§ Mr. Selwyn Lloyd
I beg to move, in page 3, line 26, after "Corporation" to insert:under the Queensland Act including thoseThe Amendment in my name on the Order Paper, in page 3, line 26, to leave out "in respect of," and to insert:under the Queensland Act includingdoes not quite do what I desire to do and I have made a manuscript alteration about which I have had a word with the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food.
The first part of subsection (1) would thus read:As from the commencement of this Act there shall be transferred to the Minister of Food all rights of the Overseas Food Corporation under the Queensland Act including those in respect of advances made by that Corporation to the Queensland Corporation.Clause 4 (1), as drafted, did not quite clear up the position of the rights of the Overseas Food Corporation and their transfer to the Minister of Food because that subsection only transferred to the Minister of Food the rights of the Overseas Food Corporation in respect of advances made by that Corporation and to the Queensland Corporation.
As I indicated on the Committee stage, under the Queensland Act there are a good many rights vested in the Overseas Food Corporation. There are various points which are not in Part V of the Queensland Act, which deals alone with the question of advances, and it seems to me that to tidy up the point it is right that we should indicate that we desire to transfer to the Minister of Food all the rights now in the Overseas Food Corporation in respect of the Queensland scheme.
If accepted, the Amendment would indicate quite clearly the intention of the House that there shall be transferred to the Minister all the rights now invested in the Overseas Food Corporation. This is only a drafting matter, but I submit that we should make quite clear what is the intention of the House. It may be that the Queensland Government may 579 also have to take steps to deal with the matter, but at the moment it seems to me that the wording of the Clause as it stands is defective.
§ Mr. Dodds-Parker
I beg to second the Amendment.
I would point out that as the Bill stands it appears that the financial liabilities are being carried by the Government but not the rights of control, such as the appointment of members to the Queensland board, which at present are exercised by the Overseas Food Corporation and this would make the point quite clear. I welcome the arrival of the Solicitor-General at this late stage in the liquidation proceedings, and the fact that his legal advice is at last available to the Government.
§ The Solicitor-General (Sir Frank Soskice)
It is perfectly correct, as the hon. and learned Member for Wirral (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd), who moved the Amendment, and the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Dodds-Parker) who seconded it, have pointed out, that certain rights are vested in the Overseas Food Corporation under the Queensland Act. The objection, however, to making the Amendment which they propose is that it would not be operative in view of Section 4 of the Statute of Westminster.
If the Amendment were made, if, in other words, our Imperial Act purported to transfer rights conferred upon the Corporation under the Queensland Act, it would be purporting to amend Queensland legislation. Hon. Members know that, by Section 4 of the Statute of Westminster:No Act of Parliament of the United Kingdom passed after the commencement of this Act shall extend, or be deemed to extend, to a Dominion as part of the law of that Dominion, unless it is expressly declared in that Act that that Dominion has requested, and consented to, the enactment thereof.The effect of Section 4 would be that any attempt by the Imperial Legislature to alter the legislation of the Queensland Parliament would be ineffective. It is for that reason that we did not incorporate in our draft the words which by this Amendment it is proposed to insert.
I quite agree that, that being so, it is necessary that there should be some amendment of the Queensland legislation in order to transfer in Queensland the 580 rights which the Queensland legislation vested in the Overseas Food Corporation. I am in a position to tell the House that that amending legislation will be introduced, and that, therefore, when it has been introduced the necessary transfer will have been effected, and all the rights of the Overseas Food Corporation will have been duly transferred. If hon. Members then ask whether we have not by our draft in its present form already infringed the principle which I have been endeavouring to enunciate the answer is that that is not the case. The draft at present transfers any debts owed by the Queensland Corporation to the Overseas Food Corporation if and in so far as they can be said to be situate in this country.
Our Parliament can transfer property in this country and it can transfer debts in so far as they can be said to be situate in this country. It is not always easy as a matter of law to say whether a debt is situate here or abroad, but if and in so far as it is situate here our wording is effective to transfer it. We have supplemented the wording which extends to the semi-colon in subsection (1) by a further provision that the Overseas Food Corporation shall take all steps in its power to see that full effect is given to the transfer. Therefore, the result is that, with the wording we have used plus the amending legislation of the Queensland Legislature, the necessary transfer of all rights vested in the Overseas Food Corporation will be effected.
§ Mr. Selwyn Lloyd
Is it not a fact that, as the Clause is at present drafted, it relates only to the transfer of rights in respect of advances; and, therefore, all these other rights are apparently to be transferred by virtue of an enactment of the Queensland Legislature without this Parliament having anything whatever to say about the matter? Is that entirely satisfactory?
§ The Solicitor-General
It is so because we can transfer only debts situate here. That is why we have had to limit the wording to advances made by the Overseas Food Corporation which have given rise to debts which may be situate in this country. It is only in respect of those debts that we can operate.
§ Captain Crookshank
I am much indebted to the Solicitor-General for coming here and giving us his most interesting 581 speech about the constitutional position. It is very interesting because it is the first time anything of this kind has been attempted. I referred to that when we were dealing with this Clause in Committee. In this novel constitutional position we have to go a little carefully so as not to transgress anything that emerges from the Statute of Westminster. I quite accept all that.
The point about which I was not quite clear was when the right hon. and learned Gentleman, in order to get over this difficulty, said that all we can deal with in this Bill are debts which are situate here; but he did all the time refer to debts which might be situate here. What I want to know is, whether it is certain that these debts are situate here; because the position is, for better or worse, that up to date the taxpayers of this country have advanced £1¼million as the British contribution towards the Queensland experiment. Those figures are in the annual report, and there is no dubiety about that; but from the use of the words "may be" instead of "is" about these debts, I am not clear whether we are going to take the view that they are situate here and whether, therefore, we are legislating in this Clause to make it possible for the whole of that money to be returned in due course—obviously not all at once—to the Minister of Food, to our advantage.
§ 10.15 p.m.
§ The Solicitor-General
If I may have the permission of the House to speak again, I would say that I did advisedly use the words "may be situate" for this reason, that the principles of law which decide where a debt is situate are far from clear and it cannot be said with absolute certainty whether these debts are properly to be described as situate in Queensland or here. On one view of the principles of law, they could be situate here but from a contrary point of view they could be situate in Queensland; but if and in so far as the true effect is that they are situate here, this Clause effectively transfers them. If and in so far as the true view is that they are situate in Queensland, I am in a position to tell the House that the necessary legislation will be enacted in Queensland.
§ Captain Crookshank
I am glad of that intervention by the right hon. and learned Gentleman because I thought that 582 he was picking his words carefully, and there is this doubt about whether the debts are situate here or not. It is of tremendous importance to all of us, wherever we sit in the House, that we should be clear that in the long run we are going to get back the money in this case—at least I hope so. After all, in the case of East Africa we had to write off the money under Clause 3, but in this case we hope we shall get back these advances, so I take it that the position is that these words are apt, provided it is decided—I do not know who is to decide—that the debts are situate here.
If it is to be decided by somebody, perhaps the Solicitor-General will tell us who will make a decision. Is it, for example, a matter to be settled by inter-Governmental negotiation—because that is one way—or, realising that in Australia—and I do not know how far this may apply to Queensland—there is a written Constitution, and therefore what is or is not constitutional may be settled by the courts in a way which is not possible here, is the matter to be settled in that way?
