I would draw the attention of the House for a short while, to the new proposals which have been adopted in Kenya for the conscription of Africans to work on private European farms. In my judgment the policy is unwise and short-sighted; secondly, the safeguards are inadequate and more should be instituted. My Party has always opposed legislation to enforce Africans, directly or indirectly, to work for white settlers, on the grounds that it is uneconomical, is wrong in principle and is contrary to our British declarations in respect to discrimination. In any case, it seems to me to be the wrong way of seeking the co-operation of the Colonial peoples in the war effort.
Latterly, there has been a good deal of criticism in respect to the assumptions of our Colonial policy, following the conquest of the Malayan Peninsula by the Japanese. There have been criticisms and complaints of our failure to associate the Colonial peoples with the war effort and to secure their free co-operation, to make them feel that we, with them, have a common cause, and that for them, too, this is a war of liberation. In Kenya the co-operation of the people is sought, presumably, by conscribing them to work for private interests. It seems to me that this is the wrong way to convince the African people that Britain is identified with the cause of liberation.
No doubt I shall be told that we have labour conscription in England, and if in Britain, why not in Kenya? Obviously, Kenya is not Britain. We have responsible government, and the right of free criticism, and there is a check on the Government's activities. We are, more or less, an educated people. In the case of Kenya, the African people are governed by an alien race. The black people have no voice whatsoever in government; there is segregation in land, and many of us feel that our native policy in that country has been reprehensible. The racial and economic structure of the two countries is vastly different. There is no analogy between Britain and Kenya.
I put a Question in this House as to the purpose of this policy, and I was informed that it was impossible by normal means to secure sufficient labour in Kenya to meet the requirements of a particular theatre of war. I would point out to hon. Members that, in the report which recommended this policy, there is no examination whatsoever of the possibilities of production in Kenya, as to whether labour can be better employed, more efficient development can go on in the reserves and in the European Highlands, what contribution the Africans and Europeans can make in the war effort, and what is the best means of mobilising the resources having regard to the existing racial and social problems in the Colony. Indeed, the underlying principle which is declared in the report is that Africans must be made to work. There is no suggestion that there should be a drive in the reserves for the improvement of African production or the development of the native economy.
This policy marks the culmination of an agitation which has been going on for some time among the white settlers in Kenya. There have been farmers' meetings in which demands have been made that African labour should be made more readily available for the European farms. With that in mind the Governor stopped the recruitment of Africans for military services. After a while the Government instituted a campaign to assist the normal recruitment methods of supply of Africans wanted for work in the Highlands. It was while that assisted scheme was being worked out and applied that a committee was set up to consider labour conscription of the Africans. The committee admitted, with, as it seems, a guilty conscience, that the farm work for which the African was asked to give his labour was unattractive because of the pay and conditions operating on the farms. They admitted that there was no difficulty whatsoever in securing as many Africans as were required for military purposes, and that the African is dissatisfied with his basic rates, and this is reflected in his output. There is the further admission that there would be no difficulty in securing Africans if pay and conditions were right. These are the statements of the report, and the Committee did not examine at all why the assisted recruiting scheme was inadequate for the purpose.
Within a period of a few months the Government was able to secure no fewer than 12,000 to 15,000 Africans for work on the farms, but we find in the report no discussion of the nature of the shortage of labour, where it arose, what it was due to, or whether it was due to obsolete methods. These obvious questions are ignored, and one is left to assume that it became a matter of settled policy, both for the Committee and for the Government, that the conscription of African labour for private employment was to be put into operation. I suggest that if there had been a guarantee of reasonable wages and conditions, the necessity for conscription would not have arisen, and the present policy need not have been implemented at all. I was amazed at the most astonishing alacrity with which the Colonial Office, immediately representations were made to it for the enforcement of this policy, gave its consent. It would be unfair for me to suggest that the existing Ministers are in any way responsible for this policy. I rather deplore that two imaginative and enlightened Ministers are obliged to attempt the justification of an unfortunate and unhappy policy of the type which has marred our administration in this part of Africa.
Let me say a few words about the scheme itself. First of all, it is based on discrimination, discrimination against Africans as compared with Indians, Arabs and Europeans. It is quite true that the
Governor has certain general powers, to operate at the age of 18, but the general powers against Africans for conscripted labour for private employment operate at the age of 16, and presumably his powers do not operate in respect of directing Europeans to private employment on farms. The second thing about the proposal is that essential work is completely identified with the European farm lands. There is no conception at all in the report that the essential work of the reserves should and must go on, or that the reserves themselves can make any contribution whatsoever to the war effort. In fact, a curious phrase occurs in the report:
An African may plead objection to being conscripted because he can show that he is engaged in producing on a reasonable scale in the reserves some commodity which is the equivalent of an essential undertaking.
That means that production in the reserves, or the organisation of production with a view to securing a surplus for the theatre of war, is not "essential work." Essential work for war purposes is entirely the work of the European farms. I suggest that this policy is bad for the Africans, particularly as it will coerce a larger number of Africans out of the reserves, and to that degree will prejudice the food production and general economy which we have been anxious to develop and organise in these reserves. Already, since 1936, 40,000 Africans have gone out into general labour, and every year some 90,000 Africans seek employment on the farm away from the reserves. That kind of exodus, whatever may be the present congestion in the reserves or pressure of taxation, cannot go on indefinitely without considerable prejudice to the progress of the African and also to the economy of the reserves. In point of fact, it is well known that these enforced absences over long periods dislocate family and tribal life, the life of the reserves; food crops suffer and a great deal of pain is caused. In this report the social and economic effects of the policy have not been in the least considered.
