Colonial Affairs.

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

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Photo of Mr John Dugdale Mr John Dugdale , West Bromwich

I would like to refer to a remark made by the hon. Member for Oldham (Mr. H. Kerr). I was interested in his suggestion that the Dominions should play a greater part in Colonial Government. I think that a suggestion bearing on that was made by the Dominions Secretary at one time in another place. It was that it might be advisable to form a Government, with a full Parliament of House of Commons and House of Lords, in such a place as Cape Town. I would like to throw out the suggestion that it might be possible to establish the Colonial Office in Canberra at some future date. The Australian and New Zealand people will have something to say about this in the future when they remember what happened at Singapore, in Borneo and in other places near to them where Governments in which they had no say proved not to have had as firm a foundation as they might have hoped.

I want to refer more particularly to-day however to the question of the mobilisation of Colonial man-power in the Forces. I have tried for some time to secure some figures about this. I asked the Under-Secretary at one time, but I gathered that it was not considered to be in the interests of public security that any detailed figures should be given. I can understand that it may not be advisable to give too many figures, but there are certain well-known figures about which I would like to say a word. I will say nothing about the mobilisation of man-power in Palestine as I understand that that is to be dealt with at a later date. I will refer first to its mobilisation in Africa. On the Gold Coast and in Nigeria there is a population of 25,000,000 to 30,000,000. As far as I can ascertain, there is one Colonial regiment with possibly 8,000 or 10,000 men at the most, and I should think the figure is considerably less. Is that a figure of which we can be proud? In East Africa there is, I understand, one regiment. It is doing admirable work, but there is only one regiment. In the West Indies, where there is a population of 2,500,000 there is, again, only one regiment. I will not press the Under-Secretary for the actual figure in each regiment, but I do not think it can be more than a few thousands. In the last war the West Indies, or it may be Jamaica, alone contributed 150,000 men to the Forces. Why can they not do so to-day? I can see nothing to prevent them. In our own country there are, I suppose, including the Home Guard and every branch of the Armed Forces, some 3,000,000 or 4,000,000 people serving. That is, roughly, 10 per cent. of our population. What a different picture from that which I have given of the development of man-power in our Colonies.

What is the reason for this? In April this year a meeting took place in New York at which Paul Robeson and other prominent people were present. To this meeting the Lord Privy Seal sent a message saying that the difficulty in recruiting people to the Armed Forces in the Colonies was the difficulty of finding equipment and materials to arm even the men who were available and that it would be impossible to have a larger force. In other words, there was a shortage of equipment. Let us compare this with a statement made, I think, by the Minister of Labour not long ago, that the creation of the Home Guard shortly after Dunkirk was a gigantic piece of bluff. The Home Guard was created at a time when there was very little equipment in this country. It was built up and men were trained without equipment. When the equipment became available, we had an admirable force capable of doing valuable work in the defence of this country, I would ask that the same thing be done in the Colonies. If there is a shortage of equipment let the men be trained before the equipment comes to them. When the equipment arrives they will be able to use it.

What are the reasons that prevent action being taken? As far as I can see, there are only two. The first is that the Colonial people themselves might be unwilling to join the Forces. I gather from meetings such as that at New York to which I have referred that this unwillingness does not exist. If the Under-Secretary says it does exist, I can only say that it is most unfortunate that there should be unwillingness among people of our Colonial Empire to help in its defence. I do not think that is the reason. I think the reason is that either the Colonial Office or the War Office do not wish to recruit these men. They do not want to face the difficulties in administration that may be involved. I can well imagine one Department—not the right hon Gentleman's Department, but the War Office—saying they could not be bothered. I can imagine on the question of discipline the A branch of the War Office making great objections, I can imagine, on the question of weapon training, the G department being concerned whether this could be arranged and whether there were, for instance, enough British officers to do the training. I can imagine the question of feeding causing grave concern to the catering department of the War Office. I can imagine the Colonial Office raising objections and saying, for instance, that there were not properly built places for men in training, not enough barracks or enough equipment. I fear that there might be people in some of the Colonies who would raise objections on social grounds and who would say that it might possibly create a certain amount of difficulty if too many in the Colonies were through their association with the Armed Forces to get a wider view of their powers and position than they have previously had.

That brings me to the question of promotion within the Forces that do exist. I would like the Under-Secretary to state how many coloured soldiers have received commissioned or even non-commissioned rank. I understand that the number in the West African Regiment is very small and that it is also small, if there are any at all, in the West Indian Regiment. I hope that he will disillusion me and will be able to say that there are a large number of commissioned and non-commissioned ranks in both of these regiments and in the East African Regiment as well. I have, however, grave doubts on this matter. We have in our Colonial Empire some magnificent fighting material. This material, as far as I can understand, is crying out to be used. Its anxiety to serve should be an inspiration to us, but it does not seem to inspire the Colonial Office. Are these men, in their millions, to be condemned to idleness? Are they to wait, as the people of Malaya and Singapore waited, until the enemy are at their gates before being mobilised? I hope that will not be so. I hope they will be trained and mobilised fully before the time comes for them to be used, if it ever does come. I would in conclusion ask the Parliamentary Secretary to remember what did happen in Malaya and at Singapore, and to see that that cannot happen in the West Indies or in East or West Africa; to see in fact that we have a force capable of defending those countries made up of the people of those countries and that that force is ready.