HC Deb 15 April 1948 vol 449 cc1297-304

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. Snow.]

10.7 p.m.

Mr. Follick (Loughborough)

I rise to report to the House one or two problems I found on a journey which I recently made to the Caribbean. I will deal with the problems country by country, and explain what advantages may be gained by this country by following out certain proposals I will make to the House. I will also explain to the House the problems of those different countries. This is rather different from the usual procedure in an Adjournment Debate, but I have taken advice and I am told that this is perfectly in Order.

The first place at which I made inquiries particularly was the Bahamas. As this is a very important dollar-winning part of the British Empire, I took great interest in finding out in what new way our dollar position could be improved there. I had a conversation with the wife of the Governor, Lady Murphy. She recommended three things very strongly that would bring in a large amount of dollars. The first was goods in the shops. It was her opinion that American tourists going to the Bahamas would gain an idea of what British goods were like if they were in the shops, and which they would not otherwise see unless they came to this country. She looks upon the Bahamas as being a shop window for British products.

She was very insistent also that British educational films should be seen in the Bahamas. What they are getting at the moment there are American crime films which are doing a great deal of harm. Lady Murphy believes that good British educational films will be very acceptable there and productive of good. She was also concerned that there should be a British hospital for American visitors. There are plenty of American specialists who would give their services free. She wanted sanitary appliances brought from this country, because she seemed to think that sanitary arrangements here are much better than those elsewhere. Scientific instruments ought to be provided free for such a hospital; and since such a hospital would be for American tourists, it would be a very important dollar-earning project. In the Bahamas the spread of tuberculosis is greater than anywhere else in the West Indies, and more attention should be paid to that problem.

While there I inquired about the system of government. There is an Assembly of 27 members, nine of whom are coloured. However, the coloured people are not satisfied with the system of election which has operated up to the present, by which there is an open vote, and they say that they are victimised. At the next election there is to be a secret vote, when it is hoped that colour Labour will have a majority.

I had an opportunity of visiting the Fort Montague Hotel, formerly used as a barracks for American soldiers, which has recently been bought by Butlins. Last year, when the hotel was first sold, the price paid was £150,000. Later in the year the hotel was sold for 380,000, including putting the hotel in good condition. Butlins then paid 450,000 for it.

It was explained to me later that too much money is going into the Bahamas. That is causing the Governor a certain amount of worry, because it has the effect of increasing wages all round. The Governor's wife cited as an example a coloured butler who demanded £10 a week plus food, whereas the butler she took out from England was paid only £4 a week. A seaside house which before the war would have cost £2,000 in England would sell over there for £50,000. Complaint is made that there is no food production because the merchants in Bay Street have agencies with American and British firms, and they do everything possible to prevent the production of food in the Colony. That is all I want to say about the Bahamas, whence I went to Haiti.

In some parts of the Caribbean one cannot go from one country to another direct; a round-about route has to be taken—sometimes taking weeks to travel a distance which could be covered in an hour by air. Yet, in spite of that, in the Caribbean there is astounding ignorance of aviation. Before leaving England I tried unsuccessfully to book a passage to Haiti, being told that I should have to do so over there. When in the Bahamas I tried to book a passage to Haiti, but could not. Even the Governor tried, but could not do so. The Governor called in the Rt. Hon. Harold Christian, who is the director or manager of the Bahamian Airways Company, but even he could not obtain a passage for me, and did not know how to. Eventually I had to go to Miami and book a passage from there. Oddly enough, there is a regular line running from Miami, yet in the Bahamas nobody seemed to have any knowledge of it.

In Miami I asked at the Pan-American office whether I could book from Santo Domingo to Havana, but they told me that I could not. Yet when I was in Santo Domingo I was told to book to Havana direct by Pan-American Airways. That illustrates that, despite the great distances to be covered, there is ignorance of the possibilities or importance of air travel, even when one approaches the Governor or the director of an airways company.

Haiti has a terrific history. As a matter of fact, the seeds of the French Revolution started there. The name of Napoleon seems to crop up throughout the Caribbean. His wife, Josephine, came from Martinique. When he tried to conquer Haiti, he sent first an army of 40,000. The liberated slaves fought him and beat him, and altogether it cost him 60,000 men. We went there, and we lost 80,000 men in Haiti. General Maitland was forced to surrender, and it was probably the biggest surrender on the part of the British Army up to the time of Singapore. Voodoo is still practised there, and it cannot be stopped. It has come down from the times of slavery.