Surely, if this policy is adopted, there ought to be certain important safeguards. It was pointed out to the Committee by Government officials that this scheme depended completely for its success on the appointment of an adequate inspectorate. But the Government said at the time that men were not available to be appointed as inspectors. Although the warning was given that the scheme could not be carried out without a proper staff, the scheme was imposed, when for its efficient and fair working an inspectorate was vitally necessary. These considerations are also applicable in respect of the appointment of special magistrates, which is also necessary under the scheme. It is made very clear in the report by Archdeacon Owen that the scheme's disadvantages would be counter-balanced as it were by efficient inspectors, who would see that offending employers did not get away with it. The position is therefore that the scheme cannot operate efficiently because the officials are not available, and when Archdeacon Owen made a suggestion that Africans might be employed, no recommendation that that course should be adopted was made.
A second unfortunate feature is that there is no recommendation at all for an improvement of wage standards. It is quite true that there is a general phrase suggesting that in fixing wages attention must be given to the maintenance of a proper standard of living for the natives, and to the increased costs of living brought about by war conditions. But at the present time wages are 3½d. per day for a solid day's work, as is indicated in the report. If you allow for food, accommodation and other incidentals, wages are not more than 7d. per day. These wage rates are only possible because of the heavy subsidy which is contributed by the native reserves, and it seems to me to be a monstrous thing that conscription should be imposed in such a way as to impose further burdens on African reserves so that labour may be used on European private farm lands. These lands are to be subsidised and are not themselves put on a proper economic basis. I suggest that there should have been a clear-cut wage policy in connection with a scheme of this kind.
Though it is not in the report, I understand that there is to be a central wages board. There is some talk about district wages boards. What are the powers of this central wages board? What will constitute the decision of that board? Can it legislate for the whole of Kenya? But in any case, there is no suggestion in the report that there should be any wage increase. In point of fact, the report goes out of its way to say that there should be no material increase to conscripts. The old system of wage arrangements is to continue. The Committee, however, attaches importance to rations, but if you have not got the inspectorate, how can you guarantee that diet will be more varied and better, or that employers will treat their employees in this regard along the lines which the Committee would desire? Further, they place a great deal of faith in better accommodation. But already experience in the Colony shows that very little can be done in respect to farm housing, particularly so far as the poor and middling farms are concerned, because the financial ability of many farmers is not there. Without inspection, how can you guarantee the reasonable standard of housing of Africans? Again, nowhere in the report is the fact faced that it is unlikely that the conscripts will be gathered from any but the most industrious of the African people—the people who are most industrious already. It is not likely you will be able to get large numbers, say from the Masai, the Northern tribes or from the coastal tribes. The main burden will undoubtedly fall on the already industrious people who have fertile reserves in the central and Nyanza provinces. You will not get this burden of conscription equally spread over all Africans in the Colony. I suggest that it is grossly unfair that the most industrious tribes should have to bear this burden, and I ask that this policy should be reversed.
The white farmers have guaranteed prices and markets, and now they are to have cheap subsidised labour, subsidised at the expense of the African reserves. The sisal growers said they wanted yearly contracts. The Committee said they could have them irrespective of what was laid down in the Forced Labour Convention. This seems to mark the culmination of our native policy of rooting out natives from the white highlands and trying to force them back as labour serfs in the interests of private employment. I want safeguards in respect to inspection—if I cannot get this policy reversed—in respect to a standard wage and guaranteed conditions, and also in respect to a sound policy of development in the reserves. Then development should not be prejudiced through the policy of African conscription. I want further to be assured that the figure of 55 per cent. of Africans who may leave the reserves because of the adoption of this policy shall not be exceeded.
There are other unfortunate features. It seems to me to be monstrous to apply the whole system of penal sanctions to the employment of these people. This country has been a party to a Convention for the abolition of penal sanctions. Already in Kenya since the war the system of penal sanctions has been worsened. Now we bring them into conscript private employment and impose on this new class these sanctions. Again, I want to know why it is that the African boy at school at 16 should be taken. If the Kenya Europeans had a boy at school, would they agree to such a policy? Why this discrimination? Why is it, when it has become a general practice in most places with recruitment schemes that travelling from the place of employment to home is not provided for, that no provision is made here for repatriation, if I may use the word, or for the periods which must elapse between the respective contracts which these men may be obliged to serve? Again, I think the penalties which are suggested are perfectly monstrous. Why should it be that the fine that can be imposed on an African for an infringement is equivalent to a whole year's earnings? I think it is completely unjustified. I am told that penalties fall equally on the employer as on the employee, but the most cursory examination of this penal clause shows quite clearly that that is not the case. If an African feels that there is a case against an employer, if there are half a dozen Africans who have a like feeling, will it be suggested if the punishment is imprisonment that the two months' imprisonment will be multiplied by six? Penalties are not imposed in that way. There should be a punishment based in equity for the employer as for the employee. The penalties for the employee are much too heavy. I feel strongly that something needs to be done to modify the conditions which I have indicated.
My last remarks are concerned with the general effects of the Measure. I suggest that the effect will be to disturb the economy of the whole of the territory. It is likely to set back production in the reserves, and is likely to check African development. I suggest that the assumptions of such a policy are based on those old assumptions that the African people are different from us and therefore we must discriminate against them, that according we can apply to them measures which could not be and should not be made applicable to the European. In point of fact the theory seems to be that the black exists, as was pointed out in the Kenya Press by a native, to work for private white employers. I do ask, when we are talking in these days about a war of freedom and liberation, when we are talking about Atlantic Charters, about winning freedom for the common people, about new deals and all the rest: Is the Secretary of State prepared to give guarantees to the Africans of a sound land and agricultural policy, including afforestation and soil conservation?
Is he prepared to modify the segregation policy of the White highlanders so that some of the derelict and uncultivated land may be used to relieve the normal congestion in the native reserves? Is he prepared to insist that there shall be a vigorous social policy concerned with the health and education of these people? Lastly, which is fundamental to the whole issue, is the existing Constitution to be changed so as to permit of representation of black people in the higher councils of the Colony? Is it to be tolerated any longer that no black man is nominated to sit on the Governor's Executive Council and in the Legislative Council? It seems to me to be wrong that there should be no direct black representation at all. And the answer is not that there are no Africans available. I can give the names of four or five extraordinarily well educated Africans, men of culture and learning, men of discretion and judgment, who are fitted to take their place in the higher councils of the State. If this present policy is imposed, then at least these concessions ought to be made.
