British Colonial Empire


By OLIVER STANLEY, Secretary of State for the Colonies

Delivered before the Foreign Policy Association, New York, January 19, 1945

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. XI, pp. 368-371.

I FELT it a great honor to receive your invitation, an invitation from a body whose reputation has spread far outside your own country. It was an invitation I had the greatest pleasure in accepting. In the first place, as I am afraid you will find before the evening is over, I am one of those bores who is always glad to talk about his own job. I find it of such absorbing interest and believe it to be of such permanent importance that I am only too anxious for others to share the interest.

But I was particularly glad to have an opportunity of talking about the British Colonial Empire to an American audience. I am one of those, and I believe they can now be numbered in legions on both sides of the Atlantic, who believe that Anglo-American co-operation is the most important thing in the post-war world. It is not because of our common ancestry, that has worn a bit thin by now; not because of our common language, that may only enable us to quarrel more intelligently.

It is because of our common way of life. Whatever the differences, however deep our disagreements, you and we agree on the fundamentals—on the rule of law, on the liberty of thought, and on the dignity of the individual—fundamentals which after the war will be needed in this world. It is therefore the greatest task of each one of us to do what we can to eliminate the causes of difference between us; and I realize that at some times and among some people, British Colonial policy, or what is believed to be British Colonial policy, is just one of those differences.

Palestine Solution Hoped For

Now let me begin by defining the scope of my responsibilities as Colonial Secretary, for that will also define the scope of my talk. I have nothing to do with the great self-governing Dominions; our relations with them are the affair of the Dominions Secretary. Nor have I anything to do with the semi-Dominions of India and Burma, which are tie affair of the Secretary of State for India. I am responsible for what is known as the Colonial Empire, a collection of 63 million inhabitants, spread all over the world in more than 40 administrative units.

There is one of these units to which I would make special reference now. It is an accident of administration that it should have become the responsibility of my office; it does not share the general problems of the Colonial Empire; it will not fit into the general picture I am going to draw. Yet I would not have you think that I am shirking its problems or by my silence minimizing its importance. The unit to which I refer is Palestine. In that unhappy country, feelings today are tense on both sides, and an incautious word might cause an explosion which could only harm the war effort of the United States.

Yet I would have you realize that we in Great Britain share many of the emotions that I know stir you so deeply over here. Our imagination, too, has been struck by the terrible fate of the Jews in Hitler's Europe. Our sympathy has been evoked by their suffering. We have been glad to see in Palestine a sanctuary where some of these unhappypeople may find safe refuge. On the other hand, you, too, must see that we must recognize and respect the feelings and the rights of that Arab population to whom for so many centuries Palestine has been home. When the war is over, it is the earnest hope and the firm determination of all in Great Britain that a solution shall be found which will be regarded as just and fair not only by Jew and Arab, but by the world as well.

The Colonial Empire

I will, if you will permit me, in order to give you some picture of the Colonial Empire, adopt the well-worn device of asking myself questions and then attempting to answer them. And the three questions I am going to ask are: (1) What is the Colonial Empire? (2) What have we done for it in the past? and (3) What do we hope to do for it in the future?

Now, for the first question, "What is the Colonial Empire?" The first thing to realize about it is the immense diversity which exists between one Colony and another; diversity in size, in climate, in resources, in history and in their association with others. Let me give you just a few examples. First as regards the size. On the one hand we have Nigeria with 372,600 square miles and a population of 20 million, and on the other hand St. Helena with 47 square miles and a population of 4,000. Of course I have given extremes, but in between them lies an infinite gradation. Even the four Colonies that I have been visiting in the past few weeks range from a population of over a million to a population of under 40,000.

Again, take the difference in resources. On the one hand you have Malaya with a wealth of tin and rubber which produced for the Government of that country in pre-war days a revenue of 18 million pounds. On the other hand Gambia with no mineral resources of any kind and no production save that of peanuts.

Problems of Diversity

The histories which lie behind these Colonies are as diversified as their size or their resources. You have the West Indian Islands with their centuries of association with West-em influences; you have Ceylon with an ancient culture, swamped, it is true, by periodic Indian invasions, but still leaving its mark behind. On the other hand you have those great areas of Africa, in which incidentally over two-thirds of our Colonial Empire lives, where life has gone on for centuries outside the stream of world development and where only within the lifetime of man today have windows been opened to Western civilization, Western culture and Western thought.

