HC Deb 13 December 1944 vol 406 cc1263-73

Motion made, and Question proposed, That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £700,000, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1945, for sundry Colonial and Middle Eastern services under His Majesty's Secretary of State for the Colonies, including certain non-effective services and grants in aid.

12.2 p.m.

The Secretary of State for the Colonies (Colonel Oliver Stanley)

I am sure that the Committee will deplore the events which have made necessary the introduction of this Supplementary Estimate. On 20th August, the island of Jamaica was struck by a hurricane more severe than any that had been experienced for over 40 years. Luckily, it seems to have avoided, to some extent, at any rate, the main centres of population, with the result that the loss of life was smaller than one might have anticipated, but the damage to property was of very serious dimensions. In the Northern and North-Eastern parts of the island, where the hurricane struck with its full force, it is reckoned that something like 80 per cent. of the banana plantations were destroyed, 1,500,000 coconut trees blown down or broken, and serious losses caused to mixed cultivation and to orchard crops, such as citrus fruits, and to fishermen's gear. In addition, in that area, there were 17,000 buildings totally destroyed and 20,000 buildings badly damaged.

It is quite clear that the island of Jamaica, left to its own financial resources, would have been quite unable to meet the effect of such a serious cataclysm of nature. Jamaica is not one of those territories which has benefited by the war. The interruption of shipping has, in fact, made her economic position extremely difficult, and her financial situation, to say the least of it, tight. When the Government applied to me, representing His Majesty's Government, for assistance, I felt that I could, without any hesitation, say that I would submit to this Committee and this House, in full certainty that they would support it, a request for financial assistance. Of course, I am tied, in the discussion of a Supplementary Estimate, strictly to the matters set out in that Estimate, but I think that it would probably be in order for me to explain why another big measure of assistance which we are giving to Jamaica in connection with the hurricane, is not included in the Supplementary Estimate.

We have left to the resources of the island itself the problem of dealing with the restoration of public buildings, communications, etc., even though that is estimated at something like £350,000, but we are giving assistance, not only to the particular branch of what I might call agricultural rehabilitation, included in this Estimate, but also on the very much more serious problem of the rebuilding of houses which is involved. Under that heading, we have been asked by the Jamaica Government for assistance to the extent of £30,000 in direct grant, and no less than £875,000 in interest-free loan, and I have agreed to give it. The reason why that does not appear in this Estimate, is that I think that the rebuilding of houses, where it is certainly the intention that the new house, when built, will conform more to our ideas of modern practice and social desirability than the old one, could well come within the limits of the Colonial Development and Welfare Act, because there is, in this replacement of what one might call a blitzed area, a real element of development and a real assistance to the building programme which, in any case, we should have undertaken under the Act.

Therefore, the assistance given under this head will come out of the Colonial Development and Welfare Vote, a sub-head of which, of course, appears in the main Estimates, and it is only in so far as, at the end of the year, the sum actually dispensed to Jamaica will bring the sum dispensed under that head over the sum estimated in the general Estimates that I shall have to come to the House for a further Supplementary Estimate. This other part, which is set out here as agricultural rehabilitation, had no corresponding sub-head in the original Estimate, and therefore has to come to the Committee in this form.

By far the most serious damage was that suffered by the banana plantations. In the days before the war, the export of bananas from Jamaica used to run somewhere about £2,000,000, 50 per cent. of the total Jamaica export, and, though, of course, war conditions and the unfortunate incidence of banana disease—leaf-spot disease—has brought these exports to a standstill now, it is clear that the future financial and commercial position of Jamaica is largely bound up with a prosperous banana export. It is, therefore, quite essential that, for that purpose, it should be resuscitated, and also for the fact that, at the present moment, it is not possible to export bananas. They are, of course, being bought by His Majesty's Government and consumed locally, and do provide a very valuable local food crop.

Most of these banana growers are small men without resources, and it is necessary, if they are to rehabilitate the industry and be able to face the future, to give them the utmost assistance possible. What the Government is asking for, and what, in this Estimate, the Committee is asked to approve, is, first of all, a free grant of £196,000 and a loan, free of interest, of £454,000. The loan will be free of interest from us to the Government of Jamaica, and will be re-lent from the Government of Jamaica to borrowers locally for three years at 2½ per cent. interest. While the interest is designed merely to cover the charges of operating the loan and to give a reserve against bad debts, the amounts loaned will be amounts up to £6 per acre as a maximum, and will vary according to the degree of damage which has been done to the holding as a whole. Where there has been a large degree of damage to the holding as a whole, the amount per acre will be bigger.

