Colonial Territories and South African Protectorates

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 6th May 1957.

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Photo of Mr Nigel Fisher Mr Nigel Fisher , Surbiton 12:00 am, 6th May 1957

I wish to add my thanks and appreciation to those expressed to the Opposition for choosing this debate on Colonial Territories and. in particular, on—I will not say the less important Colonies; that would not be true—the less controversial ones. We are all grateful for the chance afforded by this debate, not merely because we desire to talk about territories which we may have visited and in which we are interested, but because it does a tremendous amount of good if what we say about these less controversial Colonies in our debates is read in the Colonies concerned. I am sure that the reports of this debate will be read avidly in those Colonies.

I agree with the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) that another thing which would register in the minds of the people of those Colonies as an expression of our interest in and concern for them would be to send more hon. Members of this House out to the Colonies. The hon. Member was quite right in what he said, and I hope that the Government will take note of the suggestion.

I wish to say something about the West Indies, because since the crisis in British Guiana, in 1953, we in this House have had little chance of debating West Indian affairs. With the fruition of the federation next year they are assuming a new importance and significance for us. We all believe that they have a very important future as a new Dominion within the Commonwealth. They are, also, or they should be, a matter of great pride to us, because they are a very good example of a multi-racial community which really works, a community where the colour prejudice, which we have been discussing this afternoon in other contexts, does not exist. I will not say that there are not individual cases of a colour bar. Of course there are. I noticed certain hotels and clubs where the influx of American tourism, which is so much welcomed on economic grounds, has brought with it a certain element of colour prejudice.

There are also cases of officials—not Colonial Office officials, but, perhaps, junior business executives—or, more likely, their wives—who bring with them a certain colour prejudice which is very much to be regretted. I think that even those cases could be eradicated if only such people were properly briefed beforehand as to the extraordinary importance of their attitude when they arrive in the Colonies.

There is no colour problem in the West Indies, but there is a racial problem in the Eastern Caribbean. In British Guiana, nearly half the population are East Indians and in Trinidad they represent about 30 per cent. of the population. When I was there, there was an atmosphere of tension existing between those of East Indian and of African descent, but I think that we may hope that federation will bring with it a wider West Indian patriotism which will, in time, take the place of the sense of Indian nationalism which has developed there in recent years.

Economically, of course, the Carribbean needs capital investment, and needs it very badly. The standard of living is still very low, and unemployment—due mainly to over-population caused by the absence of birth control—is still very high. In recent years, I freely admit, the British Government have spent a great deal of money there. Large sums of money are being spent there at present and, bearing in mind that we can only invest a surplus and not a deficit, the amount that has been done is rather remarkable.

A good deal more still needs to be done. Housing is much improved and is improving all the time, but in some areas it is still very primitive. In many Colonies more and better roads are essential, and secondary industries are needed to bolster the precarious island economies, so often entirely dependent upon agriculture. The need for technicians to administer the development projects is nearly as great as is the need for cash to finance them. There is still a great deal to be done, but a lot has been done, and economic and social conditions are improving all the time.

In the private sector, I think that the reform introduced in the last two Budgets in relation to overseas companies will be a tremendous help. When I was there, business people and local political leaders were alike unanimous that it was a very important reform not only for the sake of the companies concerned, but for the sake of the Colonies themselves. Until that reform was introduced. we had the anomalous position that American companies in a British Colony were very often paying a lower rate of taxation than British companies. I am glad that that has been put right. Hon. Members opposite, naturally, tend to criticise Her Majesty's Government and even some of my hon. Friends, while quick to exhort are sometimes slow to thank, so I would like to express the gratitude which many of us feel.

Politically, things are now going very well, very quickly. The strikes and riots of ten or twelve years ago are almost forgotten, and there is no doubt that adult suffrage, a bold step at the time, has been a tremendous success and is now accepted, as it should be. The democratic system is working very well in the West Indies, and in Jamaica, with its two-party system, it is working almost as perfectly as is possible.

Everywhere, the gift of political responsibility has produced a sense of responsibility in local leaders. The extremist agitator of yesterday is the statesmanlike political leader of today. Many of us who have met the more distinguished of these West Indian poli- ticians, such as Mr. Manley and Six Alexander Bustamente, of Jamaica, and Mr. Grantley Adams, of Barbados, recognise that we are talking to men of very high political and intellectual calibre. The fact that that can be so in such a comparatively short time as ten or twelve years is a tribute not only to the men themselves, but to the system which made it possible.

In only one West Indian Colony has there been a serious reverse, and that is in British Guiana. I hope, and think, that the set-back there is only temporary, because I do not believe that the people of British Guiana are any more Communist than are the people of Great Britain. Like the people in other West Indies territories, they went through their period of agitation and unrest, but the popular leader who emerged there was not just an agitator who would learn, as others did, by experience, to work democratic institutions. He was a Communist. That was pure bad luck for the Guianese. They did not vote for Communism, but for better living conditions.

