§ LORD OLIVIER rose to call attention to reports of recent fatal disturbances on sugar estates in Jamaica; to ask His Majesty's Government for information upon the subject; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, my noble friend Lord Strabolgi has already expressed a slight murmur on my behalf at being compelled to address your Lordships at so late a moment. The present moment is even the later, because many of your Lordships have apparently taken a much more serious view of your responsibilities for giving His Majesty advice and discussing the Bills brought forward than the noble Earl the Leader of the House led me to expect they would be likely to do. I am sorry I cannot postpone the observations I have to make. It is important that some observations on the present situation in the West Indies should be made at the present time, and I shall not have another opportunity of making them. I have put together as concisely as I can a statement of facts and figures which are quite outside the cognizance of most people in this country and which should be brought to their attention. It is not my purpose to make any hostile or factious attack on His Majesty's Government or on past administrations. Nothing is more futile than pouring out blame for actions with which you may disagree.
I wish to contribute some information, and also to make some complaints and give some warnings. First of all, the general complaint I have to make is that for the last two or three years there appear to have been great and serious defects in the intelligence system of the Colonial Office, and I believe that when he was in another place the noble Lord, Lord Harlech, indicated that he hoped
that office would be able to exercise greater vigilance in future. Early in 1936 there was a book published written by Professor W. M. Macmillan, an honorary Fellow of All Souls', under the arresting title of Warning from the West Indies. That was two and a-half years ago. Mr. Macmillan was formerly Professor of Economics in Witwatersrand University in South Africa, and is recognised as a high authority on economics and industrial questions. During the year 1935 he visited the United States and the West Indian Colonies in the hope of obtaining material for assisting towards a settlement of economic and industrial difficulties in South Africa. Of the West Indies he wrote:
I myself went to the islands prepared to be impressed. I came away dismayed that where such progress is possible so very few have been able to attain it … The tutelage supposed to be necessary to safeguard the interests of the weak has signally failed to develop the potentiality of either land or people.
This book will serve its purpose if, by showing the state of our oldest Colonies after centuries of British rule, it can at all shake this complacency and rouse at once a livelier sense of our responsibility to the old West Indies, and an aspiration to do better in North-West Africa … It is the besetting national sin to take credit for the benevolence of our intentions.
That is very much what has been said in the columns of The Times in some excellent articles recently written by Mr. Stannard and practically endorsed by The Times in its editorial columns. Mr. Macmillan went on:
Lord Olivier's report related particularly to the emergency caused by the great world depression.
That Report was written in 1930.
But it showed also that even in normal conditions, with the British preferential tariff in operation to support the sugar industry it must hasten the process of rationalisation.
§ I quote this to show that a careful and documented warning was given in 1936 to reinforce the warnings given by Mr. Semple and myself six years before. I cannot understand how it is that no attention appears to have been given to this warning otherwise than in respect to the rationalisation of factory work. That was done, but no attention was given to the rationalisation of the position of cane farmers or labourers. That is my complaint. Immediately after that book was published I myself also published a book 879 on Jamaica, giving a very full account of conditions very relevant to the present situation. In Jamaica, as is well known, there are great numbers of small settlers who earn part of their livelihood on their holdings. This is one reason why, when they work at wages, they do not work more than about four days a week. But much of the population of Jamaica still depends almost exclusively on wage labour, and for many years past it has been recognised that the conditions of wage labourers on sugar estates were intolerably wretched. Even since the abolition of slavery the feeling has prevailed that the conditions on the sugar estates were intolerably wretched and that if you wanted to demoralise any man you kept him as a labourer on a sugar estate.
§ So much is this the case that when Mr. Semple and I visited Trinidad and Barbados, and later Jamaica in 1929, we found many people—there is very much in my mind that I could say but I will try to cut it down and be as short as I can—who told us that the sugar industry there was not worth preserving, and there has always been considerable opposition in Jamaica to subsidising it from public funds. So great a proportion of the whole population of the West Indies, however, as well as the public revenue, depends on the sugar industry that even such objectors agreed that an effort must be made to maintain it, otherwise the whole of many people's livelihood would disappear. The Government therefore, we hoped, would make an effort, and His Majesty's Government made an excellent effort to maintain the price of sugar which has saved the industry. That reacted on the conditions of the cane farmer and the labourers. That I think will be generally agreed. Land settlement could not meet their needs in some islands, and had not been pushed far enough in Trinidad to form any substantial substitute for the maintenance of the distressed population.
§ Soon after my book was published I began to receive information, from Jamaica especially, that the condition of the wage-earners was worse than I had made it appear in my book, and that it was rapidly deteriorating. Subsequently I continued to get further evidence of increasing poverty and hopelessness in Jamaica, and also that a similar situation was arising in Trinidad and Barbados. Thereupon I formed a desire 880 to spend a winter in Barbados and Trinidad in order to acquaint myself more fully with the details of what I knew was happening, and of making a final appeal to the British Government to attend to the situation. I was, however, prevented by various causes from doing this. Towards the end of the summer of 1937 Trinidad and Barbados blew up, as Sir Edward Grey in 1896 prophesied that Barbados would one day do. The distress in Jamaica continued to be ignored, and when trouble began the British public was told that these troubles were merely local and that they had been easily settled.
§ During the past month labour disturbances have occurred all over Jamaica. I want to say here what I said three months ago, that you must not look at this Jamaica trouble simply as one of rioting upon an estate in Westmoreland. That is simply an indication of what is occurring all over Jamaica. The Press reports received in this country are amusingly perverse. After the not at Frome, in Jamaica, Press telegrams informed us that twenty-three police were in hospital, from which readers naturally inferred that they had been hurt in the not in question. Jamaica newspapers received by me a few days ago explained that these police were in hospital because they had fallen sick of dysentery and malaria through sleeping in the accommodation provided for them (presumably old labourers' barracks), and drinking unwholesome water, and that the police who had been brought into Westmoreland had to be withdrawn. I rather fancy there are a good many labourers who would see humour in that situation. As a matter of fact the police had to be withdrawn from Westmoreland because they were so ill they were not able to be employed on their duties.
§ Subsequently, because the police were on their backs in Westmoreland, the militia and troops were sent up to Mandeville. That is one of the last places where I should have thought there would be industrial disturbances. It is a health resort with no large plantations near. The trouble was simply one originating among casual labourers. To send troops there seems to me much as if you sent the Lifeguards to Tunbridge Wells to keep order during the hopping season. It is perfectly ridiculous that there should be trouble there. It is symptomatic 881 of the fact that all over Jamaica, in places where one would least expect it, the worm is turning. Colonel Spencer Smith has written one letter in The Times and one in the Daily Telegraph, very pertinent letters. He is the proprietor of the Fonthill estate. He says that in the last few years there had been great destitution among the people which was rendering them an easy prey to agitators. Then he says we have heard of relief works. We are always being told that the Governor is organising schemes of relief work. That is misleading. Relief works have practically not yet begun. They have been talked of. The first relief work was to be an aerodrome, but on May 14 the site of that had not been determined. Then there was the erection of a tuberculosis hospital. Much good the erection of a tuberculosis hospital would do the Western Jamaica labourers. I can assure your Lordships that even reconstruction works in the town of Kingston are not employing more than too men, if so many. The last Jamaican newspapers say that no employment has been given. It is all hope and intention.
