HC Deb 11 May 1951 vol 487 cc2321-39

12.6 p.m.

Sir Richard Acland (Gravesend)

I am very grateful for the opportunity to bring before the House the matter of the West African marketing boards. I think the same considerations also apply to the Uganda Cotton Board, but I am not informed in detail about that problem. I should like to make it very clear to my right hon. Friend who is to reply that I really do not expect that he will be able to propound a solution of the problems I am going to raise today. I know perfectly well that this matter is under serious consideration in his office, and under the serious consideration of the Colonial Governments concerned. In any case, I am sure that he would be the first to agree that the Colonial Office cannot solve this problem all on its own and apart from major policy decisions which have to be taken by the Treasury, the Board of Trade, the Government as a whole—and this House as a whole. I hope that if we ventilate the matter now, while there is yet time, that may promote the taking of right decisions.

The marketing boards were established round about 1946, 1947 and 1948, in pursuance of the policy laid down in Cmd. Paper 6554 of 1944. Their main functions are to fix the prices which merchants pay to farmers for the main export crops throughout West Africa; they license merchants to pay those prices to the farmers; they compulsorily purchase the whole of the crops from the licensed merchants; they then sell the export crops, in the case of cocoa on the market, and in the case of other crops by long-term contracts with the British Government.

It is an integral part of their policy to accumulate reserves so as to be able to cushion the producers against the harmful effects of sharp downward trends and fluctuations in prices. They make grants for good causes such as university education and the rehabilitation of cocoa areas affected by swollen shoot disease. In Nigeria the marketing boards have dependent upon them development boards which are entitled to promote schemes—I quote from the Ordinance …for the benefit of the people and the areas within which the crops are produced. For example, in Northern Nigeria the development board has used money derived from the sale of groundnuts to promote the Sokoto scheme for the cultivation of rice. Through a farmers' fund a somewhat similar procedure is being established in the Gambia, though more closely under the direct control of the Government.

It has been suggested by some that the time has come for these marketing boards to be wound up and abolished. I would most strongly dissociate myself from any such suggestion for at least four reasons. First, the decision whether to sustain or wind up these marketing boards is one which does not have to be taken by us; it has to be taken by the Legislative Councils of West Africa, and I understand that West African opinion is in favour of retaining these marketing boards. Next, the general policy of building reserves in good times to save producers from fluctuations in times of slump is essentially sound. Next, by their published guaranteed prices, the boards are already beginning the process—I say no more than beginning, but they are beginning the process—of rescuing the producers from the exploitation of innumerable merchant moneylenders. Lastly, through their special grants and their dependant development boards they are able to contribute very considerably to the wise capital equipment of their countries.

That being so, what is the major policy decision which has to be taken by us in Britain? I regret that it is a rather painful decision for us to have to take, but I emphasise that it is in essence an extremely simple decision. I ask all concerned with this problem to beware of the fatal tendency, the almost Freudian tendency, of avoiding the big and simple decision by getting fogged by a whole lot of little complications.

The simple decision is this: Shall we now, in the name of justice and of long-term political wisdom, take such decisions as will result in our sending to West Africa in the near future larger quantities and larger values of goods and services than we have sent in the recent past and are sending today? If that decision is taken wisely, rightly and generously by the Government here, then the marketing boards, the Colonial Governments and the Colonial Office are perfectly capable of sorting out all the little detailed problems. If that major decision is wrongly taken here, it is no use handing the detailed problems to the marketing boards and the Colonial Office, because these problems become impossible to solve.

Let me show how this major decision now arises. Firstly, the prices in the long-term contracts made by our Government were perfectly fair prices, there being genuine arguments at the time of the contracts to suggest that world prices for the crops might have fallen. But in fact that has never happened and the opposite has always taken place. To give an example: We are purchasing West African palm oil at £94 a ton, when the same oil on the free market has been fluctuating from £134 to £210 per ton. I do not want to make too much of these particular prices, which apply to quite small or, indeed, almost marginal quantities, because it would be absurd to suggest that the whole of the West African produce could have been sold at such prices. I only mention these prices to point out that next season we must not expect to be able to buy the West African produce at anything like such favourable prices as during this season.

The far more important point is that the marketing boards—although, except in the case of cocoa, they have received less than world prices—have not passed on to the producers anything like the equivalent of the prices they have actually received. There is nothing underhand about this. There is nothing at all that is dishonourable. It has been done openly in accordance with the policy that was understood and accepted by West African legislative councils, the policy to build up reserves against the possibility of a price slump.

