HC Deb 10 April 1952 vol 498 cc3004-21

1.0 p.m.

Mr. Bernard Braine (Billericay)

The production of rice in the Colonial Empire may be a somewhat unusual subject for an Adjournment debate, but I offer no apology for raising it since it is one of the very greatest importance and, in my submission, of the utmost urgency. Rice is the basic food of a very large part of the world's population and, indeed, the basic food of a very large part of the population of the British Commonwealth.

The economy of South-East Asia, with its vital production of copra, tin and rubber, is influenced very strongly by the availability of rice. If rice is cheap and plentiful, people are contented and all is well. If rice becomes scarce and dear, then famine, misery, social and political upheaval may quickly follow.

Unhappily, rice has become both scarce and dear. I understand that the United States Department of Agriculture has estimated that the world production of rice in the last season was about 168 million short tons. That is a decline of 1 per cent. since the season 1950–51. Even more alarming is the fact that of that 168 million short tons, Asia contributed 155 million short tons—that is, the greater part—and that represents a decline of 1½ per cent. since 1950–51. While production is declining, world demand for this basic commodity is increasing. That is partly due to the fact that, particularly in Asia, populations are increasing all the time; but it is also due to the fact that the high prices which Asian exports have been commanding in the last few years have led to an increase in purchasing power.

Against that background, it is hardly surprising that the price of rice has rocketed. The official contract rate for Siamese rice, to take one variety alone, is £45 a ton f.o.b., which compares with a pre-war price of from £7 to £8 a ton. That is the contract price. But the price which many countries are being obliged to pay—for there is a free market—is considerably higher. Thus, Burmese rice is fetching £59 to £60 a ton f.o.b. in the free market. So great is the demand for rice now that very often it is impossible for countries like Siam to meet even their contractual obligations.

All this is very disturbing indeed for those of us who are interested in the prosperity, happiness and security of our own Commonwealth countries in South-East Asia. There are four of them—Malaya, Sarawak, North Borneo and Hong Kong. All are substantial importers of rice, and all are in the front line in the cold war. With all the seriousness I can command, I say that there is no part of the world more imperilled by the present scarcity and dearness of rice than these Commonwealth territories. Rice is still rationed in Malaya, six years after liberation from the Japanese.

Although production has increased in recent years, Malaya is still obliged to import 50 per cent. to 60 per cent. of her requirements. My information is that the immediate import needs of the four territories are running at a rate of 700,000 tons a year and yet, so rapidly is the population growing, even this amount will be insufficient within a period of five years.

What is even more disturbing is the fact that the only sources of supply for our four territories are the traditional rice-exporting countries of South-East Asia—Burma, Indo-China, and Siam. The first two are racked with civil strife. All are menaced by the onward march of Communism. Before the war, Burma exported about three million tons of rice a year. Today, she is exporting barely one million tons. Indo-China tells the same story. Across the rich rice lands of that unhappy country armies are now locked in bloody conflict.

Siam, I am glad to say, is getting back to her pre-war level of exports but even from this source we are not getting the rice we need. Last year we did not get what Siam contracted to supply. This year we asked for 475,000 tons and we have got only 295,000 tons.

One reason for that is the fact that Japan, who, before the war, drew the bulk of her rice from her dependencies of Korea and Formosa, is today obliged to make demands on sources of rice which normally would be available to supply British territories. She is taking about half a million tons of rice from those sources. That is a new factor, and it is alarming. Since Japan can supply an increasing volume of consumer goods and, indeed, capital goods to the rice-exporting countries and can deliver them on time, she is bound to make a permanent and increasing demand upon sources of rice which in the past have been available to British territories.

There are no alternative supplies of rice in the world. If an unfavourable turn took place in the political situation in Siam or in Burma; if the Viet-Nam regime were overthrown in Indo-China; if large-scale famine took place in India; if droughts or floods occurred in the rice-producing countries; if any one of these things, or a combination of them, occurred, our territories in South-East Asia could be cut off from their vital rice supplies overnight.