But it is not only this great diversity between one Colony and another. You will find an equal diversity inside the Colony itself: differences in race and creed and language. The problem is not essentially, indeed not mainly, a problem of European and native. In great areas of the Colonies such a problem does not arise at all, but hardly anywhere will you find within a Colony a homogenous mass. How many for instance will realize that in Malaya the Malays are in a minority and that a mere counting of heads would give the Chinese and Indians over the heads of the Malays the control of Malayan lands? How many realize that in Fiji, Fijians are only 50 per cent of the population?

Let me take as another example the great territory of Nigeria which I recently visited—the Housa, the Ibo and Yoruba, three groups which have nothing in common, neither race, religion, language, customs or constitution; in fact, in olden days the only connection between them was when they raided each other. In fact, throughout the greater part of the Colonial Empire it is, for the present at any rate, the British presence alone which prevents a disastrous disintegration, and British withdrawal today would mean for millions a descent from nascent nationhood into the turmoil of warring sects.

No General Solution

Now all these things of which I have only given a few examples are facts, facts which have to be known and appreciated if our difficulties and our objectives are to be understood. It does not mean that those objectives are altered; it does not mean that their attainment is postponed, but it does mean that there can be no general solution and that the problem of each Colony must be regarded as different and the solution for each Colony must be differently planned.

I know that there are many in this country who have a genuine and quite understandable desire to see us produce for the Colonial Empire some kind of charter which would give a universal blueprint and some kind of schedule which would give a universal timetable. I should like to be able to do something of the sort. We do do something of the kind when it is practicable. But it is not practicable to find the lowest common denominator or the highest common factor throughout territories varying so dramatically.

What we can and do have instead of a universal charter or a universal schedule is a universal objective—that is, the achievement of the fullest possible measure of self-government within the Empire. If you ask me when it will be achieved I can only answer, as soon as practicable. Some are nearly there already, some are still a long way back. To all we are trying to give impetus and help along the road.

Neither Shame Nor Complacence

Now let me turn to the second question, "What have we done in the past for the Colonial Empire?" I have not come here tonight to apologize for our record in the Colonial Empire. I am not standing here tonight in a white sheet. As I look back over the years I find much has been done, great services given, great sacrifices made. But if I speak of our record entirely without shame I also speak entirely without complacence. If I think that we have done much in the past, I also feel that we have even more to do in the future. Where we have done well, so much firmer will be the foundations on which to build. Where we have made mistakes, it will be all the easier to learn from them in the future.

What then are the main achievements of our past record? You must realize that in at least three-quarters of the areas I am describing our past is a comparatively short one and our connection with the areas is to be measured in terms of years, not centuries. The first, of course, is to bring to many millions a security of life and property which they had never known before in their history. Security, the greatest of all boons, but one which when we enjoy it we soon take for granted and one whose value we only realize when we have lost it. But to many millions in the Colonial Empire this gain has been and still seems a reality.

Take Nigeria, not only the biggest of our Colonies but one where our administration has been most recently established. There are men and women still alive there who in their youth did not know the meaning of the word security, whose lives were a long history of tribal forays, of slave raid incursions, and of chiefly persecutions. When I got back from a recent trip there, a man in the House of Commons asked me if I had visited a particular city. He was interested to know what it was like now as when he entered it with the first British column he marched into the city between hundreds of human sacrifices fixed to the trees which bordered the road.

What happens today? You can travel the length and breadth of the country with no more danger, in fact less danger, than you would walk through the streets of a great city here or in Great Britain. And that security is now maintained largely by the people themselves. There were battalions of the Nigerian Regiment, but most of them have gone off to fight in Burma, There is a Nigerian Police, some of the officers of which are European, but their stations are usually at least 100 miles apart; throughout the rest of this vast area law and order is ensured by the police of the native administrations officered by Nigerians, manned by Nigerians, controlled and directed by Nigerians.

No One Road

The second great thing that we have brought to these territories is the rule of law. No longer are a man's life and property at the mercy at worst of violence, at best of the capricious decision of a tribal chief. Law now is administered according to rule, and administered often by the people themselves.