The next most important crop which has suffered is the coconut crop, where the acreage involved is some 20,000. Here, owing to the long time which coconuts take to reach maturity, it is considered that loans will be sufficient. No direct grant is being given, but there will be an interest-free loan of £550,000 to be re-lent locally for 20 years, free of interest for six years and at 2½ per cent. thereafter. Here, the maximum loan per acre will be as much as £25. One incidental result of this assistance to this particular form of agriculture is that the work of replanting takes a considerable amount of labour and therefore will provide a considerable amount of employment to people in the district who suffered from the hurricane.

Orchard crops, fortunately, suffered rather less. They are mainly citrus, and investigation shows that the damage done there was a good deal less than was expected and was at one time feared. The Governor had asked for a loan, free of interest, of £15,000 which will be re-lent to growers for 10 years at 2½ per cent.

12.15 p.m.

With regard to the ordinary food crops they will get a loan of £70,000 to be re-lent locally at 2½ per cent. where the money is required for replanting purposes. There are a certain number of cases in which small cultivators might qualify for assistance under all these headings. They may be growing bananas and coconuts and food crops at the same time. Obviously it would be inconvenient to give such growers assistance on various terms in respect of each bit of production, and in those cases their production will be treated as a whole, and for those cases we are providing a loan of £40,000, free of interest, to be re-lent to growers for three years at 2½ per cent. I do not know whether the Committee will require further details of the actual way in which these sums are being expended, but if so I should be prepared to answer any questions. The main facts are clear—that Jamaica has suffered this terrible act of God, and that without assistance from this House would be quite unable to meet the consequences of the damage. I feel certain that the Committee will be prepared to vote this money and give to Jamaica, who to-morrow is voting on the new constitution, a real chance of re-establishing herself and of regaining economic stability and well being.

Mr. Creech Jones (Shipley)

I think the Committee should express its acknowledgment of the very speedy way in which this matter was dealt with by the Secretary of State and his Department. It shows again the very practical and active assistance which the British Government are prepared to render to people who have been smitten by so grave a calamity as in this case. Throughout the whole period of the war the Government have given a continuing guarantee in regard to many of the crops and the financial situation of cultivators in Jamaica, and this instance is another indication of our interest in the economic development and progress of Jamaica. As the Secretary of State has said, Jamaica, of her own resources, certainly could not have weathered so severe a calamity. We ought therefore to place on record our appreciation of the way in which the local Government immediately proceeded to find a way out of the difficult problems which were presented to them by the disaster and the ready way in which the British Government responded, with a very generous gesture, to all the representations made by the local Government. There is still a little anxiety about whether the assistance will be as complete as had been hoped. As banana cultivation is the basic industry of Jamaica, I trust that if it should prove that the money we are now asked to vote is not quite adequate, and there are still cases of real distress and hardship, that such cases so far as possible will be met.

There is only one further observation I should like to make, in order that we may be perfectly clear about the money we are voting. I gather that the money does not come out of the sum which was allocated under the Colonial Development and Welfare Act, 1940. It would be unfortunate if it were conceived that the moneys which have become and are becoming available for social and development work were in any way reduced by reason of a calamity which was completely outside everyone's control. I would hope that the development plans may proceed, and that the £1,000,000 previously spoken of as available for West Indian development will not be reduced, because these other large sums of money are to be made available for meeting this disaster. On behalf of my party I wish to give our ardent support to the recommendation of the Secretary of State and we hope the Committee will unanimously endorse it.

Captain Gammans (Hornsey)

