HC Deb 30 October 1958 vol 594 cc463-74

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Colonel J. H. Harrison.]

10.2 p.m.

Mr. John Stonehouse (Wednesbury)

Tonight I want to raise the subject of the White Highlands in Kenya. Kenya has been torn by strife and hatred for the last six years, but now we hope the emergency is coming to an end and that it will be possible for us to forge ahead with economic, social and political advance in Kenya which will improve the lot of the 6 million people who live there.

This is an object for which we must strive and for which we must make our contribution in this country. Two fundamental points must be emphasised if this policy is to be a success. First, we must declare that Kenya will eventually have her self-determination on the democratic basis of universal adult suffrage, and secondly, that there must be no discrimination among the communities that live in Kenya. Any community, any member of a community, any European who cannot stomach that policy, will have the opportunity of leaving the country if he does not wish to live with the other races in Kenya.

Tonight I want to refer to one of the most outstanding injustices in the colonial world. That is the injustice of the exclusive reservation for purely European use of the vast area of the White Highlands in Kenya. This has been one of the causes of the tension in Kenya between the races. When I was in Kenya in 1952, just a few weeks before the Mau-Mau emergency broke out, I remember that at that time the Kikuyu I spoke to, as well as the Luo tribes, were most alarmed by the failure of the British Government to pay any attention to their just pleas with regard to land hunger from which their people were suffering.

A very heavy responsibility indeed rests upon the Colonial Secretary of that day for failing to listen to those just pleas. If we had listened to the pleas of the African people who were suffering from land hunger at that time and given them an opportunity of constitutionally expressing their fears about their land, it is quite possible that this whole awful business of Mau-Mau would have been avoided.

We have gone through an awful period of six years. Now we have reached the stage in which there is a new future ahead in Kenya, provided that we in this country have the courage to eliminate the discrimination and the economic privilege which still exists for the few whites in the White Highlands.

The history of the White Highlands is thoroughly ignoble. The first white settlers to arrive in Kenya took the best land that they could find for their farms, and some years later they laid claim to the whole area in the Highlands which was suitable for European occupation. It is sometimes claimed that few non-Europeans, if any, were displaced by this process. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I see that that argument is even shared by some hon. Members opposite who should be better informed. It does not stand up to the facts because the Kikuyu themselves had substantial tribal holdings in the Highlands which they took over from the Dorobo tribe, and even as late as 1939 some 4,000 Kikuyu had to be displaced from their land and resettled elsewhere, for which they received the princely compensation of 30s. each.

It is also not right to say, as some do, that the position of the White Highlands has grown up by custom and practice in Kenya and that it is therefore purely a problem for Kenya itself to work out. In fact, the Secretary of State for the Colonies in 1932 was directly responsible for the direction given to the Carter Land Commission to give Europeans a privileged position in the White Highlands. It was not until February, 1935, that details of this secret direction were extracted from a reluctant Secretary of State. I should like to quote from the HANSARD report of Question Time of 14th February, 1935, col. 2077, in which the Secretary of State said that he had given a direction to the Carter Land Commission to the effect that persons of European descent were to enjoy a privileged position in the area known as the Highlands. That privileged position involved: …that no person other than a European shall he entitled to acquire by grant or transfer agricultural land in such area or to occupy land therein."—[OFFICIL REPORT, 14th February, 1935; Vol. 297, c. 2077.] The decision to impose the White Highlands on Kenya is clearly one for which we in this country are directly responsible, and it is therefore up to us in this country to put this injustice right.

When the Carter Land Commission reported in 1934 there were about 16,800 Europeans in Kenya. They were given exclusive rights to some 16,500 square miles of land, which wa[...] designated as the White Highlands, an average of one square mile each. Today the European population in Kenya is 62,000, whereas the total population is 6,200,000. Some 1 per cent. of the population in Kenya, therefore, has 16,500 square miles reserved for it.

In fact, most Europeans live in the towns and are engaged in commercial activities. According to the Troup Report, the number of Europeans engaged in agriculture is 4,000. This miserable and reprehensible policy is therefore maintained in the White Highlands for a selfish clique of White Highlanders numbering only a few thousand. Some may say that there is plenty of land in Kenya and that European occupation of a part does not harm the rest of the population. This argument is completely destroyed by the figures on rainfall for the Royal Commission Report. Land must have about 20 inches of rain a year to be productive. There are 24,380 square miles of land in Kenya which have such a rainfall. Some 4,700 square miles of this is forest reserve, leaving a total, I am advised by a firm of surveyors who have been kind enough to go into this for me, of 19,645 square miles of land available for farming in Kenya. The amount of this land reserved for Europeans and not forest reserve is 5,960 square miles. It is therefore obvious that 30 per cent. of the good land in Kenya is reserved exclusively for Europeans. This is surely wrong in principle and bad in practice. It is criticised in the Dow Commission Report.

