HC Deb 22 February 1952 vol 496 cc665-78

Motion made, and Question proposed. "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr Butcher.]

4.8 p.m.

Mrs. Eirene White (Flint, East)

The hon. Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. H. A. Price), who concluded the last debate, spoke of the great importance of development in Africa for the general economic well-being of the Commonwealth and of the world as a whole. I am concerned with a narrower problem, but one of very great importance—the use of land in Kenya.

The use of land resources is a problem of world wide urgency, but in Kenya it is coupled with some particular difficulties on which I hope to touch. I think we all agree that whatever industrial and mineral developments take place in Kenya, for a very long time to come agriculture in some shape or form will be the main occupation and the main source of wealth for the majority of the people there.

At the outset I must say that I am fully aware that considerable progress has been made recently, and especially since 1945, and if in the brief remarks I make I refer more particularly to what seem to me to be deficiencies, I hope that will be attributed to the short time allowed for the debate and not to any lack of appreciation of the work which has been done and the efforts which have been put in by all concerned.

There are obviously two ways of increasing the productivity of land. One is to obtain a better yield from land which has already been cultivated or grazed, and the other is to take into cultivation fresh land which has not been cultivated already. Both these methods are necessary in Kenya, but I hope that every responsible person, European and African, will agree that the first method is of primary importance: that one must, in other words, raise the standards of cultivation on land already cultivated, and carry those improved standards on to new land that it may be possible to develop.

As the present Governor of Kenya has so rightly said, it is quite impossible to build modern services and social welfare provisions on a primitive state of agriculture—as he put it, on the primitive agriculture of a man and his wife scratching with a hoe the surface of the ground, or of a primitive pasturalist wandering in search of pasture with scraggy and diseased stock.

The first information we should like to have today from the Minister of State for Colonial Affairs is a progress report, in brief, as to what he feels has been done to raise standards. I am referring particularly to the standards of African agriculture. I am well aware that a great deal has been done both individually and by Government supervision to keep up the standards on the European settled estates, but I am more concerned today with the work of the African farmer and peasant.

The impression I receive from reading as many reports as I have been able to lay my hands on is, that while there has been considerable progress in methods of terracing, in improved use of manure and compost, fencing, the growth of grass crops, silage, and so on, it has been very uneven indeed, and a number of major obstacles remain.

One of the most obvious, of course, is the Africans' own attitude to the ownership of stock. Sir Philip Mitchell made some remarks of great interest on that in 1946, and said he thought some prejudices could be overcome by better Government organisation of the meat and dairying trade. I should like to know whether anything has been put in hand on these lines. There is also the African attitude to land tenure, which means we have considerable fragmentation of African holdings. In other words, we are faced with the same difficulties we had in this country prior to our agricultural revolution in the 18th century.

Another point which comes up in one report after another is the shortage of staff both to initiate schemes of improvement and to supervise them once they have been set in train. This seems to me a matter of fundamental importance. For example, in the latest Report of the Department of Agriculture it is said that there are far too many terraces which, once constructed, are abandoned to their fate. This state of affairs is obviously unsatisfactory both physically and psychologically, to everybody concerned.

I hope that the Minister will be able to tell us what is the present position concerning the staff, both European and African, in the agricultural, veterinary and forestry services, and what vacancies there are that cannot be filled. Is the establishment still considerably below strength, as it was in 1949 to 1950? What really outstanding effort has been made to train Africans for supervisory work, and to pay them properly for doing the work when they have been trained?

There are fears that much of the work of the highly qualified officers is simply wasted effort if it is not followed up and supervised in its ultimate development. With all the under-developed areas in the world calling out for technical staff, clearly we want provision for the training of Africans and others to take their places, as far as possible, in the supervisory and technical work required. It is a matter of training and a matter of engendering enthusiasm. We need both. I should also like to ask, in connection with technical training in the narrower sense, what efforts are being made to give Africans a chance of experience of management?

That brings me to the question of cooperative societies. The latest detailed information which I have been able to find in our Library or in the Colonial Office Library brings us only to 1948, when there was a very interesting report issued by the Registrar of Co-operative Societies in Kenya. It is clear that there was some progress, although not a great deal. It was perfectly obvious that there was a quite inadequate staff, either European or African, to maintain or to increase progress. For example, the Registrar in that year reported that the prospect of carrying out a proper audit for even a small co-operative society was negligible because he had not the staff.

How far do the Government think cooperative methods may be useful in overcoming the problems of communal land tenure? That is one thing on which we should very much welcome the Minister of State's opinion. In most places it is found that co-operative organisation is the most economic way of disseminating technical advice. How far is that true in Kenya?