Next I feel we have given political development—in some places still in a rudimentary form, in others more advanced. I will deal with this point in more detail later, but I should like to make one general observation. I do not believe that there is just one road to democratic government, the road that we ourselves happened to travel and which has brought us our Parliament at Westminster. That road was laid out for us by our own particular circumstances and our own particular characteristics. Other people's characters, other people's traditions, other people's instincts may lead them to the same goal by a wholly different road. It is therefore our policy whenever possible to build upon existing institutions and existing authorities, to mold them in modern thought, to give them modern ideas, but to encourage them to develop upon their own historic lines.

Finally, we have brought to these different peoples social developments, schools, hospitals, communications, and indeed all the essential accessories of a modern state. The extent to which we have done it varies enormously, varies according to the wealth of the Colony concerned. In Malaya for instance, before the war the richest of our Colonies, an advanced state of social services had already been reached. Let me give two figures. There was a hospital bed for every 250 of the population; 75 per cent of Malay boys were receiving a proper elementary education. They may not be very striking figures compared with ancient and wealthy Western nations, but if you compare them with the figures for the Philippines, say, I do not think you will find that Malaya comes out badly.

Now let me make a slight digression. I have told you something of what we have done. Let me just tell you one or two things that we have not done, but which popular opinion attributes to us. In the first place, no Colony makes any contribution to the British Treasury. No British taxpayer finds his burden relieved to the extent of a single cent by the efforts of a Colonial population. On the contrary in the past we have always given grants from our National Treasury to any Colony unable to maintain a minimum standard of government, and the new development to which I will refer later will impose new and heavy burdens on the British taxpayer.

In the second place, there has been no closed door to trade in the Colonial Empire. Imperial preference may be a matter for argument; it is among some a matter for criticism, but do not believe that its effect has been to shut out from the Colonial Empire the trade of the world and to reserve it entirely for the merchants of Great Britain. In fact, in the years before the war, the Colonies in satisfying their own requirements took from Great Britain under 25 per cent of their imports and over 75 per cent from the rest of the world, while in the disposal of their produce they sent only 35 per cent to Great Britain and 65 per cent went to the rest of the world.

Political Advance

Now let me turn to what to me is far the most interesting point. "What are we going to do in the future?" As I have said, our objective is the advance of these Colonies to the fullest possible measure of self-government. That, you will realize, does not merely mean the devising of new constitutional machinery. It means also those social developments which are necessary to produce a responsible community. Unless we can do that we may in handing over our power only hand it to a local oligarchy no more democratic and much less disinterested than an alien bureaucracy. Unless it is to be government by the people, it had better remain government by Britain.

And secondly, there is the economic development which is necessary to enable territories so to develop their own resources that out of them they can meet the reasonable claims for social standards. There can be no true self-government if it is allied with permanent financial dependence upon others.

Let me therefore deal with all three of these lines of advance—Political, Social and Economic. First then with regard to political advance, an advance which is dynamic and not static, continuous and not spasmodic, which in fact throughout the Colonial Empire is constantly progressing. In the two years in which I have been at the Colonial Office there is, I think, hardly a Colony in which some political advance has not been made or is not under consideration. These advances are not always dramatic. Sometimes they are only a slight extension of the elective principle, sometimes an increase in the number of independent members of a legislative council, sometimes an extension of the powers of a native administration.

But some are striking, dramatic and almost revolutionary. Let me give you one instance. I have just come from Jamaica where I attended the opening of the first Parliament elected under the new constitution. It is a Parliament elected on the basis of complete adult suffrage, an adult suffrage not only in name but also in practice where, in fact, everyone can and does vote. This House elected by this adult suffrage has also elected five of its members to seats in the Executive Council, half of the total number. Each member is associated with a group of subjects. In other words, it is the beginning of a ministerial system. It is a great experiment which like all experiments has its risks, but I know that the people of Jamaica mean to make it succeed and I believe that it will succeed.

Economic Assistance

On the side of social and economic developments, we have a new and potent weapon. In 1940, at a time when our future seemed blackest, an Act, The Colonial Development and Welfare Act, was passed. By this Act, Parliament placed at the disposal of the Colonial Secretary a sum of 20 million dollars a year for development and two million for research for a period of ten years. This year, when victory seems assured, Parliament is to be asked to extend that period and largely increase those sums. On the basis of that assistance, combined with the resources of the Colonies themselves, I am asking each Colony to prepare a ten-year plan for social and economic development.

