HC Deb 12 June 1931 vol 253 cc1347-69

Order for Second Reading read.


I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."

I desire to apologise for the absence of my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies who is, I believe, on his way to Geneva to represent His Majesty's Government at the Permanent Mandates Commission. The Bill is to authorise the Treasury, subject to certain conditions, to guarantee the principal and and interest of a loan of £750,000 to be raised by the Government of Mauritius for the repair of the damage caused by the hurricane there on 5–8th March of this year. The circumstances which have necessitated the loan and the Imperial guarantee, including the details of the hurricane and its effects, also the financial position of the Mauritius Government, have already been fully set out in a White Paper and in the opening speech of the Under-Secretary of State on the Financial Resolution on Friday last, in his reply to the Debate on that occasion, and on the Report of the Financial Resolution on Tuesday last.

My hon. Friend dealt very fully with the history of Mauritius, with its culture, its loyalty, its geography, and its pride in being a part of the British Empire. He went very fully into the effects of the severe hurricane in March last and the damage that has been done to property, buildings and to the people who were rendered homeless, to the roads, the bridges, and the sugar crop. Knowing as I do how the House resents repetition, I do not intend to repeat what he said on those matters, but I think it is necessary that I should repeat what is the intention of the Bill, as was explained in the Financial Resolution. The effect of the guarantee, so far as this country is concerned, is that if, at any time during the currency of the loan, which will not exceed 40 years, the Government of Mauritius is unable to meet the interest on it, or if at the end of the term it is unable to repay the principal, the necessary payments will have to be made from the United Kingdom Exchequer, that is, by the British taxpayer. They will, as provided in the Bill, be repayable by the Mauritius Government. It is not, however, expected that Exchequer payments will be necessary, at any rate, after the first few years.

A Mauritius loan was guaranteed in very similar circumstances by the Imperial Government in 1892 and His Majesty's Government has never been called upon to implement its guarantee. It is possible, however, that charges will fall upon the Exchequer during the first few years, as it is probable that the Government of Mauritius will have an excess of expenditure over revenue in those years and will not be able to meet the loan charges from its own resources. Provision is, therefore, made for advances for this purpose during the first five years out of moneys to be voted by Parliament. The interest charges which may have to be met in this way will be between £30,000 and £35,000 per annum, depending upon the actual terms of issue of the loan. It is at present contemplated that sinking fund contributions may be suspended during the first five years. In connection with the sinking fund it should be explained that, although Clause 1 (2, b) of the Bill provides for the establishment of more than one sinking fund, that is only done to provide for the possibility of the loan being issued in several instalments and of sinking funds of various periods being necessary, but it is not contemplated that more than one sinking fund will be necessary.

The only point raised in the previous Debates which does not appear to have been adequately answered was that raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall (Mr. McShane) on the Report stage, relating to public health in Mauritius. He quoted a passage from the Annual Report of the Colony for 1929, referring to the existence of undernourishment, and my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary promised that the matter should be dealt with on the Second Reading of the Bill. The position is that Mauritius is over-populated. The density of the population is 550 to the square mile. The bulk of the population live normally on the very limit of bare subsistence and it is inevitable that in times of depression, such as now exist, some of them, who become unemployed or receive a diminished return from their small holdings, should be forced below that limit. The only real remedies for this state of affairs are an increase in the productivity of the island or a decrease in its population. Sugar is understood to be the most productive crop available. That is, the sugar industry can support the largest number of persons to the square mile. There is therefore no practicable alternative to the sugar industry. Measures for increasing its productivity are under consideration by the Agricultural Department of the Colony and the agricultural advisers of the Secretary of State. Active steps are also being taker to develop such auxiliary industries as are possible, such as tobacco, tea and pineapples.

On the strictly public health side there is little that can be done to remedy undernourishment. The record of the Government of Mauritius in public health matters is, I understand, a good one. They have in recent years spent very large sums on public health works, such as anti-malarial work and the improvement of their water supply, and there is no doubt that such measures will continue to be prosecuted, so far as funds are available.

