Colonial Affairs.

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons on 4th August 1942.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mr Arthur Jones Mr Arthur Jones , Shipley

The American Ambassador remarked the other day that a survey of American public opinion showed that there was a greater divergence of view on. British Colonial policy than on any other subject dividing the two nations. If that misunderstanding exists in the United States there is also in our own country and in this House a great deal of misunderstanding in regard to our Colonial policy. I therefore make no apology for asking the House to give again to-day some little attention to our Colonial responsibilities. The broad outline of Government policy was given to the House by my right hon. Friend the Under-Secretary for the Colonies in the Debate a few weeks ago on the Colonial Estimates. My purpose to-day is to draw attention to a number of special problems which have occurred during the Session and which have given rise to some misgiving and doubt.

I wish I had found at the Colonial Office the open door to which the Under-Secretary referred in the last Debate. As far as I, personally, am concerned, I usually get a very sympathetic hearing at the front door, but there seem to be many inner doors. Everybody behaves with great charm and everyone treats me very nicely. I am not likely, however, to find myself on the floor through falling into space as suggested by the Under-Secretary but because of the existence of unforeseen inner doors which most effectively block any resolute action.

Let me say something, first, about the war effort. My criticism has been directed on a number of occasions in the past to the fact that the Colonial peoples are not always able to contribute to the war effort according to their capacity or their wishes. The Under-Secretary recently told us of the contributions being mobilised by the Colonies for the war effort. He said that the Colonial Office were stimulating exports of the minerals and raw materials we needed and that we were creating export machinery for that purpose. The Colonial peoples were growing more food and developing their own resources more and more, which, he said, was good in war or in peace because these factors contributed to health, nutrition, soil conservation, and so on. Further, local industries were being stimulated; and imports were being limited by Government bulk purchase of goods. All of us would agree that most of these things are of permanent value in Colonial life, but I would add one or two reservations about this policy.

Industrialisation and the exploitation of minerals and other natural wealth in our Colonial Empire should be very carefully controlled and developed with an eye on future policy and the consequences when the war is over, because such exploitation of mineral and natural wealth has a profoundly disturbing effect on native life in all its aspects. It is also important that in planning Colonial economy to keep an eye on maintaining some sort of balance in Colonial economies. In any case, it seems to me that when the Government opens out new resources and grants new concessions steps should be taken to see that definite conditions are laid down with respect to wages, conditions of employment, welfare conditions, profits, royalties, the application of I.L.O. Convention and, sometimes, the ultimate ownership of the resources concerned. It is also important, in the second place, that in creating machinery for the control of exports and imports monopolists should not be strengthened. In some of our Colonies their insinuating influence is pretty strong. Already certain steps which have been taken by the Colonial Office have created some apprehension among merchants and others both here and in West Africa and other Colonies. No steps should strengthen existing monopolies. Further, if we are promoting local industries, I ask that the Government should do it through local native enterprise on co-operative lines if possible, and that there should be the maximum of cooperation within the framework of an ordered plan. I hope that certain proposals which are being considered at the moment inside the Colonial Office in regard to West Africa will receive the endorsement of the Government.

In regard to raw materials and products, I hope the Colonial Office will give every encouragement to co-operative production, will encourage co-operative marketing and credit, and take steps to ensure much more rationalism in the handling of products before they reach consumers. Above all, there is very real need that producers should be given a guaranteed price. That applies to the small native producers as much as to the larger concerns. There should be some stability in regard to price, and the small peasant producer should be shown some way out of his chronic poverty which often means serfdom to him. The Government should take all the necessary steps to ensure a price which will give a reasonable standard of living to prime producers engaged in meeting the world's needs. Before I leave this side of my argument I need scarcely add, as being fundamental, that I hope that nowhere will the Colonial Office, or those responsible, permit native land to be further alienated or allow individual land ownership to be introduced.

I recognise that it will be one of the problems after the war, in applying the trade and economic freedoms of the Atlantic Charter, to reconcile the reasonable claims of the Colonies with the kind of economically regulated world which we hope to create. We shall want new Colonial industrial enterprises to get on their own feet, we shall want no unreasonable restrictions in respect of their goods and products and the markets there for. The Colonies economically need a fair chance, yet they have to be integrated into a larger world economic order.

