HL Deb 18 February 1947 vol 145 cc685-7

My Lords, I rise to ask the question which stands in my name.

[The question was as follows:

To ask His Majesty's Government whether the account of the situation hi Trinidad given in recent reports in the Daily Mirror is accurate.]


My Lords, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Colonies has already stated in another place that it is not in question that there were acts of violence, mass intimidation and sabotage in the course of the recent disturbances in Trinidad, and that the Governor of the Island has acted throughout the troubles with the unanimous support of the official and non-official members of his Executive Council. The police and other authorities were concerned to take the necessary steps for the protection of the general community including the large majority of trades unionists. My right honourable friend has called upon the Acting Governor of Trinidad to furnish him with a full report upon the occurrences on the conclusion of the local proceedings, and the matter will receive his close attention when that report is received.

In the meantime, the information which has reached him is being compared with the reports which have appeared in the Daily Mirror, but my right honourable friend is awaiting fuller information before accepting the newspaper reports and the criticisms which have been made of the actions of the authorities in Trinidad, in what were undoubtedly difficult and anxious circumstances. For the convenience and information of your Lordships, and with the concurrence of the noble Lord who has asked me this question, I am appending to my answer in Hansard a summary of several statements which have been made recently in another place by the Secretary of State for the Colonies on the situation in Trinidad.


I am obliged to the noble Lord for his answer.

[The following is the summary referred to: There have been three strikes recently in Trinidad, the first being declared by the Seamen's and Waterfront Workers' Union on November 8 last, after a claim for 50 per cent. increase in wages and a reduction in hours of work had been rejected by the Shipping Association. This strike was terminated on December 5, when the Shipping Association agreed to apply to their employees the terms of any fresh agreement which might be reached between the Government Wharves Administration and the Union; and discussions with a view to the preparation of a new agreement are proceeding. On January 8, the Public Works and Public Services Workers' Trade Union called a strike of its members. Discussions had been taking place between the Trinidad Government and the Federated Workers' Trade Union, which claims the largest membership of the workers concerned, but the Public Works and Public Services Workers' Trade Union had declined to associate itself with the Federated Workers' Trade Union in these discussions. A Committee is at work on the revision of current schedules of groups and basic wage salaries for Government employees. The strikers in this case number 1,113 out of 8,900 Government employees. On November 11, Uriah Butler, as President-General of the British Empire Workers', Peasants' and Ratepayers' Association, submitted certain demands to the employers in the oil industry, which were rejected. On December 9, Butler, on behalf of another body called the Mineral Development Union, called a strike. The Oilfield Workers' Trade Union, which is the Union recognized by the Oilfield Employers' Association and has an agreement providing, amongst other things, for the adjustment of wages in accordance with the cost of living index, warned its members against participating in this strike, and only 1,470 out of the 11,340 workers in the industry came out. The strikers began to return to work early in January. At the time when the strikers began to return to work acts of sabotage were reported, including the burning of oil wells and the emptying of water reservoirs. The Legislature of the Colony enacted an Emergency Powers Ordinance, under which proclamations were issued ordering Butler to leave the area and imposing a nine-hours curfew. On January 19, Butler established headquarters in Port-of-Spain and was joined by a large number of his followers. Meanwhile, acts of sabotage continued and a large number of Butler's followers on January 20 picketed the main traffic routes and the bus termini and railway stations, and seventy-two persons were arrested by the police. Thirty-two persons were later arrested when a crowd of some 3,000 to 4,000 people went in procession to the Government buildings with the apparent intention to occupy the Legislative Council Chamber. On this occasion the Governor reports that the police were attacked with sticks, stones and bottles and suffered a number of casualties, and were obliged to use tear gas and baton charges. Later, a party of police under the Commissioner visited Butler's headquarters. Trouble followed, and stones and missiles were used. On this occasion, a large number of persons were arrested. Of the persons arrested at various times during these disturbances, a considerable number have been acquitted by the courts and in some cases short sentences of imprisonment have been imposed. The latest reports from Trinidad indicate that order is now normal. My right honourable friend is anxious to do all he can to help in securing improvement of working standards and labour organization generally in Trinidad and the observance of trade union procedure and practice as understood in this country; and has indicated that he hopes to arrange for a visit by some person with wide experience in these matters with a view to discussion with all parties concerned in Trinidad. Meantime the local Government has set up committees on the revision of wages and salaries of its own employees, and on the means whereby the high cost of living can be reduced. The Standing Price Control Committee is also re-examining the percentage mark-up of goods with a view to reducing prices. Recent increases in the cost of imported foodstuffs and other commodities have entailed serious hardship for large numbers of people in Trinidad.]