§ Another example of Press statements is that numbers of labourers have assembled armed with clubs and knives or cutlasses. Thai: statement occurs so constantly that I think there must be a code word for it. If you saw a group of shepherds approaching a hiring fair carrying crooks and hurdle-bars you would not think necessarily that they intended to trip up and impale the farmers. All labourers in Jamaica carry cutlasses. If I saw a countryman without a cutlass I should imagine he was loitering with intent to commit a felony. They all carry cutlasses. The cutlass is the universal tool of the agricultural labourer. He uses it for every purpose—for billing pastures, for cutting bananas, for chopping firewood, for cutting down canes. As regards cudgels, I was often struck in Jamaica by the fact that coolies used to go about carrying lathis. It is analogous to a policeman's truncheon, but about ten times as long. When these men are out for a walk they often carry these long lathis, much as a soldier carries a swagger stick. Creole labourers, on the other hand, go about with what originally was the quarter staff. Your Lordships will know that a quarter staff is a quarter of a rod, which was the old English 882 measure for every kind of agricultural work. The chain and the rod are still the measures in Jamaica. These people have quarter staffs to measure their work and they carry them about, especially in Westmoreland. These long cudgels—they are rather more than four feet long—may, of course, be used as weapons of combat, and they are formidable weapons, but they are not carried about for the purpose of fighting.
§ Some of the replies which have been given in another place by my noble friend opposite (Lord Harlech), or by his representative, have been inadequate and not informative. I am sure that they were all given with perfect ingenuousness and in perfect good faith, but in some cases when there were supplementary questions and answers put and given in a hurry they were not very informing. I am sorry to say that there are few honourable members in another place with sufficient knowledge to ask really pertinent supplementary questions about Jamaica, and so they are an easy prey to an old Parliamentary hand like my noble friend opposite. The Under-Secretary of State has given me a statement of wages paid in the different parishes. I am not going to read it to your Lordships, but I hope it will be issued through the OFFICIAL REPORT because I think it is important that it should be available to the public. I will read it if your Lordships like, but it has been laid on the Table.
THE PARLIAMENTARY UNDERSECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE COLONIES (THE MARQUESS OF DUFFERIN AND AVA)
It is a written answer.
§ LORD OLIVIER
I think I may take it as read. There are fourteen parishes in the island. In the case of Kingston St. Andrew, which is completely urban or suburban, wages I think are rather higher than elsewhere. The figures for St. Thomas in the East and Westmoreland seem to me to require criticism. The other parishes include Portland, where the average wage for men is given as ranging from 1s. 4¾d. to 2S. 3d., and for women from 9¾d. to 1s. 6d. The statement given in the Parliamentary reply that wages in Westmoreland have risen appears to me to be questionable. Westmoreland wages in my experience are not higher than in adjacent parishes, where they range from 1s. 3d. to 1s. 6d. When I was there in 1930 they were lower. If 883 higher maximum wages are now paid in Westmoreland and St. Thomas in the East, I think it must be for specially skilled jobs, such as cane cutting, which only comes at special times, and is very much harder than fagging off heavily laid corn in England. They are full of prickles. A man gets 10½d. to a shilling for cutting a ton of that stuff, and by working very hard he can possibly cut three or four tons a day. It is terrific labour. The latest returns I have been able to get, for 1935, from the Royal Empire Society's library, gave the average wages in Westmoreland as 1s. to 1s. 3d. As I have constantly stated, a Jamaica parish is equivalent to a rural district in England, so that we learn officially that throughout by far the greater part of Jamaica field labourers' wages average 1s. 4d. to 2s. a day, with about half that rate for women.
Figures such as these indicate the futility of supposing that labour unrest can be pacified either by better housing of labourers resident on the estate in barracks, or in tied houses, or by improved medical service, or by crèches for children, or advice as to better nutrition. All such efforts are praiseworthy but do not touch the root of the trouble. The late Secretary of State has, as I know, done his best to encourage all of them. It is hardly possible to give any reliable general statement as to rates of wages in Jamaica. All field labour is paid by the piece—that is, all field operations are contracted for by the square chain—log wood cutting and chipping by weight or measure, cane cutting, which is the hardest and highest paid work, by the ton, cut and tied into bundles. When Indian emigrants were employed in estates or plantations under indenture there was a legal minimum wage for them of 1s. 6d. a day, with quarters and medical care. They were not paid by the day. The Protector of Immigrants had to see that the tasks given them were priced at such rates as would enable them to earn, with reasonable exertion, not less than 1s. 6d. a day. Jamaican field labourers are rarely employed for more than four full days in the week. They start on Tuesday and are paid off on Friday, usually once a fortnight. Until comparatively recently, the field hands on sugar cane in Westmoreland and some other districts were mostly East Indians 884 out of indenture, and the basic wage for field labour did not exceed from 1s. 3d. to 1s. 6d. a day, earned by task work for four days a week. I say this from personal knowledge acquired in frequent visits to Westmoreland, where I used to stay with the then owner of Frome Central Factory, recently acquired by Messrs. Tate, Lyle and Company.
There is no trade union of agricultural labourers in Jamaica, and I see no strong possibility of establishing one—any more than I do for the van boys!—which could work effectively for collective bargains. The same general difficulties exist as have prevailed in this country, and have been recognised here as necessitating dealing with agricultural wages by statutory provision for fixing minimum wages, the establishment of local boards in every county, and the fixing of prices for wheat, milk, bacon, etc., and other guarantees to employers. There would be considerable difficulties in Jamaica, and doubtless in all other West Indian Colonies, but I see no reason to think them insuperable under the guidance of qualified labour advisers such as the late Secretary of State has already decided must be appointed. The previous experiences of fixing indentured coolies' wages will still be familiar, and they may help. All wages, as I have said, are assessed by the piece or task. There are many different kinds of work to be bargained for, and each kind of work may differ in different localities in its own class in regard to its value according to the condition of the field and pasture. They vary almost from week to week.
At the beginning of every week, when I was in Jamaica, the field labourers used to come out on the land in gangs of four or five men, including a cook to make their breakfasts and possibly a woman or two to tie canes or otherwise help. This preliminary operation was known as "looking upon the work." They did not always start on Tuesday. The gang would bargain for the work with the overseer or the bookkeeper, and haggle vigorously about the price. No local gang of men would have been disposed to be satisfied with a schedule of flat rates per job fixed in a Kingston office nor, as I should surmise, with any invariable rate for any particular class of job; and if the field was very dirty of course the price was higher. On the other hand, if the labourers had to hoe 885 in cow peas, which were used for green-manuring the cane, it sometimes worked the other way, because if the peas were very full of pods, the women used to fill their baskets, and that made the price a little easier. But as soon as their baskets were full they would go off to breakfast, and they would not come back until perhaps next day, when they would get another basketful. All these things have to be taken into account, and make it extremely difficult to fix rates of wages.
