HL Deb 26 November 1941 vol 121 cc107-36

THE EARL OF LISTOWEL asked His Majesty's Government what steps they are taking to improve labour conditions in the Colonial Empire and to promote Colonial welfare; and moved for Papers. The noble Earl said: My Lords, I am naturally glad to bring a Motion on the Colonies before your Lordships, in the hope that it may induce the noble Lord, the Secretary of State for the Colonies, to give us another of his highly interesting reports on recent progress in Colonial administration, and also that it may serve to emphasize, in the course of a general discussion, some of the essential requirements for the welfare of our Colonial peoples. The noble Lord, Lord Hailey, whose absence to-day I know we shall all regret, suggested in the debate last July that this period should be regarded as the economic stage in the development of the Colonies towards self-government, and that the promotion of economic and social welfare should be the main responsibility of our trusteeship at the present time. Accepting, as I feel sure all will do, this weighty opinion, I am going to confine my remarks to those aspects of Colonial welfare which are definitely economic rather than political and, more narrowly still, I am not raising the wide question of how to improve present Colonial standards of living by alterations in methods of production, such as the encouragement of subsistence agriculture or secondary industries, indispensable as such innovations will be in the long run. I am merely venturing to inquire how conditions of life in our Dependencies overseas can be changed for the better, so far of course as war-time exigencies will permit, by legislation to protect the workers at their work and to facilitate collective bargaining, by the introduction and fostering of essential Social Services, and by the operation of schemes of development under the Colonial Welfare and Development Act.

I should begin by congratulating the Government on the remarkable progress that has been made in measures for the control and supervision of labour conditions in the course of the last four years. In 1937 there were only eleven Colonial territories with special. Labour Departments or full-time labour officers, whereas now there are thirty-three, or three times the number. Since the outbreak of war, in the last two years, no fewer than 175 laws or regulations affecting labour conditions have been enacted. Yet I am not by any means satisfied with the progress that has been made. There is immense scope for further extension of labour legislation and for the improvement of the administrative machinery for dealing with Colonial labour problems. For example, minimum wage laws have been enacted in forty Colonies but applied as yet only in nine. It is surely desirable that the difficulties preventing the application of these laws in three-quarters of the Colonial territories affected should be speedily overcome.

Organized craft and general trade unions, being of very recent growth in the Colonies, are still young and weak, and I fear they do not always receive the encouragement to which they are entitled from employers and even, sometimes, from the Colonial Governments. For example, in Jamaica, the builders' union has been refused permission to negotiate with the American authorities who are building a naval base there. The machinery of negotiation is that their views are consulted by the Labour Department, which then discusses the matter and comes to a decision in camera with the American employers. Another of the elementary rights of trade unions acknowledged for many years in this country is that of peaceful picketing, but that has not as yet been recognized in certain of our Colonial Dependencies—Malaya, British Guiana, Barbados, or Trinidad. Yet another example is that of the Mauritius Industrial Associations Ordinance, which limits trade union rights to specified industries and excludes farmers and public servants.

These are a few examples to illustrate the handicaps that are still being imposed on these normal and legitimate working-class organizations in certain parts of the Colonial Empire. But quite apart from the varying degrees of progress in different Colonial territories, there are some forward steps that might be taken by the Government at home. I venture to refer in this connexion to the ratification of two Conventions accepted at the Conference of the International Labour Office in 1939. The first of these agreements is designed to protect employees by regulating their contracts of employment, thereby ensuring chat they will get a square deal, and the second aims at abolishing penal sanctions for breaches of any contract entered into. I hope the noble Lord will explain, but it is hard at first sight to see why the ratification of these Conventions should be postponed until after the war when they have already been freely accepted in principle by His Majesty's Government. Indeed, it must be admitted that the fact that such severe punishments, which apply to the workman and not to his master, and which can be enforced for such vague and trifling offences as lack of diligence at work or absence without permission, should still be meted out in any British Colonial territory, is a deplorable state of affairs. These drastic and unfair penalties have already, one is thankful to know, been abolished almost everywhere, and this in itself should make it easier to remove them from the few areas in which they are still operating. The speedy ratification of these Conventions would set an example that might well encourage the other Colonial Powers, and would certainly enhance our own reputation as enlightened rulers.

I will now pass on to the important question of effective administrative machinery for dealing with Colonial labour, both in London and in the Colonies. Everyone will welcome the announcement made last week in another place that a Labour Advisory Committee, on which representatives of British organized labour will serve, is to be appointed at the Colonial Office. I very much hope that the noble Lord opposite (Lord Moyne) may be able to give us further information about the scope and the functions of this Committee. I should like to know, for example, whether there will be any liaison between the Labour Advisory Committee and the International Labour Office and, if so, how it will be effected. But in view of the extreme importance of avoiding industrial disputes in war-time, and the increasing number and complexity of labour problems, it does seem a pity that the Government cannot go just one step further. The West India Royal Commission, over which the Colonial Secretary presided, recommended amongst other things that a Labour Department, composed of persons with expert knowledge of labour and Colonial questions, should be set up in the Colonial Office. At the moment labour policy is dealt with by the Social Services Department of the Colonial Office as an ancillary subject, but this topic surely cannot receive the thorough and continuous treatment that it deserves until it has been allotted to a separate and a specialized Department in the Colonial Office.

Overseas the Labour Departments of Colonial Governments have usually been run hitherto with a merely skeleton staff. In his Reports on Labour conditions in Colonial territories as far apart as Northern Rhodesia, the West Indies and West Africa, Major Orde Browne has repeated indefatigably his firm opinion that a larger number of specialized labour officers are urgently needed to inspect, to supervise, to conciliate, and to provide the authorities on the spot with expert advice. I should like to ask what has been done to implement this important and repeated recommendation. The sad fact is that we still have at the present time only 100 labour officers in the whole Colonial Empire. I know, of course, that to provide a satisfactory course of training and to recruit the new personnel will certainly be harder now, in wartime, than it would have been two years ago. That is a recognized difficulty, but I venture to say that it should not be impossible even in these days to spare a few men for work that is of such vital importance to the British Commonwealth. It is surely work that is no less important than that of any civil servant in Whitehall.