Let us trace the example from the farmers' end. The Nigerian Cocoa Board fixes the price for the merchant to pay the farmer. The price in 1950–51 was £118 4s. per ton. The board, in its turn, buys from the merchant at £129. After paying transport charges, export tax and other factors, such as freight and insurance, this represents a cost of some £178 per ton. when the cocoa arrives in Britain: but it is sold by the board at £290 per ton. The difference between £178 and £290 is therefore the margin out of which the reserve has been built up.

The whole thing is perfectly fair up to now, but what about the future? Can we go on like this? Take the case of the Gold Coast Cocoa Marketing Board. They have already hit the twice-raised target of £50 million. On the basis of the present crop being about 260,000 tons, the board could now, in the event of a slump, subsidise the producers at the rate of 10s. per load for 10 years, there being 37⅓ loads in a ton. They would thereby be able, even if world prices dropped to only 40 per cent. of what they are now, and if the drop continued at that level for 10 years, to sustain the producers with a price only 7 per cent. less than the record price they are now receiving.

Theoretically there could be a bigger slump than that, because anything can happen; it may rain in Kano in January, but even Europeans do not go out there at that time of the year with mackintoshes and Wellington boots. In this changing and chancy world, to suggest that these marketing boards should accumulate yet greater resources to meet the possibilities of a greater and deeper world slump, is surely unreasonable. And although I agree that some boards are not so affluent, as Gold Coast Cocoa, I feel sure that any fair-minded person will agree that in six to 18 months from today the happy period of reserve-building will have to come to an end.

What does this mean for us? Why do I call the period of reserve building a "happy" one? I do so for a very obvious reason. During these last years we have been receiving from West Africa precious goods which have been sent here, or the dollar equivalent of precious goods sent elsewhere. We have paid for a part of these goods, not by equivalent goods and services, but by means of paper credits. That is all perfectly honourable and proper up to now, because in the event of a slump these paper credits could be presented here to be transformed into goods. But we cannot go on in this way much longer, because there is no longer any genuine African purpose to be served by piling up still higher credits.

In one way or another we shall have to send goods for goods. The simple decision will have to be made quite soon, because it is vain to suppose that we can leave it until April, 1952, and then expect to find increased supplies of goods in Nigerian ports or Gold Coast shops by June or July. It does not happen that way, and this is where I am in complete agreement with the United Africa Company. Indeed, Sir, it would be churlish on my part if I did not acknowledge the generosity with which the United Africa Company have supplied me with the facts and information about this business without ever questioning whether the information they were supplying would be put forward in arguments with which they did or did not agree.

I know from experience that it is tempting to think we can avoid the major big decision that is now staring us in the face. It is tempting to shrug it off onto some one else. I have heard it said that these are, after all, independent boards, that they depend on the West African Governments rather than on us and that they can do what they like and spend the money how they choose. I regret that this argument has been echoed in the neighbourhood of the Colonial Office. It is a little unrealistic, because what these boards can do and what the Colonial Governments can advise them to do depends on the supply of goods they are likely to get from us.

Let us consider one or two possibilities. The boards might dispose of the whole of next season's surplus by paying, next season, appropriately higher prices to the producers. As a matter of fact, already Nigeria and Gambia have announced increased prices for their groundnuts in the case of Nigeria from £21s. 2s. per ton up to £33 per ton. Even that decision, if there are not increased quantities of consumer goods in Nigeria next season, is going to play "Old Harry" with the economy there in more ways than one. But how far does it take us? On the basis of present prices it will only absorb about one-third of the surplus which the Groundnut Marketing Board is likely to earn in Nigeria next year.

If the Nigerian board were to be credited with anything like today's prices of groundnuts on the free market, this proposed price increase to producers will only use one-eighth of the surplus which will be earned next season. This begins to show that if the whole of the surplus were to be given out in increased farmers' prices, without an increased supply of goods going into the country from here, we should be getting precious goods from Nigeria and giving them in exchange not a paper credit but a runaway inflation which would be just as useless from their point of view.

There are other possibilities. We need not necessarily spend the money on promoting the particular crop from which it is earned. There is a report from the Nigerian Livestock Commission which says: To increase corn cultivation, so that a substantial surplus becomes available for livestock feeding, we recommend that subsidy payments be made to producers on their sales of corn. Increase in the settled cattle population is essential to Nigerian fertility and it would be worth while to consider subsidy payments, say corn, or indeed on sorghum. But this again is impossible without danger of inflation, unless the volume of goods is increased.

