HC Deb 25 June 1947 vol 439 cc439-44
Mr. Creech Jones

The Government have been considering the means of developing Colonial resources. They consider that there is need for improved machinery for this purpose. The Colonial Development and Welfare Act provides money for the improvement of the social and other services of the Colonies and helps to provide the basic services for further economic development in the form of improved communications, better agricultural services, water supplies and the like. This has been, and is, very useful. But it is not enough. An instrument is also required whereby we can undertake individual productive projects likely to increase the wealth of the Colonies themselves and to stimulate the supply of products of which this country and the world at large stand in need.

The Government propose, therefore, to establish a Colonial Development Corporation with total borrowing powers of the order of £100 million. It will operate on commercial principles. Its object will bo to establish or assist any enterprise in the Colonies which is designed to increase their general productive capacity. No doubt these enterprises will be mainly agricultural but the Corporation will be able to undertake any enterprise which serves the general object. We propose that the Corporation should be given power to conduct enterprises itself or to set up subsidiary organisations to run individual projects or to give assistance to existing enterprises. The Corporation would undertake particular operations in any Colonial territory only with the consent of the Secretary of State and the Colonial Government concerned. The intention is that the Corporation and its subsidiaries should operate generally in close consultation with Colonial Governments, in order to ensure that their activities are conducted in the way best suited to promote the welfare of the Colonial peoples.

There would, of course, be no question of giving the Corporation any general monopoly in Colonial development. It is not intended to supplant private enterprise, but to supplement it. While the Government will continue their policy of encouraging public utilities and other suitable forms of public enterprise, they will also welcome private enterprise and investment in the Colonies so long as it is in harmony with the plans of Colonial Governments for social and economic development.

The Government propose to introduce legislation to establish the Colonial Development Corporation. It is proposed that the same legislation should provide for the establishment of the Corporation which is to take over the groundnut project established in East Africa by the Minister of Food. This would be a separate body from the main Colonial Development Corporation and provision would be made for it to undertake enterprises similar to the groundnut project over a wide field.

The two bodies would work in the closest liaison with one another.

Sir J. Mellor

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman to give an assurance that existing undertakings will not be impaired through the new development overtaxing the available resources of labour and materials?

Mr. Creech Jones

Indeed, they will not be prejudiced, they will be encouraged.

Mr. Stanley

While welcoming this valuable piece of new machinery, and, in particular, the Secretary of State's statement as to the important part to be played by private enterprise in Colonial development, may I ask him two questions? The first is: What does he mean when he says that these Corporations are to operate on commercial principles? Does it mean that they will operate on a profit-making basis? Secondly, is it necessary to maintain two Corporations in parallel, and would it not be much better, now that this new overall Corporation is to be set up, to wind up the Groundnut Corporation and transfer its work to the new body?

Mr. Creech Jones

With regard to commercial principles, obviously, the Development Corporation itself will have a number of undertakings which must be run on commercial lines and must pay their way, and, when it is said that they must run on commercial principles, what will possibly happen will be that what they "lose on the swings they will gain on the roundabouts," but we do not want the charge for any of this to fall on the Treasury. With regard to the second question, the Groundnut Corporation will cover a somewhat wider field than is conceived in the case of the Colonial Development Corporation, and it will be concerned primarily with foodstuffs, but the enterprise is of so large a character that a special utility Corporation is required in order that this work may be done.

Dr. Segal

Would my right hon. Friend give an assurance that the facilities afforded by the new Corporation will be extended equally to the Mandated territories, like Tanganyika?

Mr. Creech Jones

Certainly, under all the Colonial Welfare and Development Acts, the Mandated and trust territories are included.

Sir I. Fraser

Can the Secretary of State say if the High Commission territories of Bechuanaland, Basutoland and Swaziland, which were not covered, will be included in the new scheme?

Mr. Creech Jones


Mr. Thomas Reid

Will the new Corporation operate from London, or will there be sufficient scope for decentralisation, which is essential, in my opinion, in all these Colonial projects?

Mr. Creech Jones

Obviously, the head office must be in London, but the Corporation will "hive off," as it were, certain concerns and enterprises, and they undoubtedly will have their principal offices in the territories with which they are strictly concerned.

Squadron-Leader Donner

Is it the intention of the Government to introduce this legislation during this Session, and will the Sudan be included?

Mr. Creech Jones

I cannot answer with regard to the Sudan, because that is a special problem. As regards the time of legislation, that is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House.

Mr. Sorensen

May I ask my right hon. Friend what relationship this Corporation will have to the various local Governments? Will they have any kind of control over the Corporation? May I also ask him if he will say something about Africans on the Board? Will the Board include Africans as well as Colonials and representatives from this country?

Mr. Creech Jones

It is altogether premature to discuss questions of personnel of the Board. That is a point which has not yet been considered by the Government.

Earl Winterton

In view of the tact that, in a number of these Colonies, there is a large and nominated official membership of the Legislative Assembly, who do not always see eye to eye with the elected Members, will the right hon. Gentleman devise machinery by which the elected Members of the Legislative Assembly, in Northern Rhodesia and elsewhere, may be able to present their case for or against any particular project to the right hon. Gentleman himself, in accordance with the principles of democracy?

Mr. Creech Jones

In the first place, in the last three years, the closest contacts have been developed, both through the Government and indirectly, with unofficial members of the Legislative Council and the Colonial Office and the Secretary of State. With regard to the point concerning consultation with Colonial Governments, obviously, the good will, understanding and consent of the Colonial Governments will be required in regard to any project in the territories for which they are responsible, and these projects, obviously, cannot proceed without the closest co-operation with the Corporation at all stages.

Dr. Haden Guest

While welcoming very cordially the extension of large-scale development, especially on a Socialist basis, may I ask my right hon. Friend whether he will provide a full opportunity, before legislation, for a Debate on this matter, because it raises the whole question of the condition of the African people, which it is quite impossible to discuss by question and answer at the present time?

Mr. Creech Jones

I should say that the position of the African peoples will be adequately safeguarded under any proposals that are brought to the notice of this House. As regards the discussion on the Corporation proposals, when the legislation is introduced an opportunity will obviously be provided. In regard to a general discussion of production inside the Colonial Empire, there will be ample opportunity on the Supply Day.

Mr. Pickthorn

On that last point, since the right hon. Gentleman tells us that these undertakings are to pay their way, has he received an assurance from the Leader of the House that the House is to have an annual opportunity of debate to make sure how and to what extent they are paying their way, and without interfering with the normal Business of the House which, at any rate, does not have too much time; and can we have an assurance now that this is to come up for preliminary review on a special day of its own every year?

Mr. Creech Jones

In answer to the point raised with regard to the work of the Corporation, its finances, and the rest, an opportunity will be afforded on Supply Day of the Colonial Office for a discussion, but, in any case, there is not the slightest doubt that when the Debate on the Bill itself comes along, the question of reports to the House with regard to the work of the Corporation can be considered.

Mr. Stephen

Will my right hon. Friend consider having the head office' of the Corporation in Glasgow?

Vice-Admiral Taylor

Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether assistance will be given to enable British shipping companies to undertake the transport of these goods from the Colonies, and to help the transport to be carried out by British ships?

Mr. Creech Jones

The whole problem of transport and communications is one to which a development corporation must give its attention. It is no good producing things if they cannot be brought away from a country.

Vice-Admiral Taylor

In British ships.

Mr. Speaker

We have not yet even started the Corporation.

Mr. Stokes

Will my right hon. Friend particularly call the attention of the Corporation to the value of the natural resources of the Dead Sea salts which, in 1923, were valued at no less than £240,000 million?