For these reasons I ask that if this policy is persisted in, at least the elementary safeguards I have indicated should be granted. We talk of liberation. Let us secure the co-operation of the Colonial peoples by themselves identifying themselves freely with us because they are conscious that this war is not only a war of liberation for the great outer world, but also a war of liberation from the Imperialism we have in the past obliged them to experience.
I would join with my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley
(Mr. Creech Jones) in expressing regret that my right hon. Friend should have to make his first speech in his present capacity in defence of a policy which, at heart, he cannot feel easy about. I do not believe that, personally, he is in any way responsible for it. I regret that the decision should have been taken to carry out the recommendations of this committee on compulsory labour in Kenya without the House having had an opportunity to consider the principle and the grave consequences involved. Even in Kenya, anxiety has been expressed about the introduction of this principle; and the "Times," on 16th February, had a message from its Nairobi correspondent pointing out that the "East African Standard"
hopes that compulsion will be avoided, and contends that the natives have not been given by the Government Information Service an adequate background of understanding of the real war situation and their own part therein.
Evidently it is the belief of a certain amount of well-informed people in Kenya that, if the right kind of appeal had been made to the natives, this urgently-needed labour would have been forthcoming. But my hon. Friend has put his finger on the real reason, which is that the rates of payment at present prevalent are not adequate to attract the labour which is there, and which could be forthcoming if adequate wage-rates and conditions prevailed. The report of the committee itself shows that that is the case. They point out, in analysing the position, that conscription had hardly been necessary for bringing Africans into the military forces, because of the attractive conditions offered. They point out that one of the present difficulties has been caused by the rise in the standard of living of the African native, and that dissatisfaction at the maintenance of a low basic wage has been reflected in his outlook. He did not feel that he could get enough, by his wage, to keep up the standard of living to which he felt himself to be entitled, with the result that output was not satisfactory. One of the justifications that the committee puts forward for its recommendation is that
it would not be likely to involve any considerable increase in wages.
That is a very poor justification for a change of this kind. The recommendation of the committee stands condemned by that very idea. Any satisfactory solu-
tion of the difficulty in East Africa ought to involve an increase in wage-rates. It surely is not satisfactory that, as my hon. Friend has pointed out, the married worker with a family, from the reserves, should receive a wage amounting in practice, if we take into account the provision of food and Noising accommodation, to only 7d. a day; and that his wife and children in the reserve should have to be not only supporting themselves, but producing food to maintain him when he returns. This hidden subsidy is quite the worst kind of subsidy. My right hon. Friend, in answer to a Question of mine yesterday, spoke about the system of compulsory labour which had just been introduced as amounting in effect to a Government subsidy to the farmers. But why could we not, instead of having this system of forced labour, have carried out the suggestion, made clearly by Archdeacon Owen, in the memorandum which he contributes to the Committee's report, that there should be an increase in the wage-rate. It could be done by a war bonus. He points out that a number of the settlers would be glad to pay hither wages and provide better conditions, if they felt that the industry could economically bear it.
Last week the Under-Secretary, in reply to a Question of mine, said that he considered that this new forced labour measure did not contravene the International Convention on Forced Labour of 1930, ratified by this country in 1931. It is quite true that technical excuses can be found for this Measure under the provision of the Forced Labour Convention dealing with cases of emergency, such as war. The article mentions a number of cases of emergency—famine, war, earthquakes and fire—but surely the war then contemplated is war in the country itself, or, at least, immediate and threatening. The war does affect the life of the native of Kenya, and it is vital that he should realise his position; but the immediate emergency is far away, geographically, from the area in which he lives and works. If this country is to fulfil its obligations under the Forced Labour Convention, we should, at least, carry out the spirit of that Convention, and see that any arrangements for forced labour in an emergency—and only for an emergency—conform, as far as possible, to the safeguards laid down in that Convention. I want to mention one or two, in particular. The Convention provides that any work or services exacted in an emergency may be exempt, it is true; but it lays down clearly that forced labour, under the terms of the Convention, is not to exceed 60 days in 12 months. Under the present ordinance, a year's labour may be enforced. There is special provision in the Convention against forced labour for the cultivation of land, and it is laid down in all cases that the product is to go to the labourer. That is entirely ignored in the arrangements authorised by the Government. Article 4 makes it clear that forced labour is not to be used for the benefit of a private person or a private company.
It has already been mentioned that there is provision made for the protection of youth. In the International Convention the limit of age is to persons over 18 years of age, and not exceeding 45 years of age, and it is expressly stated in Article 11 that teachers and pupils are excepted from forced labour. I am aware that in the Government's Measure provision is made that pupils who are working for the higher standards should be excepted and those who are specially recommended by their headmasters. But surely, when we realise that the provision for Africans in the Matter of education is utterly inadequate and that far too little has been done in the past to help them in that way, we ought to take no African pupil away from his work for forced labour. I would beg the Under-Secretary to see that this Measure is amended in that respect particularly. There ought to be no pupils taken away from school to fulfil forced labour conditions. It is very much to be regretted that, while the Committee reports on Archdeacon Owen's memorandum, no consideration is given to the alternative suggestion he has made for the raising of the standard of wages. That is the crux of the whole difficulty, and the Government must face it. I would beg the Government to make up their minds to face this question of wage rates. Years ago there was an Ordinance passed empowering the Government of Kenya to fix minimum rates, and it has never been carried into effect. There is no adequate machinery provided at present for the raising of the rates of pay, and I hope that we may have the assurance that this question will seriously be taken in hand and treated as a matter of urgency.
