HC Deb 11 June 1940 vol 361 cc1203-14

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."

6.38 p.m.

Mr. Edmund Harvey (Combined English Universities)

While I agree that it is wise of the Government to remit altogether a number of debts which are in prospect of being burdensome to the various Colonies and are not likely to be ever repaid, there are two cases where I think a little more consideration might be given. Each of these is a case of money remitted in respect of Mandated Territories. I wonder whether the Government have considered the advisability of retaining this at any rate as a book debt, because at some date there may have to be a revision of the position of a Mandated Territory. There is the case of Transjordania. It is obviously the intention of the Government and the desire of hon. Members that Transjordania should become an independent State as soon as possible. When that time arrives there will have to be a readjustment of finance, and it may be desirable to keep clearly on the books this debt which represents the money spent by this country on behalf of the Mandated Territory so that it may be taken into account when the final settlement is made. In the other case of Tanganyika, there may be some alteration in the future in the position of that territory, and it is desirable, therefore, that the money expended by this country on behalf of the Mandated Territory should remain, although it may not be pressed as a debt, as a charge which is due.

Mr. George Hall

The point of the hon. Member was considered by the Colonial Office and the Treasury at the time it was agreed that these provisions should be made. The difficulty is to make any distinction between Colonies and Protectorates and Mandated Territories, but I will again call my right hon. Friend's attention to the point made by the hon. Member.

Question, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill," put, and agreed to.

Clause 4 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule agreed to.

Bill reported, without Amendment.

6.42 p.m.

Mr. George Hall

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

It has fallen to me to move the Third Reading of a Bill which was introduced into the House by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health. Hon. Members who spoke in the Debate on the Second Reading recognised the extent to which this Bill and the policy of enlarged Colonial development to which it proposes to give effect, were the creation of my right hon. Friend and the result of his untiring work as Secretary of State for the Colonies. It was, I feel, most fitting that his final act on behalf of the Colonial Empire should have been to take through its Second Reading a Bill concerned not with one Colony or one group of Colonies but a Bill which affects the whole of the Colonial Empire and which, in its far-reaching, and progressive aims, is characteristic of the spirit which has marked his distinguished administration at the Colonial Office. This legislation is likely to be regarded in the future as a major landmark in Colonial history. It will always be associated, and rightly associated, with the name of my right hon. Friend.

For my part I was greatly impressed by the way in which the Bill has been received by the House. The Debate on the Second Reading took place on a day when the news from France and Belgium was increasingly grave and when there was growing anxiety for the fate of the British and Allied Armies in contact with the enemy. That in those circumstances hon. Members not only welcomed the Bill but welcomed it with useful and constructive criticism has, I am certain, been a source of great encouragement throughout the Colonial Empire. The peoples of the Colonies have pledged themselves loyally to our common cause in the struggle for freedom. That this House during this crisis was able to view with sympathy and understanding proposals for assisting the ordinary and peaceful development of the Colonies will not be forgotten in the days that lie ahead. The reception given to the Bill was a great encouragement to my Noble Friend and myself in taking up our new responsibilities at the Colonial Office. In the course of the Debate points were made and suggestions offered on various aspects of Colonial development. To these points we shall give our close attention.

We realise that the Bill itself is only a first step towards making effective the new policy of Colonial development, and that the successful execution of that policy depends on a proper use being made of the opportunities created by the Bill. We welcome the interest shown by hon. Members in the problems which confront us and shall look forward with confidence to the continued support and helpful criticism of hon. Members in our efforts to fulfil the purpose of the Bill. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Health said in his speech on the Second Reading that it was the intention of the Government to proceed with a scheme of Colonial development, in spite of the war, as rapidly as war-time conditions allow. That statement was, I believe, generally welcomed in the House and it remains a true statement of our policy. It would, however, be useless to pretend that the qualification "as rapidly as war-time conditions allow" has not been made very much more important by the events of the last few weeks. It is now the unanimous resolve of the Government and of the country that until the great danger which threatens us is past purposes of war value must have the first call on the whole of our resources, whether in men or material or money. It must follow that there will be many desirable schemes of Colonial development which cannot immediately be undertaken, although this will not debar us from providing funds for urgent schemes which can be undertaken with purely local resources in men and material and without detriment to the war effort. The principle that men must not be diverted from war activities has a very special application to a small but highly important part of the whole scheme.

