more serious. I think that it will be up to the Government to show whether they really did take the necessary action in time to stop this menace growing into what it now is; whether, realising the Communist peril and that it was the backdoor to all the European countries where Communism is a danger, including this country, that peril was taken seriously enough, 1246 and whether the police were reinforced and rearmed in time.
Let us examine what is happening at the present moment. I believe that there is an extremely dangerous complacency on the Government's part in feeling that they have solved the problem by sending a Guard's Brigade, even if the men have only had six months training, as we were told in the Debate yesterday. This cannot bring about an early or easy solution. The men need training in jungle warfare; they need special equipment and medical protection. Anyone who has taken part in that sort of campaign knows that. Inner lines of communication are an enormous advantage and the Communists will not be stopped until something happens of which there is no sign at the moment—until the people in the Malayan towns and villages are willing to give us information, whether to representatives of the military or civil authorities, as to what is happening in their area, where arms and men are being hidden, and whether a man who is possibly working as a trader is not, in fact, head of a local gang. Until this is done we shall not clear up this serious menace, however many troops we sent out.
At present, it is obvious that the man in the street in Malaya does not think that we are on the winning side. Recently, the High Court of Appeal in Kuala Lumpur increased the sentence on those who refused to assist His Majesty's Government and their representatives out there. That is most significant. The local people do not see us with sufficient forces, they do not believe there is sufficient hardness of purpose and ruthlessness behind our Armed Forces there, who must learn to throw the bomb before it is thrown at them.
That belief arises very largely from one thing: final responsibility is undoubtedly with the Colonial Secretary. I compare him best with something that most of us have forgotten and only dream about—a pre-war chocolate, smooth and sweet on the outside but soft centred. There is a soft centre of kindliness and good will in the Minister which, nevertheless, is entirely out of place when we have to deal with the lawlessness and banditry of those who disguise themselves in a nationalist movement, or any other 1247 movement which suits them for the moment. We have been told, and shall be told probably, of the impressive number of police on the job, and about the troops, whom we can ill spare at present, who have been sent to Malaya. The cost of all this is being laid on the shoulders of Malaya, and there is strong feeling about it. We take dollars from Malaya to buy food and raw materials for ourselves. If she could keep her dollars she would have an enormous advantage, yet we saddle this cost on her before the war damage and insurance payments following the recent war have begun to be paid.
We are putting this enormous new burden on to Malaya to meet something which is part of the resistance to the general Communist effort against the rest of the world. This is entirely unjust on the part of His Majesty's Government. It is important to realise the economic disaster which would follow in Malaya, and the even greater spread of the Communist menace which would follow, if the supply of tin and rubber ceased altogether. It would be a major disaster from every point of view. That may occur if this continuous vacillation and weakness is continued.
What has happened on the question of insurance? The Minister knows that this question of whether people in Malaya are insured or not arose following a speech by Mr. Malcolm MacDonald, in which he used the word "insurrection." This led people to think that they were not covered by insurance, and the matter was taken up with the Government five or six weeks ago. It was asked that cover should be given by the Government for a proper premium, and that that cover should be retrospective. I believe it was favourably considered here, but when it was sent back to Malaya the danger was not realised, as has happened so frequently in these matters, and a reply was received from the local authorities that it was not really necessary. However, the matter was sent back here again and we heard yesterday that there had been some advance. I liken that to a cinema designed to provide the maximum number of emergency exits. Is it likely that any commercial firm taking 1248 the maximum risk without cover will continue to do so unless a rapid and swift conclusion to this problem is reached?
Before we rise today let the right hon. Gentleman, who knows I am speaking on behalf of all associations which have anything to do with Malaya—the large and small producer and the man in the street—say "Yes, we will underwrite this risk but details are not yet complete. We will underwrite as from the 12th July, when a state of emergency was declared locally. We will do it from then so that everybody will know where he is." If the right hon. Gentleman does not do this he will open the door to further Communist activity. It will be said that nobody is insured, and that this will be just the moment to disrupt the economic machine which, as the Foreign Secretary said, is the Communists' objective.
The Communists will think that they need only light a few fires, throw a few bombs and destroy a few houses and the whole machine will be wrecked because the Government have not covered the insurance. The right hon. Gentleman can do this if he will abandon his policy of vacillation. If he will do it and say that from a certain date it will be done, he will begin to redeem himself in the eyes of a great many people. But if he puts up the usual argument, with all its escape clauses sticking out a mile, our present opinion of him will be confirmed.
It is not for our own sake, even to reestablish our prestige, that Malaya is important. Its importance has been spotlighted by the Foreign Secretary. In the whole of the Far East the only possible place in which there can be a steady platform, and based on which there can be reconstructed once again a decent order of things, is Malaya. It is not for our sake alone, but also for the sake of those responsible in Indonesia, China, Burma and Siam that a supreme effort and good example must be produced in Malaya. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will give a clear cut reply to these questions, especially about insurance, and will declare with infinitely more conviction and firmness than has been shown in the past that the Government are determined to stamp out Communism in Malaya to push it back visibly in the eyes of the world from the areas into which it has penetrated.
§ 11.50 a.m.
§ Mr. Awbery (Bristol, Central)
I listened carefully while the hon. Member for Bury (Mr. W. Fletcher) analysed the position in Malaya. He appeared to attribute most of the trouble to the Communists, and he asked for concerted action by the Government in putting down the insurrection. I would remind the hon. Member that there were Communists in Malaya prior to and during the war and that action could not be taken against that Communist Party or against any individual Communist as long as their behaviour was legal. During the war, those Communists contributed to the work of fighting against the Japanese.
