HC Deb 24 May 1950 vol 475 cc2050-3
41. Mr. Brockway

asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies whether his attention has been drawn to the arrest, on 15th May in Nairobi, of Fred Kubia, president, and Makan Singh, secretary, of the East African Trades Union Congress on the ground that this organisation was refused registration last September; to the police raids on the homes of Kubia and Singh, the Trades Union Congress offices, and a printing press; to the refusal of bail to the accused; to the strikes which have taken place in protest against the arrests and the use of batons and tear gas by the police; and whether he will make a statement.

42. Mr. Alport

asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies whether he has any statement to make regarding the arrest of Makan Singh and Fred Kubai; and whether he is satisfied that the Government of Kenya has sufficient powers to deal effectively with the subversive activities of such organisations as the East African Trade Union Congress.

44. Mr. Sorensen

asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies what were the circumstances that led to the recent disturbances in Nairobi.

Mr. Dugdale

Makhan Singh was arrested under powers granted by the deportation legislation of the Colony. Frederick Kubai was arrested for an infringement of local trade union legislation but since his arrest further charges have been preferred against him of attempted murder and of attempting to purchase a firearm without a permit. The unions which have instructed their members to strike have a total membership of less than 5,000 and represent only a small proportion of the working population in Nairobi. There is little doubt that the number of workers on strike has been increased by widespread intimidation.

On 19th May it was necessary to disperse a large crowd with the use of tear gas and batons. There were, however. no serious casualties. I have no information regarding the alleged police raids on the homes of Kubai and Singh and the Trades Union Congress offices. The Government of Kenya are empowered to enforce settlement of disputes in essential services by arbitration and this power has been extended to include a number of industries. I am satisfied that the Government of Kenya is fully equipped to deal with this situation. The House will realise, however, that the cases of Makhan Singh and Frederick Kubai are sub judice and, therefore, I am unable to enlarge upon this statement until the court proceedings are completed.

That was the original answer which was prepared, and which I had intended to give, Sir. Since then I have received further information which I think the House may like to know, and which has been received by telegram. It states that the labour situation has sensibly improved. About two-thirds of the hotel employees and half of the municipal employees are now at work. Railway and Kenya bus company employees are working normally, as is the Public Works Department, following on a small number of dismissals. The situation of commercial firms is generally better. It is estimated that the number of persons still on strike is now only 2,500, compared with 6,000 at the peak of the strike.

Mr. Brockway

In view of the serious situation which this reply indicates, will the right hon. Gentleman advise that a small commission of inquiry, including British trade unionists, should be sent to Kenya and report to him?

Mr. Dugdale

I think we had better wait until the situation clears up before deciding on a matter such as that.

Mr. Alport

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the so-called East African Trade Union Council is a Communist dominated organisation and that attempts have recently been made to affiliate it to the Communist dominated World Federation of Trade Unions; that Singh is a self-confessed Communist, and that it was this organisation that organised——

Mr. Speaker

Is the hon. Gentleman asking a question or giving information?

Mr. Alport

Will the Minister ensure that the Government of Kenya are supported by the Colonial Office in dealing with the subversive activities of this organisation?

Mr. Dugdale

The Government of Kenya are supported by the Colonial Office in this, and I quite agree with the hon. Gentleman to this extent, that the East African Trade Union Congress is, in fact, largely Communist, and is not representative of the vast majority of workers in Kenya.

Mr. Sorensen

Can my right hon. Friend tell us how many workers belong to the other trade unions and those that are actually involved, so that we can compare the numerical strength one with the other? Is he aware of any economic factors in this apart from the trade union matters?

Mr. Dugdale

I can only say that the figures are infinitesimal in relation to the total numbers. They amount to only a few thousand.

Mr. Harry Wallace

Can my right hon. Friend say whether the organisation, association, or joint committee which represented the six trade unions in this territory is itself regarded as illegal and as something which is not a trade union organisation? Can he also say on what grounds it was disqualified from registration?

Mr. Dugdale

As the whole of this question is sub judice, I think I had better leave that point until a decision has been reached by the court.

Mr. Baldwin

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of the indignation among Europeans in Kenya at the attitude of some hon. Members of this House who uphold the activities of these dangerous men, which eventually lead to disturbances causing the loss of life?

Mr. S. Silverman

Whether or not the East African Trade Union Congress is Communist dominated, and whether or not it is representative, can my right hon. Friend say whether it is in any respect an infringement of the criminal law of Kenya? Is it a trade union at all?

Mr. Dugdale

The East African Trade Union Congress is an organisation containing unions each of which represents a given number of workers, but it is not considered to be a trade union. That is a decision made up to the present. It is, in fact, a separate organisation, apart from the individual unions.

Mr. J. Hudson

Will my right hon. Friend keep in mind that for many years past, and not merely during the recent crisis, charges have been made from East Africa that trade unionists of genuine character are none other than Commuunists when, afterwards, it has been proved that they have had no connection with the Communists?

Mr. Speaker

That is going very wide of the Question.