Mr. Harmar Nicholls (Peterborough)

My hon. Friend has painted a rather gloomy and frightening picture of the consequences which flow from the shortage of rice—social upheaval, famine, and so on. He says that there are no alternative supplies of rice. Could he say, from his investigation, whether there is any possibility of encouraging these people to have an alternative type of food to rice if they cannot get rice?

Mr. Braine

I am grateful for that intervention. For a short time, at the end of the war, I was Deputy Director of Civil Affairs in South-East Asia and I know from experience the extraordinary difficulty we had in persuading rice eaters to turn to some alternative form of food. The extraordinary thing is that both maize and wheat are richer in iron, calcium, fats and proteins than rice. This refusal of the rice-eater to turn to other types of food to even varieties of rice. One cannot easily persuade the traditional rice eater, whose normal sources of supplies are cut off, to turn to another variety if he has never eaten it before. It is an extraordinarily difficult problem. But, how alarming it would be if, as a result of an acute shortage of rice, an increasing demand had to be made upon other cereals. Think of the effect of that upon the rest of the world.

I submit, therefore, that it is a matter of the highest priority to develop alternative sources of supplies of rice in a dependable part of the Commonwealth remote from the storm centres of the world. My object in raising this matter is to ask with what degree of urgency Her Majesty's Government view this problem. What steps are being taken in the Colonies, for example, an area for which we are responsible, to increase rice production on a substantial scale? What sort of priority is being accorded to rice growing schemes? In particular, may I inquire what is happening in British Guiana?

Both my right hon. Friend, I believe, and myself, visited that promising country last year. I was enormously impressed by the Government-sponsored rice scheme at Mahaicony-Abari, about which I think my right hon. Friend knows a great deal—a scheme for the mechanised cultivation of rice. It is the largest of its kind in the Colonial Empire and a model for the rest of the world. Nowhere in the world are conditions more suitable for large-scale rice growing than in British Guiana, where there are vast areas of irrigable land, highly suitable for rice growing, and an industrious peasant population, highly skilled in the very difficult technique of rice farming. Present production is about 60,000 tons and about half is exported to other West Indian territories. All experts are agreed that that could be greatly expanded if the headwaters of the rivers could be controlled.

The Evans Commission expressed the view in 1948 that some expansion could take place then, and that there should be an investigation into the wider possibilities by an expert commission. I quote from their Report, which says: It is our considered opinion that the time is ripe for a major decision of policy with regard to the future development and organisation of the rice industry. That document suggested, if I remember aright, that there should be set up a rice development organisation based on the Mahaicony-Abari scheme. In the Commission's recommendations, it is interesting to note, that of the capital expenditure over a 10-year period, rice development was allotted the most substantial share of the suggested outlay.

Following that the Beachell-Brown mission went out to British Guiana. That was an E.C.A. mission of United States rice experts who undertook a very careful investigation of the situation on the spot, and came to the conclusion that a greater acreage under rice was possible—that it could be expanded from 77,000 acres to 368,000 acres—with a paddy-livestock rotation but only if the headwaters of the rivers could be controlled.

There is not the slightest doubt that very substantial expansion could be carried out. When I was in British Guiana last year I was told it was feasible to expand rice production within five, seven, 10 years at least five-fold—probably more; and on a five-fold basis that would mean 300,000 tons of rice, which would make a very substantial contribution to Commonwealth supplies.

Of course, the limiting factor is finance, as it is in so many of development schemes. I know that a substantial sum of about £750,000, was advanced up to the end of last year under the colonial development and welfare legislation to enable a start to be made on preliminary works.

Mr. Julian Snow (Lichfield and Tamworth)

Would the hon. Gentleman permit me to intervene? I wish to get his argument quite clear. Is he proposing this increased production of rice for consumption in European countries, or—if I may so call them—the non-traditional rice consuming countries, or for the benefit of the traditional rice consuming countries, such as those in the Far East, which may be faced with social and political upsets?