When some authority or other has decided that the debt is situate in this country, then this Clause covers the possibility of our getting the money back, and if some authority or other, has decided that it is situate in Queensland, then on the authority of this Government we have the promise that the Queensland Government will legislate to make that possible, and in that case, we shall recover the whole. That seems to be a clear proposition, leaving out of account just the one point of who is to decide. Perhaps the right hon. and learned Gentleman might intervene again and tell us who is to decide that; because if no one has the power to decide it, could not we have something put in the Bill itself to make it clear?
§ The Solicitor-General
As I have said, there is some doubt about the legal principles applicable as to where it is situate. It has been accepted by the Queensland Government that this transfer is to take place and therefore there will be legislation in Queensland. There is also this legislation, and one or other of the sets of legislation will certainly transfer these debts.
§ Amendment negatived.583
§ Captain Crookshank
I beg to move, in page 3, line 32, at the end, to insert:provided that no advances shall be made before the first day of January, nineteen hundred and fifty-three.This Amendment refers once again to the advances which are to be made to the Queensland Corporation. The subsection merely permits the Minister, with the consent of the Treasury, to make advances by way of loan on such terms as he thinks fit. As we know, those advances will appear in the Votes, and consequently this House will have more control than was the case in the past. When we discussed this matter on the Committee stage, I suggested that it might be a good idea to have some limiting figure on the advances which might be made in any given year, but the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Food, resisted that suggestion. He said that there was no particular point in it, because they did not intend to make any loans for two years. He said:With a development scheme of this kind it is impossible to see further ahead than two years in any detail, but in case it is felt desirable to make further advances to the Queensland Corporation later on, surely it is preferable to make provision for the Minister to be in a position to do so, rather than to have to introduce further amending legislation in two years' time?That was a good argument, but he had also said:The point I want to make clear to the House—this is the real answer to the right hon. and gallant Gentleman—is that there is no intention of exercising the power to make further advances for at least two years; that is, up to the end of 1952.He added that they had sufficient resources now to carry them up to that date, and said:I want to state quite categorically to the Committee that there is no intention of asking the House to exercise the power…to make further advances for at least two years."—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 5th March. 1951; Vol. 485, c. 115–7.]Having said that, it seems to me that it would be a good safeguard for this Parliament, particularly in this rather complicated legal position between the legislation here and the legislation in Queensland, to put into the Bill the very words of the right hon. Gentleman who assured us that he did not intend to make any advances for two years. He said that it was not intended to make any advances up to the end of 1952. Rather 584 than put the last day of December, 1952, we have suggested the first day of January, 1953, as the date before which no further advances should be made.
This point is clear. There is not very, much to be said about it in argument, except the general argument that, as has been the case all along with this Bill, we have been speaking rather more than hon. Gentlemen opposite on behalf of the taxpayers. After all, the taxpayers stand to lose vast sums of money as a result, partly of lack of control and partly of mismanagement in the previous dispensation. I repeat what I said the other day. I am perfectly certain that if in 1948 this House had insisted on putting in a number of safeguards, such as the maxima which might be advanced at different dates and different stages of development, we should have had a greater control all along than we did have, and possibly we should not in this Bill have to be writing off £36,500,000. The Government have said that in the case of Queensland they have enough money to carry on to the end of 1952. Therefore, they do not want us to put in a limiting figure. That is why we suggest this limiting date. In the light of what the right hon. Gentleman himself said only so recently as last Monday. I find it hard to imagine what arguments he can produce against this Amendment. I do not think that he can produce any, and I hope that the Amendment will be accepted.
§ Mr. Webb
I myself would like to repeat to the House what T said in Committee, which was that, so far as this Government is concerned, we have no intention of asking the House to exercise the power to make further advances for at least two years. If I could be assured that I were likely to be Minister of Food—[Interruption.] Well, I cannot be sure, but if I could be sure that I would continue for that period of time, I would have been quite happy to, accept the Amendment, but I think that, after all, it is our common duty not to fetter the discretion of the House in any way if the House at any time wants to move, and certainly this Amendment would do that.
Let us assume—a wild assumption, perhaps—that the Opposition were to come back into power. In their wisdom, 585 perhaps the right hon. and gallant Gentleman might be chosen to occupy my post, or it might be some other person, and he might come along and say, "Let us look at this Queensland Scheme. Obviously, it is an unimaginative job done by people with no ambition and no ideas about it. We have decided that we ought now to expand this Scheme. We have decided that there is a great opportunity in Queensland to extend the production of meat, and therefore we will make these advances."
What would happen then? If the House accepts this Amendment, they would be fettered straight away. [Interruption.] Of course they would and they would have to come along with amending legislation. Why should we make it difficult for the Conservatives? Surely, we must proceed on certain assumptions? Our assumption is that we shall continue to occupy power for the period of time given to us by the electorate of this country, and we have stated quite clearly—and I repeat it and stand by it—that we have no intention of exercising the power to make further advances for that period of time. We will not depart from that. On our assessment, the Queensland Corporation has adequate resources to carry out the programme which it wants to carry out, which we want it to carry out, and which it is physically capable of carrying out. Beyond that, we do not wish to go.
I think it would be improper of me to fetter my successor in this way, because he ought to be free to look at the matter afresh, and, if he has got better ideas and more initiative, why should he be circumscribed in this way? I think the House would be well advised to accept the undertaking we have given. Quite seriously, it would be rash to try to write it into legislation. After all, whatever party is in power, we do proceed, from time to time on certain general understandings that are openly arrived at, and this is an undertaking openly made and by which we stand. Surely, it would be improper by legislation to prohibit any future Administration from approaching the situation afresh and from proceeding to do anything they want it to do? I therefore advise the House to reject the Amendment.
§ Mr. Frederic Harris
Surely, it was a rather fantastic argument by the Minister that he should not fulfil the promise he gave to us the other day. I can quite understand his great concern about those who will follow him, but I do not think he need worry an awful lot about that now, because we are quite capable of looking after ourselves when that early opportunity arises. I am sure that whoever is Minister of Food then would not have any serious concern about making any adjustments should they become necessary.
What we are seeking in this Amendment is merely the carrying out of the Minister's own words, and while I admit that it would have been extremely uncomfortable for the right hon. Gentleman's predecessor on occasions to have had to put into Bills some of the things he- said in the House of Commons and tried to live up to, there are many who believe that the Minister, when making this express promise, was also quite confident in the advice given to him that no further advances would be required for this Scheme until the end of 1952. At least, that is what the Minister has confirmed this evening. Surely, there could be no objection in principle to the Minister saying that this is accepted and could be included in the Bill?
§ 10.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Harris
I cannot see why that should cause complications. We know that these advances are not bearing any interest. I think it is important at this stage that we should get the Minister to do something about the promise he made. At the time we brought forward our Amendment, we asked only for a reasonable limitation. The Minister agreed it was reasonable, and I believe he thought our ceiling was unnecessarily high. He assured us that there was no need for advances during the next two years. Bearing in mind that that assurance was given to us without any question of doubt, it should not be difficult to put it in here.
Need the right hon. Gentleman worry about putting it in print because he may 587 be replaced I think he did not know how he could argue to get this kept out. On this side we should like to see the Minister's statement in black and white, so that he knows what he has to live up to while he is in his present office. I sincerely hope that the Minister may reconsider his decision.