It was announced in the statement of policy issued on 20th February that two committees would be set up, a Colonial Development and Welfare Advisory Committee and a Colonial Research Advisory Committee, and, although those committees would have no statutory status or rights, it was the intention that schemes would normally be referred for consideration to the appropriate committee. In present conditions it is unhappily very unlikely that men of the first-class ability we need on those committees could, or should, find the necessary time to devote to such work, and the establishment of the committees may have to be deferred until a time of less acute emergency. An instance of this particular difficulty is provided by the recent appointment, to be Joint Parliamentary Secretary at the Ministry of Agriculture, of Lord Moyne who, as the House was informed, was to have been the Chairman of the Development and Welfare Committee. If the general position is still the same when the Bill is passed, we should propose for the time being to dispense with the machinery of the committees; that is, the powers proposed to be vested in the Treasury and the Secretary of State to make schemes will be exercised on their own responsibility without the advice of those special committees.

Some hon. Members who, in the Debate on the Second Reading, expressed apprehension that the machinery proposed would cause undue delay, may perhaps welcome such revised procedure, because it will make more rapid decisions possible, and, in a time of emergency, it may well be an advantage to be able to take action with the minimum of delay, particularly if opportunity offers of using the new powers to promote development having immediate war value as well as ultimate colonial benefit. Nevertheless, it remains our belief that in normal times the assistance of advisory committees, such as those proposed, would be most valuable, and they will be set up as soon as circumstances permit.

One of the most important features of the new development policy is its insistence on planned development, and the functions of the advisory committees, when they are appointed, will be to consider not only detailed schemes, but also comprehensive development programmes which the Colonial Governments have been asked to submit. But we must recognise that for the present there will be little opportunity in the Colonies for the preparation of long-term programmes. Their efforts as well as ours are concentrated on winning the war. Although the majority of Colonies are remote from the present scene of military operations, several of them have now been brought into the area of conflict, and they have had to make their preparations accordingly. In all the Colonies, to a greater or lesser extent, civilian staffs have been diverted to military or other special duties. All of them, as administrations, are striving to secure the increased production of raw materials required for war purposes, and of foodstuffs required for local consumption. In these conditions the maintenance of many normal services is, in itself, a task of considerable difficulty. Nowhere will it be easy, and in most Colonies it will be impossible, as long as the war continues, to give that close attention to social and economic planning which is an essential preliminary to the kind of development we envisage under the terms of this Bill.

Apart, therefore, from the fact that material and personnel for the execution of new schemes will not be readily available, the preparation of many schemes which are not of war value must itself be delayed, because many Colonial Governments with their depleted staffs and more urgent preoccupations will not have the time to devote to such work. We must expect, for the present, only to be able to make use of the new provisions for urgent purposes for the financing of individual schemes which will assist in the war effort, or which can be carried out with local resources without detriment to the war effort. The broad flow of planned development, covering the whole economy of each territory and related to all its needs, must await the peace. The ready response of the Colonial Government to the difficulties of giving full effect to the policy of development outlined in the White Paper may be illustrated by a Resolution which has just been passed by the Legislative Council of Grenada in the Windward Islands: The Council, while deeply appreciative of the spirit which has actuated the Government to pursue its decision to devote Imperial funds to the betterment of social and economic conditions in the West Indies and other parts of the Colonial Empire, feel that the present time is not one in which His Majesty's loyal people of the Colonies would desire to have their Motherland concerned with their domestic difficulties which however great are insignificant when contrasted with the mighty and urgent task of prosecuting the war to victory. The Resolution goes on to say that the people of Grenada would be made happier by the knowledge that their many needs, so generously recognised by His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom, will receive the attention that they have been promised at the conclusion of the war, to which they feel that the people of Great Britain should now be free to devote every available resource of money and man power. My Noble Friend has asked the Governor of the Windward Islands to convey to the Legislative Council an expression of his warm appreciation of the spirit of sacrifice reflected in their message.

Notwithstanding all the difficulties which I have referred to in the course of my remarks, my Noble Friend will endeavour to fill the post of Comptroller of the West India Welfare Fund, and, at any rate, some of his advisory staff, as recommended by the West India Royal Commission, so that these officers can make contact with the West Indian Governors and carry out the preliminary surveys which will be necessary before a comprehensive scheme' can be prepared. In conclusion I would like to say this. The Government attach a high value to this Bill, even for the sake of what can be accomplished under present conditions, and commend it to the House for its Third Reading.

6.55 p.m.

Mr. Ammon

Although the House is not familiar in these days with party divisions, I think it well that some word of appreciation should be given to the Minister for the Bill which he has successfully piloted through this evening. We hope he may take it as a good augury of his first appearance in his new position. Although he took up his work from the right hon. Gentleman, who may be responsible for it, the Minister has piloted it through successfully, and it has the general approval of the House as a whole. It will be remembered that in the Second Reading Debate my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Colonel Wedgwood) said this Bill was stillborn. I think he even used the phrase that it was mere humbug to go on with it under present conditions. Therefore, we are most relieved to hear the hon. Gentleman say that it is the intention of his chief, and of his Department, and of himself, to expedite as fast as they can the implementation of this Bill. He has, however, entered several caveats, such as the war, which makes it doubtful how much money will be spent. We hope it will not be an excuse for allowing this Bill to die of emaciation, or for the Treasury to strangle it in its infancy.