This assistance is not intended to be a permanent dole. It is intended to provide those fundamentals which are the necessary preliminary for each Colony to develop its own economic resources including the greatest of all economic

assets, the health, the industry and the skill of its people. There are many objects for which this money will be required: education, health, water supplies, communications, development of agriculture and of secondary industries. It is difficult indeed to accord priority among so many claims.

I, tonight, am only going to deal with one, the one which I myself regard as the most important—education, for I believe education can be the foundation of all the others. I want to see in the Colonial Empire a development of education in all its aspects: higher education, primary education and the mass education of illiterates. In regard to higher education I am expecting on my return the report of two commissions: one to study the help which universities in Great Britain can give to Colonial universities, a commission which incidentally has considered the provision of a university in the West Indies; the other a commission concerned with provision of university facilities in West Africa.

As regards normal education, this is to be given a prominent place in all the 10-year plans, an education which in accordance with modern educational theory must be fitted to the environment of the particular people. With regard to mass education—a terribly difficult problem where government alone cannot succeed, where the community itself must play its part—a comprehensive report of suggestions and schemes has been sent to all Colonial governments.

Of course, all these things cannot be done at once. Indeed, under war conditions, it is difficult to do anything at all. Shortages of imported material, a shortage of labor and, above all, a shortage of technical staff must, of course, delay the realization of these projects; but we can plan, and we are planning now that we may be ready when the time comes.

Mandates and Regional Commissions

So far I have spoken only of the relations of the Colonial Empire to Great Britain. I want to close with, a few words about its relations to the world. We had in the Permanent Mandates Commission after the last war one experiment of such relations. It was on a limited scale, but within its scope no doubt it did good work. But it suffered from one fundamental defect. It could tell you you must not do the wrong thing, but it could not help you to do the right thing. It was a conception which belonged more to the old theory of Colonial trusteeship than to the modern conception of Colonial partnership; more to the passive era of Colonial administration than to the present dynamic age.

We have, therefore, recently proposed another method, another experiment, which we believe should be tried out: that of regional commissions.

We believe that all Colonial powers in any given region and other countries who have a particular interest in the region should meet together in order to discuss their common problems, and to help each other to find their common solutions. So many problems today—economic, health and transportation—transcend the frontiers of individual units, and can only successfully be dealt with on a regional basis.

Our belief in some system of this kind is not based merely on theory. We have a practical example before our eyes in the Anglo-American-Caribbean Commission, an outstanding instance of Anglo-American co-operation. That Commission, in the short years of its life, has already achieved practical results which are felt by the ordinary man and woman in their daily lives. For its success we owe much to the interest and enthusiasm of my friend Mr. Taussig (Mr. Charles W. Taussig, American Co-Chairman of the Anglo-American-Caribbean Commission), to meet whom was the primary object of my visit to America. We want to see that practical example repeated in the future on a wider basis and in further areas.

Criticism Should Be Informed

We cannot share with others the administrative responsibilities which are ours alone. We believe that to attempt to do so would be impracticable, inefficient and undesirable. But in discharging those responsibilities we do want from others co-operation, we do want advice and we do want and shall welcome criticism, if that criticism is constructive and informed. Informed, that is the secret! It is our duty to keep the world informed of what we are doing, to make full, accurate and unbiased reports of the way we discharge our responsibilities. But there is a duty, too, on the other side, a duty that the information, when available, should be studied and used. For the old slogan of "No taxation without representation," one might well substitute the new slogan of: "No criticism without study."

I apologize for the length of this address. I warned you when I started that when I began on a subject so near my heart, I found it difficult to stop, and it is near my heart. I suppose all of us, however busy, have dreams of the future. I have one. It is a dream to which I can only make a transient contribution. It is a dream, the complete fulfillment of which I may never live to see, but it is a dream that in the end I know will come true.

It is a dream of a British Commonwealth of Nations in which these Colonial peoples will have their rightful place; a Commonwealth which in time of peace will enshrine the fundamentals of life on which you and we agree, and which in time of crises will give its whole resources of men and material to a world organization for the defense of right.

But it is not merely a dream of empires, it is a dream also of human beings and 60,000,000 of them from all continents and of all creeds, rich and poor, strong and weak, marching along a straight highroad, starting it may be at different places, moving it may be at different rates, but all certain to reach their journey's end—dignity and contentment and security.