HC Deb 22 November 1948 vol 458 cc1039-48

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

11.45 p.m.

Squadron-Leader Kinghorn (Great Yarmouth)

Despite the lateness of the hour, I want to bring to the attention of hon. Members before they go home the campaign which has been carried on for some time against the ravages of the tsetse fly in parts of our colonial territories in Africa. The results of this campaign are so important and so vital to our welfare now and in the future that I am prepared to open this Debate even at this time of night.

The tsetse fly, as everybody knows, is the source of sleeping sickness with colonial peoples, and even with whites, in East Africa. Speaking of its ravages and its death-dealing destruction in these territories in an Adjournment Debate in the House on 14th June of this year, the Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies, replying to the Debate, said these very striking words in referring to development in East Africa: 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 Tanganyika and Uganda, and it is in that potentially fertile area that the tsetse fly holds sway."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th June, 1948; Vol. 452, c. 214, 215.] This is the vast territory in East Africa alone. If we include our territories in West Africa, we find that the total area under tsetse fly is 4½ million square miles, which is twice the area of the United States and 75 times the area of England and Wales. That is a colossal part of the world—territory administered through this House. It is not ruled even by the king of the beasts, but is really ruled by an insect. I could give many examples, and I will give one or two which show how the sway of this insect is of such paramount importance in Sierra Leone and Gambia, where almost 100 per cent. of the territory is given over to the ravages of the tsetse fly. If we go to the East Coast, we find that in Uganda the figure is slightly less than 80 per cent. In Tanganyika, which is vital not only to this country but to Africa and the whole world, if we consider only the success on which we are all banking from the groundnuts scheme, 75 per cent. of the area is covered by the depredations of the tsetse fly.

This insect carries about the cause of sleeping sickness, not only for humans but also for cattle, and therefore it is probably the greatest barrier we have against great development in those areas. It is a most vital barrier to development because it prevents mixed farming from being developed in those territories. If we are to have an increased expansion of human activity in East Africa, which so many on both sides of the House hope to see in the near future, we must be able to carry out mixed farming as we do in this country.

Previous Governments obviously have not been unaware of what this terrible insect does, for in 1945, under the Colonial Development and Welfare Act, large grants of money were made in order to combat the sway of the tsetse fly. There was one other instance in East Africa of £275,000, and for West Africa the sum spent, or ear-marked for this work and for research, was £207,000. A further £175,000 was set aside for research into the use of insecticides. It would be of use to hon. Members here, and to the world at large, if the Undersecretary could give us some indication of what use has been made of these really big sums of money. I should like to know whether the use of modern insecticides, the success of which we saw towards the end of the war in the use of D.D.T., has suggested a real solution to the tsetse fly problem; and whether all the known resources of modern science which have been put to work on insecticides in the last few years have really been made full use of.

Colonial Governments, especially in the lifetime of this Parliament, have shown that they are interested in this matter, and a very interesting report has just been published of a successful experiment in Nigeria, where there has been some real success in wiping out the tsetse fly and other evils from which the natives are suffering. It would be interesting to know whether there has been further activity of that kind. A further question I would like to ask is what steps have been taken by the Colonial Office, in collaboration with other Colonial Offices in Africa which must be interested—the Portuguese, the Belgian and the French. It is no use getting rid of any insect on British territory if they are not also doing the same thing over the invisible frontier which separates it from other parts. Many Colonial representatives have been over here during the past few months, and no doubt they have been discussing these matters.

Among the principal factors are; first, the African cannot get an adequate meat diet; second, he does not see enough fresh milk, butter or cheese; and three, as I have mentioned, mixed farming can-not be embarked on, and the old antediluvian methods of the African cannot be wiped out. The great thing which we, as leaders of the civilised world, want is the 'opportunity of developing the animal industries. It would not only help the African, but it would also enable him to produce a surplus to export, and in that way help him to help himself, and thus help us to help the world at large to tackle the problem, which is far greater than anything we have discussed in this House, and on which Sir John Boyd Orr has warned us, that the world is marching slowly to starvation. Africa I believe is going to be a great factor in avoiding that calamity. I hope that the Undersecretary will give us as useful and lucid a reply as he did the last time we brought up this question of East African development.

11.54 p.m.

Mr. Skeffington (Lewisham, West)

We are all grateful to the hon. and gallant Member for having introduced this subject. There were few factors which made such an impression on my mind when I was in Africa recently as the problem of the tsetse fly. As he has said, and indeed as I said in the Debate on Colonial Affairs, it is a very solemn thought that over two-thirds of Uganda and Tanganyika, and one-third of Kenya, are controlled not by the hon. Gentleman but by the tsetse fly. When we realise the seriousness of the problem, we are all anxious to know what progress has been made. I travelled over millions of acres of first-class grassland in Uganda which are denied to cattle because of the tsetse fly. If we could only overcome it, we should find a new source of meat, especially for the Africans, whose need is equally great as that of the rest of the world.