Sir Archer Baldwin (Leominster)

Would the hon. Member say how many Kikuyu are living in the White Highlands? Is he aware that about a quarter-of-a-million or more are living in the Highlands?

Mr. Stonehouse

There are 250,000 people living in the White Highlands who are not Europeans, but they have no rights there; they are employed as farm workers at wages of about 30s. a month plus their keep. If the hon. Member reads the Kenya Press he will have seen that on 13th October an article appeared in the Nairobi Press by a Mr. K. G. N. Ridley who said, When will the European farmers in Kiambu see the writing on the wall? They say that they lack labour. They offer up to 35s. a month. A very small minority of the African people are allowed to go into the White Highlands, and those who are allowed to go there are given a miserable income, That is an argument in favour of allowing the Africans to have their own farms on the White Highlands.

The Dow Commission's Report said: But two facts stand out as resulting from the policy of the exclusive tenure of land in the Highlands by Europeans. Firstly, the bitterness which has persisted over the extinguishing of African rights in the area, and secondly, the sense of injustice caused in African eyes by broad acres reserved for a few individuals alongside an African reserve in which land hunger exists. Even those loyal Kikuyu who have been risking their all in the fight against Mau Mau have…questioned the grounds for maintaining unused land for the exclusive use of Europeans when their needs and those of their people are so great. It was seldom that any African suggested to us that any European who was using his land fully should be deprived of that land, but our attention was constantly being directed to the fact of unused or partially used land in the Highlands. Against the argument that Africans are bad farmers and would ruin the land in the Highlands, the Commission emphasised that there were good farmers among the African people and that if Africans were given a chance to farm in the Highlands there would be more of them.

There are acknowledged to be some 800 square miles of unused land today in the White Highlands and at least 400 square miles of that could be used for farming. We on this side of the House say that this land should be opened up immediately for African farming so that the land hunger in the reserves can be alleviated. As the Report on land development in Kenya in 1955 shows, areas like Kiambu and Fort Hall have a dangerously high density of population. There are too many people crushed together in this area of the reserves trying to eke out an existence. The area of 615 square miles in Kiambu, for example, has a population of 388,000, or 630 per square mile.

What is the attitude of the authorities in Kenya to this problem? It is one of timidity. It is one of pandering to the selfishness of the few White Highlanders who have such an influence on the political situation in Kenya. The Kenya authority recognises the economic arguments for opening up the White Highlands to all communities. It says, however, that it must wait for public opinion to move in the direction of getting rid of the racial barriers that exist. I do not accept that argument at all. I think that it is up to the Secretary of State to see that this glaring injustice is removed and that we go ahead with promoting the economic advance of Kenya.

But if one accepts the need to follow public opinion in Kenya there are some very interesting quotations which show that, indeed, public opinion in Kenya is moving in the direction towards removing these racial barriers. Sir Roy Welensky, for instance, a man with whom we on this side of the House do not always agree, was in Nairobi at the beginning of the month and addressed an enthusiastic crowd. He said: No man has the right to judge another by the colour of his skin alone—that is the accident of birth—but he has every right, and indeed has a duty, to form his judgments in the light of the standards of life adopted. If we accept that, let us give the Africans who come up to a certain standard the right to farm the land in the White Highlands.

This speech of Sir Roy Welensky was followed by a hysterical contribution to the newspapers by Mr. E. L. Howard Williams who said: The White Highlands of Kenya applaud your"— that is, Sir Roy Welensky's— stirring speech, which has given us the lead we need to build the New Kenya in your likeness; a Kenya in which civilisation not colour, shall reign, with merit and ability, experience and integrity the sole criteria of appointments anywhere and everywhere. If these people mean what they say, there should be no bar at all to the Highlands being opened up to efficient farmers of all communities. I beg the Colonial Secretary to act in this matter.