Then there is the question of credit and capital, because there can be no spectacular improvement in the standards of agricultural productivity unless more capital can be put into the land. I should like to know what has followed the report on the granting of credit to Africans, although as far as I can judge the very limited amount which can be given to individuals is not likely ever to solve this problem.

Another problem is that of the squatter labour. We should like to know what progress has been made in settling squatters in villages, because we believe that is a more healthy form of development. Is there any labour code, and, if so, how is it enforced so as to ensure that it is not the kind of arrangement which at one and the same time both depresses wages and keeps down the standard of husbandry on the squatters' own plots?

I repeat that the emphasis must be primarily on improving the productivity of the land. It is not solution to land hunger and overcrowding simply to open up further land, till it by the same primitive methods, watch the population increasing and then find ourselves in the end no better off than when we started. Overcrowding is known to exist in many areas in Kenya, and it is quite clear that some fresh land must be opened up and settled.

The figure given in an official report is that in Kikuyu territory there are 480 persons to the square mile compared with 136 in the rural areas of Great Britain. This is obviously a really acute problem, and I should like to know what progress has been made with land settlement and development. How much of the funds which were put aside for that purpose have in fact been spent, and what are the projects in train? One gathers that there has been considerable success in Makueni, but there have been other much less happy experiments, and the over-all development is by no means satisfactory.

Finally, I come to the really crucial question of how to enlist the fullest cooperation of the Africans in these manifold efforts for betterment. One finds enthusiasm here and there, but nothing approaching the real surge of enthusiasm needed if there is to be an appreciable improvement in agricultural effort in any measurable time. I do not myself believe that we shall get this degree of co-operation while there is a strong undercurrent of racial discontent arising from the division of land between Africans and Europeans.

There are other contributory factors: I am very well aware of that; but we have not time this afternoon to go into all of them. I am, nevertheless, convinced that, rightly or wrongly, there is the feeling among very many Africans that the best land is being reserved for Europeans and the not so good land for Africans, and that the African has no security of tenure comparable with that of the European.

Again, I am told that Africans are not willing to disclose evidence of mineral deposits because they do not believe any advantage will accrue to them if they are found. I have no wish to go into the past history of these matters, nor do I pretend that all the African suspicions are justified and that all the good land has gone to the Europeans and not to Africans. I am sure that that is not entirely so, but I am concerned with the removal of any grievance based on racial considerations alone.

For this reason, I would ask the Minister whether the Kenya Government have made any approach to the Highlands Board concerning any possible African settlement in the areas which are not fully cultivated, and whether he can give any indication of what proportion this area bears to the entire area of the white highlands. Has settlement been considered in any other areas in which it would bring together tribes who are now divided?

I would also ask him whether there is any valid objection, other than racial discrimination, to the possibility of settlement in the highlands by individual African people who are able to meet the stringent agricultural and financial requirements involved. I am aware that the number concerned would be very small indeed in the present circumstances, but it would be a reward to be aimed at for outstanding husbandry. What is the use of talking of racial partnership if, in fact, the way of enterprise is barred by factors of race alone?

I believe that to obtain a full and united effort in Kenya in what is a vast problem, and to obtain the kind of response which one needs if one is to produce results within any period of time which may matter to us who are here today, it would be worth while in the near future to make a gesture which would sweep aside doubts of our sincerity, and that it would be better to make a gesture in the near future, than to wait for a number of years and then, possibly, find one's hands forced in a period of fear and anger.

We have seen what has happened in cases of racial discrimination in other parts of the world. We do not want a repetition of that kind of experience at some future period in Kenya. Therefore, while I am aware that great efforts have been made by people of both races to improve the standards there, I hope that we shall make a much greater imaginative effort in the near future so that we may obtain the result which we all wish to bring about.

4.23 p.m.

Mr. Frederic Harris (Croydon, North)

The hon. Lady the Member for Flint, East (Mrs. White) devoted the whole of her speech, which was very interesting, entirely to the problems of the Africans. There are also a tremendous number of problems for the Europeans; but she has made no reference whatever to their problems. Are there no hon. Members in this House who are interested in the problems of the Europeans in Kenya, or is this an argument solely in regard to African problems? The hon. Lady has referred to the land problem in Kenya, but does she not recognise that the Europeans in Kenya have also plenty of problems to cope with in that respect, and would it not be a good idea if she addressed her remarks to that side of the matter as well?

Mrs. White

In the first part of my speech I did mention that I was quite well aware that there were European problems concerning land, but in the brief time at my disposal I preferred to speak about the Africans, as that is a problem in which I myself happen to be more interested and better able to study. Also, the Europeans are very much better able to speak for themselves.

4.25 p.m.

