Colonial Office.

Part of Class Ii. – in the House of Commons on 9th July 1936.

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Photo of Captain Sir Peter Macdonald Captain Sir Peter Macdonald , Isle of Wight

I accept the statement that there are cases which require investigation, and those cases should be investigated. It is in the interest of the mineowners themselves that these questions should be looked into, and they have a vigilance committee of their own. When I was in the mining areas in South Africa I consulted with mineowners on this subject. I saw native labour being signed on and I expressed grave doubts as to whether it was done in the best way. The fact remains that these natives walk, in some cases, as far as 100 miles, in order to be taken on at the mines, but only a small percentage of those who offer themselves are accepted. Only those of the highest physical standard are accepted. Statements are also made about the conditions under which the natives are obliged to work. I have been down some of the mines and I have seen the conditions for myself. However deplorable they may have been in the past, I assure hon. Members that to-day the natives are well looked after, if only for the very important reason—apart from the vigilance constantly exercised by bodies like the International Labour Office to see that conditions are favourable—that it is in the interest of the mineowners to keep the men fit. They have underground casualty clearing sta- tions, and if a man gets even a cut finger he is immediately rushed to hospital for treatment. I do not say that there are not cases in which improvement is not possible, but I know that statements made in this House and by Labour speakers throughout the country are grossly exaggerated.

I think this Debate has done much to clear up a number of points which for too long have been clouded in obscurity. I welcome heartily the definte declaration of policy by the right hon. Gentleman with regard to the Kenya Highlands. That question has been hanging fire for a long time and has caused a good deal of uneasiness to settlers in that Colony. Now I hope that the matter has been made clear and that people will know where they stand. There has been a great deal of talk to-day about trusteeship, and I hope this declaration of policy will do something to settle that point also. I never liked the talk that went on some time ago about the paramountcy of the native races. It implied that the white settler had no right in Kenya, and the result was that when a statement on that subject was made by a former Colonial Secretary such exception was taken to it in this House that a Select Committee was set up in order to put forward a different statement. They did so and that statement suggested dual responsibility. That dual responsibility has been proclaimed in this House by the Colonial Secretary and I hope the white settler in Kenya will now go forward and forget many of the grievances which he has been nursing against both the Kenya Government and the Colonial Office on the ground of obscurity and delay in statements on this question.

The hon. Member for Altrincham (Sir E. Grigg) said that the real issue confronting the white settler in Kenya was economic, and with that I thoroughly agree. Far too much time has been spent by the white settlers in Kenya, excellent as they are, in magnifying their grievances against the home Government and their own Government, to the neglect of their real problem which, as the hon. Gentleman said, is economic. It is true that they have causes for complaint. Their taxation is high, their freight charges and interest charges are high, and the cost of administration is out of proportion to the size of the Colony. But these are things that have grown up without much complaint by the settler when the Colony was prosperous, prices higher and markets good. They were only too pleased then to enjoy the fruits of all these things, and to go on borrowing money without thinking of the future. To-day they have to face realities, and it is not pleasant. The depreciation in commodity prices, bringing in its train other evils, is a problem that we and every other country have had to face. It is no use settlers in Kenya or anywhere else forming vigilance committees to bring pressure on the Governor and on the home Government. It is far better that they should face the problem as we have done in this country, and deal with it in an economic way.

