Orders of the Day — Colonial Empire (Manpower)

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 5th August 1947.

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Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."— [Mr. Simmons.]

9.12 p.m.

Photo of Brigadier Sir Harry Mackeson Brigadier Sir Harry Mackeson , Hythe

There was a certain amount of criticsm in the Press in regard to the attendance in the Debate on the Colonies which recently took place in Committee of Supply, but there were several Members on this side of the House, and, indeed, on the Government side, who were unable to catch the Chairman's eye because the time was so short on that occasion. I think it will be agreed that the time which has been available to discuss colonial affairs has during the past year, been all too short for those who are vitally interested, not only in the affairs of the different Colonies, but in the Colonial Empire as a whole. In passing I should like to mention that it is a pity we have not had an opportunity of discussing the new constitution for Ceylon, to make quite certain that the interests of the Sinhalese minorities are assured, which I believe them to be. I think it is unfortunate that the new constitution for Malta, of which I have some slight knowledge, is not out yet; as far as I am aware, there is only one elected representative of the people at present carrying out his constitutional rights. I agree that the Constitutions for Ceylon and Malta will prove satisfactory, but, nevertheless, I hope that the Government will give time for these major constitutional problems adequately to be discussed.

When we talk about development of the British Commonwealth, it is not always possible to put the facts before the people, possibly owing to the lack of newsprint. I doubt, for instance, whether the people realise that the statement contained in the Blue Paper is true that for many years there will be no surplus of cereals other than perhaps maize, and there is little chance of exporting meat from the Colonial Empire in large quantities. On the other hand, there is a tremendous potential, particularly in connection with the export of groundnuts, fruit, minerals, tea, and many other things. I am making no party point when I say that owing to the war there will be a delay of at least three years, and, in many cases, up to 10 years before we in this country will be able to receive the benefits of any development schemes that are put into force.

The essential thing we should make clear is that in any plan for the Colonies we are working primarily for the colonial people, and only incidentally for ourselves. In our present economic condition it is very easy for us to get up here, and say what we think we ought to get from the Colonial Empire., Our duty, as Members of Parliament, representing, to some extent, constitutionally, 60 million people in the Empire, is to think primarily of the people in the Colonies, and only incidentally of ourselves. In the Colonial Empire we have an enormous asset which has not been developed over past generations-colonial manpower. I will briefly gloss over the past, but let it be clear that there was a time when the white man exploited the black. In no conditions must that state of affairs return. We must try to raise the standard of living and education of our fellow citizens of the Empire, because, by doing so, I believe that we shall raise our own.

How can colonial manpower, which is very considerable, help this country and mankind as a whole? That is a question I am posing to the Under-Secretary. I do not profess to know the answer to it, but I believe that there are many ways. For instance, by building air bases and ports, and by using our colonial manpower, we can do a great deal. In our present straitened circumstances, I am putting this forward as the main thesis of this brief Debate this evening. I believe that the Cabinet—and I have no information, other than the Press—have had to consider the question of cutting down our Armed Forces. I should like to see them cut down drastically if the situation in the world was happier than it is, but, faced as we are, with our commitments, I am very surprised, as an ex-soldier, why colonial troops have not been considered in relation to this policy.

We had 42,000 troops in the Colonies two days before the beginning of the war. These facts are not secret; they are extracted from official publications, on sale by the Stationery Office. By May, 1945, that number had leaped to the astounding figure of 473,000. Now it is down to 87,800. The figures for the British Army are quite different. In 1939, we had, excluding India, for which I have not the facts, 185,000 troops. We had in June, 1945, nearly 3,000,000; and we have 854,000 today. The Colonial Army has decreased, in two years, by as five is to one, and the British Army by as three and a half is to one. In other words, the Colonial Army is twice the size it was before the war, whereas the British Army is four times the size it was before the war. It is difficult, after a war, to get recruits in this country, and I think we are losing a great potential source of manpower by not using more African troops. I do not mean that they should be used for occupation. I am thinking on very big lines, and I believe that we should have an Army corps in East Africa and an Army corps in West Africa of about 100,000 each. I believe that would save a great deal of our own manpower. I cannot understand why we have not done that, and, if circumstances change, as they do change after a war, I think we should consider this. I am not putting forward this suggestion purely from a strategic point of view. I believe that Central Africa and South Africa will be the strategic centre of the Empire in a few years' time when rockets increase their range. I believe that if we get the best educated young Englishman—and we have proved that we could get very good young men to go out to India—we could help not only our own manpower, but also the Africans.

I am envisaging a big African army with about three years' minimum service of which the last six months, at least would be served in vocational training—learning the veterinary service, agriculture, methods that should be taken to stop soil erosion, simple sanitation, and things of that kind, and that the man should then go out. He would be fully trained and on reserve for six years and be, broadly speaking, a better citizen if intelligently handled. That is a very sweeping statement, and I do not believe that the Government, or any Government, could easily solve the educational problem in the colonies. We have a tremendous number of teachers to find, and buildings to erect in this country and, goodness knows, how we can expect to find the necessary cadre to increase education abroad. I believe that by taking on the best of these men as volunteers for three, six or nine years we would be able to make them first-class junior administrators in the Forces and in civil life. I think that a certain proportion of the appointments in the Colonial Service might possibly be reserved for them. The plan is a big one but it is worth thinking about in view of the very serious statement we are expecting to hear on Wednesday. I throw it out as a suggestion. I am quite aware that the hon. Gentleman cannot answer this in detail tonight, but I hope that he will tell me that the Government will consider the matter. This is a place where we can, although we may have hard things to say to hon. Gentlemen at times, put forward constructive suggestions. I would ask the hon. Gentleman in particular to investigate with the Ministry of Civil Aviation and the Royal Air Force how far we can take colonial manpower and educate them for mechanical ground jobs on aerodromes. Before long, the African Continent will depend, in my opinion, when we have built sufficient aircraft, very largely on the number of aerodromes it possesses.