There is another aspect of Colonial welfare that I would wish to touch upon for a moment which is no less urgent than an up-to-date labour code. I am referring to the provision of Social Services catering for some of the elementary needs of life, food, shelter and health. Housing conditions in the industrialized areas of the Colonies have reproduced, in an aggravated form, the slums and congestion of our own manufacturing towns before the State and the local authorities started to build houses for working class families. I would venture to give two quotations from Reports to illustrate this point. The first is from the Report of the principal Labour Adviser of the Colonial Office, Major Orde Browne, on the West Indies Territories. He says: The standard of housing as a whole can only be described as deplorably bad; the buildings are mostly of poor material, primitive type and inadequate in size; furthermore, arrangements for cooking, washing, bathing and sanitation are often absent…. The worst aspect is certainly the overcrowding; the prevalence of this varies to some extent in the different islands, being perhaps at its worst in Kingston, Jamaica. Cases are common of rooms ten or twelve feet square accommodating two or three adults and several children, a house with more than two rooms being exceptional.

Another quotation I would venture to make is from a Report on housing conditions in Granada. This is the Report of the Granada Labour Commission, drawn up in 1938. The Commission state in the course of their Report in regard to the Windward Islands that: The housing of the agricultural labourer is disgraceful…. Houses little larger than bicycle sheds are made out of beaten-out kerosene tins or old packing-cases…. There is no privacy, and baths and proper sanitation are absent. Usually there is only one bed (or what passes as such) and the children sleep huddled together on the floor.

It is manifestly impossible for private enterprise to provide houses in the congested towns of the West Indies or elsewhere at a rent which low-paid Colonial wage-earners can afford to pay. It is precisely the problem we have been confronted with elsewhere. The only hope of creating decent housing conditions in the Colonies is for the Colonial Governments themselves to undertake housing schemes or to make loans available at a low rate of interest to the municipal authorities. Building, moreover, is surely the type of secondary industry that should now be fostered and developed by deliberate policy. It has the advantage of using raw materials, usually obtainable on the spot, and it does not compete with any importing interest. One would like to know the reason why so many useful housing schemes, that might be promoted by the public authorities if they had the facilities, are at present being held up and postponed.

A no less urgent problem, though perhaps a less widespread problem, is that of migrant labour to which Major Orde Browne referred at length in his recent Report on West Africa. The flow of labour from the up-country villages in our West African territories to the ports and mining areas, often covering very considerable distances, is at present completely unregulated. There is no transport available for these migrant workers, there is no food or medical care during their long journey, and there is no guarantee of employment when they have reached their destination. They are not even medically inspected before they set out from their homes. The result is that men with a slight physical defect which they may not be aware of, or the seriousness of which they may not realize, find themselves on arrival disqualified from employment after having travelled hundreds of miles and without any facilities to return whence they came. They often fall sick or even die of exhaustion and under-nourishment. I do not imagine anything very complex could be developed in a moment in times like these, but some degree of supervision and organization of the flow of migrant labour in West Africa would not, I think, entail any great expense or any large increase in administrative personnel. The introduction of improvements of this kind would simply be following a precedent that has already been set elsewhere. One therefore hopes that the Government will give immediate consideration to the recommendations of their own principal adviser on this subject, Major Orde Browne—recommendations for meeting the present deplorable situation.

I should like in conclusion to ask the Colonial Secretary for any information he can give about recent developments under the Colonial Welfare and Development Act. How many new development schemes are under consideration by the Colonial Office at the moment and how many have already been approved? It would be reassuring, for instance, to know, that plans are being prepared in West and East Africa, as well as in the East Indies, where Sir Frank Stockdale and his staff of experts have done such admirable work. I should like to ask whether there has been a good response to the Colonial Secretary's Dispatch sent out last June. The main obstacle to the collection of accurate information and statistics in Africa is the lack of sufficient trained personnel. Colonial officials are far too busy as a rule to undertake this additional task and one hopes that the Colonial Office will consider appointing the extra staff required from this country. I would also ask the noble Lord if he can give us any further information about the scale and functions of the Dufferin Committee, and I should like consideration to be given to the establishment of a committee not of experts but of members of both Houses of Parliament who take an interest in the affairs of the Colonies. That would be an innovation, but it would be a means of bringing the problems of the Colonial peoples constantly before the attention of the members of both Houses of Parliament. I beg to move.


My Lords, I wish to support the cogent appeal made by my noble friend for even further activity in Colonial development, but before doing so I should like to pay a tribute to the work of Lord Harlech, then Mr. Ormsby-Gore, in setting on foot in 1937 a forward policy in this connexion. He was followed very actively by Mr. Malcolm MacDonald and we none of us can ignore the great indebtedness which is owed to the present Colonial Secretary, in whom I feel we are extremely fortunate because of the broad-minded sympathy which he represents. We owe to him the cardinal fact that in spite of the war an active policy of development has not been terminated or even handicapped. I will limit myself to the African section of the great subject of the Colonies, more than fifty of which are concerned with labour reform. Europe saved Africa from the horrors of the slave trade, an "open sore," as Livingstone called it, and nearly all Africa, though not quite all, has been saved from chattel slavery. But modern industry has brought into Africa great and new hardships, and there is much to do if we believe in the brotherhood of man, for which we claim as a Christian country to stand.

The Report of the Colonial Office on recent progress, to which my noble friend referred, shows great activity in dealing with many sides of "he situation. Many changes have taken place since 1937. Major Orde Browne has visited numbers of Colonies and much has been done for the training of officials, including officials home on leave; but though progress has taken place both in legislation and administration, much more is needed. In the matter of legislation I think one should pay tribute also to the work of Lord Pass-field, who strongly urged, so far back as 1930, that legislation should not be neglected. Much has been done, but there is still need for co-ordination. Great variation exists. Something has been done towards registration of trade unions—a very difficult problem in many Colonies—and something towards minimum wage legislation. In both those things I feel that we must make allowance for the great difficulties under which the staffs work in the Colonies. They are over-worked because they are extremely short-handed, but in many cases they have nobly thrown themselves into extra work and have regarded that as their war contribution. In spite of being short-handed they have in some cases put through complicated minimum wage legislation which elsewhere has waited much too long.