Mr. Braine

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that intervention, but I should have thought that he would have gathered already from my earlier remarks that my object is to encourage the production of rice within the Commonwealth so that safe, secure alternative supplies can be made available for the rice eating countries of the British Commonwealth. Indeed, I would go further. I should prefer that as long as our brothers in the Commonwealth on the other side of the world were in danger of starvation not a single ounce of rice should be consumed in this country.

Mr. Snow

Hear, hear.

Mr. Braine

I know, too, that very important plans for increasing rice production were under discussion with the Colonial Development Corporation throughout 1951, and that the Corporation sent a mission to British Guiana to investigate the possibilities. What has happened to the negotiations which opened last year between the British Guiana Government and the Corporation? My information is that they are hanging fire, and that the Colonial Development Corporation is prepared to go into partnership with the British Guiana Government only in quite limited operations, and is looking for what could be described as unreasonably large returns on its outlay.

I do not want to suggest for a moment that it is wrong for the Corporation to display caution, especially after the experience it has had in other fields. Nor would I suggest that it is wrong that the Corporation should insist upon the local government's taking some part in the venture, because investment by the local colonial government is surely a good thing. It ensures that the project is carefully considered by those on the spot who are in the best position to know whether it is worth while or not. It ensures that the local politicians and the local legislature take a close interest in the matter right from the start.

But there is growing evidence to suggest that the Colonial Development Corporation is preferring to enter into competition with established private enterprise in the commercial field rather than to invest in long-term development. Surely the primary object of the Colonial Development Corporation should be long-term investment in key projects, especially in the production of food and raw materials. Certainly, that was the function ascribed to it in the Overseas Resources Development Act, 1948, of which Section 1 (1) laid down that the Corporation is … charged with the duty of securing the investigation, formulation and carrying out of projects for developing resources of colonial territories with a view to the expansion of … foodstuffs and raw materials. … What single foodstuff in the wide world is of greater importance at present than rice? What project is more worthy of development in British Guiana than rice production? Having regard to the position which I described in the opening of my speech, and the dire need to speed the development of alternative sources of rice, somebody really must question whether the C.D.C. is fulfilling its proper task, and whether a greater degree of urgency should not be employed in this particular matter.

Let me ask about other Colonies. Can my right hon. Friend say whether this matter is being tackled energetically in other parts of the Commonwealth and Empire, and with an eye to the broad picture? I realise straight away—and I am sure that my right hon. Friend will remind me of it if I do not say it now—that there are very real difficulties in the way of rapid agricultural expansion anywhere in the world—of rice or of anything else. It is not only a question of funds. There is a lack of the right kind of specialists and of water and drainage engineers. In Jamaica, which both my right hon. Friend and I visited last year, there are large areas of land very suitable for rice development. Yet the problem there is not so much a lack of funds, but rather a lack of rice agronomists to advise on the peculiar problems of growing rice in that Colony.

I understand that the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations has been asked to provide an expert, and that one has been appointed, but it seems extraordinary to me that we are so short-handed in this matter. There is in the West Indies a remarkable organisation, the Imperial College of Tropical Agriculture, which has done such wonderful work for agriculture not only for the Colonial Empire but throughout the tropical world. Is that splendid organisation doing anything to fill this particular gap?

I realise, too, that it is, perhaps, far too early to lay too much stress on the new schemes for the mechanised cultivation of rice. One agricultural officer I spoke to in the West Indies said that it was by no means certain that rice cultivated by mechanical means gave a greater yield than that cultivated by ordinary hand planting by the peasants. That may be a difficulty which can be overcome in the future, but I do not think that it really matters, because primarily—and I am sure that the House will be with me here—the need in the Colonies—this is another consideration than the one I have been raising so far—the primary need is to encourage more and more diversified peasant cultivation.

