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Volume 389: debated on Wednesday 26 May 1943

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Railway Workers' Conditions

13. Mr.

asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies whether he has considered the memorandum from the Jamaica Government Railway Employees Union dealing with the conditions of labour on the railway; and what it is intended to do to improve these conditions and to create a happy relationship between the Government and the railway workers?

I have not received the memorandum referred to. I am asking the Governor to furnish a copy with his comments.

Has the trade union in question the same negotiating machinery out there as we have in this country?

I would not say that it is exactly the same, but there is a big trade union movement in Jamaica.

Banana Industry

14. Mr.

asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies the position of the Jamaica banana industry; what assistance is now being given to this industry by His Majesty's Government; and is it planned to maintain the banana plantations or to allow them to go out of production?

Since November, 1940, shipping difficulties have seriously affected the export of Jamaican bananas, and exports have now virtually ceased. To prevent a collapse of the industry. His Majesty's Government have met the cost of the purchase of all exportable fruit after allowing for the proceeds of any sales. This has enabled the employment of labourers to be continued for the maintenance of the plantations and the transport of the fruit. Practically the whole crop is now consumed locally. His Majesty's Government have recently agreed to- continue to assist the industry on the above lines for a further period of two years from 1st July, 1943. This assistance is designed to ensure that a sufficient nucleus of the plantations is maintained in a state of efficiency to enable a rapid expansion to normal proportions of trade to be effected when exports are again possible.

While the Government subsidy is being continued will the right hon. and gallant Gentleman make sure that the wages of the plantation labourers are not unnecessarily reduced?

Yes, Sir, but I should hope that the machinery would ensure that, subsidy or no subsidy.

Will my right hon. and gallant Friend see that the bananas are used to improve the nutritional situation in the West Indies?

Can the right hon. and gallant Gentleman say whether the export of bananas from Jamaica to America and Canada has ceased altogether?

Is any research being undertaken into the possibility of processing bananas in order to preserve their nutritional value?

Local Government And Census Returns


asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies whether the persons required for the reconstruction of local government in Jamaica have yet been appointed; whether they have already commenced their duties; and whether the census for the basis on which the registration of voters under the new Constitution has yet been completed?

An expert on local government has been sent from this country to advise the Jamaica Government in this matter. He arrived in Jamaica last February, and his visit is expected to last a year. The census returns are not yet complete.

Colonial Development And Welfare


asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies whether he is satisfied that all African and West Indian Colonies are taking advantage of the facilities provided by the Colonial Development and Welfare Act to obtain grants or loans to expedite urgently-needed improvements in urban and rural water supplies for their indigenous population up to the limit of technical and supervisory man-power and available plant; and, if not, whether he will encourage them to do so?

I am satisfied that, in view of the great shortage of man-power and supplies alluded to by my hon. and gallant Friend, Colonial Administrations are taking as much advantage of the Act as possible. A total expenditure of £478,270 has already been approved in respect of schemes for the improvement of urban and rural water supplies in East and South Africa, St. Helena and the West Indies. This total does not include provision for irrigation, drainage and river survey schemes. Four other similar proposals are under consideration. All Colonial Governments have been urged to submit development plans and I do not consider any further action is called for.

Nigeria (Conscripted Labour, Tin Mines)


asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies whether he can give an assurance that he is satisfied with the rations provided for conscripted labour on the northern Nigerian tin mines and with the arrangements to safeguard these workers' health?

While the latest reports which I have received show that there is still room for improvement, conditions in the minefield continue to get better, and in particular there has been a substantial increase in the corn ration. I am satisfied that the Nigerian Government are doing all they can despite the inevitable difficulties created by the war to safeguard the health of the workers.

Can the right hon. and gallant Gentleman say how many medical officers are employed in the Nigerian tin mines by the various companies?

I could not give the exact figure, but we are waiting for the completion of the necessary building to appoint extra medical staff in the area.

Will the right hon. and gallant Gentleman state exactly what the rations are that he considers sufficient?

Seychelles (Venereal Disease)


asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies why it has been made a criminal offence for any unmarried woman under 30 years of age to live in the town of Seychelles, unless she is living with her parents or employer, or is a properly appointed school-teacher or probationary nurse?

A Defence Order was made to prevent the renting of rooms in houses in the central and suburban districts of Mahé for immoral purposes, in view of the serious danger of spreading disease among the personnel of visiting ships and troops stationed in the Island. In addition to the exceptions referred to by my hon. Friend, the Order does not apply to any young woman who satisfies the Superintendent of Police that she is in bona fide employment, either on her own behalf or for monthly wages, or has any other good reason to stay in any house or room in the prescribed area.

