HC Deb 14 June 1948 vol 452 cc209-18

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

12.16 a.m.

Squadron-Leader Kinghorn (Great Yarmouth)

I regret having to detain the House at this time of the night, but the subject to which I wish to draw attention is, in my view, so important that it is well worth while the extra half-hour of Parliamentary time. Some weeks ago, the Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies had the good fortune to embark upon a comprehensive tour through our East African territories. Many of us, on both sides of the House have been aware for a long time that the territories that he visited are places, which, if properly governed and developed under a proper plan, would probably contribute to the emergence of our country into greater prosperity in future than perhaps any other part of the world. Therefore, I thought it was the duty of one of us to size the opportunity at the earliest moment to find out, through a short Adjournment Debate, what impressions the Under Secretary received during his journey.

It has been said in the last two years that the key to Africa is steel, that development in Africa, especially East Africa, is dependent upon a flow of steel into that part of the world; that ventures which are now on the drawing board or are in the minds of people in this country, and in others, can be brought to fruition once steel is taken from this country, or once the production of steel has increased in some of these territories themselves. It would be interesting if my hon. Friend could tell us if he saw anything on his journey which convinced him that steel must be taken to East Africa, and whether, with judicious use, some of the supplies of steel in this country could, if shipped out there, contribute much to the prosperity of us all.

We all know—at least all who pay attention to the problems in East Africa—that another key to the wider develop- ment of those territories is the further improvement of the railways. We have seen in the last few months in this country some hopeful signs that we are getting over many of the great difficulties in the deliveries situation at home. I have mentioned in the House before that now that we are embarking on great schemes of railway improvement and house building, and upon other schemes, to put our peacetime economy upon a proper footing, we ought to consider whether we can spare some of the scarce raw materials which we so much need in this country for use in those territories in East Africa where they might give us a quicker return. So again it would be of interest if my hon. Friend could say a few words about that, and tell us if the improvement has already taken place within the last year, which we have been assured in the House has taken place, in places like Southern Rhodesia. I know he did not touch Southern Rhodesia, but the railway situation is common to al] those territories.

The problem, of course, which faces citizens in any part of the world today is that of housing, and in view of the improvement in the railway situation it would be of interest to know if there has been a commensurate improvement in housing. My information is that that improvement is not by any means as great. Some time ago I put questions down to the Under-Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations about the railway between Beira in Portuguese East Africa and Southern Rhodesia. The hon. Gentleman assured me that an expert had gone there, that there had been improvement, and that people were satisfied with the railway position. I have had a visitor in the House tonight who flew back from Rhodesia only this week, and he tells me that is so. The railway situation has improved, but he says that the great difficulty on the railways is that they cannot get enough houses for key workers. Locomotives are held up and not being used because the skilled artisans have no houses. That is the sort of situation which we know full well at home, but I should like the Under-Secretary to consider whether some of the scarce materials used at home, might not be better earmarked for these territories in order to get back here copper ore from Northern Rhodesia or greater production of food from Tanga- nyika and Rhodesia, so as to get us out of the hands of the people who rattle their sabres in certain parts of the American continent.

Another question I want to touch upon is hydro-electric plant, and the plans to dam the Zambesi and other rivers to build up great sources of electrical supply in other parts of Africa. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman has seen some of those plans whether on paper or in course of construction. Is there any tangible prospect of an increased development of electricity in the foreseeable future as we know that the inhabitants of these territories are only too keen for it? I was listening to a bishop preaching in my constituency last Sunday, and despite the fact that he was addressing a Church of England congregation, he had a lot to say about East Africa and the groundnut scheme. It is world news, it is epoch making, and probably causes other schemes to fade into the background. The groundnut scheme is an excellent scheme, and we wish it every success, but we hope that it will be the basis for greater planning and that there will be further schemes in these wonderful and prolific territories.

These plans should be made now. Has any integrated plan been hammered out for such schemes? For instance, various Members of the Government are interested in policy in Colonial territories, and people who try to trade with them find that they have immense difficulties to overcome, such as the difficulty of getting permission from the Board of Trade and from the Treasury to carry out deals. Is it not time that we had some agency, at Government level possibly, for this work? How is all this linked together, and who is doing it? We on this side are often dubbed by the other side as "planners" with inverted commas. We claim that we are planners without the inverted commas, and that these things can only be worked out according to a plan, carefully thought out beforehand. If we can see that the Argentine railways, which we are eating at the moment, can be replaced by some better thing in our own territories, it will be work which is on the right plan. We must plan for such industrial development in order that this country may develop as never before. I am glad to welcome the Under-Secretary back from his pleasant journey; a journey which made my mouth water, and about which I hope he will tell us. I hope, also, that he will tell us that we are going out for a scheme on a colossal scale.

12.27 a.m.

