HL Deb 23 February 1938 vol 107 cc826-68

LORD OLIVIER had the following Notice on the Paper:—To call attention to conditions prevailing among the agricultural labouring classes in West Indian Colonies, with special reference to recent disturbances that have taken place in several of those Colonies and to the question of the proper steps to be taken for the maintenance of public order and security and for the defence of Imperial interests in those Colonies; to ask His Majesty's Government whether they will take steps to ensure that in all Colonies in which productive and/or manu- facturing industry receives assistance from Imperial or local public funds proper provision is made for the maintenance of a reasonable standard of wages in such industry and of a reasonable price and quantum for supplies by cane farmers or other producers of the raw material, and will also adhere to the long established Colonial policy that the maintenance of law and order in each community shall be provided for by local police forces, and not by Imperial forces, naval or military, or by local Militia or Volunteer establishments; to inquire whether the Secretary of State for the Colonies has received from the late Governor of Trinidad any comments upon the Report of the Trinidad Commission, traversing, or seriously affecting the force of, any statements made in that Report; and to move for Papers.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I feel I owe the House an apology for the great length of this Notice on the Order Paper and, perhaps, also an apology to the Clerk of the Parliaments. In its original form it was much shorter, but I wished to secure a day. Since I first gave Notice of it I have repeatedly conveyed to the Clerk additions to it, so that in the noble type with which Parliament is indulged it has come to occupy a large space on the Paper. It is an unfortunate circumstance that West Indian affairs, and the affairs of certain other parts of the Empire, get very little attention in this country unless the Press of London can find some sort of sensational headline in order to call attention to them. In this particular case riots are a great "draw," and oil companies, I may say, also are a great "draw," so that we have had a good deal in the Press lately especially relating to riots and oil companies. I am accustomed to riots, and I have at the back of my head a large ridge caused by a rock stone with which I was hit in a West Indian not. I do not myself think very much of these riots; and as regards oil companies I must say in this case I do not think the oil companies are the villains of the piece.

I desire to draw attention to matters to which I think this House and the country generally ought to have paid much more attention long ago—namely, the general situation in the West Indies which gives rise to these occasional riots to which attention is only then called. All through the West Indies the same conditions exist as are the fundamental cause of the difficulties which have occurred in Trinidad. There have been what are called labour troubles in almost all West Indian Colonies this year, in British Guiana, in Trinidad, in Barbados, in St. Vincent, St. Lucia, St. Kitts, and Jamaica, all arising from the same cause—namely, that the British public do not pay sufficient for their sugar to enable the West Indian industry to pay decent wages to the workers. That has been the case for a long time, and is going to be the case, I am afraid, for a good time longer. That state of things has been in force for a great many years. It is more than forty years since Mr. Chamberlain sent a Commission to the West Indies to investigate the conditions of the sugar industry. The industry was then suffering from the competition of foreign bounties. Mr. Chamberlain sent out a Commission consisting of Sir Henry Norman, a very distinguished ex-Indian administrator and, subsequently, Governor of Queensland and Jamaica, the late Sir Edward Grey, who afterwards became Earl Grey or Fallodon, and a very distinguished Indian financial authority, Sir David Barbour, a hardheaded Liberal Ulsterman.

It was felt that this industry must be kept alive and that it could only be done by mitigating the foreign bounty system. Mr. Chamberlain took up the matter very courageously and for the time being stabilised the industry. The great majority of the population, now numbering 2,500,000 people, depend on it because there is no other industry which can take its place. I want to read to your Lordships some extracts from the Report of Sir Henry Norman and his colleagues, because I think they are very significant. In their Report the Commission state: We desire to draw attention to the peculiar circumstances which, in our opinion, impose a special and an unusually strong obligation upon the Home Government. The black population of these Colonies was originally placed in them by force as slaves; the race was kept up and increased under artificial conditions maintained by the authority of the British Government…The special remedies or measures of relief which we unanimously recommend are:

  1. 1. The settlement of the labouring population on small plots of land as peasant proprietors.
  2. 2. The establishment of minor agricultural industries…."
The reason for that is that the West Indian labourer likes to be his own master and does not think he is his own master if he is bound to live in a tied cottage on his employer's estate. On his employer's estate he cannot build his own house and his condition remains impoverished.

The Commissioners went on to say: The settlement of the labour on the land has not as a rule been viewed with favour in the past by persons interested in sugar estates. What suited them best was a large supply of labourers, entirely dependent on being able to find work on the large estates and consequently subject to their control and willing to work at low rates of wages. But it seems to us that no reform offers so good a prospect for permanent welfare in the future of the West Indies…and in many places this is the only means by which the population can in future be supported. It must be recollected that the chief outside influences with which the Governments of certain Colonies have to reckon are the representatives of the sugar estates; and that under such conditions it is the special duty of Your Majesty's Government to see that the welfare of the general public is not sacrificed to the interests or supposed interests of a small but influential minority which has special means of enforcing its wishes and bringing its claim: to notice. These are not the utterances of rabid Communists, but of the late Lord Grey, of Sir David Barbour and of Sir Henry Norman.

Unfortunately, when the capital interest, which we all recognise it is necessary to maintain, had been reinforced by Imperial fiscal policy, insufficient attention was given to these recommendations and warnings. About ten years ago the industry again got into a bad state owing to the over-production of sugar. The price obtainable for sugar was such that the industry could not pay decent' wages to these labourers, and employers could not get credit to improve their processes. Mr. David Semple and myself were sent out to inquire into the conditions of the industry. We reported that unless the declared policy of abolishing entirely all Imperial preferences were given up the sugar industry would collapse, and that in the meantime it could not be maintained with any regard to decent conditions for the labouring classes. Mr. Snowden was a very obstinate gentleman, but fortunately under the next Government—I think it was the National Government—the present Viscount Swinton succeeded in overcoming the resistance of Mr. Snowden and they again not only gave the preference which we—Mr. Semple and I —recommended, but did rather more than that. Since then His Majesty's Govern-merit have carried out another of our recommendations—namely, to endeavour by international means to get some sort of stability in prices. I do not know that I can say that they have adopted a permanent remedy, but they have done the best they could. It has always been recognised that the Government have been well-intentioned.

We went all round the West Indies and reported on the conditions in every Colony, and we reported universally that the conditions of the working classes were deplorable. Wages went down to 1s. 3d. and 1s. 6d. a day, and housing was most wretched. I am glad to see the most reverend Primate in his place, because I know that previous Archbishops in the West Indies have been unwearying in their endeavours to improve the conditions of labour. The late Archbishop Hutson, of Antigua, who was a most respected man, was constantly writing and speaking in an effort to improve conditions. Therefore I am very glad to believe that the most reverend Primate is well acquainted with the work that the leaders of the Church have done in the West Indies and knows that they have always endeavoured to better the conditions of every class.

That part of the Report in which we described the conditions included a statement that the infant death-rate in Barbados was 380 per 1,000 under one year old. It is rather better now, because charitable people in Barbados have set up infant clinics, and the people feed their children a little more sensibly than they did. There is a great preponderance of women on that island and also in Antigua. The women used to go out to work and leave their children locked up at home with a small piece of cornmeal pap tied up in their mouths; they would come back in the evening and do what they could to feed them properly. Barbados and all those places are riddled with infantile dysentery and the death-rate is enormous. That is simply a poverty disease which can be improved by improving wages. The housing conditions in all these islands, especially in Antigua, were deplorable, and in the Leeward Islands my friend Sir Reginald St. Johnston did his best to improve them by forming a Government housing scheme. He got a grant from the Development Fund and began to build model houses and assist the tenants, so that they could live under decent housing conditions. Some efforts have been made, but at the present time I am quite convinced from all I hear—and I hear constantly from the West Indies—that the conditions of the labouring classes to-day on all the islands are worse than they were ten years ago.

We made certain recommendations. We said that if the Imperial Government assisted the sugar trade to survive by giving Imperial preference, or if the Imperial Government gave them financial assistance, as they have, by free loans, and enabled the industry to improve their capital equipment, then His Majesty's Government should take care that the farmers and labourers should get some part in the benefit. That, I am afraid, has net been done. A few days ago the Secretary of State for the Colonies was asked in the House whether he would send out another Commission to the West Indies to report on the general condition of the labouring population. That is a much bigger question than this trouble in Trinidad; it is all over the West Indies, and it is not only a matter of local grievance but springs from the general penury and cachexia of the agricultural labouring classes, which have not been remedied and cannot be remedied by better organisation.