They want to take our textiles, hardware, biscuits, whisky and soap. They used to get these commodities from Britain by paying dollars, but they cannot get them now. Would it not be far better for us to concentrate our exports on these countries instead of on the United States? All these countries are dollar-paying countries, and their currencies are very high; in fact, it is possible to interchange one's money with dollars as one goes along. Whatever markets we get in Central America or in the Caribbean will be permanent, whereas this terrific export drive we are now making to the United States to get dollars is for a temporary market only, because when that market has been sufficed, it will no longer require our exports. The Board of Trade should give more attention to these markets. These people want our goods, and they have a great affection for Britain, because Britain, to a great extent, helped to liberate these countries. We were the first country to recognise the independence of Santo Domingo, and we helped Simon Bolivar who liberated Venezuela. There is not the same great love for the United States, because they have interfered far too much in the local politics of these countries. It used to be the usual thing for them to collect their debts by sending in the marines, and these countries have never forgotten that. They have a special appreciation for Britain, and it would be to our benefit in the long run to pay more attention to these countries, with their dollar-earning capacity.

I come now to films. Our films are very much appreciated in these countries much more so than the American films. They want our films. I was told—but I have no means of proving this—that, in order to boost the showing of "Great Expectations," they billed it as an American film. Haiti is a coffee-growing country. They told me that they would make special arrangements with us for payments if we would do business with them. Until the war, all their coffee went to Switzerland, but they would prefer to do business with us.

In Santo Domingo they have a proper Parliament, with labour representation, coming under some sort of dictatorship, and this brings me to the question of dictatorship in the Caribbean. I had a long talk with the dictator. He told me that there was a car at my disposal, and he said, "You can go where you like. If you find anything wrong with this country, you can report it." I could find no dissatisfaction there at all. I found that there was great happiness and tremendous prosperity. That brings me to the question: can we expect to be able to implant in these countries that have had 300 years of slavery, probably a thousand years of cannibalism before that, and a hundred years of chaos on top *of it all—which are just emerging into our ideas of civilisation—a democracy like ours? I do not think that we can. I think that we have to work our passage with them and develop them according to their own standards.

The dictatorship in Santo Domingo has been spoken about. I had every opportunity of investigating everything there I found a clean city, good roads, shops piled with goods, plenty of money, no grumbling, an adequate police force, and a functioning Parliament. I spoke to various members of their Parliament—in fact I addressed in Spanish a combined meeting of both Houses. I am making a special effort to explain this because it is a dictatorship. This dictator lines his pockets, there is no doubt about that. He helps his family, there is no doubt about that; but he has brought prosperity out of chaos to his country. We have bought the sugar crop in Santo Domingo. By the way, Santo Domingo was the first place to be visited by Columbus. It had the first cathedral and first university in all America.

Recently they had a scare of invasion. There were definite preparations to invade Santo Domingo from Cuba. When I was in Cuba, I took the opportunity of investigating, and it is perfectly true that certain preparations were being made. Whereas this dictator had an estimate of three million dollars a year for education, he had an estimate of only two million dollars for the army. Here we have a dictator who was giving more to education than to his army. It may interest the House to know, in view of happenings here, that capital punishment was abolished in Santo Domingo in 1924. It was abolished here yesterday. They have women's votes, compulsory education and free elections, although if the President does not like a member he puts him out. They have big exports of tobacco, meat and peanut oil. It is peanut oil we are trying to grow in Africa. I went into the peanut oil factory and it was working very satisfactorily.

The country has reserves of £30 million in gold dollars. They have a well established university and a hospital for workers, in which there are 12 doctors for 175 patients. The university has an over-supply of doctors which they are lending to Porto Rica, which is an American dependency. They have no medical faculty in that place. The people of Santo Domingo complain that in 1916 the Americans interfered in their domestic life and for that reason they are not keen on having too much to do with the Americans. Canadian influence is strong and so, peculiarly enough, is the Methodist Church. All religion is tolerated, and there are 5,000 Protestants. That is a country in the Caribbean which comes under a dictatorship, so that these things have to be judged not by what is a dictatorship and what is not, but what suits a country best.