The Colonial Office Report makes a very good and almost glowing impression on the mind, but there is another side to the picture. Major Orde Browne deals in one of his Reports with the Copper Belt. He urged before the troubles of last year that there should be more labour officers and that there should be reform in regard to housing. What he wrote was not carried out and the very serious riots of 1940 might perhaps have been avoided if it had been possible to carry out his recommendations. A Commission of inquiry on these riots alluded especially to such causes as housing and to the colour bar which excluded from certain skilled jobs the coloured man. The Report of the Anti-Slavery Society put it in this way: The riots in the Copper Belt have shown the danger of allowing the continued evolution of a leaderless, ignorant, discontented native proletariat. A very admirable report on several of these questions has been published by an African Conference of experts called by the Anti-Slavery Society, all of them men with experience of African life in connexion with industry. It has been published in a pamphlet called The Industrialization of Africa. That reinforces the view that the gigantic revolution which has taken place in African life is a problem, the importance of which cannot be exaggerated.

In the British Colonies alone between 3,000,000 and 4,000,000 coloured men are employed during the year. That does not include South Africa but relates only to countries under Colonial Office Government. No less than one-sixth of these are permanent workers, but apart from them there are many who are affected by Colonial Office administration and no fewer than 3,000,000 are affected by the labour policy for which the Colonial Secretary is responsible. These experts on the African Colonies emphasized two proposals. One is that we should aim at greater permanency of labour—what we might call stabilization—and the second is greater Government control. In regard to stabilization there has been too great an assumption that tribal life formed an adequate basis of modern industry. It has been regarded as a form of trade unionism and of social insurance. But even if the workers were mainly tribal that does not prove that labour policy is needless. For one thing more and more natives are losing the tribal tie, and permanent workers are not only increasing in number but have a greater importance because they acquire modern European ideas and habits, and it is they who will produce the leaders of the natives in future.

The tribal background facilitated an extremely low wage and constituted what one might call an unfair competition with the permanent workers who had no tribal background in land. Low wages have been a cloak for a measure of inefficiency. That is no compensation for a low rate of production. Inefficiency has been illustrated in many ways. For instance, in the report of an East African sisal estate it is stated that efficiency on some estates was only equal to one-sixth of that of labour in Malaya plantations. The main cause of that was not congenital inferiority but food and housing. We must admit that industry, if it is not regulated, as is the case at present, impairs health to a great extent. A Nigerian health report a few years ago reported on the difference between modern industrial workers in the tin mines and non-industrial workers as represented in this way: sleeping sickness was present in the tin miners as to one-seventh of the workers, but in those who were not working in the mines only as to one fiftieth. The late Lord Delamere attacked the fallacy that the tribal basis was the right one to use because the workers in theory were only temporarily absent. In the Belgian Congo attempts have been made towards stabilization, with houses and maintenance gardens, with very great success.

The question of migrant labour is bound up with that of recruiting, and I want to ask the Colonial Secretary a question in regard to the Recruiting Convention. This was strongly supported by the British Government but not by the South African Government. At one time, the South African Government did not ratify the Convention, and natives from British governed lands were deprived, to some extent, of advantages under the Convention when they went to work in South Africa. I shall be very glad if the noble Lord is able to say something on the present situation in regard to that. The Recruiting Convention laid it down that expenses of travel—a subject to which my noble friend has alluded—in West Africa should be paid by the employer or by the recruiter. These expenses are an extraordinarily heavy item in the cost of living of the worker. Workers on the Rand from the Transkei are found to have spent one-fifth of their year's pay on the journey, and, in Tanganyika, moving from the south of Tanganyika to the coffee plantations in the north sometimes occupies three weeks and sometimes six weeks. Another side to this problem is presented by reason of the fact that it is found that the resting places at which migrants stop, if used by too great numbers, become infected and are a cause of the spread of dysentery and other intestinal diseases.

It is really a question whether migrant labour should not be regarded as a regrettable and transitional stage. It involves great injury to social life, especially in the case of the women who are left to cultivate the fields and get in the harvests in addition to doing their ordinary work. The conditions can only be regarded as transitional. Sir Alan Pim, in his recent Reports, brought to light very startling facts. In Swaziland half the men left the Colony in 1935. In Basutoland he found half the workers normally absent and he felt that it was a cause not only of social but of political unrest. In the Belgian Congo another interesting experiment was made. There was a prohibition of departure from the villages to an extent greater than 20 per cent. of the adult males. This brought about a very different state of affairs to those prevailing in the Colonies which I have mentioned. Of course, the argument is sometimes used that, while some of the mines are temporary some of them will be closed, and it would be regrettable to establish a permanent population. But in regard to the Copper Belt there is a very strong case on the other side. It is estimated that the reserves of first-grade copper in Northern Rhodesia amount to 750,000,000 tons, and £22,000,000 of capital are already invested in the mines so that it would be difficult to regard the problem there as temporary.

Then a word on the other proposal of this African Conference, that Government control is a very great necessity in regard to labour condition;. In the matter of administrative machinery certainly, the Colonial Secretary may congratulate himself on very great progress, and we all congratulate him. But, as my noble friend Lord Listowel has said, there is room for very many more inspectors, and much more to be done again in regard to child labour and women labour and also in respect of workmen's compensation. Inspectors in former conditions were, to some extent, the holders of other offices, and had to discharge other functions. One cannot stress too much the importance of having whole-time inspectors. Years ago I saw the urgency of that in relation to the Kanaka traffic in connexion with Queensland. It was extremely difficult for inspectors, even if they were free from the necessity of carrying out other functions, to do their duty impartially when in conflict with men of local influence on whom they might be almost dependent for social amenities. It was very, very difficult, but much more difficult for those who combined the work with other functions. I hope that much more can be done to extend the number of whole-time inspectors, although great credit is due to those medical officers who in the past did their best as labour officers in addition to carrying out their medical duties. They ought, of course, to be experts in native ideas; sometimes, even, it is urgently necessary that they should know the different feelings and prejudices of the various tribes in their districts.