Almost simultaneously with the recent disturbances in Trinidad, about which I am not going to say very much for the reason I have just given, that I do not think they were very important, there were disturbances in Barbados. The report of the local Commission on the local disturbances is to my mind very much more important, perspicacious and to the point than the Report we recently received on Trinidad. I should have expected it to be so, and I should like to read you an extract from their report. A strong local Commission of Inquiry reported that there were two disturbances: one in Bridgetown, a row with the police and raiding of shops and potato fields in the country, and also the destruction of a certain number of motor-cars, which was apparently attributed to the fact that 'busmen had been thrown out of work by the raising of the petrol duty. The Commission reported that the disturbance in Bridgetown arose out of the trial and deportation of an "agitator" named Payne. An agitator, of course; a man who voiced the sufferings of the people; therefore he is an agitator, therefore he is seditious, therefore the police can arrest him without warrant!

They also said: The number of persons who suffered injury at the hands of the lawless is insignificant; the attacks were made against property and persons of every colour without discrimination. That rather bears upon the suggestion that this might be purely an attack by coloured people on white. Nothing of the sort; I know them; I have been to these places and lived in them for over fifty years: The lawless acts committed in the country were more purposive than those committed in Bridgetown; and it would appear that hunger or fear of hunger…were the chief causes. There is no evidence that Payne had any influence in these areas and it is doubtful if one person in a hundred outside Bridgetown had heard his name. It is our considered opinion after surveying the whole field that there was a large accumulation of explosive matter in the island to which Payne only served as a detonator and that the real cause of the disturbance was economic.…Further, we are of opinion that the conditions which rendered this culmination possible still exist and demand immediate treatment. Well, my Lords, in another place the Secretary of State was recently asked whether he would appoint another Commission to inquire into conditions, and he said that "Lord Olivier made a Report eight or ten years ago, and we do not think it necessary."

I take that as a compliment, but I beg to say that that Report of mine never came before Parliament. You can get it, I believe, by applying to the Printed Paper Office, though it was not presented—even, perhaps without paying the 3s. 6d. to the Stationery Office. It is, however, still up to date, and things have become worse. We said in our Report that while the improvement of technical methods might benefit the sugar manufacturers, such improvement would result in the reduction of the number of labourers, and it has done so. There was great waste, as we should say, of labour in Barbados and elsewhere because of the old policy of employing a vast amount of not very highly skilled labour at very low wages. The immediate result of tightening up production in Trinidad, Barbados and Antigua, as the entrepreneurs of the industry have done very energetically, has been to diminish the demand for underpaid agricultural labour, and no provision exists instead.

Therefore you have had, in some of the Colonies, phenomenal unemployment. For instance, in Jamaica we were never troubled with unemployment within my recollection. But recently, largely owing to the improvement in factory production and the desire to extend it, there has been a saving of labour, and labourers have been thrown out of work. Similarly, having reduced their cultivation in Cuba they are turning out thousands of labourers. You will have a great accretion of unemployed labour in the West Indies, and that is going to make our position in the West Indies, in a few years, very much worse than it has been. It is on that account that I want to call the attention of the Government to the policy mentioned in my Question, which is: To ask His Majesty's Government whether they will take steps to ensure that in all Colonies in which productive and/or manufacturing industry receives assistance from Imperial or local public funds proper provision is made for the maintenance of a reasonable standard of wages in such industry, and of a reasonable price and quantum for supplies by cane farmers or other producers of the raw material. That seems to be a reasonable and rational policy. The manufacturers of sugar are limited now in their quota, whether for exportation or home consumption, so that the labour discharged by reason of improved mechanism and so on cannot be taken up by the sugar producers to any extensive degree.

That is one of the troubles to which the West Indian planters' representatives have called attention, and although we are safeguarded for a few years time, yet you cannot: expect the West Indian sugar industry to develop its full production until there is a greater scope for export. I wish to point out to His Majesty's Government that they have decided to subsidise from public funds the production of beet sugar in this country, which is a very much less economical mode of producing sugar than the production of sugar from cane. In so doing they have safeguarded the cultivation not only in the regulation of wages and the existence of wages boards, but also by the contracts with farmers as to prices. We have not got that in the West Indies, and it is a deplorable fact that in the year 1935, when the Trinidad Estates began to pay dividends, they produced these dividends very largely by means of reducing the payments to farmers from 14s. to 11s. per ton. I stated that in my evidence before the Commission which was inquiring into sugar production in this country in 1935.

There are producers and producers of sugar. I know many of them, and I know privately that certain of the biggest estates were not in favour of that method of earning dividends, but their hands were forced by what I may call the less highly principled estates. That is known publicly to everyone in Trinidad. There is a very strong planters' association in Trinidad. The organisation of capital in Trinidad is stronger than in any of the other West Indian Islands, and the organisation of labour is practically nil, and so the labourers are in a worse position for collective bargaining than they are anywhere else. The capitalist organisation has been reinforced by the oil production, and the noble Duke (the Duke of Montrose) quite naively informed your Lordships last year that when his undertaking was asked to increase wages they would not do so until they had consulted the employers of agricultural labour.

My noble friend on my left (Lord Snell) was at one time what is described as a "paid agitator," and he and Mr. Ramsay MacDonald were paid lecturers before a committee of which I was a member. I can imagine how they would have chuckled at such an admission from the capitalists, and would have regarded it as a conspiracy between capitalists, as to whether the wages in one industry should be raised, for fear that the doing so might injure the pockets of another industry. When I was in Trinidad in 1929 I had the confidence of the planters, and they showed me their books, very kindly, but I simply found that their managements had the most chaotic ideas as to how to deal with labour. I saw the books of one of the best managed estates. They were paying the equivalent of 1s. 7d. per day for labour. I said that "these wages are very miserable," and the reply I got was: "If you look at our books, you will see that we cannot pay more." It was so, and but for preference they could hardly have gone on. The labourers in Barbados recognised that, and their representatives said: "We do not blame the employers, because they cannot pay us more." The manager of this estate was a very capable man. I said to him: "What are you going to do about all this unemployed labour?" The answer which I got was: "We will reduce our employment from four days to three days a week, and take on more men." I asked them whether they would pay the same wages for three days as for four, and the answer was in the negative. That is to say, for the same labour bill they would give four men work instead of three men, which I thought was a very simple way of dealing with unemployment, and I respectfully commend this expedient to the consideration of the economic advisers of the Government. Therefore I feel much satisfaction that it is intended to reinforce labour organisation in the West Indies.

It has been announced that the Secretary of State has decided to appoint a Labour Adviser in the West Indies, a man with a very well-known name throughout the Empire. I am delighted to see that, but I do urge that the Labour Adviser should, before he enters upon his duties, make a careful trip all round the West Indies and go into the books of the factories, as I did. Then he will be able to judge for himself and give some reasonable advice. I am quite sure that until the British public pay a proper price for their sugar, a price at which it could he produced in the West Indies, there is no hope for a really prosperous sugar industry there. But I am also convinced that if they do give a reasonable price for sugar the labourers in the West Indies can be paid a living wage; and if there is no restriction of production the British Colonies in the West Indies and elsewhere can produce sugar as economically as any place in the world.

My noble friend Lord Strabolgi sent me a rather curious letter, which came, I suppose, from some firm of solicitors or Parliamentary agents, calling attention to those great and good men, Messrs. Tate and Lyle, and what they are going to do in Trinidad and elsewhere. To begin with I was rather amused, because for nearly one hundred years—at any rate since 1846—the British refiners who are now amalgamated in Messrs. Tate and Lyle have been regarded by West Indian planters as the bane of the Colonial sugar industry. There may be those who cry out: "Those who have turned the sugar world upside down are come here also," but I do not take that view. I am very glad to see that British capital under capable management is being invested in West Indian sugar production. I believe it to be a sound proposition. In Trinidad, however, this established capitalist block is being reinforced by a very efficient capitalist firm in England. These gentlemen who wrote to Lord Strabolgi sent a list of the plantations or estates which had been taken over by Messrs. Tate and Lyle in Jamaica, and that will be a matter of great satisfaction, I have no doubt, to Barclays Bank in the Dominions and overseas, who had liens on those estates, which were administered under their control.

I may tell your Lordships a little story. Some time ago a very good friend of mine in Jamaica, a member of a well-known Jamaican family, happened to be the chairman of a financial institution in the island which lends money on mortgage for its shareholders, and which had a mortgage of…40,000 on a very valuable area of sugar land. He told a friend of mine about this as he was going home in the steamer from England, and he said that as he passed the south coast of Jamaica he was in the smoking-room bar and there came a wireless message saying, "The United Fruit Company have purchased so-and-so estate." He said, "My dear friend, I went down on my knees and gave thanks." I do not know whether the Chairman of Barclays Bank went down on his knees at the bar of the Cannon Street Hotel when he heard that Messrs. Tate and Lyle had taken over these estates in Jamaica. But I can tell your Lordships what will result. I know all these estates very intimately. When I was last in Jamaica I saw that an enormous amount of physical labour was used for harvesting and transport. It was miserable to see the manner in which the harvesting was carried on, and we remarked that thousands of pounds could be saved. Messrs. Tate and Lyle no doubt will do that; they are bound to do it, and they will improve the industry and its stability by so doing. They will turn out a great number of labourers, but that is one of the things you have to put up with. When you introduce well-organised British capital you reinforce the capitalist organisation and you want to have something to balance that. The industry cannot be improved unless you have 'better methods and better capitalisation. That we represented in our Report. One side therefore has been attended to, but the other side, the safeguarding of the labourers, has not been adequately attended to.