Mr. E. P. Smith (Ashford)

I am obliged to the hon. Member for Great Yarmouth (Squadron-Leader Kinghorn) for inviting the Under-Secretary to give us a travel talk on East Africa. I thought, if I may say so, that he might have been a little more brief, and I deprecate the somewhat smug impression of self-expansion which he has propounded, instead of one of betterment for the natives, for which our Colonial Empire exists.

I want to put one or two practical questions to the Under-Secretary regarding groundnuts. These were originally introduced on a large scale as an alternative crop to American cotton; when the cotton failed, they produced these nuts. They are essentially a sequence crop, and what I would like to know from the Under-Secretary, when we have so much information about the limitless expansion of the groundnut scheme in East Africa, what he has to say about this. Can he tell us how it is proposed to continue the productivity of groundnuts, since it is necessarily a sequence crop and has to be sown following some other specific crop? Can he tell us what specific crop it will follow?

12.29 a.m.

Mr. Frederic Harris (Croydon, North)

I should like to beg a few moments of the Under-Secretary's time. I have followed the development of East Africa and have built up a very large staff there in business development. Can he take into account, quickly, the fact that a great deal of trade essential to us, especially at the present time, is denied us because of lack of shipping space? All the shipping space is put over to the nut scheme? My own organisation is engaged in shipping cars to Africa and it is important that ships should be made available. With his interest in East Africa I hope that the hon. Gentleman has taken that point into account. Another point which I expect he knows as well as I do is that a lot of industry is held up on both sides in and out because of very detailed regulations. There is no time to dwell on that now, but I hope his interest in this subject will lead him to take steps to ease that situation.

12.31 a.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies (Mr. Rees-Williams)

I am sure we are obliged to the hon. and gallant Member for Great Yarmouth (Squadron-Leader Kinghorn) for raising this subject tonight and encouraging me to give a travelogue, and also to the hon. Members for Ashford (Mr. E. P. Smith) and North Croydon (Mr. F. Harris) for supporting him. I do not intend to give a travelogue, but I do intend, in the limited time available, to touch on one or two matters which I think will be of interest to hon. Members who are increasingly showing an interest in this great area, and to give one or two impressions I formed.

In the first place, I am sure that anyone who knows East Africa—and I see several hon. Members on both sides of the House who have visited East Africa—will agree that it is a new territory in the sense in which West Africa, Malaya and the West Indies—the other three main regions of our Colonial Empire—are not. I, as I have no doubt did other hon. Members, met people who had actually walked from Mombasa all the way to Uganda—people who are still living there and are by no means decrepit, although they may not be able to make that journey today; they walked all those hundreds of miles because no other form of transport was available to them.

The geographical position is not always realised. The land slopes up very rapidly from the sea, and most of this great region or area for which we are responsible in East Africa and Central Africa is on plateaux. There are actually farms at 10,000 feet; most of Kenya is at about 5,000 feet, and Uganda, I suppose, is between 3,000 and 4,000 feet. Although the area is near the Equator, the climatic conditions are not as intense and not as difficult for people to live in as they are in some other parts of the Colonial Empire. The area of this vast region, greater than Western Europe, is occupied by some 15 million people. It might be asked: Why is that? The reason is that three-quarters of this vast area is run, organised and ruled—if such terms can be applied to an insect—by the tsetse fly. In fact, the humans and animals—savage as well as tame animals—are crowded into one-quarter of the territory and that is the quarter in which there is the lowest rainfall. The broad belt of high rainfall comes up from Northern Rhodesia, through Tankanyika and Uganda, and it is in that potentially fertile area that the tsetse fly holds sway.

I am certain that we must have for East Africa a bold and imaginative plan, which I believe should have four features. First, main industries, heavy industries, centering in the northern end of Lake Victoria at a place called Jinja, where the White Nile starts its long journey to the Mediterranean. There, as the hon. and gallant Member for Great Yarmouth has intimated, there is a possibility of a vast hydro-electric scheme at which current can be produced at an exceedingly low cost. There are other possibilities, as yet not more than partly explored, in Tanganyika. Secondly, there must be a big development of secondary industries, particularly in Kenya. Thirdly, there must be an improvement of the existing agricultural and animal husbandry. The present decline in soil fertility in many parts of Africa at present occupied causes considerable concern to my right hon. Friend and myself, and to others interested in this area. We have seen large tracts of land where the bare bones are sticking through the earth. Many people in East Africa regard cattle as a Post Office Savings Bank or the means with which to purchase a wife, but while these conditions remain there can be no great production of meat or milk. Great improvements and alteration in social conditions are thus needed. The fourth point is to develop the area where the tsetse fly is. This is our duty to the people of that area and to the people of the world. I do not think we can let that great area go unoccupied and undeveloped any longer.

