Colonial Affairs.

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

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Photo of Mr David Gammans Mr David Gammans , Hornsey

I am a member of both, but I think the Royal Empire Society is not confined to the Colonial Empire—it also includes the Dominions. It has not, however, a permanent cinema, an exhibition. Press representatives, or many other of the things that I want to see in a great Colonial house. It is the equivalent of South Africa House, Canada House and India House that I want to see. Perhaps one might suggest that such a building would be an appropriate gift from the British Government after the war as a token of appreciation of what the Colonial Empire has done.

In the purely economic sphere I would like to see set up an Empire Development Council, for which my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Isle of Wight (Captain P. Macdonald) pleaded so earnestly a month ago. If we are honest, can we say that there has been, or is at this moment, a comprehensive plan of development of our Colonial Empire? In my experience there is not. There is no plan either within the Colony itself, or in the relation of one Colony to another, or in the relation of our Colonies to the world at large. I remember that some years ago a celebrated American came to stay with me when I was in Malaya, and he asked, "What is your policy of development?" I could only say simply that there was not one, and that if there was, I was quite unable to see it, and no one had ever told me what it was. If there were such a plan we should not have made some of the mistakes we have made. We should not have allowed unrestricted Chinese immigration into Malaya, where we have created a problem that is just as insoluble in its way as the problem of Palestine. We should not have allowed the whole economic system of a Colony to revolve round one crop, as we have in the case of cocoa in West Africa and sugar in the West Indies; we should have kept a better balance between subsistence production on which people live and the money crop, which is always at the mercy of world conditions over which they have no control.

I am wondering, too, whether we could not do something, even while the war is on, to set up an Empire Defence Council. There is nothing which gives a greater sense of common citizenship than the acceptance of common responsibilities for defence. Instead of, as it were, pushing our Colonial subjects aside and saying, "We will defend you"—which, in the case of Singapore and Hong Kong, at any rate, we signally failed to do—cannot we do more to make them feel it is their job as well as our own? Could we not have more encouragement of local recruiting, as was suggested by the hon. Member for West Bromwich (Mr. Dugdale) and also more direct entry into the Royal Navy, the Royal Air Force and the Army from our Colonial Empire? Two years ago I would have guaranteed to raise in British Malaya two complete squadrons of the Royal Air Force, completely manned from local personnel, from pilots down to riggers; there was that mass of excellent raw material which, for some reason or other, we could not use.

There is much I would like to say about the administration generally and about education, but time will not permit. One delicate subject, however, to which I feel I must refer is colour prejudice. Nowadays there is not as much colour prejudice in the Colonial Empire as some hon. Members opposite think, but now and again there is some and my feeling is that where it exists it is the duty of the Colonial Office to stamp it out. If British citizenship means anything at all, there must be no colour bar at home or abroad. Let it not be thought that colour prejudice is confined only to the Colonial Empire. One finds it in London, where there are still hotels and restaurants that will not admit people from the Colonial Empire. A man is conscious of his political rights only at intervals, but he is conscious of his social rights every waking moment of his life. You can knock a man down and in time he will forgive you, but if you wound his pride he will hate you to the day of his death. It is for that reason that the whole colour question is so important politically. Perhaps there is one way in which all of us can help, and that would be to stop using the word "native." It is all very well to argue that "native" means a person who was born in a country; that may be so, but the sense in which the word "native" is used definitely means, in the minds of the people themselves, a certain social stigma.

In conclusion, I want to say that you can never found a great Commonwealth, such as we are trying to found, on economic and material things only Without bread a man does not live, but he cannot live on bread alone, and an Empire, if it is to have any permanence, must in the finality rest in the hearts and spirit of human beings. In other words, the British Commonwealth is an idea, and in the end it is ideas which count. It is the idea of common citizenship, under a common symbol, of men who differ in many, many things, who differ in race, colour, religion and history, but who are prepared to unite together for certain things. And the things which unite them are greater than the things which divide them. As "The Times" said in a recent article: We have to add a sense of spiritual mission which alone provides an enduring stimulus to the human effort. I think we have lost, in the past 20 years, that sense of mission, and if our Empire is to have any permanence, we have got to regain it. What we need perhaps more than anything else is a sense of dynamic leadership, of a creed which will enthuse the people of these islands as much as it enthuses the people of the Colonial Empire. I fully believe that to-day, in our Colonial possessions, we are at the parting of the ways. One of two things must happen. The first is that the British Empire may gradually disintegrate and disappear, the most tragic example in the history of the human race of a people who were unworthy of their destiny, who were unmindful of the great responsibility which had been committed to their charge, because they lacked the inspiration, the leadership and the faith. That is one thing which may easily happen. The other alternative is that we may learn a lesson from our disappointments and our defeats, and realise that we have the power, if we have the will, to create something which will be a lasting benefit to those who live beneath our flag and to humanity at large.