Recommendations have been made that we should have industrial courts and trade unions, but it is no easier to organise West Indian agricultural labourers into an efficient trade union than it was to organise the agricultural labourers in England. We had in this country to adopt a minimum wage policy, and you may have to do that in the West Indies. You may have to set up special courts. In the disorganised trades in England, when you could not get efficient trade unions, the Government had to set up authoritative bodies with legal power to fix wages, and that is the only thing you can do in a community like the West Indies. I have no doubt that the Industrial Adviser will see the whole thing through, and therefore I hope that the first thing he will do when the Government appoint him will be to go round and see for himself. You have to take up the labourers' and the cane farmers' side in this cane production business. I do not say that you should discourage or hamper the cane producing side, because no one is more convinced than I am myself of the good will of the West Indian producers, or of their ability as practical men to carry out good advice. Therefore, I by no means despair, as same people have despaired, of the possibility of making the West Indies a satisfactory place for human beings to live in, which it is not at the present time.

I have read the Report of the Trinidad Commission, and I do not think very much of it. I will not go into it. I have no doubt they did the best they could. But one thing struck rue. They laid great stress on health and on housing. It is quite right that they should dwell on housing conditions, because all over the West Indies they are deplorable. The people do not own their own houses. It is proposed that you should remedy this by well-intentioned employers, such as Messrs. Tate and Lyle, building better houses for their labourers. But the labourer does not want to be a tied labourer in a well-built house. That is what he has been up against all his life. That is the thing that broke up the apprenticeship system when the labourers had to live on the employers' estate. You have an ineradicable conviction throughout the West Indies that labourers who live on their employer's estate, or in houses belonging to their employer, rented from their employer, are unsafe. The West Indians remember perfectly well, or their fathers have told them, how labourers residing on estates were tyrannised over in a most abominable manner if they refused to work for 1s. a day. They had their houses pulled down or their fruit trees and gardens destroyed, and they were turned out. That is why they want houses of their own.

One of the things which struck us forty years ago in our tour of the West Indies was the extraordinary difference between houses built on rented land and houses built on land owned by small-holders in Grenada, Trinidad and, especially, in Jamaica. In Trinidad the houses built by Indians are pretty little houses. The occupiers become house proud, and look after them. But they do not build houses or improve houses on rented land. In fact, in several of these Colonies, they will not build a really stable house at all on rented land. They build a sort of large case like an enormous hen-house or dog kennel, which they can remove at will. When you are lying awake at night you hear long groaning, grunting sounds going on. That means that someone and his friends are moving a house. The houses are drawn on rollers and are moved through the streets to the strains of the chorus, "Blow the man down." No amount of improvement of labourers' dwellings will reconcile the West Indian, Creole or Indian, to being housed in a tied cottage. We have had to deal with that question in England in the case of cottages built in rural districts. If you want people to occupy your cottages, you have not got to have them as tied cottages but as free cottages.

With the best intentions in the world I do not think you can deal with this question of housing in that way. The companies have built admirable houses for their managements and staffs, and the United Fruit Company set a good example by building good cottages for its resident labourers, but the resident labourers even on the United Fruit Company's estate—and they are the best employers in the Colony—did not like these rented cottages. Consequently all the best building you see of labourers' and small people's cottages in the West Indies are cottages built by the men themselves on their own land. They like to build a good house. Their wives become house proud, and they have good furniture and pretty gardens. Perhaps I am forcing an open door, but I want to make a strong appeal to His Majesty's Government, reinforcing what the late Archbishop of the West Indies and so many others have said, to take up once for all this question which I put before them ten years ago—namely, that all over the West Indies you have these terrible conditions of poverty and squalor. Nothing short of that will make the West Indians a contented people.

I come to the question of what is the cause of these troubles in the West Indies. The West Indian blacks are the most patient people in the world. I know that Indians are fairly patient, but I do not think they are quite so patient as the West Indian blacks. When Mr. C. F. Andrews, the great champion of the Indians, went to British Guiana, he said to the people there: "At any rate you are better off here than you would be in India, or could possibly be, and although for the honour and glory of the thing you want to come out and take part in the Nationalist movement, from your own point of view I recommend you to stay where you are." Nevertheless the conditions of the Indian workers in Trinidad are most deplorable. I say they are patient, but they do not cease to find fault and grumble, and when they find someone called a Communist agitator to express what they feel, they listen to him and applaud and shout, and perhaps he is arrested for causing an obstruction in the streets. In this last Report it is said that Butler was under arrest for a criminal offence, but that amounted to a police warrant for obstruction. Fifty years ago most of my friends—Mr. William Morris, Mr. Cunninghame-Graham, Mr. John Burns, and others—were constantly threatened with prosecution for obstruction. The police attempt to arrest this man, and if the police draw firearms there is sure to be a riot. Everyone in the West Indies knows that.

You can go down to a crowded meeting, and if you have not got firearms nothing will happen. But if you have even a revolver you will be in danger. And because the West Indian ordinary man is very keen to get his blow in first, if he sees a rifle levelled at him, he throws a bottle or a stone. That was the origin of the greatest disturbance reported in West Indian history, what is called, ridiculously, the Jamaica Rebellion. Warrants had been issued against certain men for disorderly behaviour or for conduct likely to produce a breach of the peace. They said, "You must issue summonses. We will not be arrested on warrants issued by the magistrate for this. We will resist arrest." And they resisted arrest. That was their idea. It may be right, or it may be wrong, but it was their idea. They thought their legal rights were being interfered with, and they resented that. That was the origin of that police row. The General Officer commanding the troops in Jamaica then was General O'Connor. That day he was in barracks and was told that the mob was coming up to burn Kingston. He said: "I am well accustomed to these local rows in Belfast," as no doubt he was. It was a magnified local shindy that was exaggerated into a rebellion. As showing what the Commanding Officer thought of it he said to the Royal Commission: "I went to church." I do not know whether the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London thinks that the best way of showing one's contempt for nervous citizens is to go to church, but anyhow that is what General O'Connor did. There was no disturbance in Kingston.

Practically every disturbance or so-called riot arises from the fact that some warrant has been issued and an endeavour is made to arrest a man who has been voicing the feelings—the excitable feelings no doubt—of the whole mass of his fellows. When the feelings of these people are worked up the people get inflammable, and once you have got their fighting spirit up they think it right to avenge themselves on the police and on the troops, and you get an uncontrollable mob. You do not get it always, but you are liable to get it. That has been the genesis of every row I have known in the Colonies between the authorities and so-called rebels. It was the origin of the Bondelswaart Hottentot massacre in South-West Africa and of the disturbances about Harry Thuku in Kenya, and it has been the origin of all the riots that I have known or studied in the West Indies. It arises from the belief of the authorities that, because a man is an agitator or a Communist and voices the feelings of his fellows, therefore he wishes to cause a disturbance of the peace. It is pitiable that that should be so.

This row arose out of the prosecution of a man named Payne, who was prosecuted for making a false declaration that he was born in Barbados. He was committed to prison, but he appealed and the sentence was quashed. He was let out of prison but was immediately re-arrested by the police for what was called "conduct likely to produce a breach of the peace" because he talked about the low wages of labour. The people fired up and went wild and there was a row. But the beginning of these rows has been this. The first thing that black people want to do when they think they are oppressed is to go to the Governor. The first thing the peasants in Jamaica wanted in 1865 was to go and see Mr. Eyre, the Governor. They wanted to send a deputation to him. He refused to receive them. The beginning of the trouble was that they wanted to send a deputation to state their grievances. Again, recently, certain ex-Service men wanted to go to the Governor and voice their grievances before him. The police stopped them. That was, I think, a mistake. That is how these troubles are occasioned. Any Governor should be perfectly competent to deal with a petition presented to him without committing himself, and when he refuses to receive these petitions or deputations, that is the sort of thing which brings about trouble.

This brings me to another part of my subject. I have known very intimately the Inspector-General in no fewer than four West Indian pace forces. I have known a good deal about these police forces. I do not happen to know the police force in Trinidad, or its present commander. I know nothing whatever against him. You can make good policemen in every sense out of West Indian negroes, and possibly, Indians, and forces exist in British Guiana and other places that are as good police forces as you want for any kind of purpose. You can perfectly well rely upon the internal peace of any West Indian Colony if you choose proper men as police. I hold that the education of a really good commanding police officer is different from that of a military commanding officer. I see with regret in the Report upon this Trinidad affair that they propose to increase the Trinidad Volunteers, and let the head of the Volunteers be the head of the police. I assure your Lordships that, from the point of view of the West Indies, that is a fatal mistake.