There is one question which I wish to ask the hon. Gentleman in which he knows I am particularly interested. That is the question of Maltese emigration. Compared with the millions in Africa, it is a small question, but compared with the Empire it is a big question, because Malta is one of our most developed colonies, and the population there have given as much service to mankind as most islands in the world. When I was there in January—the hon. Gentleman bad been very courteous in answering my letters—there were, I believe, about 10,000 emigrants anxious to leave the country, but the shipping problem was difficult. Of these, some 5,000 want to go to Australia and 5,000 to the United States of America while a few hundred want to come here.

I personally think, without having studied the problem too closely, that the correct place for the Maltese to emigrate to is Australia. The population of the island is 250,000 and it is going up at the rate of 5,000 a year. Naturally there is a feeling of claustrophobia and restriction on a small island, particularly as the expenditure by ourselves and the Americans has gone down. I believe we should make every effort to get the Maltese to Australia, and we should permit a small number of trained and untrained technicians to come into this country. They could be employed here as fellow citizens with equal rates of pay or allowed to go, as some of them have gone, to places like Kenya. In this connection I would suggest that the hon. Gentleman might investigate the question of getting some Maltese girls to come here to be trained as nurses. I am told that they did yeoman service during the war.

That is all I want to say on this question of colonial manpower. India and Pakistan are Dominions. We want to see Africa eventually brought into the Commonwealth as a self-governing Dominion or Commonwealth or whatever the word may be—we shall no doubt change our words as time goes on. I believe a great contribution can be made by us to the people of the colonies and they can make a great contribution to us. I suggest that in our present shortage of troops we should recruit more soldiers in Africa not for offensive purposes but simply for internal work and as potential reserves to support U.N.O. later on, but at present to support the British way of life. We may also have the idea that in some small way that will help us in the problems which we have to face tomorrow.

9.27 p.m.

Photo of Lieut-Colonel David Rees-Williams Lieut-Colonel David Rees-Williams , Croydon South

I am sure the House is very grateful to the hon. and gallant Member for Hythe (Brigadier Mackeson) for raising this subject this evening, because at any time it is a very important subject, but it is a vital one at the moment with the Debate looming up in front of us tomorrow. This aspect has never been stressed as much as it should have been in the House, mainly because, as the hon. and gallant Member has said, we get few opportunities to discuss colonial problems. I suggest that the Parliamentary Secretary pays great attention to the hon. and gallant Gentleman's speech and to the excellent suggestions which he has made this evening.

I should like to take this a stage further and not only deal with Africa but also with the Far East. We have important Colonies there in Malaya, Hong Kong, and Borneo. Before the war, as the hon. Member for Hornsey (Mr. Gammans) will bear me out, in all of these territories there were no regular battalions of colonial troops whatsoever. The regular battalions of troops came either from this country, India or Burma, and that was so not only in regard to the Army but also for the military police. That imposed a considerable burden upon the manpower of this country, which was not difficult in those days because we had a great surplus of manpower for many years in the inter-war period. That no longer applies, and one of the ways in which the Government will have to close the gap is by reducing the size of the Armed Forces.

In so far as the colonial territories are concerned, I suggest that they can only do that by recruiting and employing colonial troops. These troops will in the main be used in their own colonies, but there is the possibility of using them in other colonies as well. For instance, the Sikhs were used in Malaya and Hong Kong before the war. I take it that they will be no longer available. The Burma Rifles were mostly composed of Kachins, Chins and Karens. They were used in Malaya. We could extend that process. We could enlist Malays and Chinese not only for service in Malaya but for service in other colonies as well—for military police or the Armed Forces as the case may be.

One of the reasons in my opinion for the disasters which overtook us in Malaya was the fact that we had not relied in any shape or form upon Forces from the peoples of the country. We had disarmed them and we had not allowed them to bear arms of any description. I remember prosecutions of people for carrying little hatchets no bigger than toffee hammers. They were regarded in the old days as dangerous weapons and, therefore, we had taken from the indigenous people of these various colonial territories any opportunity of becoming proficient in arms. We told them it was a serious criminal offence to bear arms, and when the time came they were not in a position, no matter how much they may have liked to be, to help in expelling the foreign invader. That is a fact, and if the time ever comes again, the people of the particular country must be in a position to help in expelling any invader of their land.