All these "labour difficulties" are now complicated by the appearance of unemployment. Towards the end of the eighteenth century there were a thousand sugar estates in Jamaica. When slavery was abolished, in 1838, there were more than six hundred. When the Royal Commission of 1897 surveyed the industry, there were more than a hundred. When Mr. Semple and I surveyed it in 1929, there were between thirty and forty. There are now thirty-five sugar plantations dealt with by twenty-nine factories, several groups of properties having been amalgamated for manufacturing purposes. This process will doubtless continue. In my opinion the whole of Jamaican sugar production could be efficiently and more economically served by about fifteen factories. This process, and the centralisation of certain groups, have naturally affected the quality of the contacts between employers and wage workers. The latter do not and cannot regard a joint stock company or an absentee-owned factory in the same human relation as they could the owner or manager of a two-hundred-ton factory on the estate of their own village.
So far as the process of centralisation has gone in factories owned by British absentee companies, I think it right to say that, having known personally the local managers of most of those factories, I consider that more efficient, considerate and reasonable men could hardly be found anywhere. All of them were considerate and knowledgeable in relation to labour. I say this with reservation in regard to anything that may transpire as to new staff introduced lately in Westmoreland. We have not yet received the Report of the Commission, and I carefully guard myself from expressing any opinion about this disturbance until we get that Report. I have every confidence in the Commission that has been appointed; I know they are admirably tried and trained public servants. 886 One of them is an ex-Judge, one is a very experienced administrator, and another is one of the most capable men on the Council, and very capable in parochial board business. All those men are admirably fitted for the task for which they have been appointed, and I shall accept what they say with full confidence. I was not able to accept everything that was said in the Report of the Trinidad Commission, because there were important parts of the question which had not been referred to them at all; they were not dealing with the whole question of agricultural wages.
Nevertheless, the personal attitude of the labourer cannot possibly be the same towards such managers as it evidently has been, for instance, among the labourers of St. Thomas in the East, in the Blue Mountain Valley, where they had to deal with a managing director well known to and trusted by most of them as a public-spirited worker in the interests of their parish. Now I want to call your attention to this little story, about which we heard nothing in England. In December, 1937, the central factory of Serge Island in the Blue Mountain Valley, in St. Thomas in the East, started crop. Labourers turned out in large numbers to contract for cane cutting. They were dissatisfied with the price offered, which was 10½d. per ton. At this rate a strong cane cutter might earn 3s. 6d. a day, less than Jamaica cane cutters had been able to earn in Cuba.
Pressure was put by the majority upon such labourers as were prepared to accept the rate offered. There was some disturbance and the police were called in, but there was no violence and no casualty. The proprietor of the estate, who was the elected member of the parish and a popular and public-spirited man, conceded a rate of 1s. a ton and persuaded the strikers to accept this. Sixty-three persons were taken in charge by the police, and were prosecuted before the Resident Magistrate for "intimidation and besetting." Those words will have a familiar ring in the ears of those who know the history of British trade unionism. Three were imprisoned, and the rest fined. The sentences were not severe, but the fines were no doubt beyond the means of many to pay. The Resident Magistrate who tried them is reported to have said from the bench that crop would be starting at Duckenfield (the central 887 factory for the adjacent Plantain Garden River District) in February, and he "wanted no nonsense there. If any of them came before him by reason of any trouble there they would be severely dealt with." If the magistrate was correctly reported it would be inevitable that he should be generally understood in the parish and throughout Jamaica as expressing the view of the Government that any strike or demand for higher wages was nonsense.
No doubt this was not precisely what he intended, or the Government would desire him to intend, but such would certainly be the first interpretation. Trade union politicians, some of them Members of Parliament, have been consulted at Transport House on behalf of West Indian labour, and naturally perhaps, considering that "there is nothing like leather," have continually plied the Secretary of State with questions about the progress of trade unionism in the West Indies. Both the present and the late Secretary of State have shown great willingness to yield to this pressure, and to direct legislation for the establishment of trade unions, albeit with some reservations, characteristic of the views of their Party, which are objectionable to experienced British trade unionists. I regret to have to observe that in my opinion this method of dealing with West Indian labour conditions appears to me to be about a hundred years out of date, and I should myself be very sorry to see West Indian industrial history go through the agony of such a course of development as has had to be endured in this country, the leading idea of which has been to organise all wage earners into a disciplined army, to battle by collective bargaining with a much better organised army of capitalist employers. In my opinion it is of no more use to tell the West Indian agricultural labourers to organise themselves than it would be, as I said earlier, to tell the van boys that they should organise themselves for collective bargaining.
As soon as the qualified labour advisers appointed by the Colonial Office get down to their work they will discover the intricacies of the job, and there will ultimately have to be wages boards, with an arbitrator or other authority to settle prices promptly in every parish district, or possibly estate, as the Protector of 888 Immigrants used to for indentured Indian labour. On this account I should not place much reliance on the outcome of the well-intentioned efforts of Secretaries of State to encourage the creation of unions, except for artisan trades, on British models, even if I had not lately noted with consternation a statement of the late Secretary of State in another place, that when once the industrial laws had been passed the responsibility for making them work lay with Colonial Governors. That frightened me very much. Even Colonial Governors and other officials who have, as most have not, a real appreciation of the case of the workers, would be very shy of proving themselves officious on the latter's behalf, after witnessing the experience of Sir Murchison Fletcher and Mr. Nankivell in Trinidad, when those two gentlemen did exhibit some sensibility to the plight of the workers.
The late Secretary of State will perhaps think this an unjust observation. He has made his explanations, but I can assure him that the West Indies have not accepted them, and that the supersession of Sir Murchison Fletcher has had, and will continue to have, a disastrous effect on the credit of the Colonial Office in those Colonies, and will strengthen the agitation which is pervading there against the system of Crown Colony Government. Lord Harlech explained that Sir Murchison Fletcher voluntarily resigned from the Government of Trinidad on the ground of ill health. I venture to say that it would have been quite possible for the Secretary of State to insist on his taking six months leave to recover his health, and then to send him back as a public officer of a kind which it was most highly expedient to retain in the Colonial Service. That incident, however, is closed, and I do not desire to provoke any further reply on that subject. I only feel that what men sow they will reap.
Neglect of the West Indian people is now producing its natural crop in disturbances in the three principal West Indian Colonies, and there are other Colonies in as unhappy conditions. Governors who have made their mark as administrators of a forced labour policy in one part of Africa, or of a native segregation policy in another, however liberal minded and however devoid of prejudice they may be, or believe themselves to be, are generally for some years 889 positively unable to see their way into the essentials of West Indian society, and especially to appreciate the profound independence of character established throughout Jamaica by three centuries of British tradition. Not seeing the facts, they do not report them to the Colonial Office, and the Colonial Office cannot give them instructions or give adequate answers to Parliamentary questions when they are asked. Such Governors may even, if they are prudent men, feel diffident and postpone action, and therefore allow such situations to come about as have arisen during the last three years in the West Indian Colonies. The present Governor of Jamaica has zealously promoted with public support the policy of land settlement initiated by Sir Henry Blake about fifty years ago, and now long accepted as settled policy by all classes in the island. Long after Sir Henry Blake had established that policy a prominent planter denounced him to me as a pronounced negrophilist, and we have witnessed the kind of gruel administered locally to Sir Murchison Fletcher when he began to sit up and take notice in Trinidad.
