Social and Economic Conditions.

Oral Answers to Questions — West Indies. – in the House of Commons on 18th May 1938.

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Mr. Creech Jones:

asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies whether he has received the considered proposals of the local Government of Barbados on the recommendations of the Commission appointed to inquire into the disturbance of last summer; what steps are being taken to relieve the grave social and economic distress; what is being done in the matter of over-population in the island; and whether it is proposed to implement the recommendations in respect to the appointment of a commission to make a survey of settlement and economic development in the West Indies and on the American mainland?

Photo of Mr Malcolm Macdonald Mr Malcolm Macdonald , Ross and Cromarty

As the reply is somewhat long, I will, with the hon. Member's permission, circulate it in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

Following is the reply:

I have received a report from the Acting-Governor of Barbados which shows that the Colonial Government is proceeding as rapidly as possible in the matter, but many of the recommendations naturally require more detailed consideration and would involve legislation in the Colony. Bills are being introduced to provide for the appointment of a Labour Officer, and for the creation of minimum wage-fixing machinery; to enable the necessary information to be obtained from importers in order that a check may be kept on the margins of profit on foodstuffs, and to facilitate the removal of unsatisfactory housing accommodation in Bridgetown. Some of the relief works mentioned in the report are already in hand, and others are under consideration.

As regards over-population, a scheme for the settlement of about 475 Barbadian families in St. Lucia is on point of completion, and some 170 Barbadian artisans have accepted offers of employment in the oil industry in Curacao. In general, it is proposed to wait until it is known what response is received to the St. Lucia scheme before embarking on further emigration schemes. I am dealing with the last part of this question in my reply to Question No. 33.

Mr. Creech Jones:

asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies whether, in view of the many reports on recent disturbances in the West Indies that labour unrest is due to economic causes and that distress exists in many of the islands, he will cause an inquiry into the whole problem of over-population, social distress, and economic dislocation in this part of the Colonial Empire, with a view to action being taken to remove these evils?

Photo of Mr Malcolm Macdonald Mr Malcolm Macdonald , Ross and Cromarty

I am doubtful as to the value of a general inquiry of the kind suggested. In so far as the particular problems of individual Colonies are concerned, it is improbable that a further inquiry would add anything to the reports which are already in my possession. The economic situation of the West Indies is largely due to world-wide causes. This is particularly true of the sugar industry, on which these Colonies are mainly dependent, and as I stated in reply to a question by the hon. and gallant Member for South Cardiff (Captain A. Evans) on nth May. the International Sugar Council is charged with the duty of seeking means of overcoming the difficulties of this industry. As regards over-population, I would invite attention to the reply which my predecessor gave to a question by the hon. Member for Clay Cross (Mr. Ridley) on 23rd February.

Mr. Creech Jones:

In view of the very grave social and economic unrest and the real difficulties under which this population is suffering, is it not possible for the Government to work out some policy which will bring some hope to these starving and undernourished people?

Photo of Mr Malcolm Macdonald Mr Malcolm Macdonald , Ross and Cromarty

A good many things are being done in various directions to improve the social and economic position in these Colonies.

Photo of Mr William Lunn Mr William Lunn , Rothwell

Will the right hon. Gentleman, now that he has become Secretary of State for the Colonies again, give his serious consideration to the idea of sending out a commission to inquire into the social unrest and bad conditions which obtain?

Photo of Mr Malcolm Macdonald Mr Malcolm Macdonald , Ross and Cromarty

I have already answered that question.

Mr. David Adams:

asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies what organisations are being financed for the study of diseases of tropical plants in the West Indies, and at what cost; and whether he will consider an increase of expenditure on this purpose with a view to improving the position of primary producers in the West Indies and so preventing, through the payment of better wages, outbreaks of native discontent?

Photo of Mr Malcolm Macdonald Mr Malcolm Macdonald , Ross and Cromarty

As the reply is somewhat long, I will, with the hon. Member's permission, circulate it in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

Following is the reply:

The Imperial College of Tropical Agriculture, which receives a grant of £15,000 per annum from His Majesty's Government and contributions from the West Indian Governments (except Jamaica), has divisions of Mycology and Entomology devoted to the study of diseases and pests of tropical economic crops in the West Indies. Financial assistance has also been rendered from the Colonial Development Fund for investigational work in connection with the witchbroom disease of cacao in Trinidad, the sugarcane borer pest in the Leeward Islands, cotton pests and certain pests of limes. Four such schemes are in operation at the present time. Several West Indian Departments of Agriculture also employ scientific officers whose duties include the investigation of pests and diseases and the development and extension of control measures. In addition, the pests and diseases of crops in the West Indian area are constantly under review by the Colonial Advisory Council of Agriculture and Animal Health and special schemes, such as those indicated above, are evolved when necessity arises. The West Indian Governments also contribute to the expenditure of the Imperial Institute of Entomology and the Imperial Mycological Institute, from which institutions they receive expert assistance in respect of entomological and plant pathological problems. I am advised that the present position in regard to the investigation of pests and diseases in the West Indies is not unsatisfactory; certain anxiety exists in regard to the damage caused by root disease of limes and the Panama and leaf diseases of bananas, but investigational work in regard to these diseases is in operation, and further expenditure does not seem to be warranted at the present time.

Miss Ward:

asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies whether more assistance can be given to the British West Indian islands in view of their present problems?

Photo of Mr Malcolm Macdonald Mr Malcolm Macdonald , Ross and Cromarty

In so Jar as the West Indian islands have a common interest as producers of sugar, they are in receipt of substantial indirect assistance from the Exchequer. Apart from this, they are best dealt with individually; and various Colonies are in receipt of Treasury assistance towards administration, the amount of which is fixed annually after consideration of the local financial position. Assistance is also granted from the Colonial Development Fund for schemes which fall within the scope of the Act. In any case in which a Colonial Government may represent to me that further financial assistance is required, I shall be prepared to give the matter my consideration in consultation with my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Miss Ward:

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many people who are acquainted with these islands feel that over a period of years we have not taken that general interest which we ought to have taken in their welfare; and would he be prepared to give personal examination to the past history of the islands, realising that everybody would be delighted to see their patriotic inhabitants receive more consideration from His Majesty's Government?

Captain Arthur Evans:

Will my right hon. Friend also bear in mind that several commissions composed of Members of Parliament of all parties have paid visits to these islands from time to time and have made recommendations to the Government of the day?

Photo of Mr Malcolm Macdonald Mr Malcolm Macdonald , Ross and Cromarty

I am certain that all parties in the House are anxious that as much as possible should be done for these islands. We have to admit, however, that the causes of the distress in the islands to-day are very largely international troubles, over which the Colonial Office and the local administration have no control.