What are needed for these four points which I have mentioned? The first is capital equipment. As my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Great Yarmouth has said we need steel and cement, and this I hope will be provided in increasing quantities. We need consumer goods of the right type. I have been told recently the shops in Nairobi and other parts of East Africa are becoming increasingly full of consumer goods, but not of the right type, the type the African needs, men's shirts, women's dresses, bicycles, and so on. The things he needs are not the things we think he ought to need.

There is an absolute necessity for European technicians and my right hon. Friend has pointed out that matter to the Governors. It is our urgent desire that these areas should be developed, as the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. E. Smith) has suggested for the benefit of the inhabitants. We must provide these inhabitants with a sufficient number of technicians of all types to give them the tuition, assistance and supervision they require. How are these to be deployed to the best advantage, and how are they to be employed if they are sent out?

First, I would say, and I think this is really important, we must build up existing vital undertakings, and I would put the priorities among these as railways and docks. It is absolutely essential that the African railways should be built as speedily as possible because it is no good taking on vast developments in East Africa if the railways are unable to handle the traffic. This means not only the supply of track and waggons and engines but the realignment of the track. We are dealing with this. Secondly, I would say we must improve the roads. In the ten-year plan for East Africa out of a total allocation of £52 million, £6,700,000 is being spent on roads in addition to £1,1,750,000 which is being paid by His Majesty's Government for regional road development. It will be seen that a considerable sum is being spent for this purpose. Housing is an essential and a vital necessity. We are spending £4,500,000 on housing quite apart from private enterprise, and in this way I believe we can help with technicians from this country. I have seen houses in various parts of Africa being built by Africans with very little training, supervised by one European technician. They were doing a magnificent job in putting up houses extremely fast. I will not say they were houses which could form part of a model housing estate in this country, but at least they were houses which no one would be ashamed to live in.

The second absolute necessity is to create new vital undertakings and we must employ our resources on these as well. One that I have in mind is the great Jinja scheme and also the possible canalisation of the river to the Mountains of the Moon. That will develop all the West side of Uganda. Also, if the copper mines prove as successful as we hope, that will assist in bringing down copper from the Mountains of the Moon to Lake Victoria and across Lake Victoria to Jinja, where I hope we shall have a smelting works ready with cheap electric power to run it. Another vital undertaking to my mind are the cattle farms and mixed dairy farms and other types of farms which must be run, I think, by the State in many of these areas which we shall clear from the tsetse fly. There are certain other types of cultivation which could be run in the cleared areas where there is a suitable population nearby, on the lines of the Gezira scheme, which is a scheme of controlled peasant agriculture in the Sudan. These are, in the main, the points I think which must be considered in dealing with the broad imaginative plan for East Africa.

One or two specific questions were put to me by the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. E. P. Smith), who asked me about the groundnuts. I was hoping to avoid for once talking about groundnuts in dealing with East Africa and was not going to follow the example of the Bishop mentioned by the hon. Member for Great Yarmouth; but as he asked a specific question, I will say I actually visited the area of Kongwa where they have planned for a rotation of crops. They do not intend to crop the same land year after year with groundnuts; they have an experimental farm there where they are trying out different types of crops which they can rotate with groundnuts.

Mr. E. P. Smith

Including cotton?

Mr. Rees-Williams

I do not believe cotton is one of them, but I should not like to be sure of that. I have certainly never heard it mentioned. They will rotate with other crops. The cultivators have gone in very largely for soil conservation, and contour ridging, and by terracing and other methods including leaving the tops of the hills with their natural vegetation there will, I hope, be no question of soil erosion there. I looked for that particularly—it was one of my great interests, that, and the conditions in which the African labourer was working. I must say I was quite satisfied, though of course I am not an expert, that as far as I could see, they are taking very great precautions to avoid soil infertility and soil erosion.

Hon. Members will be interested to learn that today at Rothamsted was held the first conference ever held anywhere devoted to tropical soil fertility. We have experts from all over the Empire, the Dominions and the Colonies; we have experts from many of our friends in foreign countries, including the United States; and they are dealing particularly with the great problem of soil erosion, soil fertility, and the classification of soils. I had the honour of opening that conference this morning—or, rather, yesterday morning. Perhaps, hon. Members will let me repeat what I said to them, because I think it is important. I said: Sir John Boyd-Orr has pointed to the Increasing population of the world and the declining fertility of the soil, man's wastage of his substance in spoilt land and neglected mineral resources. Sir John Boyd-Orr has trumpeted a challenge to mankind. Mankind must accept that challenge or perish.

Mr. Skeffington (Lewisham, West)

Can my hon. Friend answer this question? I think it was raised by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Great Yarmouth (Squadron-Leader Kinghorn). A great deal depends on the development of hydro-electricity from the Owen Falls. This requires about 7,000 tons of steel. Is there any likelihood of that steel being available?

Mr. Rees-Williams

We shall certainly give it high priority.

Adjourned accordingly at Fourteen Minutes to One o'Clock a.m.