The Minister of State for Colonial Affairs (Mr. Alan Lennox-Boyd)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, North (Mr. F. Harris) for cutting short what would otherwise, I imagine, have been a very valuable contribution to this debate, and I am grateful to the hon. Member for Flint, East (Mrs. White) for the calm, sensible and entirely helpful way in which she put her observations.

This is a matter which is very close to the heart of Members on both sides in this House, and, indeed, to all our people. We recognise our duty to our African fellow citizens in Kenya, and if we have been reluctant to recognise it before, which we have not been, the spontaneous, generous and loyal welcome recently accorded to Her Majesty the Queen in Kenya by many thousands of Africans has done a great deal to bind them more closely to us.

The hon. Lady has put her case in a very sensible and statesmanlike way. It is a case worthy of much more examination and much fuller and more adequate answer than it is possible to give in a short Adjournment debate. Many wild and tendentious statements have been made about the land problem in Kenya. They have not been echoed in the hon. Lady's speech, but they are on record, and it is very important that at some early date there should be a chance to deal fully with all the many aspects of this problem, which touches people's interest deeply and on which many emotions of different kinds have been aroused. I hope, therefore, that we shall have an early debate on the whole problem of land in Kenya.

I cannot on this occasion make any pronouncement of Government policy. There is no time to do that adequately, nor do the circumstances lend themselves to it, but I can assure the hon. Lady that the various remarks and suggestions which she has made will be most carefully examined and I shall either communicate with her or, if there is a debate, I shall give proper answers to them when the debate takes place.

As the House knows, this is not an old problem in relation to the long story of Africa, but it is a problem which in the 50 years or so of British authority in East Africa has become a very important point indeed. It did not spring originally, or indeed at all, from any land grabbing by this country. Indeed, an impartial reading of history at the close of the last century shows that when in 1877 the Sultan of Zanzibar offered the British Indian Steam Navigation Company a long lease of all his mainland territories in East Africa, because of the lack of interest of the British Foreign Office the whole idea was turned down.

It was some years later when Sir William MacKinnon's Association first got a lease of African territory. When the Company was wound up and the territory passed under the control of the Crown, the shareholders found that they had very heavy losses to pay. However, we ought to bear in mind that if it had not been for the efforts of men like Sir William MacKinnon and Sir Harry Johnson in acquiring land for Britain, as in the case of areas such as Kilimanjaro, the Germans might well have seized all the mainland between the Sudan and Portuguese East Africa. Had that happened we should not today have been discussing in the British House of Commons the problem of land tenure in Kenya and the problems of the African cultivator would have been very different from what they are today, and far grimmer.

The story of European settlement, as the hon. Lady knows, is some 50 years old. Many very untrue statements have been made about it and, though the hon. Lady has couched her remarks in a most helpful fashion, it is essential that I should put on record very briefly one or two facts about that situation.

The European Highlands, as they are called, in Kenya, which are of some 16,000 square miles, contain some 4,000 square miles of forest which are for the benefit of the people of all races in Kenya, and only some 12,000 square miles of ranch and farm land. Of this figure of 12,000 no less than 9,000 square miles were unoccupied when the European settlers first came, save for intermittent grazing by bands of wandering Masai tribesmen, and of the remainder, 3,000 square miles were largely uninhabitable.

When the Carter Commission went there in the 'thirties to give compensation to those who had any claims at all on the area of 3,000 square miles, generous and sensible terms were arrived at. As for the grazing rights of the Masai, that great African tribe—many members of which are great friends of many hon. Members, as indeed are other African tribes—the agreements made in 1904 and 1911 definitely passed to British control the authority over the Masai grazing areas. However, I recognise that in respect of a small area in the 3,000 square miles there was room for doubt as to whether there was any partial occupancy by other tribes, and it was in that small area that the germ was sown from which so much misunderstanding has grown.

The Carter Commission thought it right—successive Governments approved what the Commission did—to meet as handsomely as possibly any dispossession in that area. I must point out to the hon. Lady that if the rights of previous users were invoked, then a vast proportion of the area of the white highlands would have to be handed back to the Masai, who, at the moment, have more than 10 million acres of their own for their 16,000 families.

There are large areas for African occupation and we rejoice that this is so. As an even larger area has not yet been alienated, we hope in time, through precept and example, that an ever-growing body of Africans will be able to live happy, proud and independent lives there. The hon. Lady referred to the possibilitity that some part of the European Highlands has not been fully used. I must point out to her that after the war the late Government in conjunction with the Government of Kenya were trying to find suitable land for ex-Service settlement in the European district of Kenya. They were forced to the conclusion that the only suitable land in the area was already alienated, and the land was broken into smaller plots and handed over to ex-Service, men.