If the measure of assistance now proposed had not been given to the Colony the economic position would very rapidly have become far worse. Under-nourishment would not only have become more widespread, but might have developed into actual starvation. The assistance now proposed is, therefore, one way in which His Majesty's Government can assist in remedying this deplorable state of affairs. His Majesty's Government felt that it was the duty of the mother country to come to the aid of Mauritius in its present difficulties, and they have every hope that this measure of assistance will succeed in placing Mauritius once more in a sound position. Knowing as we do that the sugar industry is efficiently managed but is suffering from world depression, as we all are, we are confident that it will overcome its difficulties if the ill-effects of this disaster can be mitigated. That is what the Bill proposed to do. The matter has been fully discussed on two previous occasions. The Bill is to deal with the effects of a catastrophe which took place during this year, and is on the lines of well-established practice, the latest precedent being the Palestine and East Africa Loan Act of 1926. I hope I have said sufficient to enable me to move the Second Beading of the Bill.


Knowing the deep interest which the Under-Secretary of State for the Dominions takes in all matters connected with the Empire, I feel sure that he experiences great pleasure in moving the Second Reading of a Bill which is going to help considerably the small island of Mauritius. My regret is that help of a far more reaching character has not been considered by the Government. Here we have an island, beautiful and romantic, about the size of Surrey with a population of 400,000 people, mostly of French origin, an island which acts as a link between our possessions and the French possessions in that part of the world. The remarkable thing is that in the Island of Mauritius, quite apart from the effect of the hurricane the great sugar industry is in a languishing condition whilst the neighbouring French possessions are becoming prosperous. In years gone by the contrary was the ease, and I would ask the Government to look into that matter carefully and see whether they cannot devise measures which will remedy this state of things. In passing may I say that I feel sure the Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies will greatly regret that he is not present to-day to complete the good work began a week ago. He too has a wide knowledge of local affairs in Mauritius, and great sympathy with the development of the Colony.

The sugar industry, which occupies about 90 per cent. of the energies of the Colony, is in a languishing condition, not merely because of the hurricane but because of world conditions. That industry is of great importance to our shipping, to employment in our shipping industry and in our docks, and, therefore, of vital importance to this country. My object in rising is to put to the Government the necessity of taking steps not merely in the nature of this assistance, which is very welcome no doubt, but also to take steps of a fundamental and far-reaching character. If I were to go in detail into the remedy I would recommend, I have no doubt that you, Mr. Speaker, would call me to order, and I will content myself by saying that it can be summed up in the words, protection for our trade.


Hon. Members, I hope, will realise that this is a loan to Mauritius to repair the damages of the hurricane, and I hope they will confine themselves to the object of the Measure.


When the Financial Resolution was before the House last week, hon. Members on this side expressed the view that they would welcome the introduction of this Bill. The plain fact is that Mauritius cannot carry on any longer without the assistance which is made possible by this Bill. On that occasion I took the opportunity of drawing attention to the tragic and deplorable conditions prevailing in the Island of Mauritius and also in the other sugar colonies which is daily causing us the greatest concern and of expressing the regret that the subject-matter of the Bill should be specifically confined to repairing the damage caused by the terrible catastrophe which befell the island in March last. The opportunity was taken of showing that there were alternate methods of dealing with the situation by a much wider measure which would grapple with the general economic position of the island. It is unquestionable that Mauritius must have immediate assistance. The people of Mauritius are not ungrateful, on the contrary, they will appreciate to the full such relief as the Bill may bring. In Mauritius we have a great amount of British capital. Millions of pounds have been invested in plantations and in machinery, and we are allowing that capital to depreciate to a dangerous extent. As the Under-Secretary for the Dominions has pointed out—it was also pointed out by Sir Francis Watts in his report on the condition of the island—the efficiency and methods of sugar plantation in Mauritius are deserving of the greatest praise, but in order to produce sugar efficiently you must not only get the most sugar out of the cane but you must also get most cane out of the ground.


I cannot allow a general discussion on the sugar industry of Mauritius. Hon. Members must confine themselves to the loan as set out in the Schedule to be given to repair the damages caused by the hurricane.


May I ask whether it would be in order to refer to the possibility of other means by which the Colony could be assisted and this loan avoided altogether?


That is entering upon a question of policy which cannot be discussed now. We are dealing now with the question of the damage done by the hurricane.


May I put it to you that we are justified in discussing why it is necessary to grant a loan at all to this colony, and in that connection we are justified in discussing the reasons why the colony cannot repair that damage from its own resources.


Is it not true that it can be shown that this loan will be scarcely sufficient in view of the economic position of the island. In other words, might we not argue that the loan that is proposed is inadequate owing to the accumulative effect of other causes on the economic position of the Island?


That, obviously, is going beyond the purpose of this Bill. We must confine ourselves to the loan and to the reasons for the loan.