§ Mr. Hurd
As the House knows, we are in partnership in this venture with the Queensland Government and operate under the Queensland British Production Act, 1948, which is a Queensland Act. We are the major partner, with a share of £1,250,000, while the Queensland Government have £250,000. They may have more in the venture now. What concerns me is that if this is operated under a Queensland Act and the Queensland Government decide, as they decided only last December, to add to the property we jointly own and control, have they the power of decision?
I think we shall find ourselves dragged at the heels of the Queensland Government in this matter. I do not know if the Minister can tell us whether he was consulted when this new property was taken on in December. I think we should safeguard our position by investing further money in this scheme, remembering that it is operated under a Queensland Act and that we may not have the deciding share in this country.
§ Mr. Nigel Birch (Flint, West)
I found one thing very refreshing in the right hon. Gentleman's speech, namely, the sentiment he expressed that he would not hold his office very long. I also found it refreshing that he was so solicitous about his successor. We were deeply impressed when he undertook not to spend any more money. The right hon. Gentleman says it was an open undertaking. We have had open undertakings on groundnuts and Gambia eggs, and we are used to open undertakings. What we want is something we can tie down. I am certain that none of my hon. Friends would be as wasteful of money as the Government. So far as anyone is in need of protection, it would not be us. What underlay his remarks was that he had some doubt about his own position. He may find himself coming back in less than two years and saying, "We have added up 588 wrong again. We want a few more millions. I am sorry, but we are not very good at addition." If people make mistakes as easily as that they ought to have to come back to the House and get a Bill. We would be prepared to pass such a Bill if we had to.
§ Sir Herbert Williams (Croydon, East)
I listened to the Minister with some interest. At one stage he said that if circumstances called for further advances another Bill would be necessary. I think that that is the right course. Later he intervened and said that in any case if the further advance was made it would appear in the Estimates, which we could have an opportunity of discussing. I am wondering if he is right about that. An advance by way of a loan is not quite the same thing as expenditure. It is a curious Parliamentary point, because if it is decided to make a loan under an Act of Parliament it does not appear in the Estimates in the ordinary way, since it relates to expenditure. I do not know why the right hon. Gentleman is so reluctant about this Amendment. It is perfectly sensible, and I understand it carries out his own intentions.
What the Minister says, just like what the soldier says, is not evidence—it cannot be quoted in any court. He and his predecessor have a very bad record in this matter, and if what he said tonight has made free the monkey nuts—I like to call them that—and shows there are more chickens in Gambia, that is all right. But when we have complete and fantastic failures in two other parts of the world we cannot take them on the same basis as we might otherwise have done.
The Government must come here—and I do not say this in any improper sense—with clean hands. It is important that we should tie them up, not that it really matters to the right hon. Gentleman, because he will not be there at the end of two years, and the Opposition are therefore imposing a restraint upon themselves. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Of course they are. Hon. Gentlemen opposite know perfectly well that they will be on this side of the House within 12 months. It entirely depends on when the older members on the Government side decide that they cannot stand the strain, and forget to turn up on a Thursday as well as on a 589 Friday. What my right hon. Friend proposes is something which is imposing a restraint on the Minister and his other colleagues.
§ Captain Crookshank
I, too, listened to the right hon. Gentleman with great interest and it is clear from his speech that he never expected us to take up what he said the other day—that there was no likelihood of making any advance to the Corporation in two years—and thought we should leave it at that. We have very properly sought to insert words in the Bill. It does not matter whether I feel strongly about it because I have enjoyed the intellectual treat of listening to the right hon. Gentleman trying to get out of the words he used two days ago—and by a quibble. I was wondering how he would do it, and it was interesting to find that he had no excuse at all.
It is reasonable that we should put words in, and he need not worry about his successors. They can look after themselves much better than he or his friends have been able to do. They would be ready to introduce amending legislation, just as the right hon. Gentleman and the Secretary of State for the Colonies have had to introduce this Bill. It is amending legislation, but there is nothing frightful about it. The right hon. Gentleman said one thing on Monday and another thing on Wednesday, and as this is in line with Socialist action and thought, I do not intend to press the Amendment.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the Third time."—[Mr. J. Dugdale.]
§ 10.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
I had thought that one of the three right hon. Gentlemen opposite was going to commend this Bill to the House. It is a matter of major importance affecting millions of His Majesty's subjects, in Africa and in the United Kingdom, and it seems strange that apparently nothing is to be said. If nothing is said, it will be in strange contrast to the eloquent speech which was made three years ago when the original groundnut Bill was commended by the present Secretary of State for War on its Third Reading stage.
§ Mr. J. Griffiths
We have now completed all stages of this Bill except the last one. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Food has commended the Bill to the House, and I hope it will get a unanimous Third Reading. We have heard continuously from the other side of the House about the £36,500,000. Far be it from me to say anything about that except that I myself regard it as a grievous loss. I said earlier, and I say again, that this scheme was a venture. It was a risk. It has failed. We have admitted that it has failed. We deeply regret that failure, both on the ground of the £36,500,000, and also on the ground that the failure means that we must now, for some time at any rate, give up the hope of being able to cultivate this land in a short time by the methods which were tried. These cost £36,500,000.
I have said that I would not regard the £36,500,000 as anything but a grievous loss, but looking at the right hon. and gallant Member for Gainsborough (Captain Crookshank), I am reminded, as he also knows, that the first time I met him was before I came to this House, when he was Secretary for Mines. He does not recall that with great joy; neither do I. We have said already that the actual loss eventually to the taxpayers of this country may not be £36,500,000. It may be £36,500,000 less what is realised from the assets. I think that when we come finally to calculate the figure it may come down to £23,000,000. When I look at hon. Members opposite, this figure has significance for me, for it is what they gave to the coal owners in nine months. They shovelled out that amount in nine months in 1925 and 1926. All we had as a result was months of conflict in the mining industry.
I never heard anything about the taxpayers' money being lost then. There are hon. Gentlemen who were in this House in those days, and who are here now, whom I never heard demanding an investigation, who never asked for an inquiry by experts, or an independent inquiry.
§ Mr. Speaker
The right hon. Gentleman is dealing with the mining situation of years ago. That has nothing to do with the Third Reading of this Bill.
§ Mr. Griffiths
I am sorry, Mr. Speaker. I express my regret if I have transgressed the rules of the House. That 591 is the last thing which I would wish to do, but I have memories of the consequences of that episode to the people to whom I belong and of the responsibility of hon. Gentlemen opposite for that; I have memories of what it meant to people as good as me who for years after that lived in poverty as a result.
The position is that we have now discussed this Bill, which gives the Government authority to proceed with the revised scheme. That revised scheme is an experiment. It is bound to be an experiment, but it is an experiment which we hope will succeed. Anyhow, I and my right hon. Friend have sought in every possible way to ensure that as we go along I shall now be responsible, as Secretary of State, and shall answer questions about this scheme. I think it has been accepted that the statement which I made earlier this afternoon makes sure that from now on hon. Members will be able to ask questions, and that I shall accept responsibility for answering them. That statement will appear in HANSARD tomorrow.
In addition, there will be the annual reports, and there will be the Votes, and altogether, ample opportunity will be given for us to examine this scheme. There will be scope for debate on the Estimates and on the reports, and we shall have opportunity of checking, as we go along, and seeing whether this Bill, which authorises the scheme, is right. I am sure I speak for all hon. Members of this House—and especially those who are interested in colonial development—when I say we hope that the scheme will be a success.