There is another possibility. The surplus in the hands of the marketing boards could be spent directly, or through the Government or through the dependent development boards, on a transport programme. A £10 million or £15 million road programme for Nigeria and for the Gold Coast, to be initiated now, and to get the thing under way in 12 months or 18 months hence, would be an extremely wise item of policy; but we cannot pump £10 million or £15 million worth of extra wages into the economy unless we send goods to match, without creating a rip-roaring inflation which the economy would never stand.

The argument is even more obvious when we consider the possibility of expending some of these surpluses on the purchase of the kinds of capital equipment which could only be brought in from abroad. This would be one of the wisest ways of expending a large part of the surpluses. We urgently need the foods and raw materials which these people produce. They urgently need the windmills, tractors, electric generators, cement, simple factory equipment, hydroelectric equipment, etc., for the Volta dam scheme which, if it could be considered a top priority, would begin to transform the possibilities of the Gold Coast. Some people with a shrug say, "Nothing prevents the marketing boards from placing orders for capital equipment now, if they want to." Indeed not, but they supply us with their raw materials now each year and deliveries are made year by year and month by month. When would we deliver capital goods, if they were ordered today, unless the Government soon makes new decisions about the order of priorities in our factories and so forth?

I am only too well aware that the subject I am raising is a very awkward one to come at a time like this, when our resources for goods are over-strained both for the armament programme and for our own standard of living. One might say, "Could not we let this wait a little longer?" I make two answers, one in the realm of morals and the other in the realm of long-term strategy.

In the realm of morals I put it this way: As a nation we cannot say: "We have an armament programme and we have a standard of living programme on hand, and the Colonies can just take their place in the queue, pretty low down." Really, we must say: "We will first do justice to those people who depend upon us, and then we will consider what level of armament and standard of living we can afford for ourselves." That is the case in morals.

The case in world-wide strategy is surely this: What are we doing now as a nation? We are engaged in a contest, and are likely to be so engaged for at least the next decade. I refuse to describe it simply as a contest against Communism, because that is much too negative. Positively, we are striving to sustain and spread our ideas and our civilisation and our standards of political morality and democracy in the world. From that point of view nothing, in the long run, is more important than that we should deserve and win the partnership, comradeship and co-operation of the coloured peoples.

Within that conception, nothing is more important to us than the experiments which are now going on in West Africa. These experiments gain world publicity on the Gold Coast, but Nigeria is only a step behind. Those experiments are not likely to succeed if they are denied the economic foundation on which to stand. The quantity of goods involved in what I am saying—£20 million or £30 million worth, is, I suppose, the order of them, or perhaps a little more—is so small in comparison with the enormous resources which we are committing to the contest as a whole, that it is a pity to jeopardise what, on the social front, is a key sector, for the sake of what would be quite a small amount of material goods.

I end by reminding you, Sir, and hon. Members, and particularly the Minister, that I do not expect to have a detailed answer today. I can only hope for one thing from the Minister, that he will, when his right hon. Friend comes back from his most important visit to East and Central Africa, draw these points to his right hon. Friend's attention—I am sure that his attention is upon them already, of course—and that he will urge him to do battle on behalf of this cause among his Cabinet colleagues, all of whom are contending for the different matters in which they are interested. I hope that he will fight for this matter in the Cabinet as only a Welshman can, and that he will make sure that the major policy decisions are made rightly, out of which the minor decisions can be made relatively easily by marketing boards. Colonial Governments, and the Colonial Office itself.

12.30 p.m.

Mr. G. P. Stevens (Portsmouth, Langstone)

The hon. Baronet the Member for Gravesend (Sir R. Acland) said that he did not expect the right hon. Gentleman who is to reply to the Debate to propound a detailed solution to the problem which he has raised. He was wise in saying that, because the problem is a very large and complex one. The hon. Baronet has done a useful service in raising the matter, for in the Gold Coast, at any rate, enthusiastic hands are at present reaching out for the very large funds in the stabilisation fund of the Gold Coast Marketing Board.

