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

That may be so, but the hon. Gentleman went out of his way to say that he thought part of our post-war Colonial policy should be that the British public should be encouraged to invest. The word "investment" has a distinct meaning; it means investment, of private capital into Colonial business without any restrictions whatever from the Colonial Office. It is done every day. You are doing it in Nigeria, Rhodesia, and now in the West Indies. Other sugar companies have been formed. Ask the directors of this company what they are doing. They are having companies run in the West Indies. In a sugar factory in Antigua the Government put in £15,000, and so can keep an eye on it, but that is not the case in St. Kitts. These thirsty individuals who pose on the West Indies Committee as great welfare helpers of the West Indies are parasites, sucking the blood of the Colony and taking it to the city while the poor people are left there. When I left after my visit to this sugar factory—and a very efficient and well-run factory it is, I must give them credit for that—by permission of one of the officials I visited the lazaretto in St. Kitts. From a prosperous business I went to a poor leper institution, where I saw patients without arms, without legs, or with disfigured faces. I took off my hat in response to a bow from a poor woman leper. And I heard her pathetic cry as I moved off. "Oh God," she said, "he, the visitor, took off his hat to me—to me, the poor miserable, ugly, forgotten creature." And I saw these people looking at me plaintively, knowing, as they intuitively recognised, that leprosy, though a microbic disease, was due to the social conditions which existed. My medical friends may object to that, and say that like tuberculosis leprosy is a microbic disease. But we know that tuberculosis is a poverty disease in this country, and so leprosy throughout the world though caused by a microbe, is due to the social conditions existing. So I want the right hon. Gentleman to recast his financial policy with regard to the West Indies, and I want him to do it under the Colonial Development Board, so that there will be definite restrictions on companies of that kind.

I have taken up the time of the House, and I do not propose to say very much more. The way in which problems are handled in the West Indies seems to result from mal-administration. Let me take very briefly the problem of praedial larceny, that is, the thieving of crops by poor labourers from various estates. At one time the estate proprietors made a terrible hullabaloo about this problem. After the Trinidad rioting an English Commission was sent out from here. After considering praedial larceny, this Commission recommended the "cat"—the lash—for the second offence. I was keenly interested in this problem, and I did not see why these poor people should be lashed for stealing a banana or a plantain, or an orange or a grapefruit from a tree. When I was in Trinidad I went into this problem thoroughly. I found that it was a minor problem which had been greatly exaggerated. I want to pay the right hon. Gentleman this tribute: I wrote to him and asked him a question recently about praedial larceny, and I have his letter in my pocket; it is a good letter, and excellent evidence of his interest. What do the Colonial Office now find out? They admit, after investigation through a series of excellent local committees which they have formed there, that this praedial larceny, this great criminal offence, is only prevalent in a small part of the island and that only a very small minority of the population is involved. It is now being got under control in those localities through the local committees. That is an example of a problem being deliberately exaggerated by interested planters, in order to pretend that the people are not worth talking about and should therefore be kept on destitution wages all the time.

So it is with almost every other problem. I do not want to speak about the medical services, because I know so well that they are perfectly disgraceful. Wonderful work is being done by medical men, general practitioners of exceptional calibre, in the port medical work, by which they are keeping internationally infective diseases away from these Colonies. There is no plague, no typhus, no yellow fever, no smallpox. This work is being done by men who have had a chance to do some decent, honest work, and in spite of all the trans-oceanic traffic they have kept infection from their shores. But when it comes to internal conditions, over which the poor medical men have no control, preventive work is being kept at a minimum, and they are concerned merely with ameliorative treatment, for the relief of symptoms. The medical man cannot himself go draining swamps to prevent malaria, he cannot go digging latrines to prevent hookworm disease occurring, he cannot produce reservoirs for a good water supply to prevent typhoid. He is helpless, and these conditions, which result from the Colonial medical policy of the Government, are the problems which exist and which produce such a tragedy in the West Indies. The medical services themselves are perfectly disgraceful; there are no Whitley councils, great favouritism is shown, and the whole system needs reorganisation. Chief medical officerships are reserved for Europeans only, and there are many similar problems. I wish the Colonial Office would hurry up and do something. In the Colony of Trinidad, with a population of nearly 500,000, tuberculosis is rampant, as it is in Jamaica, yet there is no tuberculosis sanatorium. Cannot something be done to speed that matter up? The money has been subscribed partly by private subscriptions, and the Government have now to make a grant. Surely they can do that. I have the figures here of tuberculosis in Jamaica compared with the figures for this country, and the Jamaica figures are very much higher than those for this country. So they are in some of the other Colonies. In cases like Trinidad, where the money has been partly subscribed privately, could not the Government hurry up?