§ 3.31 p.m.
§ The Minister of Food (Mr. Strachey)
I beg to move,That this House takes note of the First Annual Report and Statement of Accounts of the Overseas Food Corporation for 1948–49.The report gives a full and detailed account of the work of the Overseas Food Corporation, both in East Africa and in Australia, during its first year; that is to say, March, 1948, to April, 1949. I cannot claim that this is a new story. There are very few significant facts or figures in the report which have not been given to the House at one time or another, in the course of our Debates or in the replies to the very numerous Questions I have answered on the matter, and I shall carry the story further forward this afternoon to the period after that to which the report relates.
I propose to deal with the report under three heads: first, with the accounts of the Corporation; secondly, with the present position of the scheme; and thirdly, I shall put before the House the programme which the management in East Africa has worked out and recommended to the board, which in turn recommended it to the Government through me, which the Government have now adopted, and which is now in operation in East Africa.
I turn first to the accounts. The accounts contain an auditors' note, which states:for the reasons set out in the Explanatory Notes, proper records of the expenditure relating to both Fixed and Current Assets were not maintained,and that there weremany instances where documents in support of transactions recorded in the books have not been produced to us.The House will wish to know exactly what it is the auditors are complaining of, and how their cause of complaint arose. The House will see the nature of the initial cause of complaint, and how and when it arose, if hon. Members will turn to pages 75 and 76 of the report, because those pages contain a letter from Mr. Webster, a director of the United Africa Company (Managing Agency) Limited, dated 7th March, 1949. Mr. Webster, in submitting the accounts for 37 the period while the managing agency were in charge of the scheme—that is, until March, 1948, before the Overseas Food Corporation took over—wrote:Conditions in East Africa, and the speed and nature of these operations, considerably handicapped the keeping of detailed records. Despite every effort to do so, it was not possible under the circumstances to compile a complete inventory at February 29th …It was impossible to carry out an expert examination of each individual asset and therefore no write-off has been made to cover depreciation, deterioration or other wastage except in the specific cases mentioned below.In our view, having regard to service conditions in East Africa, the application of normal commercial depreciation rates might be misleading, especially as second-hand material constitutes a large part of the assets.The House will see, therefore, that the Overseas Food Corporation had to take over the scheme without a complete inventory of the physical assets which it inherited. Further evidence of the situation as it was at that time will be found on pages 95 and 96 of the report, in the memorandum sent to me by the Chairman dated 23rd September, 1948. I quote paragraphs 6 and 7 of that memorandum:In normal circumstances the transfer of responsibility would have been accompanied by detailed audited accounts at the date of transfer, but, in the circumstances in which the Scheme was started, it was apparent that there must be many gaps in the accounting records so as to make the preparation of such complete accounts impracticable.For these reasons the Corporation had to agree to take over on the basis of a skeleton check of major assets only.Some of the more serious problems which the Corporation has to meet are:—the gravely inadequate repair and maintenance services for the tractors, agricultural machines and motor transport of all kinds:the absence in East Africa of a proper system for the receipt, pricing and physical custody of all the various stores required;the inadequacy of control of contractors' work.Therefore, again I ask the House to note that, when the Overseas Food Corporation accepted my invitation to take over the scheme at an earlier date than had been contemplated they felt it necessary to make clear the situation as they found it. That was the inheritance of the Overseas Food Corporation. I should like, in passing, to note that in the other scheme of the Overseas Food Corporation, the 38 Queensland scheme, where the Corporation was able to take control through its subsidiary from the beginning, the auditors have no complaint whatever to make about the accounts of the Corporation.
Am I, then, suggesting that all the deficiencies with regard to the accounts can be or should be blamed on the United Africa Company (Managing Agency), or am I accusing that managing agency of gross neglect or worse? I want to make it perfectly clear that I am not doing that. I think it would be an injustice to the United Africa Company and the managing agency to do so, and would show a complete ignorance of the conditions in which the managing agency had to work in those first 16 months of the operation of the scheme.
I should like to remind the House of the description of the scheme and of that situation, which I gave to the House as early as 12th July, 1948, in regard to this question of the accounts, so as to make it perfectly clear that I am not now thinking up some excuse for the managing agency. I described at that time the situation which was likely to arise, and I warned the House of the difficulties with the accounts which would almost inevitably arise. On 12th July, 1948, I said:Their storekeeping accounts in the earlier stage were defective. They did not keep track fully of all the supplies and materials, which were brought in to Tanganyika, and there is a difficulty in straightening out those accounts. I think if anyone has recently visited East Africa he will to some extent sympathise with the managing agency, the United Africa Company, in that failure, if he saw, as I did, the way in which these stores arrived in East Africa. The Committee should remember that a very high proportion of them are surplus war stores brought literally by the ton from the Middle East, the Far East and the other theatres of the last war, and they arrive in the holds of the ships—often very valuable and useful material—in the most extraordinary mixture.I saw the work of sorting out these stores—hand tools, tents, kitchen utensils, and other kinds of stores, all mixed up together. They were bought, of course, exceedingly cheap and there is some very valuable material—but I could see that it would be very difficult in the rush of the opening period to account for them meticulously. We are doing our very utmost to see that these stores are accounted for in the end. I would say, in defence of the United Africa Company, that, after all, they were able to buy these stores in that condition very cheaply and that a large part of the money, at any rate, flowed back into the hands of the Treasury. So they were 39 surely wise and prudent purchases even if the character of them made it very difficult, under these conditions, to have a perfect accounting system."'—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th July, 1948; Vol. 453, c. 873–4.]One hon. Member opposite, the Member for Woodbridge (Mr. Hare) commented on these remarks of mine. He said:The Minister admitted that some mistakes have been made…. First he said that the storekeeping accounts had not been properly kept. That is a very small point, and I do not think it was worthy of him."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th July, 1948; Vol. 453, c. 922.]I do not think that it is a small point, and I did not think that it was a small point then. It is, of course, essential for the accounting arrangements of the scheme to be made fully satisfactory. What do these accounts show? I think that there has been some tendency—I am not saying that it was so in this House but there was outside it—to suggest that £23 million has somehow been frittered away with nothing to show for it. That is wholly untrue, as hon. Members can see for themselves by looking at the accounts.
Let me take them through the main figures of these accounts. The Corporation holds fixed assets—buildings, plant, and machinery—to the value of £7,300,000. It holds current assets—stocks, recoverable expenditure, debtors, and the like—of £6,600,000; and, finally, the amount spent on land clearing, agricultural expenditure and other such items is £9,200,000. It is, therefore, really monstrous to say that £23 million has been lost with nothing to show for it. There are railways, ports, roads, towns, villages, water supplies, hospitals, training colleges and tractor fleets—and now just on 100,000 acres of cleared land to show for it.
If hon. Members will look at page 68 of the accounts, they will see detailed statements on that development—land clearing and agricultural expenditure—and they will see the items on which the real difficulty arises in the accounts. Out of that £9,200,000 under this head there are three particular items: stores and merchandise consumed, £2,500,000; tentage, plant and machinery written off, £460,000; special provision of amount written off works done by contractors, £297,000. It is under these three items that the difficulties to which I refer, and 40 to which I referred 18 months ago arise, and arise very largely because of the character of the war stores bought from the Disposals Board, largely by the ton, of which these items largely consist.
I would refer again to Mr. Webster's letter to the managing agency in which he writes:The difficulty was the absence of a fully developed costing system in those early days.The fact is that the managing agency for understandable reasons did not, and could not perhaps, set up a fully developed costing system in the early months, and, finally, the arrival of war stores on a mass scale swamped all the existing arrangements they had at that time. I do not think that it would be true to say, therefore, that the managing agency was wrong to make these massive purchases of war stores. They were not wrong for three reasons: they were the only stores available; they were exceedingly cheap; and the money for them flowed back through the Disposals Board into the hands of the Government. It was, amongst others, the problem of pricing these stores which the managing agency failed to solve in their first years.
I am not saying that this was the only difficulty in their accountancy. It was not the only difficulty faced by the managing agency in its earlier period or by the Corporation later. As the report shows, there were transactions for which there are no adequate supporting documents, and that means that, in the early months, the men on the spot went ahead and verbally ordered the contractors to set up this or that set of buildings, to undertake this or that job, without having the fully supporting documents on them. No doubt it was wrong for them to have done so, but I think it is understandable and I do not think it right to blame the agency too much at that time when they were trying to get on with the job. It was in the books of some of these contractors which came under the auditors' purview, that the main difficulties arose, and the great difficulty is in straightening them out, because these transactions were more or less done in the early months in the way I have just described.
Now I come to the specific responsibility of the Overseas Food Corporation. I have shown how these accounting difficulties arose and what they are. The most important question is undoubtedly:
41 Are they being fully and satisfactorily overcome? It is not an easy job in a very large enterprise of this type to get the accounts straightened out once these difficulties have arisen. It is very largely a question of the provision of sufficiently skilled manpower on the spot, and the Overseas Food Corporation is making the most strenuous efforts to recruit accountants at the most rapid pace possible. It has on the job now 56 as compared with 18 when it took over. It is not an easy business to recruit the right men quickly enough.
The House will want to know whether I am absolutely satisfied that the Overseas Food Corporation, during the last seven months which have elapsed since the end of the period covered by this report, is making enough headway to ensure that all the accounting difficulties will be overcome. I must say that I have reached, with the concurrence of my advisers, the serious conclusion that we were not fully satisfied on that point, and it was, therefore, for that reason that I had with great regret to write to Mr. John Rosa, the member of the board of the Corporation responsible for finance, declaring his office vacant.
It was with great satisfaction that I was able to announce the appointment of Sir Eric Coates to that position. Sir Eric Coates, the House will remember, has held a number of extremely distinguished positions in India. He was directly responsible for the financial arrangements in India during the conduct of the war for supplies, munitions and production, and he became later the financial member of the Governor-General's Council. Since that time, he has been Chief Financial Adviser to the United Kingdom High Commissioner in Germany, and, in his last appointment, played a leading part in the devaluation of German currency. It is, therefore, true to say that Sir Eric Coates has had high responsibilities for the finances of both India and Germany, at critical periods. I can think of no other appointment which would give more assurance that the finances of the Overseas Food Corporation would be in absolutely competent hands, and I trust and believe that the whole House will join with me in saying that we owe a great debt of gratitude to Sir Eric Coates for undertaking this further piece of arduous and difficult public service.
42 Now I come to the present position of the scheme. I want to make clear that this accounting position, absolutely indispensable as it is to deal with it, is by no means the main problem which faces the scheme. I shall come to these problems in a moment. Before doing so, I must say one word about the Corporation's other scheme in Queensland. I realise the House is mainly interested this afternoon in East Africa, but it would be too bad and unfair to our Australian friends if we said nothing about Queensland.
Often nothing is said when things go well because it does not excite controversy, and that is natural enough; but, at any rate, it should excite thanks, and I think that our thanks should go to the Corporation and to their Australian workers for the job which they are doing in Queensland, which is going extremely well. That scheme, at any rate, is well ahead of programme. The programme was to have 20,000 acres planted in the first year, and they planted 30,000 acres. The crop was affected by late frost and was not quite the bumper crop which they expected at one time, but it was a very substantial crop, and the first cargo has already been sent to this country.
Since this report was issued by the Overseas Food Corporation, I can tell the House that in Queensland they are now planting, and hope to plant, some 70,000 acres for the coming harvest next year, while they have actually acquired no fewer than 490,000 acres of land, and they will go steadily ahead to develop that land partly by cropping and grazing and partly by their pig raising scheme. Mr. Hanlon, the Premier of Queensland, who has been a great enthusiast of the scheme, is over here today, and I should be sorry if the House did not show appreciation for the excellent progress it is making. No doubt in due course that scheme will have its difficulties and problems—it would not be an agricultural scheme if it did not have such problems—but so far it has been remarkably successful.
I come back now to East Africa. Let me say at the outset, though one certainly would not anticipate it from the reception this report has had, that it is a report of solid achievement and of advances which have been made in this scheme. I should like to substantiate that statement. When the Corporation took 43 over on 1st April, 1948, they inherited 7,500 acres of cleared land—that is to say, land under crops—from the managing agency, and a programme for 1949 under which it was proposed to clear some 82,000 acres. The Corporation decided that that was too ambitious a programme, and they wrote it down to 50,000 acres.
§ Mr. Strachey
I cannot give the exact date of that decision. It must have been just about this time last year—that was the programme I announced to the House on 14th March. If the right hon. Gentleman is making the point that they did not write the programme down immediately they got into possession of the scheme, he is perfectly correct, but when they had been operating it for some months, they came to the conclusion that the programme was too ambitious and wrote it down to 50,000 acres. It is not a big point one way or the other. What is, I think, more important is that when they had adopted that as a reasonable programme, they were able to clear and plant almost exactly that figure—the figure is some 49,000 acres.
That is as far as the report goes, but I am now able to carry the story a little further and tell the House that for next year it seems clear the Corporation will be able to clear 100,000 acres—that is 50,000 acres more. The remaining clearance at Kongwa, nearly 50,000 acres, was nearly completed last week, but all of that will not be plantable. The clearance of 20,000 acres at Urambo and 2,000 acres in the Southern Province are both well advanced.
Let us take another vital factor, namely tractor maintenance. When the Corporation took over on 31st March, 1948, 289 tractors were available, but only 91 of these were serviceable. One year later—that is, at the end of the Corporation's first year, on 1st April, 1949–429 tractors were serviceable. Let us take another point. They have been able to develop a very much superior method of clearance. Two tractors are chained together, and the clearing is done by dragging the chain between the two. As the result, in under a year's working of this new method of clearance they have 44 brought down the cost of clearance per acre from the high figure of £30 to approximately £14. I am not saying that that goes far enough. It is most important to bring the costs lower than that, but it does show progress by the Corporation in its first year's activities.
I now turn to agricultural operations. As the House knows, the 1949 crop at Kongwa was almost ruined by the drought which struck, not only the Kongwa area but most of East Africa, causing, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Colonies knows only too well, a most serious famine in Nyasaland. No doubt last year's drought at Kongwa should be a warning to us, and it has caused the Corporation to decide to limit their development at Kongwa to the present acreage of 100,000, of which 82,000 will shortly be under crops. The balance will be for grazing, roads, camps and villages; I gave the exact figures in the last Debate.
I suggest that it would be a most hasty decision to write off the Kongwa experiment on the experience of one year's drought. After all, the year before, in 1948, there was an adequate rainfall at Kongwa, and the yield of groundnuts on the small area of 7,500 acres which the managing agency were able to clear was just about up to the estimate, allowing for the groudnuts they were unable to gather because they had not perfected their harvesting technique at that time. I think that only seven years' experience at Kongwa will show the real suitability of the ground, whether for groundnuts, sunflowers, other crops, or animal husbandry, all of which are being tried out in the area at the present time.
I come now to Urambo and the Southern Province. It is true, mainly because of the greater security of rainfall, that the main development of the Corporation will take place in these two other areas, at Urambo and in the Southern Province. Urambo had only a small area under crop last year, and the failure of the rain at a critical period ruined that crop, as well as in Kongwa. However, the opinion of the agriculturists is that it is well worth while going up to 100,000 acres at Urambo. It is interesting to notice that, although the rainy season is only just beginning, there has already been up to three inches of rain at Urambo, while there has been only one 45 shower at Kongwa—the Southern Province have also had rain.
As I have already told the House, the agriculturists consider it especially significant that there was an adequate rainfall in the Southern Province in 1949. Even in that drought year, it was one of the very few parts where adequate rain fell. It was, of course, no use to the Corporation financially, because an insignificant acreage of land had been cleared at that time—only some 600 acres of pilot plots. It was satisfactory evidence, however, that even in this drought year the Southern Province appeared from all records to have a really adequate rainfall.
In this connection, I should like to deal for a moment with trial plots and pilot schemes. No one who reads the scientific section of the report, pages 98 to 152, can possibly sustain the impression that this side of the work has been neglected. Let me give a list of the crops which have been planted for trial purposes during the last three years: sorghum, millet, soya beans, maize, sunflowers, castor seed, linseed, cotton, niger oil, sesame, peas, beans, green maize, buckwheat and sweet potatoes. Many of these crops have given good results, in the Southern Province especially.
We now have two years' experience on these trial plots, but it does not mean—I am not going to guarantee it—that in Urambo and in the Southern Area we shall not meet any of these formidable difficulties which have arisen at Kongwa. I guarantee nothing of the sort. In fact, I am perfectly sure that we shall meet serious and perplexing difficulties in the Southern Province and in Urambo.
§ Mr. Walter Fletcher (Bury)
When the right hon. Gentleman says "tried out," does he mean crops which have been grown in Africa as native produce, or crops which have been tried out by the Corporation?
§ Mr. Strachey
I am glad that question has been asked. I mean crops that have been tried out deliberately by the Corporation on the pilot plots, which I myself have inspected.
I was saying that serious and perplexing difficulties will certainly arise in other areas, and that they will test our scientists and agriculturists to the utmost. I do 46 not imagine that they will be the same difficulties as we had at Kongwa—they will probably be new ones—but I do not believe that we can develop a tropical agricultural scheme unless we face these difficulties. There will be diseases and pests. There will, for example, be Rosette disease, which is present in almost all areas where groundnuts are grown in Africa, and which is a serious problem for scientists to control. There will be other pests. If we are not willing to face this fact we had better close down this scheme and any such development scheme at once, and allow the bush to repossess the cleared areas, and roads, the villages, the townships and railways and ports which we have built. I shall be interested to hear if there is any suggestion from any part of the House that we should do that.
What the Opposition are proposing today is not that, but that there should be an inquiry into the scheme. Is it to be an inquiry into what has happened, or what we propose to do? As to what has happened, the facts of the past are given fully in the report we are discussing today, and I shall now give to the House the essential facts and figures of the programme which the management in East Africa has proposed and which His Majesty's Government have adopted.
We believe in public enterprise, and we appointed a Public Corporation to do this job because we knew it was too big and too difficult to be tackled in any other way. Having appointed that Corporation, we think it must get on with that job within the framework of policy laid down from time to time by the Government. Hon. Members opposite complain of controls and Government interference in these operations and tell us that public enterprise is inevitably hidebound and unwilling to take risks and the like. Yet the moment difficulties face us they propose an inquiry.
I can see no way of making more certain that public enterprise will be hidebound and unwilling to face and take risks than to appoint an inquiry the minute it encounters difficulties. An inquiry such as is proposed by the Opposition must have a most unsettling effect on the men who are doing the job, and who are doing it very well indeed, on the spot. It must interfere grievously with the day to day working in East Africa. I would 47 also remind the House that if there is any desire to look further, for example, into the accounts—
§ Mr. Stanley
I hesitate to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman, but perhaps he would read out to the House the terms of our Amendment.
§ Mr. Strachey
I am willing to do that. It says:Line 2, at end, add ' and, in view of the most disquieting facts disclosed therein, regards as essential and urgent a full inquiry into the present situation and the future prospects of the Corporation's work in East Africa'.I should have thought that the words "present situation" involved inquiry into the record of the Corporation.
As I was saying, if there is a desire to look further into the accounts, which are set out fully, the Public Accounts Committee has full competence to examine them and send for persons and papers. I can see no case for setting up a new ad hoc inquiry when Parliament already possesses all the instruments and machinery which it may desire to use, if it sees fit to do so, in this matter.
I feel that the right thing to do when we strike difficulties, as we have struck them, is not to hamper the Corporation with inquiries. The right thing to do is to examine the board of the Corporation and see whether we have absolute confidence that it is the best possible instrument to do the job which faces it. If we conclude that it is not, then we must make changes in the board, however hard they may be on individuals. We have done that; we have made changes which, in our considered view, were necessary to strengthen the board of the Overseas Food Corporation. Having done that, we have no intention of hamstringing and hampering it, as reconstituted, with further inquiries or commissions. The truth is that in a scheme of this kind we have either to go on with it or chuck it, and we have decided to go on with it.
I now turn to the programme of development which we have adopted. Let me repeat that this programme was evolved by the management in East Africa. That management is led today by Professor Phillips on the agricultural side, and Mr. Raby on the engineering side. These two gentlemen and their 48 workers enjoy the utmost confidence of the Government. Professor Phillips is one of the most eminent authorities on tropical agriculture, not only in theory but in practice, and Mr. Raby, an Englishman, comes straight from building the new steel mills in South Africa and is showing great powers of engineering ability and organisation.
The management in East Africa—Professor Phillips, Mr. Raby, and, on the financial side, Mr. Troughton—elaborated the best possible programme for carrying on the scheme in present circumstances. They recommended it to the board, which considered it in great detail and recommended, through me, to the Government that it should be adopted. The Government have adopted it, and it has now been put into operation.
The House has already been given most of the figures of the programme of clearance during 1950 for the crop of 1951. This clearance will begin in a few weeks' time and be completed this time next year and the land put under harvest for 1951. I gave the figures last July, but I will go over them again. There is to be no further clearance at Kongwa; 70,000 acres will be cleared at Urambo, and I can now add the 20,000 acres in the Southern Province. I would like to say a word or two about clearance in the Southern Province. We are sometimes accused of lagging in this scheme and sometimes of rushing ahead too fast. It is suggested that we ought to have a pilot scheme in the south.
What has been the speed at which we have developed in the south? For two years we established trial plots. Although results were encouraging, such plots can only provide a limited amount of experience of what the results will be when we go in on a larger scale. For next year's harvest we propose to clear 2,000 acres—the job is nearly done now. Is not that just about the pilot scheme which we are asked to undertake? I think 2,000 acres is the minimum figure which can give us real experience of what the cultivation results, agricultural costs and the like will be outside the trial plot area. For the harvest of 1951 we propose to plant 20,000 acres, which is not a very big target either.
I should not like the House to think that we have done nothing in the 49 Southern Province during the two years the trial plots and the pilot scheme have been in operation. On the contrary, there has been continuous work in building up communications and fixed capital works without which large-scale clearance could not and should not begin. Let me give a list of these works, which account for an important part of the total expenditure on the scheme. There are many miles of new roads and there is an oil pipeline 120 miles long. A new railway of 90 miles from the coast to the area has been built and paid for by the Corporation. This essential 90 miles stretch of railway was opened by the Governor of Tanganyika on 25th October last and is now running. A temporary port in the Lindi Creek has been created, and the permanent port of Mikindani with its deep water berths, 20 miles further east down the coast, is going forward. In addition to this there is a force of tractors, repair depots and personnel. The providing of houses and water supply are well forward in the groundnut area itself.
It is very true that all these massive capital developments in the south have not yet resulted in clearing any appreciable number of acres in the area. But that is the deliberate decision by the Corporation, which I have announced on previous occasions to the House. It was deliberately decided, in order not to incur undue costs, not to go ahead with the clearing of a substantial area in the south until the essential stretch of railway was open.
That gives the programme of development up to the end of 1950 for the harvest of 1951.
§ Mr. Keeling (Twickenham)
Before the right hon. Gentleman leaves the Southern Province could he say where the 2,000 acres are to be?
§ Mr. Strachey
That is beyond me, but the hon. Gentleman will find it repeatedly in the report.
I have given a programme of development and clearance for 1950 for the harvest of 1951. After that it is proposed in the Southern Province to clear just under 100,000 acres during 1951 for the harvest of 1952. In the year after that it 50 is hoped to step up the rate of clearance in the Southern Province to 150,000 acres. That will take us to the harvest of 1954, and will see 600,000 acres cleared. That is as far ahead as we have thought it possible to look at the present time.
On the calculations worked out by the management, examined first by the board and then by my Department, this is a programme which can be conducted and carried through to the harvest of 1954 within the existing financial resources of the Corporation. I shall be asked what will be the asset created by this programme by the year 1954. Will the 600,000 acres cleared prove an adequate asset either in the wide sense of something of great value to the British Commonwealth, or in the narrow sense of something able to earn its financial keep? I think I shall be asked, are we even sure we can grow oil seeds in this area? On that at any rate, I can be perfectly definite, of course we can grow oil seeds and other crops in this area.
§ Mr. Strachey
Not on every one of those 600,000 acres. I am sure that some of them will turn out to be unsuitable for oilseeds.
§ Mr. Strachey
I said oil seeds and other crops. I can be certain of that for two reasons—first, as the hon. Member for Bury (Mr. W. Fletcher) said just now, the natives with their hoes have for a long time grown groundnuts in this area, and throughout last year and in Kenya we grew some 3,000 tons of oil seeds. Of course, we can grow oil seeds and other crops too.
The real question, and a perfectly legitimate question is—shall we grow these crops profitably? Let me go into that question in some detail. If we mean by "profitably" that the revenues on a 600,000 acres scheme in 1954 will more than balance the outgoings on current account, then I must repeat what I have said often to the House—and I am afraid I shall irritate some Members with it, but it must be said—that it depends on the price of oil seeds at that time. I can only say that on the present price of oil seeds there is a very fair prospect indeed 51 that 600,000 acres would more than pay its way on current account.
There may be another question asked—what prospect is there that the excess of revenue over expenditure on current account on 600,000 acres can pay a satisfactory return on the capital invested, which is calculated to be £45 million to £50 million? As I have already told the House, up to that amount is within the borrowing powers of the Corporation. Let me say perfectly frankly and clearly that on a 600,000 acre scheme it is impossible to get a commercially attractive return on that amount of capital. The estimates contained in the original Wakefield-Martin-Rosa Report on costs have proved to be too far out for that to be possible. It is true that the clearing costs are coming down rapidly, and are only half of what they were. All the high initial expenditure has been incurred, but it is not possible to say if the 600,000 acres in 1954 would have any real prospect of giving a commercially attractive return on that amount of capital invested.
Am I implying by this that we have finally decided to stop with a scheme of 600,000 acres in 1954? It would be quite wrong if any decision of that sort were taken. The scheme must work to a plan, and I have told the House what the plan is. I should be the very last to say that the plan must not be revised either upwards or downwards. As 1954 approaches it will, no doubt, be necessary to review the position in the light of the existing difficulties and the urgency of our needs for oils and fats, as well as the world's needs. These needs I hope will be reflected in the price of oils and fats, and as well there will be other relevant factors.
What would a great private corporation do in these circumstances? It would undertake an early capital reconstruction. Let me remind the House that many of our greatest private corporations have undergone that process of capital reconstruction. It would write down the initial capital used so that the current operations were not asked to bear capital charges which could not possibly be sustained. At the same time it would decide whether it wished to go on and go in for further capital development. Sometime between now and 1954, it will be necessary in my judgment to prepare an analogous scheme, requiring legislation, of course, for the 52 Overseas Food Corporation, but I am quite sure that several more years' experience are needed of the scheme before we do that.
We undertook this scheme of public enterprise because we knew that the costs and risks were too large for private enterprise to undertake. We undertook the scheme because the world needed oils and fats desperately. The world still needs oils and fats desperately; even so, if the world came to need oils and fats less urgently and their price started to fall, of which I feel less and less convinced as I see what is happening today, the question arises, would it have been wrong to start the scheme?
After all we subsidise, quite rightly in my opinion, almost every staple product of the British farmers today to the tune of £280 million a year. Why do we do so? We do so because we urgently need the food which those British fanners are producing. Does the fact that home agricultural production, far from paying the Government any commercial profit, causes a loss to the Government of £280 million a year, mean that British farming is not worth while? Of course, it means nothing of the sort.