There is a case for stabilisation funds. In the last 20 years in this country, as in other countries, financial policy has been directed towards finding some way of cutting off the peaks of booms and removing the base of slumps, and that, I imagine, is one of the primary objectives of the stabilisation funds of the marketing boards. There is a case to be made out on the other side because, for example, it is undoubtedly true that a slump has the not unhealthy effect of driving out the inefficient producer, and that is just as desirable in West Africa as it is here and elsewhere.

The Gold Coast has piled up in its marketing boards very substantial funds, but the hon. Baronet did not refer to the fact that the history of the marketing boards has not been "Roses, roses all the way." If he will look at the accounts of the Gold Coast Cocoa Marketing Board for the year ended 30th September, 1949, he will see that there was a gross deficit on operations of £650,000 as against a surplus on operations for the last year to which he directed his attention exclusively of £17 million. That is a most dramatic change in the course of a year. I believe that those who direct the affairs of the Cocoa Marketing Board in the Gold Coast feel that if such an improvement can take place over so short a period as 12 months, the converse may equally apply.

The hon. Baronet raised the question of what should be done with the very large surpluses which have been built up. That is another very complex problem. It is one for a major decision of policy whether the surpluses should be released to individuals or whether they should be released to the community as a whole, for example, by way of contribution to the very large capital sums which may be required for the Volta River scheme. Those are two entirely different methods of dealing with the surpluses, and their pros and cons require most careful consideration.

Again, would it not be possible to achieve a result rather similar to the results achieved by the Cocoa Marketing Board and the other marketing boards by means of taxation? I have heard that method advocated in many quarters, though not by anyone who has ever been to Africa. In this country, which is stiff with curious people like chartered accountants, we find it exceedingly hard to arrive at a fair assessment of a man's income for Income-Tax purposes. In the Gold Coast, where there are no books, no bookkeepers and very few chartered accountants, the levying of the proper taxation on a producer's income would be an extremely difficult thing to achieve.

There are two major problems, as I see it. First of all, are these marketing boards, as such, desirable? The hon. Baronet—it is not surprising seeing on which side of the House he sits—said that he was entirely in favour of marketing boards. I am not at all sure that in principle I hold that view. In certain cases where there are many small producers, marketing boards can be of very considerable use and it may well be that the cocoa producers of the Gold Coast, and the cotton producers of Uganda are suitable for that kind of treatment, but that of itself is a very considerable problem.

To turn again to the stabilisation funds, how great are these stabilisation funds to be, and what is to be done with the money? These are problems which cannot properly be[...]dealt with in an hour's debate on the Adjournment. They are enormous problems which require the greatest possible care and investigation. The hon. Baronet asked if we ought not to release to West Africa larger quantities of goods than we do at present. He himself wisely said that this is a major decision, and I agree with that entirely and, as I said, I do not think that a decision of that sort can possibly be arrived at in this House as a result of an hour's debate on the Adjournment.

However, I believe that the House should be grateful to the hon. Baronet for raising the matter because one hopes that it will encourage the Government to set up a Commission to make inquiries into these very important matters—and before too long—for, as I have already said, eager hands are reaching out for these funds and if they get hold of them—in the Gold Coast the first step in that direction has already been taken—they may do wise things with them or they may do very unwise things with them. In that respect time is not on our side, and if as a result of the remarks of the hon. Baronet this morning the Government decide to inquire into these matters and to arrive at a wise policy decision the hon. Baronet will have done this country and the Colonies a very useful service.

12.36 p.m.

Mr. James Johnson (Rugby)

I hope that the hon. Member for Langstone (Mr. Stevens) will forgive me, but I wish to begin where my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesend (Sir R. Acland) began his speech. He said that decisions about whether to abolish these boards or not, were for the Legislative Councils of the Colonial Territories. In the case of the Gold Coast, I suggest that it is im- portant not to forget this, because the Gold Coast Assembly will be debating these boards in the near future and they have their own destiny to shape. I would merely say that they have done a very fine job in the short time that they have taken to discuss their affairs. It would be presumptuous of me to tell them what they should do. In a humble way, I will make a few comments about the Gold Coast Cocoa Marketing Boards.

It is important to remember that these boards are composed mainly of Africans. As my hon. Friend said, they are fully cognisant of what has been paid for cocoa in the past and what is being paid now. We have been perfectly fair and open about all this. My hon. Friend made a very powerful case, but I beg him to keep the matter in perspective. Unlike the hon. Member for Langstone, I do not wish to abolish any of the boards. Perhaps it is because I am a Socialist and may be a little biased, but when I look back on the '30's——

Mr. Peter Smithers (Winchester)

I am sure that no suggestion to abolish these boards has come from this side of the House. Our own feeling is that the matter is much too complex for an approach of that sort at the moment.