Further to that point of Order. You referred just now to the Schedule, and said that you hoped we would keep within it. Paragraph 2 of the Schedule says: The making of loans to planters or other persons to defray their expenditure in repairing or rebuilding property or in cultivating their land—— I suggest, therefore, that my hon. Friend—(HON. MEMBERS: "Read on")— being expenditure necessitated by damage caused by the said hurricane. If the sugar cane, as has been suggested, has been demolished by the hurricane, which is quite likely, it is for the planters to consider whether they should replace it with sugar or with some other product. The whole question is what should be planted, sugar or some other thing.


I do not agree that that is in the Bill. We must confine ourselves to the objects stated in the Bill.


I have no desire whatever to go beyond the limits of discussion. I was developing a point which, if I had been permitted to develop it a little further, would not have made it necessary for you to intervene. I was pointing out what is necessary in order to produce sugar efficiently, and was proceeding to show that if the people of Mauritius were to get the best out of the soil, they require capital. While the planters in Mauritius produce sugar at a loss, as they are doing to-day, they cannot find the necessary capital and the resources of the island have been so depleted, largely as a result of the relief which was given locally last year, that they are unequal to the task of providing the necessary capital.

In authorising the guaranteeing of this loan, I think we are justified in taking into account the fact that Mauritius is a very valuable material asset to this country. The value of that asset was brought home to us in 1920, when Wall Street tried to make a corner in the sugar market and to hold us up to ransom. Wall Street was selling sugar at £120, but Mauritius came to our aid and sold for £90 and so broke up the ring that was threatened. Nor must we forget that during the War, when the Mother Country was in peril, the people of Mauritius gave freely, not only of their treasure, but of their blood to this country, and now that the position is reversed, and Mauritius is in difficulty, it behoves us to give such assistance as we can to Mauritius. We are responsible for the welfare of this colony. It is governed from Downing Street and legislated for by this House, where the representatives of Mauritius have no right of audience. We should look upon Mauritius as upon the other British colonies, as part of our national whole. Depressed industries in dependent colonies should receive from this House the same assistance as we should give depressed industries in this country. We cannot deal with Mauritius without dealing with its national industry. The welfare of Mauritius and sugar are synonymous. As I said the other day, the people of Mauritius have to import all their foodstuffs and to pay for them by their exports; yet 98 per cent. of their exports consists of sugar.

I deprecate the suggestion that we should regard the question of the welfare of this island or the question of this loan as a party matter. It would not be fair to the Mauritians. We should not aim at making the residents in our colonies good Conservatives or good Socialists, but only good Britishers. We must have regard to the fact that we are a much older country than Mauritius. For upwards of 1,400 years we, in this country, have been developing our resources. We have a great diversity of industries and a great accumulation of capital in this country. But Mauritius is a new country, 200 years old, and it has been under the British flag for only 120 years. Owing to climatic and other conditions, its people are dependent on one industry; they have all their eggs in one basket. They have had neither the time nor the means of accumulating the capital that is necessary to tide them over such a depressed period as the present.

Mauritius is a good customer of ours, and if she is to continue to be a good customer, we will have to make it possible for her to sell her main product, which is sugar, and in order that she may be able to do that, it is necessary that we should furnish Mauritius with the capital which is necessary to produce the sugar. In common with other hon. Members on these benches, I congratulate the Government on the expedition with which they have brought forward this Bill. We hope that it will very soon reach the Statute Book. I would appeal to the Government and express the hope that in the near future they will introduce a much larger Measure which will grapple with the very serious condition which prevails, not only in Mauritius, but throughout our sugar colonies—a condition which is causing us the greatest possible anxiety and alarm.


I wish also to congratulate the Government on guaranteeing this loan, but I have my views as to whether, generous though the loan seems, it is going to be at all adequate for the position of affairs existing in Mauritius. While we congratulate ourselves and the Government upon this assistance, let us not forget that in 1917 and 1919 Mauritius granted to this country a loan, on both occasions, of over 8,000,000 rupees, which was much more than half a total year's revenue of the island. A record is still extant of the thanks of this country to Mauritius at that time. Let us not forget, therefore, that we have still a debt owing to Mauritius. The damage that has been done by this hurri- cane will affect three well marked types of persons or things. It has affected first of all public property—roads and bridges and so on. It has affected also a relative few of the well-to-do. In the nature of things it has affected most of all the poorest class, who live in the most unsubstantial types of houses. I want the House to realise that in the nature of things it must be the third class that suffered most; those who lived in the worst type of houses are to-day suffering the most.