Let us give the scheme our blessing, for, when all the party warfare has died out, the important fact which will remain is that in this territory of East Africa and, indeed, the Colonial Territories everywhere, we are facing the problem of ever-increasing population; and, if we are to give the people of those areas the standard of life which it is our intention to do, then we must seek a way of bringing the land, now swamp or waste not producing anything, into cultivation. We are seeking this moderate, modified experiment for which I shall do my best as Colonial Secretary. I am convinced that in the development of agriculture in most of these Colonial Territories the best 592 prospect of success is by bringing in the local governments. We shall link this with the Tanganyika Government, and I think one of our best chances is by bringing the Governments in through producer and consumer co-operatives. If the experiment succeeds, that may be the best way in which to develop it in the future.
I hope that the Bill will receive a unanimous Third Reading, and from then onwards, I shall do my best to give an account of the progress to the House. It is for the development of these Colonial Territories, and the improved standards of life for the people who live in them, that such a scheme is undertaken, and I have no doubt at all that, whatever Government we have, risks have to be taken if we are to do this job of development. Somebody has to take risks, and that means that somebody may fail.
The fact of the matter is that schemes of this kind—trying to cultivate land of this description—ought surely to be beyond party considerations. Such a scheme cannot be carried through except by public enterprise. The whole trend of our days in such a matter, as we see in Point 4 of the Colombo Plan, is that we cannot expect to raise the standard of life for these people unless public investment comes in and plays a vital part. This scheme is a small contribution to the major problem which is facing us, and, although a modified scheme, it can play a most important part in the experiment we are making for the benefit of the peoples of these overseas territories. From it we hope to learn a great deal of knowledge which we shall be able to apply to these and other territories for the benefit of all concerned.
§ 10.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
I would not be in order if I followed the Secretary of State for the Colonies in his excursion into the pre-war history of the mining industry. I can say this, however, that, however irrelevant his observations were to the Third Reading of a Bill devoted solely to developments in East Africa, if it is true that large sums of money were passed to the coalowners and coal miners in pre-war years there was, as a result, some coal. That must be a strange contrast with the situation in the coal mines today.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Colonel Sir Charles MacAndrew)
I think Mr. Speaker ruled that discussion of coal in 1926 was out of order.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
When you come to read HANSARD tomorrow, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, I think you will find that I was probably allowed as many words about it as was the right hon. Gentleman. I think I am in order in adding the fact that the £36 million spent on the Groundnut Scheme has not resulted in any groundnuts or in any increase in the home margarine ration.
At the time that the right hon. Gentleman made that rather unusual and irrelevant comment on history, he used the phrase, "my people." His people as a Cabinet Minister are not only the miners of this country, they are the taxpayers of this country as well. There are large numbers of people, many of whom have served Great Britain brilliantly in previous years, who are now living on fixed incomes in a world of mounting prices and whose personal position, largely through Government extravagance, is becoming intolerable. These are also the right hon. Gentleman's people, and I hope that he will remember that when he uses a phrase which suggests that he is solely concerned with one section of the community, however admirable.
I am glad the right hon. Gentleman made some comments in commending the Third Reading of this Bill to the House. It would be deplorable if a Bill of this magnitude, even on the Third Reading stage, were allowed to go through "on the nod," and I am glad that both the Secretary of State and the Minister of Food agree with me. We have had a great deal of talk about the past, but I am not going to talk about the past because it would not be in order. AH that is in order is what is in the Bill.
The only comment that I want to make on the past is that it appears very strange that a Bill of this kind should be commended on Third Reading to the House without the simultaneous resignation of the Secretary of State for War. The years between the wars are often derided, and the period before the last war often comes in for censure from hon. Gentlemen opposite. But I think it would be inconceivable in previous years that a national disaster of the magnitude that this Bill represents should not be followed 594 by the resignation of the responsible Minister. The Minister of Food said today that he did not wish to fetter his successors. In one field, anyhow, he will not fetter them by the action of the Government today. If, after the next election there should ever be similar gross errors in public affairs perpetrated by a Conservative Minister, then the honourable practice of resignation would most certainly be evoked once more.
It is very hard indeed on the Minister of Food that he should have to be the main proposer of this Bill. He was a back bencher when the first Bill dealing with groundnuts was introduced into the House of Commons. It is true that he was then busy leading within his own party a crusade to reduce the cost of living. Alas, he did not succeed in that, nor has he succeeded in holding the cost of living.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
The hon. Gentleman had better listen now, because he will hear a lot of this from his own constituents at the next election.
The White Paper from which this Bill arises states frankly that the new plan cannot itself contribute significantly towards Britain's food supplies. Tonight we are taking part in the last stages of the Bill. It wipes off £36½million of public money. Clause 3 (4) relieves the Overseas Food Corporation from the duty, imposed upon it by Parliament only three years ago, to return the advances that had been made to it. The right hon. Gentleman talks about this being financially prudent; the truth is that it is financially inevitable, and as such we most reluctantly accept it tonight.
The Bill, surely, provides the most glaring contrast with its predecessor. We can look on this picture and on that. We were to have had by this very month 600,000 tons of groundnuts and, shortly, 3,210,000 acres under groundnut production. The Bill, to which we are tonight giving a Third Reading, allows for the production of 81,000 acres under cultivation, of which only half are under groundnuts—40,000 acres, compared with an original plan for 3,210,000 acres. So much for "the most comprehensive plan in British history," as the 595 "Daily Herald" called it, comparable, as Sir Leslie Plummer said, to the opening up of the Middle West of America. One thing is quite certain: The effect of this, enshrined tonight in the Bill, will not be forgotten by the British people.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
Most certainly. They will not need much reminding. And it will have long-term consequences, and most serious consequences, on the attitude of the British people to all schemes of State control and bureaucratic farming.
In so far as the Bill has a good feature, it is the transference to the Colonial Office of responsibility for this scheme. This transference we have urged for three and a half years, and we are, of course, delighted that it has now happened. We shall not forget, and I do not believe the House will forget, that the Conservative Party from the start have urged that this scheme of Colonial enterprise should be under the authority of the Colonial Secretary.
We shall watch the proposals in regard to Queensland with the closest concern and interest. It is my belief that the best contribution that the Queensland Corporation can give to the development of Queensland is to provide essential services and communications, roads, and any other aids to transport and development; and then, on the merits of applications, whether from development corporations in Australia, from private enterprise or from any other source, consider the handing over of the schemes, and particularly the grain scheme, to other forms of development. We shall watch with the utmost interest anything that affects the dual concern of the Commonwealth of Australia and of the United Kingdom.
Apart from these two considerations—the transference to the Colonial Office and the Queensland Scheme—what is the only other purpose of the Bill? It is to spend another £6 million, allowing for a wide margin of error, on what, no one can deny, is another gamble. [Interruption.] Hon. Members who were not present earlier this afternoon might now keep quiet and listen to the argument. Earlier this afternoon we heard that the total cost of this restricted development in East Africa is to be £13 million, but 596 it will be only £6 million if the crops from the scheme can sell for £7 million. And this at a time when no one can predict with accuracy what will happen to the prices of primary products. So it is not really fair to say that this will cost only £6 million. We do not know. And the Government phrase—"a wide margin of error"—has wisely been inserted.
This sum is being asked for from Parliament without an independent enquiry, and solely for the purpose of considering the best conditions in which tropical agriculture can be conducted. And this is done at a time when we are writing off £36½ million which was spent in order to discover how tropical agriculture could best be conducted. Really the reliance that His Majesty's Government place on the short memories of people in this House and the country must not be strained too far.