I am sure that hon. Members in all parts of the Committee will endorse what my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Mr. Creech Jones) has said. I was in Jamaica at the beginning of this year, and I can fully support what the Colonial Secretary said about the extent to which banana cultivation is an intrinsic part of the economic set-up of the island. It is not only one of the great exports of the island but is a crop which is largely in the hands of small cultivators, and without some help from this Parliament it would not have been possible for them to get on their feet again. I do not want to be priggish about this grant in aid, but I hope my right hon. Friend will do something to make known to the people of this country and also to the world at large the underlying spirit behind it, namely, that in times of stress the people of our Colonial Empire can look to the people of this country, hard pressed as we are by taxation and by our own difficulties, to help them out of their troubles. I doubt whether the average man in this country realises what has been done, realises, for example, the implications of the White Paper issued only last week on the war effort of this country. What we have received from our own Colonies has not been on a Lend-Lease basis; we have to pay it back. I do not think that one person in 100,000 realises what my right hon. Friend said when he mentioned that the banana crop of the West Indies had been bought by the British Government and left in the country. One could continue with such examples almost indefinitely. I am afraid that as a rule Colonial matters do not "hit the headlines" in the newspapers, but I hope we shall do something to make known that behind the giving of this money lies a great opportunity of co-operation between ourselves and the Colonial people.

In conclusion I think we ought to realise that the sum of money we are giving, essential as it may be, is not in itself enough to get the banana industry on its feet again. What they want is not merely money to enable them to grow the bananas but a market for the bananas when they are ready for export. What the banana industry in the West Indies needs more than anything else is to get back its banana boats. Previously there were five or six of these boats specially fitted for the transport of bananas. Most of them, I believe, have been lost in the war, and if this industry is to be an intrinsic part of the economic life of the West Indies again it is essential that new boats should be obtained at the earliest opportunity. I know that up to now there has been difficulty over this, but already we are starting to build special ships, and I hope that my right hon. Friend will not be reluctant to press the claims of the West Indies for special ships to be built for their essential banana trade.

Dr. Russell Thomas (Southampton)

I should like to say how glad I am that the British Government have acted so promptly in this matter. What occurred to me while the right hon. and gallant Gentleman was speaking—and it is the reason why I have risen—is that we have heard many arguments in this House and elsewhere for the international control of certain Colonies, I should like to point out that if an international body had been in control of Jamaica it would have been some time before the representatives on that international body had got the sanction of their Governments to help Jamaica in her time of stress, and there would probably have been a long delay before she received any help. Under the beneficent and generous control which we in this country have for long shown in our dealings with our Colonies, I feel that they inevitably benefit in the long run. Here is a case in point, which provides a complete answer, I think, to those who would wish to have the Colonies under some international commission on which all representatives would be arguing questions of policy and possibly could not take any financial steps before appealing to their separate Governments. It is clear from what the right hon. Gentleman said that Jamaica, at a time like this, could not meet her own needs. While these islands and Colonies are proceeding along the path towards self-government and full constitutional control—it is clear that they cannot attain this completely until they can maintain themselves—they must look to the generosity of the country which is, as it were, exercising a generous rule over them, for the help they need. That is the point I had in mind when I rose, and although we do not wish to praise ourselves when we are making gifts, nevertheless I, as British taxpayer, feel that I am entitled to say what I have said.

Captain Peter Macdonald (Isle of Wight)

I too, would like to congratulate the Colonial Secretary upon the promptitude which he has shown in dealing with the crisis in Jamaica caused by the recent hurricane. I am sure the people of Jamaica will feel grateful to him, for his sympathy and action in this crisis. One cannot help feeling sympathy for the Governor, Sir John Huggins, who, when I was in Jamaica recently, was looking forward to introducing his first Budget as Governor and was hoping, not without reason, to be able to show a surplus. This would have been the first occasion for a long time for Jamaica to be in such a position. In one fell swoop this hurricane has swept away the anticipated surplus and caused a deficit. The Governor and his wife have faced the crisis in an admirable spirit, and I have heard from all sides that the way in which the Government of Jamaica and the Governor and Lady Huggins acted in coping with the hardships created by the hurricane, has met with the admiration of everybody concerned.

12.30 p.m.

Many people may not realise the importance of the banana industry to Jamaica. I hope when the amount of money which we are able to give as a grant, or loan, is distributed, it will be distributed in such a way that the small man will get his share. There is also the question of the future of the industry as mentioned by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Hornsey (Captain Gammans). The banana disease can practically wipe out a crop, and I hope that when the new crops are being planted attention will be paid to research, and that a stronger banana, able to withstand disease, will be grown. It is going to be some time before the new crop is saleable, but I hope that by the time it is on the market there will be markets in this country for it.