The reasons for that policy lay very largely in the fact that in the past we were an imperial power. We did not want the people of our colonial territories to be armed. We did not want them to be trained in military formations, because we assumed that they were more likely to fight us than anybody else. Therefore, it was better for us to have our own armies, small though they were, scattered all over the world. That no longer applies. We are no longer an Imperial power. We have taken these people into co-partnership with us. We have told them that our aim is to give them self-government in due course, and in most of these territories and with that hope in view more and more of these territories are becoming self-governing. In very few of them does the old Crown Colony system apply in its entirety. The indigenous people to a larger or a smaller extent are responsible for the defence and other services inside their country.

Thus it is that today there is no reason why the burden of the police and military commitments inside the country should not be borne by the peoples of the particular colony concerned. In this Debate it would be outside the scope of our discussion if I were to go into any of the larger aspects. I hope at some time we will have a Debate on defence policy generally. We are always taking little snippets of it on the Army, Navy, or Air Vote. At the same time, I would like to see a real defence Debate when we could discuss how far the Navy, Armies and Air Forces were necessary and what their role should be in the changed circumstances of today. However, that may not be within the scope and limitations of this Debate, and I will conclude by suggesting that we can make a much greater use of our colonial manpower than we have done in the past. I commend the speech of the hon. and gallant Member for Hythe to my Friends on this side of the House.

9.32 p.m.

Photo of Mr David Gammans Mr David Gammans , Hornsey

While I agree very largely with what has been said by the hon. Member for South Croydon (Mr. Rees-Williams), I feel I must correct him on one point of history which occurred when he suggested that the defence of Malaya might have been different if the people in the country had been doled out with arms. We lost Malaya for one reason and for one reason only, and that was because we had lost control of the sea through the disaster at Pearl Harbour and through the sinking of the "Prince of Wales" and the "Repulse." All the armies in the world would not have made very much difference ultimately to what happened there.

I am very grateful to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Hythe (Brigadier Mackeson) for having raised this question, because I hope he is going to be more successful than I have ever been, which is to get out of the Government some answer as to whether or not they have any policy at all with regard to the future use of colonial manpower. In that connection I am very glad to see the Secretary of State for War present, although he does not seem to be taking much interest in the Debate. However, we are glad to see him, because this is a matter which concerns him and also the Minister of Labour as much as it concerns the hon. Gentleman the Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies. I asked a question of the Government some months ago, a simple question. I asked the Secretary of State for War—who is still not taking much interest in this Debate—that question, when he was complaining that he was short of men in the Army. I asked him categorically whether he proposed to make any use whatever of that great reservoir of loyal men and first-class soldiers who exist throughout the Colonial Empire.

The sort of answer I got then was a vague reply that the matter was under consideration, or more vaguely still that it was under active consideration—not that I see much difference between the two—and that in due course we should expect some statement of policy. I hope that the hon. Gentleman who is to reply tonight will not fob us off with that sort of answer, that the matter is under consideration or active consideration. We are told that the country is short of manpower and that we are short of men in the Army. We may be told before many weeks are past that this country has to reduce its commitments throughout the world. I know that there are many hon. Members opposite who like to think today that we are no longer a first-class Power; in fact, who rejoice to think that we have become a third-class Power. [An HON. MEMBER: "Rubbish."] It is all very well for an hon. Member to say "Rubbish"—[Interruption.]

Photo of Mr Harold Davies Mr Harold Davies , Leek

On a point of Order. Is it in Order for the hon. Member opposite to accuse Members on this side of the House of lack of patriotism? We do not rejoice, any more than does anybody else, in fact, we do not agree, that this country is a third-class Power.

Photo of Mr David Gammans Mr David Gammans , Hornsey

I am glad to hear such a robust statement from the other side about our national greatness. I only hope that the hon. Member's friends on the Government Front Bench share his views. I am glad to be in agreement with him on that point. There is a feeling abroad throughout the world today that we may have to reduce our commitments abroad, not because we want to do so but because we have not the men in the Armed Forces to carry out those commitments. The idea is that we may have to demobilise men from the Army not because we want to do so but because we need them in our industry.

The point I want the hon. Gentleman to answer is this: When the Government are thinking of the Armed Forces, are they thinking of the men who can be spared from industry from this country, or are they taking a wider view? Are they thinking of the Colonial Empire as a whole? That is not only true of the Armed Forces, but I think it is true also of industry. Hon. Gentlemen have raised the question of men coming from the Colonial Empire to this country to help us. Surely nothing could be more fantastic than that there should be 5,000 or 6,000 unemployed people in Malta and more than that in the West Indies, of men who went out during the war to help the United States in their labour shortage, when we want those people here. They are British subjects. They are keen to help us, and they are capable of doing so.

We want to know whether the Government are thinking of those people in connection with the labour shortage, which exists not only in the Armed Forces, but in industry, nursing and in many other jobs. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will really say something on these subjects. None of his honourable co colleagues have said anything on the subject. I do not want to trespass upon what we may be talking about tomorrow, but I am absolutely convinced that we shall never be able to give a decent standard of living again to the people of this country if we merely think of our resources in terms of the manpower of this island. Only in so far as we think of our resources both in men and material of the whole Empire, can we do that. What always strikes me as so fantastic is that if East and West Africa were joined to this country by a piece of land, even although that piece of land were only a piece of sandy desert, we should think automatically of the problem as a whole, both in regard to resources and also in terms of defence. The United States do that and so do Russia, but merely because we—a great maritime power—are divided by a piece of sea, how fantastic it is that we should treat Empire resources and the resources of this country separately.