In the speeches that have been made today commending these proposals to the country there has been no suggestion whatever of any co-operation and coordination between the different Government agencies all engaged on the same sort of research. There is nothing in this Bill to show whether the pilot scheme in Northern Rhodesia has even been considered by the Overseas Food Corporation. There is nothing to show whether any lessons have been learned from the survey into the mechanisation of native agriculture carried out last year in West Africa by the Colonial Office when the Ministry of Food was responsible for the Groundnut Scheme.
Just as in the case of the Gambia egg scheme, no reference whatever appears to have been made to the Medical Research Council which was carrying on work of the same kind at the same time and in the same place, so in Africa no reference to bodies similarly and simultaneously engaged has appeared to have taken place. Under Socialist planning no planner apparently tells any other planner what he is doing. Words were attributed to the Foreign Secretary on his return from a foreign tour some years ago which might well apply to the situation tonight, when he found his colleagues all acting in different ways and apparently under different directives. The right hon. Gentleman is supposed to have said, "There is far too much private enterprise in our first Socialist Government."
597 The Bill that we are now considering is largely based on two paragraphs in the White Paper—paragraphs 14 and 17. Paragraph 14 says that this scheme would make a significant contribution to the economic development of East Africa. But is this really true? Is it really to the advantage of East Africa to do something there which may be thoroughly uneconomic? I think we owe a duty to our fellow citizens in Tanganyika not only to do uneconomic things but to do something economic in order to lead them on to better and more prosperous agriculture. Paragraph 17 of the White Paper suggested it would cost just as much to stop this scheme now as it would to continue it. But this has never been proved to the satisfaction of the House. Never at any time have arguments been advanced which commend themselves to fair-minded people.
I recognise that the Minister of Food has made elaborate attempts to break up the complicated figures in regard to the loss on sales and the other financial consequences of the change, and we are grateful to him for that. We also thank him for what I believe to be his genuine attempt to be candid with the House of Commons. But even now we do not really know whether it would not be more economic to stop the scheme altogether. When the right hon. Gentleman is so contemptuous of the £4½ million which he says it would cost to stop the scheme, he leaves out altogether the assets of £10 million which we heard about this afternoon, of which at least £6½ million would be available even if the scheme were stopped. There are all sorts of other ways in which his figures this afternoon failed to give any satisfaction to the House. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Wirral (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd) has, I know, various questions to ask him on that theme.
Yet it is solely on these two paragraphs of the White Paper that this Bill is being commended to the House of Commons. It is for this reason alone that the Overseas Food Corporation is being retained. There is no justification for it whatsoever and another Act of Parliament will be necessary in order to get rid of it. The tragedy of all this is that we might have had a common approach to the problems in East Africa. Both sides might have agreed, if only we could 598 have had an impartial inquiry into what our next step should be. In this way both sides in Parliament and the country could have been united, and in this way alone real confidence can be given to the staff in Africa.
But the Government have chosen the purely political solution, and it is not our fault if it cannot be an agreed solution. Many intractable problems remain to be solved in Africa. We do not know yet, despite what the Minister of Food has said, what is needed to conquer Africa, but we believe that in this field, as in so many others, the conquest of any difficult task will be best achieved by the departure of the present Government and its replacement at the earliest possible date by a Conservative administration.
§ 11.7 p.m.
§ Mr. Snow (Lichfield and Tamworth)
I would not have intervened had it not been for the speech to which we have just listened. I think it is rather a pity that the hon. Gentleman does not adopt a less arrogant attitude. If he will take these lessons from that nasty little bit of Spanish riffraff, General Franco—
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
Order. The head of a friendly State must not be alluded to in those terms in this House.
§ Mr. Snow
I had forgotten that we have recognised Spain and sent out our Ambassador, and in view of that I must withdraw, but for many months we have been aware that the hon. Gentleman models himself on that sort of dictatorial attitude and displays this arrogant attitude in the House.
When I hear these rather speculative comments coming from Members of the Opposition on the character of the next administration, I cannot help feeling, when they say that the country will not forget this admittedly very serious loss of £36,500,000, that the country will not forget either the hundreds of millions that had to be put by previous Conservative Governments into the Unemployment Fund.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
Order. Mr. Speaker prevented an earlier discussion about coal expenditure, and this is the same sort of thing. On Third Reading it is only the contents of the Bill which are liable to be discussed.
§ Mr. Snow
I was using that as an illustration. Members of the Opposition are relating the provisions of this Bill with the sort of Bill they would enforce if they came into power. The sort of confidence they are likely to produce should be viewed in the context of the millions of pounds which went into the Unemployment Fund from the taxpayers' pockets in order to support the gross inefficiency of previous Conservative administrations.
§ 11.9 p.m.
§ Mr. Selwyn Lloyd
I am not sure whether the House will be grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising the temperature or not, but I shall certainly not seek to follow him on his devious paths. The Secretary of State for the Colonies developed two themes in advocating the Third Reading. The first was a reference to the coal mines, and you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, will at once rule me out of order if I follow the right hon. Gentleman on that path. It seemed to me that he maintained fully the high standard of Socialist misrepresentation which is the ouly bulwark of a disintegrating ideology and a fast-disappearing administration.
The second argument the right hon. Gentleman put forward was a rather sentimental appeal to us to support the cause of colonial development. From these benches such an appeal will always receive a very considerable welcome, but we do not believe that the cause is really advanced by hopeless failures like the Groundnut Scheme, which damaged not only our economy but our prestige and did absolutely no good at all to colonial development, to us, or to the African.
I want to put before the House one or two arguments with regard to the Third Reading of the Bill. I entirely agree with my hon. Friend about the transfer of responsibility to the Colonial Secretary. We all agree with that. The Minister of Food is probably the most relieved man amongst us that he is getting rid of this scheme, and we think that it is time it should go to the Colonial Office.
Then we come to Clause 3 (4), which provides for the writing off of the £36 million. The argument that this House should accept that proposition was put 600 forward by the Minister of Food on 20th February:One significant factor which has been taken into account by the Government in considering the continuation of the Scheme is the fact that the cost of going on is not widely different from the cost of abandoning it, with all the grave consequences in Africa that would follow abandonment.—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th February, 1951; Vol. 484, c. 1089.]Then he goes on to develop this figure of £4,500,000, about which he gave us particulars. I suppose that argument was based on paragraph 17 of the White Paper where it says, p. 6, dealing with the £6 million:This cost is not widely different from the heavy liabilities amounting to several million pounds which the Corporation would in any case have had to meet if it had been decided to abandon the whole project forthwith. This constitutes a powerful additional reason for continuing the scheme on the lines proposed.A very substantial argument in favour of passing this Bill has been that it would be nearly as costly to close down the scheme as to continue with it in modified form. We have pressed again and again—and the fact we have not succeeded in getting answers makes one profoundly suspicious—for the full financial disclosure of that argument. Assuming the cost of these special items is going to be £4,500,000, assuming—which is dubious—the right hon. Gentleman's argument about the railway payment of £3 million, what we have not been given is the estimate of realising the present assets of the Corporation if there was a sale at the present time. We were told this afternoon that these assets amount to £10,500,000. We were also told that the cost of disposing of them if there were a sale would be £1 million.