Some of these facts ought to be known and I hope hon. Members of the House who have lent themselves, unlike the hon. Lady, to wild and inaccurate statements will do their best to bring the true facts, not only to the notice of their friends in Africa, but also to the people of the United Kingdom as well.

Mr. A. Fenner Brockway (Eton and Slough)


Mr. Lennox-Boyd

I am sorry I cannot give way. I did not mention the hon. Gentleman.

I am speaking for Her Majesty's Government on a matter which deeply touches the honour of our race, our position in East Africa and the welfare of our colonial citizens. It is not alienation of land that has led to land hunger among the Africans. If the whole of the white highlands were handed over tomorrow to Africans it might lead to a small and temporary alleviation of the problem, but it would be at the total loss of the whole economy of the country, on which they, in the long run, very largely depend.

The congestion and land hunger is due to many other causes, some of which lie in our hands to remedy. It is due, thank God, to the ending of slavery by Great Britain in East Africa; it is due to the end of the tribal wars, to social services which have cut down the death rate from many terrible diseases, and to the consequent increase in population. All these are happy things. It is due, also in part, to the still primitive methods of cultivation by the African, to unnecessary soil erosion, and I wish that the Congress Against Imperialism and other bodies would devote their energies and talents to trying to get something done to remedy defects like this primitive agriculture procedure.

We have many great psychological barriers to break down, and many people regard the psychological barriers as being greater than the physical or technical. Simple rules of agriculture have to be applied and accepted. The Government have tried—and this is the answer to the main question of the hon. Lady—by large-scale clearing, by field experiments in newly settled areas to clear the tsetse fly, by showing how rotation of crops can be applied, and the value of mechani- sation and of fertilisers, to do something to improve agricultural methods. They hope in this way to bring home to the African the need that there is for new methods in agriculture at the present time. This is the way to help, and in those settlements where bad husbandry is discredited and good husbandry rewarded lies the main chance of African improvement. All who have influence with young Africans ought to do their best, as I did when I was recently at Makerere, to encourage more to take agricultural courses.

In this great work of encouraging African agriculture, this House, as indeed the whole country, owes an immense debt to Sir Philip Mitchell, the present Governor of Kenya. He is here now in this country, and I think it only right to say, towards the close of his almost unique career as a British Governor, something in tribute to what he has done over many years. Since 1912 or for over 40 years he has been serving the Crown, and all but two of those have been spent in the service of Africans. He has been Governor for the last 17 years and all through this period and never more than now he has applied his mind to the problem of land utilisation mainly from the point of view of the African, and has shown, by precept and example, how the African can be led in a friendly way towards better methods of cultivation.

This is a real problem and I hope that men like Sir Philip Mitchell will know that the gratitude and respect of Parliament and of our people is with them in the task that they have done. Far more than many of those who claim to be friends of Africa are they entitled to that proud boast, but Sir Philip would be the first to recognise that though in our view he is the foremost he is but one of a great many people, British administrators, missionaries and settlers, who have not lost their national virtues of kindness, generosity and understanding merely because they have left Britain and gone to Kenya. They have given years of devoted service, trying to build up a spirit of partnership there. I am proud to be a member of a race that has produced so many people of this kind.

We have a great task before us. We have, by precept and example and by using every African institution, to try to lead the people along improved methods of agriculture. In that way a great contribution can be made. The hon. Lady was quite right in saying that new land must be opened up. The way to do that is not by futile recrimination over land settlements that have been accepted by many Governments of all parties, but by looking towards the undeveloped areas and hoping that by precept and example we can lead the Africans to develop those areas in partnership with ourselves. Technical advice, reclamation and the provision of water can be done by the Government, but it is no good handing over land to be destroyed. We have to make sure that the Africans are ready for it and are intellectually equipped to take advantage of the opportunities that we are anxious to put in their way.

I am grateful to the hon. Lady. I know that from her and from others who think like her we can have much help in that task, which is not a partisan matter but is a great task of the State. I assure her that we welcome her sympathy and support and hope to work in permanent harmony with her.

Mr. Fenner Brockway

The right hon. Gentleman has hardly been replying to the speech of my hon. Friend. I hope that we may have an opportunity to discuss at a very early date the deeper and more important issues that he has raised today.

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

I hope so, too, and I hope that until we do the hon. Gentleman will do his utmost with any for whom he claims to be entitled to speak to see that they only put out statements the accuracy of which they are assured, and that he will never lend himself to any statement otherwise.

The Question having been proposed after Four o'Clock, and the debate having continued for half an hour, Mr. SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned at Twenty-one Minutes to Five o'Clock.