I am glad that one good thing at least may come out of the report of the Committee, and that is the revision of the ration that is at present provided. There is a valuable appendix to the report pointing out how utterly inadequate, from the point of view of vitamins, is the traditional allowance of 2 lbs. of maize-meal per day, per labourer, and that it must be supplemented by green vegetables, and perhaps, in some cases, by meat and fruit and in other ways. I am very glad that that is a positive reform that results from the Committee's labour, but the fact remains that we are imposing upon the people of Kenya an unwelcome burden when we might meet the difficulty in a straightforward way which would result in the raising of the standard of life of the whole people. Seeing that there is no possibility at present of native opinion expressing itself directly in the government of the Colony, we remain as the trustees and the guardians in this House for the natives, and I hope that the Under-Secretary will, show that he too takes that position most firmly and that because of that he is prepared to reexamine the whole position in the light of the facts that have now been laid before him.
We are in a short time—a time all too short as far as I am concerned—to discuss our own liberties. At this moment we are discussing the liberties of Africans. We are going to ask that measures should be taken to preserve our own liberties. I hope that this Debate will impress upon the Government the importance of giving more freedom to Africans. I have always maintained that this is perhaps the most reactionary measure that has been brought in or advocated by any Government during the past 25 years. The Kenya settlers are among the worst employers in the world to-day. I think there is very little disagreement on that point among hon. Members. They are there to make the white man's burden as light as possible and to make their own profits as well as they can, and to these people is to be entrusted the welfare of the African population of Kenya. Why has it to be done? I understand that it has to be done because it is impossible to conscript the labour of Africans without such a measure. Why is that impossible? As other speakers, particularly my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Mr. Creech Jones), have stressed, it is impossible because the wages that are to be paid are too low. You cannot expect people to come forward with great enthusiasm to work for liberty at 7d. a day, but that is what they are being asked to do, and because they will not come forward and work for a wage which no Englishman would consider they are to be conscripted in the cause of liberty.
How are these people to live? They will live, as has already been said, simply because their wages will be subsidised by their own families working on the reserves and working to grow those very crops which are essential and necessary for the war effort, and in fact for the preservation of Kenya itself. Only by this false form of subsidy is it possible to pay workers 7d. a day and allow them still to live. These people are to be drawn in the main from their own reserves. They are to go, it would appear, to the Highlands. It says that they are to go to essential work, and the statement is made in the report that it can be assumed that the cultivation of certain crops in the Highlands will be scheduled as essential. It can now be assumed—because it has been the policy of the white settlers ever since they went to Africa to drive out the natives from the White Highlands in order to secure control of the White Highlands themselves, and having done that to get them back again to work for them—only too easily, that essential work will be work for the white settlers in the Highlands. Who is to declare what this essential work is? The Essential Undertakings Board. I asked the Under-Secretary himself a few days ago whether there would be any Africans on this Board, and I was informed that there would be none and that for some reason, which has not yet been explained, it is impossible for Africans to sit upon this Board, which is to decide which undertakings in East Africa are essential to the war effort—a most extraordinary state of affairs.
I come now to another question, which has not been mentioned by hon. Members up to the present. What control other than the very small inspectorate is to be exercised over these undertakings? It is said that it is being done for the war effort. Cannon it be assumed then that
these undertakings will be controlled in such a way as to produce the maximum output, that they will, if necessary, be co-ordinated, that their profits will be reduced, and that they will be put on the most successful and efficient basis for developing the war effort? And yet, as far as I can understand from the Under-Secretary—and I hope he will have something to say on this—there is to be no control exercised over these firms and businesses into which the native population are being forced to go. We have lately witnessed an appalling series of disasters in our Colonies We have seen Malaya and a large part of Burma go, and I think that perhaps one of the most distressing features of these disasters was summed up by a correspondent of "The Times" recently when he said, writing from Batavia:
The Government had no roots in the life of the country. With the exception of certain sections of the Chinese community, some inspired by the Free Chinese struggle for survival and others by Soviet precept and example, the bulk of the Asiatic population remained spectators from start to finish.
Will the same be true of the African population? Will they also remain spectators if Japan should reach the shores of Africa one day? If we pursue the sort of policy in Kenya which has been suggested today, we shall undoubtedly find that the inhabitants of Kenya will not only be spectators but will not help us and may, even, help the enemy. What is the excuse? It is that the Minister of Production has certain needs which it is assumed he cannot get except through the labour of Africans on European estates. I understand that the Minister created a good impression during the recent Debate on Production and gave the House to understand that he was setting forth on a great campaign to produce the necessary articles to win this war for liberty. Is this the first step in his new scheme for the production of the necessary war articles? Has he given orders to the Under-Secretary and told him that this must go through in order to provide the sinews of war? At this moment the right hon. and learned Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps) is in India. He is trying to get a basis of agreement between the Indian and British peoples which will enable us both to work side by side in the defence of liberty. If I may be permitted to say so, what is needed to-day is a Cripps for
Africa. We want somebody to go out to Africa, somebody sympathetic to the African people, who will be able to do for Africa what it is hoped my right hon. and learned Friend is doing to-day for India. In conclusion, I would ask the. Under-Secretary, when he replies, to tell the House whether he himself agrees with this Order. I cannot but feel that it has been imposed upon him, and I would say to him, "Take away this thing: it can at best do very little good; it can do at worst untold harm."
I thank the hon. Member for Shipley (Mr. Creech Jones) for his courtesy in two respects. First, he gave me notice that he proposed to raise this matter on the Adjournment, and, secondly, he was good enough, with his usual consideration, to provide me with some indication of the points he intended to raise. Nor have I any complaint regarding either the manner or matter of his speech. As to the matter, I had some previous warning, for which I thank him once again, and as to the manner, it was a combination of powerful eloquence and almost insinuating suavity which is characteristic of his contributions to this House.