There is also the question which my hon. and gallant Friend mentioned, of transport. That is a very important problem. I hope that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman will prevail upon the Ministry of War Transport to lay down some banana boats as soon as it is possible to build ships, and to produce better, faster and larger boats, with a greater cargo capacity than they had in the past. That is a very urgent problem, because some of the boats the industry had have been lost. I would like to see banana boats built as passenger-carrying boats as well—fast boats—in order to give people an opportunity of going to these West Indian Islands. I am sure that people would take advantage of such a facility to make a trip for holidays if cabin space were available. There appears to be no reason why such boats should not be built to carry passengers as well as the banana traffic. Regarding the future of the industry, I think a policy of insurance should be evolved. I am very sorry I was not here when the right hon. and gallant Gentleman was introducing his Estimate, but I feel sure that is a very necessary thing. I want to congratulate the right hon. and gallant Gentleman on coming to the assistance of this very important Colony, and I feel sure the people of Jamaica are grateful.

Colonel Stanley

If I may I would say a few words in response to some of the questions raised. Naturally, I am very grateful, and my Department, which has worked hard in this matter, will be gratified at hearing some of the things said, but the hon. Member for Shipley (Mr. Creech Jones) and the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Wight (Captain Macdonald) both point out—and I am sure we should all like to emphasise the fact—that this has meant a very great deal of work which has been promptly and successfully executed by the Government in Jamaica, a Government who are already hardly pressed with the introduction of the new constitution. I think they responded extremely well and rapidly to the crisis. The hon. Member for Shipley asked two questions. The first was whether assistance was as complete as was hoped. I take it that the view of the Committee is that we should help Jamaica to get on its legs again. We are trying to do what the Governor has asked us to do. He has formed his estimate of what is needed, but if events prove that his estimate is not enough then, I am sure, the Committee would be prepared to reconsider the matter.

The second question was whether this money came out of the Development and Welfare Vote. The rehabilitation of agriculture, with which we are dealing now, was, I felt, not a suitable subject for the Development and Welfare Fund. On the other hand, I did feel that the rebuilding programme should come out of the Fund because, at any rate, the Government was going to have a rebuilding programme and this could well form part of it.

Several hon. Members, including the hon. and gallant Member for Hornsey (Captain Gammans), have referred to the question of banana boats after the war, both the return of the banana boats which survive and the building of new ones. I am only too anxious to help in the matter and to lend what influence I can to both sides of the demand, but hon. Members will realise that the time at which these things can be done must depend upon war considerations—whether boats can be spared from what they are doing now. I think most of these boats have been engaged in bringing meat to this country. Whether the available shipbuilding space which may be needed for other types of shipping can be freed for the building of special boats of this kind remains to be seen, but I will give what help I can in the matter. Finally, my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton (Dr. Russell Thomas) referred to what might have been the procedure if, unhappily, Jamaica had been under international control. I think he made a very good point, but I think the hon. Member for Shipley will agree that there are very few people in this country now—who think about Colonial problems—who would like to see Jamaica under an international administration.

Mr. Riley (Dewsbury)

As one who has, on several occasions, adversely criticised what is always regarded on this side of the Committee as tardiness in spending the money provided under the Colonial Development and Welfare Act of 1940, I may be permitted to join with other hon. Members who have congratulated the Colonial Secretary on the readiness with which he came to the assistance of the banana growers in Jamaica in connection with the recent disaster which has overtaken them. I heartily join with those hon. Members who expressed their congratulations to the right hon. and gallant Gentleman for the very timely help he has given to those growers and planters.

Might I add that I also share the view expressed by the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Wight (Captain P. Macdonald), that serious attention should be given to the question of transport, either by providing additional boats or other means. As my hon. and gallant Friend said, not only would the possibility of more suitable shipping be advantageous to the banana growers and the industry generally in Jamaica, but if passenger accommodation could be provided I am quite sure that many people in this country would take advantage of such a facility to make the acquaintance of those very interesting Colonies of ours in the Caribbean Sea. I hope that the spirit which the Colonial Secretary has displayed, in his readiness to come to the assistance of those who suffered from the result of the hurricane in Jamaica, will be regarded as a portent of the attention we propose to give in the future to this question, and that we should do everything possible in this Imperial Parliament to assist our Colonial people in the West Indies to go forward in a progressive and enlightened way.

Question, put and agreed to.

Resolved; That a supplementary sum, not exceeding £700,000, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1945, for sundry Colonial and Middle Eastern Services under His Majesty's Secretary of State for the Colonies, including certain non-effective services and grants in aid.

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