While you, Sir, have ruled that it would be out of order to discuss the general economic position, or the economic causes which are at the root of the Colony's difficulties, yet I think I may say that the report from which I quoted the other night shows a condition of affairs with regard to the mass of the population there which no Member of this House can look upon with any satisfaction. The medical officer says explicitly that, not only has the death rate largely increased, but that, as far as he can see, it is going to increase still further as the years go on, owing solely or almost solely to under-nourishment. That, in effect, means starvation and it indicates a very serious state of affairs. That was the position of the country before the hurricane struck it at all. It was in that weakened and debilitated condition when the hurricane came upon it.

I do not think that all the information has been placed before the House which we might reasonably have expected on certain matters. At present for instance there necessarily arises the question of the administration of the fund which has been organised to ameliorate the conditions of the poor and distressed who have suffered from the effects of the hurricane. Then, in 1929 there was a commission of inquiry into the methods of Poor Law relief in the island, but I can find no notice of the recommendations of that commission and no information as to how Poor Law relief is at present being administered. I think that matter is germane to the discussion of the Bill because of the necessity of ensuring that every pound sanctioned by this House shall be spent to the best advantage in relation to those whose need is greatest.

The Minister admitted last Friday that this loan is considerably below the total loss suffered by the population of the island and that is another reason why I emphasise the fact that although this loan seems generous to us, and although it will be most acceptable to the people of Mauritius in their dire need, yet it will not meet the necessities of the case. With regard to the Minister's reply this morning to my comments of a few nights ago, on the causes of the Colony's difficulties, I am inclined to smile at the suggestion as to over-population being a main cause. Although the density of the population seems very high, I have yet to be convinced that that is the sole cause of the difficulties in which the Colony finds itself. As to increasing production, I would only make this comment as an illustration of the circumstances in which the people of Mauritius find themselves. While our primary industries here are languishing, we are being asked to develop new industries—having apparently solved all the difficulties of our primary industries—and the Minister suggests that Mauritius should do the same. The truth is that one of their difficulties is that they already produce too much there. That, indeed, is one of the main causes of the sugar difficulty.

There are some points upon which I should like the Minister to give us further information. First, what is being done in connection with this loan for the large number of people who were rendered homeless by the hurricane? Are they being provided with new types of houses, or are they merely being given some form of relief and allowed to wander about, or are they being sheltered for the time being in public institutions with the intention that accommodation will be provided for them later on in new houses? Secondly, as a considerable amount of this money is, naturally, being given for public works such as roads and bridges, I wish to ask if assistance is to be given primarily to those human beings who are most in need of it at the present moment, and can we be assured that no undue amount of the money will be taken for, or no undue precedence given to public works?

This loan is to be given on certain conditions, and I congratulate the Government on having inserted, as we would of course expect them to do, a fair wages clause with regard to any work done there. A second condition is that a commission is to be set up to inquire into the finances of the island. As hon. Members may know, during the past four years there has been a loss of approximately 2,000,000 rupees on the annual revenue. I would like to know whether the members of that commission have yet been appointed and whether it will be a departmental commission or a commission consisting of Members of this House. Finally, may I say that we are placed at a great disadvantage in discussing the present position in the island when the latest information available to us is a report dated 1929. I think the circumstances in Mauritius to-day are such that we should have some special information upon them. No Member can say that he knows the position in the island to-day adequately or accurately, even after the three discussions which we have had upon this subject, and Mauritius is in such a parlous condition that I think we might have a special report from the Colony on what is happening there now. Such a report might help to allay the anxiety which is naturally aroused by the report to which I have already referred.

At all events, our position is plain and simple. We must do everything we can to help the people of this Crown Colony. We, here, are personally responsible for whatever is happening there. If an undue number of deaths is occurring in the island, apart altogether from this hurricane and its effects, those deaths can be laid to the charge of individual Members of the House of Commons. I hope, therefore, that the matter will be closely examined and that we shall have more intimate and recent information about the condition of affairs in the island than has been available so far.


If I might make one or two general observations without disturbing the harmony of this Debate, I would recall to the House the circumstances, described to us by the Under-Secretary the other night, which have led to the introduction of the Bill. The hon. Gentleman said that the island had been visited by a severe hurricane; that the result had been the almost total loss of its export trade, and that there was the prospect of a substantial deficit in its Budget. Those words sounded very familiar. I seem to have heard exactly the same things said about this island by the spokesmen of the Government, but though the Liberal party have suggested a great re-development loan as the remedy for our troubles, the Government have not seen fit to adopt that plan in this country. But they are doing in Mauritius—which appropriately was discovered by the Portuguese—exactly what the Liberal party would like to have done here.