The West Indian black men have a long and profound memory and tradition, and they know that before slavery existed the so-called Militia forces of Jamaica and elsewhere were the first line of defence of the white people, the forces who were against the slaves. They have never got that out of their minds. When the other day, most inadvisedly, a Motion was brought in to increase the provision for the local Militia force it was opposed by the Member for the Port of Spain on the ground that these people were being appointed for the purpose of shooting clown the working classes. That is precisely what they are there for—to shoot down the working classes, if necessary. I can assure your Lordships that there is still surviving in the West Indies, and especially in Trinidad, a class of people who think that the way to deal with black people is to shoot them down and keep them down—the policy of depression and repression. But that does not get rid of the stings of poverty, or the relief which men have in supporting those who voice what they feel. Consequently I urge upon His Majesty's Government—and I believe I am forcing an open door in this matter—that they should adhere to the long-established policy of Colonial government and should absolutely dissociate the question of internal order from the military forces. We have these relics of the old Militia forces in various Colonies. They are composed of public spirited young men, but they all belong to the upper or middle classes, and these forces are still regarded by the people as the employers' forces.

Some time before I was Governor of Jamaica the Government did away with the arsenal and dockyard at Port Royal, Jamaica, and in consequence they withdrew the West India Regiment because the arsenal and dockyard were Imperial works. The islanders were rather sorry to lose the West Indian Regiment because they had a band. However, the Colony retained the band and that is all they need of Imperial troops in the 'West Indies. At the same time—I hope I am not betraying very confidential secrets—the Imperial Defence Committee thought it might be well to reinforce the local Militia. The Legislative Council refused to pass the Bill which I very reluctantly introduced on instructions—very reluctantly because I knew that any reinforcement of the Militia forces for the supposed purpose of keeping order would create a feeling of dislike and even hatred against the British Government as representing the old repressionist policy. You have to be very careful about that.

It is not in the least required in Trinidad. The oil works are not likely to suffer from local sabotage and if they are thought to be in danger from air attack it is for the Admiralty and the Imperial Government to protect them. I have had a great many conversations with General Officers Commanding troops in the West Indies and with local Staff officers; they did not care twopence about the Militia as part of the defence force. I cannot imagine the Militia being any good whatever in a major war. When the dockyard at Port Royal was closed it was regarded in the United States as a graceful act on the part of the Imperial Government. Certainly if we were again to garrison these Colonies there would be a considerable amount of grumbling and it would not improve relations. Consequently, I say that whatever you do you must not increase the local military forces. To do so would be bad for the internal temper of the island and it would be no use for purposes of Imperial defence. I hope I shall get a satisfactory answer on that subject.

There is another point I should like to mention; it is that the Report does not go at all thoroughly into the question of agricultural wages. I hope something will be done about that because the Secretary of State has appointed two intelligent men qualified to do it. I do not want to find fault retrospectively; what I want to know is what is going to be done and I want to support the Government in anything they can do. Several things in the Report seem very shallow but the observations about praedial larceny, or the theft of growing produce, are most ignorant observations. Flogging will not act as a deterrent against praedial larceny. Governor Eyre imposed the punishment of flogging for praedial larceny. It was recommended by the Governor under whom I served as Colonial Secretary, and I committed my greatest act of indiscretion and insubordination by speaking against it and asking to be allowed not to vote for it. They say that this punishment is a dead letter. At any rate it has not had the slightest effect in reducing praedial larceny. The African has an innate feeling that it is no crime for a hungry man to feed himself, and he will never allow a man to be hungry if he can help it. If a man has stolen food the African will never inform against him, and if he knows that a man may be flogged he will not give evidence against him because he regards flogging as a degrading and disgusting punishment. Consequently, for years after flogging was introduced as a punishment praedial larceny went on as merrily as ever.

I discovered how to put down praedial larceny. The way to do it is to grow more food, and I helped people to grow more food. We organised local agricultural societies. There were nearly 300 of these societies, all knowing each other's business. They all knew which men had produce of their own and which men had not. We allowed them to appoint special constables to arrest people who had in their possession growing produce which was not their own and to send them for trial. All these local societies knew these people. They would not inform against them if they knew that they would have to go through the ordinary process of law, but under this system praedial larceny died out. When I was last there I was told that it was never heard of now. The blacks are too decent to inform or give evidence against people who may be punished by flogging for what they regard as a venial offence. I think it right to warn the Government that if they ever attempt to reintroduce that punishment they will be beating the air as well as beating the black fellows.

I have spoken perhaps with some contempt of these findings, but there is another aspect of the matter which I want to bring to your Lordships' notice. The question I ask is whether the Secretary of State for the Colonies has received from the late Governor of Trinidad any comments upon the Report of the Trinidad Commission, traversing, or seriously affecting the force of, any statements made in that Report. Sir Murchison Fletcher has given me a copy of the draft, some of which I am going to read to this House, because it seems to me to involve a serious question of fairness of dealing. He says: Mr. J. Forster, Chairman, and Sir Arthur Pugh, member of the Commission, reached London on the 5th November on their return from Trinidad. They were accompanied by Mr. A. H. Poynton…who was Secretary to the Commission. On the 16th November it was publicly announced that 'On instructions from the Secretary of State for the Colonies Sir Murchison Fletcher, Governor of Trinidad, is proceeding to London shortly to confer with him on the present situation in Trinidad and questions likely to arise from the Report of the Commission of Inquiry.' I arrived in London on the 6th December, and I had certain interviews at the Colonial Office, in the course of which I was informed that I was adversely criticised in the Report. My request to see an advance copy of the Report was not complied with, and I was given no information regarding its contents. I asked the date of publication, and it was stated to me that this was expected in January"— I believe that it was published on January 31— and that a copy of the Report would then be sent to me. I was later informed that the Report would be issued early in February. He received a copy of the Report on February 1, and on going through it he found, as he states in his memorandum, that a number of matters of fact, about which he could give sworn evidence which can be corroborated, are incorrectly stated in the Report.

He had been given no opportunity of refuting a number of statements of fact which are unfavourable to himself and which he states are inaccurate and incorrect. He complained to me that, whereas he was told to come home to be consulted in the matter of the Report, he was not only not consulted but never saw a copy of the Report until it had been issued to the public. I can well apprehend that he feels that statements have been made injurious to him and been reported all over the world, which are untrue statements and which he has had no opportunity of hearing or of refuting. I think he feels aggrieved, and I myself feel highly aggrieved on behalf of what I think is decent treatment, not only for an official but also for a private gentleman, that that should be the position. I consequently ask whether His Majesty's Government will take the same action with regard to Sir Murchison Fletcher's statement, which is somewhat contrary to the Report, as they took to the Report of the Commission—namely, publish it. I shall be very glad to see it published, because, as I have already indicated, I find that the statement of the Commission in other respects than those I have mentioned is not very accurate and not very reliable. I beg to move.


My Lords, I do not rise to intervene for more than a few moments, but the speech which the noble Lord has just delivered has been rather striking from one point of view. Nobody doubts the command he has of information with regard to this subject; but I must say that, having overlooked the whole subject with such generous diffuseness, your Lordships might have expected a little more exact guidance from him as to the course he thinks should be pursued. The noble Lord at the very outset stated what was the real difficulty underlying the chief troubles which have arisen in Trinidad and in one or two other islands; that the British public will not pay enough for its sugar. He made that statement twice, and I am not sure that he did not repeat it again. But he did not in any way explain to your Lordships how in these circumstances it is possible for a considerable increase of wages to be made when no dividends are being paid.

If your Lordships will allow me for one moment, I will just touch on one point with regard to that. I happen, though I have no financial interest of any sort or kind in the West Indies, to have had supplied to me some time ago some figures to show what the intense difficulties are with which English companies are having to contend at this moment. Take one large company in Trinidad. Their sugar brought them in£15 a ton in 1928, and in eleven years the price had gone down to a little over£9—more than thirty-three per cent. During those eleven years no wages whatever were reduced. Production went up from 31,000 to 54,000 tons. In 1937 the world output was limited and the quota was reduced, and that company lost about£30,000. Even so, they raised their wages by ten per cent. I only give that example because I think that when charges of this sort are made against British companies it ought to be remembered that it is quite impossible, unless you provide the demand, for them to meet your requirement that they shall pay larger wages.


They have done so.