Some extracts from a private letter which I received a few days ago from an agricultural friend in Jamaica throw an interesting light on the views of some Jamaicans to-day. It says:Everything to do with agriculture is beset with difficulties and the whole country is a seething mass of discontent and ingratitude.That shows that I am not exaggerating in saying that there has been discontent all over the island, and not only in Westmoreland. It continues:So much has been done for the labouring classes—crèches, school meals, clinics, and still they want more and more. This Governor has considered the peasantry far too much. He is far too considerate, and now they turn and rend him.This correspondent's psychology appears to correspond with that expressed by the managing director of a sugar company in a recent letter in The Times, in which he said that because philanthropic endeavour is applied to improving housing and providing medical care, wage-earners show ingratitude in demanding higher wages.
The scandalous state of housing has been brought to the notice of the Colonial Office for many years past and Professor W. M. Macmillan, in his book Warning from the West Indies again brought it 890 to notice, observing however that the best housing for workers he saw in Trinidad was the housing of the oil companies. I have seen no effort made to improve it except by two West Indian Governors, both of whom began their Colonial Service as medical officers and were of course very sensitive on this point. The same may be said about crèches for children which also have been promoted under the same two Governors.
With regard to nutrition, the late Secretary of State has set up a Committee under the Chairmanship of the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, to study the question. In my book on Jamaica published more than three years ago I pointed out that the dietary of Jamaican labourers was below the scale of nutrition estimated by the British Medical Association as being necessary for proper nourishment, and by Professor Bowley in a study of the subject. There is room for misunderstanding on this point. The West Indian labourer does not need a physician or a report from the Colonial Office Committee to tell him when his belly is empty, and provided he has the means to fill it, either by having a provision ground of his own or by getting an adequate wage, he is quite capable of keeping up his strength by his own habits of diet. When labourers from Barbados and other sugar islands went to work on the Panama Canal they had to be conditioned for a fortnight before they could do a day's heavy work, because they had the wages to buy themselves beef and pork and beans, which is what they wanted, and which they can quite well get in their own Colonies if they have the means to go and buy them. Colonel Goethals, who managed the whole business of the Panama Canal, and two of his contractors told me that when they had got the Jamaican labourers into condition they were the best navvies they had ever had in the world. They must therefore be pretty good, though Sir Leonard Lyle states in The Times this morning that the English casual labourer can do five times as much as the Jamaican labourer.
Representations have been made in the Press of destitution and starvation among Jamaican children. The Governor has reported that these representations have been "grossly" exaggerated. I deprecate the use of such epithets. Jamaican children, off the sugar estates, and outside 891 of Kingston, are, in fact, generally fairly nourished. That is my observation, confirmed by Professor Macmillan in his book to which I have referred. Children are worse nourished in Trinidad, Barbados, Antigua, St. Kitts, and perhaps elsewhere. The more pertinent complaint has recently been that their parents cannot send them to school because they cannot clothe and shoe them, which is a very familiar reason, and a good one; because the benefit of country schools in Jamaica largely consists in teaching the children habits of self-respect, cleanliness, and decency. Praedial larceny has been said to have increased lately in Jamaica. This and absenteeism from the schools are an infallible symptom of near destitution among the families. The two go together. If the children are not in school they will be wandering abroad, and picking and stealing all day.
It may not be generally known in England that there is in Jamaica not only no system of unemployment relief, but none of poor relief as such. No able-bodied man or woman can get any help from the Poor Law; not even a night in a casual ward. Public relief is confined to the aged and incapacitated, and to the destitute sick. The whole question of poor relief is now receiving attention, a very able report having recently been made to the Government by the Secretary of the Board of Supervision of the Poor, Miss Edith Clarke, and proposals are, I believe, to be placed before the Legislature on the subject.
When I was in Jamaica early in 1931, on a prolonged private visit, the Chief Sanitary Inspector of the Kingston Corporation invited me to go round the town with him. As a result of my observations, I contributed a full page article to Gleaner newspaper. Considerable interest was shown, both by the Corporation and by the Government, in the matter. Soon after that the then Governor left the island, and, as is usual at such junctures, all interest in the matter appeared to have temporarily dropped. The present Governor has recently been paying attention to it, and practical steps are now being taken to remedy Kingston housing conditions. Housing reform in Kingston presents very great difficulties. In 1908, after the earthquake, I was Chairman of the Committee distributing funds for 892 rebuilding the city, and thereby I gained a very exhaustive knowledge of how the poor are housed in Kingston. A small private company, promoted by the late Archbishop of the West Indies, was formed, to provide decent dwellings at moderate rents: but it did not succeed, either financially or, as it was intended to be, as a model for imitation. The Kingston poor are so poor that no tenement for which they can pay the rent can bear the rating necessary to provide for proper sanitation. The extension of the sewerage system to the whole of Kingston has therefore had to be held up. I believe it is hoped to provide for completing the sewerage system out of the funds lately authorised to be provided by loan at the cost of the Island Treasury.
Shortly before the disturbances recently reported from Kingston, a number of unemployed men applied at the parochial alms-house for a night's lodging, and were turned away to sleep in the streets, as many do every night on the side-walks, and under the front piazzas of private houses. No doubt they have since then been warming themselves in demonstrations. If anyone who is ill enough to receive poor relief wishes to lodge outside the poor-house, he or she receives an allowance of 2s. 6d. a week, more than half of which would have to be spent for a single yard-room in Kingston. They must supplement their maintenance by begging or stealing.
There has been of recent years much controversy, and several schemes of reform, in connection with the provision of public medical aid. It is an indication of failure that well-meaning estate proprietors should now be proposing to provide hospitals and estate medical officers for their own employees. This was the system under slavery, and since slavery it has never been found, and cannot now be found, workable. There is a long-established Government medical service, and there are one or more public hospitals in each parish. What appears to me desirable is to complete this organisation by a system of health insurance and panel relief. Strong efforts are already being made locally to induce the Government to adopt this policy.
Last summer, a lady of a well-known Jamaican family made representations in favour of this policy to the Colonial Office. She also applied to me for advice. I referred 893 her to Dr. G. F. McCleary, lately of the Ministry of Health, who was associated with the late Sir Robert Morant and Sir John Anderson in elaborating the present organisation in this country. That, and not a reversion to the old system of private estate medical officers, is the line that ought to be followed. A great deal of money has lately been spent, and more is intended to be spent out of loan funds, upon the public hospitals. The old estate hospital had the worst possible reputation, being commonly known as "the hot house." Any hospital not under control of the superintending medical officer, and criticism by the Legislative Council, through the elected member for the parish, is liable to degenerate, both in efficiency and in equipment. I hope that the Secretary of State will insist upon the Colonial Government introducing a proper scheme for the total reorganisation of this branch of provision for public health. Any provision by the estates should be merely subsidiary, for purposes of first-aid and temporary accommodation. Proper equipment cannot be expected in such estate hospitals.
Within the last few days I have seen a Memorandum on Unemployment in Jamaica, unsigned and undated—so that I am unable to give credit where credit is due—recently laid on the table of the Library of another place by the Secretary of State for the Colonies. When I spoke in this House in February I remarked on the uselessness of a previous report on unemployment in Jamaica sent home to the Secretary of State by the Governor. This more recent Memorandum is more perspicacious, though still somewhat discursive. It is mainly filled with particulars of the steps that have been taken to relieve unemployment. The report of these, though still" to a certain extent rather anticipatory and prophetic, is very interesting, and the policies indicated are in my opinion generally sound. I might find matters for criticism, but that is not what I desire to do this evening. Far be it from me to throw the slightest splash of cold water on any smoking flax!