§ Mr. Strachey
Of course we do, I do not deny that for one moment, but I do not quite understand the hon. Member's point. All that I am saying is that it would be as absurd a conclusion to suggest that, because the groundnut scheme of 600,000 acres will not give a commercially attractive return, it is not worth while as it would to suggest that British farming is not worth while, because, instead of making a commercial profit out of it, the Government are making a loss.
I propose to leave the subject of the general development of Africa, which is closely bound up with this scheme in East Africa, to the Secretary of State for the Colonies, who will reply. I should like at this point to quote one or two words from a leading article in the "Daily Telegraph," which is not an organ which can be accused of partiality towards this side of the House. In that leading article, the "Daily Telegraph" said on 2nd November:It is not, however, in political scales, that the scheme ought to be weighed. Generically, 53 it is one of those vast, pioneering ventures such as any British Government should and must make if one day the ideal of the economic independence of the non-dollar area is to be attained.I noticed also that Lord Balfour of Inchyre, in another place, after some sharp criticisms of myself, said that we ought to have five groundnut schemes. In principle, his Lordship is right, but we have not unlimited resources. The Overseas Food Corporation is undertaking two schemes. The Colonial Development Corporation is undertaking several others. If we undertake these schemes, for which spokesmen of all classes of political opinion ask us, let us face the fact that those schemes will not all at once succeed. Some of them will strike snags and difficulties. Let us not falter, having taken on these schemes, when they strike those difficulties or, for that matter, when we make mistakes, as we have made mistakes, and as I am sure we shall make mistakes in other schemes.
I have spoken about railway development in the south. One piece of news which I would like to give to the House is in respect to the railway there, which has only been open for four weeks now. I said that I anticipated and hoped when these communications—railway, port and pipeline—were working, that other enterprises, private profit-making enterprises, would come into the area. That railway has been open only four weeks and already, I am glad to be able to tell the House, Messrs. Steel Bros., an important timber firm, has taken out a concession on the Ronda Plateau. They have formed a company to work the timber there.
Everybody has always known that the timber was there. I saw it myself when I was there 18 months ago, but it has been inaccessible until now. Steel Bros, have only to build a short road from the area of their concession down to the railway and they will be able to ship the timber down the rail, out of the temporary port on the Lindi Creek which the Overseas Food Corporation have bought and paid for in the Southern Province, of Tanganyika. I wish Steel Bros, the best of luck in their new enterprise.
§ Mr. Strachey
A sawmill is being built at Noli. It is part of the operation. It is a sawmill to be used in building houses in the Southern area, villages on the units, and the like. This is done in order to use the timber which has been cleared. We thought it a good idea to use the timber which we had to clear to get at the ground—it is not good enough for commercial export—to build houses. It seemed a sensible thing to do. There is no timber in Kongwa but there is a great deal of timber in the Southern Province. Hon. Members should not confuse the two. I believe that the enterprise of Steel Bros, will be only the first of a long series of enterprises which will gather round the port and the new communications opened in the Southern Province. In view of the large sum of money which has been spent in that area and other areas we should not leave these factors out of consideration.
I turn to the strengthening of the board of the Overseas Food Corporation. I have already spoken of the appointment of Sir Eric Coates. As the House knows. I had to recommend to the Prime Minister that I should take further measures. I have appointed, I believe, a most experienced administrator, Sir Donald Perrott, to be Deputy-Chairman of the Corporation. He carried out, at the Corporation's request, an examination of the Corporation's affairs both in East Africa and in London. He has been Deputy-Secretary in my Department. In addition to great administrative powers, he has an intimate knowledge of the scheme, and I believe he can give more rapid help on the board than any other appointment could do. Mr. McFadyen, the existing Deputy-Chairman, will continue as a full executive member of the board, in charge of his existing functions, which are supply, transport and welfare.
As part of that reorganisation I had to write to Mr. Wakefield declaring vacant his office on the board. I did so with great regret. Mr. Wakefield was a leader of the original mission and he was chief author of the Wakefield-Martin-Rosa Report. Undoubtedly the scheme owes much to his vision and enthusiasm at the initial stage, but I could not avoid coming to the conclusion, which was shared by all my advisers, that the board would be strengthened by this change. The very last thing I want to do is to 55 enter into controversy with Mr. Wakefield, but I was very sorry to see that Mr. Wakefield, the chief author of the Wakefield Report, was accusing his colleagues of disregard for cost and of attempting to go too fast. After all, the Wakefield Report contained estimates of cost and proposals for speed of clearance far more unrealistic than any which the Corporation has ever considered.
That is the extent of the changes which, on my recommendation, the Government have decided to make in the board. I wish to say with all possible emphasis that the board as now constituted enjoys our full confidence. This obviously applies to the new members but it applies absolutely equally to Sir Leslie Plummer, the. Chairman of the board, and the other members of the board.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Cooper (Middlesbrough, West)
My right hon. Friend mentioned a little earlier the scaling down of the scheme from about 60,000 acres to something like 50,000 acres. Was it not on Mr. Wakefield's advice that that was done?
§ Mr. Strachey
No, Sir, I could not accept that view. It was done on the considered judgment of the board as a whole, who discussed the matter with the management in East Africa. Three or four members of the board were out there at the time. It is perfectly true that Mr. Wakefield agreed to it and concurred in it.
The House has a right to know whether I still believe in this scheme. I assure the House that I feel, as I always have felt, profoundly concerned with my responsibilities to this House and to the country for the groundnut scheme. I regret the initial miscalculations which underlay the estimates of costs and of times in the Wakefield Report which I and the Government accepted at the initiation of the scheme. I recognise that we have had to pay a substantial sum of money for the experience we have gained. That constitutes an admission that the difficulties to be faced in opening up East Africa were under-estimated.
Yet, in the face of those difficulties, I and my colleagues are convinced that the need to proceed with this scheme is at least as great today as it was in 1946. I say this both because our national 56 needs for primary raw materials from Commonwealth sources are greater today than ever, and because our supply of oils, though it has improved since 1946, is still far from sufficient for the needs of the population as a whole. As to the world's needs over and above national needs, the world's needs for primary products, in oils and fats in particular, have grown and not diminished since 1946. I believe that the world's needs in 1954, when the first part at any rate of the scheme is completed, will be greater than ever.
In this connection I read with great interest the speech of Sir James Scott Watson, the Chief Scientific Adviser to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture. He said in a recent speech that even to maintain the present standard of nutrition in the world we must double primary agricultural production in the next 26 years. I see that the authorities in the Food and Agricultural Organisation meeting in New York at the present moment are reiterating this statement. We are the biggest food importer in the world, and the full brunt of those potential shortages will fall on us if we do not do something about it. We must not suppose that the peoples of tropical areas in particular, where population is growing fastest, will long continue to stint themselves for us.
Is this then the time to falter? Is it not rather the time to press on with Commonwealth agricultural development? What we have really done so far in the groundnut scheme is to discover—I fully agree that we have discovered by the hard way of trial and error—a technique for clearing the bush and the forest of tropical Africa on a mass scale. I am convinced that in the end we shall not have bought that discovery dearly.
I was reading last night, when I was contemplating this Debate, the 33rd essay of Francis Bacon entitled "Of Plantations "—
§ Mr. Strachey
It is another Bacon. Probably the hon. Member has not heard of him. Francis Bacon wrote:Plantations are amongst Ancient, Primitive and Heroicall Workes…. For you must make account, to leese almost Twenty yeares Profit, and expect your Recompense in the end.57 He concludes:It is the sinfullest Thing in the world to foresake or destitute a Plantation, once in Forwardness.
§ 4.32 p.m.
§ Mr. Oliver Stanley (Bristol, West)
The right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Food closed with a very apt quotation from Bacon, although I think that on further examination he will realise that the plantations to which that gentleman referred were those of trees—
§ Mr. Strachey
With respect, I have just read the essay. They were the Virginia plantations—in the Colony of Virginia.
§ Mr. Stanley
I should like to start, as the right hon. Gentleman appealed to us, I think, quite rightly, by saying a few words about the Queensland scheme. All sides of the House join in pleasure at seeing the successful start of this scheme. All of us are grateful for the part which has been played by the people in Queensland. All of us hope that in its limited form it will achieve substantial success. It is true, of course, that, I think through a misfortune which is unlikely to recur—a very late frost—the yield for this year has fallen very much below what was anticipated. The right hon. Gentleman, with his usual euphemism, said it was not quite a bumper crop as expected. I think it is one-third of the crop which he told us was expected.
§ Mr. Stanley
I have already said that we recognise that this was due to a misfortune which will not recur, but surely it is better to be honest about things, and when a crop through no fault of one's own has been reduced by two-thirds, not to talk of it as being a little short of a bumper crop.
I wish to confine myself entirely to the question of the annual report and the future of the groundnut scheme. In the course of my speech I shall have to make certain allegations which should either be confirmed or denied and also ask certain questions to which answers' will be necessary. I gather that the right hon. 58 Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Colonies will wind up the Debate. I am sure he will give me the answers for which I ask. It is true that the right hon. Gentleman himself has no direct, no more than the ordinary Cabinet, responsibility for this scheme. Personally I wish he had. I always thought that the scheme should be under the Colonial Office and not under the Ministry of Food, and I will pay the right hon. Gentleman the compliment, although perhaps he will not think it a compliment, that I am sure that under him the scheme would have fared better.
I see that the West African "Pilot," discussing this scheme a few months ago, said, if I may use the actual words:Mr. Creech Jones has allowed the African groundnut scheme to slip from his nerveless fingers into the greedy grasp of Mr. John Strachey.Those of us who take much interest in West African affairs know that the Nigerian "Pilot" is usually wrong, and probably it is wrong on this occasion, and in fact the right hon. Gentleman, more prescient and more prudent than his colleague, has a certain inward satisfaction at the moment that his right hon. Friend is holding the baby which he so eagerly grasped.
Before coming to the report, I want to ask—I hope the right hon. Gentleman will give it to us—for some rather fuller explanation of these two dismissals of members of the board which have taken place within the last few days. I hold no brief for either of those two gentlemen. I knew them both when I was Secretary of State for the Colonies, as I am sure the right hon. Gentleman, my successor, knew them too, and I am sure he will confirm what I say, that both of them were men loyal to the office which they served and had a sincere desire for the public well-being.
What I want to ask the right hon. Gentleman, if he can tell us, is, first, the particular reason for dismissing these gentlemen now, and, secondly, the particular responsibility which caused him to dismiss these two members of the board and no others. First of all, why now? The facts which have been revealed to the public in the annual report, issued, it is true, only a few weeks ago, must have been known to the right hon. Gentleman very soon 59 after the completion of the first year. There can have been nothing new to him, therefore, in the publication of the report in October, and if it is this comparative failure of the first year's operation which has led to the dismissal of these two gentlemen, it is odd that that dismissal was not made during the summer after these first results were known and that it has been delayed until November. What has been the particular cause, since the right hon. Gentleman knew the results of the first year, which has since intervened and made necessary in November dismissals which apparently were considered unnecessary in the summer?
So much for the timing. Now for the selection of these two individuals. I think the right hon. Gentleman will confirm what I am about to say. I assume that these dismissals have nothing to do with the fact that these two gentlemen were signatories of the original report, the Wakefield Report. That was three years ago. Much has happened since the report was accepted and examined by the right hon. Gentleman. Much later these two gentlemen were appointed to the Board and I must assume, therefore, that this dismissal is connected not with their signature of that report but with their conduct as members of the Board of the new Corporation. I thought perhaps the right hon. Gentleman could confirm that that is the case?
§ Mr. Strachey
The right hon. Gentleman who is in possession of the Floor has asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies to reply, and I think it is better if I leave my right hon. Friend to do so.
§ Mr. Stanley
I am assuming that, then, until the right hon. Gentleman contradicts it. That being so, I should like to know how is it that these two gentlemen have been selected to bear responsibility for the failures of the last year. How is it they have been selected? I can understand three different ways. The first is the normal one. If there should be on any board disagreement in principle, if a certain minority of members take a view different from the remainder of the board then, clearly, there is no alternative but the resignation or dismissal of those who disagree. However, I can find no record of such a disagreement on principle having taken place 60 upon the Board of the Overseas Food Corporation.
It is quite true that Mr. Wakefield on several occasions brought to the notice of the Board the fact that he thought they were going too fast, and that the speed at which they were attempting development was unnecessary and gravely increasing the cost. But he made the first of those protests as far back as June, 1948. That has been published in the Press. The next was in March of this year, and neither of those protests was followed by any demand for his dismissal. I must assume, therefore, that this has not arisen through disagreement in the Board.
The second possibility would be that the Chairman of the Corporation, as he had every right to do, went to the Minister and said, "These two colleagues whom you have appointed and on whom I have to rely, do not give me the support or the satisfaction to which I am entitled and I ask you, therefore, to remove them." The Chairman would have been quite entitled to do that, but one would have thought if that had been the case that the Chairman would at least have communicated beforehand with the colleagues with whom he was working, that he would have told them at some period of his dissatisfaction, and that he would equally have told them that he was making this report to the Minister.
As far as I can make out, nothing of that kind was ever done. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will tell me? The Chairman never at any time raised with either of these two gentlemen the question of their fitness to continue as members of the Board or said that he intended to make any adverse report to the Minister. Indeed, I am told exactly the opposite. [An HON. MEMBER: "By whom? "] By Mr. Wakefield. Here is a man who has been dismissed. Is he not entitled to have the facts of the case brought before this House of Commons? As I say, he informed me that, far from this being the case, the Chairman condoled with him on his dismissal, said that he had done his best for him, but that the Minister was insistent.
§ Mr. John Lewis (Bolton)
Would the right hon. Gentleman say if Mr. Wakefield indicated to him whether or not 61 there had been any dissension amongst the members of the Board prior to this incident?
Mr. Stanley: I have said already that I understood there was none, except that on two occasions, far back, Mr. Wakefield protested against the speed at which the development was going on.
§ Mr. Stanley
One was in the summer of 1948 and the other in the spring of 1949. Therefore, we are forced to the conclusion that the dismissal of these two men has really nothing to do with their personal responsibility under the scheme. The fact is that just before this Debate came on the Minister wanted scapegoats and he has chosen the two scapegoats who appear most convenient to him.
I see in the Press that the right hon. Gentleman made use of the analogy of the military operation. He said that in military operations the penalty of failure was dismissal and that this must be regarded as a military operation. I agree that is not a bad principle. It is sometimes not very just but it is also sometimes very effective. [An HON. MEMBER: "You should know."] However, that principle, if it is to be adopted, must be one of general application. In this case it is one of particular application. When this military operation fails we sack the battalion commanders but we do not touch the general who planned the attack, still less the commander-in-chief who ordered it.
Now I want to turn to the Report. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Are hon. Gentleman really suggesting that the question of the dismissal of these two men is so irrelevant to what we are now discussing that it has been wrong for me to raise it? Really some of them must try to keep their loyalty to the Minister within bounds.
On the past, I only want to deal with a few points because I want to talk more particularly both about the present conditions of this scheme and about its future. In dealing with the past I want only to treat it on these lines. Hon. Members may have seen a recent article in the "Tribune" dealing with the groundnut scheme. I do not know who wrote this article and I select it merely because it typifies a certain attitude which is being adopted. It is quite a simple 62 story, namely, that the Wakefield Report was all wrong, that the managing agency was all wrong, but that, since the Food Corporation came into being and took over, progress has been slow and steady, and that it is significant that this progress started just when private enterprise left off.
It is important to see what truth there is in that statement. It is obviously vital for any action we take in the future because, if that line is right to adopt—that because of the earlier mistakes we have to make some payment in money and some payment in time but still we are on the right lines and slow, steady progress is being made—then no changes need be made and we simply wait for the thing to turn out right in the end. But, of course, changes have been made, and I do not believe that that story is right. I believe that in fact, in the first year of its existence, the Corporation made mistakes as grave as any which were made by the managing agency during their year of responsibility, and that they had less excuse for making those mistakes because by the time they took over, at least some of the rougher pioneering work had already been completed.
I shall take three tests of the statement I now make. I think all hon. Members will agree that they relate to three of the most important branches of the work and responsibility of the Corporation. The first is accountancy, to which the right hon. Gentleman has referred. The second is morale; and the third is the planning of operations. With regard to accountancy, I shall leave to other of my hon. Friends who have made a special study of this the more detailed analysis of the accounts. A good deal of what I was going to say on this point has already been said by the Minister.
I was glad that the right hon. Gentleman called attention to the fact that it is impossible to hold the managing agency wholly accountable for the difficulties that have arisen. In the first place, of course, they were only an agency, and were under the control of the right hon. Gentleman. It is significant that their audit was done by the Audit Department of the Ministry of Food, who at any time were entitled to ask for other accountancy arrangements. Secondly—and people are very apt to forget this when they talk about 63 mistakes of the managing agency—although it is true that the Overseas Food Corporation did not come into existence, I think, until January, 1948, and did not take over until March of that year, yet the chairman of that Corporation had been appointed as chairman-designate some months before. During all that time he had free access to all the books and papers of the managing agency; he spent several months in Africa with them and, I believe, after November, 1947, no policy decision could be taken by the managing agency without his knowledge and concurrence. Therefore, there was plenty of opportunity for any criticisms of the accountancy system of the managing agency to have been made earlier.
We agree that for one reason or another, when the Corporation took over, the accounts were not satisfactory. As I read the report of the auditor, however, he is not referring merely to left-overs on the assumption of authority by the Corporation; his remarks concerning the books which have been improperly kept and the statements which are not available refer to books and statements during the period when the Corporation were in authority. As far as I can see, little progress was made during that first year to clear up the accountancy muddle. The whole House and the country will be sorry to hear that the right hon. Gentleman now, 20 months after the Corporation assumed authority, is still unable to give any assurance that by the end of the present financial year in March the same sort of note will not have to be attached to the accounts again.
I turn now to my second point, that of morale. This was particularly referred to in the "Tribune" article from which I quote:What was more serious still was the frustrating and demoralising effect of these endless failures and delays on the people who had gone to Africa with so much enthusiasm.That was under the managing agency, and we were told that from the time the Corporation took over there was "slow and steady improvement." Was that really so? As a matter of fact—I know that the right hon. Gentleman will, correct me if I am wrong—morale under the managing agency was on the whole very high, but it did not remain high after the Corporation took over. I ask the right hon. 64 Gentleman, is it not a fact that in September, 1948—that is, six months after the Corporation took over—all the heads of the Department in East Africa sent a memorandum to the resident member, calling attention to therapid lowering of morale and deep feeling of bewilderment, which exists at present among Heads of Department and rank and file almost without exception.That memorandum was sent in September, 1948, to the resident member. As far as I can make out, nothing happened. Therefore, at the end of January, 1949, another memorandum was sent in case the first one had not got through to the top. This second memorandum was sent to the chairman and executive members of the board. It happened that all, or many, of them, including the Chairman, were about to go to Kongwa. In this memorandum, sent very nearly a year after the Corporation had taken over, the same gentlemen expressed the opinion that the situation which had been described in the first memorandum had become worse in the five months which had since elapsed. They made, I believe, many suggestions as to how this distressing state of affairs could be corrected and morale could be improved.
I do not know what the results of those suggestions were. I can give the House one result, however, and I think it will interest hon. Members if I read a list of the offices concerned and the fate of those, the signatories of the memorandum, who held them. The chief health officer is the only one who is still there; the chief labour officer has been reduced in rank; chief supplies officer, dismissed; chief motor transport officer, superseded and resigned; chief civil engineer, dismissed; chief mechanical engineer, dismissed; chief personnel officer, transferred to the secretariat; chief merchandise officer, dismissed as redundant.
One thing is certain: that if the Chairman, as a result of this memorandum and the action he took, did nothing to improve morale, at least he has done enough to secure silence. Is anybody going to affirm—and will the Minister affirm—that, in view of what I have stated, the picture painted by the "Tribune" is a right one and that during the year covered by the report of the Corporation there was "slow and steady improvement "in morale?
65 I turn now to planning. I have here the background notes issued to the Press by the Corporation at the time of the publication of the report. I think any hon. Member will agree that such notes are an important document. They certainly would not be issued without the authority of the Chairman of the board, and it is probable—it would only be right—that in view of his long experience with the Press he should have taken a particular responsibility, and perhaps a part, in drawing it up. I want to read one extract from these background notes because, oddly enough, it does not appear in the report. It is this:It was the view of some officers of the Managing Agency in East Africa that, because of the delays encountered in the first year, the year 1948–49—the second year—should be regarded as the first operative year, and that 150.000 acres, most of them in Kongwa, could be cleared, cultivated and planted. The Corporation took a different view, and during the course of the year covered by the report, reduced this target to 50,000 acres. This figure was almost reached, 49,620 acres being sown to crops.I do not know what impression that conveys to hon. Members opposite, but I know what I should have felt on reading that statement: that the rash, improvident agency, before it relinquished its authority, had thought of developing 150,000 acres, but that when the Corporation came in at the end of March, before the planting season started, they were more cautious, more careful, more realistic and reduced that target to 50,000 acres. They so accurately estimated it that in fact it was within a few hundred acres of reaching the target they set. That is what I should have thought.
I do not know what the managing agency would have had in view with regard to the 150,000 acres, but I do know what the Corporation had in view. Is it not a fact that, after the Corporation took control, the resident member, whose first duty it was, proposed as the target for the year the clearing and planting of 125,000 acres? Is it almost exactly the figure which we are told the managing agency had so foolishly suggested? Is it not a fact that objections were raised in East Africa to that figure and by Mr. Wakefield in London, but that it was warmly and enthusiastically welcomed by the Chairman and in June the target was given by the Chairman and the resident member to the area manager of 125,000 acres?
66 I think the Minister of Food was over there at the time, or shortly after, and he will be able to confirm if that is so. Is it not a fact that, as late as August of that year the target for the year was still 121,000 acres? Is it not true that, when the right hon. Gentleman talks about how—almost at the close of the planting season—they decided on the target of 50,000 acres, the target was always 125,000 acres and was still that in August and thereafter, but, month by month, they had to drop, not the target, because that had been set, but the extent to which they were going to be able to reach that target?
Mr. Strachey: It is perfectly true that I discussed the matter with Major-General Harrison in July and he was very reluctant when he came into the scheme to say immediately that the target acreage for the next year should be reduced. I do not blame him for that. But is the right hon. Gentleman's argument anything more than that during the first month in which the Corporation came into possession of all the facts and possibilities on the spot they cut off 25,000 acres at once and gradually reduced the target to a realistic figure? Is he saying anything more than that?
§ Mr. Stanley
Yes, I am saying a great deal more than that. I am saying that three months after they came—by which time they must have had time to look round—against the advice of many people, they fixed the target of 125,000 acres and, two months later, it was still that figure; and when the right hon. Gentleman talks about reducing a target to 50,000 acres what happened was that, month by month, they fell further behind in reaching the target they had set for themselves and, in the end, the target of 50,000 acres represented what in fact they had been able to sow. If that is supposed to be an improvement in planning, the managing agency have no reason to be jealous of the Corporation for their better planning ability and certainly no reason to be jealous of any greater honesty being shown to the public.
Now I turn to the present and then, for a few minutes, to the future. In his speech the right hon. Gentleman has done what I am sure everyone hoped he would do—brought the report up to date. The report ended at the end of March and we were all anxious to hear what had been the result of clearing since that period.
67 I unders and that the target was fixed, at an earlier stage this year, at 55,000 acres and that that target has almost been reached. I am not quarrelling in the least with the fact that a much more realistic target has been fixed, but, on the other hand, it must be a disappointment to all interested in the scheme that in the third year of operation it should have been possible only to reach such a low figure.
In any scheme of this kind, whether it is rearmament, or any big development scheme, one expects that the first year or two will be slow, but that by the third year it will be gathering some momentum. But, in the third year we are only reaching 5,000 acres more than in the second year. The lack of momentum displayed shows how far wrong the scheme has gone. Of course, the vast majority of this development during this year has been at Kongwa and I understand -that Kongwa is now complete. I thought the limit was to be 90,000 acres, but I believe the right hon. Gentleman said 100,000 acres.
§ Mr. Strachey
The confusion here is between areas cleared and areas under crop. The right hon. Gentleman will find the exact figure in HANSARD.
§ Mr. Stanley
It is somewhere between 90,000 and 100,000 acres and that completes the operation at Kongwa. All that remains to be seen is whether now these 90,000 acres are completed we shall be able to grow groundnuts upon them. Everyone who has taken any interest in the scheme at all will agree that in this particular area, where most of the work has been done so far, there have been almost insuperable difficulties. There is the abrasive quality of the soil, the particular difficulty of the bush and the grave uncertainty of the rainfall. I do not attach undue importance to the fact that this year's crop has been a failure. At any time, in any part, drought might be possible, but let us make it quite clear that we do not yet know whether in fact these 90,000 acres will be found suitable for the economic growing of vegetable oils. They will grow something, but it may be necessary to turn them over to ranching or maize production, or something of that kind.
My hon. Friends will deal with the tremendous overhead expenses incurred in 68 this section which may have to be borne by a much smaller acreage than was formerly contemplated. The second development was at Urambo and that, everyone will agree, was more promising. Of course there were difficulties and there are difficulties now, but Urambo has been fortunate in one thing. It has not been in the shop window and the development there, so far as it has gone, has been much slower, much more economical and much more experimental in character. The result is that it is not hampered by the enormous overhead expenses incurred at Kongwa. I think there is every hope—apart from unforeseen difficulties—that it will be possible to develop this area to its limit of 90,000 acres fairly rapidly and that it will grow groundnuts.
But, of course, that is only 180,000 acres in all. If we are to get anywhere near the original scheme the main hope must be in the Southern province. I should like to ask the Minister two questions on that. One—I interrupted the right hon. Gentleman to ask if he would say something about it—concerns the saw mill at Noli, which seems from what I hear to be a rather odd performance. This saw mill, we are told with pride, the most modern and complete in North Africa, costing some £250,000. has been erected at Noli on the ground that around it a quantity of valuable timber would be available as raw material, and that the site would be there of the new town which would be the centre of that agricultural district in which it would find a rich market for its products—not an unreasonable suggestion.
That was why the saw mill was built at Noli but unfortunately it was not until after it was built that anybody made either a survey of the local timber or the agricultural soil survey upon which the site of the new town depended. I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether it is not a fact that the survey of the forest area has been most disappointing; that utilisable timber has been found to be only four to the acre, that only 30 per cent. is termite resistant, that the cost of production is something like three times the controlled price in Tanganyika, and that if this saw mill were to work full time it would exhaust the whole of the available supply in between one and two years?
69 So much for raw material; now for the market. The soil survey has, I gather, now been made and I wish to ask the Minister a question about that. I gather that as a result of that soil survey it is most unlikely that the town will be built at all, that in fact the agricultural centre may be some miles distant and that any town which may be built, will be built there. So we have this saw mill built and paid for and now find that its raw materials are largely deficient and that its market has been moved 30 or 40 miles away from it. Would it not really have been better to have had the surveys first and built the saw mill afterwards?
I wish to ask the right hon. Gentleman one question about the soil survey in the southern area. This was referred to in the report as a survey which was to take place during the summer. I should like to ask the Minister how far that soil survey has been completed and what has been the result? Is it not a fact that in Block A, that is the block immediately around the railhead, a very large area, the soil survey has been rather disappointing and only about a quarter of the area has been found fit for agricultural development—that is about some 300,000 acres out of 1,200,000? And, of course, when I say "fit for agricultural development" that means fit for growing anything, not necessarily fit for growing oil seed, which has not yet been tested. Secondly, even that is dependent upon the water being available and the necessary water survey has not yet been completed.
