HC Deb 12 February 1947 vol 433 cc65-8W
81. Mr. Parker

asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies how many trade union members are still detained in prison in Trinidad following the recent riots; and what proportion of them are still untried

Mr. Creech Jones

My latest information is that the number of persons remaining in custody as a result of the recent disturbance in Port of Spain is 99; but I have no information as to how many of these are members of registered trade unions. So far 22 have been convicted.

82. Mr. Parker

asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies how many people were wounded in Colonel Muller's raid on the oilworkers' union hall in Trinidad on 22nd January.

Mr. Creech Jones

Three persons were treated in hospital, two of whom were detained but have now been discharged. Five other persons who were arrested required casual attention for minor injuries No other persons except the police are known to have received injuries in the course of this disturbance. Of the police, two officers and eleven other ranks were injured, the Commissioner being severely wounded by a shot fired from the building.

83. Mr. Parker

asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies why the police in Trinidad destroyed a printing press belonging to one of the oilworkers' trade unions in a raid on 22nd January.

85. Mr. Chetwynd

asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies if he will appoint an independent inquiry to investigate the recent disturbances in Trinidad.

90. Mr. Arthur Lewis

asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies if he is aware of the concern felt by the people of this country, particularly trade unionists, with the situation now confronting the workers of Trinidad since the recent dispute; and what steps he has taken, or contemplates taking, with a view to improving the lot of the workers of Trinidad.

93. Mr. Sorensen

asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies if he has any further statement to make on the position in Trinidad; how many tenants were evicted by the United British Oilfields; and under what circumstances a printing press belonging to the Workers' Oil Union was smashed by the police.

Mr. Creech Jones

I am glad to say that the position in Trinidad is now normal. The curfew has been lifted and the proclamation declaring a state of emergency has been revoked. No tenants have been evicted by the United British Oilfields. I understand that a number were served with notice to vacate their houses unless they returned to work. Some of these have since applied for re-employment, and in these cases the notices have been withdrawn As regards the printing press, I would invite attention to my reply of 5th February to my non. Friend the Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central (Mr. Wilkes) I have since received a further assurance from the Acting Governor that no damage was done by the Police.

I am aware that concern is felt over recent events in Trinidad, and I share that concern. Severe criticism has appeared of the administration of the Colony and the measures which were taken to maintain public order. That there were acts of violence and mass intimidation is not in question. The Governor has acted throughout the troubles with the unanimous support of the official and nonofficial members of his Executive Council. The Police and other authorities were concerned to take steps for the protection of the general community, including the large majority of trade unionists. Only 1,470 out of the 11,340 workers in the oilfields came out on strike, and 1,113 out of the 8,900 public employees. I am calling upon the Acting Governor to furnish me with a full report on these occurrences on the conclusion of the legal proceedings, some of which are not yet decided. This information together with the Reports I have already received will receive my close attention.

Meantime, the Government of Trinidad are desirous of discovering and removing any possible causes of the recent strikes and the resulting disturbances, and Committees are at work on the revision of wages and salaries of Government employees and the means whereby the high cost of living could be reduced. The Price Control Committee has also been requested to re-examine the percentage mark-up of goods with a view to reducing prices. Recent increases in the prices of imported foodstuffs and other commodities have undoubtedly entailed hardship for large numbers of people in Trinidad.

My information suggests, however, that the disturbances were brought about by the formation by Uriah Butler of a rival union in opposition to the Oilfield Workers' Union, which had negotiated an agreement with the oil companies, providing amongst other things for the ad- justment of wages in accordance with the cost of living index: and by Butler's endeavour to control the workers and conditions in the oilfields. I am anxious to do all I can to help in securing improvement of working standards and labour organisation generally and the observance of trade union procedure and practice as understood in this country, and I hope to arrange for a visit by some person with wide experience in these matters with a view to discussions with all parties concerned in Trinidad.

94. Mr. Driberg

asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies how many persons were injured in the police raid on the oil-workers union premises in Trinidad on 22nd January; how many of these are still incapacitated by their injuries or undergoing treatment; how many police took part in the raid; and if he will order a special reinvestigation of the circumstances in which these trades unionists' printing press was destroyed.

Mr. Creech Jones

As regards the injuries suffered by persons in the police raid I would refer to my reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Dagenham (Mr. Parker). Three police officers and 85 other ranks took part in the raid. I have caused special inquiries to be made into the question of damage alleged to have been done to the printing press by the police. I am definitely assured that the damage was not done by the police.

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