Mr. Johnson

Shall we then say that we should be very careful in no way to upset the workings of the boards? When I look back on the '30's and see the vicious exploitation which took place then and the action that the farmers took to safeguard themselves, I am glad to see boards functioning as they are at the moment.

It has been said that the Cocoa Marketing Board has something like £55 million in the "kitty." A stabilisation fund of £30 million to £35 million is needed to guard against future fluctuations in the market. If we are to be fair about this we must also bear in mind that about £8 million or more is being paid as compensation for swollen shoot damage and that many of the boards earmark money for social services, and, of course, they have provided over £1 million for the university college of Accra. Other money is spent on research. When I hear these sums quoted, I wonder if these boards are such blood-suckers as has been implied or if they really are misers hoarding vast sums. I do not think so, but I do think that much more of this money should be ploughed back into the native economy.

The other day, I questioned the Minister about the Nigerian boards, and I said that we might earmark a million or two for the university college of Ibadan because I understand that the medical faculty there is languishing for lack of funds.

Mr. Stevens

As a matter of interest, the Gold Coast Board has also allocated £1 million to special college funds.

Mr. Johnson

I said earlier that in the Gold Coast £1 million had been earmarked for the university college of Accra.

I wish to put two small points, not to buttress, but perhaps to implement the case of my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesend. It is sometimes said that it is best for the Gold Coast to save up this money in these difficult times and for them to buy what they want with it when things become cheaper, and when, perhaps, the re-armament programme has come to an end. In my opinion, however, the circumstances of the present day are likely to be with us for eight, 10, or even more years to come. We shall need to re-arm for quite a while ahead and we are deceiving ourselves if we think this is an extraordinary time.

There is also the point that West Africa cannot afford to wait. The Africans want something done now, because the situation is very difficult for them. That being so, let us turn our minds to it. The point was also made, why send capital goods such as turbines, machine tools, and the like, to West Africa when there are not the necessary technicians there? If we have not the technicians to send from this country, why not invite Belgian, Dutch or Danish technicians to go out? Why not have a global survey in an effort to find the necessary men? We could send Norwegian or Japanese technicians to advise in fishing matters.

Another point is this fearfully difficult question of sending goods and services to West Africa. Is there a danger here of expanding the economy too quickly? There is, for example, the Volta water power scheme which I understand may cost up to £120 million over a period of 10 or 12 years. The hon. Baronet wants it done in five years. There is also the Takoradi Harbour scheme. Much of this money will be spent in wages on the spot to workers engaged in these particular schemes. But if we pump this paper money into the native economy, we shall encourage a dangerous tendency towards inflation, unless, at the same time, we also see that there is a sufficient supply of consumer goods.

We have not the wherewithal in these islands to do that. Therefore, why not send Japanese or other consumer goods instead? The hon. Member opposite is shaking his head, but why not send those goods? After all, it is a world market. I can understand, of course, the plimsoll shoe makers of Northampton being a little shocked at the idea of goods from Osaka or Tokio going there for fear that the indigenous peoples of Africa may develop a taste for Japanese consumer goods.

But we must face the fact that this small island is in no position today to think in terms of an economic World Empire. It no longer has sufficient manpower in the political sense to have a World Empire. India, Pakistan, and others have gone and rightly so. We can no longer police the world as we used to do, and, therefore, we cannot think of the world as being ours in that particular way. If these people overseas need goods, let the market be open to all. In other words, if we cannot supply their needs for consumer goods, let other nations help in this particular way.

It is a gigantic self-deception to imagine that this little island of 50 million people can carry on in the future as it did in the past. There is no future for us in that way. I believe, like Sir Frank Whittle, who spoke in Salisbury a few days ago, that not merely must we have less ambitious ideas about policing and supplying the world, but, also, as he said, that we should turn our minds to this business of mass emigration to the Commonwealth and Empire. It is not often that I find myself in agreement with the views expressed by the "Daily Express," but what they have advocated in this connection I heartily applaud. This island, with its 30 million acres of cultivable land, cannot possibly support a population of 50 million. It could, perhaps, support a population of between 20 or 30 million. Therefore, let us consider sending people to these places, and giving access to other suppliers to those markets to provide those consumer goods which, owing to our limited economy in these islands, we are unable to supply.