Photo of Mr David Gammans Mr David Gammans , Hornsey

Only in so far as we are prepared to regard them as one, can we get out of our own troubles and, at the same time, do our duty to the peoples of the Colonial Empire.

9.41 p.m.

Photo of Mr Harold Davies Mr Harold Davies , Leek

It is such a pity that so much of the good sense very often uttered by the hon. Member for Hornsey (Mr. Gammans) is destroyed by the double-edged hacksaw of partisanship——

Photo of Mr David Gammans Mr David Gammans , Hornsey

What have I said that is partisan?

Photo of Mr Harold Davies Mr Harold Davies , Leek

At one moment during his speech the hon. Member accused hon. Members on this side as though we were rejoicing in the fact that we had manpower difficulties and that we have emerged from a war against Nazism and Fascism weaker than a good many of the highly industrialised countries of the world. Far from that, we believe that had not this Government been in power, the position, would have been economically worse than it is at the moment. As far as manpower is concerned, in the two years after the last war we lost 40 million days through strikes; in two years after this war we have lost only four million days, as a result of the leadership of the Government. But let me get back to the Debate.

I am delighted that the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Hythe (Brigadier Mackeson) raised this issue tonight. It is a serious matter. We want to find manpower wherever we can, and I agree with both hon. Members opposite that, rather than import foreign labour, I would look in my own colonies, I would look in the various parts of the Commonwealth to see where we have redundant labour, and, if we have it, train it, bring it to this country so that after serving a period of apprenticeship and having helped our productivity and output, that manpower or womanpower could go back to the Colonies and be a nucleus of productivity there. Consequently I believe that the Colonial Office and our Minister of Labour should look more to our Colonial dependancies and to the Commonwealth to help us solve this manpower problem.

Before we can do that, however, there is a general economic plan we have to realise. We have to realise that our own Colonial Empire is also the great source of our tropical oils, greases and fats and that the standard of life of these people is going up. They refuse in South-East Asia to stand on the side lines of Imperialism any longer, and so we have a double problem. As well as expecting these people to produce more basic raw materials in the form of oils, greases and fats, we also want them to produce extra oils, greases and fats for us because of our increasing basic demand for those raw materials. To approach this problem I believe we should use our Army training schemes much more than we have done in the past. I remember that hon. Members on both sides of the House during various Debates on the Army Estimates made concrete suggestions about the use of colonial manpower and about the training of Colonial troops.

I believe from my experience that in this country we often forget what a magnificent job of work the East Africans did in Burma, to mention one group of colonial troops. What did we do? Did we use that well-trained East African corps of manpower, or did we just bring it back to Africa and disperse it willy-nilly without any concrete plan to use it for the best development of Africa? If we have been doing that in the past, this is where our Colonial Office must give itself a jolt and look into the use of this manpower that served in the Forces.

That brings me to something in which I am always interested so far as colonial man-power and woman-power is concerned. I am "all agin" creating the Babu in these colonial areas, men who are just pushing a pen, who are "neither fish, flesh, fowl, nor good red-herring," who become declassed so far as their own people are concerned and so far as the white people are concerned. This is a slow process. When we attack the tribal customs, I believe it is by some form of labour corps under the Army that we can show them the mistakes of the tribal customs, maintaining the best of those customs without creating pen-pushers all over the Colonies. We must recreate in the Colonies Ruskin's dignity of labour, and that needs a first-class plan of mass education. While I want universities, do not let us begin with universities, but on a lower scale, where we can teach ordinary colonial men and women, who have a fund of common-sense and, in some directions, a richness of knowledge often far beyond that of the white man, to build roads, simple methods of drainage, simple methods of the best use of their cattle and pasture. I know that our Colonial Office is spending millions on this, but are they beginning right at the top or right at the bottom? We ought to create a corps of well-trained people to teach these elementary things about living before we think of the academic things so far as colonial manpower and woman-power is concerned. That was done in Malaya where, as a result of the efforts of research by the Tropical School of Medicine, and Dr. Platt and others, we looked into the cooking recipes of the Malayan peoples. It is in that direction I believe we should look. I am delighted that the hon. and gallant Member took the opportunity this evening to raise this vital matter, because this is the kind of thing that can cement England to its Commonwealth and to the Colonial Empire.

9.48 p.m.

Photo of Lieut-Colonel John White Lieut-Colonel John White , Canterbury

I rise to support my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Hythe (Brigadier Mackeson), to whom I am sure the House will be grateful for raising this vital matter. I want to deal with only one aspect, the use of African manpower in the Armed Forces. We are faced in terms of Imperial strategy with the problem of finding something to replace the. Indian Army for service abroad in war and perhaps in peace. African manpower is one of our few untapped re serves. With many African peoples the profession of arms is an honourable one, perhaps the most honourable one that can be followed, and it has been shown by experience in the late war that other Africans make first-class pioneer battalions. Among the African people are some of the finest military men in the world. There are the King's African Rifles, a regiment with a record second to none; the Sudan Defence Force, and the Basutos, who as pioneers served magnificently in the late war.