Finally, in regard to the present I should like to say a few words about the most important statement which the right hon. Gentleman made, so engagingly, that he thought it almost passed unnoticed, as to the future prospects of this scheme. He has told us now, quite rightly, when three-fifths of the money has already been expended, that those responsible for the scheme have tried to see how far it will be possible to go before the rest of the money voted by Parliament has been expended We are told that on their estimate, which I think the right hon. Gentleman will agree is based on an assumption that things will go right and that there will not be any new difficulties or any undiscovered water trouble, the result of the great scheme will be that by 1954 we shall have planted, at a cost of £50 million, 600,000 acres of agricultural 70 land, and that there is no certainty whatever what proportion of this 600,000 acres is capable of producing oil seeds, which was not only the original object of this scheme but is, of course, by far the most valuable crop which can be produced.
When we compare that with the original idea of three million acres at a cost of £25 million we do see how far we fall short of that achievement.
§ Mr. Stanley
Of course it was; he had a committee on it and accepted it as a result. In fact, if this scheme had originally been put in this form by the Government in this House—that if we spent £50 million we might at the end of that have 600,000 acres, an unknown proportion of which might be capable of growing oil seed, I very much doubt whether their scheme would on that basis ever have been accepted. Of course, to say that if that had been the original scheme put forward we should have turned it down, is quite different from saying that now that all this has been done, because that is all we are to get, we must now drop the scheme as it stands. That is why for a short period I wish to say a few words about the future of the scheme.
I think that everyone of us starts with a bias that we must carry this scheme through to a conclusion if we possibly and prudently can. In the first place there is the position of the staff, the great majority of whom have given devoted service. They do not bear any share of the blame. Although it is true that personal hardship cannot stand against national advantage we must consider the effects on them.
Secondly, there is the money already spent. Are we to write it off, as we should do if we dropped the scheme as a total loss? Is it not prudent to spend rather more and by that means get some return on what we have already spent? Thirdly, and this is most important, this is a question of prestige. This scheme has been blazened all over the world as a great British effort and for the sake of prestige all over the world we cannot afford to see it fail.
71 Finally, we do owe something to the Colonial Territories, and although this is an indirect way of helping them—no one would suggest that if we were to give £30 million to be spent in helping Colonial Territories we should spend it like this—dependent in the long run on the success of the scheme, that is an additional reason for our going forward.
§ Mr. Strachey
It might interest the right hon. Gentleman to know that rightly or wrongly, that is just what I do say. I believe that if we can discover, as I think we now have done, a technique for large-scale clearance in Africa and mechanised agriculture there, that is incomparably the greatest benefit we can give to the colonial areas by the expenditure of £30 million. I may be wrong.
§ Mr. Stanley
I will ask the Colonial Secretary, who is to reply, to say whether, if £30 million had been given to him to spend for the benefit of the inhabitants of East Africa this is how he would have done it.
It seems to me that for this scheme to go on and succeed there are two essentials. I start with the personal one. I think that all hon. Members in this House have read an article in "Picture Post" upon this scheme. No one will say that "Picture Post" is particularly hostile to this Government. Certainly no one will say that it is particularly friendly to us. I should have thought that most people who read this article would think that it was written most objectively and on the whole very fairly. I quote:And the finest single thing that could happen would be the resignation of Sir Leslie Plummer, O.F.C. chairman. In responsibility to Parliament and people, in leadership in his handling of executives, in his approach to the blameless little men, so many of whom have been and will be ' redundantised,' Sir Leslie has failed to give the new venture what it most needed.That reporter did not get that information round about Whitehall, or from Tory politicians—[HON. MEMBERS: "Where did he get it from? "] He got it from the people on the spot. If people could speak freely and without fear of the consequences, I say that nine out of every 10 concerned in this scheme would be saying the same thing today. His appointment was a gamble. He did not appear at the time to possess the particular qualifications for this particular job. Agricultural 72 and tropical knowledge, engineering development, large scale industrial administration—none of this—[HON. MEMBERS: "Jobs for the boys."]
The Minister of Health invoked his ancestors when attacking the people who manage the steel trade, because they were only accountants; but I do not think it would be any undue blame on the versatility of the Minister of Health's granny that she must have known about as much of these four subjects I have mentioned, as did the gentleman appointed as chairman of O.F.C. The gamble has failed. He has split the staff in East Africa from top to bottom. He has been responsible for the "speed at all costs" policy which has, over the last year, involved us in so much extra expense. It has been largely due to him that there has been dictation of the board from London, that there has been a swelling of staff here and over-centralisation—now being corrected—in East Africa itself. I quite agree with "Picture Post" that the best and greatest service he could render to the Corporation now would be to resign from it, and allow a new man to take his place.
I am going to make no reference to the Minister of Food. He knows his responsibility and makes his choice. It is clear that it would require dynamite to move him. But I would say this. I really do not mind if we have a new chairman, independent, courageous, ready to tell the public the truth; if we have, as I propose now a new scheme, with the authority of a new committee. Then the harm which the Minister can do to this scheme will, in future, be strictly circumscribed.
I come now to the other essential, and that is the inquiry which we ask for in the Amendment which will be moved at the end of this Debate. So far as I am concerned it is a demand for an inquiry, not into the past, but into the future. I know I have support from the hon. Member for East Coventry (Mr. Crossman) on this question of an inquiry, but he wants a different kind of inquiry. The other day he wrote in the "Sunday Pictorial." He started by saying—and there is good common sense in this—… Mr. Rosa and Mr. Wakefield are getting £3,000 apiece. It is a hard rule, but a good one, whether in public or private enterprises that when things go badly wrong, highly paid heads must fall.73 But, of course the hon. Gentleman would agree, not too highly paid heads; £3,000 a year heads, yes, let them fall; but £5,000 a year heads, no, they must stay. He goes on to say—and here I must say I rather disagree with him—that these two should go at once and that Parliament should set up a special inquiry to probe what really went wrong. Sack them first and then have an inquiry to see who is responsible for it.
If the hon. Gentleman and his friends want an inquiry into the past I do not mind that being done, so long as it does not take too much of the time of people on the job. But what I want is an inquiry into the future. I believe that no time would be wasted. We are getting almost towards the end of the developing season and we could go on with the planned work—not starting any great new venture, but with the planned work—while that committee was inquiring; and in the long run I believe that no time would be lost at all.
I should like to have a committee composed entirely of experts with no political bias whatever. I should say that finance, engineering, agriculture and African conditions were the four branches of knowledge to be represented. I should give free scope, the terms being that they should utilise so far as possible what has been done and on that basis tell us how they suggest the remaining sums of money should be expended. In doing so I would not tie them to groundnuts, although that is certainly the thing we want to grow most; it is the most valuable crop. But we have now to grow—now we have fixed areas where development must take place—not so much the things we want to grow, as the things which in fact can be grown in those areas.
I believe that the committee need not necessarily take very long. It would be able to make use of the material which has gone to make up the plan about which we have been told by the right hon. Gentleman. I do believe that its report—which would have to be accepted or rejected by the Government of the day—might have the most tremendous effect upon the future of the scheme. I challenge hon. Members to deny in their heart of hearts that the confidence of the country in the progress of this scheme has been shaken. It has been shaken in the counsel of those directing it. People cannot be sacked like this, after a time, without in 74 fact shaking confidence. There have been too many mistakes in the past, too many miscalculations, too many irregularities, really to trust this new survey made by the present set-up.
The report of this committee may give the basis for a new start in which all of us could join. Those responsible for carrying out the scheme would have in the future the authority of an independent report behind them. They would have the great advantage that their performance would be compared with a realistic survey, instead of being compared—as it is bound to be—with the original estimate now so wholly out of date. All of us could feel, no matter in what part of the House we are, that we could support, the new decision and in supporting it would be prepared to take our share of responsibility for carrying it out. In that way I believe that something—perhaps a great deal—could be saved of what otherwise might become the wreck of a fine conception which has hitherto been ruined by over-optimism and mismanagement.
This is too important for personal feelings. There ought to be no question of face-saving. I appeal to all of those who think only of the scheme and its future and who are conscious of the result of failure, and of the great result which might come from success, to adopt this plan. I am not out for finding scapegoats for the past. I am not here merely to fix responsibility on this man or that man. I want an agreed basis for the future which we all can support. I believe that the course suggested in our Amendment can restore—and is the only thing which can restore—confidence so badly shaken. It can unite all of us in a new support behind this enterprise which all of us must wish to succeed.
§ 5.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Wilfrid Roberts (Cumberland, Northern)
The first comment I want to make in a Debate of this sort is one which the right hon. Member for West Bristol (Mr. Stanley) also made. It is that our only interest should be to see that this scheme is carried out successfully. It is of the greatest importance to this country, to world food supplies, to Africa and to our position there, that the scheme of mechanised production should be successfully carried out. Neither the report nor the speech of the Minister did very much to reassure us. I think that 75 the Minister showed very clearly how disquieted he was at the position. His last remarks, when he asked himself whether he still believed in the scheme, proved how shaken his confidence in success has been by the slow development and all the difficulties which have been encountered.
Perhaps I ought to say at the start that I would not in any sense grudge the Minister the prestige which he might have gained if this scheme had been a success. My concern is that if we go on as we have been going on and if no fresh approach is made to the problem, the scheme will fail and there will be a setback to the whole idea of mechanised production of this sort. The Minister said, "If we could discover a technique for large-scale mechanical farming in Africa …" and then he went on to say that he thought that it had been established. I do not believe that such a technique has yet been satisfactorily established. From what I have read and from what I have been told, I have come to the conclusion that there must be great improvements in the technique of production before we can be satisfied that all is well.
Are we satisfied with the Minister's explanation of what he has done to change the situation and to encourage us to think that now the scheme will go steadily ahead? Are we satisfied that he has made out a case for dismissing two of the members of the board and that that, together with the appointment of two new and certainly able men, will make the scheme a success? The Minister did not convince me and I do not think he will have convinced the public generally. I came to this Debate, having read of what had happened, hoping that the Minister would make his case and that he would show that this was not an attempt to find scapegoats for the slow progress of the scheme and the mistakes that have been made. The Minister completely failed to convince me, and he would have failed to convince any impartial person, that there was a really sound reason for the board to think that the dismissal of these two men and the appointment of substitutes would so improve the position that we could now have confidence that the scheme would go ahead.
76 I have been told that not only Mr. Wakefield but Mr. Rosa had been very definitely associated with a policy of go-slow. I should like to know whether that is true. I understand that Mr. Rosa definitely made a stand and associated himself with the idea that too great an attempt was being made to hurry forward the scheme. When he spoke in March, it was obvious that the Minister was aware that the tempo might have been wrong. I remember that there was a passage in his speech in which he discussed whether or not the right tempo had been adopted.
I should have thought, looking back, that it was perfectly clear that the major mistake has been, as the Minister said in the Debate in March, that an effort was made to try to buy time with money. If things had gone rather more slowly some of the mistakes would have been avoided. If that is true, who on the board was in favour of that procedure? Apparently the two members who have made it clear that they were in favour of going rather more slowly are the two who have been dismissed. We assume that the remainder believe that the tempo adopted was right. We assume that they, including the Chairman, consider that in the past it was right to press on fast and that the present programme is reasonable.
I do not claim any special knowledge of this scheme, but in one's capacity as a Member of Parliament one must decide whether this large sum of money has been reasonably well spent. I consider that the case for an inquiry on behalf of the taxpayer has been overwhelmingly made out. I thought that the speech of the right hon. Member for West Bristol was most moderate. There were no party scores in it, apart from a few little pleasantries which always enliven his speeches. The substance of his case for an inquiry was not made out on party lines. It was a reasonable argument that there is this very widespread feeling that something is going badly wrong, and that, as representatives of the taxpayers, we ought to have a second opinion apart from that of the Minister of Food and of the Government Front Bench—a technical opinion, and an unbiased opinion, by all means.
On this question which the Minister raised in his interjection, whether the technique, equipment and methods are 77 now established, I would ask the Secretary of State for the Colonies when he replies to tell us something more about the present performance of the Shervick tractor. I have been told that although they were tested out in England, they were not tested in Africa, so that when they got out there it was found that they were not altogether suitable, so that alterations had to be made on a large scale in Africa which, if these machines had first been tested in Africa, would not have been found necessary. I should like the Minister to tell us whether that is correct, because it is something which I think I am right in saying is the Corporation's responsibility. It was the Corporation who ordered them and made the decision to send them out in large quantities before the prototypes had been tried out in Africa.
§ Mr. Roberts
If it is all wrong, let us by all means have it repudiated, but one of the difficulties about this scheme is that, although we have a Chairman who has been long connected with the Press and who, at an earlier time, was very anxious to get news to the public, now in his present position when anybody tries to get anything from him, he is not very anxious to make news available. That is the impression which has been formed.
It is also alleged that the machinery for cutting out the roots is not adequate. It was ordered by the agents and the Corporation had to be responsible for it. I want to query whether the general statement that the technique is now indeed established as correct. I do not think that either the machinery or the technique is established yet, though I hope both will be. I do not believe, reading the scientific part of the report, that we can make that generalisation and say that the technique is now sufficiently established and understood to enable us to go ahead to the 600,000 acres which is the present target.
Both the Minister and hon. Members must take note of the articles which have appeared in the Press. The "Picture Post" article has been quoted, and "Picture Post" is a paper which has no animus against the Government that I know of. It is sometimes friendly, pos- 78 sibly sometimes critical, but on the whole I should have thought that the bias of "Picture Post" was very much in favour of the Government. There is another paper which the Minister quoted with approval in March—" The Economist"—which also sent out to Africa its own representative, who has not produced a favourable report.
The fact of the matter is that public opinion, as well as the opinion of rank and file Members of Parliament, has been very much shaken, and the more anxious we are for this scheme to succeed the more troubled we are about the position as it appears to be at the present time. From what I gather, it is not only public opinion which is troubled about the scheme, but also the men on the spot in Africa. In the Debate in March, the Minister made a point that the Conservative Press, in criticising the scheme, should have thought of the morale of the men on the spot.
I ask the Minister whether he really thought of the morale of the men on the spot when he made the changes which he has just made in the composition of the board and did not make other changes in the board, and whether he has any information to confirm or deny what I have been told on good authority and what has already been stated by the right hon. Gentleman who spoke for the Conservative Party—that there is no confidence in the Chairman of the board amongst the executive staff in Africa?
§ Mr. Strachey
I certainly have got that information. As the hon. Member knows, I went out to East Africa last June, and I was very careful to interview, privately and alone, all the senior members of the executive out there and to ask them their opinion and attitude, because these allegations have been made about the Chairman and the leadership of the Corporation, and their replies were that the allegations which the hon. Member has just made were not in fact true.
§ Mr. Roberts
I have had other information, and it is not something on which I can form a judgment. I am not in a position to do so, but it has been very freely stated, and it seems to me to be an additional reason why an inquiry should be held.
There is one major point which I should like to raise and with which I hope the Secretary of State will deal. I want 79 to ask him how he envisages the future work of the board in London. What really is its job? It seems to me that it is in Africa where the real work has to be done, in Africa where the fight will be won or lost. Here, we already have the Ministry of Food and we now have a gentleman who has worked closely with the Ministry of Food on this matter transferred from that Ministry, where I understand he was already responsible to the board. Whether some other person will take his place in the Ministry of Food and in being responsible for dealing with the board, I do not know, but we have the set-up in Africa and we have the Ministry of Food and the board here in London. I can understand that there is a place for a board in London to act as an agency of supply in getting what is wanted, in buying tractors and other equipment and machinery, and also for organising the supplies for the building that is required, but, once the policy is agreed, I do not see why we should have such a large and extravagant board as the present one or what it has to do, and I should like the Minister to enlighten me on that point.
There were other things I wanted to say, but I will say this in conclusion. There is no doubt at all that this scheme is not going smoothly, and that there will be new difficulties to overcome, as well as the old ones we have had already. There is a belief that there is a widespread lack of confidence in the Chairman, that the changes that have been made in the board will really do nothing to improve the morale of the people working in Africa. Nor will it give the British public any more confidence in this thing. What I fear may happen—I hope it will not—is that the Minister, who has made this his very personal enterprise, will obstinately refuse to accept any advice or criticism, will carry on with his plan with the personnel he has appointed, and that in another six months or a year's time the position will be disastrous. That would gravely affect the political career of the Minister, but, what is much more serious, it would be a disaster for the whole idea of this mechanised development of food production in Africa. I hope that the Minister will not be so obstinate as to refuse this inquiry. I cannot see what harm could be done by such an inquiry; on the other 80 hand, it could do an infinite amount of good.
§ 5.51 p.m.
§ Mr. Cecil Poole (Lichfield)
I could not but agree with the hon. Member for North Cumberland (Mr. W. Roberts) when he said that there is no doubt that this scheme is not going along smoothly. But who expects a scheme like this to go along smoothly? I certainly do not. It would be as reasonable to suggest that the opening of the second front in the last war or the campaign in the Libyan Desert should have gone along smoothly, because this is an operation of a magnitude which has never before been attempted in peace-time. Therefore, it is not likely that it will go along smoothly. It will have, as it has had, continuing UDS and downs, and we must not propose to write off the scheme on each occasion that it receives a major setback.
§ Mr. Poole
I followed with very great interest the speech of the right hon. Member for West Bristol (Mr. Stanley). I have always had a considerable interest in the right hon. Gentleman since we met 30 years ago when he was campaigning in Westmorland. I rather thought he outdid himself in audacity today when he closed with a plea—which I would rather have heard at the beginning of his speech—that he was not here to affix blame for the past, but to appeal to all of us to get together and make this scheme work. I think that is a correct interpretation of his closing phrases. However, he had spent the previous 50 minutes in castigating all and sundry connected with the scheme and in demanding the resignation of Sir Leslie Plummer. I do not know how he can do that and at the same time say that he is making no attempt to affix blame for what has happened.
If that was so, for what purpose was he demanding the resignation of the Chairman? I know nothing about the Chairman, and I do not propose to make any mention of any of the members of the board except to say that, although we are considering the report of the Overseas Food Corporation today, much of the evidence adduced by the right hon. Gentleman came from sources extraneous to that report. I do not blame him for that. He is entitled to go to any sources 81 he likes for information. It may be reasonable for Mr. Wakefield to have his case put in this House, although he has put it fairly well in the Press; the newspapers have opened their columns fairly widely to him. I do not object to that, but I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman is entitled to form any positive conclusions on the evidence of any one member of the board any more than I should be entitled to form a positive opinion on the evidence of anyone else who came and talked to me. I do not propose to say any more about Mr. Wakefield except that it is not usually considered quite right for people who lose their appointments to go squealing to the Opposition to get their case put forward in this House.
I was intrigued by the suggestion that £30 million given to the Colonies as a direct grant would have achieved more benefit for them than will accrue to them under this scheme. I do not accept that; I do not think that any of us have envisaged the long-term improvement in the Colonies which this scheme will bring about. In any case, it ill becomes the right hon. Gentleman to talk in that way, because when he was Secretary of State for the Colonies he had a considerable sum of money voted by Parliament for the furtherance of the Colonies, and the percentage which he spent during his period of office was only a very small part of the amount which he might have devoted to the Colonies.
§ Mr. Stanley
Is it not a fact that even during war-time I was able to spend as large a percentage of the money available to me as my successor has spent of the money available to him in peace-time?
§ Mr. Poole
Be that as it may—I have not the figures with me—it still remains a fact that in peace-time the right hon. Gentleman expended only a very small percentage of what he might have spent in the Colonies. That is a statement which has not yet been contradicted.
As regards the Opposition's Amendment calling for an inquiry now, I do not think I would have any great objection to such an inquiry. At the same time, I do not see what greater confidence we could have in the results of such an inquiry, or what greater assurance we could feel that we were getting a real and positive picture, than in the 82 findings of the Wakefield Mission which spent many weeks examining the matter in the initial stages of the scheme. The report which it produced was found to be completely falsified by subsequent events. I do not know why, in view of the obvious defects in the findings of the Wakefield Mission, the right hon. Gentleman today pins so much faith on the statement made by Mr. Wakefield, or why he should think that another mission of technicians would be able to give us a factual report which would not also be completely falsified by subsequent events.
We all endorse the congratulations which the right hon. Gentleman offered to the Queensland Corporation on the small measure of success which they have achieved, but when he pointed out that the results would be only about one-third of what were estimated, it was particularly unfortunate that his hon. Friends behind him should have been so delighted and should have shown such obvious pleasure in the fact that the harvest had failed to the extent of two-thirds.
§ Mr. Stanley
The hon. Member must really observe a certain amount of fairness. What I was pointing out was that it was a misnomer on the part of the right hon. Member to describe a crop as slightly less than bumper when it was, in fact, only one-third of the estimated crop. No one was cheering me.
§ Mr. Poole
The right hon. Gentleman may be able to do many things, but he cannot see out of the back of his head. I was facing his hon. Friends, and I call upon my hon. Friends on this side of the House to confirm that almost every face opposite was wreathed in laughter and delight at the fact that the Queensland Corporation had not reached anything like their target. I do not want to be violently political this evening, but it is characteristic of the Tory Party—at any rate, it has been so during the lifetime of a Labour Government in this country—that they are more pleased if they can find evidence of failure than they are at any success which this country may achieve.
I do not believe that this report can do justice to the scheme. We cannot clothe this scheme with figures and numbered paragraphs in a report such as this and then see it as it really is. The right hon. Gentleman mentioned "Picture Post" and what I consider to be a very 83 fine article in that publication on this very scheme. I should like to quote from that article, because I think it puts us more clearly in line with what we are really discussing. "Picture Post" speaks of theheartbreaking battle between man's mechanical brute force and nature's brute inertia, and its breath-taking results at Kongwa—vistas of new land seeming to stretch unending to the horizons of far hills, where not long ago there was only bush, unpeopled and useless.To me that conjures up something attempted, something done. It conjures up the glorious opening up of territory which, apart from this scheme, would never have been opened up perhaps for another century. The astonishing thing about it is that "Picture Post," in writing so feelingly on what has been accomplished at Kongwa, calls its article "The Groundnut Scandal." I really do not know how something which so captures the imagination as this has captured the imagination of the man who wrote that paragraph could be regarded as a scandal.
What of the men out there who are engaged on this scheme? I confess that I am more concerned with the morale of the men out there than I am with any other aspect of this report. They are men who have given up much of the material comforts of home and their life here, and have gone out on this great pioneering venture. They have put up with considerable physical difficulties, I imagine, especially those who were there in the early days, and I believe that their eyes are on this House today. I think it would be fitting if we sent out to them the fullest measure of encouragement to get on with the job. I should like to quote again from the article, which describes their activities. It says thatan army of young men have been fighting a battle the like of which has never been known before "—and the hon. Member for North Cumberland says that it ought to have gone nice and smoothly—whose technical difficulties are of absorbing interest—and importance. Here is a story of attack and counter-attack, of heartbreak and retreat, and of stubborn, slow, but quickening successes. There are invigorating headlines on every front—the fight against disease, the lighting of ignorance, the re-opening of great areas closed to men for a generation by the tsetse fly.Yet those who wrote the headlines of the article call it "The Groundnut Scandal."
84 It is an utter and complete failure on their part to appreciate the magnitude of the job which has been attempted, and of the efforts which men from this country and South Africa have put into the scheme.
In spite of that, the message which I think the Opposition today—despite the closing words of the right hon. Member for West Bristol—would send to those men is that the Opposition propose to seize on the difficulties, problems and failures of the scheme—and there have been failures, I confess—and try to convert them into Tory votes at the next General Election. That is one of the lowest things which the Opposition have attempted to do—to seize on a scheme like this and turn the overwhelming difficulties into votes for themselves at the next Election. I feel that they will be very deluded if they think that they will get any votes out of this Debate. I count it a major tragedy that a scheme like this, so magnificent in its conception and so bold in its imaginative possibilities, should have been thrown into the cockpit of politics at all. It is extremely unfortunate.
The critics tell us that the scheme to date has cost £23 million. The Minister has dealt with that figure and has shown that it is a complete fallacy to make any such suggestion. The trouble with hon. Members opposite is that they have no other yardstick by which to measure anything than profits. [An HON. MEMBER: "Or losses."] Or losses; I do not mind. A scheme is a success to them if it pays a handsome dividend; there is no other yardstick; there is no other incentive. The hon. Member for Monmouth (Mr. P. Thorneycroft) made the categorical assertion that the only incentives today were either compulsion or the earning of profits. Hon. Members opposite have no conception that a scheme like this could be a success and yet not pay any cash dividend.
§ Mr. Poole
I know something called public interest. If the hon. and gallant Gentleman has not heard of it it is time that he did. I am amazed that a man who claims to call himself an hon. and gallant Member does not know something of men sacrificing and working for some other purpose than that of material gain and personal profit. I suggest that he 85 cast his mind back to the days not long ago when he was functioning in another capacity. That is why the pattern of the colonial development of this country under succeeding Tory Governments has been what it was. It has shown nothing but swollen profits for people who often never left the comfort of their own firesides, and it has left nothing but misery for the native populations.
§ Mr. W. Fletcher
Does the hon. Gentleman realise that the system which he is condemning is providing practically all the dollars that are needed to keep us going? Although he pours contempt on material gains, he might remember that the material gains in dollars feed the people of this country, thanks to the system which he condemns producing rubber, tin, wool, hides, gold and copper.
§ Mr. Fletcher
I will interrupt the hon. Gentleman again, as he has invited me to do so, and point out that the Colonial Secretary will confirm later on that in territories like Malaya there is great content among the native producers. What the hon. Member has been saying about the discontent of the native producers is nonsense.
§ Mr. Poole
I never mentioned the discontent of the native producers. If the hon. Gentleman would listen more carefully, he would be more intelligent in his interruptions. I said that in the past the native people have been left as they were.
I should like to say a few words on the attitude of the Press to this scheme. I feel that, running true to type, the majority of the Press in this country has thought that with this scheme it had another stick with which to belabour this Government. If I wanted any proof of the assertion that the Press has presented this scheme to the public in a distorted form, showing only those sides of it which were undesirable and showing nothing of the vivid imagination, I should only have to go to the same source as that which the right hon. Gentleman quoted. "Picture Post" in this article tells of 86A first-class reporter on a British national daily newspaper "—who was sent out to write a report on this scheme—sent home true and accurate reports. He received cabled instructions not to tell what was good about the scheme, but what was bad.I wish the gentleman who wrote this article for "Picture Post" would tell us which daily newspaper it was that sent cabled instructions to its reporter to tell only what was bad about the scheme and not what was good. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] That is the dishonesty which brings the Press into disrepute in this country, and I am glad to find that that opinion is shared throughout the House.
There are one or two points on which I should like some assurance. I am worried about the whole accountancy position. I appreciate that it is impossible to set up internal audit systems in the middle of the African bush. I appreciate the problem of taking over large dumps of Government stores and buying in bulk, and the difficulty of obtaining correct accountability there. But we ought to know whether the major contractors themselves had a system of accountability. Can the Minister tell us whether the major contractors who took out their own organisation, for whom the Minister had no responsibility, had a system of accountability which met the requirements of the Government auditor? I understand they were working on a cost-plus basis. Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us what was the plus on the cost at which these contractors worked? The figure which has been given to me, from a source as reliable as that of the right hon. Member for West Bristol, is that they were working on cost plus 80 per cent. I should be astonished and appalled if anything like that took place. Perhaps the Minister will clear that up, because I think it is a point which ought to be cleared up.