§ Mr. Awbery
Yes, we armed them. We dropped arms to them, and also officers to help to train them. The hon. Member for Bury complains that the men who are in possession in Burma at the present time fought against us during the war, but the Communists in Malaya fought with us in the war. I do not want to justify the action of these Communists at the present time in creating an insurrection. I am trying to point out that the Government could not have taken action against the Communists until the Communists did something which was illegal. Immediately the insurrection started and the Communists began illegal tactics, the Government took action against them in order to suppress the insurrection.
As I listened to the hon. Member I thought he might say something about the human element in Malaya, about the workers, but he said practically nothing about them. He talked about the levity of hon. Members on this side of the House when discussing the position in Malaya during the past week, but I contradict that. Hon. Members on this side of the House take a serious view of the position in Malaya and are doing what they can not only for the people who have their money invested in tin and rubber, but for those who are employed in the industries in Malaya.
At the present time there are three ways of governing Malaya and I want to say a word or two about each of them. The first method is that which has been adopted by capitalists in the past. May I call it the method of benevolent 1250 imperialism? The second method is the totalitarian, which the insurrection is endeavouring to establish. The third method is the democratic, which His Majesty's Government are trying to pursue at the present moment. The capitalists, represented by the party opposite, have been in Malaya for many years, endeavouring to carry out their policy and their principles. The Tory Party in this House have always been true to type, character, and nature, in defending the capitalist system, whether in Malaya, in this country, or anywhere else in the world.
§ Mr. W. Fletcher
The hon. Member really must not make statements which are entirely contrary to the fact. Time and time again I, and other hon. Members besides myself, have stated that the main production in Malaya is native production and have spoken on behalf of the native, urging that the native should get the fullest possible protection.
§ Mr. Awbery
If the hon. Member for Bury had allowed me to develop my argument he would have seen that I was coming to the question of the native planter, the man who has a small plantation and has to sell his rubber to a local broker. There is great dissatisfaction not only among the workers in Malaya, but among smallholders who are unable to sell their rubber or to make a decent living.
§ Mr. Fletcher
The firm for whom I work exports native rubber more than anything else, and I therefore deny absolutely what the hon. Member says. I will give him proof, that 90 per cent. of the natives who dealt with the firm before the war have come back to them and deal with them again. That is a much greater proof than any thing the hon. Member has said, which was entirely untrue. The price we pay is within one-sixteenth of a penny of the price in London or Singapore.
§ Mr. Speaker
I would remind hon. Members that we are a long way behind time and that if we are to get in the last Adjournment Debate, hon. Members must be fairly short with their speeches.
§ Mr. Awbery
Yes, Mr. Speaker. I repeat that, from my information the smallholders in Malaya are dissatisfied. If the hon. Member for Bury will read a book 1251 published by the London School of Economics about the rubber industry he will know something about it. The hon. Member emphasised a point about the American dollars we are getting from Malaya. I suggest that the hon. Member and the firm that he represents are not concerned so much with American dollars as with the dollars they are receiving in profits and dividends from the various concerns. His party has consistently defended such people. I hope hon. Members on this side of the House will be as loyal and faithful to the people they represent as are hon. Members opposite.
I will cut short my remarks on your suggestion, Mr. Speaker, in regard to the method followed in governing Malaya in the past. We cannot go back to it. Developments in the world will not allow us in Malaya or anywhere else to go back to conditions which existed there prior to the war. If we cannot go back, we must go forward.
I would say now a word about the methods suggested, and sought to be adopted, by the insurgents. They had an anti-Japanese army. We heard something about it during the week. That army fought strenuously in the jungle against the Japanese. It has now become not only anti-Japanese, but anti-Government, anti-European, anti-capitalist and anti-democratic. That is the reason why we cannot agree to the work of the insurgents. They are men who, after the war, tried to capture the local trade union movement and use it to establish their principles in Malaya. The Government in Malaya prevented that from happening. True to type and to method, those men turned their attention from legal methods of achieving power for the trade union movement, to insurrection. Then the Government had to step in. At the beginning of my speech I praised these Communists who worked for us during the war. Now I condemn them for the action they are taking at the present time. It resembles the strategy of Communist parties all over the world, in Germany and elsewhere. They try infiltration. When infiltration fails they try force. They have done this in Malaya—infiltration, intimidation and then insurrection.
Whenever I hold meetings in the country Communist questions are put to me about our action in Malaya and the im- 1252 prisonment of trade unionists. The Communists are giving close attention to Malaya, because it is a dollar producing country and because they want to strike at the economic roots of this country. They have flung down a challenge to the Government. The Government have had to take it up and to defend their position in Malaya. I think the Government are doing the right thing. We must not forget, however, that we may drive the insurrectionists underground. We want to do something better than that. We want to drive them up, and that can only be done by establishing something which is better than the totalitarian method.
Now I come to the third method, the one which should be adopted in Malaya. The policy of His Majesty's Government is democratic with regard not only to the 2 per cent. of Europeans in Malaya, but with regard to all the Malayans, Chinese and Indians who are in Malaya. We have to recognise the trend of events in the whole of the world, when we are carrying out this development. Our task is not only to drive out the guerilla forces, but to introduce in their place a true and real democracy as quickly as possible. The driving out of the insurgents must be followed by the righting of the wrongs of the workers in the industries concerned and the smallholders. We must tell the Malayans that the ultimate object of this Government is not the exploitation of tin and rubber but the establishment of self-government for the people as quickly as possible. We must be careful that we do not substitute an imperialism of a benevolent type for one of a totalitarian type. We can only destroy the insurgents and remove banditry by putting something better in their place.