In connection with this loan, there are two conditions to which I would call attention. One of the conditions which the Under-Secretary of State laid down was the assent of the Colonial Government to a financial commission appointed by the Government here to advise on measures to produce a balanced budget at the earliest possible date. Will not the people of Mauritius suggest that it might be better for us to remove the beam out of our own eye, and that it is rather a work of supererogation for us to send a committee to balance other people's budgets when the Budget of this country is completely unbalanced itself?


Is this Mauritius or malicious?


The other condition to which I would call attention is this, that there should be a Fair Wages Clause put in, which is in accordance with the Resolution adopted by this House some years back. I want to ask whether that is a pure formality or whether it will be something rather onerous for Mauritius. I suppose he knows whether they are as willing and eager to impose it themselves as we are to accept it. If so, how is it that when we are making a loan to one of our own Colonies, one of our own friends, we make that a condition, whereas when we make loans and guarantee credit to other countries, which for the purposes of good order shall be nameless, we do nothing of the kind, and, in fact, welcome the importation of their produce, although we know very well that it has been produced under bad conditions?


The Russians have a seven-hours day.


I did not say to what country I was referring. But is it not rather strange that we find it wise, in one case to impose this con- dition whereas in another case we allow exactly the contrary to happen, and that, much to our national detriment? Here we have the three conditions precedent to the granting of the loan, the hurricane, complete destruction of the export trade, and an unbalanced budget, conditions which, as I say, apply to this country. In the case of Mauritius the Government propose, and the House is prepared apparently to accept, the policy of granting a loan, but was it not possible for the Government, in view of this catastrophe, to have suggested an alternative line of policy? Why should they not have suggested for Mauritius the kind of things which they have suggested for us? We too have suffered from hurricane, loss of our export trade, and an unbalanced Budget. It would have been cheaper, though I do not know if it would be any more effective in the island of Mauritius than in the island of Great Britain, to have introduced some system of electoral reform, to have said that the 10 elected members of their Legislature were not to be elected as they are now. If that is a remedy for unemployment, hurricane, and the loss of export trade here, perhaps it would be there too. It would have been cheaper, perhaps, to have suggested to that country that they should embark on the valuation of all their land with a view to its taxation. It might have been cheaper, and there would have have been no risk of any guarantee being required from us, if they had inquired what was the position of education there, whether the school leaving age had been raised, whether any singers or musicians would like to be subsidised. Are there any beaches there to dot with orange tents in which to disport themselves, as we have found, as a remedy for unemployment?

How is it that the Government, in the case of Mauritius, have run away and adopted the Liberal policy of development loans, while here they have adopted, in similar circumstances, a most extraordinary farrago of remedies which have had no effect? I think the Liberal party ought to be here in full force to congratulate the Government on the fact that they have adopted some of their suggestions, and I shall be glad to hear why the Government have distinguished between the two different islands, one, Mauritius, the size of Surrey and the other, Great Britain, much larger. As a matter of fact, the real answer is the same in both cases, because the real answer is to be found in dealing with hurricanes, deficits on the Budget, and the loss of export trade by protecting the home market and giving Imperial preference in a system of Imperial economic unity, which is exactly what Mauritius would like to have.


I should like to express my satisfaction that we shall be able to help Mauritius in the way in which we are going to do, although I should like to have seen it done in some other way. The Under-Secretary of State just now told us that Mauritius depends upon the sugar industry. That is something which we all knew. He also told us something which I am going to challenge, and that is that the sugar industry is quite efficient. I am not going to say that it is not, hut I think it is important that we should know whether that sugar industry, as a result of the hurricane, is as efficient as it might be. I happen to have been Mauritius' greatest competitor some years ago in the sugar line, and in those days the cost of production of Mauritius sugar was very high. Only a few days ago I had a discussion with a planter from Mauritius and suggested to him that one of the first things they should do would be to try to get their cost of sugar production considerably reduced.

Owing to the hurricane and to the fact that probably many sugar factories have been damaged, and some possibly demolished, it is questionable whether it is advisable to re-build those factories or whether it might not be better, as the Under-Secretary of State has himself suggested, to try alternative crops. I cannot imagine why they should not be able to produce tobacco, tea, and pineapples, products mentioned by the hon. Gentleman, because the climate there cannot be very different from the climate in which I lived for 21 years, and where we found that these by-products were extraordinarily useful, and the more so because when one has a hurricane such as they had there—and we have had them in the island in which I lived for so many years—the soil is entirely altered. You very often have floods, rivers overflow, and considerable damage is done, and what was formerly land which could profitably he used for planting sugar has been entirely changed.