Admittedly, there are difficulties, but I submit to my right hon. Friend and to the House that, compared with the disaster which could overwhelm our own territories, especially in Asia, if a rice famine did take place, the difficulties are small indeed. "Where there's a will there's a way." My object in raising this matter today is to discover whether the will exists in the Colonial Office as well as the Colonies themselves to conquer these difficulties and to ensure that secure and abundant supplies of this vital food will be available to the teeming millions who dwell in the British Commonwealth.

1.20 p.m.

Mr. Julian Snow (Lichfield and Tamworth)

The House is indebted to the hon. Member for Billericay (Mr. Braine) for bringing this matter forward today. No doubt he will agree with me that at General Elections, for instance, it is incredibly difficult for candidates of any party which have an interest in colonial matters to make the electorate understand that when they vote they are, in fact, voting for candidates who, if elected to Parliament, have a responsibility not merely to English people but to the millions of inhabitants within the British Commonwealth and within the Colonies. I do not think that any potential Member of Parliament can talk too much about the responsibility which we have for the safeguarding of people who do not have their own national legislatures.

I would like to relate my remarks to the responsibility which is vested in the United Nations in this matter. The right hon. Gentleman the Minister of State for Colonial Affairs, who will reply, may conceivably say that he only has a limited responsibility so far as the United Nations are concerned, and he would be quite right. Nevertheless, in this, as in other matters, I think that as we are a member of the United Nations this is a suitable occasion for this House to express its view, or for its Members to express their views, so that our policy and, ultimately, the policy of the United Nations may be affected and to some extent controlled.

In this connection, I speak as an unrepentant believer in the inevitability of a world authority. In this House there are over 50 Members of all parties who belong to the Parliamentary World Government Group, whose primary consideration is making some sort of authority possible which will implement the policies we all know to be desirable, but with which existing political machinery to some extent appears to be ineffective in dealing.

The hon. Member for Billericay mentioned the question of finding alternative sources of supply. I should like to dwell on improving and increasing the efficiency of existing sources of supply, and I must say at the outset that I fully agreed with him when he said that in his view there should be a virtual embargo on the consumption of rice in traditional non-rice-eating countries while there is a global shortage of this commodity. That was a courageous thing for him to say, because there is a certain amount of political capital to be made out of that in this country and, therefore, at the outset, I will associate myself with that statement.

Mr. Braine

There will be a number of small boys who will be quite enthusiastic about it.

Mr. Snow

That is a question of opinion.

We must really get these facts clear in our minds. The hon. Gentleman mentioned figures about production. I have slightly more up-to-date figures on global production of rice than the ones which he quoted. I am given to understand that according to the United Nations News Sheet, issued today, the production of rice in 1950–51 in Asia and the Far East amounted to an estimate of 130 million tons produced on an area of 83 hectares. The significance of that fact is this: That that area of 83 hectares was an increase of 8 per cent. over the prewar area. From that, one draws the inevitable conclusion that we are producing something like the pre-war production of rice on an increased area. In other words, there is something, and we suspect that it is fertility, which is at the bottom of these very interesting figures.

On the question of fertility, perhaps the House will bear with me if I draw a comparison between the fertility of rice production in India, Japan and China. There are two rices which are chiefly concerned in this matter. The one rice, known as japonica, grows in Japan, and depends on rather longer daylight hours and a cooler climate than the other rice involved, which is indica, which is grown chiefly in India. I claim no specialised knowledge of this matter and I am gleaning my facts from the United Nations News Sheet of today's date.

At Cuttack, Orissa, in India, there is a research station, sponsored by the United Nations, the membership of which includes India, Pakistan, Burma, Ceylon, Indonesia, Indo-China, Thailand, Malaya and the Philippines. They are engaged in this fertility problem and in the question of fertilising and pest control. In Japan the production of japonica rice averages 2,352 lb. per acre. The China fertility rate is something like half that, but India, using indica rice, produces about one-third of the Japanese production, that is, about 775 lb. per acre.