Is it not quite fair that we should, to a degree, compare the position of the African worker with that of the European worker in regard to the need of protection? The European worker, in addition to his political power, has protection in regard to accident, hours, housing and so on, but the African native, in many Colonies, is helpless politically, and in Africa he has been overruled by forces beyond his comprehension. It seems that two conditions are required to justify the revolution in African native life. One is that there should be protection modelled, so far as possible, on European standards, and the second is that Africans should be allowed to fill posts for which they are qualified by capacity. There ought not to be a colour bar which, from an empirical point of view, has been a cause of political unrest. These conditions have not been generally accorded in the industrialization of Africa. Let us hope that the day is not far distant when they will be generally conceded. I have taken up sufficient of your Lordships' time. It is evident that there is much to be done if the life of the African is to be free from very great hardship and worthy of the ideal which we hold for all human beings. It is very opportune that the Colonial Development Act has come on the scene, and there is need for its fullest utilization.


My Lords, I shall not detain you for more than a few minutes. It is not often that I talk on the Colonies, but I should like to say a few words to-day. I have already told your Lordships that forty years ago I was in Nigeria for seven years, and I visited the Colonies recently, and my personal interest in them is very great. I am also Chairman of the United Africa Company, which is the successor of the Niger Company, and therefore I am still interested in the development and advancement of the Colonies concerned. I take this opportunity of saying that I welcome no less warmly than any of your Lordships any measures which may be successful in promoting the social development of those areas, and in quickening the economic development which may provide a sound and lasting basis for an improvement in the standard of living of the varied races which inhabit the African continent.

It is sometimes assumed that it is only the philanthropists and the Government who have at heart the welfare of the native To correct this misapprehension wherever it may exist, I would stress once more the interest of private enterprise in the prosperity of the country in which it operates. I am glad to say that these are not empty words. The proof, for those who read it—and I have read it with interest three times—is to be found in Major Orde Browne's Report on Labour Conditions in West Africa. That Report was referred to by the noble Lord who moved this Motion. It afforded me great pleasure, although no surprise, to find that Major Orde Browne testified to the satisfactory conditions under which labour works in the various private enterprise organizations, such as mines, plantations and trading companies. It is a recent Report, made less than four or five years ago, and in it Major Orde Browne singles out one example of mismanagement where he says that the existing conditions "cannot be considered satisfactory." Those are his words, and they refer to a large organization entirely under the management of the local Government. That is the only complaint which I can find of that kind.

When he reports on rubber plantations it is to make such remarks as: A large number of new quarters have been erected recently, while construction is still proceeding. Good materials are used and the houses are well built of concrete and iron. Of the mines in another Colony he says that the mines generally provide a good example of employment, under modern conditions, that hospitals exist on all the more important undertakings and are as a rule well-designed and equipped, that the Mines Department supervises safety appliances and precautions, and that a noteworthy feature is the workmen's compensation system, introduced by the mines themselves before the existence of any legal requirements. Speaking of another Colony, he says that the Government houses were decidedly inferior to those maintained by private employers. When he refers to operations about which I know something, he says that the "workpeople are cared for and obviously happy." In another place about which I also know he says that there is a "surprisingly high proportion of permanently employed labour." This is under private enterprise and is a genuine indication, I suggest, of their good treatment and contentment.

I am only saying this because it is often thought that private enterprise does not encourage or help the welfare of the inhabitants of the countries in which it operates, whereas from my long experience I feel that private enterprise is sometimes more alive than are the Government to the necessity of helping the local inhabitants to improve the standard of their welfare and of their living. I cannot refrain from looking back to the time when I first went to West Africa, and to the remarks of Mary Kingsley in her book. That very remarkable woman, who had a first-hand knowledge of West Africa and viewed that country through spectacles of common sense and humanity, referred to what she described as the three essentials for every State—commercial, religious and governmental. In her view each had a part to play in the fulfilment of West Africa and her statement should be better known than it is. She said: Apart and opposed you can no more expect to get good government from them than from a watch whose parts have not yet been put together. While I am on this subject, I cannot resist the temptation of quoting to your Lordships an extract from another Government Report which has just appeared, the Report of the Labour Department of the Gold Coast, 1941. In paragraph 14 of that Report the statement is made: In purely African establishments, such as newspaper offices, an impression was gathered that they were over-started and the Africans were underpaid. It was the same with Native Administration offices. There is something to be said for this system as against one of rigid efficiency. Although they may not receive much pay, a maximum number of persons is employed and they are not overworked. I wonder what would be said if private enterprise gave that as an excuse for underpaying its employees! I welcome the Labour Report. We welcome the improvement that the Secretary of State for the Colonies has put in hand under the Colonial Development Act, and we take the keenest interest in anything to do with West Africa.


My Lords, it is about fifty years since, every year, I raised the question in another place about the condition of labour in Africa. In those days things were very serious, and I thought that our country was very much behind the position which it ought to occupy in dealing with the native population who reside under our protection. I am one or those who believe in private enterprise more than in Government intervention in the carrying on of industry; but at the same time, whilst I believe that progress and development are best promoted by private enterprise, there are a great number of our Colonies in which there is no private enterprise to meet the necessities of the position. I was fortunate enough to be in the West Indies at the same time as the noble Lord, the Leader of the House, who was presiding over a Commission there, and I saw a great deal of what he did about the intolerable situation in which many of the natives live in our West Indian settlements. Certainly the local authorities were not dealing with matters in a way which was doing justice to the position of the human beings who resided in many of those islands associated with our Empire. But I do congratulate the Leader of the House on the way in which he has endeavoured to tackle a very difficult problem, and I welcome this debate because I hope that it may contribute something to the betterment of the condition of the coloured populations throughout the Colonial Empire.


My Lords, as no other noble Lord rises to continue this very important discussion on the specific matters affecting labour in the Colonies, I would intervene for a short time before the Minister replies in order to submit to the House one special point. I would suggest that, in order to promote Colonial welfare, which is the general subject of the Motion of the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, it is necessary to provide some development of the constitutional machinery of this country in relation to the Colonies, and that the Minister should be assisted, not only by his Department and not only by the special Advisory Committees appointed from time to time, but by a Standing Joint Committee of both Houses of Parliament on Colonial affairs.

