Colonial Affairs.

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

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Photo of Mr Thomas Harvey Mr Thomas Harvey , Combined English Universities

One thing which has been clear throughout this most interesting Debate is that there is general agreement in the House that there is too much ignorance about the Colonial Empire in this country and in the House itself. Although we may differ as to where the misunderstanding is, we all agree that there is too much misunderstanding among our fellow Members as to some of the problems of Empire. There has also been a remarkable consensus of opinion in the House, not for the first time, as to the desirability of something in the nature of a standing committee on Colonial questions. It may be that it should be a joint committee, or it may be that there should be a committee in each House, but if Parliament is to keep informed, if Members are to have the opportunity of putting questions of importance in the right way, we surely need a machinery of this character. That is obvious from to-day's discussion. We have had almost the whole surface of the globe covered. It is impossible for the ablest Under-Secretary to deal in the time with all the great questions which have been raised. It has been cheering and helpful to see that in spite of differences of view there is a large measure of agreement among us as to the great objects that we have to pursue. All that could be brought out in such a committee. It would be possible to discuss leisurely, to have constructive criticism, and to go in private sometimes into difficulties which cannot be suitably discussed in public. I therefore earnestly hope that the Under-Secretary will be able to carry us a stage further on this subject. Six weeks ago he promised to give the matter consideration, and every month that goes by at a critical time like this means a loss to Parliament and to the Colonies if we do not have the best machinery in existence for considering Colonial problems and needs.

I have great sympathy with much that has been said by my hon. Friends above the Gangway as to the need for political development in certain parts of our Colonial Empire and for the application of the spirit of the Atlantic Charter. I think we can be at one about that. We can agree also that we must show by resolute determination that there shall be no colour bar in the way of ability and talent in the public service, wherever it may be. We want to make that the characteristic of our Commonwealth and Empire. We all agree, too, that we must have a resolute attempt to raise the economic standard of those great territories of the Empire where the standard of living is too low. I think we should also agree on the urgent need for better education, including technical education. We must recognise that in the past we have failed in that respect. It is not pleasant to think that the Russians in Central Asia have taken a backward population and made them literate in the course of 20 years, but that we have still to cope with illiteracy in vast areas of our Empire. I am far from believing that true education consists merely in literary education, but that is a symbol of the kind of neglect which has gone on in the past and I am thankful to think that, for instance, in Achimota and Makerere in West and East Africa we have splendid examples of the best kind of educational development. I hope the Colonial Office will take far further this very fine effort which has been made in recent years to raise the level of education for the people for whom we are responsible.

I hope, too, that we may have it made clear that we support that very fine ideal of Colonial Empire to which expression was given recently by Lord Hailey, who pointed out that the term "trusteeship" has a certain element of patronage in it which is resented by many of our Colonial fellow subjects; that we ought to think of the Colonies as partners in a common concern, and that it is the duty of the senior partner to recognise that the responsibility of the junior partners must increase progressively. That is, perhaps, too commercial a picture of the relationship, and I think the relation ought to be deeper than any analogy taken from commerce, but it is in many ways a very good and notable expression of the aim we should have in view, and I hope the Under-Secretary may make it clear that he does concur in that very fine expression of Lord Hailey's.

I had hoped, had I been able to speak earlier, to refer in detail to one or two other matters, but I want to emphasise two points which have been referred to by earlier speakers. The first concerns the extension of forced labour in Africa. We all know that it was done only under the spur of war conditions, that the Government do not like it and that it is regarded as a temporary and regretted necessity. Still, it is sad to think that it should have been extended so rapidly and that the conditions which have been applied in Kenya appear not to have been applied in Nigeria. I would ask that we should have a word on the point of wage conditions and wage rates for forced labour in Nigeria. It would make the position far better if we had the conditions which have been applied in Kenya applied also in Nigeria. In particular, I hope the Under-Secretary will consider favourably something in the nature of a welfare levy from the additional profits of the tin mines in Nigeria, to go to the benefit not of individuals but to the labourers and their communities. It is done in our own country. Our own miners have the benefit of a levy, which is used to improve social conditions, and we ought to make it similarly possible in the mines of Nigeria. I hope that that suggestion may be considered.

I will not pursue that point further, because of the time, but I want to turn across the ocean to the West Indies. We had a very earnest appeal from the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mr. Riley) on the need for political reform. I do not want in any way to traverse what he said—I am sure political reform must come—but I think that along with that and preceding it we need economic improvements. My hon. Friend would probably agree. I very much hope that the fund which has already been voted by Parliament will be spent more fully. We have not yet spent the full amount which is available.

I know that the Under-Secretary of State feels that there are special conditions owing to the war—and of course, there are—which prevent the full use of that money, but there is a great need for an increase in the production of rice in he West Indies now, in consequence of the disappearance of the Burmese rice, which was the chief source of the rice consumed there in previous years. It is of great importance that rice should be produced in greater quantities. On the Island of Trinidad is a great swampy area which might be made use of for the growing of rice. There was a plan after the last war for draining and preparing that land for rice cultivation, and the scheme was not only prepared but was begun; but, in the slump of 1923, it was abandoned. The labour will now be available. The labour which is working on the American bases will shortly be freed; could it not be used for such work as I have suggested, to the great advantage, not only of Trinidad but of the rest of the West Indies, by the increased rice production? If further labour were needed, there are, unfortunately, large numbers of unemployed in Barbados who could easily be engaged for such valuable work.

One hundred-odd years ago this House gave £20,000,000 to the planters of the West Indies in compensation for the freeing of the slaves. We have never given a similar amount to the slaves or to their descendants. I think the expenditure of this fund is an earnest of our being determined to repay in some sense the debt that we owe to these men, for the years of slavery through which their ancestors passed and for which our ancestors were to some extent responsible. I hope that when he replies, the Under-Secretary of State will be able to give us encouragement on that point.