The chief function of the Cuttack Research Station is to try to hybridise the two rices in order to improve the fertility rate in India. I should like to put to the Minister this question: Does he think that this particular research station, which is sponsored by the United Nations, is technically operated as well as it might be if other nations, such as ours and America, participated more closely in its activities; and is there any reason to believe that additional funds are needed? One of the other problems which this research station is studying is the fertilising of the land and they are, not unnaturally, investigating potential sources of supply of organic leguminous fertilisers.

The second question which I would like to put to the Minister—and I realise that he cannot be expected to answer these questions straight away, but he might look into them—is: Is the question of inorganic fertilisers receiving the attention of his Department? The Geological Survey of India may possibly provide his Department with information on this subject which may be of global interest. I have not sufficient belief in the existing organisations of the United Nations to believe that there is, as yet, sufficient interchange of technical information on such matters. As the House knows, the Charter of the United Nations comes up for review in 1955, under Article 109, and I believe that this House must, in the course of the next year, give consideration to what reforms are necessary to make the United Nations a more efficient organisation.

Lastly, there is the question of land reform. At its 12th January meeting the United Nations Assembly passed a Resolution, No. 7, on the subject of land reform to increase the production of basic crops. Since the United Kingdom was one of the sponsors of the Resolution, I want to draw the attention of the Minister to the Colonial Secretary's Written Answer to a Question recently asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith, South (Mr. W. T. Williams). The Minister was asked what was being done to implement the Resolution, which called for a policy of land reform. In his reply, which I thought was not unexpected but was somewhat disappointing, the Minister seemed to indicate that the Resolution and its implications were to be the subject of a circular to various colonial Administrations.

Although the right hon. Gentleman has no responsibility on my next point, I should like to know whether the Ministry for Commonwealth Relations has been consulted on this matter, since there appears to be a dual responsibility here. I hope that in his reply the Minister can indicate that the somewhat permissive implication of the Colonial Secretary's reply to that Question will be reconsidered.

The problem of the inherent dangers which have been so very ably deployed by the hon. Member for Billericay seem to me to justify a much more energetic attitude towards this matter, and since we sponsored the resolution of the United Nations Assembly we ought to give a lead in making this not so much a permissive but a much more urgent question for colonial Administrations and for the consideration of other Members of the Commonwealth.

The House would be most misguided if it did not treat this question as of the greatest urgency. The political problems which are developing in the Far East have their basis in the low standard of living of the peoples there, and until we realise that and do something a little more energetic than has been the case during the last 30 years we are in for increased trouble in that part of the world.

1.33 p.m.

The Minister of State for Colonial Affairs (Mr. Alan Lennox-Boyd)

I am sure that the whole House is very grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Billericay (Mr. Braine) for having raised this subject today. I am personally very grateful to him for having, with Mr. Speaker's agreement, postponed the discussion from what would have been four or five o'clock one morning last week until this more sensible hour today.

This is a matter of the very greatest importance, and he would be a foolish Member either of the Government or of Parliament who attempted to minimise the gravity of the situation. It is, as everybody knows, a world-wide problem, and the hon. Member for Lichfield and Tamworth (Mr. Snow) rightly drew attention to certain international aspects of it.

He kindly said that he would not expect me to give a detailed answer to one or two of the points that he raised, but I can assure him that I shall take them up and communicate with him soon. In particular, I will consult my noble Friend the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations in regard to Resolution No. 7 of the United Nations Assembly, to which he referred, and I will also see that the attention of the proper authority is drawn to his comments about the research station in Orissa.