That is the substance of what I want to get on official record. I am distressed by the general ignorance of the public, all sections of the public, on this question. I am moving for Papers. We are still awaiting the Report on the West- 894 moreland troubles, but no doubt that will be laid, and I feel confident the Government will lay any further Papers bearing on this question, which affects the whole of the West Indies and not only one corner of them. I am merely asking for such Papers as the Government are prepared to lay, Papers giving real information. I do press the Government to consider whether legislation cannot be formulated to establish a Labour Department with machinery for fixing rates of pay and securing a minimum wage.
The noble Lord has sent out well-chosen labour advisers, and we must await their Report. What I have urged for years is the fixing of guaranteed prices for sugar in the British market sufficiently adequate to enable better wages to be paid in the West Indies. I got this week a letter from Jamaica telling me it is nonsense to say sugar will have to be raised in price to enable the planters to pay higher wages. But that is my opinion, and I have gone into the figures. My view is that with the present price of sugar in the British market, even with the preference, adequate wages cannot be paid. I want information, and I want the Government to deal with the matter on sound lines, rationalising the industry and doing away with the reproach that the sugar industry is not worth preserving. One-third of the population cannot live unless they are maintained by the sugar industry, which I believe is a sound industry, especially the Jamaica one. It has some of the best sugar soils in the world.
First of all, I desire labour legislation to establish minimum wages. The Government will then find it easier than they would have done eight or ten years ago to get an increase in price in England—which is my second point—because several of those who at that time were most strongly opposed to the proposals then made are either themselves interested or are becoming interested, and I cannot help feeling that it will have some effect on their views in fixing the price of sugar. Thirdly, I want to see established a Government audit of all sugar-producing concerns, so long as the sugar industry is subsidised either from Imperial or local funds and wherever monopoly of manufacture or land exists. The purpose of such an audit would be to enable the fixing of reasonable rates of payment for 895 canes to cane farmers, and the establishment of minimum wages for labourers, consistently with reasonable profits on capital invested in efficient factories.
I can assure your Lordships that I get a good deal of semi-private correspondence from Jamaica and I know a great deal of what has been going on during the last two or three years, and probably know better than the Colonial Office or Colonial Governors. I can assure your Lordships that it is not a trivial matter, and that the action of the Government in regard to Abyssinia has produced a very serious effect of prejudice in the West Indies against the good faith of the British Government. It has had a considerable effect on public opinion out there. In the last two or three years the apparent neglect of the Colonial Office and the lack of information as to what is going on, especially in Jamaica, has caused a strong protest against the system of Crown Colony Government. They say that the Government may mean well but that they do not know what is going on. The people there say they are being governed by people who do not know enough about their conditions. During the fifty years I have been conversant with this subject I have not seen so much general distrust of Crown Colony Government as I have seen during the last two or three years.
I should like to express my own feeling about the matter. It appears to me now, and it has for some time, that the British Empire has reached its culmination. I think that the British Government's attitude towards Abyssinia, justly or unjustly, reasonably or unreasonably, has knocked the linen pin out of the British Empire. The linch pin was absolute confidence in the King and his representatives. You have severely damaged that confidence throughout the Empire. That confidence appears to me to have been still further shaken by the negotiations that have been proceeding for the cession of African Protectorates to the Union of South Africa contrary to the undertaking given by His Majesty's Government. If you go back on an undertaking you do inevitably, reasonably or unreasonably, create a strong prejudice. You have shaken the respect and confidence that the West Indies felt in England. I hope that His Majesty's Government will take some serious step to stop the rot at any 896 rate in the West Indies, which in my opinion is one of the Colonies best worth preserving. I beg to move for Papers.
§ LORD HARLECH
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Olivier, has made several references to me in the course of his speech, and I feel that it would be discourteous to him and to the House if, even at this late hour, I did not say a very few words, and they shall be very few on this occasion. May I at the outset say that I entirely agree with the noble Lord that it is absolutely vital to all sections of the population in the West Indian Islands that the sugar industry should be maintained. That industry, it is indeed true, is admittedly in a condition of poverty, and that condition is becoming one of general destitution. After all, in the West Indies, owing to climatic and physiographic conditions, there is no source of wealth in many of the islands except sugar cane. Trinidad, of course, has its oil and is fortunate. It is the only one of the West Indian Islands that has any mineral resources. In Jamaica, again, there is one other agricultural crop of outstanding importance—namely, the banana, which of course now is senior in every way to the sugar industry.
None the less I entirely agree with the noble Lord that even in Jamaica, which produces such a large share of the world's supply of bananas—the premier industry of Jamaica—it would have a most serious effect on the social and economic life of that Colony if the sugar industry were not kept in being. A great deal of the trouble arises to-day in the West Indies from world economics connected with the sugar industry. In the eighteenth century great fortunes were made, but ever since the introduction of sugar beet in many countries of the world, and ever since the opening up to cane sugar of the great volcanic soils of Java and the Sandwich Islands, and the immense aggregations of capital that have gone to those great sugar-cane producing countries, the British tropical and subtropical islands have undoubtedly had a most difficult time. I quite agree with the noble Lord that the unrest in the West Indies has many causes, and is very general, but let me assure him that I realised during the two years that I was at the Colonial Office that that was so. But one of the major causes is undoubtedly the position of the sugar industry. 897 It is impossible for the industry to be maintained in existence at all without substantial preferences such as are now given by this country and by Canada. Further than that, even with the preference, my own view is that better wages and better conditions cannot be paid, much less any dividends be paid on the capital invested in the industry, unless a more reasonable fixed price for sugar in world markets can be assured.
§ LORD OLIVIER
My Lords, I must apologise to the noble Lord. I have to go because my train service home is absolutely limited, and I have to start tomorrow morning for Cardiff, where I have an appointment at the National Museum of Wales. I am sure the noble Lord will excuse me. I should very much like to stop and listen, but I really must go.
§ LORD HARLECH
That will give me an excuse for still further curtailing the many things I wished to say. I hope it will be recognised by other noble Lords that though I do not say them I should have said many other things. May I wish the noble Lord, as president of the museum he is visiting to-morrow, a very interesting visit to that admirable institution. As I have said the economics of the sugar industry are fundamental, and in this connection I must say one thing, because although the noble Lord did not refer to it this afternoon it has been made a major part of the case in the public Press against the Colonial Office, particularly in relation to Jamaica. The Spectator last week said in an article that for the situation in the West Indies the Colonial Office must be held responsible, and the specific reason given was that the task of meeting the situation had been made more difficult by the commercial policy of the British Government which had restricted the Jamaican sugar quota. I really must make die position in regard to that clear, leaving other matters to be dealt with by the representative of the Government, because I am personally concerned with it in connection with the International Conference which met in London last year and which fixed the quotas with the object of preventing the world price of sugar falling to such a level throughout the sugar distributing countries of the world—Cuba, some of the French Colonies, Java and our own Colonies—as to have a most serious social 898 effect upon the wage-earning classes in those vast areas.