The other point upon which I earnestly hope the representative of the Colonial Office will speak firmly is this. The noble Lord has asked that apparently in no circumstances shall British troops be called in, but that we shall rely in all these Colonies—I do not think he says even "as far as possible"—on the forces that we may have, police and others, on the spot. I do not wish to be alarmist, but that is a dangerous doctrine if it is carried too far. The first duty of the Colonial Office is to see that business in these Colonies can be carried on without undue risk of a complete overturn of all the authority in the island. The state of things in Trinidad has given grave concern to the Colonial Office, as we can see from the fact that the late Governor has been forced to resign and that there have been very serious indications of disturbance in the island.

We need not look as far as Palestine to see what trouble comes from the initial desire to avoid serious measures. Therefore I would only ask your Lordships to allow me to make those two points. First, it is a mistake to suppose that those who are engaged in business in these islands have not themselves endeavoured to carry out a great deal of the policy, as far as the noble Lord indicated any policy, which he thinks is necessary to preserve us from trouble there. The second is that I would urge, and I am sure most noble Lords would agree, that while the utmost clemency should be shown and every attempt made, by proper influence on the planters and others, to avoid disorder, the Government should take care that we do net go back into the condition of trouble which unpreparedness in some British Colony has always brought. I have said that I would not detain your Lordships for more than a few moments. I would only ask that those two points should be rigidly observed in future dealing both with Trinidad and Barbados.


My Lords, I will not detain you for more than a minute or two, but I should like to say that the matter to which my noble friend Lord Olivier has drawn your attention is one of immense importance, not merely to the West Indian Islands themselves, but to the whole Imperial connection, and we cannot afford to neglect to consider such a Report as has been issued on the recent disturbances in Trinidad. I cannot this afternoon attempt to give views of my own at any length upon that problem, although I have views. Sufficient if I say that there is less excuse for the poverty and economic disharmony that exist in Trinidad than there is in some of the other West Indian Possessions. First of all Trinidad has never ventured the whole of her fate in one particular industry, such as sugar. She has had cocoa, and oil, and coconuts, and asphalt, and those have given to her a kind of economic breadth and stability which the other West Indian Possessions do not possess, and her agriculture has had the advantage of having closely attached to it the Imperial College of Tropical Agriculture, which I have had the privilege of visiting.

On every ground your Lordships would have assumed that that very beautiful island was in a favourable economic position, and yet the Commissioners report that the health of the community is dreadful. Diseases exist which could be eradicated with ordinary precautions in regard to public health. In regard to the hookworm, for instance, which the Commission state is a major factor in reducing efficiency, practically nothing has been done, and yet it is a disease which can be cured if it is properly treated. The Commission's description of the housing conditions in Trinidad is one which is really appalling. I will not trouble to quote to your Lordships what they say, but I beg that your Lordships will get possession of the Report and read the whole matter for yourselves. With regard to labour, which is the cause of the recent disturbances, I wish to say this, as an illustration of the ease with which we bear ourselves in regard to these West Indian problems: So long ago as 1920 an Industrial Court was ordered to be set up. In actual fact the court has never met, and nothing at all has been done.

I should like to comment at some short length on the question of the leadership of the West Indian natives, but I do not this afternoon propose to do so. The Commission describes Mr. Butler, the native leader, as "a fanatical negro." That does not impress me very much. I have actually in your Lordships' House myself been accused of being a fanatic, and I understand that any man who has strong convictions, and sticks to them in face of superior advice, is a fanatic. Mr. Butler is far from being a wise man, so far as I can gather from this Report, but we must recollect as we pass that while the fate of Corporal King was an entirely horrible thing, as to which nothing too strong can be said: it represents a background of wrath which we must take into account. Men do not pour oil upon fallen people and set fire to them for mere fun. It is horrible to think of, but we must try to understand what it really involves. Then the arrest of Butler was accompanied by every circumstances of thoughtless provocation. The police knew him, and knew where he was to be found, and could have arrested him at a time when passions were not excited, at a public demonstration. I do not want to criticise the local administrators—I know how difficult their task is—but we must not get into the way of believing that in all circumstances they are infallible.

Before closing I would like just to say another word about another section of the British West Indies, if one dares to bring British Guiana into the West Indies. There, too, is a land very much needing the consideration of Parliament. There the economic conditions of the workers are thoroughly bad, and the whole of the West Indies should be examined by an economic commission, which would bring their fate in relation to each other. I had the privilege of being in British Guiana in 1926, and I helped in the preparation of a Report. In that Report we made proposals for the modification of the Constitution, which brought me great trouble from the workers of British Guiana themselves. But this does emerge from 'it, that as a result of that Constitution the Imperial Parliament now has the responsibility for the well-being of that community, and there are many things that ought to be redressed as quickly as possible. I will close only by saying this in regard to Sir Murchison Fletcher, that I am very frankly disturbed and unhappy. I do not know the whole of the circumstances, of course, but I have a deep feeling that first of all he erred on the right side, the side of leniency, and I have a deep feeling that if he had been hard and severe and martial a different fate would have overtaken him. I commend this Report to your Lordships' attention, and I would draw your attention also to the importance of the Motion which my noble friend has on the Paper.


My Lords, I am sure we all realise the great authority with which the noble Lord, Lord Olivier, has moved this Motion this afternoon. I cannot hope to speak with anything like the same authority. I can only speak as the rather unhappy Chairman of one of the oil companies. But, obscure though that position may be, it did give me some insight into and some experience of the trouble in Trinidad and the unhappy time that followed the riots. I would like to remind your Lordships that the last time I had the privilege of addressing your Lordships' House on the subject of Trinidad I finished my remarks by saying: I would like to add that as far as the oilfield interests are concerned we will he ready to support any effort to remedy the genuine grievances that are brought forward. I have no reason whatever to alter a single word of that. On the contrary, our desire to assist in remedying any genuine evil is stronger to-day than ever, and I am happy to say that on February 10 the representatives of all the oilfields had a meeting in London, at which they unanimously agreed to write a letter to the Secretary of State for the Colonies assuring him that we desired to collaborate in every way possible to carry through the suggestions of the Report. The Secretary of State for the Colonies acknowledged that letter with pleasure and gratification, and forwarded it to the Governor of Trinidad, hoping that we would get in contact with him. I am glad to say that we have got in contact with him, and from now onwards we will do everything in our power to carry through the recommendations of the Commission.

I expect many of your Lordships have read the Report of the Commission very carefully. I have read it from beginning to end, and I must say that of the many Reports it has been my fortune to see in about forty years of public life I have never felt so impressed with the idea that the Commission have got to the bottom of the trouble. I feel that they have endeavoured to be fair to all the interests concerned, and I think it was a wise suggestion to try to remedy all the wrongs in the island by self-applied, constitutional means, from within the island. Of course, that does not mean that there are not some points on which we in the oilfields can offer some useful criticisms. But I think the Commission were undoubtedly right in coming to the definite conclusion that the bottom of the trouble was s the deplorable social conditions in which the coloured population were living, and this, coupled with advancing education, caused impatience at the slow progress of reform.

That was undoubtedly the immediate cause, but I should have been much happier if this Report could have given us some assurance that there was nothing more behind it. There was a common belief at the time that Uriah Butler, the chief agitator, was the tool of a propaganda system from America; and undoubtedly to our own knowledge an agent of the Comintern at Moscow was in London on March 27 last. He had a conference here in London with the Communist Party and the society called the Anti-Imperialist League, and it was decided to transfer the agitation from this country to America. He went over to America, and very shortly after his arrival agitation broke out in the oilfields of Mexico, Venezuela, and Trinidad. There was a common report that Butler came from America, and his agents from Venezuela, and evidence was laid before the Commission that papers were circulated throughout the island and that money to the equivalent of£10,000 or£15,000 was being spent to foment agitation. Undoubtedly, the miserable social conditions of the island have rendered those people very good ground for propaganda and agitation. I should have been much happier if the Commission had been able to assure us that there was no such thing behind the riots, and that Butler was simply the be-all and end-all of the agitation. But there is no such statement there.

As regards housing, the conditions are intolerable—bad houses, no water supply, no sewage, no lighting, and often no roads. But let us keep a balance in this case. Is Trinidad the only place where there are bad houses, no roads, no water, no sewage? Your Lordships will know what the facts are, and I could take you to many places in the Highlands and the Western Isles of Scotland and show you housing conditions there and in Glasgow and Dundee far worse than anything to be found in Trinidad to-day. In Trinidad the natives spend but a little time in their houses. Most of the day they are enjoying God's beautiful sunshine day after day. Away in the Western Islands I can show you houses where old men, old women, and little children are herded together often with beasts, sheltering day after day from storm and rain and snow. The conditions are infinitely worse. I could show you twelve houses in the parish of Kilmuir in Skye unfit for human beings to live in; and that is on Government land, land belonging to the Board of Agriculture. If conditions like that can exist in this country—this country with all its wealth, and its well-organised local authorities, with a Government in supreme power here—why should we be surprised if conditions are not satisfactory in an island like Trinidad, with poor taxable resources, and just emerging from the greatest depresssion that it has ever had? There is no reason to be surprised. The surprising thing is that it was not worse than it is.

