HC Deb 31 January 1947 vol 432 cc1289-94

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

Mr. Rees-Williams

I put certain questions to the Secretary of State for the Colonies during the Second Reading of the Bill and I got no answer at all. If only to prove that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Bristol (Mr. Stanley) is not always right, I am going to criticise the Minister for not giving an answer on that occasion, and I would ask him to give answers on this Clause, because what this Clause does, in fact, is this—it enables Malta, which is about to receive responsible government, to take a portion of the funds allocated under the Colonial Development and Welfare Act. In that Act a territory which has got responsible government is not entitled to share in those funds, and therefore, this is to be an exception to the general rule. I should like to ask what is "responsible government," because I cannot find a definition of it in the Act. There was no definition of responsible government "in the Debates on the Bill in 1940, and we, as a Committee, are entitled to know what is the Government's view of "responsible government," When does a colony in its slow march to self-government through Crown Colony Government and Dyarchy cease to be entitled to a share from this Fund?

12 noon.

The second question is whether we are departing from the principles laid down in the Colonial Development and Welfare Act in enabling Malta to take a share of this Fund. I presume that the Parliament which passed it meant when they said that no responsible Government would take a share that a share of the Fund is not consistent with responsible government, because under the Act the Secretary of State is under certain obligations. He has to be assured that certain conditions are present in the spending, and that is the reason, I presume, why this qualification was made in that Act. I would also ask how much Malta is to receive and whether the Government will make a definite statement on this point, because under this Clause Malta could receive £100 million from the Fund, or anything up to the total amount in the Fund. There is no limitation in this Bill. The more Malta gets the less other territories get. If funds are wanted for territories such as Malta, I suggest that the best thing would be to introduce another Act providing for that contingency and not to take money out of this Fund constituted by the Colonial Development and Welfare Act, which is really intended for Colonies in a more primitive state than Malta. The Committee is entitled to have answers to these questions and I ask the Minister if he will give us answers this morning.

Mr. Stanley

I understand that the present practice is that all applications for development under the Colonial Development and Welfare Act come for the purpose of the passing of the general plan under the new committee under the chairmanship of Lord Portal and that that committee holds itself free to advise the Secretary of State not only to reject a plan or to send it back for further consideration but to alter the plan between what is proposed to be spent on various services Is that procedure to be followed in regard to grants made from the Fund to Malta? If Malta wishes to spend part of the money on education and submits a plan through Lord Portal's committee, will that committee be in a position to say that the money should not be spent on education but on hospitals? If the normal procedure is going to be followed, the idea that the system proposed in this Bill will be so good for responsible government in Malta will be slightly dead. On the other hand, if it is a general rule that all applications under the Colonial Develop- ment and Welfare Act go through this committee, why is it that Malta will be excluded?

Mr. Creech Jones

The definition of what is responsible government is difficult. The Colonial Development and Welfare Act, 1940, did not define what responsible government is. It used the phrase that the expression "Colony" means a Colony not possessing responsible government. I do not want to be drawn into a long dissertation on what in my view is responsible government. I think we are advised to use our commonsense in this matter and to use the phrase in the way it is normally used, that is, where a degree of evolution has been reached so that Ministers have been appointed to handle the affairs of the territory and they are responsible to the legislative council in regard to their actions, one is then, I think, in the realm of responsible government. We can proceed only upon the assumption that what I have just mentioned is what is meant in the 1940 Act. Certainly the House exists to pull the Government up if they should exceed what in their judgment are the proper limits.

I come now to the second point raised as to whether we are departing from the principles of the 1940 Act. Obviously, it was the intention of Parliament that Colonies enjoying responsible government should be excluded from the Act, so that territories which realised responsible Government should be given a full opportunity of exercising due responsibility in regard to their affairs and holding in check interference from the Imperial Government in London. In this matter Parliament has a right to intervene and obviously a Government would be obliged to come to Parliament and ask for a further Amendment of the 1940 Act if they desired to bring within the scope of that Act a territory which has obtained or is attaining self-government. The control of the House of Commons is, therefore, complete. The benefits of the Act cannot be applied without the consent of Parliament by legislation.

With regard to the third inquiry concerning the amount of Malta's allocation, a White Paper was submitted to the House setting out the views of the Secretary of State in regard to the allocation of the £120 million available under the 1945 Act, and from time to time Parliament receives reports as to how that allocation is being made and the degree to which the various territoryes are benefiting. In the case of Malta, my predecessor suggested that £1 million should be allocated over the next 10 years for social and economic development and, in addition—always provided that Parliament passed the Bill which is before us to-day—that there should possibly be in addition some share in an unexpended balance when it is discovered how much of the total £120 million has been spent. At the end of a fixed period, when it is perfectly clear what amount will be consumed by the various territories, there will undoubtedly be a balance for distribution, and if Malta's claims are good she will stand well in consideration as to how that balance will be distributed.

There is a further allocation of which the House should know. We have made provision for a large number of central services in regard to the training of the Civil Service, surveys and research work which are of some importance in the Colonies, and other things such as higher education. In all these Malta will be entitled to have a share, so I think there can be no doubt that, with satisfactory control as to the broad purposes of the allocation, no one need fear that the Government are likely to behave so stupidly as to distribute the great proportion of the £120 million which Parliament has made available to one particular territory. That is absolutely fantastic.

The right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Bristol (Mr. Stanley) has asked about procedure in regard to the Economic and Development Committee over which Lord Portal presides. It is within the discretion of the Secretary of State whether the 10-year programmes or whatever claims are made by a territory shall go before that committee. As a general rule, most claims and programmes will go to them for consideration. In the case of Malta we must be very careful that we do not infringe their own specific rights and privileges as a responsible Government, but it is desirable if this money is to be received that London should at least be assured that it is being wisely spent. The programme will be submitted and generally endorsed so far as the payment of this money is concerned, but there will naturally be the greatest circumspection concerning interference from London in the planning of the affairs of Malta. We regard that as a fundamental requirement of the new constitutional position. I think I have answered most of the points which have been put to me and I hope that the Clause will now be accepted.

12.15 p.m.

Mr. C. Williams

I hope the right hon. Gentleman has satisfied his hon. Friend the Member for South Croydon (Mr. Rees-Williams), but if so I can only say that the hon. Gentleman is easily satisfied. I should like to congratulate the Minister because seldom, in rather a long period in the House, have I heard a series of replies so completely confused as those he has just made. I do not wish to pursue that point any further except to ask the right hon. Gentleman one thing. Can he tell me—not necessarily now—how he will obtain "a degree of political evolution"? That seems to me to be one of those nice phrases which is really too nice, and I think it is not the kind of phrase we want in dealing with a matter of this kind.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.