In submitting this proposal I would make it plain that I am far from desiring to cast any reflection at all on the Colonial Office. It has all the virtues of a Department of the British Civil Service, and that Civil Service, we are entitled to claim, is unsurpassed, and indeed unequalled, in any country of the world. But it has been the universal experience of mankind that a bureaucracy is not in itself a good form of government. The Colonial Office, like every other Department of every Civil Service in the world, is somewhat lacking in the quality of initiative and is somewhat characterised by a dilatoriness which is an invariable feature of bureaucracy. It is for that reason that dictatorships always fail. The restless, indefatigable industry of a Napoleon may for a time produce efficiency, but in the long run the tasks of the Government are so vast that they must necessarily be delegated to bureaucracies, and unless a dictatorship is at war it always becomes inefficient, and it is that which in the long run is certain to bring it down.

Now here in this country we have Ministers at the head of Departments who are themselves members of the one House or of the other, and are thereby brought into direct contact with the currents of national life, and we have the watchfulness and the stimulus of Parliament itself, exercised through the Ministers. Nevertheless it has generally been found necessary in this country to devise special constitutional expedients when dealing with Imperial matters. In the eighteenth century it was not an infrequent practice for the then Colonies of the British Empire to appoint members of the House of commons as their agents to speak on their behalf at Westminster. The best known instance was that of Edmund Burke, who for some years was agent for the province of New York, with a salary of £500 a year, while he sat as a private member of the House of Commons. With reference to India, it was the custom for Parliamentary inquiries to be held at intervals of years whenever the Charter of the East India Company came up for review, and afterwards the Secretary of State for India was provided with a very important body, the Council of the Secretary of State. After the reforms of 1919 Standing Committees of Parliament on Indian Affairs were appointed for a number of years, and after that we have had the rapid growth of self-governing institutions in India itself.

So far as the other principal Colonies were concerned they gradually developed their own self-governing institutions, until now they have become Dominions, entirely independent of Whitehall. The Mandated Territories also have the supervision of the Mandates Commission of the League of Nations. When I was myself High Commissioner for Palestine I had the privilege of presenting the first report on behalf of the British Administration in Palestine to the Mandates Commission at Geneva, and after a meticulous examination, lasting for three days, I can bear testimony to the fact that the Commission, which consisted, and still consists, of members of great experience and ability, drawn from several countries, does take its responsibilities seriously, and takes great pains closely to study the matters which are under its care. So that of the four great divisions of the British Commonwealth—the Dominions, India, the Crown Colonies, and the Mandated Territories—only the Colonies are not provided with any form of non-departmental assistance to government.

I know that under the Colonial Development Fund a special Advisory Committee was established, and under the new Colonial Welfare and Development Act it is intended that there shall be another Advisory Committee; for the time being there is a temporary body, acting in that capacity within the Colonial Office. But these Advisory Committees are of limited scope, and are not of the character which the conditions really require. It is true also, of course, that many of the Crown Colonies are becoming more and more self-governing and have their own institutions, which bring in a new and effective element; but even with them it would be advantageous that there should be closer contact with Parliament. Many of the Colonies are not yet self-governing, and some of them are not likely in the near future to become so to any considerable degree. Therefore that initiative and that continual watchfulness which are required must depend very largely upon the personality of the Minister. When Mr. Joseph Chamberlain was Colonial Secretary there was a sudden great spurt of interest in the Colonial Empire. He was a man of great driving force, he had a commanding position in the Cabinet and in the country; and not only that, and not least important, he was in office in that one Department for a considerable number of years. The tenant of the Colonial Secretaryship in recent years has been a somewhat fleeting figure, for in the last six years no fewer than five Ministers have had that office in succession.

We are fortunate in the present Colonial Secretary, who commands general confidence, who has first-hand knowledge of a large part of the Colonial Empire, and who, as we all know, applies himself with great zeal to his multifarious duties. But even the best Colonial Secretary would gain if he had the support, encouragement and co-operation of a Standing Parliamentary Committee. As it is, from time to time the Colonies are liable to suffer from neglect and, as we all know, the recent disturbances in the West Indies came rather as a surprise and a shock to the public opinion of this country, which afterwards had to confess that there had been some measure of neglect of those Colonies on the part of the Home Government, and that the discontent was not wholly unjustified. That is a proof that the control of the Colonial Secretary and his Department alone is not adequate. Since then there has been a marked new impetus, of which the Colonial Welfare Act is the latest example, but that impetus after a few years may spend itself, and nothing could be worse than that the indigenous populations of the Colonies should come to think that it is only if they make themselves obnoxious and create disturbance that any effective attention will be given to legitimate grievances.

I do not advocate that we should imitate in this country the French system of government under which committees are appointed by the Chamber and Senate, which exercise a large measure of control over the various Departments of Government. That has proved to contribute to that weakness of the Executive which has been one of the great defects of the French Constitution. It gives also too much influence to individual members of the Legislature, and may give rise to personal rivalries between the Chairmen of the Committees and the Ministers with whom they are associated, and even to some measure of intrigue. There might be another alternative—the appointment of an Advisory Committee to the Secretary of State analogous to the Council of the Secretary of State for India prior to the present Constitution; but that also would give rise to difficulties. It would be hard to constitute, considering the wide extent and the varied character of our Colonial Empire, and, further, it would not really be adequate to serve the purpose we should have in view. Therefore I beg to make this suggestion for the consideration of the House and of His Majesty's Government, that there ought to be appointed a Standing Joint Committee of members of the two Houses, many of whom have experience of Colonial administration or a keen interest in the system of administration in the Colonies.

This Committee should be required to present reports year by year on one or other group of the Colonies. It would have the advice and co-operation of the staff of the various branches of the Colonial Office, and no doubt sub-committees from time to time, as occasion required, would visit particular parts of the Colonial Empire in the normal course. That world be far better than Parliamentary Committees appointed ad hoc whenever there is, and only when there is, some crisis or disturbance in some part of the Colonial Empire. The reports of such a Committee would, as a rule, be public and be for the guidance of the Colonial Administrations and public opinion, but, where confidential matters were being dealt with, no doubt the Committee would make reports accordingly to the Colonial Secretary. My noble friend Lord Hailey, who much to his regret is unable to be here to-day on account of public engagements he had previously made, has dealt with this matter in the introduction to his great work An African Survey. In this he lends the weight of his great authority to this proposal that there should be established such a new constitutional organ. Both noble Lords on the Labour Benches who have spoken today, Lord Listowel and Lord Noel-Buxton, authorize me to say that they also favour this suggestion.