I have met Dr. Jagan in British Guiana. and, like other hon. Members, very recently again here in London. His words now are mellifluous and moderate. and he seeks to give an impression of sweet reasonableness but, although he says that he will work a democratic constitution, I have my doubts. He was certainly a Communist in 1953, and so was his very attractive and highly-intelligent American wife, and I do not think that the principles and policies of either have changed very much since then. The hon. Member for Cardiff. South-East (Mr. Callaghan) described him as the last of the Stalinists, and I think that that is a fairly accurate description. We cannot work with the Jagans in British Guiana, and I do not believe that the other leaders of West Indian opinion will work with them either.

Mr. Burnham, Dr. Jagan's former colleague, says that he is not a Communist. He has split with Jagan, and formed his own party. I do not know how genuine that split is. Both are opportunists especially Burnham, and they might well re-form their coalition if it seemed expedient to them to do so. As we know, elections under a limited constitution are to be held in August. I think that Dr. Jagan will certainly win seats in the country districts, and Burnham will win some, perhaps four seats, in Georgetown. He has announced that he will not accept office in the Executive Council under the new constitution, but he is an ambitious man and might change his mind when the time comes.

When I was in British Guiana there was no sign of the emergence of any united moderate party which could command sufficient electoral support to hope to form a Government. At that time, there was really no alternative to either Jagan or Burnham, or Jagan and Burnham Since then, Mr. Lionel Luckhoo has formed his National Labour Front, which is certainly the most stable and constructive party which will contest the election. I think that it is a genuine, moderate Labour Party, quite untinged with any Communist leanings. It is somewhat difficult to assess its electoral prospects. but I think that, if elected, it would provide a stable and progressive Government. I do not think that the same can be said, with any confidence, of a Government led by Dr. Jagan.

British Guiana certainly needs stable Government, and it also needs capital development. It needs more and better roads, it needs drainage and irrigation and land settlement and greater industrialisation. We ought to finance these things, but I should feel much happier about doing so if I could be sure that there was a stable Government to put the funds to proper use. I do not quite see why the British taxpayer, who is probably the most heavily burdened taxpayer in the world, should pay for these very expensive projects if they are to be misused by a Communist Government in a British Colony.

Nor do I think that private capital, which is also very much needed there, is likely to flow in from Great Britain, the United States or Canada if Dr. Jagan is in power. Frankly, I do not see why it should. Greater political security and stability are really essential prerequisites for the investment of further private capital. There is a shortage of capital in the world, and I do not think that one can blame industrialists if they look at an area to see whether there is a measure of political stability before they invest in it.

Dr. Jagan is not clear on whether he intends to nationalise or, if he decides to do so, whether he will do so with compensation; but, whatever one's views on the merits or demerits of nationalisation, one cannot blame industrialists for having these factors in their minds before they put private capital into these Colonies.

Of course, the Guianese want to govern themselves, and that is a reasonable aspiration in which we should assist them. But Dr. Jagan has had his chance, and I do not think he is the man best able to teach them how to do it. I believe that the Guianese are realists, and that while they want self-government they also want progress, development and a better standard of living. They would rather back a party which could have some hope of bringing those things to them, than a party which cannot.

Dr. Jagan's strength hitherto has been his assertion, in which there is just a sufficient element of truth to make it sound plausible and convincing, that Great Britain can be forced to spend money in British Guiana through his technique of agitation and unrest. He says that we have only sent money there in the last few years because he made so much trouble for us in 1953, and inasmuch as we have spent a lot in the last four years, that sort of argument makes a great deal of sense to the Guianese.

What I would say to the Guianese is this, "We will tax the British people to finance the things that you need, but we would be happier in doing so if you would elect a stable and progressive Government with which we and the rest of the West Indian Colonies can work and which will itself seek to work the Constitution we have offered". If that were said, I believe that the Guianese, being realists, would probably be much influenced in the elections which are to take place in August.

The next step would be the restoration of the Waddington Constitution, or something very like it, to which we all want to come. But that cannot be restored if Dr. Jagan and his friends are elected, because they cannot be trusted not to abuse it as they did last time. At least, I would not feel happy about it. Following the elections, I hope very much that the whole question of British Guiana joining the West Indies Federation will again be seriously canvassed. I am sure that that would be in the best interests of British Guiana and also of the West Indies as a whole.

Federation for the British Caribbean is a terrific step forward. It is a most exciting new development, for which many people here and in the West Indies have worked hard and selflessly for many years. We all wish it well. It is a natural, necessary and inevitable development leading to Dominion status for the West Indies. I am sure it will be a success, and I think its establishment will create a new multiracial nation of which we and the West Indies themselves can be justly proud. It will have an important future in the British Commonwealth and in the free world.