HC Deb 17 February 1949 vol 461 cc209-11W
Mr. Gammans

asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies if he will make a statement on the petition presented to the Goveror of St. Helena by the St. Helena Association regarding the unemployment and general poverty in the island; and how much money has been allocated and spent on St. Helena from the Colonial Welfare and Development Fund.

Mr. Creech Jones

I assume that the hon. and gallant Member refers to the petition addressed to himself, of which a copy was sent to the Governor of St. Helena, who has forwarded it to me. I am not yet able to make a statement on the petition, but I give below some facts and figures, including the information asked for in the second part of the Question.

St. Helena has never been economically self supporting, and has for many years received an annual grant-in-aid from the Exchequer. Since 1939 the following grants-in-aid have been issued:

1939–40 1,000
1940–41 19,000
1941–42 18,000
1942–43 20,000
1943–44 27,000
1944–45 15,000
1945–46 20,000
1946–47 5,000*
1947–48 15,000
*A new issue of stamps brought in considerable additional revenue.

During 1948 approximately £16,000 out of the Colony's total estimated expenditure of approximately £74,000, excluding C.D. and W. grants, was provided for poor relief and for subsidising staple foodstuffs and, in addition, a sum of £5,000 for the latter purpose was made available from the Foodstocks, etc., Revolving Fund. The estimated expenditure on C.D. and W. grants was £21,185. Of an area of 28,800 acres, only 8,600 acres are estimated to be cultivable, of which some 3,300 acres are devoted to the cultivation of New Zealand hemp, the only export commodity of any importance.

Apart from the war years when service in the local forces and the presence of a garrison provided welcome employment, St. Helena has for many years been faced with an unemployment problem, due to its dependence on one small industry and the lack of efficient communications. The largest employers of labour are the Government and the hemp millers, who together employ some 500 persons out of the Colony's total population of approximately 4,800. The majority of the remainder of the Colony's labour force are either employed in agriculture or by the owners of small businesses. There is, however, a permanent body of unemployed numbering from 120 to 150 persons, for whom employment on relief works is as far as possible provided.

During 1939 the standard rate of wage for Government labour was 2s. 6d., and the rate of unemployment relief was Is. 6d. per day, as compared with the present rates of 3s. 5d. and 2s. 8d. per day respectively. Admittedly wages are low, but, as I have already informed the hon. and gallant Member in reply to another Question, proposals for increasing them are now under examination.

Prior to April, 1946, St. Helena received grants from the Colonial Development Fund totalling £73,283. Since that date the Colony has been allocated a further £200,000 under the Colonial Development and Welfare Act, and up to the end of 1948 a total of £58,700 had been issued to the Colony. The Governor is making the utmost use of development funds in order to absorb as many as possible of the unemployed on works of a developmental nature. Progress in this respect is at present, however, retarded by the shortage of skilled artisans. The Government Apprenticeship Scheme has, however, been expanded.

Every effort is being made to render the Colony economically more self-supporting by establishing small holdings, the improvement of the hemp mills and the development of peasant industries.