Nevertheless, if I may use a phrase of De Quincey's, I have never heard a speech
which could leave behind it the mixed impression of so much truth combined with so much absolute delusion.
There are several delusions upon which the argument of my hon. Friend is based. First of all, like so many critics of the Colonial Empire generally and the African Empire in particular, he is filled with a strange suspicion, amounting even to a dislike of the white settler. The hon. Member for West Bromwich (Mr. John Dugdale), who spoke last, was even more pointed in his feeling, and I have noticed that sort of feeling running through the books I have read and the speeches I have listened to in past years. This trend of hostility to, the white settler is always prevalent. Whether it has some pathological or psychological background, I do not know, but I observe that it is most keenly felt by those critics whom one can never imagine subjecting themselves to the hardships of pioneer life. I must say that I do not share these prejudices. I have a high regard for my fellow countrymen who live in different parts of Africa
and carry on their way of life under difficult conditions in a newly developed country. I look with pride to the story of this development.
Although I recognise that the hon. Gentleman's views are widely held, they have at least been partially shared by the Colonial Office during almost the whole of the 19th century. They are implicit in much of the history of Government relations to pioneer industry. Think of Rhodes, not of Lord Ripon or Lord Knutsford. Let the hon. Gentleman look at a map of Africa as Rhodes found it and as Rhodes left it. It was the pioneer spirit of individual Englishmen and Scotsmen, unsupported, unaided and, indeed, gravely hampered by their laisser faire Governments of the time, who built this Empire. It is perhaps a melancholy, perhaps an arresting thought that had it not been for Rhodes and Delamere and men of that stamp, we should not be having this Debate at all to-day. These problems would not lie for us to settle. This territory would have been in enemy or other hands, and, most strange thought of all, even the hon. Gentleman, like a modern Othello, would have found his occupation gone. There would have been no need—I shudder to think of it—of the Fabian Colonial Bureau. This contemptuous hostility for white settlers led to the loss of the first British Empire. The hon. Gentleman has on his side high authority—George III.. Lord North, Mr. Grenville and the Duke of Newcastle. It should never be forgotten—certainly not in the Colonial Office—that in 1765 the British Government of That day issued a decree that no white settlement of any kind should pass West of the Alleghany mountains and that the territory West of the Valley of the Ohio was to be reserved as a native reserve. I say that the first delusion from which the hon. Gentleman and others are suffering is the suspicion, amounting to dislike, of the white settler, whether in Kenya, Rhodesia or elsewhere in Africa.
May I make it perfectly clear that that is certainly not a delusion which I share? I pointed out that I am suspicious on historic grounds of the white settler policy in Kenya.
I say that that view is a delusion. I am reminded that apart from the pioneers who went there of their own will, unaided and unsupported, risking their all in these adventures, there is another class who have come to the country under different auspices. They are those thousands who came between the two wars, at the express wish of, indeed were cajoled and persuaded at every stage by, the British Government, to settle in the Highlands of Kenya. The ex-officers of the last war, relying upon their pensions, or their wound gratuities, or their little savings, were continuously persuaded to risk their substance in African farming. This class has suffered many vicissitudes. It has seen disease, famine, locusts, all the vagaries of agriculture in Equatorial Africa. It has seen prices leap up and crash down. It has seen itself rich one day, and ruined the next. This is a class of men for whom the Government have a great responsibility, and for whom I personally have a high regard and affection. They have faults, they have prejudices. There are among them, as in all classes, some bad hats. But to me, I say frankly, they make a stronger appeal, struggling as they are with problems of a nature that seems at once bounteous and malignant, they make a stronger appeal than all—dare I say it?—than all the inhabitants of Chelsea and Bloomsbury who appear to compose their most vicious and persistent critics. That is the first delusion.
I come now to the second delusion. My hon. Friend believes that the British Government and the Administration of East Africa are attached to the principle of compulsory labour. That is not so at all. Nobody likes compulsory labour. Nobody likes compulsion in any form if it can be avoided. I am old-fashioned enough to believe that the willing recruit is better than the conscript. I still think that the Army of the first 100,000 men, the Army of the Somme, which was a voluntary Army, was the finest body of men who ever took the field in the service of the Crown. I still prefer a man or a woman who voluntarily takes on a war job, either in the factories or in the Services. But we have found that it is necessary to have either the shadow or the reality of compulsion—starting with it in the background, and pushing it gradually to the foreground. We have found in this country that it was impossible to obtain all that we desired by voluntary recruitment. Nobody, if I may say so, has played a greater part in the skilful use of compulsion as a lever than my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour, and no one is more committed to that principle than my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Mr. Creech Jones) who so ably assists him. When the hon. Member sits on the Government benches, he is all for compulsion. Then he is Dr. Jekyll. When he goes to the Opposition benches, he is all against it. Then he is Mr. Hyde.
Therefore, I say that nobody likes compulsion, least of all those who have long experience of the problem of African labour. I feel sure that the settlers do not want compulsion, especially those who have the longest experience and have built up a contented body of workmen, relying upon the squatters who are their permanent labour staff, together with the recruitment of additional labour for seasonal purposes by normal means. There are, of course, incompetent employers and new and unskilled employers' who find it difficult to attract, manage or retain the services of Africans. They may be easily misled in to the view that compulsory labour will solve their problems. But the more experienced of the settlers—and certainly the officials, the Government—do not share that view, that easy optimism. They know that in normal times compulsory labour of any sort is likely to be discontented, idle and inferior labour. It used to be asserted that the chief object of the poll tax or the hut tax was to force labour out of the Reserves. I do not think that was so. That may have been its effect. But those who have studied most this problem have always believed, in the words which I read in a book by the very wise Labour Adviser to the Colonial Office, Major Orde Brown, that "the shopkeeper is a better labour recruiter than the tax gatherer." It is by raising the standard of living, by exciting the demands and, if you like, titillating the palate of the African, that you will turn him into a labourer for wages because he wishes to obtain the commodities which wages can buy. All that is true in normal times, and everyone recognises it.
