HC Deb 21 March 1940 vol 358 cc2125-6
79. Mr. Creech Jones

asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies whether he can make a statement regarding the nature of his discussions with the French Colonial Minister; and what conclusions were reached?

The Secretary of State for the Colonies (Mr. Malcolm MacDonald)

As the reply is inevitably a long one, I will, with the hon. Member's permission, circulate it in the Official Report.

Following is the reply:

Yes, Sir. The hon. Member has no doubt seen the communiquéwhich was issued to the Press at the conclusion of the discussions which M. Georges Mandel and I held recently in Paris. In this statement I would propose simply to amplify that announcement in certain respects. In various parts of the world the British and French Colonial Empires are neighbours, and it is natural that the two Governments have many problems in common and much to learn from each others' experience in the various departments of colonial administration. Contact and interchange of views between neighbouring administrations has sometimes taken place in the past; for instance, Governors and other officers of British West African Colonies have visited neighbouring French territories on their way to and from the posts. There has also been some contact between the British and French Colonial Offices. A senior officer of the Colonial Office visited the Colonial Ministry in Paris last year for an exchange of views, and a senior officer of the French Ministry paid two or three visits to the Colonial Office. I myself had a first informal discussion with M. Mandel on the possibilities of co-operation last June.

Our recent discussions in Paris were to place upon a more regular and permanent footing a contact which had been in the past only intermittent. The first and most important result of our discussions was the decision to establish regular machinery for liaison both between the Colonial Ministries in the two capitals and between the administrations in the neighbouring French and British Colonies. The various departmental and specialist officers in the Colonial Office will maintain a regular communication with their opposite numbers in Paris on matters of common concern, and they will meet from time to time to confer on their mutual problems. In addition, I propose to appoint an officer whose special duty it will be to organise and co-ordinate this work of liaison. Though his work will lie primarily in London, he will pay visits to the Colonial Ministry in Paris as often as circumstances require this.

I understand that similar organisations for liaison will be established in the French Colonial Ministry. As was indicated in the Press communiqué, this liaison will be extended to the Colonies themselves, where there will be a regular contact between administrative and technical officers as well as Governors. Such a liaison with the French Colonial Empire will be of great value in times of peace. It is certainly no less valuable between Allies engaged in war. Already since the outbreak of war various problems entailing close co-operation between their respective Colonial authorities have arisen, and joint study of these is most important. For example, during the last six months both Colonial Offices have been working on programmes of production and marketing of essential foodstuffs and raw materials from their own territories. There will shortly be a joint meeting of experts to perfect the co-ordination of these two programmes, the object being that the Allies should make the fullest possible use of their joint Colonial resources.