I should like to put some questions to the Under-Secretary. I was astonished to find that the veterinary and bacteriological services in these three great territories were isolated, and were unaware of the development in each other's domain. There seemed to be no common effort to exchange ideas. I understand that there is a unified service now, but what progress has been made, and is there any arrangement for keeping all the territories fully in touch with development?

I should also like to know if there is any further information about cattle inoculation. In the past attempts have been made to inoculate cattle to prevent them from suffering from the parasite carried by the tsetse, but most farmers decided to run the risk of the fly rather than inoculation because inoculation certainly killed the animals, if the tsetse did not. The use of a drug called "7555" was introduced in April, and I should like to know if it has proved as useful as it was hoped it would be. Has any further provision been made for spraying insecticide from the air? My hon. Friend said, in the last Debate, that there were two aeroplanes and one helicopter seconded to this work. We are grateful for that, but for an area as large as the whole of Western Europe, it is not enough, and I should like to think we were taking more serious steps.

11.58 p.m.

Mr. A. Edward Davies (Burslem)

It seems to me that the most important matter which emerges from the Debate which my hon. and gallant Friend has done well to initiate tonight is how far the work has been co-ordinated so that all the Great Powers interested in this problem can have the full benefit of the resources available. As my hon. and gallant Friend said, we live cheek by jowl with the Belgians and the French in Africa, and it is very little use our clearing our own area if the problem is being treated differently in another part. We have seen some interesting pictures in "The Times," of the good work which is being done by what I believe is called "aggressive clearings." I should like to know whether there is some prospect of this being dealt with on a super-national level. We know also that much good work is being done by mass survey treatment.

With regard to the cattle in West Africa, will the Minister make some reference to the staffing position? When in West Africa I was impressed with the grave shortage of veterinary surgeons and trained people in control of this branch. What is being done, at a time when there are professional men who can command good salaries in this country, to make conditions attractive in that part of the world so that the best of our good young men can go out without unduly sacrificing their careers and families?

The tsetse fly is one of the great scourges which afflicts Africa at this moment. It is most vital to the indigenous population to know whether they are going to be raised to a decent standard of life and given an opportunity of obtaining a mixed diet, of obtaining the milk and meat and the proteins to which my hon. and gallant Friend referred. This is a most urgent problem.

12.1 a.m.

Mr. Follick (Loughborough)

There is very little time, but I should like to say a word or two, as I have made a study on the spot of this question. I would like to correct an error on the part of the hon. and gallant Member for Great Yarmouth (Squadron-Leader Kinghorn). I think he referred to "sleepy sickness." There are two different things—sleepy sickness and sleeping sickness. Sleepy sickness is not purely an African disease, whereas sleeping sickness is due solely to tsetse-injected elements.

When the Germans were in possession of their colony in East Africa, before the first World War, at Dar-es-Salam, they had one of the finest tropical diseases experimental research laboratories in the world. Since we have taken over that Colony, this wonderful laboratory has been absolutely neglected. When I was in Dar-es-Salam, I went to see the place and it is not used at all—just left to go to pieces. I think the famous Kleine actually worked at this laboratory.

Between the years 1901 and 1906, in Uganda alone 200,000 people died of this disease. So that it is a thing that is decimating the population of Africa. I do not think it has yet been found out whether it is the fly, the animal or the man who carries the disease. That is still in process of being investigated. The disease has not only not been got under, it has actually spread, and there are apprehensions at present because it is spreading from Mozambique into Swaziland and the human and animal population of Swaziland will suffer unless it is held up.

I was in Victoria Falls along with Chief Justice Sir Herbert Cox and found five of the flies on the sleeve of my jacket, and I am just wondering if colour has not some attraction. Sir Herbert Cox was wearing a white jacket and did not get any of them, while I was wearing a brown jacket and they made towards that colour. I know the Minister wants to answer. I only give those few experiences I had while in East Africa.

12.4 a.m.

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

I am very much obliged to the hon. and gallant Member for Great Yarmouth (Squadron-Leader Kinghorn), and to other hon. Members who have spoken, for drawing the attention of the House to this most important question. Even though it is a late hour, it is a matter which is of such vital importance to Africa and to the whole world, that I think we might well spend this short time in considering it. I believe this tsetse fly problem is the African problem No. 1. If we can solve it, we shall have gone a long way towards solving the economic, social and, eventually, the political problems of Africa. It affects a vast area, as we heard from the hon. Member for Great Yarmouth, and its solution will change the whole face of Africa and the economy of the world.