It is for that reason that I rise, because I believe that we should try to induce the Government of Mauritius to appoint a Committee—the present Government are very fond of doing that, so that they could well suggest the same idea to their friends in Mauritius—which should go into the whole question of what products are really going to be most beneficial. We all know that in these days research is very important, and I would suggest that the Government, in their advices to the Mauritius Government, suggest to them that they should go, in more detail, into research, to see whether as a result of the hurricane it would not be more profitable to plant other crops rather than sugar, more especially as in these days there is over-production of sugar throughout the world.


Is it not a fact that they are suffering, among other things, from the sugar-beet subsidy in this country? It seems strange that the House of Commons should be giving a subsidy to the product of Mauritius and at the same time to the industry here.


I think the hon. Member will appreciate that the amount of sugar produced in this country is a bagatelle compared with that of other countries.


But the paying of subsidies is not a bagatelle.


At the same time, we are giving money in this country for the employment of British labour. We cannot, however, continue the discussion across the Floor of the House. I suggest-that it might be advisable, at this juncture, instead of rebuilding the sugar factories, instead of restarting the sugar fields, to see if the money could not be better expended on new products.


I want to ask a question with regard to Sub-section (6) of Clause 1 regarding the conditions of labour. I am afraid that I cannot agree with my hon. Colleague the Member for Walsall (Mr. McShane) that this is a Fair Wages Clause. I want to know what is meant by the words The Secretary of State shall satisfy himself that fair conditions of labour are observed. What is the comparison going to be, and with what? If it were left to em- ployers or anyone who is connected with employers in this country to decide, they would suggest that wages are too high no matter how low they happen to be at the present time. I want to know whether or not there is some standard by which we can judge as to fair conditions of labour, and which will enable us to be satisfied that the conditions are of a satisfactory nature.


There is one point I wish to put to the hon. Gentleman, because it is probably well that it should be raised at this stage, and that is the point which I was able to raise very shortly when the Money Resolution was before the House. Under the conditions laid down in the Bill, the Government are prepared only to guarantee this money if they are satisfied—putting it shortly—that only during the first five years the Government of Mauritius may not be able to meet the obligations. I will put it in other words. The Government take power to give that guarantee even if they are not satisfied that during the first five years the Government of Mauritius will be able to meet the annual charges in respect of the loan. Does that mean that the Government are going to give the guarantee only if they are satisfied that in the sixth and subsequent years the Government of Mauritius are likely to be able to do that? If so, it is really misleading the House to bring a Bill forward in this form. The Government, I suggest, know that it is extremely unlikely in the sixth year, or even in subsequent years, that the Government of Mauritius will be able to meet this charge. They know perfectly well that unless there is a complete change in world economic conditions regarding sugar, or, alternatively, that there is a change in the fiscal policy of the Empire, it is most unlikely that the Government of Mauritius will be able to meet this charge.

12 n.

I suggest that the wording of the Clause in this respect misleads the House, because if the Government give this guarantee, they are giving the country an assurance that they believe that the possible inability of the Government of Mauritius to meet the charges will extend only to five years. If, on the other hand, they really believe that it is likely to extend longer, then, under this Bill, they have no right to give the guarantee at all, in which case the whole matter is washed out, and is of no value to anyone. That is not the right way to deal with the matter. It would have been very much better if the Government had adopted the procedure which has been carried out in other cases, and give an extended guarantee without these reservations, at any rate for the interest and, possibly, also for the principal of this comparatively small sum of money, considering the tremendous damage that has to be put right. If they had done that, it would have been better for the colony, better for the investors, and a great deal more honest to the House of Commons.

I join in what has been said on both sides of the House with regard to this Fair Wages Clause. I do not join in the remarks made by the hon. Gentleman opposite as to the conditions of the Fair Wages Clause in this country, but, leaving that aside, I believe that there is a great deal of truth in what he says to the effect that this Clause may be of great value. But, in the case of Mauritius, a Clause of this kind, under which the Secretary of State has to be satisfied regarding the application of the Fair Wages Clause, is really a matter which should not have appeared in this Bill at all. The Government of Mauritius are quite capable of judging these matters for themselves, and I am certain the Secretary of State is not able to do so.


I was asking for a stronger Clause.