In passing, may I also say that from time to time I receive complaints and read complaints that local Colonial Governments do not go fast enough or show enough drive in regard to the war effort. Sometimes the people are not actively associated with the effort. I suggest that this state of things ought to be remedied. It is not only true on the economic side, it is a criticism made by the Colonial peoples in respect of their defence—civil defence, military organisation and the rest of it, and repeatedly voiced in West Indian and West African newspapers. I do not refer to Palestine because I understand that later this week we shall be discussing the special problem of the Jews. There is one observation, however, which it is necessary to make in respect to this war effort. The Colonial territories, because they are apt to be regarded as Imperial possessions, as material possessions, are being exploited to the full. We are using or proceeding to use their limited mineral resources; we are using their manhood, and profoundly upsetting their native life. The Under-Secretary remarked in a recent broadcast on the generosity of the Colonial peoples, which I am sure we all gratefully acknowledge. But, after all, the Colonies, if I may use his words in the last Debate, are not his "goodly heritage." They are the territories of the Colonial peoples, and these people have views and wishes. There is room in regard to all economic and social development for much more consultation with them and their permission obtained for what the Imperial power itself does. I want to stress that the corollary of this considerable contribution from the Colonial peoples to our present struggle for freedom and civilisation is our responsibility for bringing them more rapidly to political maturity and social and economic prosperity. They were ex-, eluded by the Prime Minister, from the proposals of the Atlantic Charter, though the recent speech by Mr. Sumner Welles for America does not seem to make that discrimination.

The other night my right hon. Friend reminded us that many soldiers from the Colonies were playing an active part in this war and he told us that they would in due course return to their homes. They will have travelled. They will have gathered a pretty wide experience, and some will have had the advantages of education. We have to remember that these soldiers will be a most stimulating element in Colonial life after the war. Because of those facts, I suggest that in the West Indies, as in West Africa, we should be a little more concerned about preventing the frustration experienced by these people to-day. We should seek to secure their fullest co-operation. As the recommendation of the West Indies Royal Commission put it, the Governments should adopt a much more positive policy in bringing their point of view before the mass of the people and in explaining in much more simple terms the reasons which lie behind their decisions on major problems. That point has been raised also in regard to the Colonial Development and Welfare Act. Schemes are in active discussion in the respective Colonies, but too often the people vitally concerned are not brought into consultation at all. It is one of the complaints of West Africans over here that there is far too little consultation and far too much patronising, too much of doing good to the people, instead of inviting them to use their brains and to co-operate in the changes which we think desirable.

I would further suggest that steps should be taken now to make some progress in political institutions. I have been a little apprehensive at recent developments in the Continent of Africa, particularly in Kenya and Northern Rhodesia. For the purposes of the war we have been obliged to set up new authorities, executive authorities, with powers in regard to economic mobilisation. At the same time, so far as the Legislative Council and the Executive Councils of both territories are concerned, there has been no recognition that the black people live in an overwhelming majority in these territories. I have said before that it is not that there are no educated black people. There are, and some of them are experienced. If you create new authorities—which may be of some importance in the future constitutional developments of those territories—it seems reasonable to ask that, in regard to existing constitutional machinery, there shall be more representation from the great masses of the black people in those areas.

Likewise, there is a strong tendency for the colour bar to increase its strength in Northern Rhodesia at the present time. I hope the Government are watching that situation with very great care and that some action can be taken in Northern Rhodesia at the earliest possible moment to check this very unhappy and very unfair development. It is also desirable that we should look again at the constitutional arrangements in West Africa, to see whether we cannot make indirect rule a little more flexible than it is, and whether we cannot immediately take some steps in regard to what the West Africans themselves have been demanding for a long period, some fundamental reform in municipal government. I see no reason for prolonged delay.