Africa is a vital link in our Imperial communications, but it is more than that. It is a place with enormous economic possibilities. His Majesty's Government have recognised that, and are developing the groundnuts scheme and others backed by a £100 million loan. But it is no use developing all these great resources, unless we have proper forces to defend them. Side by side with the development of the labour force for economic purposes there must be a proper deployment of the forces for purposes of Imperial defence. I believe it will come to be seen more and more in coming months that there is a potential danger spot in Africa, and that danger spot is Abyssinia. Some very peculiar things are going on there at present, and unless we have proper defences we may find most unpleasant reactions on parts of our African Empire. I urge the Government to press ahead with a scheme for a great African army, which in the years to come can have a record as glorious and as fine as that of the Indian Army.

9.52 p.m.

Photo of Mr Jon Rankin Mr Jon Rankin , Glasgow Tradeston

There was a time in the development of our African Colonies when it could be said with truth that for every £12, of wealth that we created in that part of the world, we took out £11, and left £1 for the natives. That fact to a large extent contributes to the difficulties that face us in Africa today, and because of that fact it was welcome to me that the hon. and gallant Member for Hythe (Brigadier Mackeson) raised this subject tonight, and additionally welcome that, in raising it, he should have said that our primary purpose is to raise the scale of living of the Colonial peoples and not our own interests. All of us, whatever our attitude to the first-class or third-class Power argument, welcome that statement from the other side of the House. It betokens a new attitude to our Colonial Empire, and one which we on this side welcome very much indeed.

The problem which is placed before us tonight is that of the best use we can make of colonial manpower, and in offering my contribution I wish to deal with one phase of that problem. If we are going to use manpower, we have to see that that manpower is physically fit, and that is one of the tremendous problems that face us, especially in East Africa today. In that tremendous area which lies between the Equator and the tropic of Capricorn, there is something like 60 per cent. of the population who suffer from the ravages of the hookworm, and the illness that follows from it. My hon. Friend in reply may have something to say with regard to what is being done to overcome that disease, and to build up that manpower of which we want to make use today. There is no medical problem associated with the treatment of hookworm; it is principally an economic problem, and perhaps my hon. Friend might say a word upon it.

There is another important aspect in building up this manpower strength physically and that is, the ravages of the tsetse fly. Large areas of the Sudan, East Africa and particularly Tanganyika, to the extent of two-thirds in that particular colony, are ravaged completely by that pest, which has a tremendously deleterious affect on African physique, because it affects the individual, and the game which is the host of the fly destroys the crops. Therefore, the African is suffering in respect of his crops but in addition, under the white man's law—and this is where I hope, in view of the opening statement of the hon. and gallant Member, that we will have the support of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite—in East Africa today the native is not permitted to shoot the game unless he discovers it in the actual act of destroying his crops. Then he has no weapon other than a bow and arrow with which to attack an elephant or a lion, which is an impossible situation. So he is robbed of the game which might, in the bad seasons, when the crops are bad, go towards building up his physique to give us this manpower which we so badly need. I suggest that the native should have restored to him his ancient right to shoot game as part of the solution of this problem which has been raised tonight.

I am perfectly prepared to welcome whatever help we may get in manpower towards building up this nation of ours and the Colonies, but I am not in the least keen on seeing us building up African or other colonial physical foddar in order to provide troops for this country in carrying out, perhaps, policies in the forming of which no consultation has taken place with the Africans themselves. I strongly reject that part of the hon. and gallant Gentleman's speech in which he suggested that the African might make a contribution to our military power.

Photo of Brigadier Sir Harry Mackeson Brigadier Sir Harry Mackeson , Hythe

Perhaps I did not make it clear that in my view all these men must be volunteers. In those circumstances surely the hon. Member, whatever his views, might change that opinion?

9.59 p.m.

Photo of Mr Eric Gandar-Dower Mr Eric Gandar-Dower , Caithness and Sutherland

It is one of the most pleasing features of the House that in Adjournment Debates party is very largely forgotten. At the end of a day's fray on contentious matters we feel drawn together on an Adjournment Debate as if we were brothers. Tonight I hope I shall throw nothing contentious into the ring, and I am delighted to find how we are all interested in the Empire. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Hythe (Brigadier Mackeson) has indeed at a most opportune moment raised this question of colonial manpower. I was grateful, too, for the tribute to the work of the King's African Rifles paid by the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Baker White)——

It being Ten o'Clock, the Motion for the Adjournment lapsed, without Question put.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. Collindridge.]

Mr. Gandar Dower:

As I was saying, I am particularly grateful to the hon. Member for Canterbury for paying tribute to the King's African Rifles with whom my brother had the honour of serving during the war until he lost his life between Mombasa and Ceylon. From his letters and personal remarks to me, I can agree wholeheartedly with the tribute paid to that loyal native regiment. I would like to dwell on a point which has not been over-emphasised in this Debate. I refer to the question of female labour from the Colonial Empire being brought to help in our homes. Today we in this country badly need domestic assistance in our hospitals, institutions and homes. Our wives know what it is to have a lot of responsibility and work. Often our womenfolk have no assistance whatever in order to keep their homes straight during the child-bearing period. I suggest to the Under-Secretary of State that he should seriously consider the introduction of domestic help from our Colonial Empire if people can be found who are willing to come to this country. Distance is no object when we have the assistance of air travel. The Under-Secretary was recently promoted from the Ministry responsible for air travel—I hope it was promotion. I hope he will consider the quick transport of domestic assistance which is so badly needed by our housewives.