Does not the Minister consider this is a very gross infringement of the rights of these people? It would not be tolerated for a minute in this country. Would it not be better to take steps to eliminate the venereal disease which is so current in Seychelles?

That would be desirable anyhow, but the position in Seychelles was really grave, and drastic steps had to be taken. I admit that this step is a drastic one, but I believe that in the circumstances it was fully justified.

Could not we adopt different medical methods for safeguarding the population there from this complaint?

Ceylon (Constitution)


asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies whether he is in a position to make any statement with regard to constitutional reform in Ceylon?

Yes, Sir. His Majesty's Government stand pledged by the assurance given to Ceylon Ministers in 1941 that as soon as possible after the war the question of the reform of the Constitution would be further examined. With the object of defining more precisely their intentions in this matter, His Majesty's Government have now authorised the Governor of Ceylon to make a further statement. In view of the length of the statement, I will, with my hon. and gallant Friend's permission, circulate the text of it in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

In view of the very unsatisfactory situation that has arisen in this Colony, and the fact that the old Constitution never has worked satisfactorily, will the right hon. and gallant Gentleman consider setting up a Royal Commission at the earliest possible moment to consider the amendment or revision of the Constitution?

I entirely agree with what the hon. and gallant Member has said about some of the aspects of the present Constitution. He will find the suggested procedure set out in the statement. What His Majesty's Government would prefer is that, subject to certain broad principles, the people in Ceylon should themselves put up their idea of a Constitution, and then after the war they and we can discuss the details.

Following is the statement:

Ceylon Constitution

In 1941 the following assurance was given to the Board of Ministers in Ceylon:

"His Majesty's Government have had under further consideration the question of constitutional reform in Ceylon. The urgency and importance of the reform of the Constitution are fully recognised by His Majesty's Government, but before making decisions upon the present proposals for reform, concerning which there has been so little unanimity, but which are of such importance to the well-being of Ceylon, His Majesty's Government would desire that the position should be further examined and made the subject of further consultation by means of a Commission or Conference. This cannot be arranged under war conditions, but the matter will be taken up with the least possible delay after the war."

After further consideration, His Majesty's Government have decided that it is in the general interest to give greater precision to the foregoing statement with the object of removing any doubts regarding His Majesty's Government's intentions. Accordingly, His Majesty's Government have asked the Governor to convey to the Board of Ministers the following message:

  • 1. "The post-war re-examination of the reform of the Ceylon Constitution, to which His Majesty's Government stands pledged, will be directed towards the grant to Ceylon by Order of His Majesty in Council, of full responsible Government under the Crown in all matters of internal civil administration.
  • 2. His Majesty's Government will retain control of the provision, construction, maintenance, security, staffing, manning and use of such defences, equipment, establishments and communications as His Majesty's Government may Seem necessary for the Naval, Military and Air security of the Commonwealth, including that of the Island, the cost thereof being shared between the two Governments in agreed proportions.
  • 3. Ceylon's relations with foreign countries and with other parts of the British Commonwealth of Nations will be. subject to the control and direction of His t Majesty's Government.
  • 4. The Governor will be vested with such powers as will enable him, if necessary, to enact any direction of His Majesty's Government in regard to matters within the scope of paragraphs 2 and 3 of this Declaration; and his assent to local measures upon these matters will be subject to reference to His Majesty's Government.
  • 5. The present classes of reserved Bills in the Royal Instructions will be largely reduced under a new Constitution. Apart from measures affecting Defence and External Relations it is intended that these shall be restricted to classes of Bills which—
  • (a) Relate to the Royal Prerogative, the rights and property of His Majesty's subjects not residing in the Island, and the trade and shipping of any part of the Commonwealth:
  • (b) Have evoked serious opposition by any racial or religious community and which in the Governor's opinion are likely to involve oppression or unfairness to any community:
  • (c) Relate to currency.
  • 6. The limitations contained in the preceding paragraph will not be deemed to prevent the Governor from assenting in the King's name to any measure relating to, and conforming with, any trade agreements concluded with the approval of His Majesty's Government by Ceylon with other parts of the Commonwealth. It is the desire of His Majesty's Government that the Island's commercial relations should be settled by the conclusion of agreements, and His Majesty's Government will be pleased to assist in any negotiations with this object.
  • 7. The framing of a Constitution in accordance with the terms of this Declaration will require such examination of detail and such precision of definition as cannot be brought to bear so long as the whole of the energies of the service and other Departments of His Majesty's Government must remain focussed on the successful prosecution of the war. His Majesty's Government will, however, once victory is achieved, proceed to examine by suitable Commission or Conference such detailed proposals as the Ministers may in the meantime have been able to formulate in the way of a complete constitutional scheme, subject to the clear understanding that acceptance by His Majesty's Government of any proposals will depend—
  • First, upon His Majesty's Government being satisfied that they are in full compliance with the preceding portions of this Statement; and