My criticisms are that I think there was inadequate preliminary work before the launching of the scheme and that the machinery to be used on the scheme was not the subject of sufficient tests and inquiries before it was put into operation, although I realise that at the time when this scheme began there was probably no machinery of a suitable character. It seems to me that the number of tractors 87 which were out of commission, as shown in the figures in the Report, points to the fact that a good deal of machinery was taken there which subsequently proved to be of no use.
I am not competent to say whether the board as at present constituted will be an efficient instrument to do the job. I do not know any of the members. I must confess, however, to a sneaking suspicion of civil servants of any shape or form. [An HON. MEMBER: "Shame."] It is one of those things which has grown up with me. The reinforcements to the board do not, therefore, strike me with any great measure of confidence, but I shall be prepared to give them a run and to hope that my fears about them will be belied. I cannot see that this board can function adequately, however, while it is located in London. I feel that the correct place for this board is in Tanganyika. I think it should be on the job. There could be one man here doing the miscellaneous liaison work and the localised buying which is done in this country, but the rest of the board should be out there, rather than the position being reversed, with the whole board here and a resident member in East Africa. The present arrangement strikes me as nonsense, and it is something which the Minister should investigate.
I am sure we all agree with the Minister that this scheme cannot stop now. It must go forward. I hope it will go forward and that its future days will be more successful than those which have passed. It may not offer profits; I doubt very much whether it will ever offer profits, but in terms of future development in East Africa I believe it will make a full contribution to world food production and result in the raising of the standard of life of the native people.
§ 6.13 p.m.
§ Mr. Frederic Harris (Croydon, North)
I very much appreciate the opportunity of taking part in this Debate. I have a keen interest in Colonial development and in East Africa, in particular, as I have strong ties there. I think the hon. Member for Lichfield (Mr. C. Poole) will forgive me if I do not follow in detail the points he has raised, although there is one issue with which I shall deal in a moment, on which I am in full agreement with him.
88 I want to take this opportunity of making one or two comments upon the points raised by the Minister. Accountancy muddle has, unfortunately, taken place, and I think the right hon. Gentleman must understand and agree that much of it has been due to the indecent haste with which the scheme has been pursued and the tremendous amount of buying which was done so quickly. The Government should have had the organisation ready to take care of this as it occurred. I do not see how he can get away with the plea that because we were not ready from the accountancy point of view we have no complaint. I cannot imagine any business being able to get away with such an explanation, no matter how large that business. The right hon. Gentleman said the plant was purchased cheaply, but of course that all depends on what will happen to it in the end. It is only cheap if it gets things done and I would submit to him that much which has been purchased is far from cheap. It is, in fact, extremely expensive.
Turning to assets and the balance sheet, reference was quite rightly made to the fact that people are looking on the balance sheet as showing that £23 million has been lost entirely. The Minister says that is incorrect. Of course, he refers to £9 million which is being capitalised, but I think he must agree that it depends entirely on what happens eventually to the capitalisation. If the scheme goes right through to the end, no doubt the £9 million will be fully worth the money, but if anything happens so that the scheme has to close down materially, then it is very doubtful what will happen to the assets of £9 million linked to the scheme at the present time.
The Minister referred to the question of solid achievement and none of us is crying down for one single minute the extraordinary achievement by those on the spot, but I think the Minister will also admit that, with an expenditure of some £30 million to date, there should be some achievement. The right hon. Gentleman referred to "plenty of difficulties" which exist. Africa, as we know, provides tremendous, unexpected difficulties, but I submit to him that the whole of the discussion today is around difficulties which are man-made—in the mismanagement of the scheme in many of 89 its aspects; and it is that to which we should devote most of our attention.
With regard to the question of the eventual size of the scheme, I understand from him that by 1954 we are to expect some 20 per cent. of the original estimate at an anticipated cost of some £50 million. I must confess that I found some difficulty in following him in his arguments there and I should like to know whether he is suggesting to the House that eventually the £50 million is expected to be written off; whether it is anticipated by him that there will be a £50 million total capital expenditure; or whether he is talking about expenditure as a whole. I am afraid that I had some difficulty in following his reasoning at that time. I want to approach the problem from a sincere, practical and business point of view.
§ Mr. Harrison (Nottingham, East)
Before the hon. Gentleman leaves his introductory remarks, would he clear up one point? He said he had strong ties with East Africa and I, for one, did not quite appreciate what that meant.
§ Mr. Harris
I was merely inferring that I was trying to talk from a practical point of view. I go to East Africa about three times a year, so I do not want the House to feel that the opinions I am expressing are just guesswork. That is what' I was trying to convey.
We all agree that the scheme was undoubtedly brilliant in its conception and, as such, was worthy of universal support. What we are criticising is the unbusinesslike handling of the scheme. I do not see how any scheme, whatever its size, can be followed through without a full grip of the financial budgeting and the responsibilities of accountancy from the commencement of the scheme. I am astounded to think that the submission to the House today has been on this basis: "We got on with the job and then worried about the financial aspects afterwards." That is the way I see the submission. I feel that, whatever and wherever the scheme, we should know exactly what expenditure is involved and where it is going right the way through. That does not seem to have been the case in this scheme.
I should also like to suggest that the views and estimates in the original Blue Book, published in February, 1947, must 90 be completely forgotten. Frankly, I am very tired of this book and the sooner we forget about it, as far as the details. are concerned, the better for everybody. Every time one compares it with the present situation, it makes very bad reading. The new report which was published on 27th February is a very frank one but, unfortunately, it provides a considerable amount of misgiving to the public.
I think we can claim that the public are extremely disturbed over the report and I strongly support the appeal for a commission of inquiry which was put forward by my right hon. Friend the Member for West Bristol (Mr. Stanley). Bearing in mind that it is public money which is at stake, and to a considerable amount, and bearing in mind that future confidence in the scheme as a whole is at stake, I do not see how anybody in the House can oppose the proposal for such an inquiry. There is no need for me to go into details, but I think it could produce only good, and certainly could not do harm. It would be a businesslike investigation, and such a move would restore confidence in the scheme, in the operatives themselves, and in the public, too. I look at it from that point of view. Such an investigation ought not to be tied to any political issues; it could be done quickly, and people could be sent out for the purpose.
We ought to look upon this scheme as a general Colonial development scheme. We ought to forget the title of "groundnut scheme"; I think, quite frankly, it would be much better to do so. It ought to be regarded as a general agricultural programme embracing the whole range of crops to which the Minister referred. It would be better for all concerned to forget the name "groundnut scheme." Moreover, I think that the aspect of the oil-bearing crops should be smaller than was originally anticipated, and that we must bring into the project maize and other crops, and not pin the scheme to oil-bearing crops. We ought to do this if only out of consideration for crop rotation.
Then, looking at the scheme as a whole, we should envisage it from the point of view of East Africa as a whole, where there is a rising population, and see what it means in the way of foodstuffs for the East African population. That aspect of 91 the matter ought to be well borne in mind. In the long run an improved economic position in East Africa must strengthen our strategic position there, and such a broad agricultural development programme would do good in that respect.
Having firmly decided, as, I am sure we all have, that the scheme. must succeed, I should like to turn for a few moments to points made in the March Debate. We must get an assurance that business common sense will prevail in the future handling of the scheme. This scheme, in my opinion, as I have said before, was rushed into for political ends. I think that at the time it was put forward for those ends, and that it has been played upon by. the Minister of Food from a Labour Party point of View.
§ Mr. Harris
I say quite frankly that the Minister of Food, instead of making this a solid, sound, sensible Colonial scheme, for the benefit of East. Africa in particular, has played with, it as though it were an economic thought, and has played with it, in the main, from a Labour Party point of view.
§ Mr. Strachey
Certainly I have never claimed that I was the originator of the scheme. We all know that it was originated by Mr. Samuel. He was the first person to think of it. Of course. I have had to act as the spokesman of the scheme in this House.
§ Mr. Harris
Other hon. Members want to take part in this Debate, and I; do not want to play too long with this point. However, I say quite clearly the Minister has tried to make Labour Party kudos out of the scheme, and I deplore that." I say, too, that the Minister will have to face, as he is even now having to face, the repercussions of much of the misguidance that has been given to him.
I want to devote some attention to the accounts. The scheme was passed by the House in November, 1946. Cooper Brothers, the accountants, whose reputation we all know so well, were not appointed until July, 1947—a very considerable time afterwards. There do not appear to have been any steps previously 92 taken to ensure proper budgetary control. I cannot find any.
§ Mr. Strachey
I must certainly put the facts before the hon. Member. Cooper Brothers could not have been appointed because they were appointed auditors to the Corporation and could not audit the accounts of the managing agency. The books of the managing agency were audited by the internal audit of the Minister of Food, and a report made to the Comptroller and Auditor-General.
§ Mr. Harris
I am sorry. I withdraw that reference. I would, however, say that I have tried hard to find and have not been able to find out what budgetary control existed from the start. I have had the greatest difficulty in finding out whether there was control. It is on that point that I make my major criticism. Section 16. of the Overseas Resources Development Act, 1948, requires the Corporation to keep its accounts so as to conform to the best commercial standards, and I would remind the Minister that the requirements upon private enterprise in this regard are very considerable, and are most strictly adhered to. The auditors report, as I see it, provides ample proof that this was, unfortunately, never done.
I find, some difficulty about the balance sheet as published. I find difficulty in understanding what lies behind this £2,500,000 referred to under "Stores and Merchandise consumed." I should like to receive an assurance from the Minister that this does not mean an absolute loss. I do not know if that £2,500,000 has really been broken down into detail?
§ Mr. Strachey
This is a fair question. That £2,500,000 worth of goods are, for the main part, goods which I described as Disposal Board Stores. I have every reason to suppose that the vast majority of them have been used and have proved useful. However, it is perfectly true that they really are not all adequately priced and itemised. Further, no doubt, there has been pilfering. There always is in an African scheme. We have not given a perfect account to the auditors, but much of them are in that category.
§ Mr. Harris
I thank the Minister for that explanation. As I thought, that £2,500,000 undoubtedly includes items that have gone astray. However that may be, we cannot really say. Many of the original details were apparently lost 93 through insufficient control of the contractors. I think that is generally recognised. I think it is understandable that the contractors were unable to estimate the costs of clearance, and it is on that account that I cannot understand why that estimate continued well into 1949. In some instances particularly this applies to the cost-plus which has been referred to already.
The accounts do not show the profits of the three main contractors on land clearance or their total commission, and I feel the public are entitled to that information. The total advances up to March, 1948, seem to have been more than £21 million. The Minister told the House on 7th November, in answer to a question, that a further £8 million to date had already been advanced. What I should like to know is if it is anticipated in the very near future that the capital costs will be reduced. I am frankly having some difficulty about that.
§ Mr. Strachey
That is a reasonable question, too. Obviously, the main borrowing powers of the Corporation were for the period of heavy capital investment, and must stop and will stop with the end of this financial year, because the main, heavy, fixed capital commitments will then have been built—the harbour, the railway, the water supply—
§ Mr. Strachey
The temporary harbour and the railway. Repayment is to come from them. When they are built the Corporation gets repaid for them. Therefore, from next year onwards the capital investment must drop to under half this year's figure.
§ Mr. Harris
I originally estimated in a statement I made in the House that the scheme, if it went through in its entirety, would cost over £80 million. I believe I was rather laughed at for that anticipation, but it seems as if I was justified, because the costs are far beyond the original estimate that was made. I would remind the Minister that £62,000 was added to the development costs of the agency on the 1948 balance sheet. Why has there been no interest on the £21 million, which, I assume, would have amounted to at least £500,000?
I feel rather strongly on one point concerning the yield. On 11th July the 94 Minister said that on an average the yield of groundnuts would be 750 lb. per acre, and I asked him a Question on that. So far as I can see, there was an average yield of only 580 lb. per acre. I know, of course, that the other 170 lb. has been left in the ground, but when I was asking about that matter I said I thought the yield would be only 5 cwt. per acre, referring to the actual yield of nuts for disposal and not to what was being left in the ground.
It is well known that, unfortunately, there has been some very bad buying, and that the scheme has been landed with much machinery which can never be used. I realise that a tremendous amount of machinery which has been lying rotting, with grass growing through it, in Dares-Salaam, has subsequently been moved, but the amount of machinery purchased which could never be used was really deplorable. Disposal instructions are being given to get rid of much that can never be used, but the problem is obviously very considerable, and I ask the Minister: Are the reserves sufficient to cover this?
I see in the balance sheet a figure of £480,000 for such machinery, which is presumably written off as wrong purchases, and machinery which could never be used. From what I have heard, I would suggest that this sum is still not enough, although goodness knows it is high enough, and I should like to know whether or not in future years we must anticipate another heavy figure for the further writing off of machinery. The balance sheet contains an item of £450,000 for furniture and office equipment, which is a striking amount when compared with the £492,000 for agricultural equipment. It is very difficult to understand why, on such a scheme, those two amounts should be practically the same. We all realise that, in building up an administrative machine, unless a strong grip is kept on administrative costs, the expenses get out of all proportion, but although I appreciate that the staffs are very much better in proportion now, there is obviously room for considerable improvement. How many of the 967 Europeans are administrative personnel? I should like to learn that from the Minister.
There is an aspect of the housing figures which takes some understanding.
95 At Kongwa, 486 houses were built for Europeans and 1,488 for Africans, at a cost of £585,000. At Urambo, 105 European houses and 1,052 African houses were built at a cost of £63,000. It will be seen that at Kongwa the number of European houses is nearly five times as great and the number of African houses only one-third more than those at Urambo, yet the cost is nine times as much. I find great difficulty in understanding that. The report says that mud and wattle are easy to obtain at Urambo; but can anybody suggest for one moment that there is not enough mud and wattle at Kongwa to meet the requirements? Having seen houses made from these materials. I would say that they are extremely serviceable.
If the scheme is to be likened to a war operation, I would submit that the buildings should be temporary but comfortable until success is certain. The development expenditure of £9 million in 1948–49 can be justified only if the operations are a success, as we sincerely hope they will be—and as indeed they must be, otherwise we shall never substantiate that £9 million and the additional expenditure involved on top of that.
I feel that there has been a lack of truthful publicity and too much secrecy about the whole thing. The people of this country should have been enabled to appreciate the problems, because then they would have given credit where credit was due. Wonderful and amazing individual achievements have been accomplished, and if only the publicity had been better right the way through the people of this country would have had a better understanding of the scheme. Publicity could have been used very much more than and better than it has been so far, and I hope we shall see an improvement in that respect. Justice has not been done to the individual achievements that have been accomplished. We all know of them, and there is not now time to go into details, but much has been done in many ways.
Could the Minister tell us who was responsible for the extraordinary lack of control on expenditure? Who did all this purchasing so badly in East Africa, of which we all know? Who decided to send out equipment which had only been tested in England? There has been a 96 lack of confidence in the management, as is shown by the number of staff changes. The Minister will remember that in the March Debate I asked him about these specific points. There is no doubt that the staff have been much concerned about the changes.
I think this is a very important point, and in this respect I strongly support hon. Members on both sides of the House who consider that the controlling board should be not primarily in England but on the spot out there. I know that from a business point of view success cannot be achieved unless there is control on the spot, and I sincerely hope that there is a change of attitude in this connection. Capable control on the spot would mean much to the scheme. It is distressing to realise the mess that has been brought about, which I think can be summed up as due to foolish buying, insufficient accountancy, wrong decisions, and needless haste which could easily have been avoided.
As to the difficulty of pin-pointing responsibility, it is now apparent that the Minister has decided that certain sacrifices can be made. To my mind, the people responsible are those at the top, and if we are to expect real confidence from those who are to continue the scheme and to do such a wonderful job for all concerned, an example must be made at the top. I sincerely hope that the representations made by my right hon. Friend will be borne in mind. It is not merely a question of making sacrifices. We must pin-point responsibility on those in charge, and if they have let the country down, these changes should be made automatically and quickly in order to give confidence to those who are trying to carry out the details of the scheme.
I shall refer briefly to one or two points concerning the staff, which I consider very important. The staff are, of course, worried about the danger of redundancy; they just do not know where they stand at the moment, and I hope that during this Debate we shall hear a clear direction as to where this is leading, because there is considerable unhappiness about it. Also the staff have heard no more about the cost of living system which applies to Government officials but not to Corporation employees, and I think that that matter should be pursued. Housing is, of course, 97 very bad, as we all know, but it is amazing to continue building in wood when obviously we should be building in brick, and that, too, causes a lot of concern. The bad food buying is also causing much unhappiness, as it affects the day to day stocks on the spot. On the one hand, they have tremendous stocks of certain things which will last for years, but, on the other hand, they are short of goods for their immediate requirements, and much improvement can be made in that regard.
This afternoon we have heard of the anticipated future, but we must be told consistently and constantly what is going on. We must not have to wait, as has been the case up till now, 12 months to see the extent of the expenditure and the waste involved. After all, the Overseas Food Corporation has a public relations officer, and so has the Ministry of Food, and it should be easy enough to keep the public fully acquainted with the situation. At the moment trying to get information is like trying to get blood out of a stone.
Let us tell the people that the Overseas Food Corporation was produced by men who thought they could work certain miracles. Let us send a message from this House to every man and woman in the scheme that we know his difficulties, that we are going to clear out the heads who have lost their confidence and who are only frustrating them, that the people at home are proud of them for their work on Colonial development, that our criticisms are directed, not against the engineers and fitters, and those who are fighting disease and penetrating the bush—it is directed at the hopeless mismanagement at the top, for which the remedy is, first, the axe where bureaucracy has entrenched itself, and, secondly, practical decentralisation of authority.
§ 6.40 p.m.
§ Mr. John Hynd (Sheffield, Attercliffe)
I do not want to quarrel with the hon. Member for North Croydon (Mr. Frederic Harris), neither do I think it necessary for me to attempt to reply to the long list of specific requirements on which he sought information, about shortages of food and so on.
§ Mr. Hynd
One of the difficulties about this business has been the bad publicity given to it. I made the direct accusation that that bad publicity has been deliberately made for political motives. That is quite clear from the papers in which it has been made and the statements made in support of it. Before I deal with some of the points made in various speeches, I should like to be clear on one point which the Minister can probably answer.
He made some reference to a subsidy of £280 million paid either to—I am not quite clear on this point—British farmers or on the products of British farms. If he said that the subsidy was paid to British farmers, I think that he is wrong. The subsidies were not paid to the farmers.
§ Mr. Strachey
I think that the actual words I used wereAfter all we subsidise, quite rightly in my opinion, almost every staple product of the British farmer today to the tune of £280 million per annum.It would be quite wrong to say that we subsidise the British farmers to the extent of £280 million per annum. The direct subsidy to the farmers is no more than £25 million per annum. The £280 million is the part of the food subsidy of £465 million which is paid in respect of home produced food. The subsidy goes to the consumer. I am glad to make that clear. There is a loss because we subsidise the consumer to the extent of £280 million on that production, which was the argument I was making.
§ Mr. Hynd
I thank the Minister for his explanation. I hope that he will not expect me to give way to him again. I will ask you, Mr. Speaker, to allow me time off.
I want to come to two points with regard to the speech of the right hon. Member for West Bristol (Mr. Stanley). He made great play with an article in the "Tribune" which I have not read, but which, from the summary he gave, I think was entirely justified. It argued that so far as criticism could be made about the statement of the accounts and the whole progress in relation to the estimates, it certainly could not fall upon the Corporation. He tried to argue that the Corporation was responsible in some way for the difficulty with regard to the 99 accounts. He suggested that they ought to have information within a few weeks which the United Africa Company did not know in 16 months.
In fact, the Corporation very soon came to the conclusion not only that the accounts were in a deplorable state, but that the estimates were entirely wrong and their reports are given in this document. The right hon. Gentleman started this blood-hunting against the director, Sir Leslie Plummer. I do not know anything about Sir Leslie Plummer, but what struck me in particular was that the right hon. Gentleman gave no grounds whatever for suggesting that Sir Leslie Plummer was responsible at all. I am not feeing partial to any individual—
§ Mr. Stanley
One is entitled to assume that the Chairman of the Corporation has at least some responsibility.
§ Mr. Hynd
Certainly; in so far as the Corporation can be shown to be at fault. I have said that I see nothing to suggest that the Corporation was at fault. I am not be partial to Sir Leslie Plummer. The right hon. Gentleman seemed to base his case against Sir Leslie Plummer on an entirely irresponsible article in the "Picture Post"—an article which I have read very carefully and which is completely riddled with misapprehensions, with misrepresentations, and with a long series of questions which are themselves misleading in the way in which they are chosen. [Interruption.] I only want to point out that if the right hon. Gentleman is attacking the Corporation as a result of a most irresponsible article of this kind he is on very weak ground.
It suggests for example that tractors were tested on the soft soil of this country and were then used on the almost concrete soil of Kongwa without having been tested beforehand there. That is complete nonsense. The report shows that there were prototypes of this kind of machine being tested in Africa on the site at the same time as they were being tested here. The reporter who was responsible for this article ought to have found that out. He also referred to having discovered a very top secret about the ten year rotation. That ten year rotation was debated in the House in March last, and why it should be referred to as a top secret I do not know.
100 I want also to refer to the fact that an hon. Member on the Liberal Benches seemed to base the whole of his argument upon a most irresponsible document.
§ Mr. W. Fletcher
The hon. Gentleman raised a point about Sir Leslie Plummer. Was he the gentleman who referred to the Eldorado we were going to have in East Africa?
§ Mr. Hynd
I do not know whether he used that term. The Corporation as a whole refers to this glorious vision of Africa being unattainable in the days of the post-war period. So far as there was a reference to Eldorado, those were the terms in which it was referred to. I am not trying to justify this particular appointment, because I do not know anything about it.
I challenged the right hon. Member for West Bristol when he said that the Government had accepted the original estimates of the Wakefield Report. In spite of the fact that I challenged him, he repeated that that was the case. It is not true. In the White Paper in paragraphs four, nine, and at the end of the document, in paragraph 119, the Government specifically rejected these estimates, but said that, nevertheless, they proposed to go on with the scheme on as large a scale as possible. Why is it, therefore, repeatedly stated that the results are to be judged against the original estimates of the Wakefield Report, and that the Government are responsible for the estimates not being reached? I say that this has been done obviously with deliberation, for the purpose of casting discredit on the Government.
The right hon. Gentleman in the Debate in November last accepted the terms of the Wakefield Report when he said that he not only hoped but believed those estimates would be achieved. He should be one of the last to criticise anyone on that particular score. The information and experience which we had at that time were not sufficient. I am now going to agree with the right hon. Gentleman.
§ Mr. Hynd
I want to ask the same question as he did: What is there new about the position with which we are faced in this report as compared with the position at the time of our last Debate?
101 If there is nothing in particular that is new, I should like to know why it has been found necessary to dispense with the services of two eminent members of the Board. If it was necessary to dispense with any members of the Board, why was it necessary to dispense with these two particular gentlemen? It is true that the auditor's report draws attention to the fact that there have been no adequate accounts kept, and the public are rightly concerned about it, but it is very clear, in the auditor's report, that this was due to the reasons referred to in the notes, and the reasons given make it perfectly clear that these conditions were conditions that operated before the Corporation took over.
If there is any blame at all, it is not on the Corporation but the United Africa Company. I am referring to paragraph 250 of the Report on page 96, which makes that point clear. In so far as there has been a failure on the part of the United Africa Company to keep adequate accounts, I want to remind the House, before Members indulge in too strong criticism, that this organisation, for which I have no brief—the right hon. Gentleman said he had no brief for Mr. Wakefield, but he went on to show that he had a very long brief—had special difficulties of distance, communications and so on. They could not simply telephone accountants next door to tell them to take over their accounts. The report refers to the shortage of experienced accountants and so on. These are facts which are easily understandable. It was difficult to get sufficient accountants in this country immediately after the war.
I want to ask the Government, in view of some of the criticisms and sneers which have been made in the House about the personnel engaged on this job, with contemptuous remarks about Civil Service "types" in the last Debate, whether this has encouraged or discouraged recruitment, and whether it is likely to assist in getting adequate accountants or anyone else. If the United Africa Company were responsible and hot the Corporation, why is it that Mr. Wakefield and Mr. Rosa should have to go, because Mr. Samuel was the originator of the scheme, the chairman of the United Africa Company and is still on the Board? If it is Mr. Samuel's organisation and not the organisation of 102 Mr. Wakefield and Mr. Rosa, then why has this decision been taken?
Mr. Wakefield is a man of long-tested qualities in the public service. He was director of agriculture in Tanganyika, inspector-general of agriculture in the West Indies and he was entrusted with this most responsible Commission to East Africa, where he was expected, in the course of a nine weeks tour, to give solid calculations on conditions which had not been understood by the United Africa Company after 50 years' experience in these territories, and were not understood by all the experts in the Colonial Service with whom he consulted.
When I happened to be Minister for Germany, there was a serious situation in regard to food and agriculture, and the people of this country were not prepared to accept my opinion about the situation. A mission was sent to Germany, of which Mr. Wakefield was head, and he returned after a few weeks' time with a report which, when tested, was found to be absolutely correct. It may be that he has fallen down on his job—I do not know, because we have not been told. I do not know anything about Mr. Rosa, but he was the man in charge of the accounts. If the explanation I have given of why accounts were not kept is correct, and why it was not possible for the Corporation to give a true account of the position, why is it that the man chiefly responsible for accounting has had to go? These are questions we are entitled to ask.
§ Mr. Strachey
My hon. Friend has asked a straight question on Mr. Rosa, and I ought to answer it. The answer is that it would be quite unfair to say Mr. Rosa created these difficulties, but I was unable to get the absolute confidence the House would require of me, that he was capable of clearing up these difficulties, and that was the opinion of the most qualified advisers on the financial side whose advice I could use. I did not feel, in my responsibility to this House, that I could allow this to continue. That is the short answer.
§ Mr. Hynd
It means that there was a weakness in the accounting section of the Corporation in clearing up the mess. If an answer could be given about the other members of the board, I think we should be satisfied. I think I have said 103 enough from my own knowledge of these gentlemen to justify my questions.
Let me turn now to Mr. Samuels. If anyone was to blame in this matter, it was not those who joined the Corporation, but those who were in this from the very beginning. I want the House to remember, in considering the position, that the United Africa Company and Mr. Samuels started when the world situation was obscure and sinister. There was no prospect of replacing the fats we had previously obtained from India. The figures are very interesting. The annual groundnut supply to this country from India in 1938 to 1945 was 518,000 tons, and by 1946 it had fallen to 120,000 tons, and by 1947 to 12,000 tons.
That is where the fats have gone, and the simple problem the Government were up against was where they could find an alternative source which did not exist at that time, remembering that the world population was increasing by 20 million every year, and that the position would not improve but deteriorate. Something had to be done, and had to be done on a big scale. What remedy was there? The Government accepted Mr. Samuel's proposal, and I think they were right. The Wakefield Commission was sent out, and the estimates they gave were accepted, having been tested by every known expert who was consulted, both in East Africa and in this country. No one could point to any fundamental weakness in those estimates.