10.3 p.m.

Photo of Major Lyall Wilkes Major Lyall Wilkes , Newcastle upon Tyne Central

This Debate has revealed a very general anxiety from both sides of the House lest the Colonial Office and the War Office between them should be losing an immense opportunity through a lack of imaginative approach in this matter. During the Debate on the Army Estimates attention was drawn to the fact that a proposed run-down of Colonial Forces was planned, from 329,000 in 1946–47 to 87,300 in 1947–48. Attention was drawn to this fact from both sides of the House, for there is nothing between us on this matter. I wish to ask the Under-Secretary whether there has been any reconsideration of these figures within recent months as a result of the growing realisation that this country is in a very serious position indeed from a defence point of view, owing to shortage of manpower. I ask him to assure us that there is nothing between the Colonial Office and the War Office in this connection, and that they are both in accord that much greater use than ever before should now be made of the vast reservoir of goodwill towards this country that lies within the Colonies.

Will this matter be brought to the attention of the Defence Committee as soon as possible as a matter of urgency so that the whole problem, the whole role of the Colonial Forces may be considered afresh, in the light of the new needs of Imperial defence? I ask the Under-Secretary to assure us that this topic will be looked upon again in a much more serious manner than it has been looked upon during the last 12 months. Hon. Members on both sides have made frequent reference to this, as they can bear witness. I want to make one more specific point which is that men and women in the Colonial Empire are no longer content merely with the more menial tasks in the Colonial Army. They are not content with pioneer work. They want the full status and dignity of citizenship with the concomitant military responsibility which it carries with it.

Therefore, I want to go into this matter of the colour bar generally, and ask the representative of the Colonial Office some specific questions. Is it intended to relax the colour bar to allow Africans, as well as Indians, an opportunity, should their abilities merit it, of going to Sandhurst and of participating in the senior officers' courses in this country, or is there going to be a reversion to the old prewar practice of allowing Indians, possibly, but certainly not Africans, into the higher Forces' establishments? Voluntary recruitment, from my own experience of the Colonial Empire, will be much accelerated and increased if we make it clear to the colonial peoples that they come into the British Army, if they come in at all, with a full responsibility and a full right of Imperial citizenship, and that no position, no course, no establishment shall be barred to them should they show the necessary initiative and ability to benefit by it. I see that the hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite is in agreement with me on this matter. It is a most important matter, there is nothing between the two sides of the House on this question, and I hope that the Colonial Office will treat it as a matter of urgency.

We know that Africa has paid great dividends by the very enlightened policy which has been adopted in this matter. The R.A.F. West African fighter squadrons fought magnificently during the war, and there are men employed as colonial welfare officers who gained very high decorations for gallantry for their work during the war. There is no reason why the R.A.F. liberalism should not be translated to the other Services, and every opportunity given to our colonial fellow citizens to play the fullest part possible. I would like to question the Colonial Office on this matter of the colour bar. There has been a certain difference about the rate of progress in this matter, and I would like the Colonial Office to give us an assurance that no opposition, from whatever quarter, will be allowed to stand in the way of the most vigorous efforts being made to utilise to the full that magnificent feeling of loyalty made manifest to us during the war and which still exists among our colonial fellow citizens, so that they may relieve this country of the very heavy burden which up to recent years this country has borne almost alone.

10.8 p.m.

Photo of Sir Henry Legge-Bourke Sir Henry Legge-Bourke , Isle of Ely

I think that much of what was said by the hon. Member for Central Newcastle (Mr. Wilkes) will be agreed by my hon. Friends on this side of the House, and that there are many of them who will feel that the more the Colonial Office encourages these various countries in this direction the more we shall support them. This Debate has ranged considerably between the economic and the defence aspects, and I am inclined to think that, contrary to the point of view put forward by the hon. Member for Tradeston (Mr. Rankin), it is on defence, perhaps, that we should strictly concentrate, because I believe myself that the essential thing, if one hopes for peace, is to ensure, first of all, that there is justice, and from that justice peace, and from that peace, prosperity. If one places economics too high in the order of priority, one endeavours to obtain what one hopes for without realising what one's obligations are, and, in this particular respect, I would like to emphasise that, before we accept the suggestion of the hon. Member for Leek (Mr. Harold Davies), that colonial labour rather than foreign labour should come here in order to help us with our manpower difficulties, there is a great deal to be done. The future of the British Commonwealth and the Colonial Empire depends on how far we are able to develop our plans for regional defence. I believe that that, at once, brings us back again to the economic aspect. We cannot have a regional defence with any hope of success unless we assure, at the same time, that not only have we the man power for the fighting Forces and for the defence Forces, but also the industrial power with which to equip them.

In the present age, there is no one fact which stands out more clearly than that we must consider the dispersal, of our defences, and, therefore, the dispersal of our industries. I know that many industrialists feel it is extremely difficult to do that, but I believe that, unless the Economic Advisory Council, which I have mentioned in other Debates, is given some priority for defence, and is not allowed to regard defence as outside its field altogether, and unless the advisory council for the Colonies considers the matter of defence, and particularly the building of dispersed industries throughout the Commonwealth and the Empire, it will be failing in its duty, and will be quite unable to achieve what it has set out to do.

