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Cost Of Living

Volume 387: debated on Wednesday 3 March 1943

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asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies whether he is aware that the cost of living in Mauritius has risen by about 200 per cent. for certain commodities, including rice, and that wages, particularly of lower grade workers, whether in Government or private employment, have not been reasonably increased to meet this situation; and what steps are being taken to equate wages and the cost of living particularly for persons in Government employment?

The cost of living in Mauritius has increased since the outbreak of war by about 100 per cent. Steps taken to deal with this situation include the stabilisation by subsidy of the price of certain essential foodstuffs, including rice, the cost of which has greatly increased since the loss of Burma. Wages have been increased both in Government and non-Government employment by various methods, of which a basic increase of 20 per cent. or more, together with a bonus of 20 per cent. or more for working a five-day week, is typical. The effect of these increases in terms of total earnings depends on the extent to which workers now work for five days or more, a common peacetime practice in many callings being to work for two, three or four days only. The Governor of Mauritius is at present engaged in reviewing the whole question of wages and the cost of living. I expect to receive a report from the Governor shortly.

Why should it be necessary to raise matters of this sort? Should not the Governor see that the natives there, in Government employ at all events, receive an automatic rise in accordance with the rise of the cost of living?

I cannot imagine any more fatal system from the point of view of inflation than automatic rises. Inflation has to be dealt with by methods much more complex than that.

Can the right hon. and gallant Gentleman say whether the Colonial Office gave any advice to the Governors of the Colonies at the beginning of the war about the control of prices and the rationing of commodities to prevent this extraordinary degree of inflation in our Colonies?

Yes, Sir, advice is continually being given, but the hon. Member will appreciate the tremendous change which was made in the economic conditions of some of those Colonies by the loss of some of their normal sources of supply in the Far East.

Is not that a reason why there should have been Government control to prevent the loss of those commodities, resulting in rises in the cost of living to inhabitants of the Colonies by 142 to 200 per cent.?

Having regard to the ever changing economic conditions in these Colonies, is it not quite impossible for the Colonial Office to issue instructions to limit the powers of the Governors? Must not the Governors be left with some powers to deal with those matters?

I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman that the right way is not to issue instructions from thousands of miles away but to give all the guidance we can and all the help we can.

Is the right hon. and gallant Gentleman satisfied that effective price control and rationing are now operating in Mauritius?

As far as possible, but I would ask the hon. Gentleman to understand that it is not possible to operate a rationing system in some of these countries with the efficiency with which it can be done here.