This nation bears immense responsibility for the proper rule of the splendid heritage that has come to it from bygone centuries. Upon its wise action or upon its inaction depends the happiness or misery of tens of millions of people. The Colonial Office has to supervise no fewer than forty separate Colonial administrations, varying from Nigeria with 20,000,000 people to small islands with populations of a few thousands. On the whole we may claim that that duty is well done; but, locking at the past, we have to confess that it might have been done better. Parliament, representing the nation, has the obligation to take its due share in bearing that responsibility and in fulfilling that duty.


My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Earl for having raised these matters and for the very helpful speeches which have been contributed from various parts of the House in support of the case he has made for still further developing the efforts of our Administrations in the Colonies to improve labour conditions and social welfare, which hang so very closely together. The noble Earl reminded us that the West India Royal Commission recommended that in the Colonial Office we should have a Labour Department. We must not get too much led away by names. The essence of our recommendation was that labour questions should be treated with even greater importance than they had been treated hitherto.

I want at once to dispel an impression which may exist. Because we still speak in the Colonial Office of a Labour Section as part of the Social Services Department, that is no sort of evidence that labour interests are in any way a subsidiary concern. We have the system of advisers, and all these advisers are grouped in close contact with the Social Services Department. They have direct access to the Secretary of State. They are not under the Social Services Department, and the labour adviser has an absolutely equal status with the medical adviser, the agricultural adviser, the educational adviser and the economic and financial adviser. The noble Earl will therefore recognize that, whatever may be the nomenclature, labour is being given just as much status and importance in the Colonial Office as any other major consideration for social welfare. It is not, of course, necessary to have a very large staff in London. We have to trust to those on the spot for execution, and our function at the Colonial Office must be mainly advisory and persuasive. For that reason we have to have very highly experienced experts in the Colonial Office in the day-to-day advisory work, and we have also the benefit of the very highest legal co-operation from outside in helping to draft the various ordinances and orders which are needed to give effect to our policies.

The noble Earl asked about the Labour Advisory Committee which we are about to institute. The Parliamentary Under-Secretary is, ex officio, the Chairman, and we are in that respect extremely fortunate that at the moment we should have an Under-Secretary who has such very great experience of labour and trade union matters. He will be helped by one of the Assistant-Secretaries of State and the Labour Adviser, and the officer in charge of labour matters of the Social Services Department will also be a member. We shall ask the Trades Union Congress to help and advise us in the choice of two members, and we shall also ask the corresponding employers' organization to give us a list of suitable representatives from which we can get the names of two employers with Colonial experience. The Committee will be given the widest terms of reference, and will consider any matter concerning labour problems in the Colonial Empire which may be referred to them from time to time, as well as advise the Secretary of State with special knowledge as to the progress of the policies which are in hand.

The noble Earl asked how they would be in touch with the International Labour Office. I think the present arrangement for contact is adequate. The officer in charge of our Labour Section is in constant touch with them, and there is a full interchange of information and advice. The headquarters organization here will have its counterpart in the Colonies. We are doing everything in our power to encourage the Colonial Administrations to set up Colonial Advisory Boards throughout the Colonial Empire. Generally speaking, these Colonial Advisory Boards will have among their membership the head of the Labour Department and representatives of the workers and employers, and others with specialized knowledge enabling them to give good service.

Labour administration in the Colonies is a very complex matter owing to the difference of conditions and problems. In the West Indies, to which Lord Gainford referred, we have a special and very difficult condition in that the labour population have lost their traditional civilization and they have to adapt themselves to specialized forms of plantation industry. I agree with what Lord Gainford said, that the increase of population has outstripped the resources of those Colonies to improve the standard of life, and so far the labour conditions have not been adequately dealt with. That is fortunately a very exceptional case in the Colonial Empire. The West India Royal Commission realized the need of giving these people with this European civilization grafted on to alien stock the benefit of those systems of labour organization and industrial safeguards which have been developed at home. In West Africa things are not at all the same. There we have as the groundwork the traditional system of individual cultivators. In our West African territories we have not the system of plantation which exists in the Belgian and French territories. Our West African labour problems need entirely different treatment from that required in the large-scale plantation communities and the communities where there is mixed agriculture. Distinct problems also arise in the communities where there are mining industries such as in East and West Africa and Northern Rhodesia. Then again, we have entirely different problems in Ceylon and Malaya, where you have industrialism dovetailed into very ancient Asiatic civilizations.

The noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, who has had very great experience of Africa, reminded us of the great part which private enterprise has played and must continue to play, and I am sure we all agree with what he says. Labour relations are of vital importance mutually to both the employers and the employed, and it is only by applying the very best organization that we can hope to remove the defects and to give mutual benefit on the basis which has developed by trial and error in our own experience. I am very glad that the noble Lord, Lord Noel-Buxton, referred to the Ormesby-Gore Dispatch of 1937, because I think it is not sufficiently realized in some quarters that the Colonial Office have had this problem of improving labour conditions very much at heart for some years. At the time when the present Lord Harlech issued that Dispatch there were only eleven Labour Departments, and now there are thirty-three, and I think there were only about twenty-five labour officers, a number which has since more than quadrupled. We have, in view of the diverse conditions and needs, to find varying types of experience among our labour officers, and lately there has been a good deal of interest taken in our efforts to find suitable men of trade union experience from this country to go out and help in some of our Colonial Labour Departments. Lately we are securing three trade unionists who will reinforce the local staffs in West Africa, one in each of the three large Colonies. We have also been able to appoint trade unionists to Palestine and Trinidad, and we hope to be able to make the same arrangement for British Guiana.