    Secondly, upon their subsequent approval by three-quarters of all members of the State Council of Ceylon, excluding the officers of State and the Speaker or other presiding officer.

    8. In their consideration of this problem His Majesty's Government have very fully appreciated and valued the contribution which Ceylon has made and is making to the war effort of the British Commonwealth and the United Nations, and the co-operation which, under the leadership of the Board of Ministers and the State Council, has made this contribution effective."

    Omnibus Traffic, London (Queues)

    21 Mr.

    asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of War Transport whether he is aware that the regulation requiring queueing at omnibus stops is frequently not being observed, especially at busy stops such as Parliament Street; and will he take more strin gent measures to ensure that weaker and less physically active passengers may get a fair chance of boarding omnibuses?

    The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of War Transport
    (Mr. Noel-Baker)

    I am grateful to my hon. Friend for drawing attention to this important matter. I think, however, that as a general rule, the travelling public have willingly accepted the Order which imposes an obligation to form up in queues; I think that they recognise that it is designed for their own convenience; and that they are readily carrying it out. So far as their man-power allows them to do so, the London Passenger Transport Board post officials to ensure order at important stopping places during busy hours; but I am informed that the intervention of these officials is rarely required. It is not possible to make separate queues for the omnibuses running on each of the different services which travel northwards up Parliament Street, but I will make special inquiries into the conditions there.

    Would my hon. Friend take a look to see particularly what happens once the queue has been formed? The queue is formed all right, but then people make a rush when the bus arrives.

    I know that difficulties do arise. It is because it is physically difficult to make separate stopping places for the different groups of bus routes, and so the people in the groups get mixed. In Parliament Street it is a very difficult problem.

    Railway Tickets (Non-Manual Workers>


    asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of War Transport whether he is aware that certain railway companies, especially in the London area, discriminate against non-manual workers in issuing travel tickets at lower rates on the false assumption that they receive higher wages than manual, workers; and whether he will take action to remove this anomaly?

    Workmen's tickets were originally intended only for artisans, mechanics, and labourers who travelled in the early morning hours; they are now issued to everyone who travels before a certain hour. They have also been extended to artisans, mechanics and labourers who are employed on shift turns of duty, and who must, therefore, travel outside the normal hours of issue. Some other concessions have also been made, but it has been decided, after mature consideration, that any general extension outside the normal hours would be both impracticable and undesirable. My hon. Friend will see that the respective rates of wages earned by different categories of passengers have nothing to do with the limitations imposed on the issue of workmen's tickets.

    Will the hon. Member bear in mind that when these cheap tickets were first issued it was on the assumption that non-manual workers were better off than manual workers, and now that the position is very nearly reversed could we not have a universal system on the railways which would meet the problem?

    I am well aware that this whole matter is full of anomalies, which arise out of a history extending over more than 70 years. I have given the fullest possible consideration to the matter, I have seen many deputations on the subject, and I think I have been able to satisfy them that it is impracticable to make changes in war-time and that the changes, if made, would bring more harm than good.

    Merchant Shipping Losses (Publication)


    asked the Minister of Information why reports appeared in the Press of this country of the findings of the Truman Senate Committee that 12,000,000 tons of allied merchant shipping were sunk by enemy action during 1942, when it is the policy of His Majesty's Government not to publish such statistics?

    These reports were first published in the United States and were then sent to this country by cable. If the hon. Member is suggesting that the censorship should have intervened to prevent the publication here of a piece of news which was known to the rest of the world, then I must tell him that such an action would be contrary to all the principles governing the conduct of the British censorship.

    While the right hon. Gentleman will know that I do not want censorship of this sort of thing, does he not think it is anomalous that news about the sinkings by enemy action of ships belonging to us should come via America and that we cannot get the information from our own Government?

    May I point out that this is a very anomalous world, or, at any rate, in some respects an ill-contrived world?