I was not referring to the hon. Gentlemen's views regarding the Clause, but only to some statement he made regarding its application in this country. I do not wish to detain the House over that matter, which is a small one. On the larger question, I would ask the Government to reconsider their whole position. This is putting them in the position, really, of misleading the House, unless they are perfectly certain in their own minds that, under existing fiscal conditions, there is no fear of the Government of Mauritius not being able to meet their full obligations in the sixth year.


This Bill has been received with a chorus of mild applause in all parts of the House, tempered by the mild sarcasm of my hon. and gallant Friend, the Member for Gainsborough (Captain Crookshank). I confess that, while I admit the necessity, in present circumstances, of this loan and this Bill, I cannot regard this proposal as one on which the House is entitled to congratulate itself or to congratulate the Government either, if it is viewed from the point of view of broad, Imperial policy. You, Mr. Speaker, have indicated clearly that this Debate must not be turned into a discussion of fiscal policy, of bulk purchases, of research and development, and so on, which, clearly, would be out of Order. But let us for one moment consider why this Bill has been introduced. There is a Colonial Development Act on the Statute Book under which the Government can give assistance to Colonies without coming afresh to the House. It is true that the financial conditions laid down in the Colonial Development Act would not fully cover the loan proposed.

That is one reason, and a minor reason, why the Government comes to the House with this proposal, but there is at least one other reason, and I will point this out to the hon. Member for Walsall (Mr. McShane). That Act describes the objects for which any such loan is to be raised or any such grant to be given, and it confines those objects to what I may call constructive purposes and development. I cannot agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough that the Government are even following the dictates of the Liberal part in this matter, because the loan which they are proposing is to be expended for no such purposes. It is not to be expended, as under the Colonial Development Act, for the improvement of internal transport, or for reclamation and drainage, or for scientific research and instruction and experiment in the science, method, and practice of agriculture and industry, or for the promotion of public health. That is the answer to the hon. Member for Walsall. If this proposal had been for the promotion of public health, in which he takes such an interest, as we all should, the Government would not have brought in a Bill of this kind at all.


The circumstances surrounding this matter are more unique than that. In the first place, this is an ad hoc loan for a particular purpose, that is, an act of God. The second point is that during the last four years at least there has been such chaos in the finance of the island, that it has been necessary to get outside the Colonial Development Act in order to meet the special conditions.


I am obliged to the hon. Member for making the rest of my speech for me. It is hardly a good answer when I am detailing the reasons why a special Bill is necessary, to interrupt me when I have given two, and to say that there are many more reasons. I was coming to the third reason. Let me emphasise the second reason. This Bill is necessary because the purposes for which this loan is to be raised are non-constructive purposes. It is pure relief and for the repair of damage, and is in no sense industrial, agricultural, or colonial development at all. The third reason is this. Whereas under normal circumstances the Colonial Development Act assumes that the colonies can finance themselves for other purposes, in this case the island of Mauritius has been so debilitated that it cannot meet the expenses due to the hurricane.

Let me survey all the circumstances. We are reminded of the story of the Irish jury who found, when a man fell down a chalk cliff, that it was an act of God under highly suspicious circumstances. The truth is that the main reason why we have to consider this proposal is that the revenue of the island of Mauritius in the last few years has fallen by more than five times the amount required for the service of this loan. That is roughly a correct statement, and that is the real reason why we are discussing this matter at all. What alarms me, and what should alarm the House, not with any party feeling at all, is that it is yet another instance of a habit into which we are getting of dealing with the symptoms and not with the causes of disease.

There is no party advantage to be gained in this matter. The Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies reminded us, when we were considering the Report stage of the Financial Resolution, that there was an application to the previous Government towards the end of their term for an increased preference, which the Government were not prepared to grant. That is perfectly true, but we are not considering this question from the point of view of party advantage. We should be discussing it from this point of view: that for some time the Government of this country, irrespective of its political complexion, has conducted policy in such matters very largely on the basis that Mauritius, like ourselves, and we, like Mauritius, were suffering from temporary depression, that the clouds would roll by, and that drastic measures were not necessary. What has happened in this country and all over the world is that all parties have realised, in theory at any rate, that it is not true that we are dealing with a passing blizzard—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"]—with an economic blizzard in the words of the Prime Minister—[An HON. MEMBER: "Churchill."] He said it long before the Prime Minister, but the trouble is that the Prime Minister is still saying it to-day, although his supporters cheer me when I say the opposite. We have to deal with the situation which has to be met by passing constructive remedies, and our charge against the Government is that from the beginning they have refused to consider, or shown themselves unable to consider, any constructive remedy at all. I agree with the hon. Member for Springburn (Mr. G. Hardie)—


The Noble Lord must not go into the merits of these proposals.