While I am dealing with certain difficulties in our Colonial policy I might mention the clamour for constitutional reform in Mauritius and in the West Indies. I received a vague promise from the Colonial Office a year or so before the war that constitutional reform in Mauritius would receive the serious con- sideration of the Department. The great mass of the workers in that Colony still clamour for political expression in the local legislative council, but nothing is done, although all other interests can be expressed and a place found for them. That situation has become intolerable. In regard to the West Indies, why this very slow progress? The Colonial Office sometimes shelter themselves behind the terms of the recommendations of the Royal Commission, but let me point out that since the issue of the report—which we have not been privileged to see, although I do not understand why it should not now be published—vast changes have occurred in the world. There has been the impact of war on those Colonies. These people have shown considerable desire to play a larger part, hot only in the war, but in their own local affairs. The war has gone right into the Caribbean sea. America has, with our permission, established bases in a number of these Colonies. Therefore, the people feel that if defence is in the hands of America and if much of their economic future will be tied up with American organisation, it is important that they should, at least, have some effective control in regard to their local affairs.

Why, therefore, do we dilly-dally so long in respect of representative government and of moves towards more responsible government? The people themselves are clamouring for change. It is not good enough to say, "There is a Franchise Commission working in Trinidad and another in British Guiana." The Royal Commission said that more and not less participation by the people in the work of Government was a real necessity for lasting social advancement. I would urge that it is important to press on with constitution-making in the West Indies, even to permit the beginnings of responsible government, and, in the case of most of the Colonies, of real representative -government. May I also draw attention to our continued failure to do very much in regard to the constitution of Bermuda, Barbados and the Bahamas? Labour difficulties are arising—the failure to adopt I.L.O. Convention is a case in point. There are intolerable labour conditions. Yet, we have no authority over the governments of those three Colonies, though it has long been obvious to everyone that the archaic constitutions should be drastically remodelled.

While dealing with political change may I make some reference to the position of civil liberty in certain parts of out Colonial areas? What is the answer, I ask the Under-Secretary of State, to the continued detention of Domingo in Jamaica? What has Domingo done? Is there any reason that he should be under look and key merely at the pleasure of the Governor, while no evidence exists, certainly to the outside world, why his detention has been allowed to last so long? Let me refer also to Wallace Johnson. This man was taken possession of by the authorities before the war was actually declared. Some excuse was found; he went through a process of criminal prosecution. Almost before he left prison he was put under detention again, and then, because of the clamour, he was released, but not unconditionally. He is conditionally released, and the most wretched arrangements are made as to the conditions under which he shall live. Unreasonable conditions are imposed upon him in regard to his living, I do not understand why, because a man has allied himself with working-class societies, because he is a trade union leader, these onerous conditions should continue to operate in his case. Again, is there now any reason why the leaders of the Kikiyu Central Association and other kindred organisations should continue in detention? Why should so many of the natural leaders of the people of Kenya continue to be withdrawn from them?

Finally, on the question of civil liberty, I want to refer to the operation of the Defence Regulations in the West Indies. Have those Defence Regulations been brought into line with the Defence Regulations in this country? Certainly they were in Jamaica as a result of pressure. But for several years many people have been detained in the Colonies for no adequate reason, and all our efforts to obtain from the Colonial Office an explanation of why these people are detained have been completely unavailing. I have just received from Jamaica a telegram telling me that three or four persons whom I have been trying to get released for considerably over a year have been released at last. But what was the purpose of their detention? They were simply swept into detention and it was nobody's concern to see that justice was done.

I want now to refer to a number of economic difficulties. Most hon. Members on these Benches are conscious, from correspondence and messages reaching them from the Colonies, that the cost of living is rising, that wages do not keep pace with the increase in the cost of living, and that conditions in many areas are now becoming almost intolerable—so intolerable that in a number of Colonies, in spite of their patriotic zeal to support the war effort, the working people are threatening strikes. It is no good saying that the Essential Work Order is a satisfactory expedient for meeting a situation of this kind. You cannot fob off the working people with the idea that in the course of time a report will be made on the cost of living and something may be done about their wages. I put it to my right hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State that if the Essential Work Order is made operative, there should be, at any rate, definite guarantees in respect of conditions of employment, that if the strike weapon is withdrawn from these men, other means should be open to them for the purpose of securing proper adjustments in their standards. This situation in regard to the lowering of the standard of living as a result of the war situation is a condition that is prevalent in West Africa and the West Indies. I have just received a telegram from Ceylon pleading that I make representations with the Colonial Office on this very matter. In view of this feeling, I ask that the local Governments should make some effort to adjust what has become an almost intolerable situation. It is not enough to say that these people must make some sacrifice for the war effort.