But we have not been told what would be the proceeds of that process of realising the assets, except perhaps that we did get an inkling what the figure would be when the right hon. Gentleman said the scheme at present had cost the taxpayer £36 million, but it was hoped eventually it would cost him only £23 million. Can it be, therefore, that it is expected that these assets when disposed off will amount to £12 million. That is a very high figure. I doubt very much if they will bring in anything like that. One thing we can be certain about in the estimate of the Minister of Food or the Corporation is that the cost of the disposal of these 601 assets will be £1 million. Probably the proceeds will be considerable, but what we have never been given is an estimate of what that figure will be. What is also certain is that it is going to cost us £4,500,000 to close down the scheme.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I think the hon. and learned Gentleman is going beyond the Bill. It does not deal with closing down the scheme.
§ Mr. Selwyn Lloyd
I am addressing my argument to Clause 4 (3), which deals with the writing off of advances which have been made up to now before the commencement of this Bill. The argument put before the House on why those advances should be written off was that it would not be more expensive to go on with the scheme than to close it down. My argument is directed to the writing off of the £36 million.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
The point is that the scheme is being carried on and is not being closed down under the Bill.
§ Mr. Selwyn Lloyd
Whatever may be happening to the scheme, the £36 million is being written off, and the point I am seeking to make is that the argument that, supposing a decision were to be taken not to write off the whole £36 million and only to write off a net figure—in other words, the amount of advances less what was received for assets—that may put a completely different aspect on the matter. I am dealing solely with the quotation I have given from the speech of the right hon. Gentleman on Second Reading, giving the reason why he should advocate this Clause.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
But we are dealing with the Third Reading now and can deal only with what is in the Bill.
§ Mr. Selwyn Lloyd
I am trying to deal with what is in the Bill. I thought that in dealing with the arguments against writing off the £36 million I was entitled to deal with the arguments for it. One of the arguments put before the House for Clause 4 (3) was that if we did not continue with the scheme the cost to the taxpayer would be as great as it would be if we closed it down.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
That is what we are doing; we are carrying on. There is no alternative before us now.
§ Mr. Monslow
A point of order. Is it right for the hon. and learned Gentleman to argue with you as to what is the correct procedure.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
He may argue that I have been proved wrong, but up to the moment I have not been.
§ Mr. H. Strauss
Further to the point of order. Clause 3 (4) makes a definite proposal to write off certain sums. As that is in the Bill, are not the merits of that proposal open to discussion on Third Reading?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
The hon. And learned Member was suggesting an alternative to writing off—selling out now instead of carrying on.
§ Mr. Selwyn Lloyd
I had not made-myself clear. The fault is entirely mine and I apologise for it. I did not deal with hypotheses of any sort but with the argument put forward by the right hon. Gentleman to justify this Clause. All I am doing is to try to examine the argument of the right hon. Gentleman. If I may remind you again, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, if you did not hear fully the first time, in suggesting that the House should adopt this Clause the argument was that the cost of going on is not widely different from the cost of abandoning it. I am dealing with that argument and not with any suppositious argument. I had practically finished my argument on that point. I was saying that the argument of the right hon. Gentleman was bogus, and should have no validity at all unless the Treasury bench is straightforward enough to come along and give the facts. It is the facts about the estimates of the surplus assets which the Government have refused to give.
§ Mr. Selwyn Lloyd
If you rule that I am not to proceed with the argument I will not. But that Ruling comes, if I may say so with all respect, very acceptably, because I had finished dealing with the point. I have made my case and I shall now turn to my second point. [Interruption.] Disregarding the animal noises, I 603 now come to Clause 3 subsection (i) which saysIt shall be the duty of the Overseas Food Corporation so to exercise and perform their functions as to secure, as soon as practicable, that their revenues are not less than sufficient to meet all sums properly chargeable to revenue account, taking one year with another.I gather from this that it is the intention of the right hon. Gentleman that this new project shall proceed on ordinary business lines, and that all sums properly chargeable to revenue account should be met, taking one year with another and that the accounts should balance. That I gather is the wish of the right hon. Gentleman, but of course what is relevant to that Clause is the capital structure of the new venture.
What I do not think has been appreciated is that apparently there is to be transferred to the new venture £7,500,000 of assets, and apparently no charge is to be made on the revenue of the new project to meet interest charges, depreciation charges or anything of the sort. It is necessary that the House and the public should know that the new Corporation is starting with a gift of £7,500,000 of assets, plant and machinery. In addition, it is also going to get another £2,500,000 of new capital so that it is going to start with something like £10 million of assets. I agree that it might be necessary to write down the £7,500,000 because a proportion of assets may not be worth that full figure. If we are to start the new Corporation off honestly it should be clearly intimated to the House what is the value of the assets to be transferred and to it should be added £2,500,000 of new capital.
If I understand aright, the figure given by the right hon. Gentleman earlier when he explained the forecast of the operating costs of the Corporation in the new venture, he stated that over the next seven years they were to be £8,250,000 and that that amount was to be expended to obtain a revenue of £7,500,000 from the crops to be grown. We were told that the figure of £6 million was wrong and that really it was £13,500,000: £2,500,000 was capital, £8,250,000 operating expenses and £2,750,000 dealing with past commitments. We were told that this £13,500,000 604 was a gross figure and the nett figure or nett cost of £7,500,000 was to be received from the sale of crops. The Government are asking the taxpayer to believe that it is good business to spend £8,250,000 operating expenses to obtain a revenue of £7,500,000.
On the figures which the right hon. Gentleman has given to the House it is obvious that the scheme starts off thoroughly unsound and involving the taxpayer in a loss. It may be that the right hon. Gentleman will consider that he is raising some hope of assistance from some quarters. It may well be that something which one is supposed not to have heard may be the only salvation of this scheme. The plain fact is that if there is an honest disclosure of the value of the assets which the Corporation is going to take over, if there is honest accounting in the sense of the Corporation's paying reasonable interest on capital expenditure, on the figures we have been given there is not a hope of this project running on an economic basis. The taxpayers should know that at the outset of the scheme. The Government have not been frank, and all our arguments for independent accounting have been trebly reinforced by what we have been told from the Government benches today. For some reasons we are glad that the Minister of Food is being freed from responsibility, but it is with great misgiving that we give this Bill its Third Reading.
§ 11.27 p.m.
§ Mr. Rankin
Listening, as I have done, to the debates on the Committee stage and the Report stage of this Bill, and taking part in them to some small extent, I have been reminded by the speeches of hon Members opposite of the old saying, "When the devil is sick, the devil a saint would be; when the devil is well, the devil a saint is he." That has been the experience of the colonial peoples under the rule of the party opposite. Quite frankly, I think it would cause a tremor in every colonial heart if there were any chance of the Opposition attaining power once again in this country. But, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, I do not want to draw the debate any further away from the Bill and on to course to which the Opposition has been seeking to divert it.
605 I think that in all parts of the House we have to realise that we, not merely Parliament but this nation, are in the position of trustees to the United Nations for this particular territory. Therefore, I submit that in passing this Bill we must look on it as a contribution to a long-term policy, which will enable us, I hope, to live up to the position which the United Nations organisation has given us as trustees of this territory.
I personally am glad, because I advocated it from the beginning—as did some of my hon. Friends on this side of the House—that this scheme now passes into the control of the Colonial Office. That office is specifically charged not merely with running this scheme, but with dealing with the welfare of the African peoples. That is a most important point which I am sure every hon. Member will bear in mind tonight. I want to quote the charge we have laid upon ourselves, as it is stated in the 1947 Report to the United Nations administration, on our trusteeship of this territory. We say that our long-term policy shall be that this undertaking must eventually be incorporated into the African economy; and should in the final stages pass to the ownership and control of the Africans themselves.