10.17 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies (Mr. John Profumo)

I am glad that the hon. Member for Wednesbury (Mr. Stonehouse) has raised this problem tonight, for as well as giving me a chance to answer some of the matters which he raised, it also gives me the opportunity once more to make clear the attitude of Her Majesty's Government towards these European farmers who have risked their capital, their skill and their future in developing an area of Africa which has often proved hazardous and intractable. Successive Governments in this country have, of course, recognised the value of the contribution which these people are making to the future of Kenya.

Going back a little, on 7th March, 1946, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Creech Jones), who then occupied, with considerable distinction, the office which I now hold, said on behalf of the then Socialist Secretary of State: …he appreciates the important part which the European community has contributed to bringing the country to its present stage of development, and the important part which it will play in developing it further…He believes in fact that European settlement must be viewed as an integral part of Kenya's development as a whole."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 7th March, 1946; Vol. 420, c. 130.] This statement has been reaffirmed by successive Secretaries of State, and I believe that it still remains the official view of the party opposite. It certainly is the view of my right hon. Friend and myself.

The continuance and development of European farming must, of course, depend primarily on the proper use and full development of land. The hon. Gentleman was, therefore, quite right to draw our attention to figures which appear to reveal that, perhaps, something like 3 per cent. of the farming land in the Highlands had not been leased and that a further 11 per cent. was being under-developed at the time to which the figures he quoted related. I am sorry that, when he asked a Question about progress in this matter on 10th June this year, my right hon. Friend was unable to give any figures more recent than those revealed in 1954. Tonight, however, I am able to bring the figures more up to date, and I think that the House would wish to hear them in order to put matters into their proper perspective.

In 1954, over 200,000 acres were unleased. In August, 1958, the figure had dropped to 158,000 acres, representing less than 2 per cent. of the agricultural land available in the Highlands. This includes over 17 square miles which are being added to the Native Land Units. For the rest, it consists largely of railway and road reserves, swamps. foreshores, riparian reserves, two craters, and small pockets which must be added to larger units for economic working.

The 1954 census mentioned a figure of 880,000 acres as being under-developed. This fell within an area of 1,640 square miles not being properly used for productive purposes, which included unusable land, fallow land, land used by African employees and land occupied by buildings and roads. The comparable figures today are 533,000 acres and 997 square miles.

The hon. Gentleman, I know, has in mind constantly the need for closer farming and smaller farms. I should like to take this opportunity of pointing out that, in some areas, large units are essential if the land is to be economically worked at all. However, I know that the Kenya Government would agree that there is scope for further subdivision and more intense working of the land. One of the instruments of this policy is the European Agricultural Settlement Board, which is doing good work in buying up overlarge estates as they come into the market and dividing them up for new owners and tenants.

There has been marked progress since 1954. In that year, there were 3,163 holdings of more than 10 acres, of which just over 50 per cent. were less than 1,000 acres and 24 per cent. of more than 5,000 acres. In 1957, the number of holdings had risen to 3,445, a rise of 9 per cent., yet the percentage of farms less than 1,000 acres had increased to 53 per cent. of all holdings, and those of 5,000 acres and more had decreased to 22.4 per cent. of all holdings.

Mr. A. Fenner Brockway (Eton and Slough)

But still all European.

Mr. Profumo

One moment. I am trying to show that the land is being properly worked, and that is what really matters.

In terms of material progress between 1954 and 1957, there was a 30 per cent. increase in annual net capital expenditure per acre, a 34 per cent. increase in spending on mechanical equipment, and a 64 per cent. increase on permanent improvements excluding buildings. In accordance with the move away from cereals monoculture to animal husbandry, dairy cattle increased by 20 per cent., beef cattle by 35 per cent. and sheep by 32 per cent. Despite this, the acreage under crops also has increased by no less than 30 per cent.

These figures show that the strenuous efforts made by the Europeans are producing real and solid progress of which its authors can be proud. They utterly belie the mistaken picture in certain quarters of the average European farmer as a playboy landlord. Judged by the standards of good land use, they have every right to their land, and it is fully intended that those who maintain these standards should continue permanently to enjoy it. This development could have been carried out only by private capital and private investment, and if the Highlands were not a European farming area, that capital would have gone elsewhere.

Mr. Stonehouse

If the European farmers are doing so well, why are they not made to pay more to the workers they have on their farms?

Mr. Profumo

That is a very much wider subject than the hon. Gentleman has raised in his Adjournment speech tonight. I am trying to deal with the accusations he made in the course of his speech, which, I think, are doing a fair amount of harm in Kenya and elsewhere. The hon. Gentleman quoted from a speech made by Sir Roy Welensky on an occasion when I myself was there, and I can only tell the House that the farmers to whom I spoke in Kenya feel that, perhaps, in this country we may not have a sufficient understanding of the problems they are experiencing. It is that sort of thing that I, as a Minister of Her Majesty's Government, believe it my job to put right.