Therefore, one thing on which we must concentrate more than anything else is not so much to bring manpower from the Colonies to this country, but to try to train the manpower in the Colonies and, indeed, in the Dominions as well, so that they may become skilled technicians alongside our own men, and, if necessary, that we should be prepared to send out our technicians to help train them so that they can build up industries in the Colonies, and so that we can base regional defence, not merely on manpower, but also on the great industries to keep them fully equipped. I hope that when the Under-Secretary replies, he will touch on this matter, with particular reference to the Economic Advisory Council, because the Colonial Secretary said a short while ago that he was hoping to publish a report of the Council. I rather gathered from his remarks that it was hoped to publish it this Session, but, so far, we have not had it. I feel that it is of immense importance, and I only hope that it will include the defence aspect, even though we have never had an assurance from the Colonial Secretary that they would be considering that.

10.13 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies (Mr. Ivor Thomas):

The hon. and gallant Member for Hythe (Brigadier Mackeson) has opened a far-ranging Debate in an unexpected manner, and I am sure that we are all grateful to him for having done so. I am particularly grateful to him both for the manner in which he spoke, and for the sentiments which he uttered, and, in particular, for two statements he made, one that, whereas there might have been exploitation in the past, we were determined that there should be none in the future, and, the other, that the development of the Colonies which is now proposed is primarily for the benefit of the Colonies, and secondarily for ourselves. I am sure it will be of the utmost value in the Colonial Empire that these sentiments should go out as the unanimous wish of the whole House, and that, on such a matter, there is no division of party. I have said that this has been a far-ranging Debate; indeed, at one time, I thought I heard the opening shots of the campaign which is due to begin tomorrow.

I cannot let pass the accusation that those of us who sit on these benches rejoice in the fact that we are a third-class Power. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Leek (Mr. Harold Davies), I repudiate the suggestion that we are a third-class Power. It has fallen to me in the past year to take part in a number of international conferences, and I have never had that feeling. The voice of the United Kingdom commands no less respect now than it ever did. But I will say this, and I believe this may enable us all to reach agreement on this question in the House tonight. We should be a third-class Power if we had to rely solely on these islands. If we had to rely solely on the 47 million people in these islands, great as I believe are our natural virtues and great as are the fertility of our soil and the riches underneath it, we might indeed sink to the level of a third-class Power. But we are, and shall remain, a first-class Power, because we are more than this Island. We are the centre of a great Commonwealth and Empire, and as long as the United Kingdom remains the centre of that great Commonwealth and Empire our voice will never fail to command attention in the councils of the world.

Some general points of colonial policy have been raised in this Debate, and it might be as well that I should try to deal with some of them before we pass on to the specific questions. The hon. and gallant Member for Hythe who opened the Debate spoke of the proposed increased development of the Colonial Empire, and he has pointed out with great truth, as I have observed, that this is being done primarily for the benefit of the colonies and secondarily for the benefit of the United Kingdom. I do not think there is need to differentiate too sharply between these two aspects of the matter. There is at this moment a double interest, and the theme to which we are working in the Colonial Office is that Great Britain's need is the colonies' opportunity. It is a unique opportunity for us to help ourselves and, at the same time, to lead the Colonial Empire to standards that have not hitherto been thought possible.

It may be as well also if at the outset I dispose of the question of emigration from Malta, which was raised by the hon. and gallant Gentleman. It is the case that Malta is an over-populated island—a very gallant island which I am sure we all wish well—and its population is increasing at a very rapid rate. Indeed, the figures in my possession are even higher than those which were quoted by the hon. and gallant Gentleman; but all figures are somewhat conjectual because they are based on the ration cards and not upon an adequate census. But certainly the population of Malta is rapidly increasing. Its gross birthrate is over 30 per thousand, and its net reproductive rate is one of the few in the West of Europe to exceed unity. Before the war there was a migration of about 1,500 a year, and in recent years, of course, the number has been reduced to a trickle. It was 80 in the year 1944–45; 312 in 1945–46, and 979 in the last eight months of 1946—the last period for which figures are available.

The hon. and gallant Gentleman mentioned that there were about 10,000 Maltese desiring to emigrate. The latest information which I have is that in March, 1947, there were 11,692 Maltese who desired to emigrate, and I am happy to say that a very large number of countries would like to receive the Maltese as emigrants. The main, and almost the whole, difficulty is shipping. A number of useful consultations have taken place. The hon. and gallant Gentleman mentioned Australia as a most suitable place for emigration. The Maltese Commissioner of Labour and Emigration visited Australia in April this year and had long and helpful discussions with the Maltese Trade Commissioner and the Australian authorities, who showed themselves anxious to promote Maltese immigration as soon as shipping permitted. The subject was also fully discussed with Mr. Calwell, the Australian Minister for Immigration and Information during his visit to this country cently. The question has been raised with New Zealand also, but it is understood that, owing to their own housing difficulties, the New Zealand Government are not contemplating any comprehensive scheme.

Individual immigrants, in number about 50, during the past year have made their own way to South Africa and Southern Rhodesia and have been accepted as settlers. If transport were easier it is probable that many more would follow their example. We ourselves took, in the last eight months of 1946 740 Maltese. The number has steadily increased through 1947. While the majority have faced no difficulty in obtaining work, there has been a certain number of cases, notably among seamen, where on arrival they have not been guaranteed work and have fallen on public assistance. I ought also to mention that the United States have been very helpful in this matter, especially in the question of transport and last month a party of 240 emigrants left. It is the first large party since the war.

