Colonial Affairs.

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

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Photo of Mr Harold Macmillan Mr Harold Macmillan , Stockton-on-Tees

Yes, I am not responsible for Southern Rhodesia. In Nigeria it is a new problem which has come upon us, and I cannot quite accept the definition of the Colonial Office attitude of the hon. Member for Shipley. We did not rush in Kenya and in Nigeria to accept proposals for compulsory labour. On the contrary, we examine with the greatest care. Great numbers of telegrams are interchanged, and an immense coming and going takes place between the Colonial Office and the territories concerned. It is necessary for purposes of the record, although the hour is late, to go over the reasons why we found it necessary to have compulsory labour in Nigeria. We require 30,000 additional people if we can get them. We require an immense additional production of tin. We have lost 60 per cent. of the world's production of tin. Labour has been largely taken up by Army needs and raising of voluntary forces for the Army and military works, pioneer corps, and things of that kind. So that the more successful we are in meeting the wishes of the hon. Member for West Brom-wich the more we increase our problem of meeting the difficulty of getting labour for the Nigerian tin mines. Labour is no longer coming from the Vichy territories, from where we used to get a certain amount. As Members know, the incentive to money wages, is not, in the more primitive territories, the easy method of obtaining labour that it is is in the more sophisticated territories. The Nigerian tin mines must not be conceived of as mines in the sense of collieries; they merely consist of removing 10 or 15 feet of earth from the surface and then working the deposits at that point.

Recruitment was originally from neighbouring tribes. It is important that we should recruit in a fairly evenly-spread and controlled way, because it is important to maintain food production all over the country. Therefore, recruitment should be evened out. Unfortunately if we were to depend merely upon raising wages to a high level, or something of that kind, it would probably attract just that type of labour which is least suited to the work. We should attract labour from the coast. The tin mines lie on a high plateau where there is cold, rough weather, and the people suited to that weather are the more primitive tribes which live in the Northern areas. I have not seen them myself, but I have been shown many pictures of these people, who, although the weather is comparatively cold, do not find it necessary to wear any clothes. It would not suit us at all to bring the coast men in—indeed, it would be wrong.

As to safeguards, when it is said that they are not as good as they ought to be, if that is so, I will try and make them better, but may I point out that there are proper medical inspection, subsistence and free transport to and from the mines, a reception camp, with free meals, in charge of administrative officers, and a special inspectorate department; and may I also say that I have just received a telegram giving the appointment of two new, experienced officials. They are hard to get now, as we have to take them from somewhere else. Conscripted labourers have the same wage rate as voluntary labourers and companies provide housing and medical treatment. The age limit was originally fixed from 18 to 55; now it has been reduced and is from 18 to 44. Workmen's compensation covers conscripted labour, and hours of work are the same as for voluntary labour. One rest day each week is being given. I think I have given the broad general reasons why we must raise this tin.