What was the position in Kenya a couple of years ago? The right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for the Drake Division (Captain Guest) made what I considered was a personal attack on the Governor of Kenya, though he said that he made no attack on the Governor but rather on the Colonial Office which had dictated policy to Kenya. As the Colonial Secretary has disclaimed any such responsibility or intention it remains a reflection on the Governor. My opinion is that mistakes have been made on all sides. The settlers were unwise, when they were faced with the crisis, not to do more to assist the Governor to deal with it. Sir John Byrne is a man I have known for many years. He has a good Army record and a good record as an administrator. He was promoted to the Governorship of Kenya at a time when he had to face problems which would break the heart of any Governor. He found himself with instructions from the Colonial Office that as there was a financial crisis at home all Colonial Budgets must be balanced. He called the settlers and asked their advice. They gave him no assistance and said they were over-taxed already, and that he must cut down administrative charges and freight charges and economise in that way. That was no doubt necessary, and it has been done, but it would not balance the Budget. The result was that the Governor had to take decisions himself without assistance from the settlers, and he imposed an Income Tax. Representations were made to the Colonial Office who, I think wrongly, upheld their view and over- ruled the decision of the Governor. That has destroyed the prestige of the Governor, has added to the difficulties in the Colony, and means that the settlers now think that whatever decision the Governor takes they have only to agitate sufficiently and the home Government will uphold them.

I hope, now that important points of difference have been made up, they will forget their political worries, and as prices, markets and exports are improving, they will go ahead and prosper as they deserve. Kenya is a difficult country in which to farm. I have great sympathy for the settlers. They were told after the War that it was desired that they should settle in the Colony and develop it. There is no doubt that certain parts of Kenya are very attractive. It has the most wonderful climatic conditions in the world. These people settled in the country, put their money into it and developed it, and for a time they prospered. But they have had a serious time in the last three or four years. First, they had a, visitation from locusts which destroyed the crops, the next year they had a drought, and the next year an economic crisis. Unless a man has considerable capital there is every prospect when that happens, of his being faced with a period of economic trouble or complete ruin. That is what has happened in Kenya. A great many settlers have gone under, and a great many others are disheartened and may feel that the burden of administration is far too high. It is extremely high and might be cut down, but where are you to start cutting? If I were asked, I would say that there is too much money spent upon education, for what we get out of it. I think it is spent in the wrong way. I think it is wrong that the cost of the railways should fall entirely upon the settlers, because if that had been the case in Canada, the Canadian Pacific Railway would never have been built. It is a charge that the Government should be prepared to accept, and they ought not to put the whole cost of the railways on the settlers, but that is what is being done to-day. The freight rates are extremely high and almost ruinous. There is also the competition of the lake steamers, and I feel that there is a great opportunity there. Something has been done between Kenya, Uganda, and Tanganyika in the way of co-ordinating rail- ways and transport, but a great deal more can be done. There is too much competition between lake steamer, rail, and road transport, and I feel sure the right hon. Gentleman, with his great knowledge of the problem—I do not think there is anybody in this House who knows more about this territory than does the present Colonial Secretary—will take steps to see that greater economies are effected in that direction.

Another thing that I am very pleased to hear is that he is making use of MacEllory College in Uganda as a means of educational development. That is a step in the right direction, as long as you work on the right lines. I would like to ask the right hon. Gentleman: Whither are we going in the direction of the higher education of the natives in Africa? Personally, I think that is a very important question indeed. I was very impressed with its importance on a visit which I paid to Uganda with a Parliamentary delegation a couple of years ago. I was shown over all these institutions, and with some of them I was very much impressed indeed, but with MacEllory College as it was then run I was impressed unfavourably, not because of the officials who were running it, but because of the curriculum on which they were working. I was bold enough to question the wisdom of a curriculum of that kind for natives, and they agreed, and they were at that time changing it to something more adequate to meet the needs of the Colony. There is no use in turning out a failed B.A. class of native in East Africa. It is far better to work on the lines of turning out a good native rather than a bad European, and there is great danger of giving the natives too high an education, encouraging them to be lawyers or politicians and then having no means of putting them into the administration of the country. I think that may come, but in these matters it is better to hasten slowly.