There has been, I think, a little misunderstanding as to the functions of these officers with trade union experience. They have sometimes been spoken of as if they were going to be Commissioners for Labour. There is a certain confusion in the nomenclature of the heads of the Labour Departments. Sometimes they are known as Commissioners for Labour, and sometimes as Labour Advisers or Industrial Advisers. It is not proposed that trades unionists should go out in those capacities. They are going to work as labour officers on the various staffs. They will be invaluable in the work of inspection and reporting on conditions, having in mind comparison with their experience in this country, and, of course, they will have great scope for conciliation and for dealing with labour disputes before they develop. We have of course for some time past had the great advantage of borrowing officers—I do not suppose we shall ever give them back—from the Ministry of Labour staff. In the West Indies there was a man who brought about great improvement in Jamaica, and who has now become Adviser to Sir Frank Stockdale, the Comptroller of Development and Welfare. In Trinidad we have had admirable service from another official who came from the Ministry of Labour, and the late head of the Labour Department in Jamaica, who has gone to the Comptroller of Development and Welfare, has been succeeded by another official from the Ministry of Labour who has exceptional experience of factory work and inspection. We were very much impressed by the need of factory legislation in Jamaica. We saw cases where machines were entirely unprotected and where the long-established precautions accepted in this country were noticeable by their absence. Another case where we are getting great experience from the experts of the Labour Ministry is in Cyprus where there is a great deal to be done and where a Trade Union Ordinance has been recently enacted.

As to legislation, of course this necessarily varies according to the needs of the Colonies. Generally speaking, the basis of the system is a Trade Union Ordinance modelled on the provisions which are embodied in British legislation, such as the right to associate, the right to strike, and protection of funds against actions for tort. In most Colonies there are trade disputes provisions which provide for conciliation and, where necessary, machinery for arbitration. Minimum wage legislation is also in existence in many of the Colonies, but it is only put into force where collective bargaining breaks clown. Generally speaking, minimum wage provisions are only needed in industries of very primitive organization, just as has been the case in this country, where, as the noble Earl will remember, these provisions were more frequent years ago and are gradually being replaced by bargaining between the recognized representatives of the two parties.

Workmen's compensation, of course, has necessarily varied very much. It is a special problem in the West Indies, where the agricultural worker only puts in perhaps half a week on the plantations and for the rest of the week works on his own account. It has only lately been introduced to West Africa, but I am glad to say that last year all four West African Colonies passed, I think identical, legislation to deal with workmen's compensation. Factory and workshop laws will, I hope, be developed. They are rather defective at the present time, but they will of course be based on the British model. As to the International Labour Conventions, a great many of them have been adopted. Many of them have small application for the Colonies, while others have much more application for the Colonies than they have here at home. Perhaps the most important are those dealing with the employment of women and children in industry, with minimum ages of children and the circumstances under which women can be employed. Practically 100 per cent. of the Colonies have enacted the necessary legislation to put these Conventions into force.

The noble Lord, Lord Noel-Buxton, raised the matter of the Recruiting Convention which was not adopted in South Africa. This is a matter which affects the Dominions Office and my noble friend no doubt has information as to exactly how it has been dealt with, but I understand that arrangements have now been reached with the Chamber of Mines on the Rand, which speaks for the mining companies, under which natives going to the Rand from Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland have got in substance what was recommended in the I.L.O. Convention. The noble Lord also raised the question of the Copper Belt and the very difficult problem of the colour bar. We shall no doubt have debates on those matters when Lord Hailey's White Paper can be published. We have here an extremely difficult problem because there are two rather conflicting views, both held by people with undoubted sympathy for the natives, and it is very difficult to know what is the right line of advance to give the native races full opportunities in industry. In the Copper Belt we are arranging for the appointment of labour officers which will be a first instalment of the strengthening of staff recommended by Major Orde Browne.

The noble Earl who opened this de bate has evidently been reading the excellent report which was prepared by the head of our Labour Section and which is now in the Library, as to the supervision of the conditions of labour by the enactment of protective legislation and the appointment of officers to supervise its application. I am glad to tell him that the figure which he quoted of 175 laws has now risen to over 200; so he will see that in these last months we have not been inactive. The noble Earl gave notice that he was interested in the relations between the American authorities at naval bases and the local unions. I have made inquiries on this matter and it is quite true that there is no direct communication between the United States authorities and the union, but I think the arrangement is not unreasonable because negotiations are carried on through our Government who deal with labour interests and see that they are not neglected. The noble Earl also mentioned the matter of peaceful picketing. That was a privilege granted in this country after very long trade union experience, and conditions in the Colonies are not comparable to the situation which exists here, where the trade unions are so well established. In the Colonies it cannot be universally applied, because the word "peaceful" would probably be found to mean something very different in some Colonies from what it has come to mean in this country.

The noble Earl asked about the I.L.O. Conventions of 1939 which regulate contracts of employment and relate to penal sanctions. Well, several of the Colonies have already implemented these Conventions and I intend to recommend the Ministry of Labour to ratify them at a very early date. The noble Earl also dealt with the question of migrant labour, and I agree with him that reports show that conditions have been very bad. But the Gold Coast is now setting an example. They have instituted labour exchange provision, and rest camps have also been provided. I feel sure that they will apply Major Orde Browne's advice on details.

The noble Earl in the second part of his Motion raised the question of Colonial welfare, and here, again, I would like to remind the House that it did not start with the Act of 1940. The welfare of the peoples has been the normal concern, and really the main justification of our Colonial Governments ever since their early stages. They have all had Departments of Education, Medicine, Public Health, Agriculture and other Departments according to their special local needs. Of course, development and welfare march indistinguishably in the Colonies, and if we can bring about better development undoubtedly that is the best way to raise standards of life and improve social welfare. The change brought about last year was mainly a matter of more generous finance from central funds. I will not repeat the story, which has often been told. I would say, however, that the Colonial Office did not wait for the Act to be passed but asked the Colonial Governments to work out their schemes in February. Six months before the Act passed they communicated with the Colonies asking them to get on with the framing of their proposals.