In conclusion, I would say this. Let us be resolved about all this business of helping the Colonies overseas and of developing the Empire. As the hon. Baronet said, let us play the game by the Empire and Commonwealth overseas, and let us, if I may say so, by judicious disgorging of the capital sums which have accumulated in these boards in the past, help the African peoples towards a fuller, a better, and a happier future.

12.48 p.m.

The Minister of State for Colonial Affairs (Mr. John Dugdale)

I am very glad that this debate has been initiated by my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesend (Sir R. Acland), and, if I may say so, very glad that both he and the two other speakers concerned spoke in the tone they did. They realised that this is a complex problem and not one about which we can just lay down the law, or one which can be settled overnight. It requires very detailed study, and, for that reason, it is eminently a problem to be aired, as it were, in this House so that people may begin to discuss it and think about it, and eventually reach definite conclusions on it.

Fundamentally, I agree with both my hon. Friends who have said that they believe that marketing boards are organisations which should be encouraged and developed wherever possible. I was a little uncertain as to the attitude of the hon. Member for Portsmouth, Langstone (Mr. Stevens) on this point. I gathered that in the case of West Africa he was in favour of marketing boards, though he would not give an overall blessing to them wherever they might be established.

Mr. Stevens

I said there might be a case to be made out for marketing boards in certain instances. I did not specify any particular area. I was talking in terms of principle only, and, in principle, I am opposed to them.

Mr. Dugdale

The hon. Gentleman has made his position quite clear. But, in principle, His Majesty's Government agree with my hon. Friends who have stated that in principle they are in favour of marketing boards. Of course there may be cases where there should be marketing boards and others again, where it would be less desirable to have them. In fact, however, they have performed very useful functions, particularly in West Africa.

I gather that my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesend considers that in many ways the actions of the marketing boards in West Africa have been unhappy or unjustified.

Sir R. Acland

By no means. Up to now, I think they have worked happily in accordance with intention. The only point I am making is that their influence will become unhappy if they are allowed to continue working in the same way now that the initial intention of accumulating balances has been brought over. I have no criticism to make about the past.

Mr. Dugdale

I gather, then, that my hon. Friend is quite happy that these large sums have been accumulated to date but that he is rather troubled that the sums may be too great and that their accumulation continues.

Sir R. Acland

Hear, hear.

Mr. Dugdale

That is a very reasonable point and one which, I have no doubt, is borne in mind by the boards themselves.

But we have to bear this in mind. It is not only a question of this money being accumulated to prevent inflation, because if it were let loose suddenly there would be inflation throughout West Africa. The boards are very concerned indeed that prices shall be stabilised. They do not hold the view, which some hon. Members hold here and which is becoming, perhaps, rather prevalent generally, that prices will remain up continually and that we are in a world in which there will be a perpetual boom and a perpetual rise in prices. They are not quite so certain about that. After all, they have known the period between the wars when prices of commodities which they produced went down very low, and they do not want to see anything like that happen again.

Take, for example, cocoa, which, of course, is the largest contributor to the reserves of the marketing boards. Even over the last two and a half years, world prices have fluctuated very considerably. In October, 1948, for instance, the New York price was about 38 cents a pound. By July, 1949, the price had come down to 16 cents—a very considerable drop. In August, 1950, it had admittedly gone up to 40 cents, but by November it had gone down to 30 cents. One could go on quoting various fluctuations in prices.

It is not uncommon for prices to fluctuate in a single season by as much as £100 a ton. On an average West African crop of 350,000 tons, that might mean a lost of £35 million suddenly in one year. I do not say that that would happen, but it is a possibility. It is only right, proper and prudent that the boards should be seized of this possibility and should not put themselves in the position where they might suddenly suffer a very great loss. The Gold Coast Cocoa Marketing Board, in fact, consider that the present sum of £35 million, which is what I might call the stabilisation fund, is not as big as it might be and that £50 million would be a sum more suitable for stabilisation purposes alone. That is quite apart from any question of research, development, or anything else.

Sir R. Acland

Thirty million pounds is the sum they already had at the time to which their latest report refers back—that is, September, 1950. I suggest that £50 million has already been achieved this season.

Mr. Dugdale

I thought I had made myself clear. I am talking about the sum that should be kept permanently for stabilisation purposes rather than the total sum which has been accumulated, which can be disposed of by way of grants for research, to universities, or for any other purpose. The Board feel that for stabilisation alone, there should be at least £50 million.