That conference was the direct descendant of the World Monetary and Economic Conference which met in 1932. It was attended not only by members of the Secretariat of the League of Nations and representatives of the League Powers, but also by representatives of the United States of America and certain other States not members of the League. After many discussions quotas were agreed upon for export to the world markets by all the States represented—the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and Czechoslovakia (two of the important beet sugar countries), Germany, France, the United States, Cuba—and the British Colonial Empire had to bargain for its quota among the other nations of the world. After prolonged negotiation we reached a unanimous conclusion, and it was one of the most successful international conferences ever held. Therefore to criticise the Colonial Office of this country for what is a big international settlement is, I think, rather unfair. Further than that, apropos of the Jamaica quota, in the course of the negotiations I got what I was quite sure would redound most to the-interests of the British Colonial Empire, a global figure agreed upon by all the foreign countries for the British Colonial Empire—apart from the Dominions—as a whole. We were given a free hand to allocate the quota for sugar which might be exported between the various sugar-producing Colonies. That was agreed to by the foreign countries.
I want to make it perfectly clear that, so far from curtailing the Jamaica quota, when I addressed the representatives of the sugar-producing Colonies I singled out Jamaica as the Colony especially deserving of an extra quota over and above the proportionate rate which all the others would have according to previous production, on account of social difficulties which I knew of and foresaw in Jamaica. For the Spectator to ignore that fact and say that the Colonial Office reduced the Jamaica quota is, I think, a most singularly unfair suggestion. These quotas were not imposed but were agreed amongst the representatives of all the sugar-producing Colonies, and I am glad to say—I believe it is recognised by the I Government in Jamaica—that if anybody 899 got an extra bit of a square deal it was Jamaica.
I was very glad that the noble Lord opposite paid what is, I believe, sincerely due, a tribute to Messrs. Tate and Lyle. I believe it is essential to the future prosperity and success of the sugar industry in the British West Indies to get new capital and to bring in firms of that standing with a command of technical resources, scientific outlook and finance who can help to rationalise the industry and help it to compete with the up-to-date machinery of other countries. I think it is most unfortunate that the recent outbreaks in the islands should have commenced, not on the sugar estates, but on the building work of the factories which Messrs. Tate and Lyle are putting up, because without new factories of that type it would not be possible to make a success of the industry on which the livelihood of all the people must depend. Anything which discourages the investment of new capital and the rationalising of the technique of the sugar industry in the West Indies is bound to be a very severe detriment to the wage earners and peasantry of the West Indian Islands.
There is one other point on which I think I ought to say something, as the noble Lord specially referred to me. He must not think that I was ignorant of what was going on. I did take certain steps at the Colonial Office, in connection with the introduction of Minimum Wage Acts which were passed in several of the West Indian Islands, and also in connection with trade unions. I do not think that I entirely agree with the noble Lord opposite in expressing doubt, as he did, about the possibility of forming successful trade unions in the West Indies. I am quite satisfied in regard to industrial labour that it is most desirable to have trade unions, and I see no reason why we should deny agricultural workers help in forming trade unions if they wish to have them.
The noble Lord, Lord Olivier, talked about van boys in the railway vans not being able to form trade unions. That is the old policy which regards the coloured labourers of the West Indies and elsewhere as children. I believe that day has gone by. Now that we have wireless, the people there hear what is happening in America and other places and are 900 fully alive to modern movements in labour. The idea that you can deny trade unions where there is a desire for trade unions or fail to help to make them effective means for collective bargaining, would not be wise, and relies solely upon Minimum Wage Acts. There is a danger of minimum wages becoming maximum, and of the thing becoming stereotyped by Government regulation of wages and becoming inelastic. It is far better, wherever you can, to have trade unions, which can vary wages from time to time by agreements and supplementary agreements, and negotiate different rates and different wages in different classes, which is always an extremely difficult thing to do when the matter is tied up by Statute.
May I ask the noble Lord a question? I am most reluctant to interrupt his extremely interesting maiden speech, but what has fallen from him now is of very great importance to my Party. What he has said about the desirability of encouraging trade unions is admirable. Is that the policy of the Colonial Office, which he has just, unfortunately, left?
§ LORD HARLECH
I said it when I was Secretary of State, and you can see it in a public Dispatch. I have said this in another place; certainly as long as I was at the Colonial Office it was the policy of the Colonial Office.
§ LORD HARLECH
And I have no reason to suppose that in the last fortnight my successor has changed that policy. I want to make that perfectly clear. As I do not want to keep the House, there are only two other points arising out of the noble Lord's speech about which I must say something. He said something about relief works. I entirely agree that public works and relief works are no ultimate solution, or indeed really a very effective solution, for unemployment. That has always been the view put forward by the Party with which I have been associated. I was rather surprised at the noble Lord who belongs to the Party opposite, because I remember in years past hearing so much about great programmes of public works being the solution of the unemployment problem. I well remember, in the days when Sir Oswald Mosley was a member of a Labour 901 Government, the enormous importance he attached to that as a solution of the unemployment problem.
But we have to recognise that, quite apart from the sugar trouble and the other problems of the agricultural industries, and their welfare in the West Indian Islands, then are in the few towns—because there are very few towns—notably the capital towns of Kingston in Jamaica, Port of Spain in Trinidad, and, to a certain degree, Bridgetown in Barbados, both slums and extraordinarily bad housing and sanitary conditions. There has also been a drift in from the country districts, and an inflow of returned emigrants from Panama and Cuba, and the growing-up, particularly in recent years, not merely of an unemployed population but also of an almost unemployable population. The scientific treatment of relief of unemployment may indeed tax the resources of those elective municipalities. Let us remember, when it comes to finance, that you may talk of Crown Colony Government, but it does not obtain in Barbados, where the Colonial Office has no control whatever over finance, where they have a completely elective Assembly, and where the Government cannot spend any money without their assent. The noble Lords talked about large sums that ought to be spent on public health. There again, any nine of the fourteen elected members in Jamaica—it does not matter what the officials say or what the Governor says—can veto and can stop any expenditure whatsoever. We have no power to impose expenditure or taxation upon Jamaica under its present Constitution. Such reforms have to be carried out with the assent of the elected members. That ought to be made clear in discussing these matters.
The final thing upon which I want to say something is this. I did not catch quite clearly what the noble Lord said about my treatment of Sir Murchison Fletcher and Mr. Nankivell, but I take it that he said with regard to the first that the matter is now closed. I hope it is closed. I made a very full statement in another place, and the noble Lord suggested this evening that it should be closed. But in regard to Mr. Nankivell I want to make it perfectly clear what the position is and was. Mr. Nankivell was criticised by the Commission, which included Sir Arthur Pugh, for making a 902 particular speech on a particular occasion. I will not go into that. I have never said anything about that. When I was asked what my attitude was, my attitude was this. Mr. Nankivell was a subordinate official under the Governor. The Governor was in the Chair, and Mr. Nankivell was called upon by the Governor to speak. Under that circumstance I do not think anybody can really criticise Mr. Nankivell for what he said, for the Governor and not Mr. Nankivell must have been responsible. The attitude I have taken in regard to him—and it has been suggested that I have in some way victimised him—is this. As I said in another place, Mr. Nankivell will remain in the Colonial Service. I offered him promotion in that service. Since I left office a fortnight ago I understand that he has accepted the promotion that I offered him on that occasion, and that he has been promoted. For the noble Lord opposite to suggest that Mr. Nankivell has been badly treated because he made a particular speech on a particular occasion which has been criticised by an independent Commission, and that the Colonial Office has victimised him for that, is, if I may say so, very far from the facts of the case. I had to say that, only in self-defence, to make quite clear what has happened.
