Colonial Affairs.

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

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Photo of Dr Hyacinth Morgan Dr Hyacinth Morgan , Rochdale

The hon. Member for Oldham (Mr. Kerr) has again recommended to this House that, among many other things, as part of our post-war reconstruction policy, the electorate of Great Britain should indulge in investments in our Colonies. I hope later that when I again describe, as I have done before, an example of a Colonial development used for the exploitation of one island of the West Indies, he will see the difficulty facing this House when such a recommendation is put before it. I have often been asked by ray friends why, in Colonial Debates, I concentrate upon the West Indies. I concentrate upon the West Indies because, in my view and from my experience, the West Indies offer a microcosm of the variety of conditions existing in all our Colonies spread throughout the world. There you can have conditions which are analogous to those existing in African Colonies, Eastern Pacific Colonies, Mediterranean Colonies and elsewhere. I hope that my concentration upon the West Indies will not be regarded as being only concerned with one particular set of Colonies. It is because I regard them as a test case of what is possible in the development of the Colonial Empire. In the West Indies, as in many other of the Colonies, there are found vicious spirals of neglected food supply, extensive disease and poor medical services, destitution, poor wages, divorce from the land, fecundity and increasing population, high illegitimacy rate, juvenile delinquency, minimum welfare, poor educational standards and facilities, and poverty, all reforms ameliorating these conditions having been practically neglected except within the last few years.

At the present moment the policy of the Colonial Office is really to shelter under an umbrella of welfare. Welfare is not enough. You must have a new aspect in looking at Colonial affairs, starting from the ideal of parenthood, on to trusteeship, on to protection, on to the gradual civic development of the coloured population until they are able to stand on their own feet. That is the policy that should be adopted by the Colonial Office, and, frankly, up to the present I see no glimmer of it.

In the West Indies we have a series of islands with different situations, with the same economic and social conditions existing in the main, but there are differences in each island. In one the crop is different, the accent is different, and the outlook is different, with the same conditions existing. You have very different circumstances existing. In Barbados, allegedly the most English of Colonies, there is a constitution which is 300 years old and has not been changed yet, and Trinidad, the richest Colony, has a constitution inferior to that of the Bahamas. You have a series of political constitutions in the various islands. Even in local government you are practically making no attempt to train the coloured local people—as the English and European steeped in the British tradition—in the development of real citizenship. What has the Colonial Office done for the problem of juvenile delinquency in the West Indies? I remember bringing home a sick member of the Royal Commission, and he told me that in St. Lucia, when he asked about the problem of juvenile delinquency, he was assured by the commissioner of police there that there were no vagrant boys. But he himself found vagrant boys of tender age sleeping outside the doors of houses. When I was in St. Lucia and St. Vincent I found that Admiralty and War Office houses and buildings, instead of being used as hostels for these boys and for such people, had been converted into fiats in which comparatively well-to-do officials had their own dwellings in very congenial surroundings rather than that these poor boys should be allowed to have this accommodation.

The problems of the West Indies on which the Colonial Office should concentrate are mainly four. There should be federation of the Civil Service throughout the islands instead of the disjointed service which now exists. The medical services and the ordinary administrative services, instead of being regarded as closed pigeon-holes in which local aspirants cannot move from one island to another, and, as far as Barbados is concerned, not even from one parish to another, should be open for the transfer not only of the European officials, who move like birds of passage in the promotion career from one island to another, but for local aspirants who want to improve themselves and get on.

You should train the local people for the responsibility of local Government and then gradually allow them to fill posts in the Civil Service, moving them on to various islands. Even now there is in the West Indies grave racial discrimination. The Germans are well known as imitators or mimics. We know now that the Hitler policy was a policy of no internal class war in Germany, but in substitution for that there is the racial war outside with the object of showing Germany as the supreme race enslaving others. I sometimes wonder, looking back over the last 300 or 400 years of our Colonial Empire, whether that charge cannot to some extent be substantiated against our Colonial administration. What have we done for the women of the West Indies? It is known that the Nazi policy with regard to women is church, children and cooking. What have we done to elevate the status of the female population in the West Indies? I hope that when the right hon. Member replies he will tell us what has been done. Are they educated? Have they any economic status? Is there one woman on any of the executive councils in the West Indies? Does the right hon. Gentleman mean to say that throughout the West Indies, in the native circles or among the coloured population, there is not a woman who could be nominated as a councillor on the executive bodies? Does he realise that some years ago in the Leeward Islands there was not a nominated coloured person on the executive or legislative councils?