§ Mr. Fletcher
Will the hon. Member confirm or deny that those who had had experience of clearing dozens of acres for sisal were not consulted, and that if they had been consulted they would have thrown the whole scheme out of proportion?
§ Mr. Hynd
The hon. Member knows very well that there was no big-scale bush clearance by mechanised methods for sisal growing until 1940 and even then 30,000 acres was probably the largest area involved. It was not until 1940 that 104 bush clearance went ahead with bulldozers, and it was done by the same organisation that carried out the groundnut clearance scheme.
§ Mr. Hynd
The difficulties were all assessed, and the United Africa Company, who presumably knew most about it, accepted them. The difficulties could not be pointed out because an operation on this kind of scale had never been tested before in this kind of country. The significant thing about the fact that no one could answer these estimates is that no one knew enough about Africa. In spite of many years' living and working in the country people were not able to tell what would be encountered in an operation of this kind.
The difficulties have been mentioned already: there was the condition of the soil at Kongwa, the inadequacy of the type of equipment first tried, the abrasive-ness of the soil and the necessity to adjust machines and methods from time to time. There was also the difficulty of rooting machinery, which meant that it took eight hours to clear an acre of land instead of two hours, as was originally estimated. All these difficulties had never been known before as there had never been adequate tests. Should somebody have known about this—Mr. Wakefield, the Minister, our Colonial experts, or whom? The fact remains that no one did. The reason was not because of any neglect on the part of the United Africa Company, Mr. Wakefield, or the present Government, but of past Governments.
Why was not the port of Dar-es-Salaam more adequate? The recommendations of responsible people there before the war were that a deep-water harbour should be developed. No attempt has been made by any previous Government sufficiently to develop these territories to provide the undoubted advantages that we and Africa can gain from such development. Instead of 450,000 acres cleared and planted today we have about 100,000. That is unfortunate and disappointing but, to use an American expression, "So what"? Many Members opposite have said that they saw from the start that we could never clear the acres which it was said could be cleared at a certain cost. If they knew then they ought to be satisfied now. Why do they complain? Did the 105 Opposition support the scheme at the start or did they not? The answer is given in many tongues; sometimes they say "Yes" and sometimes "No."
If the Opposition had been faced with the situation as it was in 1946, when the housewife was going without her fats and saw no prospect of getting them anywhere else, and the world population was increasing by 20 million per annum, what would they have done? Would they have accepted Mr. Samuel's proposition or not? If they had rejected it they would have said to the British housewife that she had no hope at any time of getting her fats. If they had accepted Mr. Samuel's proposition they would have sent out a mission—
Sir Peter Maedonald (Isle of Wight)
Is it not true that at the time this scheme was being started over 320,000 tons of groundnuts were piled up in West Africa, waiting shipment to this country, and that the Government did not provide the railway engines with which to move them?
§ Mr. Hynd
If the Opposition had been in power and had accepted Mr. Samuel's proposal they would have sent out a mission and got the same estimates. Would they have gone on with the scheme or having found, after the first 12 months, as the United Africa Company found, that they could not clear enough acres and then have dropped the scheme?
§ Mr. Hynd
I gave way just now to an intervention from an hon. Member opposite who was not a spokesman for the Opposition, and who put an entirely irrelevant question. I hope to get an answer from somebody on the other side who is responsible.
If the Opposition had done what I suggest they would have done, they would still have had to face all the same difficulties. They would have had the difficulties of machinery and the provision of the enormous amount of capital which 106 has been necessary to build harbours, roads, railways, hospitals, towns and schools. Overheads and post-war prices would have been no less than they are today. They would have had to learn these lessons, which have been important and useful, and which will eventually lead to great economies. Many technical problems have been solved as a result of our experiments in Kongwa. For instance, it has been discovered that the 10-year rotation plan will produce as many tons of fat from 2 million acres as the original scheme proposed from 3¼ million. We are three years nearer a solution of the housewife's fats problem than we would have been if we had taken the advice of the Opposition and waited until this scheme had been proceeded with on an ordinary commercial basis.
The Opposition Front Bench has paid tribute to the fact that the scheme has achieved much. That being so, could we have been nearer the development of East Africa and a solution of the housewife's fats problem by any other means? The answer is "No."
§ Mr. Hynd
The hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. Hurd) has suggested that we should go back to 30-acre plot cultivation by African peasants. That is what the Africans have done for the last 40 years. What has it produced? It has caused erosion of the soil, one of the greatest problems in the world today; it has caused the under-nourishment and ill-health of many of the native population; it has failed to provide a single ounce of fat towards our fats ration. I will give the House some figures which I have given previously, and which illustrate the difference between production by the African peasant method and the present method. The estimate given by people who ought to know was that the African peasant produced, in addition to the supply needed to maintain his family, 4 cwt. of groundnuts per annum for the market; under the present scheme he is producing 25 tons surplus.
§ Mr. Hynd
Yes, but this is only the beginning. The difference between 4 cwt. per year per head and 25 tons per year per head available for export, for buying things that Africa needs and for assist- 107 ing us, is an achievement well worth while.
A further suggestion from the Opposition benches came from the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Dodds-Parker), who has considerable knowledge and experience of East Africa. He said the Government should build roads, railways, harbours, towns, hospitals and schools and let the private farmer come in and do the growing. If the Opposition are complaining that we are spending £50 million, and that it will be a long time before we get any profit out of this expenditure, do they suggest that we should use taxpayers' money without any return and let the private enterprise merchant come in and get the profit? It is this kind of thing that is the difference in the approach of the Government and the Opposition.
I come to capital expenditure, the cost of the scheme. The right hon. Member for West Bristol made a great point of the fact that we would only clear 600,000 acres for £50 million by 1954. Maybe so. It is a lot of money, and the public ought to be concerned with what we are going to get back from that expenditure. Not enough has been said from the other side about the tremendous advantages to the African, for whom, after all, we are responsible. That would be sufficient to justify the expenditure of that money if we got nothing else for it.
There is no single enterprise in the history of the world which has been undertaken without sinking a considerable amount of capital expenditure in it. The Manchester Ship Canal was cited by my right hon. Friend in our last Debate on this subject. Twenty years passed before it returned a penny of profit, and it cost £21 million. Is there any complaint about that money being lost? Then there is the Kyle Railway and the Tennessee Valley Authority. I should like to quote the words of Mr. Lilienthal, Chairman of the Tennessee Valley Authority, because they are worth quoting in this context.Are the expenditures for this development worth their cost to the country? This is not a question that accountants or financial experts can answer for us. Whether the overall results are worth what they have cost is something which the citizen must answer for himself as a matter not of arithmetic, but of the highest public policy.If one wants to get a little nearer home, much has been said about the handing 108 of this over to the Colonial Office and to the Colonial Development Corporation. I do not mind which of my right hon. Friends runs the scheme, but the Colonial Development Corporation is circumscribed in the scope of its operations much more than the Overseas Food Corporation, and in a manner which cannot permit of an operation of this kind. I would refer, for example, to the Report and Statement of Accounts of the Colonial Development Corporation, which on page 10 says this—and I think it extremely important:The difficulties of estimating whether a given project will be commercially sound may be exemplified by a proposed cacao growing scheme. Different authorities may in such a proposal produce estimates of potential yield varying between 600 and 1.000 lbs. to the acre, and a possible future price varying by as much as £50 per ton or more.It goes on:If the Board of the Corporation had to demonstrate the safety of the investment with certainty to Government Departments, or to bankers, or to the public, they would have an impossible or, at best, a lengthy task…. They cannot accept banking principles as their guide.I commend the whole paragraph to those who are interested in this particular matter, but the Colonial Development Corporation are proceeding broadly on the same lines as any other big enterprise of this kind, for it is not expected that such enterprises will make a profit in the first years.
In regard to what has been said about the dismal future of this scheme, in "The Times" article, on which speeches on the other side have practically been based and which is a most dismal thing to read, there is one very striking sentence which is worth noticing. In spite of all their gloom, they say:There is much valuable experience already on the spot, and in spite of all that has gone wrong, there is still an astonishing degree of faith amongst the men engaged in the venture.These are the people who should know, and these are the people whom the Opposition suggest should be examined by a Commission from this House. That is political interference at its worst. For once the boot is on the other foot, and it is we on this side who are saying, "Let the men on the spot get on with the job, and no political interference."
§ 7.14 p.m.
§ Mr. Hurd (Newbury)
It would be tempting to follow the hon. Member for 109 Attercliffe (Mr. J. Hynd) in his assertions but I must be brief. There is one point however which I should like to make. Why did the Minister pick on Mr. Rosa and Mr. Wakefield and throw them off the Corporation and not Mr. Samuel, who might be considered responsible for having by his original report set the Corporation an impossible task. I think the answer is that Mr. Rosa and Mr. Wakefield have had the courage for several months past to try to instil some common sense and some realism into the policy of the board—
§ Mr. Hurd
They are not board-room secrets.
I was glad that the Minister of Food on this occasion took responsibility all through for this scheme. I would fully support what the hon. Gentleman said about the need for sending a message of encouragement to those who are doing this job in Tanganyika. In spite of hasty makeshifts to please the Minister of Food and all the other bungling on the administrative side, the men on the site in Tanganyika have never lost faith. They still believe that the venture in which they are engaged can be made successful.
110 I have in my hand a letter which was written in Kongwa on 6th November, and I think it sets out very simply the attitude of the men who are doing this job for us. The letter states:However, once again we must wait and see. Mr. Raby did address the staffs of the three units a few days ago. He said that he and Professor Phillips had decided there must be a pause, a cessation of work on all construction of a capital nature to give them an opportunity of assessing where we were heading, and to give Professor Phillips an opportunity to make up his mind about the agricultural future of the various areas.That is the atmosphere of uncertainty in Kongwa at the present time. This man goes on:I should have given up the unequal struggle some months ago but for some obstinate kink in my make-up which wants to see it through and feels one day we may be allowed to make our way out of the mire into which we have sunk.That is the spirit of the men on the spot. They are not despairing and we must not despair.
The people of the British Commonwealth are trustees for empty spaces in Tanganyika and in Queensland. The peoples of the East, pressed for living space, are looking hungrily to these empty areas. The Indians certainly have their eyes on Tanganyika. The people of Britain, still denied free choice in their diet and facing difficulties about food imports, look hungrily to any area which may improve their fat ration.
We must ask the Minister who was responsible for giving him those estimates which enabled him to give a succession of optimistic estimates to the House. I am talking particularly of the estimates we had in March of this year. Was it the Chairman of the board, or did the Minister make them up himself? It is this lack of judgment that the Minister has shown which has brought ridicule on the whole scheme. The men working in Tanganyika certainly deserve a better reward.
§ Mr. Strachey
As to the estimates I gave in March, I cannot recollect one which has been falsified.
§ Mr. Strachey
If the hon. Gentleman will permit me. I think if he looks at my speech he will find that I quoted exactly the same figure as I have quoted 111 today, 50,000 acres. There may be one figure that has been changed since, but I do not think so.
§ Mr. Hurd
I will give the Minister a quotation. He led us to suppose that we were going to find a Land of Goshen in the Southern Province. This is what he actually said in March:One goes from a relatively arid area to one which is obviously well watered, with much better grown trees, the crops on the native patches bearing much more heavily, the bananas growing beside the railways, and generally a much more smiling and attractive land."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th March, 1949; Vol. 462, c. 1777.]This blind optimism to which we have been treated all the time is not being fair to this House or the men on the spot. I was glad that the Minister came down a bit closer to earth this afternoon and talked about 600,000 acres as what we might achieve in clearing and cropping altogether for our investment of £50 million.
Neither we nor the world at large will regain confidence in our ability to make a success of this scheme, which must be a land development scheme, until the present Minister of Food and the present Chairman of the Overseas Food Corporation hand their responsibility over to more competent people. The Minister must know that neither the men in Tanganyika nor, for all I know—I have not consulted them but I gather it by reading between the lines of Mr. Wakefield's correspondence—some of the men at London headquarters, trust the judgment either of the Minister or of the Chairman of the Corporation.
I am wondering what the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer are thinking about all this. We are gambling with high stakes. Already the British taxpayer has invested £29 million, put down for him on this mechanised groundnut scheme and a rather similar scheme in Queensland. That sum represents 12s. per head for every man, woman and child in this country—quite a substantial investment. As matters stand, the Minister may. and in fact does, put up more chips and increase the stakes just as he fancies. He has put up another £8 million since March, and he can, without consulting this House, put up another £20 million. We only hear about it in answers to 112 Questions. It is a most extraordinary business.
We cannot go on like this. Parliament must have some guidance from men upon whose judgment they can rely. We have to assess the chances of this gamble at Kongwa. It may be a justifiable gamble to have at least one last shot at trying to grow something worth while there. The Foreign Secretary is quite happy about the taxpayers' money being used in what he calls "chipping away" at Africa. That is a very expressive phrase when used about the tough soil of Kongwa. As he went on to talk about nitro-glycerine being produced from groundnuts, I do not think we can have much confidence in his judgment on the matter.
There is a rather different set of circumstances at Urambo. From the Scientific part of the report, Urambo does not sound so promising as the Southern Province. The land is difficult to clear, but there already is a railway there. The disadvantage, judging by this year's experience, is that there is a severe risk of Rosette disease attacking the groundnuts. Is the soil good enough there to make it worth while going ahead and clearing to the full extent that the Minister, has said?
What are the facts about the Southern Province? The Minister told us that 2,000 acres was the first objective and he continues to paint a rosy picture of the Southern Province. On the strength of blind optimism we have created 90 miles of railway and 120 miles of oil pipeline, we have induced somebody, if we have not paid for it ourselves, to put up a sawmill. This was done, as my right hon. Friend the Member for West Bristol has reminded us, before the soil tests had come in and before we knew what the land around Noli would grow. I am told, again from out there, that it is improbable that we shall find any big area of soil suitable for growing groundnuts, sunflowers or any other commercial product.
§ Mr. John Lewis (Bolton)
Is the hon. Gentleman really suggesting to the House that the chemical composition of the soil in that area was unknown to the responsible scientists?
§ Mr. Hurd
Absurd as it sounds, I do not think they were. They cut through the bush, built their railway and their pipeline. Now, for the first time, they are getting the result of the soil tests. They have not yet made water tests. I agree with the hon. Member for Bolton (Mr. J. Lewis) that it looks fantastic but those are the facts of the position. It may be that the railway that is being built inland from the coast will be of some use in developing Rhodesia and carrying distant traffic, but I cannot see that the sawmill or the oil pipeline will be of much use to anyone unless we can use the area to grow something useful.
We cannot go on like this, spending £1 million a month without any clear idea of the acreage of suitable land or what crops can be grown. I strongly support the proposal put forward by my right hon. Friend the Member for West Bristol that we should appoint a small commission to give us a reliable opinion on the prospects of this gamble. Is there a 50-50 chance of our getting some return in, say, five years? What is the total investment to be? Before we heard that the minimum that would economically carry the overheads of the scheme is 1½ million acres. Now we are told that the objective for 1954 is to be 600,000 acres. Those are too very different bases for future plans.
In prospecting for further areas let us take reliable advice based on the experience that is already available. For instance, we must know by now that the average rainfall, which is what the Minister of Food has so often talked about, really means nothing at all. It is the variability of rainfall, in Tanganyika and in Queensland, that really matters. It is impossible to base commercial yields of groundnuts on the crops that can be grown in the utterly favourable conditions in Nigeria or the Kingaroy district of Queensland, and take their figure of 750 lb. per acre.
We have to get away from these theoretical calculations and down to what in commercial practice we are likely to be able to grow. So far as the agricultural side of a mission of this kind is con- 114 cerned, I can think of several men who would be well qualified to give this House reliable advice. There are not only men in this country like Sir Frank Engledow, of Cambridge, but Professor H. D. Wadham of Australia, and men in Kenya, whose advice would give us confidence to go ahead and invest the taxpayers' money prudently.
The cry "Food for Britain" has been the curse of these schemes. We and the Australians hold in trust these empty spaces in Tanganyika and Queensland. If we are to succeed the' emphasis must be on long-term agricultural development and not on trying to produce margarine, sorghum or pork quickly. We have to build up systems of farming in these areas which will endure for the benefit of ourselves and the local people. The people of East Africa often go hungry, as the Colonial Secretary very well knows, and these schemes must surely first provide for local needs. They cannot be rushed to fit a time-table set by the Minister of Food.
I know that Queensland looks a better gamble than Tanganyika, but the risks of soil erosion there are considerable when vergin grassland is being ploughed up. The soil may grow two or three crops safely, but no one can say what will happen after that. Some strange things are happening there. The Minister said that the scheme was going well ahead of expectations. That may be, but the results so far given are very different from those we expected. We were to have had thousands of pigs fattened on sorghum in Queensland. We have not had that, and we shall not get that in any quantity.
What has happened so far is that an early frost in their autumn broke down and caused the shedding of most of the sorghum crop. What we are getting is 7,000 bullocks which are being fed on the 30,000 acres of sorghum which could not be completely harvested. That is something very different from what we set out to do. Let us hope that some of the Queensland beef will come here. That is an example of the uncertainties which we meet in schemes in climates upon which we cannot rely and in territories about which we have not yet had reliable opinions as to how they can best be used.
We must make up our minds on the experience we have already bought and 115 after getting the advice of the best possible experts. I hope and believe that further developments will be justified. All of us on this side of the House do. There are other areas of the Commonwealth where our capital resources and our skilled management could bear fruit. After all, pioneers from this country developed New Zealand, Australia, the Sudan and parts of South Africa. We have men in this generation who are just as capable as their forebears and have the "know-how" just as much as the Americans or anybody else in developing empty spaces.
We have had this shocking downfall over the groundnuts so far. [HON. MEMBERS: "No, No."] It is. The House should recognise frankly that it is the headlong folly of two men, the Minister of Food and the chairman of the Overseas Food Corporation, Sir Leslie Plummer, which has led us to this great disappointment and this feeling of frustration. That should not deter us from going forward, but we must watch our step.
§ Mr. Kenneth Lindsay (Combined English Universities)
On a point of Order, Mr. Speaker. It is obvious that a large number of hon. Members wish to speak in this Debate. Also, it is agreed that whatever may be the merits of the case this is a very great public occasion. There is a very great interest in this subject throughout the country. No one could possibly underestimate it. Is there any way—I make this protest again this week—of seeing that the back benchers of this House are able to express themselves? Once again they will be frustrated. Can the Colonial Secretary make representations to the Leader of the House to prolong this Debate, or is there any other way the problem can be met, because we have only another hour and a half and a large number of hon. Members wish to speak before the Front Benchers get in?
§ 7.35 p.m.
§ Mr. John Lewis (Bolton)
I shall bear your recommendation in mind, Mr. Speaker, in addressing myself to the 116 House. I have listened to the Debate quite dispassionately because there were certain matters about this scheme upon which I required elucidation. What has amazed me is the apparent tenderness of the Opposition's attack upon the Government. Is it because we are now approaching the General Election and that any attack on the Government might implicate the United Africa Company, which in itself might have further repercussions in regard to the contributions made to the Conservative Party by its parent company; or is it because hon. Gentlemen opposite are not quite so sure after having heard the Minister of Food that they are on sound ground?
The hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. Hurd) has sought to create quite a wrong impression about the whole scheme. He referred to it on two occasions as a gamble and said that we must regard it to some extent as a failure. I feel that he would not wish to ally himself with any proposition which might have the effect of implying that he would be against taking advantage of an opportunity to provide edible oil seeds for consumption in this country.
My hon. Friend the Member for the Attercliffe Division of Sheffield (Mr. J. Hynd), in an excellent speech, made it clear that our pre-war source of supply of groundnuts had virtually ceased altogether and that we took the opportunity of this development in Africa which might make it possible in years to come to replenish our pre-war supply. We know that the world's population has increased by 10 per cent. and that the supply of foodstuffs over the same period since the commencement of the war has dropped anything from 5 to 10 per cent., and thus the world is faced with a very serious food problem. Here was one of the greatest pioneering projects which could be conceived by any Government, and it is now being denigrated by the Opposition who do not wish to apply to it the principles which govern them when they are considering analogous schemes worked out by private enterprise.
Before I deal with the actual items to which I wish to refer, I want to speak of something which was said by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Bristol (Mr. Stanley). He was very anxious to make it clear that in his view the correct method of procedure would have been for Mr. Wakefield to approach 117 his chairman and for the chairman to make recommendations to the Minister in regard to the resignation.
§ Mr. Lewis
I intervened when the right hon. Gentleman was speaking, and I thought that was the reply he gave me. The right hon. Gentleman has a great deal of industrial experience, and he knows full well that where there is dissension on a board of directors there is no possible hope of the board functioning efficiently Mr. Wakefield himself has made it abundantly clear that as early as February, 1949—without giving away any boardroom secrets—he was not satisfied with the decisions taken by the majority of the Board of Directors of the Overseas Food Corporation, and had put forward a minority viewpoint in regard to the time to be taken for clearing the bush.
Here is distinct evidence of the fact that there was dissension, and I maintain that one cannot have efficiency in any organisation, whether it is a public corporation or a private company, if the directors do not see eye to eye with each other on matters of important principle. In this case the Minister was made aware of the views of Mr. Wakefield and the other gentlemen and, in the interests of the efficiency of the organisation, called upon him to resign.
§ Mr. Lewis
It is obvious that if Mr. Wakefield held a certain point of view in February he might have changed his mind in September. On boards of directors people often have divergent views from time to time but eventually they see eye to eye on the important questions. In this case only recently was it made clear to the Minister that there was no possibility of these divergent points of view being reconciled. The right hon. Gentleman must know that in a Corporation of this kind the Chairman must be in constant touch with the Minister of Food. If there is disagreement on his board obviously he would make it quite clear to the Minister that it exists and that he could see no possibility in the immediate future of the divergent points of view being reconciled.
118 If my right hon. Friend had not been courageous, he would not have made these dismissals now. He called upon these two gentlemen to resign, irrespective of the fact that a Debate was to take place in this House, knowing full well that the opportunity would be grasped by the Opposition to make a point about these dismissals and to ask the question which the right hon. Gentleman has directed to me now, as to the reason for these dismissals not being made earlier?
The fact remains that the Minister of Food called upon these two gentlemen to resign and that they refused to do so. In any other circumstances I am sure the right hon. Gentleman would have condemned their action, having regard to the specific circumstances with which we are now confronted, in that this is a public corporation having directors who cannot see eye to eye with each other. The least they could do was to resign, but they did not want to do that. They wanted to cause some trouble. They wanted to publish letters in the newspapers and they wanted to grant newspaper interviews. Where the question of the resignation of a director arises in a reputable private enterprise concern there is not all this ballyhoo, and this publication of letters in the papers. Reputable directors of reputable companies do not act in that way.
I am not suggesting for a moment that the word "reputable" which I apply to their action in this matter should be taken as referring to any of their other functions and capacities, because I am advised that these two gentlemen have many attributes and have rendered great public service in the past. In this case, however, I suggest they were ill-advised in seeking to embarrass the Government because they could not get their own way. I refer specifically to Mr. Wakefield. I shall have something to say about Mr. Rosa's department in a moment or two. So I do not think it is fair to suggest that in these circumstances the Minister has acted in any way other than with the utmost propriety. It was his duty, when he knew of the position, to call upon them to resign. It was his duty, when they refused to do so, to dismiss them.
To turn to another point, I believe that this groundnut scheme is part of that great switchover which is so vitally neces- 119 sary to our economy. I regard it in the same terms as the great oil cracking plant which we are erecting in this country, the purpose being to make ourselves independent of dollar sources of supply as far as possible. The hon. Member for Newbury referred to this imaginative scheme as a gamble and said that there were no tests taken of the soil. He led the House to assume that these people had gone in without any knowledge as to the scientific nature of the soil, without taking the best technical advice available, and that they had been spending the taxpayers money without due regard to economy. The hon. Member must know that for many years there have been patches of groundnuts growing in that area under native cultivation—in what is one of the worst and most difficult areas in Africa--so that clearly it would be possible to grow groundnuts on a much larger scale. These groundnuts are being produced now, the scheme will be extended, and I believe it will be of great benefit to this country.
It is no use hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite coming to this House of Commons like Alice in Wonderland pretending they do not understand the Government viewpoint because they conduct their businesses on specifically the same lines. Any hon. Gentleman in business knows that in the case of an entirely new project at least three years elapse between the time it goes on to the drawing board and the time when the wheels are turning over and goods are being produced. They also know that in a high proportion of the cases where a scheme is planned and estimates are made, it is often found that, due to causes originally unforeseen, the scheme is found to cost much more and there have to be amendments, adjustments and alterations between the time it is planned in the boardroom and the time it is put into operation.
In a great Colonial scheme of this kind, with its tremendous potentialities and problems, I do not think the efforts made should be denigrated. I have not heard one suggestion from hon. or right hon. Gentlemen opposite as to where the Government have made a mistake in the advice which they sought. Who did they go to for guidance? Was there any organisation or corporation which could say definitely that this would. be a success? They went to the United Africa 120 Company which has been a trading company for 40 or 50 years. That company knew a little more than other people but there was no other authentic body or corporation from which the Government could ask advice other than the Minister's personal advisors.
So they took the best advice available, and it is quite clear that the Opposition knew they were taking the best advice because it was never suggested at the time that the Government should apply themselves in any other way to the problem, and they knew full well that the Government were doing their utmost to ensure the success of the scheme. I believe that in two or three years' time the Opposition, as well as hon. Members on this side of the House, will be proud that this scheme was inaugurated. I believe it will be a great success and will give us the fats and edible oil foods which we need so badly.
Now I want to turn to the reference in the report to the system of accountancy. I am not now concerned whether it be the United Africa Company or the Overseas Food Corporation but I am not prepared to accept some of the inferences in the report that the absence of a fully developed system of costing arose because it was impossible for records to be kept. I know that in a vast territory like that there are wide areas which make it impossible for the different departments to be in daily or hourly contact with each other and there are special difficulties which arise, but I wish to refer specifically to the purchase of surplus stores from the Middle East on which a large sum of money was expended and where no records were kept.
It is made abundantly clear from the report that some of the difficulties with which the accountants were faced arose primarily because there was no documentary evidence, or that no inventories were taken, which made it plain what items had been purchased. It is generally understood that anyone who buys a parcel of goods, whether at an auction sale in this country or from a dump in the Middle East, has to buy some goods which he does not want. There is ample justification for that if the parcel of goods which are bought contains a high, or even a fair, proportion of the goods which are essential for one's scheme. What is vitally important is that when those goods 121 are loaded on to a ship for delivery an inventory is taken of what goes on board. I am not prepared to accept that when these goods were being loaded it was not possible for an official to have been at the port of destination and, as the cases were being put on board, to have taken an inventory so that it would be known precisely what would arrive at the other end of the journey.
§ Mr. Lewis
I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman. In addition, a check should have been taken to ensure that the goods loaded on to the ship arrived at the port of destination. The sorting out could take place afterwards. If it was merely a question of a certain number of cases, the number of cases of goods of specified types could have been recorded, even if a high proportion had afterwards to be discarded completely as being of no use to the scheme. The unwanted goods could have been put on one side, scrapped or sold, but there is no excuse for not knowing what was purchased and what was delivered at the site. I hope that as a result of what has been revealed every effort will be made in future to ensure that proper precautions are taken.