It is true that the war emergency of last summer held up progress, but in spite of that: we have been able to reopen the opportunities of assistance from the Home Government. Plans take time, but the trickle of the schemes is gradually gaining momentum. We have had fifteen schemes put up by scientific and educational bodies in the United Kingdom; we have had 142 schemes put up by Colonial Governments. It is very difficult to summarise them; they cover all kinds of subjects, agriculture, including irrigation, land erosion, land settlement and animal husbandry, medical and sanitary matters, education, including broadcasting, and also research schemes on such new subjects as fisheries. Hitherto, forty-five schemes have been made. Thirty-eight of these relate to development and welfare, and seven to research. The total cost of these schemes under the Act is £438,000.

The noble Earl asked whether the West Indies were not alone in getting benefit. In spite of their not having a Comptroller of Welfare in Africa were they, in that continent, getting their fair share? I think I had better just give him a few instances. We have lately agreed to the expenditure of £64,000 for the control of rinderpest in Tanganyika. We have granted £15,000 for airport development in Nigeria In the case of British Guiana, where the Royal Commission was very much disturbed at the complete lack of any health provision for the dwindling aboriginal Indian population in the back areas in the Rupununi district, we have provided over £10,000 for the medical services. This last, of course, is a West Indian and not an African matter. But other African schemes are, I think, of interest. We have lately received from the Governor of Nigeria proposals to spend about £50,000 on a number of small schemes to develop local industries. They are quite small sums of money in proportion to what we expect to develop in the future as a result of the example which they will set. They deal with such matters as rice production, castor oil production, the pig industry, butter and clarified butter, vegetables and vegetable seeds, and they vary in cost from £1,000 for onion production to £8,000 capital and £12,000 recurrent for rice production.

All these schemes, which have not yet, as a matter of fact, been passed, but are under consideration, aim at developing local industries. Those of us who have travelled in Africa will remember how, in some districts, we learnt of the approach of a native before we actually saw him because of the smell of ghee or rancid butter with which he had anointed himself. It will bring about great benefit if,, by demonstration, the natives can be taught the laws under which butter and milk products can be preserved, and they will no doubt be able to build up a very valuable industry. It is the same with rice and vegetable production and castor oil production. They have got to be shown by experts how to develop these industries, and we believe that very great economic advantages will result. In the early stages Government direction and control and advice will inevitably be needed, but it is the underlying intention in connexion with all these developments that they should be handed over to native responsibility as soon as the necessary personnel can be trained in the business or marketing qualifications which are required.

On the question of money, these sums seem very small, but we must look on them as catalysts. If we once get the population taught how to develop their resources, we believe that it will be like a snowball; and, of course, these schemes have to be thought out and cannot be produced at a moment's notice. I do not think, however, that there will be any difficulty about finance, and I am very glad that we have Lord Dufferin as Chairman of the Committee which is working out the principles which should guide us in sanctioning these schemes. The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, asked what would be the liaison with Lord Hailey's Committee. The purposes of the two Committees are, of course, entirely separate; Lord Dufferin's Committee represents a purely temporary method for getting these schemes properly started pending peacetime conditions, when we will set up the Committees—one on Research and one on Welfare and Development schemes—which were contemplated in the Act. Meanwhile, however, there is liaison, because one of the Assistant Under-Secretaries of State is a member both of Lord Dufferin's Committee and of Lord Hailey's Committee.

The noble Lord, Lord Noel-Buxton, mentioned the very great importance of nutrition. We have had very great help on this from the experts of the Medical Research Council. I agree with him that nothing which lies within our power will help Colonial development more than dealing with this question of malnutrition and increasing the results of, and returns from, men's labour. We have now thirty-three Nutrition Committees which have been set up in the Colonies, and they are gradually extending their scope to include social problems of other kinds. They will, I hope, be the nucleus of Social Welfare Committees throughout our Colonies. They will include official elements, non-official organizations will be asked to contribute personnel, and there will be individual members who have special knowledge. I apologise for taking so long to reply, but this is a very big subject.

The noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, gave us a very interesting speech about the dangers of relying too much on bureaucracy, even of the best kind; and I agree with him that it is vital for the development of our Colonies that they should have independent access to Parliament, and that Parliament should always be in a position to exercise supervision and to give advice. As one who is responsible for many of these questions, I can only say that it is of invaluable help to have the suggestions and the stimulus which come to us from well-informed debate, and I agree entirely with the premises of the noble Viscount as to the benefit of keeping proper touch between Parliament and the Executive. The noble Viscount was, I think, not quite definite as to what would be the best solution. He mentioned the case of India, but he pointed out that there were very great differences between the position of India and that of the Colonies, and it is, of course, obvious that it is a simpler matter to have adequate representation from a homogeneous unit such as India than it would be in the case of the Colonies. He mentioned forty Governments, but, if you take all the Residencies and so on, the number is well over fifty; and it would not satisfy any individual Government if other individual Governments were represented and they were left out. I think, however, that a Council of this kind, if it were practicable, would serve a very useful purpose, not only in keeping us in touch with the Colonies but also in keeping the Colonies in touch with our difficulties.

The noble Viscount referred to a Standing Joint Parliamentary Committee. This proposal, of course, is not a new one; it was considered by the Government just before the war. It raises issues of Parliamentary procedure and constitutional practice which are very far-reaching, and which would need a very great measure of consideration before they could be accepted. I think that the noble Viscount will realize that the present war conditions are not favourable to such far-reaching constitutional developments. It is true that the noble Viscount does not wish to give any executive power to this Committee; he expressly said that he did not wish for any control such as exists in the case of similar Committees in France, which would tend towards the weakening of the Executive. I can only say that I am most anxious, from my own point of view, that Parliament should have more information on Colonial affairs, and should thus be able to give them greater consideration; but at this stage I am not at all clear in my mind as to which method would be best to achieve that end.


My Lords, I should like, I think on behalf of the House, to thank the noble Lord very warmly indeed for his extraordinary interesting review of labour legislation and of the steps which we have recently taken to promote welfare in the Colonies. I was particularly glad to hear that he was going to recommend the ratification of the two International Labour Conventions to which I referred. I was also glad that he admitted that the expenditure of between £400,000 and £500,000 under the Colonial Welfare and Development Act was small, and even more glad to hear that he did not consider that an increase in the funds spent for this purpose would cause difficulty in the near future. We have had a very interesting debate, and have listened to many valuable contributions from all quarters of the House. I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.

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