Of course, I know that there are two schools of thought in this matter. There are the more extreme partisans of the doctrine of indirect rule—those who would wish for ever to circumscribe the African communities in their own Reserves—those who would wish to maintain absolutely unimpaired the whole tribal organisation. Those I would term the extreme anthropological school. Sometimes I wonder whether they wish to preserve them as interesting specimens for future Sir James Frazers to produce offshoots of Golden Boughs. Of course, there is a great deal to be said for this view. There are others, on the other hand, who believe it is impossible to isolate and insulate for ever Africans from the onward march of European civilisation. These believe that they must be influenced by, and take their place in, the general economic progress. They do not believe that any Reserve can be for ever maintained like some zoological gardens, or even Whipsnade, with satisfactory results. They believe that the African is a man like any other man, able to grow in due course, and it may be more rapidly than some think, into the full stature of an economic and political man.
There is good in both those views. I have purposely stated them in an exaggerated form. The truth lies somewhere in between. The differences are perhaps of emphasis rather than of fundamentals. At any rate, on whatever view, I think compulsion as a normal method of progress is not desirable in normal times. But times are abnormal. We are in the middle of a harsh, cruel, and all-embracing war. Africa is as much in the centre of the war as Ceylon or Burma. We must not shrink from measures in the centre of the Empire which are required and are now being put into effect at its periphery. I must here repeat that it is a complete delusion to believe that either the Colonial Office or the Kenya Administration or the mass of white settlers like compulsory labour, desire compulsory labour, or are in any way using the present emergency to insert surreptitiously into the economic structure the principle of compulsory labour which in normal times is abhorrent to all.
I come to the third series of delusions, of some of which my hon. Friend has been good enough to give me private notice, others of which have been mentioned by other speakers, and the most serious and most incorrect of which I have read in parts of the Press. First, it is stated that there is no conscription of Europeans for military service [Interruption]. I said that I had read them in parts of the Press, and I must take the opportunity, at the risk of delaying the rest of the Press, which is coming later, to deal with this matter, which is of some importance. I have seen it widely stated that there has been no conscription of Europeans for military service, whereas Africans have been so conscripted. That statement is untrue; and, so far from the truth is it, that it is laughably untrue. Whatever else one may say or think about the European community, they cannot be represented as a community of war-shies, conscientious objectors, or skrimshankers. Many of them are veterans of the last war, and indeed, our problem has been not to persuade them to join His Majesty's Forces, but to get them out again after they have joined or rejoined. In the production drive in which we are now engaged throughout the Colonial Empire, a great deal of my task even in the few weeks that I have been at the Colonial Office has been to get out of the Army farmers, mining engineers, technicians of all kinds, who are better, as we think, employed on the work of which they have skilled knowledge than they would be in the Forces. I may say, in parenthesis, that assisted by the appropriate pressure, the War Office has been most helpful in this connection. It is a fantasy and a travesty of the truth to represent that Europeans in Africa are afraid of war.
Secondly, it is said that while there is to be this conscription of African labour, there is no similar pressure upon Europeans. That again is, of course, not true. On the outbreak of war all the Europeans between 18 and 45 years of age were called up for military service, except those exempted by a special tribunal. The further step was taken later of making reserved occupation regulations which prevented those who had been exempted from leaving their jobs. At the end of 1940 the total number of Europeans in some form of military service was 2,332, while the total number of able-bodied male Europeans within the prescribed age limits was somewhere between 3,000 and 4,000. In effect there are no Europeans who are not either in the Armed Forces or in essential occupations. I come now to the third point. It is said: Why is this labour required? Can it not be obtained voluntarily?
I am coming to that point. I say that all Europeans are either in the Armed Forces or in reserved occupations and prevented from joining up. I should like to pay a tribute to the marvellous way in which the African people in East Africa have played and are playing their part in this war. I am sure that they know that their future depends upon the manner of its conclusion. I believe that we have won a great deal of their confidence and friendship. They are people naturally loyal and naturally affectionate, and that loyalty and that affection do, I think, go out to the Throne, the Empire and the British civilisation from which they have been such great beneficiaries. There are 47,000 Kenya Africans in the East African Military Forces, including the Auxiliary Pioneer and Labour Corps. There are 221,000 employed in civilian employment outside the Reserves. Therefore, out of a total able-bodied native population of Kenya of some 550,000, some 268,000, or 49 per cent., are now employed, as we think, to the best advantage
But more still is necessary, if we are to fulfil our urgent need. We have had great losses of supply in the Far East. We believe—and the Minister of Production, when he was Minister of State, sent out a most urgent appeal from Cairo to the rest of Africa—that by the rapidly increased production of our agricultural products we can make an immense contribution to some of the most pressing problems which now threaten us. Every ton of foodstuff which we can ship from East Africa direct to our Armies in the Middle East saves a great haul from Liverpool round the Cape through dangerous and infested waters. We must, therefore, make every possible effort by every possible means in our power to increase production of the East African Colonies. Rapid decisions are necessary; the planting season is near. It is for the sole purpose of increasing production, both to maintain African wellbeing and to put still more into the common pool, that the Government of Kenya and my Noble Friend have reluctantly thought it their duty to put forward a scheme which is temporarily unsuited to normal times, with many difficulties and drawbacks, but still, for the moment necessary and essential, of compulsory recruitment of African labour. The figure of 49 per cent. to which I have referred will be raised under the new conscription scheme to not more than 55 per cent. This is a high percentage, but I can confidently say that it will not be exceeded, except in terrific circumstances.