But the point is, What remedy are we going to apply? Where is the money coming from to pay for a remedy for these conditions? Trinidad is a vastly over-populated island. In the island where my home is, in the West of Scotland, we have only 5,000 people. Here is an island just three times the size; it has half a million natives and 1,500 white people. All those white people are salaried servants of the industries. From a revenue point of view they are very unsatisfactory taxable subjects. All the coloured population are too poor to produce much revenue. What other sources are there? There might be a source by raising a Customs tariff, but if you did that you would raise the cost of living. That is out of the question. Then where else is the money to come from? Some people say: "Why not tax the oil industry, why not tax the industries?" Those industries are based here in London, they are taxed here in London, The wealthy shareholders in those businesses are taxed in London too, and the revenue is spent in this country. If there were some legislation by which the revenue derived from these taxes in London could be transferred to Trinidad, where it originated, then you would have money to carry out these social services. But there is no other source.

Then it may be said: "Why not tax the industry in Trinidad as well as in London?" Double taxation would kill the industry. If this Report makes anything clear it is that on an over-populated island like Trinidad it is essential to preserve every industry and as much prosperity as possible, because industry is the only means by which the people can get their living. There is only one way one can think of. The financial conditions of the island from a national point of view are not unsatisfactory, and if this Government will support the issue of a big loan to Trinidad to be used in making advances or grants to the people to improve their houses or equip their smallholdings, then there would be an opportunity for improving the social conditions under which they live. It would be following the same policy as obtains in this country.

There was a question about education and medical services. We in the oilfields are in entire agreement with that. It was also mentioned that there should be index figures showing the cost of living. We are entirely in favour of that. The only thing we ask is that the index figures shall be authoritative. Up to now we have never had that. If these figures are authoritative, we in the oilfields and in the other industries are quite prepared to make our minimum wage scale in reasonable relation to these figures showing the cost of living. We entirely approve of the idea of appointing a Secretary of Industry and an Industrial Court, and we entirely approve of the suggestion of collective bargaining. We in the oilfields have no objection whatever to the principle of trade unionism, no objection whatever to collective bargaining. The only thing we do object to is the recognition of imported agitators who have no claim to represent the labourers and who have not been elected by the working class.

Some people say, "Why do you not organise trade unions or collective bargains?" How can we? If we in the oilfields or in other industries were to start arranging for collective bargaining and forming trade unions, the first thing the workers would say is: "This is a tool of the employers, and we have no confidence in it." It is the duty of outside authority to form trade unions and arrange for collective bargaining, and that duty ought to have been undertaken by the Government. There has been machinery in existence for doing that ever since I remember, but it has been pigeon-holed and through some inexplicable laxity has never been put in use.

Then there is a suggestion that we should have more small holdings giving fixity of tenure and fair rent. Here again we have the example of Scotland. In Scotland we have, as your Lordships know, thousands of small holdings and crofts. We have a body going up and down Scotland giving fixity of tenure and fair rents, but that has all failed to give prosperity. These things alone do not give prosperity. They do not go far enough, and they will not give prosperity to the West Indian Islands. We require district organisers who will not merely instruct in modern methods of cultivation but will collect the produce, grade it, pack it, transport it, and market it, and then be able to hand over to the small holder the same value for his produce and work as would be received by the big grower more favourably situated and nearer a highway. It is all nonsense to suppose that a smallholder will make a living if his profit is absorbed in carrying his produce long distances and under great difficulties to market. That recommendation does not go far enough.

As regards the defence of the island, I certainly did say in July that the defences should be increased, and I see no reason to alter that, but I do subscribe to the idea put forward by Lord Olivier that it would be much better that any increase of the defence system should be made from within the island rather than by importation of forces from outside. The whole thing depends on whether we are going to be assured that the Volunteer forces from within the island and the police forces are going to be taken seriously. I have been a Volunteer officer myself for twenty-seven years, and I know perfectly well that it is very easy for Volunteer forces to be neglected and cold-shouldered. I know that for the first ten years I drilled with muzzle-loading guns, and it is quite likely that these Volunteers are also going to be neglected. But if they are taken seriously it is undoubtedly the right course.

We must not neglect the defence of Trinidad, because another Report was issued lately by a Committee under the Chairmanship of the noble Viscount, Lord Falmouth, in which it was pointed out that we were to base the whole defence of this country on the gamble of imported oil. That Report pointed out that oil from the Empire was essential, and that Trinidad was the greatest supplier of oil in the Empire. If Trinidad is the greatest supplier of oil in the Empire, it is essential that we should adequately defend it, because an oilfield can be easily ruined. Therefore we must, whether from within the island or not, ensure the proper defence of Trinidad, and if this is taken seriously I am certain that all the white employers of labour and a great many of the coloured people will do their level best to make the defence of Trinidad a success through its own resources.


My Lords, I am afraid I shall have to make a rather long speech as I have a good deal of ground to cover, but I shall try to detain your Lordships as short a time as possible. The subject of the West Indies is not only one on which the noble Lord, Lord Olivier, is a high authority, but also one very close to his heart. I am sure we have all listened attentively and with the keenest interest to what he has said this afternoon. I am afraid I cannot lay claim to his intimate knowledge of the subject, but nevertheless I will deal to the best of my ability with the points he and other noble Lords have raised. The noble Lord has asked whether my right honourable friend the Secretary of State has received from the late Governor of Trinidad a memorandum containing his comments on the Report of the Trinidad Commission of Inquiry and whether he is prepared to present this memorandum to Parliament. My right honourable friend has received the memorandum in question and has it under examination. In effect, he is asked to institute another inquiry with a view to testing the deductions which the Commission have made from the evidence placed before them, and apportioning the responsibility between the Governor and the officials for actions the Commission has criticised. My right honourable friend is prepared to examine what the late Governor has to say, but he has full confidence in the impartiality of the Commission which he appointed, and he considers that to present to Parliament a personal ex parte statement of the kind in question would be most inappropriate.

Now I will take the question of the despatch to Trinidad of a small body—half a company—of troops. The noble Lord has asked whether His Majesty's Government will adhere to the policy that local law and order must be provided for by the local police. To that I reply that it is a general principle to which His Majesty's Government attach importance that local law and order must be maintained by local forces. The police come first and should be strengthened where necessary, but in all cases of emergency they must be backed by Volunteer forces. The Volunteer forces in the West Indies, and indeed in the Colonial Empire generally, play an important part, and I should like to say that His Majesty's Government place a very high value on their services, and are justified in doing so by the fact that when called upon their response has been magnificent. These forces are made up of all races, and it would be quite wrong to regard them as the heirs of the old Militia to which the noble Lord has referred. Nevertheless internal security in the West Indies presents a difficult problem.

To maintain in normal times local forces in any given Colony capable of dealing with any eventuality would be beyond the resources of many Colonies. The ideal would be some form of mobile reserve. This is easy to arrange in a large territorial area, but less easy in the case of a great chain of islands, among which there is little political unity. It is for this reason that on various occasions His Majesty's naval and military forces in the West Indies have been used as a mobile reserve. In the case in question the Governor pressed for the despatch of troops on the ground that ill-disposed persons were continuing attempts to provoke strife and discord, and that the troops were necessary to restore confidence among the law-abiding and responsible section of the community in the southern area of the island where confidence was lacking. His view was accepted and the troops were despatched. The Acting Governor confirms that the desired result has been effected. It is hoped that the situation will permit of the troops returning to their normal station on March 29 unless the situation deteriorates in the meantime. I should perhaps add that steps have been taken to strengthen the local forces in Trinidad. The police force has been increased from 958 to 1,169 of all ranks, and it is proposed to increase the number of the Volunteer forces from 363 to 1,637. Full particulars are given on pages 119 and 120 of the Trinidad Commission's Report. The question has also been raised of the defence of Imperial interests in the West Indian Colonies. I gather that reference is intended specially to the Trinidad oilfields. On this subject I can only say that it is receiving the most careful consideration of His Majesty's Government.

It has been suggested that the sedition laws are responsible for the various violent outbreaks that have occurred in that they prevent persons holding progressive views from making speeches on the subject of grievances. This is not the case. In general the sedition laws declare it an offence to excite any of His Majesty's subjects to attempt otherwise than by lawful means to procure the alteration of any matter by law established, to raise discontent or disaffection amongst His Majesty's subjects, or to promote feelings of and hostility between different classes or races of such subjects. It would not be regarded as an offence to point out in speeches, for example, that the Government was mistaken in its measures, or to urge that attempts should be made by lawful means to try to secure the alteration of any matter by law established, or to point out matters which were producing feelings of hatred and Action would only be taken against persons who, not content with adopting lawful means, used violent language which might lead to a breach of the peace or which incited the commission of acts of violence.