The first task of the Government then is to destroy banditry and establish democracy. This is being done by the establishment of the Governments in Singapore and Kuala Lumpur. I had hoped that the time was not far off when Malaya would be considered a part of the peninsula. That will come. A start has been made. When I was in Singapore some time ago elections were taking place for six members of the Constituent Assembly. That is not very much but it is a step in the right direction and I hope that in a very short time the whole of the Constituent Assembly will be elected by the people of Singapore. No 1253 member in Malaya is elected in a democratic manner. I hope that this principle will be applied also to the Constituent Assemblies in Malaya and Kuala Lumpur and that they will be elected by the people. It is up to the Government to do whatever they can to end the present system and to build up something better in its place.
§ 12.3 p.m.
§ Mr. Keeling (Twickenham)
With your approval, Mr. Speaker, I will now take the Debate from Malaya to the Gold Coast, where there has also been trouble. I understand that the Secretary of State will reply about both countries a little later. Last winter there were riots in Accra and other places, with the result that 29 people were killed and 200 injured and an estimated £2 million of property was destroyed. A Commission of three was sent out in March. The hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) suggested at the time that the Commission should consist of trade unionists. I do not know whether the Government paid close attention to the hon. Member's proposal, but they were not entirely put off by it, because one member of the Commission was an ex-official of the Transport and General Workers' Union. The chairman of the Commission was a K.C. who had been a Labour candidate. The third member was the Rector of Lincoln. They reported at the end of July and simultaneously the views of the Government on their Report were published.
§ The Secretary of State for the Colonies (Mr. Creech Jones)
May I interrupt to say that I had absolutely no knowledge as to the politics of the chairman or that he had been a Labour candidate?
§ Mr. Keeling
I was merely stating it as a fact. I thought it would interest the House to know the antecedents of the members of the Commission. The terms of reference to the Commission were wide. They were asked to report not only on the disturbances, but on their underlying causes, and to make recommendations. The terms were so wide that the Commission could not possibly exceed them, nor did they; and the proposals they made ranged far and deep. However, many of them were very strongly criticised by the Government in its statement. It must be rare for His Majesty's 1254 Government to make such trenchant strictures on a child to which it has given birth. I cannot help feeling that the Government must now regret that the Commission did not include one member at least with a longer experience of the Colonies than any of the members possessed.
One very satisfactory thing about the Report is that the Commission exonerate the Police and the Governor. Indeed, they praise the Police and the Government for the manner in which they dealt with the disturbances. Their only criticism was of an emergency regulation which denied any right of access to the courts by the six politicians who were removed from Accra. I have no time to deal with that point now. The hon. Member for North Dorset (Mr. Byers) announced his intention fully six months ago of raising the matter on the Adjournment. I hope he will do so, because a very important constitutional problem is involved.
While the Commission praise the Colonial Government, they severely castigate the working committee of the so-called United Gold Coast Convention. They say that this committee was inspired by an African named Nkrumah, a Communist who avowed his aim to be revolution and the setting up of a Union of West African Socialist Soviet Republics. The Commission say:The working committee were eager to seize power, were indifferent to the means they used, and were active in promoting agitation and in exploiting every form of complaint likely to inflame and incite the populace or calculated to weaken orderly administration.These are serious charges, and the Government of this country seem to have accepted them as well-founded. I therefore ask: Are criminal proceedings to be taken against these men? If not, they will certainly be encouraged to think that violence pays. The strange thing is that the very people who fomented the disturbances were the people on whom the Commission partly relied in framing their proposals for constitutional change.
I now come to those proposals. The Commission blame the 1946 Constitution, which they say was regarded by educated Africans as mere window-dressing. The Government, on the other hand, say that that is an entirely wrong view. They point out that the 1946 Constitution, for 1255 the first time in African colonial history, gave the Legislature an unofficial majority, an elected majority, and an African majority. The Gold Coast was singled out to be the pioneer of political advance. So far from being regarded as window-dressing, the 1946 Constitution was hailed with enthusiasm by the people. I can testify to that from personal experience. After the Commission had been in force for fully six months I was a member of a Parliamentary delegation which went to the Gold Coast. To the best of my knowledge, we did not hear a single word of criticism of the 1946 Constitution. The Government take the matter to a later date, because they say that for the two years between the introduction of the Constitution and the time of the riots no demands were made for further constitutional reform.
In paragraph 118 of their Report the Commission disclaim the intention of drafting a Constitution, but they proceed to do so in two-and-a-half closely printed pages. One of their principal proposals is that a Cabinet of nine Ministers responsible to the Legislative Council should be set up and that five of the nine should be Africans. The Government in their statement have accepted this proposal, subject to discussion locally, and with the reservation that they think these nine people should be called not Ministers but members of the Executive Council. However, even before the local discussion takes place they have offered that two African members of the Executive Council shall be responsible for a group of departments. I understand that when this proposal was put before the Legislative Council a few days ago it was not accepted. Now of course it is right that Africans should sit on the Executive Council if qualified men can be obtained, but surely before introducing a Cabinet system it would be better to give the constitution, set up only two years ago, a longer trial. I hope that the Committee in the Gold Coast which is to consider the Commission's proposals will come to the same conclusion.