The second point of an economic nature that I want to raise is forced labour. I shall not now discuss the problem of forced labour, but I want to make one or two observations to my right hon. Friend concerning the application of this policy. Why is it that permission' to apply this policy is so readily given from London without substantial facts being produced as to the necessity for it? The latest Colony in which this policy has been operated is Northern Nigeria. Why? There is a great surplus of labour there. Would it not be possible for the Colonial Office, in such a case, to say to the Colony, "Why are you not able to recruit that labour? Have you made absolutely certain that there are reasonable conditions in the industries concerned and that they are sufficiently attractive to the labour that is available?" Why is it that permission is given without the most stringent safeguards being made in respect of the new labour to be caught up in the industries concerned? Why, in Northern Nigeria, are there no labour inspectors? All that is done is to send up an administrative officer who, probably as part of his other duties, looks after the new situation created in the tin mines. Are the Minimum Wage Regulations being operated or is it simply said, as the Under-Secretary said in reply to a Question the other day, "Yes, we will see that local wage rates are operated"? I suggest that that is not good enough. To what degree is the Minimum Wage Convention, to which we are a party, being operated? How far-reaching is this minimum wage legislation? Those are some of the questions to which I would like to receive an answer.

I said the other day, in a Supplementary Question, that there was reason to doubt whether, under the Forced Labour Convention, the policy of the Government could be justified. I am supported in my view by so distinguished an authority as Lord Lugard, who said that he was at the Permanent Mandates Commission when the Forced Labour Convention was being made and his recollection was that when they thought of exclusions, they were thinking of exclusions in respect of war, but they had not in mind that the exclusion would cover working for private profit. That is precisely the position now—that we are engaged in industrial conscription in private employment out of which a profit can be made. Moreover, as far as Northern Nigeria is concerned, I want to ask the Under-Secretary whether any steps are being taken about the royalties that are being paid to the Nigerian company which has an interest in this matter. It gets at least half the royalties in respect of the exploitation of minerals. Is it going to surrender, in respect of the new wealth got out of Nigeria, its full share of royalties under some taxation legislation? Finally, what steps are being taken to safeguard the local native economy while the men are withdrawn? There are other questions which occur to me in regard to the Northern Nigerian situation. What are the terms and periods of employment? How long are these people to be away from their homes? We have not seen the Regulations and we know nothing about the conditions; all we know is that somebody in Northern Nigeria put it to the Colonial Office that what had happened in Kenya should apply in the Northern Nigerian tin mines, and without saying what safeguards or conditions there should be permission was given. That sort of thing ought to stop. It has happened not only in Northern Nigeria, but it is now happening in Southern Rhodesia, and the Southern Rhodesian Government use the excuse that as the policy of forced labour is spreading in Africa they see no special reason why it should not be applicable in their own territory.

The third economic problem that I want to mention is the situation in the West Indies. I should like to know more about how the Government are facing the alarming situation that is developing economically in the West Indies. Before long the workers who have been employed on the American bases will be returning to their homes. In some places, as an hon. Friend reminds me, work is finishing now, and there will be a most grave unemployment situation. In certain Colonies there is already a very great problem of surplus population. Consequently, the economic situation will become very bad indeed. At the same time, the cost of living is rising. There are shipping difficulties. We have not mobilised the production of food to anything like a sufficient degree to meet the needs of this population of nearly 3,000,000, and so far as rice is concerned, although the Under-Secretary said that certain things had been done, I doubt if they are adequate to feed the populations of our own territories. I put it that we are face to face with a very grave situation which calls for the gravest attention from the Government at the present moment. It is quite true there has been an Anglo-American Commission, and presumably it has reported. The American Ambassador made a speech the other day about it. As far as I know, we have not had a report here. Presumably, there are steps to be taken in regard to the control of prices, to the rationing of goods, to increasing local production, organising shipping and the rest, but I am very apprehensive, and I would like to know more of the Government's economic policy in this respect.

Then there is the problem of social distress. We have had for the last two years the Colonial Development and Welfare Act. We were told the other day that no fewer than 83 schemes in a dozen categories had been endorsed, though the expenditure indicated by my right hon. Friend is not quite in harmony with other information given to this House a little while back. The figure of £800,000 under the Colonial Development and Welfare Act was mentioned as against £250,000 in the return to 30th June. I am open to correction on the point.