I think the Minister is entitled to spend up to £5,000,000 a year, but there is no guarantee that that money will be expended. The 10 years period commences, I think, from now, and, no doubt, a considerable number of schemes may be ruled out. Even in war years, I suggest, it might be worth while taking a long-range view which will be both economical for our Colonies and will promote good will in the relationship between the Empire. It seems to me that money is mostly spent in bolstering up bankrupt concerns which may have very little value, rather than putting it into going concerns, such as we are doing in Palestine. In Colonies, such as Nigeria, so few of us, even in this House, realise that outside India it is the largest dependency we have. It has something like 22,000,000 people. To a certain extent one might say it will never be a white man's country, but it is our duty, and a trust has been laid upon us, to develop that country which is potentially capable of very great development for the benefit of the people themselves.

One thing which struck those of us who were there less than two years ago, was that this country could be very much richer in itself if its own internal riches and productivity were encouraged. There is a vast difference between the North and South. We found that the North has abundance of meat, and the South has practically none. The meat which travels on the hoof dies before it reaches the South, while it is found that the North can do with food and agricultural products from the South. Suggestions were made, and were welcomed, that an abattoir with a refrigerating plant might be installed at Illorin to meet this problem. I suggest that it is expenditure of that kind which is far more desirable, and I hope that the Minister will bear in mind when he comes to deal with other work that there are something like 1,000,000 lepers in Nigeria. There are people who say that given sufficient money they could deal with these and probably clear up the disease in a measurable time. One of the finest testimonies we can have to our democratic system is that amidst all our present worries and perplexities this House can discuss such a Bill. It is an indication of the unseen but very powerful threads that bind the Empire together.

I take this opportunity on behalf of all Members to congratulate the Under-Secretary and to hope that he will use every opportunity, even during the war, to see that this Bill is implemented to its utmost for the development of the Empire, so that when we return to more normal ways we shall find a large volume of good will and the possibilities of the more rapid development of those countries of which we are the custodians.

7.1 p.m.

Mr. Ernest Evans (University of Wales)

I fully appreciate the arguments put forward by the Under-Secretary in defending the reasons why we cannot expect this Bill to be put into operation with the full significance which we attached to it when we saw it first. There are two words of caution, however, that I would like to utter. It is true that war conditions have altered matters very materially and are bound to affect the putting into operation of this Bill. War conditions in many respects, however, point out and emphasise the importance of the policy which this Bill represents. There are to-day in our Colonies vast resources of immediate war value which could be made available for use at once if assistance could be given for their development. Schemes such as aerodromes and through communications would also be of value at this time. In these days, when the war spreads so rapidly that we do not know where we shall have to go next, assistance in these directions is important. There are, too, vast resources of copper and other materials in the Colonies which with the aid of improved communications might render valuable aid quickly.

The other word of caution I want to say is that I hope the fact that this Bill will have to be postponed in many directions will not be taken as justification for a suggestion made on Second Reading that this Bill is really nothing but eye-wash. I accept to the full the expressions of sincerity which have been put forward by the Government, and I am sure that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary would not make them unless he were satisfied that this Bill represents the policy of the Imperial Government. I hope that it will be made known throughout the Colonies that it represents the determined and decided view of the Government. There has been a tendency in some Colonies to regard what I may call the Downing Street side of Imperial affairs as a sort of closed thing which is revealed only to a few of the chosen. Not only the European populations, but the native populations are taking an increasing interest in the administration of the countries in which they live. When, therefore, we have something good to tell them let us tell it them. It is of the utmost importance that it should go forth to both Europeans and natives in the Colonies that this Bill represents the deliberate and decided policy of His Majesty's Government. They should know that, even although by reason of war conditions there may be some delay in implementing all the pledges which it involves, the home Government, in combination with the Colonial Governments, are determined to do what they can for the economic development of the Colonies and to improve the conditions of the natives, and to do it now in order to encourage still further that fine spirit, which has been shown in so many of our Colonies since the war broke out, of anxiety to come to the assistance of the home country and the Empire.

7.5 p.m.