The fact that West Indian audiences are easily aroused by sympathetic and eloquent speakers renders it all the more necessary that speakers should refrain from incitement to violence. It further follows that such speakers must, when it appears necessary, be arrested. The time and place of such arrests must always be a most difficult problem of administration. If there are no disturbances, there may well be no criticism. If there are, it is a matter for consideration, usually by a Commission of Inquiry, whether the disturbances were unnecessarily precipitated or whether worse trouble was nipped in the bud. There is no golden rule. It is not always easy to draw a line between a shindy and a row, and the appalling death of Corporal King, of the Trinidad police, is an example of the kind of incident it is most essential to guard against. I would like to point out that the serious criminal charges on which Butler was wanted were sedition and incitement to murder. He was convicted of sedition and sentenced to the maximum penalty of two years imprisonment. He appealed unsuccessfully. The charge of obstruction was much earlier, and Butler was allowed bail in respect of that charge. He failed to surrender to his bail.

The noble Lord has dealt at some length with the position of labour in the West Indies. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State has devoted particular attention to conditions of labour in the Colonial Empire generally. Last August he addressed a circular Despatch to the Governors and High Commissioners of all the non-self-governing Colonies, Protectorates and Mandated Territories, impressing on them the desirability of ensuring that adequate machinery existed for the supervision of the conditions under which labour was employed in their territories, and emphasizing the point that now that there had been, generally speaking, a definite improvement in the financial position of the Colonies, and that Colonial enterprises were to a large extent reaping the benefit of enhanced prices, it was only right that a fair share of this benefit should be passed on to the workers. My right honourable friend went on to say that the relations between employers and employees should be regarded as the main concern of any Government labour organisation, and that this observation did not apply merely to territories in which were to be found developed industries with modern machinery such as manufactories or mines, but equally to territories in which the main employment was purely agricultural. In the same Despatch my right honourable friend made numerous suggestions regarding matters which he thought should be of immediate concern to Labour Departments or Inspectorates in the Colonies, including the operation of masters' and servants' and workmen's compensation legislation, watching the development of trade unions as and when they emerged and rendering such assistance to them as might be practicable in their relations with employers, reporting to the local Government in cases of very low paid labour, and maintaining close co-operation with the medical and health services in regard to such matters as the housing of workers, and their transport to places of employment. I am placing a copy of this Despatch in the Library of this House.

The statements made recently by my right honourable friend in another place show that during the last six months a substantial measure of effect has already been given to his recommendations in many of the West Indian Colonies. In British Guiana, to which the noble Lord referred, a Department has been set up under a Commissioner of Labour whose main duties will naturally be the supervision of local labour conditions and the general welfare of labourers, and a Bill has been drafted to provide for the regulation of dangerous and unhealthy industries. In Grenada a Commission was appointed a few months ago to inquire into the economic conditions of the various classes of wage-earners, with special reference to the agricultural industry, and to obtain recommendations for their betterment; and provision for the appointment of a Labour Officer has been made in the Estimates of the Colony for the forthcoming financial year. In St. Lucia a Secretary for Labour has been appointed with the responsibility of watching labour conditions generally and inquiring into alleged or suspected abuses. This officer will be assisted by an Inspector of Labour whose duties will include ensuring compliance with orders made under the Minimum Wages Ordinance. In St. Vincent a Labour Officer with very similar duties has been appointed.

As a result of the disturbances which occurred last June in Trinidad a Secretary of Labour was appointed as a temporary measure, and following the suggestion made by the Commission which subsequently investigated the disturbances an officer of the Ministry of Labour has been appointed Industrial Adviser to undertake conciliation work and to assist the local Government to establish a Labour Department. In Barbados, the local Government has at the present time under consideration the recommendations of the Commission which inquired into last year's disturbances and which inter alia advocated the appointment of a Labour Officer. In the Bahamas the Acting Governor recently suggested to his Legislature that the time had arrived to consider the appointment of a Labour Officer to secure liaison between the Government, the employers and employees, and to keep the Government fully informed of all aspects of the labour situation in that Colony. In Jamaica the introduction of legislation providing for workmen's compensation, minimum-wage-fixing machinery and the control of factories and workshops is contemplated, and the Governor is further considering the advisability of setting up some organisation whereby arbitration and conciliation may be facilitated.

Finally, as was announced by my right honourable friend on January 9, he has decided to create the appointment of a Labour Adviser to the Secretary of State. It is intended that this officer shall spend several months in each year visiting the various Colonial Dependencies to gain first hand information as to conditions under which labour is employed. My right honourable friend is convinced that the experience gained by this officer will in time prove of the greatest value to Colonial Administrations. He contemplates that the first visit to be paid by the Adviser on appointment will be to the West Indian Colonies. This will probably be in the autumn of this year.

I will now deal more generally with the question of the remuneration of labour in the West Indies. The problem of fixing the proper remuneration of labour is a very difficult one. Obviously the ideal is to give the labourer the most favourable conditions which the industry in which he is employed will stand; and in the West Indies, with a few exceptions, all the industries employing labour are agricultural industries. Sugar is the chief industry, fruit growing of one kind or another comes next, and there is also sea island cotton grown in a number of the islands, cocoa in Trinidad and Grenada, arrowroot in St. Vincent, and vegetables in a number of islands and a number of small agricultural industries. I doubt whether any of these industries are organised purely on a plantation basis. All the commodities concerned are produced partly by plantation owners employing labour and partly by peasants producing on their own account. All of them at one time or another have been prosperous, but in recent years nearly every one has been depressed. Last year some of them recovered prosperity for a time, but at present I am afraid that few of them are really doing at all well.

Unfortunately the agricultural range of the individual islands is limited, and there is little scope for transferring activities from unprofitable to more profitable forms of production. Very often, however badly a business may be doing, the individual producer, whether peasant or plantation owner, has no other crop to which to turn. The alternatives are either to grow something which yields the barest possible income or to have no income at all. In these circumstances the plantation owner is sometimes compelled to pay his labourers what he himself realises is an inadequate wage, since otherwise he would not be able to employ them at all. Some steps can of course be taken to meet such a situation, and in particular great efforts have been made where the difficulties are most acute to produce as much food and other necessities locally so that small cash incomes may go as far as possible. The Colonial Governments have played a part in assisting this development. Another means of alleviating the difficulties is to endeavour to raise the sale price by means of Imperial preference. Both the United Kingdom and Canada, which are the natural Empire markets for the West Indies, have done invaluable service in that way. The sugar industry is an outstanding case in point. I think that the noble Lord will agree that if it were not for Imperial preference the West Indian sugar industry could not exist to-day. Canada grants a handsome preference on sugar to all Empire countries and the United Kingdom grants the generous preference of 3s. 9d. per cwt. on 96 degrees sugar. I apologise for this technicality, but sugar preferences are extremely complicated things. There is also a special additional preference which in effect gives an additional is. to the whole sugar crop of the Colonial Empire. The noble Lord asked whether this preference has actually accrued to the benefit of the sugar cane growers and the workers on the sugar estates, or whether—


I do not think I asked any such thing.


I thought the noble Lord did.


No one knows better than I do about this preference because I was the chief agency in getting it established. I have again and again acknowledged that it has saved the sugar industry.


I was going to draw attention to the fact that the labourers have been helped to this rather large extent. The preferences on other commodities have been on a smaller scale, since the industries themselves are smaller, but many of them have been exceedingly beneficial, particularly those on bananas and other fruit. Wages alone are not, as the noble Lord has pointed out, the only factor in securing a satisfactory labour position. One is the state of nutrition of the workers. To this subject much attention has recently been given. There is no doubt that throughout the West Indies there is plenty of room for improvement in nutrition, particularly of the labouring classes. The main deficiencies are, I think, in animal proteins and vitamins, and the main reason for the deficiencies are poverty and ignorance. Much can be done by judicious propaganda and by instruction in the schools to dispel the ignorance, but the problem of poverty is more difficult. Another point which emerges is the great importance in the circumstances in the West Indies of increasing attention to the production of foodstuffs, particularly of what are known as "backyard vegetables" which could be produced with comparatively little effort. Any measure which would increase local production of nutritious food and so assist in supporting and increasing population is most warmly to be welcomed and will have my right honourable friend's strong support.