I would mention that at the time in question it was the United Africa Company who were responsible for this lack of efficiency. I am not trying to draw any parallel, but hon. Members opposite should be careful not to attribute to the Overseas Food Corporation any mismanagement for which they are in no way responsible.
§ Mr. Lewis
I quite agree.
My final remarks relate to the inquiry which has been asked for. Hon. Members opposite should once again reconsider their position when they ask for specific inquiries. On how many occasions has private enterprise, with its vast and complicated series of amalgamations, subsidiary companies and so on, suffered specific losses in a particular company or department which have had serious results? I know the answer will be "Yes, but it is not the taxpayers' money you are dealing with," but the same principle applies. What has happened in these 122 cases is that the shareholders have sacked certain directors and have called in new directors to replace them on the Board.
§ Mr. Lewis
On behalf of the Government, he represents the taxpayers. It is his duty to ensure that the taxpayers' money is spent properly. As he has set up a Corporation to deal with this expenditure, it is his duty to ensure that the Corporation works efficiently, without taking into account the questions of its day-to-day administration. He has a direct responsibility for ensuring that the directors of the Corporation work in amity and that it functions efficiently. It is his duty, therefore, if he feels there is any lack of co-ordination on the Board, to call for resignations and to re-appoint new people, in the interest not only of the general efficiency of the organisation but of safeguarding the taxpayers' money. Precisely the same principle is applied in private industry, where the shareholders do exactly the same thing in their own interests.
§ Mr. Fletcher
The two instances are not precisely the same. In a company the shareholders, as a number of individuals who have willingly put their money into the business, have an opportunity once a year at a general meeting of not re-electing the director. That is not at all the same as the Minister carrying out that function at any time during the year. There is no comparison at all.
§ Mr. Lewis
The hon. Member knows full well that the tenure of office of a director depends upon the Company's Memorandum and Articles of Association, and that the statement he has just made does not apply in view of this. He knows that in this instance the terms of reference—the Memorandum and Articles of Association, whatever anyone may like to call it—or the rules of the governing body, which in this case are the Government, are such that the Minister can call for dismissals whenever he pleases and can re-appoint people after those dismissals have taken place. It is his duty to do so if he thinks that things are not right on the Board.
I think I have said enough to show that no inquiry whatsoever is necessary. The best available advice has been taken. I have not heard a single suggestion from the Opposition tonight concerning to whom the Minister should apply for further and more expert advice. I hope, therefore, that my right hon. Friend will resist most strongly any pressure which may be brought upon him to set up a commission of inquiry. At the same time, I hope that when my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Colonies replies he will refute some of the allegations which have been very weakly made by the Opposition with the object of giving an impression to the country that the Government have been responsible for wasting the taxpayers' money. That has been the Tory line today; it is a line which has failed. Never during my five years in this House have I heard such a weak case put up by the Opposition. They know full well that when they run their own businesses they do so in precisely the same way as the Minister of Food, who is responsible to Parliament for the results of the Overseas Food Corporation.
It will be made abundantly clear from this Debate that the scheme, which was conceived by the present Government with the best help and advice obtainable, is an assurance policy for our future food supplies. It is in line with our policy for economic self-sufficiency for supplies which have come hitherto from dollar sources. For all these reasons, therefore, let the Opposition at least be generous enough to say that they hope the scheme will succeed.
§ 7.58 p.m.
§ Sir Peter Macdonald (Isle of Wight)
The hon. Member for Bolton (Mr. J. Lewis) seems to be very satisfied with the progress of the scheme so far. He went on to say that if anybody on this, side were running a business of this kind they would run it on exactly the same lines as the Government are running the one we are discussing. All I can say from a reading of the auditors' report is that I am quite convinced that anybody, on any side of the House, who tried to run a business on the same lines as the Government have been running this one would find themselves, first, in Carey Street and then in the Old Bailey. That is why we on this side are demanding an inquiry into the facts of the case; we are not at all satisfied that the full facts are known to the Minister. They are certainly not known to this House, as I hope to prove.
When the scheme was first introduced to the House, I gave it my whole-hearted support, as I have done every Colonial project in all the time I have been in this House. All my colleagues on this side did the same, and I have never seen any other proposition which was before the House received with such acclaim and such whole-hearted and overwhelming support from all sides. I have heard charges today from the other side that the Conservative Party are trying to make party politics out of the present situation. I and my colleagues have supported this scheme as a long-term policy.
When I supported it at first I did deplore what I called the boasting and ballyhoo of the Minister and his colleagues and certain supporting newspapers to the effect that they were launching something which was entirely new and that the Tory Party had done nothing in their whole history for Colonial development, because I foresaw that that was bound to lead to party strife and all the things we should avoid if the scheme was to prosper That is exactly what has happened. If the great project has descended to party lines the Minister has himself to blame because, in the first place, he has not accepted the advice of the Wakefield Report which was from the start that it should be a long-term policy instead of a political stunt, into which it has developed and into which they were trying to crowd too much in too short a time.
§ Mr. J. Lewis
Will the hon. Member quote the Wakefield Report to substantiate the remarks he has made?
§ Sir P. Macdonald
I cannot give the particular quotation, but it was conceived as a long-term policy. I remember taking the chair at a quite well attended meeting of the Royal Society of Arts which was addressed by Mr. Wakefield, and he read a paper in which he expounded his policy and described it as a long-term policy. Any friction there has been with his colleagues on the board has been because he has tried to put the brake on, knowing Africa and African conditions as he does. He has tried to put brakes on people who tried to rush things, and that is where he came into conflict with the board. He is not the only one who has come into conflict with Sir Leslie Plummer. Almost everyone connected with the scheme today has come into conflict with that gentleman, for very good reasons, some of which I intend to give.
Socialists seem very pleased with the scheme. It has been conducted on good Socialist Party lines and the policy is to spend as much as possible in as short a time as possible regardless of the consequences. That has certainly been the case with this scheme, with the Coal Board, and with everything else they have touched. That is where we are told by Mr. Wakefield he came into conflict with the Minister and the Chairman. He advised caution and delay and the board was told by the Chairman that they must disregard the advice of the agricultural and research adviser, Mr. Wakefield, and go straight forward, regardless of cost.
§ Mr. J. Lewis
In fairness to Mr. Wakefield, the hon. Member ought to make it quite clear that Mr. Wakefield himself, in a Press statement a day or two ago, claimed that it was in February, 1949. that he first suggested that the time for clearing the area should be extended
§ Sir P. Macdonald
I am not talking of the inception of the scheme, but of the clearing of land and the decision that it should be cut down to 50,000 acres on the 1949–50 crop. The Chairman over-ruled Mr. Wakefield and said. "Go ahead regardless of cost." That is where they came into conflict with Mr Wakefield.
126 I know Mr. Wakefield quite well. I first met him when he was a very important member of the Stockdale Commission in the West Indies doing a magnificent job there. I have seen other things he has done, including his trip to Germany on which he gave excellent advice to the Minister then in charge of that territory. He is a very able civil servant and I know him to be of the highest possible integrity. When he says that that was the conflict between himself and the Chairman I am prepared to believe him. That is where the trouble has lain. The Chairman, no doubt carrying out the policy of the Minister of Food, has been rushing things, to try to get quick results, probably before the next Election and for something to talk about, whereas those who knew Africa and knew what they were up against were inclined to be reasonable and cautious and tried to save a certain amount from the wreck
That has been the position. At the outset the Minister described this great undertaking as "a military operation." If he wants to use that analogy, I do not mind, but what would we think of a general who went into a project without first collecting a staff on which he could rely, drawing up plans, surveying his ground, organising his supplies and services and looking after transportation, port facilities, and so forth? That is exactly what has not happened in this case. I know that hon. Members opposite are trying to put the blame for all this on the United Africa Company, or their agents—
§ Sir P. Macdonald
Yes they have been doing that—who were agents for the Minister. At the end of the war the United Africa Company were the greatest authorities on fats in this country, or. perhaps, in the world. They made a report and found that there was a shortage of eight million tons of fat in the world. The Minister asked what could be done about it and the United Africa Company drew up a scheme, and as a result the Wakefield Committee was sent out.
The scheme was taken to the Colonial Office, the people who should be responsible for such a scheme. In my time in politics the Colonial Secretary has always been responsible for anything happening 127 in a Colonial Territory. But the Colonial Office would not look at this scheme and I am sorry for the Colonial Secretary tonight who has to answer for a scheme which he originally would not accept. The Government cannot complain today if through their own stupidity and lack of judgment and vision they find themselves in the position in which they are.
§ Sir P. Macdonald
I supported it as a long-term policy. That is why, if the Minister wants to follow the analogy of a military operation, when it goes wrong he decides that some heads must fall and somebody must be sacrificed. We remember the one great occasion in our history when that was carried to its logical conclusion and Admiral Byng was shot and not his captains. That is what I feel about the present Minister and the Chairman of the Overseas Food Corporation. They are the people who ought to be sacrified today, instead of these very admirable civil servants, who have served their country with such ability and distinction.
Someone asked why we were demanding an inquiry. I thought my right hon. Friend the Member for West Bristol (Mr. Stanley), gave ample reasons why we wanted an inquiry. It is because we are very much lacking in information and we on this side of the House are convinced that the full facts of this case are not known. The truth, certainly the whole truth, has not been told.
In addition to the questions which my right hon. Friend asked about a memorandum that went to the Chairman of the Corporation signed by various heads of departments, all of whom with one exception have since lost their heads, I wish to ask if it is not a fact that Professor Phillips, that very admirable gentleman who is still on the job, who was lent to the scheme by General Smuts and who is regarded very highly today by everybody in Africa, when he was general manager-designate to the scheme, decided not to take up that appointment because of the conditions he found when he went to East Africa? Is it not a fact that he came home armed with a memorandum which he presented to the Chairman and asked that it should be sent to the board of the Overseas Food Corporation? Is 128 it not a fact that that memorandum was never presented to the board? That is one question to which I want an answer.
Another is that Major Patton, who was area manager of the southern region, issued a report in the summer of 1948 describing the scandalous state of affairs in the region at that time. It was submitted to the Chairman of the Overseas Food Corporation and it was also suppressed and never presented to the board. [An HON. MEMBER: "How does the hon. Member know? "] I happen to know that it did not come before the board. [Interruption.] If people are sacked from boards they are not bound to secrecy any longer. I am asking if these are facts. If they are not—
§ Sir P. Macdonald
That is what we want to know. If we had an inquiry we should have the report and we should know whether the facts had been suppressed.
Is it not a fact that heads of departments at Kongwa waited on the Chairman in May, 1949, and asked him in the interests of the scheme, because they were all anxious that it should continue, that he should hand in his resignation and leave Kongwa? Those are three questions which I wish to ask. I am told these are facts which have never yet come out. If they are facts I want to know what were the contents of these memoranda which were suppressed. That is why it is essential that we should have an inquiry into the workings of the Overseas Food Corporation and the activities of the Chairman.
§ Mrs. Middleton (Plymouth, Sutton)
Will the hon. Gentleman tell us on what authority he states that the questions which he has posed are founded on facts?
§ Sir P. Macdonald
I am quite satisfied with the source from which I got them. If they are incorrect I wish the Minister to say so. I am asking questions for information.
So far as the argument against an inquiry is concerned, there is nothing new in it. I have been on a Select Committee of this House for many years, the Estimates Committee, which has inquired into many matters about which the same 129 excuse has generally been put forward. When we intended to inquire into a Department or an Estimate we would be told that it would upset the Department or the scheme, but we felt that we represented this House and not the Government or the Executive, and we insisted on making our inquiries in every case of which I know. The Estimates Committee have in this Parliament issued about a dozen reports all of which have brought out evidence which would never have been brought out but for the Select Committee's activities and reports.
We have had reports on Germany and Austria. When we went there and took evidence and made our reports we received nothing but commendation from the responsible people. Our reports brought to light matters of which they themselves did not know and helped them in their labours. In many cases it helped them to bring about economies which they longed to effect but did not know how to do so until they had the facts which were produced by the Select Committee's report.
§ Mr. C. Poole
Do I understand the hon. Member now to be asking for an inquiry into all that has happened in the past? As I understand his party's Amendment, their proposal is for an inquiry into the present position and future prospects.
§ Sir P. Macdonald
I am prepared for the past to be buried so long as we can learn what are the conditions of the scheme today and the prospect for its continuance in the future. That is all we are concerned about and we are very much concerned with that. Therefore, I support the demand for an inquiry, whether by Select Committee or an outside body I do not mind, so long as they have power to send for people and papers, to take evidence and report to this House on the real conditions and facts in connection with this great scheme.
§ Mr. Strachey
Before the hon. Gentleman sits down may I reply—I am sorry that I was out of the House when he asked his questions—
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd (Mid-Bedford)
On a point of Order. May I ask for your guidance, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. A number of hon. Members wish to take part 130 in this Debate, and the Secretary of State for the Colonies is to wind up for the Government. Is it in Order for the right hon. Gentleman to make prolonged Ministerial statements and not to leave the matter to toe dealt with toy his right hon. colleague?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Major Milner)
It is perfectly in Order for the right hon. Gentleman to answer a question.
§ Commander Galbraith (Glasgow, Pollok)
Is it in Order for a Minister to rise at any time to answer questions asked by hon. Members? Surely that is not so?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
The hon. and gallant Member is aware of the practice when questions are addressed to Ministers. If the hon. Gentleman who is asking the question gives way the Minister is entitled to give a short answer.
§ Commander Galbraith
Naturally I bow to your Ruling, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, but is it not a fact that my hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Wight (Sir P. Macdonald) has not sat down for the purpose of the Minister replying. Is the Minister not relying on his right hon. Friend who is to wind up the Debate to reply to the Debate?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
The right hon. Gentleman adopted the usual and customary practice. The hon. Member for the Isle of Wight asked a question and sat down. The right hon. Gentleman said, as the hon. and gallant Member knows is our practice, "Before the hon. Member sits down, I would say—", etc. The Chair has a discretion but I see no objection in this case.
§ Mr. Strachey
I wish to answer one of the hon. Member's questions very briefly—the first one. He asked whether Mr. Wakefield had not been consistently trying to put the brakes on in the scheme. Again, I do not wish to criticise Mr. Wakefield or enter into controversy with him, but I must say that that is not the case. Documents can be produced if necessary, and perhaps will be produced, which will show that that is not the case. After all, Mr. Wakefield is associated with the largest scheme for the most rapid development and naturally he went on taking that view for a long time.
§ 8.19 p.m.
§ Mr. McAllister (Rutherglen)
Whoever is to wind up for the Opposition will have 131 a remarkable opportunity to rescue the Conservative Party from the shreds of ignominious discussion with which they have invested this Debate. I do not remember in this House a Debate about which there was so much advance Press forecasting of great interest and the great effects which has so dismally failed and which has been conducted at such a poor level. The hon. Member for the Isle of Wight (Sir P. Macdonald) has certainly tried to introduce a new principle into the conduct of any kind of industry, whether public or private, when he suggested that the Minister should answer a series of questions referring to memoranda which the hon. Member alleges certain minor officials of the Corporation had presented to the Chairman, which had not been presented to the Board.
§ Sir P. Macdonald
Not minor officials. The first man I mentioned was the general manager-designate of the scheme, Professor Phillips. Does the hon. Member call him a minor official?
§ Mr. McAllister
Whether they are minor officials or senior officials, I think it is certainly an extraordinary principle to suggest that in the conduct of any kind of industry the people who are the paid executives of the organisation should have the right to present memoranda to the chairman which must be presented to the board, and if they are not presented to the board in the case of a public corporation they can do what they cannot do in a case of a private company—go to a Member of Parliament and have the matter raised in the House and demand that an inquiry shall be instituted. That is indeed carrying snooping further than even the Treasury in its older days or now has ever contemplated.
The hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. Hurd) who probably saw the leading article in "The Times" earlier than I saw it, had the audacity to say that we ought to send a message of encouragement to the men on the spot in the Kongwa. There is a "Times" air-mail edition and I have no doubt that tomorrow or the next day "The Times" air-mail edition will be in the Kongwa and the men in the Kongwa will be reading this lugubrious, melancholy article. They will not be encouraged. "Its ill-starred career." "Its calamitous misadventures," Yet the same leading 132 article pays a tribute, already referred to by the hon. Member for Attercliffe (Mr. J. Hynd):There is much valuable experience already on the spot and, in spite of all that has gone wrong, there is still an astonishing degree of faith among the men engaged in the venture.That is true. There is an astonishing degree of faith in the men still engaged in the venture. But how much has the party opposite contributed to that degree of faith?
They say they were in favour of this scheme from the beginning, and some of them were. Some of them who have really cared for the British Colonies and Commonwealth were passionately in favour of this scheme from the beginning. I can remember, 18 months ago when I was in the Kongwa among the men on the spot, reading in the Press which came over by air mail a speech by the right hon. Member for Southport (Mr. R. S. Hudson) in which he described conditions as if he had been an eye witness, when he had never been nearer the Kongwa than Dar-es-Salaam. He had nothing encouraging to say then about this scheme, nothing but forecasts of gloom and despair that went right down the ranks in the Kongwa and caused a great deal of worsening of morale.
The right hon. Member for West Bristol (Mr. Stanley) was not up to form today. He was not as witty as usual. His arguments did not have the cogency which they usually have. He said the confidence of the country had been badly shaken, that this was the wreck of a fine conception. In saying that he admitted that it was a fine conception. Surely, if one is going to criticise and try and weigh up the merits and demerits of a scheme of this magnitude one has to have some regard to the scale of the adventure and enterprise, and the courage needed to embark on such an enterprise. If the right hon. Gentleman had done nothing else in his period as Minister of Food than push this scheme through he would have shown himself as a man of vision and capacity far outweighing many people on the other side of the House.
I have no doubt hon. Members have read the speech of the successor to Lord Boyd Orr on the Food and Agricultural Organisation, made on Saturday. He referred to these backward areas all over the surface of the earth and all the teem- 133 ing populations which were growing steadily year by year. Hon. Members who take an interest in East Africa know that in Kenya the population is growing at such a rate that in 10 to 15 years it will be doubled what is today. And there is not the slightest shred of possibility that the soil of Kenya, using the methods of agriculture now used by the African natives can possibly sustain that population. I believe that if we can take a lot of the Africans off the soil and put them into centralised industries, and then apply large scale mechanised agriculture, with the co-operation of the Africans, we can solve that problem.
What is the alternative. It is that we allow things to drift on and that we make little, niggling experiments here and there; that we embark on pilot schemes and preliminary schemes—never on anything really worth while—and then in 10 or 15 years, all over East Africa we shall be faced with killing famines on the Indian model. Those who have not the courage, vision or capacity to face the facts and the challenges of our time are not only unfit to take over power from this Government but they have not even the capacity to be in opposition. The world fat scarcity today is 5 million tons. The world fat scarcity in 10 years' time will be 10 million tons unless the World takes the necessary action. What does Mr. Dodd suggest is the necessary action?
He says it will take an expenditure of 17,000 million dollars to cultivate the waste spaces of the world and bring them into productivity. I am not good at mental arithmetic, but at the present rate of exchange with the devalued pound, I think that is somewhere about £6,000 million. That is what Mr. Dodd says will be necessary before we can solve this world food problem. And here we are today discussing, as if it were a matter for despair, a great concept where we only spent £28 million. I see that the hon. and gallant Member for Pollok (Commander Galbraith) laughs at my saying only £28 million. But what really is £28 million in the economy of a nation or in the economy of the world?
§ Mr. McAllister
The right hon. Gentleman who opened the Debate was a very distinguished Colonial Secretary. I think 134 when he embarked on the Colonial Development Fund and raised the amount of money at the disposal of the Colonies from, I think, £6 million to £60 million he was acting with ambition and with courage and he was taking the right sort of action.
Those who have travelled over a large part of the British Commonwealth in the last two years, as I have, will have seen that while all over the Commonwealth today in education, agriculture and industry great developments are taking place, these developments were only started in the lifetime of this Government. These things cannot be divorced from one another. One cannot say that this matter concerns groundnuts and has nothing to do with the development of Tanganyika or East Africa as a whole. This scheme is a big contribution towards East African development, but so is the Jinja hydro electric scheme which will not only provide electricity for Uganda, and for other parts of East Africa if required, but will enable us to control the flood waters of the Nile and to raise the food productivity of the Nile Delta. If hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite are so compartmental in their minds that they have to isolate these matters—
§ Brigadier Prior-Palmer (Worthing)
Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that the present Government originated the Jinja scheme?
§ Mr. McAllister
I go further in my tribute to hon. Members opposite, and point out that it was the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) who first suggested the Jinja scheme. He did that in 1906, but between 1906 and 1936 he never did anything about it.
The leading article in "The Times" made one useful comment about the Opposition's suggestion for an inquiry. It said:The Opposition is asking for an inquiry into the whole history and present prospects of this melancholy business. No doubt much more could be made plain by such an inquiry, but its danger—and indeed the danger 135 of today's Debate itself—is that it could only too easily churn over again too much barren ground.I think that that is profoundly true. That is what we have had in today's Debate. We have had representations made on behalf of Mr. Wakefield. I do not object to that. We have had representations made on behalf of the accountant, and I do not object to that.
§ Mr. Dodds-Parker (Banbury)
Could not the terms of reference of any inquiry look at the present and the future?
§ Mr. McAllister
Yes, that could be done. While we have had these two references to the two members of the board who have been dismissed, I think no one could have been more pleasant than the Minister was in not trying to exacerbate that situation by making any kind of personal criticism of the two men involved. I think that the Opposition might have shown a similar courtesy and a similar sense of decency in public life by not making attacks such as they have made on the Chairman of the Overseas Food Corporation. [Laughter.] Hon. Gentlemen opposite laugh. They think that this is simple, but there have been many criticisms of Sir Leslie Plummer during this Debate. Not one hon. Member opposite from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Bristol, down or up, has laid one specific charge against the Chairman of the Overseas Food Corporation.
§ Mr. McAllister
If the hon. Gentleman had attended the whole of this Debate he would have heard the Minister, in the most specific terms, give the reason for the demand for the resignation of the members concerned. The real question is whether the party opposite is in favour of development or not. [Laughter.] Hon. Members opposite laugh again. They are full of laughter at other people who try to do something, but when they had all the power in their hands the amount of money spent on the entire British Commonwealth for development purposes was £I million. Today we are spending £120 million in the Colonies in addition to what is being spent by the Overseas Food Corporation.
§ Mr. McAllister
In our work for the British Commonwealth and for the people of the world, this Government have given a lead to all Governments by having the imagination, the vision and the will-power to carry through the first great experiment in tropical agriculture in the history of the world.
§ 8.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Wilson Harris (Cambridge University)
There has been this afternoon a considerable tendency, to which the hon. Member for Rutherglen (Mr. McAllister) has contributed not a little, to turn this great national enterprise into a party political issue. It has been suggested from the benches above me that the Minister of Food was trying to treat the work of the Overseas Food Corporation as an asset—an electoral asset—for the Labour Party. That seems to me to be completely unjustified. On the other hand, it has been suggested from across the House that the Opposition has been going beyond its proper sphere of opposition and criticism, and that, again, does not seem to me to be the case. The hon. Member for Rutherglen found that "The Times" in an article on this subject made the mistake of making certain criticisms because they would be read in some other part of the world. If that is so, newspapers might just as well give up the discussion of public questions altogether.
So far as I am concerned, I lie under no reproach of making this a political issue. I should have no encouragement to do so were my career as roseate as that of the Food Corporation as the Minister would like to see it. A person who is in articulo mortis has long since put all such mundane considerations behind him. I have in all sincerity always welcomed and supported this scheme as an imaginative and constructive enterprise and as a contribution to that work, which seems to me supremely important of making Africa the economic salvation of Europe.
I have followed the progress of the scheme to the best of my ability from the White Papers and other documents which have been published, through taking an interest by personal contacts with some of those men of whom the hon. Member for Lichfield (Mr. C. Poole) spoke in Ian- 137 guage which I wholeheartedly endorse, who are bearing the burden and heat of the work in the field themselves, men who are doing a magnificent job in face of great frustration, and who, as has been said, are keeping their faith bright and are still satisfied that this great scheme can be carried through to a successful issue. They have come and talked to me in another capacity, as men often do come and talk to editors. I have published some of their representations in various forms; on the other hand, I have published a very cogent article by the hon. Member for Attercliffe (Mr. J. Hynd) strongly defending the scheme, and I have also published a balanced article from a member of the staff of the "Kenya Weekly News" describing the scheme as he saw it and criticising some British journalistic critics.
I have been deeply impressed by the sense of frustration overhanging these men. One of them has resigned; one has been dismissed, but I think his letter of dismissal met his resignation half way. At any rate, he does not seem to be very distressed. They are men who have been working under the United Africa Company and now under the Overseas Food Corporation and who found the conditions in the latter case compared very unfavourably with those in the former. They felt that men who did not know African agriculture were giving orders to men who did know it, orders which could not for practical reasons be carried out and which never were carried out.
My impression—I have no warrant to speak for these men—was that, so far from objecting to an inquiry or thinking that it would mean someone coming to interfere and stopping their work, they would welcome it profoundly, but they want an inquiry, not merely, as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Bristol (Mr. Stanley) said, into the future, but into present conditions as well.
However that may be, we know what has happened. The scheme has run into grave difficulties for various reasons. It would not be inaccurate to describe it at present as a partial failure, and the man who presided over that failure is Sir Leslie Plummer, Chairman of the Overseas Food Corporation. It is never pleasant to discuss personalities in this House, but it would make the Debate utterly unreal if, after reading about the 138 dismissal of Mr. Wakefield and about there being no confidence in Sir Leslie Plummer, we did not say something about these two men.
Let me say at once that, so far as I am concerned, I know neither of the two gentlemen. I have had no sort of communication direct or indirect with them, and I should not know either of them if I saw them in the street. But there are certain things that I do know. In my own profession—of which the right hon. Gentleman has some knowledge—if any serious fault is committed by a newspaper, if it is involved in a serious libel action, it is the editor who must bear the responsibility. In the same way, if a military operation goes wrong, even through the fault of a subordinate, it is the general who gets broken.
