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Sierra Leone (Health Conditions, Freetown)

Volume 393: debated on Wednesday 3 November 1943

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asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies whether he has had an opportunity of personally inquiring into the responsibility for the deplorable conditions of health, lack of fresh water, bad drainage and housing at Freetown; and whether he can give the House an assurance that he is satisfied that improvement has been effected and will be sustained until these serious shortcomings have been completely rectified?

The present very unsatisfactory conditions at Freetown are primarily due to the enormous strain suddenly thrown upon the Administration of Sierra Leone by the exigencies of war and the consequent great increase in its population. I am satisfied that the Administration is doing its best to improve conditions as quickly as possible, but its efforts are very seriously hampered by acute shortage of skilled personnel and of essential materials, adequate supplies of which cannot be expected to be available for a long time to come.

Can my right hon. and gallant Friend say whether the Administration which allowed this shocking state of affairs has been strengthened in any way?

I do not think it is fair to blame the Administration of the Colony for whatever may have been the conditions at the beginning of the war. The then existing system had to work under the then income of the Colony, and an Administration which has had to work under those handicaps cannot be blamed for the result. Fortunately, we have now altered that principle, and in future the House will be able to help where a Colony cannot do the requisite thing.

Does my right hon. and gallant Friend agree that no Colony can afford the state of affairs I have indicated, and is he satisfied that steps are being taken to bring the position more closely to his notice?

It is not necessary to bring it more closely to my notice, because I am just as interested as my hon. and gallant Friend in getting this matter right. I would like to point out, also, that the demands of the Services in Freetown are very large and that it is important that they should have priority.