I am very glad that the noble Lord has raised these questions, because I undoubtedly think that there is very little realisation of the grave difficulty which is not only before the Colonial Office but also before Colonial Governments, or of the difficult phase through which the British West Indian Colonies in particular are now passing. We must do that with all sympathy and with all thought. I hope that in this matter we shall act as a Council of State, and not endeavour to make Party capital one way or the other, or introduce acrimony in wrestling with what are very complex problems. All I can say is that I think the tone of the noble Lord's speech this afternoon will be helpful. I know he loves Jamaica. His name is almost a household word to many classes of the community there. He has been Governor there and has been long associated with it. There is a tendency in this country for people without first-hand knowledge of the conditions in those islands to cloud discussion by introducing all kinds of suggestions. I admit that my own knowledge is somewhat out of date. Though 903 there is poverty, there is the sun. There are conditions that certainly may depress us, yet when I was there—and the wages then were lower than what they are to-day—I formed an impression which I still hold. That is, that there are few coloured populations in the world who on the whole, in spite of difficulties, in spite of bad times, have a more cheery outlook and a more happy social life among themselves than that of the Island of Jamaica. It certainly gave one a very pleasant impression to move among them.
But then there is trouble in the West Indies, there always is trouble. They are not like people who have been accustomed, as we have, to long centuries of order and the like. We must remember that in the tropics tempers are apt to get more excitable. You are dealing with an emotional—a delightfully emotional— people, and those smiles that you see everywhere when you go ordinarily among the people in a quiet time may suddenly turn to violence and rage. Let us regret these "shindies," as I have often heard Lord Olivier call them, but do not let us magnify them into believing that there is something bitter, savage and brutal in those communities, because I am quite sure there is not. We have difficult problems to solve, and they can only be solved with good will. My final word is that I am quite sure that what the noble Lord said about the human touch in Governors and officials and other people, managers of estates and managers of factories, is all-important in solving the difficult problems which we have to solve in this matter in the future.
THE MARQUESS OF DUFFERIN AND AVA
My Lords, it is very late, the noble Lord who raised this matter has ranged over rather a wide field, and it is a little difficult for me to decide exactly what points I should answer. I would, however, first of all say how happy I am that by a convention in this House it falls to me to congratulate Lord Harlech on his maiden speech. I think it would be almost sycophantic if I were to add anything more than to say, in the time-honoured phrase, that we hope he will take his part very often in our future debates. My difficulty is also slightly increased, partly, because my noble friend Lord Harlech has already given one possible answer to the question that Lord Olivier raised, and 904 partly because the actual wording of Lord Olivier's Notice: "To call attention to reports of recent fatal disturbances on sugar estates in Jamaica; and to ask His Majesty's Government for information upon the subject," was in fact hardly touched upon at all during the course of the noble Lord's speech. I am left a little in the dark as to whether he would prefer a detailed report which I had prepared, as to what has taken place.
I think, however, as he is no longer here, it would be best if I were to sum up what is the present position, as our last advicest have it. We may say this, that a Commission of Conciliation has been set up at the present moment, that that Commission has already settled the dock hands strike, and that in consequence we may say that the situation in Kingston itself is calm, and well under control. The "Ajax" is still there, but as far as we know no parties have beep landed from her. The Commission of Conciliation, to which I shall refer again in a moment, is now investigating the banana industry, and it is our hope, and there are signs, that the disorders which still exist in the parishes will calm down as soon as the work of the Conciliation Board gets generally known. As a result of the Conciliation Board's first recommendation the Public Works Department has come to an agreement with the Labour leaders for increases of approximately twenty-five per cent, on the present rate of wages of the lowest paid workers, and the wharves, as I say, are fully working.
These disturbances have had many articles written about them in the Press. There has been a certain amount of loss of life, and I would only say this, that although Lord Olivier is perfectly right in saying that the cutlass is the normal weapon or daily companion of the Jamaican, that often the cudgel is found in his hand, he must remember that there are moments when these cutlasses are not directed against bananas or against the canes, but are directed against the police, or bodies in authority, and I do not think from anything we have seen of the disturbances that it can possibly be said that undue violence was shown by the police. On no occasion have the military or naval authorities been called upon to fire, and I think it is clear that Sir Edward Denham, and those in authority under him, have performed an extremely difficult and complicated task with very considerable 905 restraint. The report on the firing to which my noble friend Lord Olivier referred is not yet available, and therefore I think that, according to the rules of this House, it is not possible for me to promise to lay it, but naturally in due course it will be made public.
I would like to say how very sorry I was to hear, late this afternoon, that Sir Edward Denham, who entered hospital a few days ago for an internal trouble, is in a dangerous condition. I know everyone will join with His Majesty's Government in wishing him a speedy recovery to resume his duty. Now, to make the record straight, I think that some small tribute should be paid on this occasion to Sir Edward Denham, because, no doubt unintentionally, Lord Olivier in the past, in speeches in this House, has not been altogether fair to the work that he has done. Lord Olivier, in speaking on Jamaican subjects speaks, as was said in The Times, ex cathedra, and owes it to himself and to his Party to be entirely accurate in what he says. On February 23, last, in his speech in this House, raising the question of labour conditions in the West Indies, with special reference to the disturbances that had recently taken place, said: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 is 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.That is a misstatement. On several occasions the Governor did receive these ex-Service men. The deputation expressed itself as satisfied with the result of the interview and informed the general body of the men what had been said. That I take the opportunity of correcting, because I have no doubt it is the last intention of the noble Lord to impute anything to Sir Edward Denham that is not true.
Secondly, I think Sir Edward Denham deserves a very considerable tribute for the short-term measures he has taken to arrest the obvious problems which face Jamaica at the present moment. He has to the best of his ability forced forward a policy of public works to give so much employment—for a short term it may be, but still employment—and although Lord 906 Olivier has complained that these public works are not in fact being pushed forward, we had a telegram on May 19 showing that the public works sanctioned this year were already in train. Therefore it is clear that he has not delayed at all, and that every possible method has been taken for alleviating unemployment. We all know that the problem is a difficult one, and bound up with many causes which the Governor and Government of Jamaica, as well as the Colonial Office, have very little power to control. It is bound up with the cessation of migration from Jamaica, and with the repatriation of Jamaicans who have previously left Jamaica for another land. It is bound up with the increased birth-rate in Jamaica, the increased population, and above all it is bound up with the prices to be paid for the main crops on which Jamaica must depend.