I now want to say a word about the chiefs. The Commission propose that a radical change should be made in the position of the chiefs, but they do not make any definite proposals. The Government strongly criticise this suggestion of the Commission, and they point out that the 1256 members spent most of their time in the towns and not enough in the rural areas; in other words they listened too much to the intelligentsia. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] The Parliamentary delegation to which I have referred, unlike the Commission, spent more of its time in the country and less in Accra, and I for one was impressed with the wise leadership of the chiefs. I think we all found everybody we met—the chiefs, tribesmen and townsmen—most delightful people to talk to. But the tribesmen would be lost without their chiefs. To undermine their authority and push them into the background would, in my opinion, shatter the foundations of African economic and social life and would not promote but would retard progress.
Of course the desire of the intelligentsia to weaken the position of the chiefs is understandable. The Commission are quite frank about this. They say,We have no reason to suppose that power in the hands of a small literate minority would not be used to exploit the illiterate majority.Those are the words of the Commission. Of course it may be asked, are not these chiefs autocratic and irresponsible? The answer is most emphatically, no. Among the Gold Coast tribes sovereignty lies in the people themselves, who elect and can depose their chiefs. One head chief has said, "When you are installed as a chief you become the humble servant of the State." Finally, do not let us forget that during the war it was the chiefs who rallied their people on the side of the Allies at a time when the Gold Coast was surrounded on three sides by the Colonies of Vichy France. I certainly consider that we ought to think twice before we weaken the authority of the chiefs.
Far and away the most pressing problem in the Gold Coast today is not the constitution, or the disturbances, but the swollen shoot disease of the cocoa tree; and the mealy bug which carries the virus is a far more important animal at the moment than any Communist or other politician. Unfortunately, the politicians do not recognise this fact. It has been estimated that this disease, if unchecked, will in 20 years destroy the whole cocoa industry, which before the war furnished 98 per cent. of the agricultural exports of the Gold Coast. It is mainly because of this disease that those exports have 1257 fallen in eight years from 300,000 to 200,000 tons. What is to be done? Scientists are agreed that only one remedy has yet been found, and that is to cut out the diseased trees. The Government, accepting this opinion, took powers to cut out compulsorily, and last year, 1947, they began to use them.
Unfortunately, the cutting out was strongly opposed. That was partly due to ignorance and partly, I regret to say, to political agitation in which Dr. Danquah, who is called by the Commission "the doyen of Gold Coast politicians" and who, incidentally, was one of the six gentlemen removed from Accra after the disturbances—took a leading part. I have here a recent issue of the "West African Review" in which he has an article entitled "This nonsense of swollen shoot." These politicians have spread malicious and lying stories. For instance, they have said that the United Africa Company wants to see the cocoa industry of the Gold Coast ended because they are planting cocoa trees in East Africa. Not only have malicious stories been spread but there has been violence. Stones have been hurled at Government inspectors and working parties, with the result that last April the Government threw in its hand. They suspended compulsory cutting out and are still suspending it. The result is that although there is some voluntary cutting out, the disease is gaining ground rapidly. Today 40 million trees are believed to be infected, which is 10 per cent. of the total, and the rate of infection is about 15 million trees a year. It seems to me that the estimate that the whole industry may be destroyed in 20 years is, if anything, rather optimistic.
It is most regrettable that the Government have given way to clamour and suspended the operation of the law. Compulsion ought to be resumed, without waiting for the report of the U.N.O. experts who have been called in; and the police ought to be reinforced to any extent necessary, in what is a matter of life or death for the Gold Coast. The longer the delay, the more trees will have to be cut down and the greater will be the difficulty of enforcing compulsion. Last July, in this House, the Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies made this remarkable statement. 1258Unless the inhabitants of the Gold Coast will agree … to a big cutting-out campaign, … most of the trees on the Gold Coast will go, … one can imagine what a bar of chocolate will Cost…"[OFFICIAL REPORT. 8th July, 1948; Vol. 453, c. 702.]If one wants to consider the effect on Great Britain of letting the swollen shoot disease go unchecked, surely the loss of dollars—for cocoa, like rubber, is a great dollar-earner—is far more important than the price of a bar of chocolate. But it would have been more appropriate if the Under-Secretary had spoken of the disastrous effect of inaction on the whole economy of the Gold Coast, on the very existence of the people.
Of course compulsion should go hand in hand with persuasion and propaganda. The increased compensation approved last week is all to the good, but unfortunately its announcement coincided with an announcement of a higher price for cocoa. I do not say that was wrong, but obviously it acts as a deterrent to cutting down diseased trees which may yield one or two more crops.
The Commission say a great deal about economic grievances, which I think were probably a far greater cause of the disturbances than political grievances. I have no time to deal with all their suggestions; I mention only one. The Commission advocate the development of secondary industries, partly in order to furnish employment for ex-Service men, who were prominent in the disturbances. That reinforces the plea I made in this House a few months ago for the encouragement of West African furniture-making. It is excellent furniture. What prevents a big increase in its production? The answer is the Board of Trade. The Board of Trade prohibit the importation of any furniture which is better than British utility furniture and, as West African furniture is much better than British utility furniture, in effect that Board of Trade rule is a ban on the import of West African furniture. In that Debate I asked when the Colonial Office were going to take up the cudgels on behalf of West Africa in this matter. It is idle for the Colonial Secretary to say, as he has said, that the economic development of the Colonies is inherent in our principle of trusteeship, if he allows the Board of Trade to betray that trust in the supposed interests—I think the mistakenly supposed interests—of 1259 British manufacturers. I believe the Colonial Secretary agrees with me, and I ask him to say today what he is going to do about it.
§ 12.22 p.m.