The trouble with tsetse is that there are so many species of fly. Some affect cattle and some, human beings. They live on different types of vegetation, and feed on different types of animal, so that measures which are effective against one type have no effect upon others. In British West Africa alone some 10,000,000 people are constantly at the risk of sleeping sickness. The effects upon the cattle population, and consequently upon soil fertility and the balance of farming in Africa, are such as were mentioned by the hon. and gallant Member for Great Yarmouth. I have been asked by several hon. Members how the problem has been tackled and how we are dealing with it. I hope, so far as I can, to answer them here and now.

Certain areas have been cleared and re-settled by various methods. First by selective clearing of the bush, that is, by clearing the type of vegetation on which the tsetse feeds. Secondly, by the use of drugs, both as cures and as prophylactics in human beings and cattle. The drug which the hon. Member for West Lewisham (Mr. Skeffington) mentioned has had an extremely good effect as a cure, and is now undergoing field tests as a prophylactic. We are not quite certain whether it is the complete answer, but there are good possibilities that this is so. Thirdly by spraying with insecticides, although it is too early to form an opinion on the effectiveness of this method.

Two aircraft have been specially fitted and are now in East Africa, and a helicopter is on order. But sending out large fleets of aircraft or helicopters to Africa is not in itself an answer; the research side, and the scientists who have to study the results of these experiments, must be the deciding factor. It is easier to get aircraft than scientists. Fourthly there is the control of game, which has been dealt with on a large scale in Southern Rhodesia. We are examining the results of this.

We have also made available for research since 1945 more than £1 million from the Colonial Development and Welfare Fund. This money is being spent either upon actual research or on development work on the problem of the tsetse fly. The Colonial Governments also have spent a good deal of money on this side of the work. We are also happy in having the assistance of industrial bodies in research. The I.C.I. group and Shell are joining with us in this fight against this noxious insect.

Then there is international collaboration. The hon. Member for Burslem (Mr. A. Edward Davies) asked me a question on this point. There was a conference at Brazzaville this year at which this whole problem was thrashed out with other Powers which have African responsibilities; and in London soon there is to be the first meeting of the International Scientific Committee which will co-ordinate and direct sleeping sickness research in both Europe and Africa. Veterinary surgery is a matter which was also dealt with by the hon. Member for Burslem. We have been very short of veterinary officers, but recently we had a conference with the Registrar of the Royal Veterinary College in London, and also with an official of the Veterinary Association, and we have now got, I think, terms which will appeal to the profession as a whole. I do not think that before, either in status or terms, we were in a position to offer veterinary surgeons satisfactory inducements for them to enter the Colonial Service. The old conditions and terms no longer obtain however, and we have now got satisfactory conditions for veterinary surgeons in this important and interesting work.

Here I must pause to mention three reports by scientists which are available to hon. Members. They are those of Professor Buxton, Professor Davey and Dr. Nash. I commend them to the attention of hon. Members in this House, for they will find detailed accounts of the work of the scientists for many years past in these fields. There is also reference to the more humble workers, the boys who catch the flies. Their work is important because it is the basis of the whole of the scientific work that is done. The standard of measurement of the fly density is known as F.B.H.—flies per boy hour, irrespective of the kind of boy—short, fat, tall, or thin, who does the catching. To ensure success a combination of all the methods referred to must be and is being used. The key to success is occupation by man of areas cleared by scientific methods and the putting of his cattle on those areas. Several successive stages have to be gone through. First, there is the clearing of the tsetse, then the introduction of water, crops, stocks, cattle and also the making of communications.

Finally, there is the settlement of people in those areas. Together these steps should produce the answer to the tsetse problem. For example, there is the Anchau resettlement scheme, which has been mentioned. This was made possible by means of a Colonial Development and Welfare grant. There is also a settlement scheme in the Gold Coast and a scheme in Tanganyika called the Shinyanga scheme. We must, I think, distinguish between the types of development which can take place in the more fertile, and those which can take place in less fertile areas. Where land is quite fertile and people can go and live and farm in the normal way there is no difficulty.

The three stages may be put into operation fairly quickly and people settled at a density of not less than 20 to the square mile. In the less fertile areas, however, if there is a density of more than 20 to the square mile, we are up against a difficulty, because through that infertility there will be a cumulative reduction in the standard of living. For that particular type of country, of which there is a good deal in Africa and particularly East Africa, there will have to be schemes not of peasant proprietorship but of large-scale cattle ranching. It will be possible, we hope, to establish in those areas State ranches or co-operative ranches. These will provide much beef for the people of the territory and possibly for an export trade to this country and to other countries in need of beef. We already have a team in Tanganyika investigating this new form of enterprise.

The Question having been proposed after Ten o'Clock on Monday evening 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 a Quarter-past Twelve o'Clock.