On the other points which have been raised, I should like to make certain observations. First, voluntary recruitment has been pressed very hard in the shape of what is called assisted recruitment, that is, directly assisted by the Government. There are some drawbacks to this method. There is a danger sometimes of abuse. Those who have the interest of the African most at heart assure me that a system of compulsion properly administered, with proper safeguards, is more in the interests of the African than pressing too hard the policy of assisted recruitment. We have had some experience in our own country. I remember in 1916 all the various measures then being taken to secure voluntary recruits. A point was reached when they became derogatory, almost humiliating, and sometimes liable to grave abuse. It was better to take the jump from the Derby Scheme to compulsion. And so it may be here. Measures of official or unofficial pressure may be dangerous and harmful. An open acceptance of compulsory labour for agricultural purposes as well as for pioneer and military purposes may be, if properly administered, far more in the interests of the African himself.
But it is said, "Why do you put this emphasis upon the increase of labour for European management? Why do you not put the drive on to increased production of food from the Reserves?" I should like any man who faces this question fairly and honestly, and who has experience of East Africa, to put his hand on his heart and ask this question seriously: Can anyone say that if my Noble Friend and I are seeking no purpose other than that of increased production of agricultural products at the earliest possible moment, we could hope to obtain that production out of the native Reserves for export purposes? Surely it is an obvious fact, crystal clear, that this increased export surplus can only be obtained from additional effort on the European-owned farms. It is for that reason that my Noble Friend and I and the Government of Kenya have agreed to this policy.
Then it is said, "What will be the effect on African production of taking still more labour from the Reserves?" But this is an argument against the recruitment of labour, not against compulsory recruitment. Exactly the same effect upon African production will result if 20,000 men are taken voluntarily or compulsorily. Indeed, under the compulsory system the ill effects will be much reduced, because it will be scientifically applied. Recruitment can be made from areas where the least ill will follow. It can be spread and controlled. Whereas, if it is merely recruitment following a voluntary drive, tempted perhaps by increased wages and other lures, the effect on African production may be much more harmful. Then it is said, and I saw it widely circulated in the Press, that there is discrimination because there is no minimum age-limit placed. This is, of course, not true. It is said, quite rightly, by my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley that there is a minimum age of 16, and that for other races it is 18. I must admit that the argument is superficially plausible and effective, but, in fact, as is well known, an African reaches manhood at an earlier age than a European, just as Europeans of 300 years ago reached manhood at an earlier age than we do to-day. He is initiated into full membership of his tribe at the age of 16. African schoolboys and students will, of course, be exempted.
I am coming to that. As we have drawn the Regulation, all African schoolboys of 16 will be exempted if so recommended by the headmaster of the school. If there is any weakness in that—I know my hon. Friend attaches great importance to it—I will look into the matter again and make certain that the provision is made effective. Then I am told that the African farms in effect subsidise the European farms. That was the argument so very well put by Archdeacon Owen, who incidentally gave his support to a unanimous plan. Of course, that is a quite different argument from the issue of compulsion. It is an argument for raising the price of African products and African wages, and one, no doubt, equally agreeable to the settlers and to the African labourers. There is an argument which says that, since the native Reserves look after the African during periods of unemployment by providing for the nutrition of his wife and family, they are in effect subsidising the price of farm products. I think the House will agree that a violent and radical change in the whole price structure in the middle of a war to overthrow a situation which has been inherent in the price structure for a generation would be a very difficult thing for us alone to undertake. Many brilliant and active brains are now studying what is likely to be the machinery of the purchase and interchange of primary commodities in the post-war world. I should certainly agree with the argument put forward by my hon. Friend that in between the two wars the urban populations of the world have to a large extent profiteered at the expense of the primary producer, be he American, African, or even English. I think that is the underlying problem which has faced the world, and it is certainly not a doctrine abhorrent to me or to many Members of the House.
It has, indeed, been a melancholy fact that ever since the repeal of the Corn Laws the urban population has to some extent been living at the expense of the rural population of this country. But these are broad problems inherent in the whole economic structure of the world. They are not affected by whether recruitment to the farms is voluntary or compulsory. Nevertheless, I recognise their force, and we have done something, not all that I should like to have done, but something to meet that point. We should like to see African wages rise, but they can only rise if African prices rise. That is clear. As a contribution to the problem, we have now worked out a system of guaranteed prices and returns for certain crops. This will give the farmer that additional security which he has lacked in the past and this, combined with the operation of the minimum wage fixing machinery provided for in the Regulations, will ensure that the labourer will obtain his share in any general improvement in the economic position.
Then it is argued that the safeguards that we have in our scheme are inadequate. No safeguards are perfect and no machinery is absolutely sound, but we have done our best to design a system which can be as free from abuse as it is possible to devise. Perhaps I may describe that system. First of all, there is to be an Essential Undertakings Board, composed of the Chairman of the Supply Boards, the chairman of the Settlement and Production Board and the Director of Agriculture. Their first task is to decide what agricultural and other undertakings—it does not only apply to agriculture—are essential for war purposes. Every thing depends on that. If it is not essential, compulsion does not apply. The composition of the Board is satisfactory, but if there are other suggestions I will certainly have them looked into. Next to the Essential Undertakings Board there come the District Labour Committees. These will consider applications from persons who require Government assistance in recruiting labour. They will review the conditions of life at the place of employment and make their recommendations. These committees will not, as has been stated in the Press, consist only of a representative of the employers and the employed. The chairman will be the District Commissioner, and the representative of the employed will be either a Government officer, the Labour Officer or a missionary or some other suitable person. I do not think there is any fear that the Committee will not adequately represent the interests of the employees or that its members will not be able to stand up for them. Indeed, so far from there being no Government representative, as stated, I think, in the "Manchester Guardian," there will very often be two, one the chairman and one the labour officer representing the employees. After that we have the Provisional Selection Committees. These will be composed entirely of Africans. It will be their duty to select the men who are required. The men required will be male Africans between the ages of 16 and 45. [Interruption.] That is typical of the attitude of mind with which the hon. Member views everyone else who happens to disagree with him on any subject and the suspicions of the most futile kind that he introduces.