In Command Paper 7030, of 1947, when this scheme, which is now to be transferred to the Colonial Office, was suggested, we took this obligation on our shoulders:His Majesty's Government recognise that it would be objectionable to place the management and development of large areas of these African territories under the permanent control of an organisation from outside the territories. Their intention is therefore to arrange with the governments concerned that the undertaking should be transferred to them at a time and on terms to be agreed in the light of experience of the working of the project.…This ultimate stage of the possible development of the scheme must be dependent on the emergence of skilled..
§ Mr. Rankin
I am sorry that the quotation is a little long, but it is, I respectfully submit, important for the point which I propose to develop. If I may, I would just conclude the quotation by saying that the ultimate stage of possible development would have to be dependent upon 606the emergence of skilled and trained African staff for the efficient management and operation of the project.It is because I believe that the Colonial Ministry is pledged to have regard for the welfare of the colonial peoples and I think is best fitted for this type of work, that I am glad it is now taking over this project. As you have said, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, it would be out of order for me to develop this side of the argument too far, but every hon. Member must realise that, while the economic aspect about which we have been talking is important, the social welfare, the housing conditions, and all the other human needs of the African people are equally important. I do believe that the Colonial Office is best fitted to look after this type of development. I therefore welcome the transfer of function.
§ 11.34 p.m.
§ Mr. Grimond (Orkney and Shetland)
I only want to make a brief intervention, and one which, I hope, will be in order. The hon. Member for Tradeston (Mr. Rankin) said that we were trustees, and I agree with him. But we are trustees who are administering a rather small and limited trust fund. We have had an inquest into how a fairly considerable sum of money can be wasted, with its consequent serious damage to the taxpayer; that point has been emphasised, and rightly so. But that money, £36 million, or £23 million, or whatever it is, has already been lost to development. This sum, which might have done so much good in some of the Empire countries, or even in this country in agricultural development has, unfortunately, been lost. It has failed to yield results. We should all bear that in mind. We should also bear in mind not only the spending of the £36 million, but the sum of effort which has been mortgaged in this scheme.
This Bill deals with the future of the scheme in Africa. I would say in passing that, judging by the arguments put forward on Clause 2, it seems that in the eyes of the Secretary of State the project outlined in the White Paper falls largely under the Overseas Resources Development Act, 1948—that it has been begun under that Act and is only being continued under this Bill. There are certainly powers under this Bill for the Corporation to undertake further schemes.
607 Bearing in mind the difficult situation of this country, what we have to learn from past experience in this matter is that in spending the sums at our disposal we have to take a wider view of the possibilities of our Colonial Empire and of the Commonwealth. I agree with hon. Members who welcome the change of responsibility to the Colonial Office, but have they the machinery for planning this type of enterprise? They have gained a considerable amount of experience themselves, and they have sent out independent people who have reported on these schemes. I hope the Colonial Office will keep in touch with those people and that information obtained from independent inquirers will not be kept at the back of some pigeonhole but in the front of the Minister's mind.
The debate has shown that the whole system of accounting and costing in these matters need overhauling. While these schemes are being developed—and I hope that they will be developed and will be successful—can we be assured that at the same time there will be an inquiry going on into the whole question of how a public corporation acting at a great distance from home, in unusual circumstances and opening new territories, can be controlled? Again, what is the test of the success of this type of scheme to be in the future? I hope that one lesson to be drawn from this unhappy incident is that we shall keep past experience in the forefront of our minds. Should the Corporation undertake new schemes they will do so with the good wishes of the House. I hope they will do so with the closest attention to the wider problems, such as choosing the right territory and deciding how best that territory may be served.
§ 11.39 p.m.
§ Mr. Sorensen (Leyton)
I want to commend this Bill very earnestly to the House in the hope that all will vote for it. Whatever the extravagant language used in the debate, I am quite sure the passing of the Bill will be heartening for many of our fellow human beings in the colonial areas. That being so, it seems to me that although, quite rightly, we criticise previous mistakes and failures, as indeed we have criticised the failure of the lamentable plan to grow groundnuts in East Africa, nevertheless we should take 608 in the wider context and realise that in a great experiment, though we may try to avoid them, losses may occur.
We hear a great deal about the losses incurred in any Government enterprise or venture, but rarely do we hear anything about the tremendous losses made by private enterprise. Of course, it can be said that the losses in private enterprise are borne just by the few, but that is not so. The losses of private enterprise are borne by the whole of the country. They mean so much waste of labour, energy and skill. Yet, surely, we must recognise that in pre-war days and in the last century, an enormous amount of capital was sunk overseas from which no immediate return could be obtained.
In course of time, learning by the experience of losses as well as of successes, a great deal was done for what was then called the Colonial Empire. We cannot go on in the same way. Private enterprise plays its part, and will play its part, of course, but surely no one in the House with vision and foresight would deny that Government enterprise of this kind is urgently necessary. For that reason, I hope we shall not now hear so much about the losses incurred in ventures of this kind, but that if there are such losses they will at least be put in the context to which I have referred—the context, in other words, of the wider vision at which we are aiming.
We should, therefore, join together in supporting the passage of the Bill, with a recognition that what we are all aiming at is not merely service to ourselves, but service to those 60 million fellow human-beings in the colonial areas and Protectorates associated with this country. For that reason, and abbreviating my remarks, I earnestly hope that the whole House will give the Bill its unanimous support.
§ 11.42 p.m.
§ Mr. Dodds-Parker
At all stages of the Bill when hon. Members opposite have joined in the debates, they have tried to put up a more or less genial smokescreen to cover the salient facts which have impressed, not merely us on these benches, but people throughout the country. As my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Lennox-Boyd) put it, I think it is most disgraceful that after an enormous loss like that involved in the earlier scheme—not of private money, but of public money—the Secretary of 609 State for War should still be holding high office, and an even higher office, in the Government.
§ Mr. Dodds-Parker
We have seen one brief appearance on the Government Front Bench of the Solicitor-General, but no figures which have been given, or any information available in the Bill as it now stands, are of such a nature that they would have been accepted in the ordinary liquidation of bankruptcy proceedings of either a big or a small corporation.
I should like to turn to the specific figure of £23 million which was mentioned by the Colonial Secretary and was referred to by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Wirral (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd). That may be just the Colonial Secretary's lucky number, or, as he would rather have it, his unlucky number. Then there is the figure of £13½ million. I took down as carefully as I could the figures from the Minister of Food—who, I am sorry to say, is not now present—when he gave us some more accurate figures about the details of the future of the scheme.
Without going into those figures at any length at this hour, I support what my hon. and learned Friend said. As far as we can see from the Bill in its present shape, the capital sum, as the venture continues, is now to be some £10½ million; and on operating expenses in the next six years of about £8½ million, it is estimated that at the end of that period there will be a return of £7½ million. If I am wrong, I hope that somebody on the Government side will correct me. But that we should embark now in spending another £2 or £3 million of capital for an estimated loss at this stage of £1 million, on operating expenses over the next six years, obviously justifies our past request for an inquiry, which, of course, has not been granted.
I refer again to the somewhat sentimental speech of the Colonial Secretary on future development, Point 4, and so on. I think the right hon. Gentleman knows that to those of us who have various communications from across the Atlantic on Point 4, the greatest blow to many of us, on both sides of the House, who believe in overseas development, has been the failure of the past scheme. We do not appear, from any information that has been given to me, 610 to have taken full advantage of the lessons from that failure. We still hear speeches—not so much from the Front Bench opposite, but from behind it—on this scheme which appear to suggest the sort of lavish mismanagement that has been going on in the past.
