HC Deb 28 November 1950 vol 481 cc950-3
Mr. Gaitskell

I should, with permission, like to inform the House that the Report of the Commonwealth Consultative Committee on the Colombo Plan for Co-operative Economic Development in South and South-East Asia has been presented to Parliament today. In addition, a popular version has been prepared, entitled "New Horizons in the East," which is illustrated with photographs, maps and charts. This booklet, prepared by the United Kingdom at the request of the other Commonwealth countries, is also published today, price 1s., and will be generally available by tomorrow morning.

His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom will support this great and imaginative programme for economic development in South and South-East Asia to the full extent that our resources permit. To begin with, there is the technical co-operation scheme which must be the foundation of so much of that development. We shall give that scheme our support both in finance, in respect of which we have already promised a contribution of up to £2,800,000 over its three-year period, and in helping to the best of our ability to find the men.

Towards the actual execution of the plan itself we are prepared to contribute in a variety of ways. First we shall stand behind the British Protected and Colonial territories taking part in the plan to the full extent that external finance is required for their programmes as finally agreed between the territories and ourselves. Again, we readily accept the principle that the other Commonwealth countries in the area should be able to make a substantial call upon the United Kingdom economy in carrying out the plan through drawing down their accumulated sterling balances. A great deal of detailed discussion with the individual countries concerned will of course need to take place before final arrangements with each country can be made, but I can tell the House that these discussions have already been carried some distance and I hope to be able to make an announcement on this subject in the near future. Furthermore, we shall consider sympathetically the position of those non-Commonwealth countries in the area which decide to participate in the plan.

The plan is as yet in its early stages and I am therefore not in a position to give a detailed analysis of the nature and extent of contribution from the United Kingdom economy. But we recognise the great importance of firm commitments to countries engaged upon six-year development programmes of this sort and are taking full account of this in planning our own co-operation. We estimate that during the period 1951–57 our contribution, including the repayment of sterling balances, may amount to well over £300 million. I am sure the House will join with me in wishing every success to this important enterprise.

Mr. Eden

I should like to endorse the last sentence of the right hon. Gentleman's statement, and to say a special word of thanks to the Australian Government, whose original initiative I think it was to put forward this plan at the Colombo Conference.

Mr. A. Edward Davies

I welcome the statement of my right hon. Friend, and should like to ask him whether an early opportunity will be given for the House to consider this scheme and for us to supplement it with our contributions?

Mr. Gaitskell

That is a matter for the Leader of the House.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

Is not this only one-tenth of the amount of money to be spent on rearmament?

Mr. Osborne

Did I understand the right hon. Gentleman correctly? Did he say that this would cost £300 million over the next seven years? Does that mean that the money will come out of the economy of the United Kingdom and, if so, will he make it perfectly clear to the nation that, if we are to fulfil this obligation, we shall have to produce that much extra or our standard of living will go down?

Mr. Gaitskell

Three hundred million pounds will be about our contribution, including the repayment of sterling balances over that period. While, of course, the repayment of sterling balances does not raise special fiscal problems with us, nevertheless it involves a burden upon the economy. I have repeatedly made it clear to the House that we have to earn a surplus in our balance of payments in order to meet obligations of this kind.

Mr. Shepherd

As apparently the American Government are contemplating a measure not unlike this, is there any machinery for joint discussion on the issue?

Mr. Gaitskell

The American Government have been kept informed. The Report will be published, and we shall await their opinion.

Sir Ralph Glyn

Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether this sum is in addition to commitments we have already entered into under the Colonial Development Act?

Mr. Gaitskell

No, Sir. It would include such commitments.

Mr. A. Fenner Brockway

Can my right hon. Friend say whether any decision has been reached in principle as to the ultimate ownership of any enterprises initiated under this scheme; and, in particular, whether the precedent which has been set up in African countries—as, for example, with the Gezira scheme in the Sudan—that the scheme shall pass to the Governments of the people, is endorsed by the Government?

Mr. Gaitskell

Those will be matters for the Governments of the territories concerned.

Mr. Eden

Does this document show what proportion of this money is money which otherwise would have been spent from the Colonial Development Fund; what proportion is what I would call "new money"; and what proportion is the repayment of sterling balances?

Mr. Gaitskell

It would be convenient if the right hon. Gentleman would put a question like that on the Order Paper and I could then give the House the full information.

Mr. Ivor Owen Thomas

Will my right hon. Friend indicate whether the schemes to be initiated and developed under this plan will come under any form of joint administration representative of the various Governments which are responsible for introducing the schemes?

Mr. Gaitskell

I ask my hon. Friend to read the Report on that matter, though it is a question which is not fully decided yet.

Colonel Crosthwaite-Eyre

Will the right hon. Gentleman say whether this document shows any distribution of the expenditure on agriculture and industry respectively?

Mr. Gaitskell

Yes. Full information of that kind is available in the Report.