Hon. Members opposite will remember the very recent inquiry into the wreck of the "Magdalena" in the Bahamas. The captain of that vessel, for all his remarkably clean record and though he had a responsible officer on the bridge at the time, suffered the most severe penalty that a master mariner can suffer. And I say to the right hon. Gentleman that the national sense of fair play has been very gravely affronted by the announcement of the dismissal of Mr. Wakefield and the laudation of Sir Leslie Plummer. But it is not merely a question of that. I have said that I know nothing personally of either of these two gentlemen. That being the case, I thought it well to turn to their biographies in that admirable work of reference, "Who's Who," because hon. Members will remember that the particulars in each case are supplied by the personage himself, though, I believe, excessive exuberances are sometimes pruned away by the editor. Of Sir Leslie Plummer, it says:Whole working life, from age of 15 until autumn of 1947, spent in newspaper offices, beginning rather humbly with, Lincoln Springfield's London Opinion and ending rather grandly as a director of Lord Beaverbrook's 'Daily Express' and ' Sunday Express,' 'Evening Standard,' 'Glasgow Evening Citizen' and a number of associated enterprises. On invitation of Government became Chairman of Overseas Food Corporation, the body responsible for, among other projects, the East African Groundnuts Scheme.I am naturally as much gratified as the Minister of Health and the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster must be to find anyone associated with the Press 139 reaching such advancement as forms the lot of Sir Leslie Plummer. But I am bound to remember that what he was put in charge of was a highly technical enterprise for the production of groundnuts in the East African jungle. Remembering that, and remembering a remark made by the right hon. Gentleman opposite in answer to a supplementary question whether there was anyone on the board of the Overseas Food Corporation who had practical knowledge of agriculture in Africa, to the following effect: "Oh, yes, Mr. Wakefield has had 16 years' experience of agriculture in East Africa," I turn to the record, rather more strictly factual, of Mr. Wakefield in "Who's Who." I find that he was educated at the Harper Adams Agricultural College—not a bad beginning—he wasStock Inspector at the Veterinary Department of Northern Rhodesia, 1923; Agricultural Officer, 1924, Deputy-Director of Agriculture, 1935, Director of Agriculture, 1938 Tanganyika Territory, Member of the Legislative Council, Tanganyika Territory, 1933 and 1938–40; Inspector-General of Agriculture and Agriculture Adviser to Comptroller for Development and Welfare in the West Indies, 1940, Acting Director of Agriculture, Jamaica, 1945.It seems to me to be a strange thing that a man whose chief distinction was his lieutenancy to Lord Beaverbrook should be praised for carrying through the enterprise to the point to which it has been carried, and that another man whose whole life has been spent in Colonial agriculture in the tropics should be dismissed because he would not offer his resignation. I believe that at this moment, in view of what we have read in the newspapers yesterday and today, it is almost the gravest aspect of our discussion today. I do not think that justice has been done; I do not think that fair play has been given, and I am driven to the conclusion that nothing would more befit Sir Leslie Plummer now than to offer his resignation and that nothing would more befit the Minister than to accept it.
§ 8.45 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Hamilton (Sudbury)
I was glad to hear the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. Hurd), who is not now in his place, draw attention to the fact that we were trustees for some of the empty spaces of Africa, because I think there 140 has been far too great a tendency to treat this African scheme as an ordinary commercial proposition with no other object in view but the earning of profits. I think we ought to regard it more as an operation of war. After all, when we decided to stand up to Hitler we did not meticulously estimate what the cost would be and what financial profit it would bring to us; we felt that we had to stand up to him because we could not endure a world which he dominated. It was a case of "Needs must" then and it is a case of "Needs must" in regard to this scheme in Africa.
Rather to my surprise, the "Daily Telegraph" agrees with me in this, because it points out our unsatisfactory economic position at present in being entirely dependent for the maintenance of our standard of living not only on supplies from abroad but supplies very largely from the American continent and other countries over which, of course, we have not the slightest control and which can dictate their own terms to us for what we get from them. From that point of view it is essential that we open up every other source of supply, and Africa is obviously one of those places.
As has been pointed out, it is not only essential for us to do this, but it is essential for the Africans themselves and also from the point of view of food supplies for the whole world. We must get on with that job quite regardless of what the exact financial profits or losses, in the early stages at any rate, will be. All experience shows that the opening up of undeveloped regions is always financially a very risky and uncertain business and, in the first instance, almost inevitably leads to losses. I should like to call as witness a well-known former Conservative Member of this House, Mr. Loftus, who stated some time ago that he reckoned our losses in the 60 years before 1914 in exported capital, in the development of all sorts of places in the world, at not less than £2,000 million, or about one-third of the total capital exported.
§ Lieut-Colonel Hamilton
I put it to the House that that capital represented the output of British labour and materials; it was a national loss although, nominally, it may have come out of the 141 pockets of people who, by the working of our capitalist system, have succeeded in appropriating the right to use that capital. It was a loss to the nation in the final instance, just as much as if it had been a nationalised undertaking.
I remember a statement made a long time ago by a man much concerned with oil development in the Caucasus, who said that on the average it required three companies and two liquidations to establish a successful undertaking. One company started and did pioneer work and failed, then another company took up where the first left off and failed and, finally, a third, after so many shareholders had lost their money, was able to make a success of it. The fact that there have been losses in the present scheme in the first stages is nothing new; it is what was to be expected.
There is another misconception in the minds of many about accounting. Worthy people who are used to peacetime procedure in accounting hold up their hands in horror when auditors make remarks such as we see in this report on the groundnut scheme. They did not realise that circumstances alter cases.
I have had some personal experience in pioneering ventures and I know what a difference there is. If I may quote one to the House, it was during the First World War when I was sent out to make a bit of road in the desert country between Persia and Baluchistan. Rather, I was sent out to reconnoitre and told to stay there and get on with it. I had no staff of any kind, only my Indian servant and groom and camel escort. I went into the nearest Persian inhabited place, and was able to arrange with a Persian contractor for a supply of labour and some donkeys to carry water. I was also fortunate to secure some Indian N.C.Os. to supervise the work. I did the job, and when I went back to India I received a request for the necessary documents, measurement books and so on. A book of that kind would run to hundreds of pages of measurements with quantities and rates, all calculated to show that the cheques I had paid to the contractors were correct.
If I had attempted to carry out such a procedure I would have had to send back to India for a party of surveyors, if they could be found willing to work in mid-summer in the middle of the desert, and make arrangements for 142 rations, tents and provisions to come out three weeks camel journey, and the whole thing would have been held up for weeks by which time the whole purpose of the road might have been defeated. I would have gained absolutely nothing, because these Persian labourers would not have done a single ounce more work. The work they did was entirely dependent on my supervision and that of my N.C.Os. I might tell the House I did submit a measurement book as I was asked. It consisted of one page. I divided the total expenditure on the road, that is the cheques paid to the Persians by the number of miles of road. I said 60 miles of road at so much a mile, rate approved by me, the total arrived at being the right figure which I had paid out for the road. There must have been some understanding person in higher quarters because I never heard any more about it.
If my accounts had been submitted to the ordinary scrutiny of auditors they would have had just as nasty things to say about me as have been put down in this report, or even nastier. The point is that a procedure which might have great merits and be very helpful in normal circumstances may become an intolerable hindrance in circumstances that are quite different when a pioneer job has to be got on with with all possible speed. That is very much what has happened in this case. I do not altogether agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton (Mr. J. Lewis) that there would have been time and opportunity to do the whole thing more in accordance with the ordinary accounting procedure.
I am quite prepared to admit there have been mistakes. Of course, there must have been. It may be that the thing was done in too much of a rush, but, as my right hon. Friend has pointed out, the usual fault attributed to nationalised projects is that they are much too slow and unenterprising. In this case we can call it a fault on the right side. If there has been secretive-ness it is a pity, though I do not know to what extent the accusation is justified. It is said that morale is not as high as it should be. That is a pity, but perpetual crabbing of the scheme at home has not tended to raise morale. I hope special attention will be paid to that point, because it makes such an 143 enormous difference in the success of such an undertaking. Although the Government and the Minister of Food may not be getting much credit now, I believe that future citizens of this country, of Africa and the world will be grateful to them for what they have done, and for the vision and vigour which they have shown.
§ 8.55 p.m.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd (Mid-Bedford)
I very much regret that my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Captain Crookshank), who has followed this scheme with the very closest attention, is ill today. I have had, at rather short notice, to step into his place. He would, I know, wish to associate himself with the feelings that, on all sides of the House, we have for the men and women in actual conduct on the groundnut operation in East Africa. We wish them every success, and assure them that we understand their difficulties and only want to help them to remove those difficulties. We wish them, both in East Africa and in Whitehall, the good leadership that they so richy deserve.
My right hon. and gallant Friend would, I know, along with that tribute, also agree with me in welcoming to this Debate the Secretary of State for the Colonies. The silence always, and the absence frequently, of the right hon. Gentleman from our previous Debates on the groundnut scheme, has aroused certain rather sinister thoughts in our minds. We are very glad that he should be here today, for it has always been our view that the conduct of this scheme should be in the hands of the Colonial Office. Many of the difficulties in the life of the African people that may well spring from this well-meaning, large-scale, mechanised effort, could be reduced if not avoided if the Colonial Office, with its vast experience, were the responsible Government Department for this scheme.
This is easily the largest venture of Government in the Colonial Empire—
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
And yet, in the annual report of the Colonial Office it occupies only 12 lines. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Supply 144 says "Hear, hear" to my observation, but he would, if he reflected for a moment, realise that the largest venture of Government in the Colonial Empire deserves more reference than 12 lines. If it was, in fact, the responsibility of the Colonial Office there would be a great deal more of it in the Colonial Office annual report.
As the Secretary of State for the Colonies knows, here, for the first time, in the territories for which he has responsibility, the Government are not strictly arbitrators. Here for the first time the Government are directly interested in producing competitively, which means cheaply. The rô le of arbitrator between employer and employed, which has hitherto been the function of the British Government in the Colonial territories, has, for the moment and here, unhappily gone.
In a recent Debate the Minister of Food—and I hope that he will listen to what I am saying—said that he could not deal with the repercussions of this scheme on Africa or upon African lives. It struck us as rather alarming that it should be his responsibility at all, for it is the responsibility of the Minister charged with the Colonies to look after the reactions of British Government enterprises in any Colony on Africa or on African lives.
We are very sorry for the Colonial Secretary. His life has been very different from that of his colleague the Minister of Food. Unlike the Food Minister, the Colonial Secretary has not spent his time in the last few years upon nuts and wine, failing to produce the one in East Africa and buying the other badly in North Africa. He has not had to meet the attacks that have been directed on this scheme, nor is it his obligation to defend this scheme passionately. I should very much doubt whether he has the spirit on this occasion to defend it passionately. We expect an interesting speech from him but we do not expect a very coherent defence of the scheme.
The Minister of Food occupies a very different position. He knows that he is being fiercely criticised, and many people who are anxious to see this scheme succeed believe that it is his personality and his approach which have added to the difficulties. Having, as we had today, a genuine attempt to give the House some information—I pay him tribute for that— 145 I am reminded of the words of Dr. Johnson:Depend upon it, Sir, when a man is to be hanged in a fortnight it concentrates his mind wonderfully.We had some concentration today and we are grateful for it. His right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Colonies has never been accused in regard to the scheme, save in that he has abdicated his authority and allowed the control of the scheme to pass from his hands. The Overseas Food Corporation has many schools in East Africa, a large police force of its own in East Africa, a vast hospital in East Africa and a health service there probably as large as the health service of the Government of Tanganyika. Is it right that those responsible for the discharge of those functions should be responsible to the Minister of Food?
§ Mr. J. Hynd
I should like to correct the point made by the hon. Gentleman in case it gets abroad. He said that the health service is as big as that for the whole of Tanganyika. That refers to the area of the groundnut scheme in Tanganyika only.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
No, I am thinking of the army of people who are, quite rightly, looking after the health of the workers in this enterprise. I suggest that they are rapidly approaching in numbers the health service for the whole Province of Tanganyika. Is it right that services of this importance and magnitude should be the responsibility of the Minister of Food? It has been repeatedly suggested in this Debate that vast benefits have accrued to the natives in East Africa, but it has been pointed out that these benefits are only incidental and will only arise if the scheme is successful.
We are entitled to ask the Secretary of State for the Colonies one or two direct questions. For example, would he have put the hospital at Kongwa? What advantage from the native's point of view will there be in the plant and railways at Noli if that town is not to be proceeded with? Again, if he was given, as my right hon. Friend the Member for West Bristol (Mr. Stanley) suggested, £30 million to spend on Colonial development in East Africa, would he spend it in this way? When that question was asked of him we 146 noticed his colleague the Minister of Food rather vehemently but quietly suggesting to him, presumably, that he would spend it in this way. We shall be very interested to hear what he has to say when he is standing alone at the Box and no one can whisper in his ear. While this was happening I noticed lower down the Bench the Minister of Agriculture and his Parliamentary Secretary looking very forlorn at the prospect of £30 million not being available for increasing the food supplies of the United Kingdom. The isolation in which the Minister of Food labours so often among his colleagues was pretty conspicuous on that occasion.
The Colonial Secretary knows as well as anybody that Tanganyika is a trustee territory and that we are responsible to the international authority for its administration, or rather we are liable to be called to account by that body, very often in the most ill-informed way, for our administration of it. It is the servants and officers of the Colonial Office who defend our administration in Tanganyika when it is brought before international scrutiny, and they have lately been loyally, rightly and stoutly defending our administration.
This is a problem for the Colonial Office and not one for the Ministry of Food. The Colonial Secretary knows very well that as it is a trustee territory—we do not approach it any differently because it is so—we cannot, as a letter in "The Times" today says, pack up and leave a dustbowl behind. We must also watch the effect on our Colonial Empire in Africa of the approach of the Food Corporation for a loan from the International Bank for development, a request for a loan which may have wide repercussions on the rights of other people to question the way in which a British Colonial Territory is administered.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
Let me finish my point. These are all problems which concern the Colonial Office, and the Colonial Office should be the responsible authority. Now, as the right hon. Gentleman knows well, we are also deeply concerned at the effect on other African territories of vast expenditure and extravagance in Tanganyika.
On the trusteeship point. the hon. Gentleman will no doubt have 147 read the report of the recent visit of the trusteeship authority to Tanganyika, and will have noticed the comments of that committee which, while critical on other points of our administration, was favourable to the groundnut scheme and to the advantages it was bringing to the territory.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
I hope the comments of that committee will be as flattering to those activities in the Colonial Empire, which, apart from helping the native peoples, are also making a profit, but we had better wait until the White Paper is issued which the right hon. Gentleman has promised to publish on the inquiry into trusteeship territories.
I was about to say that the Colonial Secretary knows as we do the great possible complications in other African Colonies, some of which are moving steadily towards fuller control of their own affairs. If they see in East Africa as a letter today points out great extravagance, waste of public money, no check possible on theft, chaos at the docks, stores in a nightmare—these are quotations—or public auctions such as the one advertised a few weeks ago in Tanganyika, of £16,000 worth of piece goods and boots and shoes which had deteriorated and which belonged to the Food Corporation, how can these people possibly approach in a proper spirit the problems of self-government which lie before them. These are problems which the Colonial Secretary will have to solve, and from which in East Africa he neither can nor would wish to disassociate himself.
Above all, it is the complications in regard to native life and customs about which the Colonial Secretary must be most alarmed. I do not know whether he has read lately the speech of the Bishop of Masasi about the disintegrating effects on the family and the tribal system of the coming of a vast capitalist enterprise into Tanganyika. The Minister of Food ought to know about this problem for he has been interested in it in past years. After all, he wrote a book in 1944—not long ago—on "Why you should be a Socialist." He will probably remember that book. It was the book in which he talked of—capitalists and their spokesmen who are always making such a frightful fuss about the necessity to increase our export trade.148 That is the book; in case the right hon. Gentleman has forgotten it, there was a chapter where he spoke of the sending of capital to Africa and Asia—The process of setting up the existing economic system somewhere in Africa or Asia.He followed it a stage further, to the way in which laws might be necessary, in the interests of the system to get workers to work for wages in the new plantations instead of working, as be thought they ought to when he wrote the book, for themselves on their own land. This is really the problem, and it is because the Colonial Secretary is charged with responsibility for that problem, and because the Minister of Food is charged with the getting of food for us, that we regret that the Colonial Secretary is not responsible for this great scheme.
We believe that native cultivators, given fertilisers, could play a really efficient part in what could be a marriage between mechanised farming and native cultivation, bringing the advantages of new science and engineering to the aid of the African natives and their old and out-of-date methods of husbandry, preserving a blend of the best of both worlds: the mechanised advantages that we know and the independence that ownership of the soil and personal cottage cultivation mean to the African peasant. In groundnuts we have a crop that is particularly suited for peasant cultivation, and it is a very great tragedy that in this scheme we have turned our backs on peasant proprietorship and have concentrated solely on large-scale mechanised undertakings. The future lies with both forms and it should be the function of this Government to see that both forms can flourish.
So much for the major obligation and the major worry of the Colonial Secretary. He knows also a good deal of other aspects of this problem. When he heard the hon. Member for Rutherglen Mr. McAllister) behind him talking a few minutes ago about the Tories having, failed to do anything for Colonial development, and suggesting that Colonial development only really began with the General Election of 1945 the Colonial Secretary must have wondered at the ignorance of his followers. The hon. Member for Rutherglen spoke of an annual expenditure in the Colonies of only £1 million. The Colonial Secretary could 149 put him right. He could tell his hon. Friend of the £30 million invested in tin and the £40 million in copper in Rhodesia; of £250 million invested in rubber in Malaya; the 1,500,000 smallholdings with their peasant proprietors in Malaya, who, together with the large estates, are earning more dollars for the Empire than the whole of the manufacturers of the United Kingdom.
The Colonial Secretary could have told his hon. Friend about the sisal in Kenya and in Tanganyika, the extent of which this year is 1,600,000 acres; of half the cocoa in the world which is grown in West Africa; of the great Sudan plantations scheme in Gezira, with their cotton profit-sharing schemes and some 850,000 acres on a profit-sharing basis with the natives, which might well have been a model for a scheme of this kind. Or he could have told his hon. Friend of the West African groundnuts production, whose annual export—not merely output, but export—is some £30 million sterling a year. But, as my right hon. Friend, the Member for West Bristol said elsewhere, the Nigerians make the great mistake of doing it cheaply and growing the nuts in a country where they grow and at the hands of people who know how to grow them. In Nigeria they have a proverb, which I would commend to the Minister of Food, because so much of the tragedy of this good and hopeful scheme has been the unnatural speed with which it has been attacked. This is the proverb: "Hurry is not strength."
If only the right hon. Gentleman realised that, there would be much less censure and much more praise for this project, which we all want to succeed.
So much for the Departmental responsibilities of the Colonial Secretary in what is to him, and to many of us as well, the first Department of State. What are the responsibilities of the Government, from which he cannot dissociate himself? He is a Member of a Government which, having rationed bread and now being unable to give us groundnuts, thinks it is fulfilling half at least of the old Roman practice by giving us circuses instead in Battersea Park. We have had no White Paper on this scheme from the hands of the Government since January, 1948, and that took the story up to November, 1947. Since then nothing whatever has been produced on paper until we had the re- 150 port which we are, considering today, which report is already six months out of date, although probably the Lord President of the Council does not know it.
§ The Lord President of the Council (Mr. Herbert Morrison)
I know all about that.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
We have also had—two at the request of the Opposition—three Debates, on the groundnut scheme. In the first Debate the Minister of Food refused a White Paper as a basis of discussion saying that he did not wish to anticipate the annual report of the Corporation, due in March. When we approached the Corporation and asked if we could have some answers they said they did not want to anticipate the Minister's statement which, also, was due in March. Now we have a little information, although those who go to East Africa are told that there are some things which it is not yet desirable that people should know. Sir Leslie Plummer is quoted as having said:Visiting newspaper men have a habit of asking questions the answers to which are none of their business.He added that while reasonable questions should be answered, confidential questions should not.
We find it very difficult to know why this operation should be treated on the lines of a secret wartime landing on enemy soil. What is confidential about clearing the bush, or what secret process is there in growing a groundnut? Now at last we know a little more where we stand. We learnt today from the Minister of Food that instead of 3 million acres at £25 million which was first suggested we hoped to have by the cropping season of 1954, 600,000 acres at £50 million. The production which was this year to have been 56,000 tons of shelled nuts, is actually nothing whatever for export—
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
I am sorry. It is the report which we are mainly considering, but I am glad if since then a small trickle has started. Well might the Minister say, in another connection, in one of his books:There is not and never can be a market problem under Socialism.151 to which I feel inclined to answer in the words of the Arab proverb:Moonshine and oil, these are the ruin of any house.As to the yield per acre, which we were told would rise to 1,120 lb., it is now, I believe 540 lb. Although we rejoice in the reduction of cost of clearing down to something like £14, or £15 per acre, from £35 last year, the anticipated cost of clearing was £3 17s. 4d. per acre.
As to the accounts themselves, the length of the Debate did not allow for that close analysis which a number of hon. Members were anxious to give. In particular, I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for North Blackpool (Mr. Low), who has studied these accounts very carefully, was not able to make his contribution, but I think most hon. Members have read the accounts carefully. They have read the unheard of phrases with which Cooper Bros. ushered in the accounts. I doubt whether in the history of any Government enterprise such astonishing language has had to be used and if it were not that the Corporation are relieved from the penalties of Section 47 of the Companies Act some very interesting proceedings might follow.
I shall not spend too long in commenting on the actual accounts although we should have reached a rather distressing pass if the High Court of Parliament appeared to treat them as a matter of indifference. The £21 million which was advanced should have borne interest charged at least £800,000 a year. There is no reference whatever to that. There are illustrations of the way in which the actual producers are being weighed down by the overloaded central staff—a large army in London and an even larger one in East Africa—and a vast army of contractors, nearly 2,000 in number, whose payments on the cost-plus system, though inevitable in the early days, might surely after two years have been reviewed.
In all these matters the Government cannot possibly escape responsibility. I am glad that in this Debate there has not been much of an attempt to put the blame elsewhere; there has been surprisingly little and it is a good thing that that should be so. Indeed, if any direct attack has been made on Mr. Wakefield there are many answers which exonerate 152 him from direct responsibility for some of the more tragic errors which have taken place. In particular I would refer the House to Appendix IV, paragraph 3, in which Sir Leslie Plummer comments on the situation when the Corporation took over the day to day conduct of affairs. He states:It had become apparent from an early date that operations could not go according to the plans envisaged by the Wakefield Mission's Report. The principal contributory factors to this "'—which he enunciates—which could not have been foreseen at the time the mission reported….This and other references show Mr. Wakefield cannot be made responsible for the difficulties which the scheme encountered.
Some more ungenerous charges have been made in regard to the United Africa Company, in an article in the "Tribune," the speech of the hon. Member for Bolton (Mr. J. Lewis) and more important in a speech not in this House but outside which was made last week by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Arthur Greenwood) who says he is chairman of the Colonial Affairs Commission of the Socialist Party. If that is so, it would be interesting to know if the Colonial Secretary agrees with what he said, which was that private enterprise is to blame for the failure of the groundnut scheme—he said:Blame private enterprise. This was a private enterprise scheme.I hope that the Colonial Secretary will find time in his winding-up speech to dissociate himself absolutely from that wild and ungenerous charge.
So much for the past. As for the future, and it is for the future that we are all anxious, hon. Gentlemen may remember a book of which they made great use at the last Election in which they said that the justification for recriminating about the past was to prevent mistakes being made in the future. That is our justification now. We are deeply concerned as to what may happen in the Southern Province of Tanganyika, and we want some accurate and full statements from the Colonial Secretary. A year or so ago the Minister of Food told us, in Cmd. 7314, that substantial new sources of revenue from timber areas in the Southern Province were likely. Yet 153 in the report we are considering tonight the chief scientific officer states on page 101:The vast areas proposed for development in the Southern Province are as yet imperfectly known and little reliable topographic work has been done.It would indeed be criminal if after the setbacks elsewhere large and expensive schemes are started in the Southern Province without pilot schemes proving successful. If this is to be, as the Minister once said, the main home of the scheme it is all the more important the ground should be carefully laid.
We urge that there should be a full inquiry into the working of this scheme not in order to range over the past and all the mistakes which public-spirited and enterprising pioneers frequently cannot fail to make, but to deal with the present as it is and the future as we believe it could be. We believe that this inquiry, which has always been necessary over the last few months, is more than ever necessary in the light of the recent strange dismissals of two of the chief executives; in particular as one of them is known to hold the view that production was being accelerated far beyond the economic level, and that Parliament should be warned of this fact in time. There should be an inquiry to elicit the truth about this.
But the Debate tonight must not be allowed to end without the Colonial Secretary answering in person one or two of the questions directed to him by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Stanley) in regard to these resignations. Why were these two gentlemen picked on, and why were they picked on now? Was their dismissal in any way associated with their signature of the Wakefield Report, and did the Chairman of the Commission ask that the right hon. Gentleman dismiss them?
As to the Chairman of the Commission, Sir Leslie Plummer, it is not often in this House that from this Box, or the other Box, personal charges are made against people who cannot answer on the Floor of the House, because it is a very salutary principle that in nothing but the most extreme case should that be done. But there are some cases when Members of Parliament have duties which they cannot refrain from exercising in this way, and this seems to us to be such a case.
154 The circumstances of his appointment, his complete ignorance of East African life and customs, his proved inability to get on with many who were working with him, all justify an inquiry.
It must be very hard for the Minister of Food to sever an association with somebody whom he has known since his old I.L.P. days and someone I believe who actually made the Minister of Food editor of a journal which he himself founded after the general strike. That must be very difficult, but the right hon. Gentleman has a greater loyalty even than to the various parties to which he has belonged and that is his loyalty to this House. We have no confidence in his conduct of affairs. He is both the prosecutor and the defendant when the affairs of this Corporation come before his Ministry. We believe he always sees himself in the rô le of the defence.
We wish to have an inquiry so as to take the situation as it at present is and work from that towards a more prosperous future; to see for example whether we have got to recognise that general agriculture must in many areas take the place of the groundnut scheme. I would point out to hon. Gentlemen who say to me, "Get away from the word, "groundnuts'" that it is groundnuts which are the paying crop, and that the huge capital expenditure in the Kongwa area has been on the assumption that crops of groundnuts would be selling at £40 a ton.
An inquiry would see whether something cannot be done for peasant proprietorship in union with mechanisation and if private enterprise in partnership with the state has not a rô le to play. Sir Leslie Plummer said, "The future is terrific, what is needed is capital and vision." The Government have had the capital. They have many people of vision in East Africa. Let them have the inquiry so as to give those people the leadership they so greatly need.
§ 9.30 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for the Colonies (Mr. Creech Jones)
I think that the hon. Member for Mid-Bedford (Mr. Lennox-Boyd) has thoroughly enjoyed the speech he has made, but I want to assure him that all his efforts to divide the Front Bench—and his technique is remarkably good—are completely unavailing because in this matter the Government—
§ Mr. Creech Jones
—the Government stand united. I think that we can take it that hon. Members in all quarters of the House are anxious for the success of this scheme. I think it is appreciated that it is a scheme of imaginative conception, that it is a vast enterprise of a kind which can only be sustained by a Government, and that it is a scheme which is concerned not only with the supply of foodstuffs, but with the long-term interests of Africa itself. I want to re-emphasise the fact that right from the start when the scheme was adopted by the Government and recommended to the House, the Government were fully conscious of the risks which were being taken.
In the White Paper published at the time it was clearly stated that there were very considerable difficulties likely to be experienced, that from time to time the scheme would probably have to be revised, and that in dealing with Africa we were dealing with the unknown. In a moment I shall deal with the point raised by the hon. Member for Mid-Bedford about the position of peasant cultivation.