I turn now to the main question raised tonight, the question of using the manpower in the colonies, which has rightly been described tonight as one of our great untapped assets. Perhaps, I may at the outset give a picture of the general problem, which varies from region to region. In the West Indies, for example, owing to causes well understood, there is unemployment. In West Africa I should say that supply and demand are practically in equilibrium. In East Africa there is a great scarcity of labour at the present time. There is competition for labour, for example, between the sisal industry and the groundnuts scheme. There are many industries which are finding it quite difficult to obtain labour. In the Far East there is, I should say from my own experience, again a shortage of labour, at any rate, in particular directions.

One of the great problems—perhaps, the greatest problem—that we have to face in colonial labour is that of bringing about a vastly increased productivity. Here, I think, my hon. Friend the Member for Tradeston (Mr. Rankin) touched on a very real problem. There are some people, in moments of forgetfulness or petulance, who accuse the African of being lazy. I do not think that that is the position. The African is easy going but not, I think, lazy. The heart of the problem is that ages of disease and undernourishment and malnutrition have weakened his capacity for work; and one of the main problems before us is to restore that capacity for work by medical measures and by better nutrition, and, as the House well knows, many steps are being taken in that direction. I shall not particularise about the points raised by my hon. Friend, such as hookworm, because they are dealt with fairly fully in the Report of the Colonial Medical Research Council published recently. If we can solve this problem, if we can raise the productivity of colonial labour, and especially of African labour, the possibilities before the world, and before our own Empire in particular, are very great. The hon. and gallant Member for Hythe spoke particularly about the use of Africans in the Forces, and my hon. Friend the Member for South Croydon (Mr. Rees-Williams) expressed appreciation of his remarks.

I was invited by the hon. Member for Hornsey (Mr. Gammans) to give answers which he has so far failed to obtain. I do not know whether I shall satisfy him, but at any rate I shall do my best to give such answers. It is almost platitudinous to say that the general objectives of British colonial policy are self-government, self-finance and self-defence, and I ask hon. Members to study the implications of that policy. It is not possible to have real self-government unless a country is able to look after its own defences. It would be necessary, of course, to take part in international arrangements; but a country such as the United Kingdom has to do that, and that is not a limiting factor to self-defence. There could be no real self-government if a country were forced to look elsewhere for its local defence, any more than there could be real self-government if it had to look elsewhere for its finance. Therefore, these are two of the main pillars of British colonial policy: there must be self-finance and self-defence.

It has been and is our policy to raise local forces; those forces have acquitted themselves extremely well in the recent war, and I was very glad to hear the tributes that were paid to the colonial forces. The hon. and gallant Member for Hythe asked for forces that would be rather large compared with those which exist at the present time. He expressed surprise that there had been such a big demobilisation of colonial forces, and deprecated it.

Photo of Brigadier Sir Harry Mackeson Brigadier Sir Harry Mackeson , Hythe

Only as compared with the British troops.

Mr. Thomas:

Quite so. The point I wish to make will bear on his remarks. It is the case that Africans, no less than other persons—and in some ways more than other persons—are home-loving people. Like every one else, they wish to get back to "their wives and children, and I have no doubt that if the British Forces were placed in the same situation they also would have diminished in the same ratio.

Photo of Major Samuel Haughton Major Samuel Haughton , Antrim

Will the Under-Secretary come back to the practical issue? He touched on the shortage of labour for sisal in Kenya, and then switched on to another subject. What do the Government intend to do about that shortage of labour for sisal?

Mr. Thomas:

In the minute and a half available I could not give a full answer to the hon. and gallant Member, and perhaps I could write to him. I should like to go on with what I was saying about the Forces. The hon. and gallant Member for Hythe was thinking in terms of very large Forces in referring to a corps in East and in West Africa. At the present time regular units are maintained in East and West Africa under the control of the War Office—to whom, of course, detailed questions should be addressed—each of about divisional strength, trained in modern warfare and capable of expansion in time of war. It would be difficult, of course, to employ such troops in all theatres; climatic conditions enter into the matter, and, to some extent, social questions also. They were, however, used in other places in the Empire in the last war; the hon. and gallant Member mentioned Burma particularly, where both East and West African troops fought gallantly.

I have mentioned social questions, but I must ask my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War to provide my hon. Friend the Member for Central Newcastle (Mr. Wilkes) with detailed answers to the matter he raised, and I will try to communicate with him. I can say now that wherever the Colonial Office are responsible we do not tolerate a colour bar. From time to time I have had to deal with such questions arising in the colonies, and we have never countenanced a colour bar, and are in entire sympathy with his desire. Self-defence and self-finance must go together, and that does impose a limiting factor on the number of troops that can be raised. Until we can raise the economic standards of the colonies it is impossible to raise their forces to the level desired by the hon. and gallant Member who opened the Debate. My final word must be to say: We must never think of these troops as being of benefit to the United Kingdom alone. I am sure the hon. and gallant Member for Hythe would agree. We must think of them as the troops of the particular colony.

It being Half-past Ten o'Clock Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.