§ Mr. Corlett (York)
As a representative of a cocoa constituency I am naturally very grateful to the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Keeling) for raising this serious question. He has covered the ground so thoroughly and we are so pressed for time, that all I need to do is to stress the need for a much greater sense of urgency on the part of the Colonial Office in dealing with this problem, not merely in the interests necessarily of chocolate consumers, nor of manufacturing interests, nor because of the great dollar earning capacity of cocoa since the war that is admittedly very great—but in the interests of the natives of the Gold Coast themselves. The major industry of the Gold. Coast is the cocoa industry, and unless something is done to control quickly this swollen shoot disease the Gold Coast is heading for ruin very fast indeed.
I have read and discussed and studied very carefully the reports of scientists on this swollen shoot disease, and I now accept quite readily their statement that there is no other known remedy for dealing with this disease than to cut out the diseased trees. I accept that now quite readily after having been very critical about it. But it is naturally very hard to convince the natives of that. Many and varied attempts have been made to convince them but they are still unconvinced, and I do not think we shall get any further if we adopt the suggestion of the hon. Member for Twickenham of merely reintroducing compulsory cutting of diseased trees, for that would probably lead to violent disturbances.
We have to do something more than that to carry the natives along with us, and I therefore make two suggestions to the Colonial Secretary which I feel merit his serious consideration. First, I think he should expedite the journey of the three experts who have been nominated by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation so that they may go to the Gold Coast and investigate and report quickly. I do not think that is going to be easy. It is not easy to get three 1260 distinguished busy scientists from different parts of the world to find a mutually convenient date to go to the Gold Coast. If it is found impossible to get them out very quickly, I suggest that the Colonial Secretary should arrange that one of them or two of them should visit the Gold Coast so that a report may be obtained as quickly as possible because of the wasteful delay in satisfying the natives about the treatment of this disease.
Secondly, there is the question of compensation, which is not of course the right term because it is the natives' own money. This question should be tackled much more imaginatively. We are very pleased that since the war the price we are paying to native farmers for cocoa has been raised considerably and we are glad to see that in spite of that increase we have raised the price last week still another 30 per cent. at the collecting stations. That is all to the good, but merely to offer a higher price for cocoa will not of itself necessarily make the slightest contribution towards combating the disease. Indeed, I am afraid it may have the reverse effect, because if we offer a higher price for cocoa to a farmer with diseased trees which are bearing cocoa and will continue to bear cocoa, he is not likely to agree to cut them down. That seems self-evident. If we want him to cut down trees we must make it worth his while, and we can only make it worth his while by offering him a higher price for cutting down the trees than for keeping them alive.
More imagination should be displayed in this offer of compensation and we must not imagine that by offering a higher price for cocoa we are making the slightest contribution towards combating the disease. I hope the Colonial Secretary will give these suggestions careful consideration. Only if he does something on these lines could he consider reintroducing the compulsory cutting out of diseased trees, for he would be acting then as a true trustee and in the real interests of the natives of the Gold Coast.
§ 12.28 p.m.
§ Mr. Ivor Thomas (Keighley)
The disturbances on the Gold Coast differ from those in Malaya, which we have been discussing, in that they came like a thunderbolt from an untroubled sky. 1261 When I was in Malaya last year I was given ample reason to believe as were other hon. Members, that there would be serious disturbances there and no one can say that they were unexpected. When I was in the Gold Coast, a few weeks later, I formed the opinion that it was our model Colony. It was wealthy, the people were generally contented, there was very little dissatisfaction with the British connection, and when I went on an expedition with the Governor, Sir Alan Burns, into the interior there was a spontaneous demonstration of affection for him as the representative of the King. It was quite spontaneous, because our visit was due to the non-arrival of my aircraft. But the bush telegraph had been working and the crowds were most enthusiastic, including those at Koforidua, which was one of the scenes of the recent disturbances.
These incidents were equally little expected by public servants in the Gold Coast, some of whom had spent 20 years or more in the territory, and the disturbances took them completely by surprise. That has a bearing on the Report of the Commission of Inquiry which went out to the Gold Coast. This Commission of Inquiry has done very good work in many directions and if I had time I should like to have dealt with many of its suggestions. But in its political and constitutional recommendations I am sure it has gone very wide of the mark and done a disservice to the orderly constitutional progress of the Gold Coast. I hope that His Majesty's Government, who are obviously fully conscious of the weakness of those recommendations, will not be led into giving effect to them at this stage. In my view the Commission began reading the book from the wrong end. It has leapt ahead by about 50 years or so, and I am quite certain that if the Commissioners had spent a longer time in the territory or had had a deeper acquaintance with it they would not have made the constitutional recommendations which they have in fact made.
I shall give just one example in support of what I am saying. On page seven of its Report the Commission placed among the proximate underlying causes of the disturbances:A failure of the Government to realise that with the spread of liberal ideas, increasing literacy and a closer contact with political 1262 developments in other parts of the world. the star of rule through the Chiefs was on the wane.This subject of indirect rule and the position of chiefs in British territories had been the main subject of discussion at a summer school on African administration held in Cambridge the previous August. The Gold Coast was represented at that conference by 10 persons, including the Chief Commissioner of the Colony, and the discussions would of course have been fully known to the Government of the Gold Coast. This question has been under discussion in the Colonial Office for a long time and the Commission have accused the Government of the Gold Coast of something of which it is certainly not guilty.
The Commission makes a great point about Africanisation. We are all agreed on the need for the Africanisation of the public service as rapidly as possible, but I must point out that that depends primarily on the Africans themselves. We cannot hurry the pace without great danger. It depends on the willingness of Africans to educate themselves, and on the attainment of the educational standards and standards of integrity that are needed in the public service, and it is impossible to hurry that process beyond the extent to which Africans themselves are able and willing to assume the burdens of self-government.