Then again there is the matter of housing to which the noble Lord refers. The Commissions of Inquiry in both Trinidad and Barbados have given special consideration to this subject, and in this respect endorse the views expressed both by the Royal Commission of 1897 and by the Sugar Commission of 1929 over which the noble Lord presided with such distinction. While bad housing is not perhaps of itself sufficient to cause serious industrial unrest, the harmful effect which it has on the physical health and moral and mental outlook of the people cannot be too strongly emphasized. It must unfortunately be admitted that this important question has not in every case received the attention which it required. My right honourable friend is, however, confident that not only the Government but also the employers in Trinidad and Barbados will give particular attention to this matter, and the action taken in those Colonies cannot fail to have its influence in any of the neighbouring Colonies where similar conditions exist. Within the last few days my right honourable friend has learned that one of the important sugar companies operating in Trinidad has decided to adopt a scheme for the housing of its staff and labour which will cost£50,000, to be spread over a period of five years. This is a hopeful sign.

So far I have been dealing with the West Indies as a whole. This is a difficult thing to do when one reflects on the marked diversities which they show. Every Colony, one might almost say every island, has its own indivduality, and not least of these Trinidad. First of all this island, which is, after Jamaica, the largest and most populous of the British West Indian Islands, is the most cosmopolitan of them all. Apart from its very mixed racial background Trinidad is the only British West Indian island which, in addition to its agricultural resources, has the famous asphalt lake and a rapidly developing mineral oil industry, including local oil refineries. This introduces the factor of industrial capital and industrialised labour, and constitutes a problem in the society of Trinidad not present in other purely agricultural islands.

The Trinidad oilfield in parts is still speculative. Several companies have embarked capital in exploration and well-sinking with little or no profit. Much capital has been sunk in Trinidad oil that has been irretrievably lost. Only a few enterprises have so far proved profitable and successful. The two best known of the latter are Apex and Trinidad Leaseholds, and even their success is a matter of comparatively recent history. In 1936 Trinidad produced over 60 per cent. of the oil produced from British Empire sources, but this was only 0.92 per cent. of the world's production. None the less, on account of its quality and its geographical position, it is of very real significance to the Empire as a whole, and in both peace and war the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force have a vital interest in the development and modern scientific refining of Trinidad oil. Accordingly the security both from external and internal danger of the various oil plants, including the pipe lines and refineries, has become a matter of Imperial concern. It is important to us all that good relations between capital and labour in the Trinidad oilfield should be built up and maintained.

It is the axiom which we all accept to-day that the State has the right and the duty to ensure that the impact of scientific industrial capitalism on a primitive people as yet unaccustomed by tradition and organisation to protect their interests shall not result in exploitation, or conditions which lead to justifiable discontent, or bad social conditions. Let me be clear that this concern of the State is not limited to questions of mere remuneration and the provision of appropriate machinery for collective bargaining, or the institution of statutory minimum rates of wages. The State is concerned with the physical and moral welfare of employees as citizens. The housing, to which I have already referred, and sanitary conditions of working and living are quite as important as questions of fair remuneration. But more important than all these things, which are susceptible of wise Government regulation and inspection, is what no Government can enact—namely, the inculcation of the right human relations between employer and employed. It is—on any long view—quite as much in the interests of shareholders as it is of labour that those entrusted with the heavy responsibility of management should always bear this in mind. If people are properly and decently treated as human beings and not just as hands, it is worth all the regulations and expenditure on amenities and the like put together. Again, the development of sound trades unions, a necessity in any well-run industry, depends on wage-earners accepting men of their own trade and standing to conduct negotiations and to represent them, and remaining loyal to their leaders. It is not easy to transplant this spirit to communities with so different a background and tradition. But we must go on trying with patience and frequent forbearance, lest far worse evils result from the absence of proper organisation.

The noble Lord has referred to the passage in the Trinidad Commission's Report dealing with the subject of praedial larceny. The passage reveals a state of affairs which goes beyond ordinary praedial larceny and extends to what might he called praedial hooliganism. The Commission have recommended the application of the existing law providing for corporal punishment in certain cases. On this, as on other recommendations, my right honourable friend is awaiting the views of the local Government, but he is prepared to say at once that he is far from regarding corporal punishment as being a panacea for praedial larceny. The precise steps to be taken to deal with this evil must vary in different places, but the ideal to be aimed at must always be the removal of the predisposing causes. The growth of social education and public opinion must be relied on to stamp out this curse.

With regard to land settlement, the earliest efforts were made about the commencement of the present century and formed part of the programme of agricultural development which was undertaken as the result of the Report of the West Indies Royal Commission of 1897, the most important and far-reaching item of which was the establishment of the Imperial Department of Agriculture for the West Indies. During the intervening period schemes have been attempted in a number of Colonies and Dependencies including St. Vincent, Grenada, Antigua, Nevis, the Virgin Islands, Trinidad, Jamaica and British Guiana. It is regarded as reasonably clear that among the reasons for non-success of many schemes in the West Indies has been the general assumption. that the main requisite was to acquire land, to subdivide it and then to make the lots available to prospective tenants on terms which permitted repayment over a period of years. There has usually been some provision of roads, and the agricultural officers were expected to give such assistance to tenants as lay within their power, but this was merely incidental. The schemes were primarily regarded as land subdivision schemes, they were usually under the charge of the Survey or Public Works Department, and the prime consideration of the Government was the safeguarding of public revenues against loss so far as possible.

Moreover, no selection of tenants was made apart from their ability to provide the necessary instalments towards the purchase, nor was it realised that there was any need for continuous supervision of the work of tenants for control in the choice of crops grown, for financial assistance for getting the holdings going, for erection of houses or for subsistence or working expenses during the period in which crops were growing, for facilities for acquiring seed or manures, for provision to enable implements to be bought or hired on favourable terms or for assistance to the cultivators in the organisation of the marketing of the produce. It is now recognised that for successful work these requisities must be satisfied. It is further realised that the choice of land for settlement is all-important both on account of its location and also of its fertility. In the past, on occasion, the lands acquired for the purpose were derelict properties that had been exhausted by former owners; it is obvious that successful settlement of such lands is impossible, unless in addition to the purchase price funds are available to meet the cost of their regeneration.

In conclusion I would say just this. The noble Lord is too experienced an administrator, and too familiar with the West Indies, to need any reminder of the widely different conditions that prevail in the individual islands—differences of soil, of race, arid of political constitutions. These differences accentuate enormously the practical difficulties of introducing the many necessary and salutary reforms, the desirability of which is a matter of common consent; while in most of the smaller islands the march of progress is seriously retarded, if not brought to a complete standstill, by a chronic financial stringency, aggravated from time to time by hurricanes, low prices and tropical disease. I hope, however, I have said enough to convince noble Lords that my right honourable friend and those responsible under him for the administration of these islands are alive to the urgency of their problems, and doing everything within the limits of their power to grapple with them.


My Lords, I am sorry to say that I have lost my voice through laryngitis, and as the noble Earl (Lord Midleton) is sitting on the Cross Benches I think I may say it is only right to assume that he entirely failed to hear what I said, and imputed to me, knowing my noxious character, certain things which I did not say at all. He accused me of having attacked with virulence the planters of the West Indies. On the contrary I spoke very highly of them, and admitted that it was quite impossible for them to pay higher wages, and, as I said in my speech also, that was recognised by the labourers themselves. As a matter of fact they are now doing better. I do not want to have any controversy with the noble Earl, but I think he did mistake what I said.

With regard to the noble Earl who spoke last, I do not know whether I can credit him with having composed the excellent paper on the West Indies which he has just read, but it was obviously composed before I delivered my speech, and I have really dealt with it in advance. I am not going to trouble your Lordships with a discussion of the points raised. I fully recognise the desire of the Secretary of State to do what he can on the lines suggested. The sugar industry only survives in certain parts of the West Indies, the conditions are the same in all the islands, and the industry can be handled much more comprehensively than any other industry. I am delighted to hear that the Secretary of State proposes to appoint a Labour Adviser, and proposes to send him out to the Colonies at a certain period of the year. What we want is to have people who know how to deal with these things, and who will get the information which the Secretary of State wants, and which he cannot get at the present time, either from Jamaica or Trinidad or anywhere else, owing to lack of a skilled expert staff. For instance, unemployment is rapidly increasing in Jamaica, and the Secretary of State is unable to get any detailed information as to where it is happening but only generalities. With regard to emigration, the Report comes down to this, that Chinese shopkeepers are a great danger to the island because they compete with local shopkeepers and do their business better, just as in South Africa you had that complaint against the Indian, because he did his business better. With regard to one further thing which the noble Earl said—namely, that the enlargement of the Militia force ought not be to regarded as an extension of the old anti-slave repressionism—I did not say that it ought to be so regarded, but that it would he so regarded.

I know that this is a long business, that conditions are different in the various islands, and that when you have done the best you can you will not be able to create prosperity throughout the West Indies until you pay a proper price for sugar. I am advised by my noble friend that I should not divide the House because of any dissatisfaction that I may feel with the reply that has fallen from the noble Lord. With regard to the publication of the memorandum, I think that in fairness the same publicity should be given as has been given to the exparte Report which has been published. With these words I will ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, with drawn.