You will perhaps just allow me to say that I agree with the hon. Member for Springburn that it is absurd that we should consider matters of policy in separate watertight compartments in that way. I really had not intended to go into the merits of any of these proposals. How should one sum up a Bill of this kind? Will hon. Members cast their minds back to the sort of thing they said three years ago, when the Lord Mayor's Fund was raised? This is precisely the same kind of thing, though it happens three years afterwards, when surely we ought to have learned something. Steadily year by year we are dealing with our difficulties by putting another class of the population or another territory or another area on the dole, and now we have this Bill, which is a Measure to put our Colonial Empire on the dole.


I can only speak again with the permission of the House. There is really very little for me to reply to. I admire the way that some hon. Members have endeavoured to broaden the discussion. The Noble Lord has done his best to widen it, but, as the Bill is circumscribed in its operation, I feel gratified that it will have no opposition. Most of the speeches have been complimentary. There has been an expression of opinion that the loan is not adequate, and that we should have granted a larger sum. It is, however, the amount which was asked for by the Government of Mauritius. I should not give way to any Member in my desire to help any part of the Empire or our people at home in any matter where it was absolutely necessary, but, if a man asks me for £1, there is no reason why I should give him £2, and I justify the Bill because we are meeting the demands generously. The Government were most anxious to help Mauritius to meet the effects of the disaster that befell the island some time ago.

One or two questions were put to me by my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall (Mr. McShane), who said he did not think the loan was as large as it ought to be, and also that we had not as full information as we might have had. Unfortunately, we have not received the report from Mauritius for 1930. It is due, and if we had received it we might have had more up-to-date information as to the position of Mauritius. In reply to his question, I can say that the distress has been met locally by a relief fund, to which His Majesty's Government contributed £5,000, and that much is being done in construction and rebuilding houses in the colony, and more will be possible when this Bill becomes law. The personnel dealing with the loan will be approved by the Treasury, but I cannot at the moment say who they will be. The hon. and gallant Member for Gainsborough (Captain Crookshank) tried to be funny, but, I think, missed the mark. He raised the question of the Colonial Development Act and what was laid down there as to conditions of labour; but his great point was that we are dealing with a hurricane in this country. The Government are dealing with that hurricane in this country as no Government has ever done, and I am a supporter of the policy of the Government in dealing with that hurricane by maintaining the people who are suffering from the effects of it. That is one reason why I support a Bill like this to help the sufferers from the hurricane in Mauritius.

The only other question put to me concerns Sub-section (6) of Clause 1 which says that the Secretary of State shall satisfy himself that fair conditions of labour are observed in all works carried out under the loan. The language is not quite so strong as that which appears in the Colonial Development Act, which laid down the conditions of labour which are to obtain in any part of the Empire where loans were guaranteed under that Act, but we have not got 100 per cent. trade unionism in every country in this Empire, and in some of them, I am afraid, we have not got much trade unionism at all, nor many trade union leaders. I wish it were otherwise, because I am a believer in 100 per cent. trade unionism in all industries in all countries. The position, as I understand it, is that the Secretary of State has to satisfy himself that the works are undertaken after enquiry of the Government to see that the conditions of employment, which will be partly governed by the labour laws of the colony, and the wages paid, are fair in the local circumstances. [An HON. MEMBER: "How do they check them?"] I am not in a position now to say how they check them. It may be possible to answer that later, and to say which are the organisations to see that the conditions are carried out. That is a matter that might be considered in regard to Mauritius at some future time. In conclusion, I would say that I am grateful to the House for the reception given to this Bill.


Will the hon. Gentleman answer one definite question which I put to him? I will put it again in a sentence. It is whether his reading of this Bill is that if His Majesty's Government are not satisfied that after five years the Government of Mauritius will be able to meet the obligations they cannot guarantee the loan. I want the loan guaranteed without that.


I am very sorry that I did not reply to that point. If the hon. Member had heard what I said in my opening speech, he would have noticed that I made it clear that the proposal is not quite as he indicated in that speech, and that it will be possible for the Government to go beyond the five years, but it is not anticipated that it will be necessary to do so.

Question, "That the Bill be now read a Second time," put, and agreed to.

Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House for Monday next.—[Mr. T. Kennedy.]