It is not so long ago that this House was very much troubled about the sacrificial murders in the Gold Coast. Have they been so soon forgotten? They were a grim reminder to us of how thin is the veneer of civilisation in some of our territories. They were a warning of the fact that if we probe only a little beneath the surface we come across the darkest passions of mankind. This process of the achievement of self-government is one that cannot be hurried overmuch without great danger. The Constitution which came into effect in 1946 made a tremendous advance. For Africans to have an elected majority on the legislative council was the biggest step forward yet taken in any of our African territories.
I certainly think that that constitution should have been given a fair trial, but I recognise that His Majesty's Government have been placed in a difficult position by the recommendations of the Commission. I urge upon them to go slowly 1263 in this matter because by so doing they will probably be able to make more progress than would otherwise be the case. With regard to the position of chiefs, the Commission is right, but it has jumped too far ahead, as I have already said. It has paid too much attention to the articulate intelligentsia of the Gold Coast. Such men as the late Sir Ofori Atta and Sir Tsibu Darku IX at the present time will have a big part to play in the Gold Coast for a long time to come.
I should like to express my sympathy with my right hon. Friend and late chief, the Colonial Secretary, in having to deal with these grave problems in Malaya and the Gold Coast. He has achieved great things at the Colonial Office. He has been responsible for the initiation over a wide area of vast schemes of constitutional, social, educational and economic advancement for which he had been preparing himself all his adult life. He is the most pacific of men and my sympathy goes out to him at this time in having to deal with these grave disturbances in these two British territories.
§ 12.36 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for the Colonies (Mr. Creech Jones)
I have a great deal of ground to cover in reply to the Debate and it may be that I shall not have time to answer some of the questions put to me and that I shall not be able fully to meet certain of the criticisms made. I would begin by making it perfectly clear, in view of the criticism of Government policy which has frequently been made in recent months that there is no desire to confuse legitimate political and economic agitation in our territories with Communism. At the same time, we are conscious of the Communist menace and are determined to meet it in every possible way and make it an ineffective political force in the life of our territories. I also add that the Government's policy is not designed in any way to suppress nationalist movements or trade unionism or workers' organisations. Indeed, all the evidence is in the opposite direction and we shall give all the support we possibly can to building up responsibility, to improving the economic conditions of the people, strengthening their organisations and helping to raise their social standards.
For convenience I had perhaps better deal with certain of the points which have 1264 been raised in respect of the Report of the Gold Coast Commission. It is true that the disturbances did somewhat surprise those of us who had hoped for a period of continuing progress and development in that particular territory. All of us were aware of the constructive work which the late Governor and his Government had done, and of the immense strides which were being made in regard to social services and economic development.
When the Commission was appointed following the disturbances, it tackled its work with despatch and energy. It can also be said that the Government in London did not delay in producing its own Paper on the recommendations which the Commission had made. It is quite true that the Commission gave a wide interpretation to its terms of reference but its object was to discover the grievances which existed in the Gold Coast and to offer recommendations as to how those grievances might be met. It may be that the list set out in the first chapter of the Commission's Report contains a medley of grievances perhaps stated with some little disproportion. But the Commission was anxious to make it clear what their discoveries were which, in their judgment, had produced the disturbances which had startled so many people in this country as well as elsewhere.
As the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Keeling) has pointed out, the Report vindicates the authorities in the action which they took. Many wild statements have been made that the authorities were engaged in a task of shooting down agitators and others. I notice that there is to be a protest meeting this week in London in which such wild statements will be repeated. The Commission makes it perfectly clear that the authorities behaved with tremendous restraint and circumspection, and that the result of the courageous way in which the problem was tackled led to the saving of life which otherwise might have been destroyed.
It is true that the 1946 constitution was heralded as a big step forward in constitutional development in British territories in Africa. The Ashanti had been brought within the terms of the constitution in an effective way, and the Africans were to enjoy a new and unofficial majority. I would agree with what 1265 has been implied in some of the criticisms made of the Commission's recommendations. Perhaps they paid too little attention to the structure of African society and the place in the life of the African people of the chiefs and their councils, and also perhaps that they did less than justice to the system of native administration which has been built up under British direction over the past few decades.
But I think that all of us in this House recognise that there are limits to the system of indirect rule, and do see the importance, in the changing conditions of West Africa, of re-organising local government, and particularly, in the urban areas, of meeting new administrative needs. We shall carry through the changes contemplated with full regard to the structure of African society and the place of the chiefs but at the same time we hope to extend the basis of local government, not only widening representation in local government, but also building up a more effective responsibility so that the people can play a more direct part. The Government have made it clear in the White Paper published at the time of the report what they propose to do, or what they would seek to do, in this field.
They recognise that the Commission's report made recommendations of a very far reaching character. They also recognise that, at this stage in the political development of the Gold Coast, such far reaching recommendations could only operate, if operate at all, to the detriment of political development. Accordingly, while it is sought to increase the responsibility of African members on the Executive by associating certain of them with some of the duties of the Executive it is proposed that the Report and the suggestions of His Majesty's Government should now be studied by a public committee in the Gold Coast and that, in the light of the recommendations, suitable amendments as to constitution should be considered. I would only stress that it has always been a lively part of British Colonial policy, certainly over quite a number of years, that we should never regard a constitution as necessarily static. Changes are always going on which require continuous adaptation of the political institutions and it is in that spirit that we 1266 shall approach the needs of the Gold Coast so far as its constitution is concerned.