We must face the fact that this will be a great difficulty when we come to undertake future development, as so many of us wish to do. And this Bill, as amended, on its Third Reading does not give us confidence on this side of the House. In fact, the figures produced by the Minister of Food today make me feel more than ever that something is being concealed, not only from us on these benches but from the taxpayers of this country who willingly at the time put up this money. Now we feel that we cannot get adequate replies to our questions, and that we cannot get the kind of information which in Carey Street would be demanded by the Public Prosecutor, if by nobody else.
§ 11.46 p.m.
§ Captain Crookshank
I hope I am not cutting out any of my hon. Friends who still want to address the House on this matter, but we are at the last stages of what is, I will not say one of the most important Bills of this Session—I daresay it is not that—but a Bill of considerable public interest. Of that there is no doubt.
One of the curious things about the Bill is that all the time during the debates—and, indeed. inevitably even at this stage—a lot has been said about the project which is under way in East Africa. Yet there is nothing about the project in the Bill. Subsection (1) of Clause 2 charges the Overseas Food Corporation with the duty of securing the investigation, formulation and carrying out of projects, but it says nowhere in the Bill what the projects are. So we have this rather curious fact in the debate that we are talking about something which is not clearly defined except insofar as it is defined in the White Paper.
It is quite true, as the hon. Members for Tradeston (Mr. Rankin) and Leyton (Mr. Sorensen) said, that we must consider ourselves in this House and in this country as trustees for the colonial people. But we are also trustees for the people of this country, and they have been committed by the rashness of the Secretary of State for War to the vast 611 public expenditure which now, under Clause 3 of this Bill, we have to write off. So we are looking at the matter in a dual capacity. We want to see what can be salvaged out of the project, and for it to be a success for the benefit of the colonial people, particularly those in East Africa. In fact it is solely in East Africa, because by the Amendment made earlier today we have limited the scheme to that area, and we have again the definite statement in the White Paper that there is no suggestion of having any other scheme anywhere else.
So that we are really on a comparatively small matter—not actually, but comparatively with what were the high hopes of three years ago. And, of course, while we have to look at the matter in that light now and as the years go by under the responsibility of the Secretary of State for the Colonies—who is the Minister charged with the welfare of the colonial subjects of the King; while we have to be watching that in the future, we also at the same time, in our capacity as Members of Parliament in the British House of Commons, have to see that public money is not wasted.
That, of course, has been one of the difficulties which we have been trying to get safeguarded as we have debated the various Clauses of the Bill. We have not been successful in everything we put forward; on the other hand, we have received certain valuable assurances—at least, I am sure they will turn out to be valuable because right hon. Gentlemen opposite are honourable men. Though they made some before which were not so successful, after their previous experience the assurances they have given now we ought to be able to accept. I am sorry that the Colonial Secretary let himself go on an entirely different topic which would quite well have been answered at the appropriate time. The strange part about all this is that, being faced with a measure to write off this very large sum of £36,500,000, neither at this stage nor at any other period during the discussions of this Bill has there been one expression of regret from the Government. They appear not to be in the least sorry.
§ Captain Crookshank
I beg the hon. Gentleman's pardon. I meant the Secretary of State for War. He is the one who has the most regretting to do about this. His regret is part of the collective regret of the Government. It has not been stressed at all from the Government bench, and there really has not been, in fact, any real expression of regret. On the other hand, there has been a great deal said about there being bound to be failures in great projects of this sort, whether they are private or national ones, and that it was unfortunate that this turned out to be one of the failures.
It is suggested that in the development of the Colonial Empire these things have happened before, but that in the long run someone was more successful than his predecessors and made a success of a venture which in earlier days was a failure. That may be so. I am certainly not on Third Reading going to be foolish enough to try and study the whole history of colonial development. If the outcome of the passage of this Bill is successful then surely there will be some satisfactory residue of the great experiment of 1948, but there is nothing so far to show that that is likely to happen. In the White Paper and Ministerial speeches it has been pointed out that the scheme is subject to a very wide margin of error, and that the experiment has to go on as best it may, and so on.
The experiment will go on obviously, and we can only hope on the advice which has now been tendered and secured from the working party, and any further investigation which may take place as a result of subsection (1) of Clause 2, that this advice will be better founded or turn out more fortunate than that of earlier years. It may turn out that this much modified scheme will be a success, and that there will be opportunities in the end, as the hon. Member for Tradeston (Mr. Rankin) said, for the scheme to pass out of the hands of any non-African control and become a purely African project. That was his argument and desire. It can, presumably, be carried out under the language of this Bill itself. We had an Amendment down on that very point.
We have always been for the encouragement of the peasant proprietorship in cases like this, and it may be 613 that the further investigations which the right hon. Gentleman's Corporation will be making will tend in that direction, and that control can gradually be lifted, provided the experiment is a success. Of course, if it is a failure no one will want to have anything to do with it, but if it is a success we shall have to see how to marry the two views, expressed on opposite sides of the House, notably by the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Dodds-Parker) on this side. All that of course is in the future.
As I said on Second Reading, this Bill is in fact the liquidation and complete collapse, with provisions to rescue what can be rescued. We have done our best during the passage of the Bill to try and get elucidation on some of the points. We have tried our best to amend it, and we have been much obliged for the courtesy and patience of the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill. They have been most helpful in putting their point of view, and the result of that has been shown today, in that we have carried on this debate and covered a great deal of ground without having to trouble the House with a division at all. There may be some points left over for further consideration—I do not know.
We do wish the Bill well; it achieves part of what has been our objectives all along. Part of the Bill transfers responsibility from the Minister of Food to the Colonial Secretary, and that has been one of our cardinal principles ever since it was first raised. But like other Bills, there are good and bad parts. Some parts we like, other parts we do not like. That is unfortunately apt to be the case in a Bill that deals with so many different topics. We agree with the transfer of responsibility. The Bill then deals with writing off the losses to the extent of £36,500,000, which we regard as quite inevitable, because the losses have been made and the Corporation says that there is no possibility at all of being able to carry out the Act for which they were appointed or to carry out the duties placed upon them in 1948. So we have to accept that.
Then, when it comes to Clause 2, the functions and responsibilities of the Overseas Food Corporation, we thought that they might be transferred altogether to the sphere of the Colonial Secretary. But we cannot go back on that. As for Queensland, we have accepted the present situation. But what lies behind the Bill 614 is the complete failure of this Government-organised Corporation, this Government-supported Corporation, to fulfil the terms and the obligations of the duties that were laid upon it in the Act of 1948; and that, like the Government, we are inevitably bound to accept.
But we say that this episode is not going to be easily forgotten by the British people. It is no good hon. Gentlemen interrupting during the debate, like the hon. Gentleman, the hon. Member for Lichfield (Mr. Snow); it is no good their denigrating the matter and thinking it is of no consequence. It has been brought home fully to the British people that here the Government have entirely failed in one of the things they thought was going to be one of their greatest successes. They can make all the excuses they like, but that is not going to be easily forgotten. So far as this Bill can do something to save money from the wreck we do not propose to divide against it at this stage, and we hope that in the long run, as often happens, good will come out of evil—because up to now it has been mostly evil.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Whiteley) rose in his place and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put."
§ Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.