How do they employ their reserves? Hon. Members have made various references to the employment of these reserves, and I should like to summarise the position in a few sentences. In Nigeria and the Gold Coast, about £9 million has been allocated to research and rehabilitation for the industries with which the boards are concerned; that means mainly swollen shoot research. I need hardly remind the House of the tremendous importance to West Africa of research into swollen shoot. It is of the utmost importance that the boards should have sums available which they can devote to this research.

In the Gold Coast they have also, as hon. Members have mentioned, lent the Colonial Government some £2,300,000 for extensions to Takoradi Harbour, and they have granted £1 million by way of a scholarship fund to help the sons of Gold Coast farmers to attend the university college in the Gold Coast. The Nigerian Cocoa Marketing Board have made a grant of £200,000 for bursaries at Ibadan University College. I could relate a number of grants which they have made, but I will not weary the House with the list.

We must, however, be very careful to remember that these are funds that some from the people who are growing the commodity concerned, whether it is cocoa, groundnuts, palm oil or whatever else they produce. We have to be careful to see that the money is not sent away from them and used for development purposes somewhere quite differently. The hon. Baronet was anxious to see very much more general development in the Gold Coast and in West Africa. So, I assure him, are the Colonial Office. We are only too anxious to see the greatest possible development in all the West African territories, but we feel that the right people to finance the development of the whole country are the Government of that country rather than just an individual board who have collected money from a particular class of producers.

I should make one thing abundantly clear. The hon. Baronet was at pains to say that he hoped that I, or the Colonial Office in general, would not try to shift the responsibility on to somebody else. I do not want to shift the responsibility in so far as it belongs to the Colonial Office, and obviously we have very great interests in all these matters, but I must make it clear, first, that these boards are semi-independent bodies largely representing the producers, and second, that they are in countries which have a considerable measure of independence.

The Gold Coast has a very large measure of independence indeed, and a Bill which is now before the Legislature proposes that there should be a new method of appointing members to the board. It proposes that members of the board should be appointed by the Governor in Council, acting through the Minister for Commerce and Industry. It proposes that the approval of the Governor in Council shall be required for the fixing of the price for the season, and, further, that the Governor in Council shall be empowered to direct the board on major matters of policy, including finance.

That is a Bill which is before the Legislature of the Gold Coast, and I do not think it is right and proper that we should discuss it in detail here. I mention it merely as an instance of the fact that these are matters primarily for the Governments there; that those Governments have a very large measure of automony and that we have to be very careful not to interfere in too great detail in the affairs of the boards for which they are responsible. Subject to that, I quite agree with a very large number of the points that were put by the hon. Baronet and by other hon. Members, and I think that we have to watch this position with the greatest possible care.

The hon. Baronet, however, went a trifle wide of the original subject by talking of the desirability of West Africa having more goods. Nobody is more anxious that are my right hon. Friend and I that West Africa—and, indeed, all the Colonies—shall have as many goods as are available; but there is, after all, a considerable shortage of goods. We in this country would like to have very many more goods than we now have, but at present, as the hon. Baronet himself mentioned, there is the re-armament programme and there are a very large number of calls npon us for goods of all descriptions. I am glad, however, that my hon. Friend made this point, because it reinforces my right hon. Friend and I in the claims we are constantly making, with, I would say, some success, to see that the Colonies get an adequate share of whatever goods are available.

As regards finance, I would only remind my hon. Friend that the Colonial Development and Welfare Act, which was passed last year, provided an extra £20 million for development in the Colonies. I agree that we should be much happier if we could get £200 million or indeed £2,000 million, if such a thing were possible, but an extra £20 million is something these days when there is pressure on all sides for the relatively small amount of resources that we have in this island for all the amount of work we have to do.

We are keeping, and shall continue to keep, the needs of the Colonies, both for money and for goods, well to the fore. We shall see that they are not neglected. I think that if this short debate has done nothing else, it will have been of help to us in seeing that the cause of the Colonies is not overlooked. His Majesty's Government have not overlooked it in the past, and they do not intend to overlook it, because they realise that we have a great responsibility for the Colonies and it is not right that we alone should keep all the goods and all the money to ourselves. It is right that there should be a reasonable distribution to the Colonies. That distribution is taking place and, if I may say so, it has taken place very much more rapidly during the past five years than ever before, and it will continue to do so.