Mr. Creech Jones (Shipley)

I would like to express my pleasure at the fact that the former Secretary of State for the Colonies hammered out and produced a Bill so comprehensive and constructive as this. I think the House appreciates sincerely the value of his work on this Bill at the Colonial Office, and is conscious that it must be a disappointment to him that he has not remained in office while the Bill was being put on the Statute Book. It is one of the most imaginative and constructive pieces of work which has been done in the history of our Colonial Empire. I hope that the new Ministers will approach the Bill in that spirit. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary has a great opportunity, and I have every confidence that he and the Secretary of State will do everything in their power to make this Bill a first-class constructive measure. I hope that the difficulties through which we are going because of the war will not lead to any lack of preparation and that every opportunity will be seized to prepare the ground so that the Bill can be put into full operation at the earliest opportunity. I hope, too, that when the Secretary of State is selecting the advisory committees he will get the best possible men available and that they will be persons of liberal and progressive mind.

In the development of these schemes I trust we may have the full co-operation of the people in the Colonies. It would be a mistake if there were anything in the nature of dictatorship from this end. We want the Colonies to have a sense of responsibility. I hope, therefore, that when the schemes are under consideration by the Colonial Governments they will consult the people who are most concerned in them before they are finally shaped. I would also urge that the Colonies should develop a sense of self-reliance. It would be a pity if they took the view that they can rely over much on the assistance of the Imperial Treasury. I hope that what has been suggested in respect of taxation schemes will be fulfilled and that there will be an equitable direct form of taxation so that those who can best contribute to the well-being of their respective territories will be called upon to do so more than has been the custom in the past. I congratulate the Colonial Office on the production of this Bill. It is a big, comprehensive and constructive Measure, and I hope that it will be a landmark in the development of the British Colonial Empire.

7.9 p.m.

Mr. Loftus (Lowestoft)

Perhaps a voice may be raised on this side to welcome the Bill. I welcome it heartily. The Bill provides for the development of our Colonial Empire by public money. So far the development has been left to private enterprise. While it has accomplished much, it has also in its haste achieved a great deal of evil. We see, for instance, soil erosion throughout the world. I welcome the Bill, not only because it will be a benefit to the Colonies and because it will be a credit to the Empire and to this Parliament, but because I hope that it will be a wider benefit in that the money and advice provided in it will check that terrible process of soil erosion. It is going on throughout the Colonial and Dominion Empire and it carries with it a great threat to the future of the human race in many parts of the world. From that point of view as well as from any others I heartily welcome the Bill.

7.10 p.m.

Mr. David Adams (Consett)

As I had not an opportunity of addressing the House on the Second Reading, may I on this occasion offer my congratulations to the present Minister of Health on the admirable work represented by this Bill and also to the Under-Secretary on the manner in which he has discharged the duties which have fallen to his lot during the Committee and Third Reading stages. One recognises that this Measure is due to the fact that Parliament has—only recently—awakened to its responsibility in relation to the Colonial Empire. That, let us remember, is an Empire of over 60,000,000 souls which, up to the arrival of the late Colonial Secretary, had received the smallest possible consideration from Parliament. Now we have laid the foundations of what should develop into one of the most magnificent efforts associated with the Empire.

Had it been possible to divide the money which is to be expended under this Bill, between development and welfare, that would have been the desirable course. The necessities that have arisen have not been due to disabilities under which white populations and white settlers have suffered. Rather they have arisen from the disabilities which the coloured races under our control have suffered for so many years past. As we cannot divide this money in the way I have suggested, it will be left to the energy of the Colonial Office and the local Colonial Governors to see that the improvement of the welfare of the native populations receives that consideration which is due to such an important question. The amounts which are voted by this Bill are small but they represent a beginning.

I deprecated the observation of the Under-Secretary to the effect that it might not be possible to expend this amount in the time indicated. If the Colonial Office desires, as I am sure it does desire, to bring about a real, steady and unquestioned improvement in the conditions of the coloured races under our control there is no question about the fact that this amount and more than this amount could be expended in the course of the next ten years. The sum is small and is distributed over a vast population. I am disappointed that the Bill does not contain any provision for setting up in the Colonies in which this money is to be expended, an adequate and equitable system of direct taxation on the lines suggested in one of our Amendments which was not called during the Committee stage. The present situation in that respect is one which ought to be ended. Whether it can be ended by this Bill or not, I do not know, but I hope that the Under-Secretary and his Noble Friend will give this aspect of the matter their attention. In the White Paper explaining the purpose of the Government and setting out a statement of policy, it is said that in some territories larger revenues could be raised, without injustice, by an adjustment of taxation.

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Member is going outside the scope of the Bill in seeking to deal with taxation.

Mr. Adams

May I then merely express the hope that this aspect of the subject, which I think has been mentioned in Debate, will receive the consideration of the Colonial Office? With those observations, I desire to offer my congratulations to those immediately concerned on their initiative and to the Government for having, in these times, introduced so comprehensive and, as I hope it will prove, so valuable and uplifting a Measure for the benefit of the Colonial Empire.

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

Bill read the Third time, and passed.