The hon. Gentleman also spoke in terms in which he seemed to feel that not enough had been done since the Report of the Royal Commission. I made it clear to the House when we debated that Report last year that the Kenya Government consider it would be injudicious to try to move faster than public opinion allowed towards the breaking down of those tribal and racial boundaries. Because the hon. Gentleman may say that this is only my view, and something with which he disagrees, may I add that in the debate in question the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield specifically quoted that view and indicated broad acceptance of it, although, of course, I recognise that he was also anxious to see such changes accepted by public opinion in relation to the Highlands. Nevertheless, I say that there are increasing signs that the problem is no longer being examined from a viewpoint resting on the old unquestioned assumptions, and that it is being looked at now as an agrarian problem rather than in political terms. This I welcome very much indeed.

The hon. Gentleman will probably not yet have received a copy of the recently published Report on African Land Tenure. I will put copies of this Report in the Library in due course. That Report recommended the grant of freehold title to Africans whose interest in land amounts to what we could call full ownership, and a control on transfers and subdivisions by means of local control boards dominated by Africans operating on directions from the Governor. These recommendations have been accepted in principle by the Kenya Government and will contribute enormously not only to the proper development of native land but to a different approach to the land problem among all communities, and that is what we very much want.

It is the intention of the Kenya Government to continue, as far as their financial difficulties will allow them, the full reorganisation and redevelopment of the fertile native land which has for a long time been under wasteful systems of cultivation and tenure. Even if there were no other objections, sheer economics and the shortage of capital would certainly lead us to concentrate on this great work rather than to launch an African cooperative farming scheme on underdeveloped areas in the Highlands.

In conclusion, I believe that despite the present slight recession among primary producers, which I know is worrying Kenya farmers of all races—and this was plain to me during my short visit to Kenya recently, about which I have already told the hon. Gentleman—there is ample reason for confidence and self-confidence in their approach to the land. Kenya cannot flourish without full recognition of the permanent part which the whole farming community has to play in the economy, and without a determination on the part of all farmers to make the fullest use of the land at their disposal without exhausting its fertility. I believe that with that confidence, that determination, and that recognition farmers, with the rest of public opinion in all communities, are bound to move towards a less political outlook towards the land.

Such a move is certainly the policy of the Kenya Government, as my right hon. Friend recognised when addressing the Government in his dispatch No. 662 of April last. Copies of this dispatch are already in the Library but I might remind the House of what he said: I am confident that it will be your purpose, and that of your Ministers, to encourage an attitude to land based on the principles of good husbandry and the most advantageous employment of natural resources, and to promote, in lieu of arguments over racial reservations, a co-operative endeavour to use and conserve the fertile soil of Kenya for the lasting prosperity of all its inhabitants, present and future. I am certain that this must bear fruit in the fullness of time, and in my view this is the way in which we ought to look at the problem of agriculture as a whole in Kenya, including that of the White Highlands, which the hon. Gentleman has raised tonight.

Mr. Stonehouse

Before the hon. Gentleman resumes his seat, I wonder whether he would answer this one question? In the dispatch of the Colonial Secretary he said that the Government does not contest the economic argument for the greater negotiability of land but envisages the attainment of this objective only when it is accepted as realisable by a substantial section of public opinion. How does the Colonial Secretary intend to judge when that public opinion has been so expressed? How is it going to be examined? How is it going to be assessed?

Mr. Profumo

It will make itself obvious in course of time. It is equally obvious that it will take quite a long time to eradicate theories and ideas which have grown up over periods of fifty or sixty years of local experience. I should have thought the hon. Gentleman, with all his considerable knowledge, which the House recognises, would realise that this is the kind of thing which cannot be rushed. It is impossible to do so.

This does not mean, however, that the view of Her Majesty's Government and that of the Government of Kenya is not basically the same on this matter as that of the right hon. Gentleman. It is a question of timing, and it is no use saying that because such and such a statement was made or such and such a report was issued we ought to try to race towards this goal, because that would merely do harm to the very people the hon. Gentleman has in mind in raising this matter tonight. My right hon. Friend and the Government of Kenya will be able to perceive when the lime has come to make the changes which the hon. Gentleman has in mind.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at twenty-eight minutes to Eleven o'clock,