The whole world has subscribed to a monument there to Christopher Columbus. It is going to cost millions of dollars, and the award for the monument has been given to a young British architect by the name of Gleave. I spoke to him and to several other British people in Santo Domingo. They told me they had no complaints and that they are treated well. They are very prosperous. They want from us technicians, economic advisers, chiefs of police and naval officers.

Sir William Darling (Edinburgh, South)

What language?

Mr. Follick

They will have to learn Spanish. Due to this trouble of the invasion from Cuba, they are negotiating with us to buy two destroyers and they want naval officers.

I went to Cuba and I spoke to the President, the Foreign Secretary and a Commission of Parliament. The trade unions in Cuba are coming strongly under Communist influence, and that is what is causing the trouble between Cuba and Santo Domingo. They are afraid there is going to be the trouble in Cuba that there has been in South America. The peculiar thing about Cuba is that they have a wealth of dollars but no petrol. People have to wait in queues up to 10 or 12 hours to get a couple of gallons of petrol. They have the dollars but people cannot get sufficient petrol for their lorries.

I had a talk with the Foreign Secretary and he is very concerned about selling this country Havana tobacco and cigars. He is afraid that if the British public do not get Havana cigars they will lose the taste for them and the market will be totally lost. He even said that they would consider taking sterling under those conditions for some of their exports. The British people have complained there about staff. They have to employ local staff who are not up to the standards of work. But those are their troubles and what they have to put up with. With regard to trade figures, Cuba has 705 million dollars a year exports out of which the Americans take 467 million. We take 131 million and the rest of the world take 106 million roughly.

Mr. Walkden (Doncaster)

Would the hon. Gentleman tell me what we get from that part of the world which helps us in our production?

Mr. Follick

Various exports come to this country, but I think it is principally sugar.

Mr. Walkden

Only sugar?

Mr. Follick

I think we get more, because we get £131 million altogether. The next country was Mexico. What struck me as most important in Mexico was the high regard in which the British Council was held. In fact, nowhere else in the world where I have been has the British Council so much influence on the inhabitants. It comes under a very able manager, Mr. Wilson, and wherever you go you come up against the influence of the British Council. If it could only function everywhere as it does in Mexico it would be a very valuable asset.

Mr. Walkden

And the Board of Trade?

Mr. Follick

I did try to make some inquiries while I was there from technicians in the British colony about the oil question and the insurance question. They all were of the same opinion, that we had frightfully mismanaged the insurance question. We sent out a man who was totally incapable of negotiating with Mexicans. He had no idea of the temperament of Mexicans and our insurance business was just thrown away. With regard to oil, there again they said if we had proper negotiators there we would have salvaged something—

Mr. Walkden

Would the hon. Member tell me whether this gentleman was employed by the Hoard of Trade or the Ministry of Transport or the Prudential or one of the other big business insurance companies? Just who employed him?

Mr. Follick

I cannot tell the hon. Gentleman who employed him, but I can give his name. His name was Mr. Hinshelwood.

Mr. Walkden

When the Parliamentary Secretary replies would he tell us whether they employed this man or whether he was employed by private enterprise, and if he made a bad business? It is very serious and it is rather important that the House ought to know.

Mr. Follick

Anyhow the fact of the matter is that our insurance business was an asset of tremendous importance and it was just thrown away.

Sir W. Darlin£

That does not apply to marine insurance, only to fire and accident?

Mr. Follick

I cannot tell the hon. Member what it was. Mexico wants to buy from us machinery, hydro-electric plant and equipment. The B.B.C. representative, Mr. Wesley, complained that the B.B.C. took off the most listened-to item, the afternoon programme, and said that ought never to have been given up.

From there I went to Guatemala. I had the intention of going on to British Honduras, but at the request of the Minister in Guatemala I refrained from so doing. The average opinion of people on the spot is that if we give way on the question of British Honduras, we shall have to give way on all questions of all British territories in Central and South America. The moment we give way on British Honduras it means giving way on the Falklands, and that will mean giving way on British Guiana and even Trinidad. British Honduras has a great wealth of mahogany, indigo and chicle. These are great dollar-earning things. But the all-round complaint is that we have done nothing in the development of British Honduras. I have talked with the Negro population. They number about 60,000. They do not want to change; they want to remain with Great Britain. Guatemala itself is one of the most backward countries in the whole area. When I was in Guatemala—

The Question having been proposed after Ten o'Clock, and the Debate having continued for half-an-hour, Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned at Twenty-three Minutes to Eleven o'Clock.