Colonial Affairs.

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

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Photo of Mr Benjamin Riley Mr Benjamin Riley , Dewsbury

I would like to comment upon the short speech made by the hon. Member for Moseley (Sir P. Hannon). I am sure he will agree with me that if grievances exist in any of our Colonies, as elsewhere, he would not be in favour of glossing over those grievances. But grievances and injustices must be attended to, for if they are not, trouble naturally follows as a consequence. I want from that point of view to ask for the attention of the Under-Secretary of State on the attitude of the Colonial Office towards the development of self-government, particularly in connection with some of our West Indian Colonies. The House will recall that over the last two years or so reference has been made from time to time in these Debates to the fact that the Colonial Office has been making proposals to some of our West Indian Colonies with regard to new constitutions. Jamaica, Trinidad and British Guiana are cases in point. If we as the Imperial Parliament are to assess properly what is behind these proposals which for the last two years have been put up by the Government through the Colonial Office with regard to the constitution of self-government in the West Indies, we have to have in mind the background from which these proposals have come. I am confining myself entirely to the policy of the Government in respect of the development of self-government, not in all but in some of the important West Indian Colonies.

The facts are very well known. During the three or four years preceding the out-break of war we had in our West Indian Colonies a regular series, year after year, of disturbances, discontent, strikes, riots and killings—some were killed and many hundreds were arrested arising out of unsatisfactory labour, social and political conditions. As a consequence of these riots and disturbances the Government, in 1938, appointed a Royal Commission to go out to the West Indies to make a full inquiry. The Commission spent six months in the West Indies, from October or November, 1938, to about April, 1939, and they issued a kind of summary. Their report has not been published, but we had a summary of their recommendations and points of view. What has emerged? We have had brought home to us the fact that these important Colonies in the West Indies, such as Jamaica, Barbados and, to a lesser degree, Trinidad—and there are more than a score of them—have been under our administration for from 250 to 300 years. Barbados goes back to 300 years of continuous British administration, and Jamaica has been in our possession since 1655, and yet none of these Colonies today, after 300 years of British administration and assimilation through our Colonial administration, has attained to the right of self-government. There is no Colony in the West Indies to-day which has the right to appoint its own Governor or the right of responsible government. In every case they are conditioned by the Governor and his nominated executive councils.

I am not saying that the absence of that self-government explains the disturbances and the discontent out of which the sending of the Royal Commission arose in 1939. Just as it occurred in our own country a hundred years ago, so in the West Indies, after such a long period of British connection and association, there has been developing a certain political and industrial consciousness among the people. In recent years there have been contacts with America. There has been over a long period of years a regular flow of British West Indians to America, backwards and forwards, imbibing the atmosphere of the United States and so on. They brought that back to the West Indian Islands, and they expressed it in labour organisations and trade unions.