They have a wonderful native administration in Uganda. It is a model for the whole world, and as a result you have happy natives, you have a wise administration, and you have, what very few other Colonies have, a Budget surplus of £1,500,000. That, I hope, will be used in developing the Colony, and I feel sure it will, because it is not the policy of the Uganda Government to build up surpluses, as the Colony is definitely administered for the natives. That is the important point of difference between the administration of Uganda and that of Kenya. At the very outset in Uganda we took the definite line that the Colony was to be administered for the natives, and it has been ever since. It is an education to anyone to go there and see what wonderful work has been done. I hope the same lines will be adopted in Tanganyika, as they are working on these lines, and that the same fruits will accrue.

Another thing that the Debate has done, I hope, is to destroy some of the fallacies which have grown up about the question of the open door. I was very glad to hear the right hon. Gentleman emphatically destroy the statements made by several hon. and right hon. Members below the Gangway opposite and their arguments about the problem of raw materials. It is fantastic to talk about any restriction of raw materials in East Africa to-day. I think the problem is one which confronts all European countries to-day, Germany as much as any other country. The Congo Basin Treaties are imposed upon us by the League, which says there must be an open door maintained in Mandated Territories, with the result that it is impossible for us either to put a quota on imports or to impose any restrictions or tariffs whatsoever. The result is that Japan is using these Congo Basin Treaties as a means of dumping goods wholesale into these countries, to the exclusion of all European countries, and that is a problem confronting not only ourselves, but Germany and other European countries as well, who are trying to maintain a higher standard of living. I only wish we were free from the Congo Basin Treaties, in order that we could deal with any country which used such methods of trade as to try to depreciate the standard of life in all other countries in the world. That is exactly what is happening to-day. By lower standards of working and living conditions, by ex-change restrictions, and by assisting exports, Japan is a menace to every country in Europe to-day, and it is a very serious problem in East Africa.

I visited a large number of Dukans in Uganda, Kenya, and Tanganyika, where we find them stacked with Japanese goods, and if you say, "Is there any demand for British goods?" they say, "There is," yet the Japanese goods are so cheap that the natives will always buy them. One or two of these shopkeepers were honest enough to say that the intelligent natives preferred to buy the British cycle, even if it was more expensive, but the methods of camouflage used by the Japanese exporters are so subtle and cunning that the native thinks he is buying a British article. Several examples of that sort of thing were brought to my notice, and the most glaring was the case of the bicycle.

To-day in Uganda, Tanganyika, and Kenya most natives have a bicycle, on which they carry their hundredweight of cotton to market and at times quite considerable loads. As a result of experience they know that the British bicycle stands up to the load far better than does the Japanese or any other bicycle, and the result is that there is a great demand for the British article. That applies particularly to the Raleigh bicycle. In one shop I found some Raleigh bicycles and some very good-looking Japanese imitations. The methods of camouflage used by the Japanese, were very ingenious. They were not allowed to use the label, so they made the lampholder in front in the form of a broad R. A native came in, and seeing the R, thought he was buying a Raleigh bicycle, but he found the difference when he put his one cwt. of cotton and himself on it and went to market. That was one example out of a great many which were brought to our notice.

The real menace, I would point out to my hon. Friends who uphold the open door, is not the fact that restrictions are imposed on imports or exports, because no such things exist in East Africa. The real problem there is the dumping of Japanese goods. That is a problem which confronts every country in the world today. It is a problem with which we have had to deal in every Colony where the Congo Basin Treaties do not apply. I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman's predecessor at the Colonial Office in taking advantage of such measures as Orders in Council in order to impose a quota on those Colonies that refused the quota of Japanese goods, because it has had a wonderful effect on our Lancashire cotton trade; and that to me is far more important than whether or not there is a greater volume of cheap dumped goods into these Colonies.

I feel sure that, as a result of this Debate, a great many important points have been cleared up. I had great misgivings when another debate on Kenya was suggested, because poor Kenya has been in the limelight so much in recent years that I felt a great deal of harm might be done by again dragging her in the mud. This Debate however, has done a great deal of goo and has cleared up many points. I feel sure the result will be that the British settlers as well as the natives will go forward to greater security and prosperity.