At the present time of course, the whole economic basis of the Gold Coast, or a very large basis of that economy, is cocoa. We are seized with the vital importance of preserving this industry and checking the growth of disease in all possible ways. But obviously this is cultivation by peasant farmers, and there are limits to the degree of compulsion which can be applied if trouble is to be avoided in the territory. Reference was made to the difficulties which have already been experienced as a result of the application by the authorities of compulsion in regard to the rooting out of certain of the diseased trees.
It is necessary to break down the suspicion which is entertained as to the purpose of the Government. In spite of all our educational efforts, and our powers of persuasion, we have not induced the farmers to see reason in regard to that, we have agreed that the Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations should nominate experienced scientists themselves to study the matter so that there shall be available for the Africans an impartial report as to the way in which this problem should be tackled. My hon. Friend the Member for York (Mr. Corlett) drew attention to the importance of expediting this international inquiry. I can give him that assurance. We regret that at the moment we have not been able to secure the services of the persons who have been approached. We are of course in communication with distinguished scientists. We are fully aware that such a problem cannot just wait and that definite and decisive action must be taken.
Reference was also made by the hon. Member for Twickenham and the hon. Member for York to certain schemes suggested for encouraging the Africans to allow their diseased trees to be cut out. I have noted what has been said in regard to the problem of compensation. The views expressed have been very much in the minds of the Gold Coast Government. We hope that there will be some compensation arrangement associated with the efforts to tackle this disease, it would give some encouragement to the farmers.
§ Mr. Keeling
May I ask the right hon. Gentleman one question? He said that there were limits to the degree of compulsion which could be applied in the cutting out of diseased trees. Was that a euphemism for saying that the limit is zero, and that there will be no compulsory cutting out?
§ Mr. Creech Jones
As far as possible, the African peasant farmer must be carried with us in any policy which we seek to operate.
§ Mr. Keeling
I only want to know what the right hon. Gentleman means by "limits to the degree of compulsion."
§ Mr. Creech Jones
I seek to make it clear that we tried compulsion and we encountered an enormous amount of opposition. We are now trying to overcome that opposition. We do not want to have to resort again to compulsion, if it is a method which may produce no result, when possibly by the exploration of another method we may get the desired results.
There were other points raised in the Debate with which unfortunately I have no time to deal. On the question of encouraging secondary industries, I entirely agree that we must get a much more varied economy in the Gold Coast. The creation of the Gold Coast Industrial Development Corporation is a step in that direction. I also agree that we must try to deal with some of the economic discontents which were contributory to the disturbances. We have been making available to West Africa a larger supply of consumer goods. We have been trying to encourage Co-operation, and the suggestions about price levels made in the report of the Commission are being studied. Finally, all of us in this House realise the importance which the Commission attaches to building up confidence in the African population, and securing their goodwill and understanding.
I pass to the problems which have been raised about the Malayan situation. I say with all the emphasis at my command that there is no complacent feeling 1268 anywhere about the present situation in the territory. No complacency has been shown, and I assert that we have pursued a firm and strong policy. We have been conscious of the consequences if any policy of vaccilation and weakness was shown. I want to meet right away the criticisms of the hon. Member for Bury (Mr. W. Fletcher) that this Government, instead of dealing with certain fundamental and essential needs in Malaya, became involved in constitutional issues to the neglect of the first principles necessary for orderly government and stability. The Colonial Office took over from the military administration. A civil government needed to be set up. The disturbances that had occurred, the legacy of disorder from war, the restoration which was called for, necessitated, as had been recommended over a period of years by those who knew anything about Malaya, some strong central government with due regard to the local government needs of the respective States and Settlements.
Further, the situation required that in the political life of Malaya various elements should be properly integrated in order that all should share in the responsibility for the government of the territory. Whether we liked it or not, the political problem had to be tackled at the outset when government was taken up by the civil authorities. It is really ludicrous to suggest that the civil authorities, once civil administration had been assumed, limited their activity to the making of the new constitution to the prejudice of the requirements of law and order. Indeed, since the war, economic recovery in Malaya is one of the spectacular events which have happened in the world. The Government proceeded immediately to lay down a basis for sound administration, to reorganise the police and to get a continuous flow of the foodstuffs which were essential to keep the population alive.
The Government played their part in the restoration of the economic life of the territory. They did their' utmost to revive the rubber, tin, copra and other industries. They tried to restore the social services—education, public health and housing. They did everything they could to establish in Malaya settled life and better economic conditions. It would have been sheer folly, in view of the Communist menace, if there had been no effort on the 1269 part of the Government to attack the economic discontents and to make it possible for steady life to come back to the people. Therefore, I utterly repudiate the insinuation that the Govermnent were primarily concerned with the making of a new constitution to the prejudice of all the other important operations and features to which a Government must give attention.
§ Mr. W. Fletcher
Instead of indulging in these phrases which we have heard on many occasions before, will the right hon. Gentleman answer specifically the questions that have been put about the police, taking into account the fact that the previous Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies has stated today that it was known that these troubles would break out? What was done about it?
§ Mr. Creech Jones
I will come to the hon. Member's point before I sit down, if time permits. It may be that I am getting under his skin—
§ Mr. Creech Jones
—in repudiating completely the allegations he has made about Government policy. I say that Government policy was balanced. It was concerned not only with political growth but with the economic and social requirements of the territory. The hon. Member suggested that little or nothing was done to secure the restoration of order. I would point out to him that effective work was done in regard to the reconstitution of the police force, not only were bandits, groups of fighters who had played some part during the occupation, disbanded, but there was also a considerable seizure of arms and every effort made by the civil administration and the police to secure what arms and munitions they could that had been brought into the country during the war years.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
At Question time on Wednesday I drew the right hon. Gentleman's attention to a description in the "Observer" of last Sunday of police activity and the burning down of a native village. Has the Minister investigated that in order to avoid the criticism that it is necessarily a part of the policy?