Education is a great need in the West Indies, both primary and secondary. There is no scheme for adult education. As to the development of religion, you have the picture of all denominations doing excellent and indeed marvellous work but hampered and pincered by the grave economic and social conditions against which they can make practically no headway. Does the right hon. Gentleman realise what the illegitimacy birthrate means in the island of Barbados, the island which is advertised in the tourist brochures as a tropical paradise? For the last two decades the illegitimacy birth-rate in that island has shown maternity to be practically regarded as an industry be- cause of the benefit from alimony. Does he know that the illegitimacy birth-rate, which used to range from 80 per cent., is down to 59 per cent.? The right hon. Gentleman may tell me that that is something which the Colonial Office cannot help. I submit that, if the Colonial Office raised the economic status of these women, gave them a good education, an improved social status and did something to help them by means of decent welfare schemes, and especially if they gave them political power instead of leaving them voteless, they would soon see a change in the economic conditions of these women.

As regards co-operation, no consideration is being given to the development of co-operative societies in the West Indies as you have them in China and India and other Colonies for the development of cultural aspects in agricultural societies and things of that kind. So far as I have read, nothing of that kind has been planned yet. Then there is the problem of federation, which should be tackled as soon as possible. It is perfectly ridiculous that there should be these isolated units, each fighting one another, with different policies, customs and bars, instead of being regarded as a complete unit. As a Noble Lord said in another place, the tendency should be to have big amalgamated Colonies with Governor-Generals casting a really panoramic and widespread eye over the Colonies as a whole. There should be a policy against racial discrimination, I do not know if Members realise that there was a vacancy for a judgeship in Jamaica, where there was a coloured man of considerable experience, exceptional calibre and unimpeachable character who had had magisterial experience in that Colony for over 14 years. He held the acting Judicial Appointment. I do not know whether he applied for the job or not, but at any rate he did not get it. A European from Mauritius secured the position. When examples of that kind can be quoted and the whisper of how the Government are treating their best men goes through the West Indies, you can imagine the sort of feeling of animosity that exists there.

I will give another example. Recently the Director of Medical Services was promoted from Trinidad to Mauritius. I know that chief medical officer, because he happened to be a fellow student with my brother at Glasgow University, five years after my time. In the Colony of Trinidad there is, as medical officer of health to the chief town, one of the products of the island, a scholarship winner, who is as fully qualified as any medical man in Great Britain from the point of view of qualifications. That man is doing fine work as medical officer at Port of Spain, but I am prepared to wager that his chances of being appointed Director of Medical Services are practically nil, because that post will be reserved, as it always has been in the past, for a European. This policy of racial discrimination should be stopped. I know it has been ameliorated and modified somewhat, but I want these men to know that appointments will be made on merit, and merit alone, irrespective of colour and race. That is the only way in which you can encourage men to produce and do good work.

Now I come to the question of financial exploitation. Let me repeat to this House, because it bears repetition, the case of the St. Kitts sugar factory. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] Hon. Members can groan if they like, but the people of St. Kitts and the labourers there are groaning, too. The hon. Member for Oldham said that we should put our money into investments of that kind. Well, these are the people who, as I said last time, are getting from 800 to 1,100 per cent. out of an island in which the wages of labourers are 1s. per day. The right hon. Gentleman the Minister was very kind to me the last time I spoke. He was very generous, indeed, about my effort, and I appreciated it very much. Perhaps he would allow me to congratulate him on the way he has so far done his work in his office. He is showing an interest in, and giving a stimulus to. Colonial affairs, as was shown especially by his last broadcast. It was a real pleasure to hear him on the wireless. But this company—and there are many similar companies—is a useless parasite. It has a real cuckoo policy of exploiting the native races for the benefit of the city financiers in London. In this company, there was an original loan of £130,000, less 10 per cent., and the right hon. Gentleman took me to task because he said I did not understand the difference between loan capital and real capital. But I am not quite so simple as that—a Simplicissimus Minor—because his friends who sit beside him will agree with me that loan capital is perfectly fictitious. He will note I said "Simplicissimus Minor"—the Major probably being in the Colonial Office. Debentures are not really capital; they are borrowed money to aid the business, and, therefore, the right hon. Gentleman, in saying what he did, did not treat me as he usually does. For borrowed capital of £130,000 up to date of redemption this company has had returned to it 5 per cent. interest per annum. They have had the debentures, borrowed for the railway in the island, returned, plus 6 per cent., free of British Income Tax. They have been entitled to half the assets of the sugar factory company and over a series of more than 25 years they have obtained, as I have said, from 100 to 1,100 per cent. per annum. Is that the sort of thing in which to ask the British public to invest? The people of St. Kitts, having practically no vote, are helpless. That sort of financial exploitation should be stopped by the Colonial Office.