It is quite clear that it is not housing conditions, it is not lack of trade unions, it is not any of the other comparatively subsidiary ills to which attention has been rightly called this evening—it is not these things which have caused this discontent in Jamaica. What that discontent has been caused by is surely the low rate of wages paid. The figures given by the noble Lord, Lord Olivier, are clearly misleading, as all figures of that sort always must be. The mere 1s. 6d. or 2s. on paper does not take into account all the extra perquisites which go with the payment of that kind of labour. Nevertheless, making all allowances of that kind, it is clear that the root problem of Jamaica must be the raising of the standard of wages. That can only be done by raising the price of the product which those labourers produce. The two main products are bananas and sugar. Bananas make 58 per cent, of the total exports of Jamaica at the present moment. And I would say this to those who complain that England has done nothing for the West Indies, or for Jamaica in particular, that at any rate Jamaica does supply about 20,000,000 out of 22,000,000 of the stems imported by this country, and that we do give a preference of £2 12s. or 16 per cent. on those stems to help the Jamaica banana industry along. In consequence that industry is not in a bad way.
That is not, of course, the case as far as concerns sugar, which forms about 16 per cent. of the exports of the island. 907 I should like to add just a little to what my noble friend behind me (Lord Harlech) has so rightly said, because there does seem to be a very great misconception as to the amount of help that England is giving to our Colonial sugar producers. The sugar industry has been faced, as my noble friend has said, by the fact that certain exporting countries have desired to increase their exports of sugar. Secondly, there has been a great increase in the production of sugar by countries which formerly used to import it. We have tried over and over again to get the sugar position on a rational basis, and finally in June, 1937, we did get an agreement, which we believed at last had solved the problem. All the principal exporting and importing countries were parties to that agreement and, while the exporting countries undertook to limit their exports to certain quantities, the importing countries undertook to maintain a certain market for imported sugar. We as one of the great importing countries undertook to limit our own production to a stated figure, and we also undertook that the Colonial Empire should limit its exports to a certain figure. The Commonwealth of Australia and the Union of South Africa, which sell all their sugar in Empire markets also undertook to limit their exports to certain figures. There was an arrangement by which if Empire consumption of sugar increased, the United Kingdom, the Colonial Empire and the two Dominions would get a proportionate share of this increase.
Thus, when the International Agreement was concluded last June, it really did look as if the sugar industry had been rationalised at last. Unfortunately since then everything has gone to make the position more difficult. In the first place there was a general fall in commodity prices throughout the world, which dragged down sugar prices with the rest and checked consumption of sugar as well as other commodities. In the second place there was the particular difficulty that the war in the Far East has checked the consumption of sugar in that area, which is normally a large importer. Last September it was still hoped that China (including Manchukuo), Japan and Korea would between them import 560,000 tons during the sugar year ending in August next. It is now doubtful whether they 908 will even import 300,000 tons. Thus the International Sugar Council is in very serious difficulties; demand has not come up to expectation and the price, instead of rising, as was hoped last June, has fallen. Drastic action has already been taken. The total export quotas for foreign countries under the Agreement amounted to about 3,700,000 tons. This figure in itself represents a great sacrifice, for the countries receiving these quotas have exported much larger quantities in the past. By voluntary surrenders and by the compulsory cut of 5 per cent, of the quotas, which is the full amount of the compulsory cut allowed by the Agreement, this figure has been brought down to just below 3,250,000 tons, and the Council is meeting again in July to consider the possibility of further surrenders of quota.
Let me make the position quite clear; the present price of £5 a ton c.i.f. in this country is not a satisfactory one for those foreign countries which export to the free market, and I feel quite sure that the countries concerned will go on reducing exports by one means or another until they have improved the price. The British Colonial Empire is in a favourable position. It does not get merely the world price for its sugar, it gets the full advantage of the preference in this country and Canada, and by means of the special quota preference in this country on 360,000 tons of Colonial sugar, it is given additional preference beyond even that which the Dominions enjoy. Thus when the world price of sugar is £5 a ton, the price of Colonial sugar is about £9 15s. a ton, and if the world price is increased as a result of the efforts of the International Sugar Council, the price of Colonial sugar will be increased also. On the other hand there has been no suggestion that the Colonial Empire should contribute to bringing about this state of affairs by surrendering any part of its quotas; it will get the full quota of about 948,000 tons provided in the Agreement and it will get not only its own but also the United Kingdom's share of any increase in Empire consumption during the present sugar year ending in August next over the sugar year ending in August, 1937.
His Majesty's Government are of course studying the position very carefully. There can be no question of the Colonial Empire getting larger quotas than those provided 909 in the Agreement. We signed an Agreement for five years last June and I am sure that none of your Lordships would suggest that we should go back on our signature. It is clear, however, that ii prices continue to be so unsatisfactory as they are at the present moment, the Colonial sugar producer is quite unable to make a livelihood or to pay the proper rate of wages, then something must really be done. As I say, I do not believe that sugar will remain at £5 a ton, because I feel sure that the foreign producer who is selling at £5 must be finding it far more difficult to make ends meet than the Colonial producer who is selling at £9 15s. Therefore until it is clear that the Sugar Council is unable to raise the price of sugar, it is, in the opinion of His Majesty's Government, premature to take decisive action in any other way.
I must apologise for this rather lengthy dissertation on the sugar problem, but it is a problem that I would like to be understood in this country, because it is important that we should realise that it is not quite true to say, as the articles in The Times rather suggested, that for a century we have gone on taking money out of the pockets of the West Indians and now it is about time that we put some back. Whether it is time that we put some back is one problem, but it is not quite true to say that we have not helped to a very considerable degree indeed the producers of the West Indies. That is, I think, a fair answer, in combination with the answer my noble friend has already given, to what the noble Lord, Lord Olivier, has said. We have very carefully considered the whole of the West Indian problem. My right honourable friend in another place has taken up the problem where my noble friend behind me laid it down, and I can assure the House that this will not be the last that it will hear of the West Indian problem in the next few months. At the moment, beyond the 1936 Report on Unemployment which is being placed in the Library, I do not think there are any Papers I can lay on the Table.
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Olivier not only apologised for having to leave, but he asked me to say that he does not desire to press his Motion for Papers. I would like to add to what the noble Marquess has said about the welcome we give to Lord Harlech, that I am sure he will be 910 a great acquisition to your Lordships' deliberations. This is not my subject. I do not speak on these matters with authority. I try to follow them as closely as I can, but I have not been to the West Indies, I am sorry to say, and I cannot speak with expert knowledge. But I can express what the ordinary rank and file members of my Party think. We do not think that the Colonial Office are villains, and we do not think that Governors are lacking in their duty. We believe they try to do their best, but we feel that it is rather a pity you should always have committees of inquiry and conciliation committees after there is serious trouble, instead of before. I feel there is something in what Lord Olivier said about the intelligence system of the Colonial Office not being so good as it might be.
THE MARQUESS OF DUFFERIN AND AVA
Sir Edward Denham did set up an inquiry in April, which was long before there were any riots.
I was not referring to any particular instance; I was speaking very generally. The other observation I have to make, which I am sure will be agreed to by the noble Marquess and by the noble Lord, Lord Harlech, and by all other noble Lords present, is that at this particular time we must be very careful indeed, as far as we can, that no serious charge can lie against us of neglecting or mismanaging the great heritage of the non-self-governing parts of the British Empire. We are being assailed for selfishness at the present time in interested quarters, and I am sure there is no conflict between any Party in the State on the point that we should see to it that there is no justification for any such charge. As my noble friend has asked me, I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.