§ Mr. Creech Jones
At this point I do not want to be drawn into a discussion of the methods now being employed for 1270 dealing with the troubles in view of statements I have already made to the House. I return to the point. The Federation Government were fully alive to the necessity for getting the basis of sound law and order in the territory by the activities they pursued, by bringing under control certain of the lawless groups, and by trying to attack at the base the contributory causes of economic discontent, while at the same time giving encouragement to a sound and healthy trade union movement. It is suggested that we paid little attention to the warnings which were given. I only point out that as a result of the energetic action taken by the local administration, by the beginning of 1948 there had been a definite recovery in stability and the incidence of violent crime had markedly decreased.
It is said that when the Communist menace became more obvious to the world, certain difficulties were put in the way of the administration by the Colonial Office. It is now rumoured, according to the hon. Member for Bury, that even Sir Edward Gent was recalled because of his protest against the difficulties put in his way. I most emphatically repudiate that suggestion; it is absolutely untrue. Difficulties have not been placed by London in the way of the Malayan administration in the discharge of its responsible duties for building up sound law and order in the territory. Indeed, they are the first to admit that they have received every encouragement and support from London. It is untrue for anyone to suggest that we have prevented the Malayan administration from fulfilling the normal job of government.
I wish to deal for a moment with the Communist menace. I said that at the beginning of this year there was an improvement in the situation, but it is true that the Communists were determined to disrupt government and production, if they possibly could, to make the maximum amount of trouble for the authorities, and to capture the trade union movement. That menace, the first phase of Communist activity, was faced, and they were completely defeated in their efforts to capture the trade unions. It was because of their failure to do that, as a result of the policy declared for South-East Asia by the Communist international leaders, that the other method, the resort to violent activity of the kind 1271 which we have known in this second phase, was adopted.
There was a conference of the Malayan Communist party in March at which—conscious that they were losing their hold over the organised workers' unions as a result of the policy pursued by the Government—they altered their tactics, and, in line with the general Communist practice in South-East Asia, the new policy of violence was adopted for the purpose of embarrassing the Government, and contributing to the difficulties of His Majesty's Government at home. This new policy was pursued—
§ Mr. W. Fletcher
If that was so, and if it was known to the Government from July, 1947, why did they steadily refuse to have a Debate in this House when it was obvious that great help could be given to them by having such a Debate?
§ Mr. Creech Jones
I do not accept the statement which the hon. Member makes. It was a matter which could quite well have been arranged through the usual channels. If the Conservative Members felt strongly enough that such a Debate was required, they could quite easily have arranged it through the usual channels.
§ Mr. W. Fletcher
It was refused five times. [An HON. MEMBER: "By whom?"] By the Leader of the House.
§ Mr. Creech Jones
The arrangement could have been made with the Leader of the House, and I am not so stupid as to suppose that Conservative Members of Parliament are so inept that when they want a particular Debate, they are unable to get it. I need hardly restate the steps which have been taken during the past year to meet this menace in Malaya. I have given a number of reports to the House in regard to it, and because of the limits of time, I must leave it there.
A question was raised about insurance. I am aware of the urgency and the gravity of this particular problem. I must point out, however, that it is a matter which is being actively discussed at this moment by the Government with the insurance and commercial interests in Malaya. Discussions have also been proceeding in London, and all of us are possessed with a great sense of urgency and know that a conclusion should be 1272 reached, and possibly alternative arrangements considered. However, while these discussions are actively going on, it is quite impossible for me to make a statement to this House. It is not a matter of vacillation by the Government; we have energetically pursued this problem. All the interests involved are engaged in the discussions, and, as I have said, it would be wrong for me at this point to make a public statement as to the stage which these discussions have reached.
In conclusion, I want to say that, although there has been some improvement in the Malayan situation during the last week or so, we are not taking a complacent view in regard to it. We shall energetically drive our policy forward. As I said on Wednesday, we are taking the offensive, and we are breaking down the organisation of the bandits and the Communists.
§ Mr. Creech Jones
There is a great deal more I should like to say. I appreciate that this problem cannot be solved in the course of a few weeks or months. It will necessitate a long drive on the part of the authorities in Malaya, and we shall continue our attack on Communist propaganda and agitation until we have completely defeated their efforts to destroy our administration in the territories for which we are responsible.
§ 1.7 p.m.
§ Mr. Harold Macmillan (Bromley)
I do not wish to interrupt for more than a few moments the agreed flow of Debate on the Adjournment as we are already a few minutes behind our timetable. I only rise to express a certain sympathy with the Colonial Secretary. For many years he was a keen critic of the Colonial Office. When I was there, he used to put down very searching and sometimes, we thought, mischievous questions. Now he is in the embarrassing position of the critic charged with responsibility. He was a very good poacher, but I do not think he has been as good a keeper. Nevertheless, this is not the occasion on which I can indulge at length in any criticism of what he has told us. My purpose in rising is merely to reserve the position of my hon. and right hon. Friends by saying that we think his explanations on both these questions, but particularly on 1273 the Malayan question, wholly unsatisfactory, and that we shall certainly raise these matters again at the earliest possible opportunity in the next Session.