I wish to put the point that the groundnut scheme at its inception was supported by the very best opinions which could be obtained—by agriculturalists, scientists, commercial and business people—and all recommended that the Government should drive ahead with such a scheme because, so far as they saw the needs of the world, such a scheme would be of vital importance in the days to come. In this connection, I think that I should read the recommendation made to me by the Colonial Economic and Development Council. That Council included Lord Portal as chairman, Sir Graham Cunningham and Sir William Goodenough. The recommendation said:The Council accept and endorse the principles of the scheme as being of great value to the United Kingdom and to the Colonies concerned, and recommend their adoption even though they appreciate that practical difficulties will probably prevent the production targets set out in the Report from being realised at the times indicated. They consider that the implementation of the proposals should be regarded as a matter of extreme urgency. After carefully considering the alternative suggestions put forward for controlling and financing the project the Council consider control by a Government Department, either direct or on an agency basis to be imprac- 156 ticable for a scheme of this character. They therefore consider that unless there are any alternative methods of management which could be suggested, control by a Government-owned corporation is the only suitable proposal. They recommend that such a corporation should be set up at the earliest possible moment.That view was endorsed in all quarters of the House; it was endorsed by all the advisers whom we could approach, and it was in that spirit that the scheme was launched. I would like to join with all hon. and right hon. Members who have paid tribute to the men in East Africa. They have done a very considerable job, and, while these charges are flying about concerning mistakes, blunders, waste and inefficiency, I want to suggest that they have already made an enormous contribution to the technique of large scale clearance and added considerably to the application of scientific methods. They have also made a real contribution to the development of Africa itself, and I therefore want to pay tribute to the work they have done.
This scheme has been in operation only for a period of three years, and it is impossible in that space of time to test the success or the financial viability of the scheme. Indeed, such a scheme could only be operated by the Government itself. It was likely that the expenditure would be heavy in the first years of the scheme, but a great deal of experience has been gained, and results are already accruing by way of reduced costs and greater facilities for overcoming the difficulties which were at first experienced, and, in fact, some of the worst conditions have already been overcome.
It is most unfortunate that a scheme of such great promise should have been made the target of so much misrepresentation and abuse. So many hon. Members, apparently, base their view of the scheme on an article which appeared in "Picture Post." I wish I had time tonight to go into this, but I have had that article examined for the purpose of discovering what the facts really are. [Laughter.] There is nothing very funny about that. Here is an article making a series of charges against the management and the Corporation, against the men in East Africa, and in regard to the conduct of the scheme, and it is right that these charges should be examined. These charges have been examined, and I can inform the House—and I can give numerous illustrations—that what is 157 stated as fact is not fact at all. There is a tremendous amount of misrepresentation and distortion throughout the article, and it is not a suitable statement of the facts in East Africa on which to form a judgment at all.
The hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. Hurd) suggested that the Minister of Food accepted a time-table for the Corporation to work to. That is absolutely untrue. I would say most emphatically that, regarding the operation of the scheme, there has been no political interference of any kind and no pressure either by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Food or anyone else in the Government on the Corporation in regard to its target and time-table. The hon. Member for Mid-Bedford tried to divide the Front Bench by suggesting that this Corporation should come under the control of the Secretary of State for the Colonies. It is suggested that perhaps the management of this scheme would have been better if the Colonial Secretary had had more responsibility for it, and the hon. Gentleman proceeded to argue that the Colonial Office was specially concerned with the well-being, happiness and development of the Colonial people, and that the Government, by adopting a scheme under the Ministry of Food, had thereby forced the Colonial Secretary to abrogate his responsibilities in regard to Colonial development.
I want to make it perfectly clear that I have always supported the view that this scheme should be under the ultimate direction of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Food. I have always taken the view that it was important that there should be a public corporation, primarily concerned with the obtaining of foodstuffs, which could operate not only in the Colonial territories, but in other parts of the world as well, and that that Corporation could obtain important knowledge and experience which could, from time to time, be applied in Colonial areas.
The Overseas Food Corporation comes into a Colonial area in precisely the same way as any other public or private enterprise. It is tested in precisely the same terms as any other private enterprise; it has no advantages over private enterprise. Consequently, if there is a piece of economic development of which the Colonial Development Corporation has not the experience, the equipment or the 158 facilities itself to engage in, then there is the Overseas Food Corporation which can be brought in to do the work.
If the Overseas Food Corporation comes in to work in a Colony', it comes in only with the consent of the local government and with the consent of the Secretary of State for the Colonies. He has a responsibility to see that the policy pursued is consistent with the social, economic and political policy of the Government—that is to say, that in the working out of its policy in the territory and in the preparation of the conditions, the welfare and the amenities of the peoples of the territory, the Colonial Secretary, through the Colonial Government, still exercises his responsibility. There is no abrogation by the Secretary of State of his responsibility in regard to the economic and social development of the territory concerned.
I would further point out that this Corporation, which has been the subject of so much bitter attack today, has done a first-class piece of work in Queensland. The right hon. Member for West Bristol (Mr. Stanley) admitted that an excellent start had been made and that the auditor had given the Corporation a clean bill of health. But our attention, of course, is focused on East Africa, and the period under review falls naturally into two parts. There is the first 16 months of the scheme under the charge and control of the managing agency.
I am not going to criticise the manner in which the managing agency did its job—I believe it was faced with most formidable difficulties—but I want to point out that most of the troubles and difficulties which have exercised the minds of hon. Members in today's Debate arise from the inadequacy and shortcomings of the managing agency in those first 16 months. I would add that many of the difficulties could not be surmounted although the managing agency performed a most useful piece of work and did it with very great public spirit.
If anyone wished this scheme to succeed no one could have wished it more than the United Africa Company. After all, it was Mr. Samuel who had the original conception of this scheme, and was most anxious that it should be tried out. If the scheme had to be started then there was no corporation, no firm, no group of persons more competent of the task for 159 getting it started than the United Africa Company. However critical we may be of certain features of their work they have rendered onr country a valuable service.
I should not like to take up too much time in dealing with the accountancy and auditing of the scheme, for the very good reason that many more vital issues have been raised in the Debate and that we ought not to allow our conception of its content, object and progress to be blurred by any discussion about accountancy and auditing in the early days of the scheme. It is imperative and right that in public finance there should be the closest scrutiny, but no fraud or corruption has been suggested in connection with the way in which the accounts were presented There is evidence that when the Corporation took over they were profoundly disturbed at the absence of a proper accounting system, proper store keeping and the mistakes and difficulties which they encountered. There is ample evidence in the report of the concern felt by the Corporation.
What have the Corporation done? Let this be said to the credit of their Chairman. They have set up a budget office in London; they have adopted a sound system of accountancy and a proper system of storekeeping. [HON. MEMBERS: "When?"] If Members would only read the report they would find out. There is complete evidence of the effort of the Corporation, under the inspiration of their Chairman, to get the accounts properly presented, so that they would be able to stand up to every test that could be applied.
§ Mr. Oliver Poole (Oswestry)
Is the right hon. Gentleman blaming the United Africa Company, or is he not? First, he says they did their job admirably ' and then he lays in their lap the whole blame for what has happened.
§ Mr. Creech Jones
If the hon. Gentleman had listened to what I was saying he would have known that I said that in the conditions in which the company had to work in the inauguration of this scheme the state of the accounts is completely understandable. I pointed out that immediately the Corporation took over, with no inventory or satisfactory accountancy or auditing systems, they proceeded to overhaul the whole of the arrangements 160 and put a sound system into operation. I am not burking anything.
Some Members have spoken as if we as a Government had virtually put £30 million down the drain. The accounts show that £23 million have been advanced, including liabilities and depreciation, but there are no less than £14 million assets which are under the direction and control of the Corporation. It is quite true that no less than £9 million has been utilised for land clearance development and agricultural expenditure, and this, of course, reverses a very much heavier expenditure than was ever anticipated when the scheme itself started.
The Corporation has been paying for the knowledge and the technique of the job. That is a point to which I wish to return in a moment in reply to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Bristol. I submit that this is a price which in all the circumstances had to be paid. The problem of large-scale mechanical clearance and the possibility of large farming had to be considered. Undoubtedly there was a great deal of blundering and mistakes were made in those early stages. When we look at the cost I should like the right hon. Gentleman to remember the extraordinary charges which were put on the price of peanuts. We are not here concerned only with starting a new industrial enterprise. We were also concerned, in a completely virgin country with a sparse population, with the most formidable difficulties possible. We had to start a scheme absolutely from scratch, in which there were no social services, and public works had to be created in order that the scheme would work at all.
An enormous cost is borne by the Corporation which in normal conditions would not be borne at all. There is also the fact that great social services had to be inaugurated to look after the welfare, housing and health of the people involved in the enterprise. In the ordinary way local government would carry those charges, but the resources of the Tanganyika Government are such as not to be able to meet those costs, and if a scheme was to start at all then it was absolutely essential that this provision should fall on the Corporation. I hope that before long the cost of certain of these public works can be transferred to the Tanganyika 161 Government, and further that an arrangement can be made for the maintenance in part by the Government of Tanganyika of the social services.
Some questions have been put in regard to the dismissal of certain members of the Corporation. The Minister of Food under statute carries the responsibility as to the composition of the Corporation. He has already explained the circumstances under which Mr. Rosa was removed from the board. I want again to assert in regard to Mr. Wakefield that the Minister is not seeking any scapegoats, nor is he trying to abate that responsibility, but what he feels is the service Mr. Wakefield rendered is no longer necessary for the successful prosecution of this scheme.
It has already been pointed out by the right hon. Member for West Bristol that Mr. Wakefield is out of step with the rest of his colleagues on the board and that the change was made by the Government because of the imperative importance of strengthening the board for the tasks which lie ahead. The usefulness of Mr. Wakefield was exhausted and if a contribution of a satisfactory kind were to be made in the field in which Mr. Wakefield operated it was necessary that such a change should be made.
The demand has been made that the Chairman should be removed. It seems to me that the Opposition are anxious to get their scapegoat and that they want that scapegoat not because they have tested the merits of the Chairman but because of the origins of the Chairman in the Independent Labour Party. Their political bias in this regard has been plain throughout the whole of this Debate. No evidence has been produced
§ either in this Debate or in East Africa that Sir Leslie Plummer is unsuited for the job that he is doing. No one has demonstrated either his incompetence or his lack of business quality and no one suggests that he lacks drive. In point of fact what success has come to the Corporation has come largely as the result of his inspiration and those who tell us that he knows nothing of Africa really know nothing about his connection with the scheme during the last three years.
§ I wanted to say ever so much more but my time has gone. I can only conclude by saying that we cannot accept the suggestion of the Opposition that this matter should go to an inquiry. We have a tremendous amount of information on the scheme and it will be utilised. I can assure the House that the time has come when all this bickering and misstatement in regard to the scheme should be put on one side and the "All clear" signal given to the men who have served the country and have put national and international needs above their own personal convenience in order that we shall go forward, and the scheme should reach fruition both for our nation and for the world.
§ Mr. Eden (Warwick and Leamington)
I beg to move, at the end of the Question, to add:and, in view of the most disquieting facts disclosed therein, regards as essential and urgent a full inquiry into the present situation and the future prospects of the Corporation's work in East Africa.
§ Question put, "That those words be there added."
§ The House divided: Ayes, 161; Noes, 315.165
|Division No. 289.]||AYES||[10.0 p.m.|
|Amory, D. Heathcoat||Butler, Rt. Hn. R. A. (S'ffr'n W'ld'n)||Eccles, D. M.|
|Anderson, Rt. Hn. Sir J. (Scot. Univ.)||Byers, Frank||Eden, Rt. Hon. A.|
|Astor, Hon. M.||Channon, H.||Erroll, F. J.|
|Baldwin, A. E.||Clarke, Col. R. S.||Fletcher, W. (Bury)|
|Barlow, Sir J.||Clifton-Brown, Lt.-Col. G.||Foster, J. G. (Northwich)|
|Baxter, A. B.||Corbett, Lieut.-Col. U. (Ludlow)||Fox, Sir G.|
|Beamish, Maj. T V. H.||Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. O. E.||Fraser, H. C. P. (Stona)|
|Boothby, R.||Crowder, Capt. John E.||Fraser, Sir I. (Lonsdale)|
|Bowen, R.||Cuthbert, W. N.||Fyfe, Rt. Hon. Sir D. P M.|
|Bower, N.||Dar[...] Sir W. Y.||Gage, C.|
|Boyd-Carpenter, J. A.||Davies, Rt. Hn. Clement (Montgomery)||Galbraith, Cmdr. T. D. (Pollok)|
|Bracken, Rt. Hon. Brendan||De la Bé re, R.||Galbraith, T. G. D. (Hillhead)|
|Braithwaite, Lt.-Comdr. J. G.||Digby, S. Wingfield||Gates, Maj E. E|
|Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col. W||Dodds-Parker, A. D.||George, Maj. Rt. Hon. G Lloyd (P'ke)|
|Brown, W J. (Rugby)||Donner, P. W.||George, Lady M. Lloyd (Anglesey)|
|Buchan-Hepburn, P. G. T||Dower, Col. A. V. G. (Penrith)||Glyn, Sir R.|
|Bullock, Capt. M.||Drewe, C.||Granville, E. (Eye)|
|Butcher, H. W.||Dugdale, Maj. Sir T. (Richmond)||Gridley, Sir A.|
|Grimston R. V.||MacLeod, J.||Salter, Rt. Hon. Sir J. A|
|Hannon, Sir P. (Moseley)||Macmillan, Rt. Hon. Harold (Bromley)||Sanderson, Sir F.|
|Hare, Hon. J. H. (Woodbridge)||Maitland, Comdr. J. W.||Shepherd, W. S. (Bucklow)|
|Harris, F. W. (Croydon, N.)||Marlowe, A A. H,||Smith, E. P. (Ashford)|
|Harris, H. Wilson (Cambridge Univ.)||Marshall, D. (Bodmin)||Smithers, Sir W.|
|Harvey, Air-Comdre. A. V.||Marshall, S. H (Sutton)||Spearman, A. C. M.|
|Headlam, Lieut.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir C||Maude, J. C.||Stanley, Rt. Hon. O.|
|Hinchingbrooke, Viscount||Medlicott, Brigadier F||Strauss, Henry (English Universities)|
|Hogg, Hon. Q.||Mellor, Sir J.||Stuart, Rt. Hon. J. (Moray)|
|Holmes, Sir J. Stanley (Harwich)||Molson, A. H. E.||Studholme, H. G.|
|Hope, Lord J.||Moore, Lt.-Col. Sir T.||Sutcliffe, H.|
|Howard, Hon. A.||Morrison, Maj. J. G. (Salisbury)||Taylor, C. S. (Eastbourne)|
|Hudson, Rt. Hon. R. S. (Southport)||Morrison, Rt. Hon. W. S. (C[...]ester)||Taylor, Vice-Adm. E. A. (P'dd't'n, S.)|
|Hulbert, Wing-Cdr. N. J.||Neven-Spence, Sir B.||Teeling, William|
|Hurd, A.||Nicholson, G.||Thomas, J. P. L. (Hereford)|
|Hutchison, Lt.-Cm. Clark (E'b'rgh W.)||Nield, B. (Chester)||Thorneycroft, G. E. P. (Monmouth)|
|Jeffreys, General Sir G||Noble, Comdr. A. H. P||Thornton-Kemsley, C N|
|Jennings, R.||Nutting, Anthony||Touche, G. C.|
|Joynson-Hicks, Hon. L. W||Odey, G. W.||Turton, R. H.|
|Keeling, E. H.||O'Neill, Rt. Hon. Sir H||Vane, W. M. F.|
|Kingsmill, Lt.-Col. W. H.||Orr-Ewing, I. L.||Wakefield, Sir W. W|
|Lambert, Hon. G.||Peake, Rt. Hon. O.||Walker-Smith, D.|
|Langford-Holt, J.||Peto, Brig. C. H. M.||Watt, Sir G. S. Harvie|
|Law, Rt. Hon. R. K.||Pickthorn, K.||Webbe, Sir H. (Abbey)|
|Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A. H||Pitman, I. J.||Wheatley, Colonel M. J. (Dorset, E.)|
|Lennox-Boyd, A. T.||Ponsonby, Col. C. E.||White, J. B. (Canterbury)|
|Linstead, H. N.||Poole, O. B. S. (Oswestry)||Williams, C. (Torquay)|
|Lloyd, Maj. Guy (Renfrew, E.)||Prescott, Stanley||Williams, Gerald (Tonbridge)|
|Lloyd, Selwyn (Wirral)||Prior-Palmer, Brig. O.||Willoughby de Eresby, Lord|
|Low, A. R. W.||Ramsay, Maj. S.||Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl|
|Lucas, Major Sir J.||Reed, Sir S. (Aylesbury)||York, C.|
|Lucas Tooth, Sir H.||Renton, D.||Young, Sir A. S. L. (Partick)|
|Lyttelton, Rt. Hon. O.||Roberts, Emrys (Merioneth)|
|MacAndrew, Col. Sir C.||Roberts, H. (Handsworth)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Macdonald, Sir P. (I. of Wight)||Roberts, W. (Cumberland, N.)||Commander Agnew and|
|Mackeson, Brig. H. R.||Robinson, Roland (Blackpool, S.)||Major Conant.|
|McKie, J. H. (Galloway)||Ropner, Col. L.|
|Acland, Sir Richard||Chater, D.||Ewart, R.|
|Adams, Richard (Balham)||Chetwynd, G. R.||Fairhurst, F.|
|Albu, A. H.||Cluse, W. S||Farthing, W. J.|
|Alexander, Rt. Hon. A. V.||Cobb, F. A.||Fernyhough, E.|
|Allen, A. C. (Bosworth)||Cocks, F. S.||Field, Capt. W. J|
|Allen, Scholefield (Crewe)||Coldrick, W.||Follick, M.|
|Alpass, J. H.||Collindridge, F.||Foot, M. M.|
|Attewell, H. C.||Collins, V. J.||Forman, J. C.|
|Attlee, Rt. Hon. C. R.||Colman, Miss G. M||Fraser, T. (Hamilton)|
|Austin, H. Lewis||Comyns, Dr. L.||Freeman, J. (Watford)|
|Awbery, S. S.||Cooper, G||Freeman, Peter (Newport)|
|Ayles, W. H.||Corbet, Mrs. F. K. (Camb'well, N.W.)||Gaitskell, Rt. Hon. H. T. N|
|Ayrton Gould, Mrs. B||Corlett, Dr. J.||Ganley, Mrs. C. S|
|Bacon, Miss A.||Cove, W G||Gibbins, J|
|Baird, J.||Crawley, A||Gibson, C. W.|
|Balfour, A.||Crossman, R H. S.||Gilzean, A.|
|Barnes, Rt. Hon. A. J||Cullen, Mrs.||Glanville, J. E. (Consett)|
|Barstow, P. G||Dames, P.||Gordon-Walker, P. C.|
|Barton, C.||Dalton, Rt. Hon. H.||Greenwood, Rt. Hon. A. (Wakefield)|
|Battltey, J. R.||Davies, Edward (Burslem)||Greenwood, A. W. J. (Heywood)|
|Bechervaise, A. E||Davies, Ernest (Enfield)||Grenfell, D. R.|
|Berry, H.||Davies, Haydn (St. Pancras, S.W.)||Grey, C. F.|
|Beswick, F||Davies, R. J. (Westhoughton)||Grierson, E.|
|Bing, G. H. C||Davies, S. O. (Merthyr)||Griffiths, D. (Rother Valley)|
|Binns, J.||Deer. G||Griffiths, Rt. Hon. J. (Llanelly)|
|Blackburn, A. R||de Freitas, Geoffrey||Griffiths, W. D. (Moss Side)|
|Blenkinsop. A.||Delargy, H. J.||Guest, Dr, L. Haden|
|Blyton, W. R.||Diamond, J.||Gunter, R. J.|
|Boardman, H.||Dobbie, W.||Guy, W. H.|
|Bottomley, A. G||Dodds, N. N||Haire, John E. (Wycombe)|
|Bowden, H. W.||Donovan, T.||Hall, Rt. Hon. Glenvil|
|Braddock, Mrs. E. M. (L'pl. Exch'ge)||Driberg, T. E. N.||Hamilton, Lieut.-Col. R.|
|Braddock, T. (Mitcham)||Dugdale, J. (W. Bromwich)||Hannan, W. (Maryhill)|
|Brook, D. (Halifax)||Dumpleton, C. W.||Harrison, J.|
|Broughton, Dr. A. D. D.||Dye, S.||Hastings, Dr. Somerville|
|Brown, George (Belper)||Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C||Haworth, J.|
|Brown, T. J. (Ince)||Edelman, M.||Henderson, Rt. Hon. A. (Kingswinford)|
|Bruce, Maj. D. W T||Edwards, John (Blackburn)||Henderson, Joseph (Ardwick)|
|Burden, T. W.||Edwards, Rt. 'Hon. N. (Caerphilly)||Herbison, Miss M.|
|Burke, W. A||Edwards, W. J. (Whitechapel)||Hewitson, Capt. M.|
|Butler, H. W. (Hackney, S.)||Evans, Albert (Islington, W.)||Hobson, C. R|
|Callaghan, James||Evans, E. (Lowestoft)||Holman, P.|
|Chamberlain, R. A||Evans, John (Ogmore)||Holmes, H. E. (Hemsworth)|
|Champion, A. J||Evans, S. N. (Wednesbury)||Horabin, T. L.|
|Houghton, Douglas||Morley, R.||Smith, C. (Colchester)|
|Hoy, J.||Morris, Lt.-Col. H. (Sheffield, C.)||Smith, Ellis (Stoke)|
|Hudson, J. H. (Ealing, W.)||Morris, P. (Swansea, W.)||Smith, S. H. (Hull, S.W.)|
|Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayr)||Morrison, Rt. Hon. H. (Lewisham, E.)||Snow, J. W.|
|Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)||Mort, D. L.||Sorensen, R. W.|
|Hughes, H. D. (W'lverh'pton, W.)||Moyle, A.||Soskice, Rt. Hon. Sir Frank|
|Hutchinson, H. L. (Rusholme)||Murray, J. D.||Sparks, J. A.|
|Hynd, H. (Hackney, C.)||Nally, W.||Steele, T.|
|Hynd, J. B. (Attercliffe)||Naylor, T. E.||Stewart, Michael (Fulham, E.)|
|Irving, W. J. (Tottenham, N.)||Nichol, Mrs. M. E. (Bradford, N.)||Strachey, Rt. Hon. J.|
|Isaacs, Rt. Hon. G. A.||Nicholls, H. R. (Stratford)||Stubbs, A. E.|
|Janner, B||Noel-Baker, Capt. F. E. (Brentford)||Summerskill, Rt. Hon Edith|
|Jay, D. P. T.||Noel-Baker, Rt. Hon. P. J. (Derby)||Swingler, S.|
|Jeger, Dr. S. W. (St. Pancras, S.E.)||Noel-Buxton, Lady||Sylvester, G. O.|
|Jenkins, R. H.||O'Brien, T.||Symonds, A. L.|
|Jones, Rt. Hon. A. G. (Shipley)||Oldfield, W H.||Taylor, Dr. S, (Barnet)|
|Jones, D. T. (Hartlepool)||Oliver, G. H.||Thomas, D. E. (Aberdare)|
|Jones, Elwyn (Plaistow)||Orbach, M.||Thomas, I. O. (Wrekin)|
|Jones, J. H. (Bolton)||Paling, Rt. Hon. Wilfred (Wentworth)||Thomas, John R. (Dover)|
|Jones, P. Asterley (Hitchin)||Paling, Will T. (Dewsbury)||Thorneycroft, Harry (Clayton)|
|Keenan, W||Palmer, A. M. F.||Thurtle, Ernest|
|Kenyon, C.||Pargiter, G. A||Tiffany, S.|
|Key, Rt. Hon. C. W.||Parker, J||Tolley, L.|
|King, E. M.||Parkin, B. T.||Tomlinson, Rt. Hon. G|
|Kinghorn, Sqn.-Ldr. E||Paton, Mrs. F. (Rushcliffe)||Turner-Samuels, M.|
|Kinley, J.||Paton, J. (Norwich)||Ungoed-Thomas, L|
|Lang, G.||Peart, T. F.||Usborne, Henry|
|Lavers, S.||Poole, Cecil (Lichfield)||Vernon, Maj. W. F|
|Lee, F. (Hulme)||Popplewell, E.||Viant, S. P.|
|Lee, Miss J. (Cannock)||Porter, E. (Warrington)||Walker, G. H.|
|Leslie, J. R.||Porter, G. (Leeds)||Wallace, G. D. (Chislehurst)|
|Lever, N. H.||Price, M. Philips||Wallace, H. W. (Walthamstow, E.)|
|Lewis, J. (Bolton)||Pritt, D. N.||Warbey, W. N.|
|Lindgren, G. S.||Proctor, W. T.||Webb, M. (Bradford, C.)|
|Lipton, Lt.-Col. M.||Pursey, Comdr. H.||Weitzman, D.|
|Longden, F.||Randall, H. E||Wells, P. L. (Faversham)|
|Lyne, A. W.||Ranger, J.||Wells, W. T. (Walsall)|
|McAdam, W.||Rankin, J.||Wheatley, Rt. Hon. John (Edinb'gh, E.)|
|McAllister, G||Rees-Williams, D. R.||White, H. (Derbyshire, N.E.)|
|McEntee, V. La T.||Reeves, J.||Wilcock, Group-Capt, C. A. B|
|McGhee, H. G.||Reid. T. (Swindon)||Wilkes, L.|
|Mack, J. D.||Rhodes, H.||Wilkins, W A.|
|McKay, J. (Wallsend)||Ridealgh, Mrs. M||Willey, F. T. (Sunderland)|
|McLeavy, F.||Robens, A.||Willey. O. G. (Cleveland)|
|MacPherson, Malcolm (Stirling)||Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvonshire)||Williams, D. J. (Neath)|
|Macpherson, T. (Romford)||Robertson, J. J. (Berwick)||Williams, Ronald (Wigan)|
|Mainwaring, W. H.||Robinson, Kenneth (St. Pancras, N.)||Williams, Rt. Hon. T. (Don Valley)|
|Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfield)||Rogers, G. H. R.||Williams, W. T. (Hammersmith, S.)|
|Manning, C. (Camberwell, N.)||Ross, William (Kilmarnock)||Williams, W. R. (Heston)|
|Manning, Mrs. L. (Epping)||Royle, C.||Wills, Mrs. E. A.|
|Marquand, Rt. Hon. H. A.||Sargood, R.||Wilmot, Rt. Hon. J.|
|Marshall, F. (Brightside)||Scott-Elliot, W.||Wise, Major F. J.|
|Mathers, Rt. Hon. George||Shacklelon, E. A. A.||Woodburn, Rt. Hon. A|
|Mayhew, C. P.||Sharp, Granville||Woods, G. S.|
|Mellish, R. J.||Shawcross, C. N. (Widnes)||Wyatt, W.|
|Messer, F.||Shawcross, Rt. Hon. Sir H. (St. Helens)||Yates, V. F.|
|Middleton, Mrs. L.||Shurmer, P||Young, Sir R. (Newton)|
|Mikardo, Ian||Silkin, Rt. Hon. L.||Younger, Hon. Kenneth|
|Millington, Wing-Comdr. E. R.||Silverman, J. (Erdington)|
|Mitchison, G. R.||Simmons, C. J.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Monslow, W.||Skeffington-Lodge, T. C.||Mr. William Whiteley and|
|Moody, A. S.||Skinnard, F. W.||Mr. Pearson.|
|Morgan, Dr. H. B.|
Main Question put, and agreed to.
That this House takes note of the First Annual Report and Statement of Accounts of the Overseas Food Corporation for 1948–49.
§ Resolved, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. Popplewell]
§ Adjourned accordingly at Twelve Minutes past Ten o'Clock.