May I point out that already all political institutions in Kenya have been suppressed, and bona fide African leaders have beer put into detention camps? I suggest that in the light of our experience in regard to the administration of native law and native policy one cannot be too careful.
I am sure one must be careful, but one need not be unduly suspicious. When we select officers and Government officials the hon. Member says they are prejudiced, and when we select Africans he suggests that they are hand-picked. That is not so. The men selected will be medically examined. Each man will attend alter selection before the district officer, and he may then enter an objection. After that there is a still further sieve. The district officer will co-opt not less than 10 elders from the area from which the man has been selected, and he will hear the objections with the help of the elders. These are powerful safeguards. But that is not all. There is an appeal from the elders to a further tribunal, the District Exemption Committee, consisting of the District Commissioner, one or two European unofficials, two chiefs and two members of the local native council. Here a man may plead hardship on the ground that it would be hard for himself or his family, or that the economic position of his tribe or the locality would be injured by his being taken. I think that is a very complete system of safeguards as far as it is possible to devise it. I sometimes rather wonder whether any, will be chosen at all, so careful is this arrangement.
After that I come to wages. There will be a Central Wages Board. That is a great advance, because in effect it will fix the wages, not of course only for compulsory but for voluntary labour, and we are thus, as in this country, making use of a period of crisis to set up a more satisfactory method of fixing wages which I hope will become a permanent feature of the structure after the crisis has passed. The Board will also fix rations. Every possible measure has bee taken to bring before the Government of Kenya the importance of increasing rations, of getting better balanced rations and of obtaining wherever possible a meat ration. The Board will fix conditions of service, the tasks and so on, and these conditions will apply henceforth both to voluntary and to conscripted labour. These are important safeguards, and in some respects they make an important advance.
It is said that the penalties are unfair because £5 and/or two months' imprisonment means a great deal more for the African and not so much for the employer. It is true, however, that if an employer commits an offence in respect of more than one man, the penalty will be correspondingly multiplied. I understand the feeling that the proportions of the penalties are unfair, and I will gladly ask the Governor to look into the question again to see whether any more satisfactory arrangements can be made. It is said that there is no provision for repatriation. The normal arrangement for recruited labour will apply as in voluntary labour, under which the employer is required to provide transport back to the place of recruitment on the conclusion of the contract. My hon. Friend and others have said that the scheme depends upon an adequate inspectorate. My Noble Friend and I are determined that there shall be an adequate inspectorate and that the spirit of the safeguards shall be carried out. I have covered the field as far as I can. This is the scheme; these are the safeguards, and I put them forward to the House with some confidence. There was a statement recently in an important journal which curiously combines from time to time the greatest accuracy of detail of facts and figures with the wildest imputations of motive—the "Economist" of 14th March. It said:
the whole of this is in the interests of the white settler rather than of the war effort.
It is against statements of that kind that I vigorously protest. They are absolutely, completely and wholly untrue. The sole object of the Colonial Office and of my Noble Friend and me is to meet the cry that has come to us from the Middle East and from all parts of the Empire that Africa as everywhere else should play its full role in the immense struggle that lies before us. That problem fills and dominates the minds of the European settlers. I believe that it inspires the Africans themselves. It is certainly the compelling motive behind the Colonial Government and the Colonial Office.
We do not like compulsory labour Nobody likes it. We do not like it in this country or in the Empire. But we are forced by the harsh compelling urgency of war to do many things which we do not like. We have to choose between evils. I for one prefer, and I believe the House as a whole will prefer, that we should take some steps, distasteful in principle as they may be, and unsuited to normal times which will help us to achieve our major over-riding object. In taking those steps we have tried to hedge them round with every conceivable safeguard, every machinery of protection that we can devise. If in the course of their practical application we find that further measures and safeguards are needed, we shall not hesitate to ask the local government to provide them. We shall always be ready to accept and study criticisms of detail and constructive suggestions on the working of the scheme, but we shall not be deterred by any accusations, whether couched in temperate or in violent language, from carrying out what we conceive to be our duty.
The right hon. Gentleman, who has made a reputation in this House as a man of ideas, has laid before us a case for the conscription of labour which, in words he used in regard to another matter, is superficially plausible. I cannot help thinking, all the same, that this scheme is gravely repugnant to people of good will, and I very much doubt whether all the safeguards which he alleges hedge it about will in fact materialise. He speaks of an inspectorate and assures us that he and his Noble Friend will see that it is adequate. Can he deny that the local government in Kenya have said that there will be the greatest possible difficulty in creating an adequate inspectorate? If that be so, and it turns out that the inspectorate cannot be adequate, what is the use of the promise he has given?
I am much obliged to my right hon. Friend. His intervention is very helpful to me. In the papers that have been published certain questions passed between the Governments. We have not accepted the scheme without a considerable amount of telegraphing of questions about it. This difficulty was raised in one stage of the discussion, but I am certain that it will be possible to provide an adequate inspectorate. I regard that, as he does, as a vital part of the safeguards. Recruitment has already been started for it, and I shall do everything possible to see that it is made a reality.
The right hon. Gentleman compared conscription for people in this country with conscription in Kenya. There is, of course, the fundamental difference that conscription in this country is safeguarded in the last resort by popular representation. It cannot go beyond what Members of the House of Commons, representing the people of this country, are willing to tolerate. In Kenya the position is entirely different. Conscription is there being imposed upon a native population who have in effect no representation and no power to make their voice appreciated, still less listened to and obeyed. Many of us regard this proposal with grave misgivings. The right hon. Gentleman has told us that he will see that it is safeguarded as far as he can, and I hope he may prove able to be as good as his word, but, in any case, I am afraid that no safeguard imposed under such conditions as I have described can at best be very adequate.