I can assure him that the Colonial Office is fully alive to the importance of the question of inorganic fertilisers, but the words that he has uttered today will be a further stimulus to us to have another look at that most important aspect of the whole problem. As he knows, we are playing our full part in the working out of the Colombo Plan, and, indeed, in that wider plan the development plans for the British Far Eastern possessions are now incorporated.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Lichfield and Tamworth upon having got a notice fresh from the Press today. I must confess that even under the present Administraton Government Departments do not work so fast that I have a document which was issued only this morning by the United Nations, but I will take steps at an early date to remedy that deficiency. Meanwhile, I congratulate him on the public relations service that he has himself established.

It is our estimate that world supplies of rice this year are likely to fall short of demand by some 500,000 tons, and the degree of deficit is considerably higher than this in the British territories and the free countries of South and South-East Asia. This year the total colonial import requirements in South-East Asia are likely to be some 700,000 tons, and, in addition, Mauritius, Seychelles and Aden have asked for some 61,800 tons. So the total import needs in South-East Asia and these three territories are not far short of 770,000 tons.

We have made certain Government-to Government arrangements. I share the view of the hon. Member that very much turns on internal tranquillity in the supplying territories. It is hoped that Siam will be able to supply 300,000 tons, Burma some 19,500 tons, and Indo-China, despite the appalling internal difficulties that she is facing, some 50,000 tons, making a total from those three countries, by Government contract, of 369,000 tons. That still leaves a substantial amount which has to be found somewhere. A certain amount may come from ordinary private contracts, some may come from further talks which the Governments hope to have with Siam and Burma, and some will, we hope, come from the stepping-up of internal production.

As hon. Members know, there were many large exporters of rice in pre-war years, and in South and South-East Asia the exports used to total something like eight million tons a year. This year the exporting nations are unlikely to send more than 2,500,000 tons to those who need it, and, as I have said, our imperial needs in the East and Far East are some 770,000 tons.

It is one of the strange facts of history that, despite the devastating wars of this century, populations everywhere are increasing. It is estimated that since the war the population in the East has grown by 100 million and that it is rising annually at the rate of 12 million. So we certainly need every grain of rice that we can find. All British colonial expansion is now being taken up and absorbed locally, except for British Guiana. In a moment I will give some more details about the point raised by my hon. Friend in relation to British Guiana.

The production of the British Colonial Empire is steadily increasing, but it is not increasing anything like enough to take up the local increase in population and the needs of the other importing territories. Production has increased from 1937 to 1950 from about 715,000 tons to about 1 million tons, but this is not enough. I can assure my hon. Friend and the hon. Member opposite that there is no complacency about this and that we recognise that this has a very high priority need indeed.

Most of the increase in production has come from peasant cultivation, and, though I believe that much of the future supply will depend upon peasant cultivation with the aid that the Government can give to the peasants by means of fertilisers, loans and example, we also have substantial hopes from certain mechanised projects to which I will make a very brief reference.

It might perhaps be for the convenience of the House if I run very briefly over the main colonial territories for which our Department has Parliamentary and other responsibility. In Malaya, the production before the war was some 330,000 tons. In the season 1950–51 the production was 440,000 tons, an increase of 110,000 tons since before the war. That increase has been achieved despite the devastation of war and the terrorism under which Malaya has lived since the war.

Though I would not suggest that that is an adequate increase, I think it is a striking increase considering the difficulties, with which Malaya is confronted. It is hoped that by 1955 Malayan production will have increased again up to 535,000 tons, and we will give every encouragement and worth-while assistance to step up production. But the population is growing and this rapid increase in the local population is taking up naturally the increase in production.

In North Borneo production is very much improved indeed, and I think credit is due to the Government and people of North Borneo for the way in which they have rescued the economy of their territory from the terrible disasters that fell upon that area during the war. It is now estimated that in a good year North Borneo ought to be able to feed with rice four out of every five of her own population. In Sarawak production is also improving. The C.D.C. have made experiments in North Borneo at Marudu Bay, the desults of which have been very disappointing; they have not justified the hope which we had of their success.

In East Africa there are a number of more hopeful schemes, and this is an area to which we can look with some sober confidence. In Tanganyika there are at work some pilot schemes of partially mechanised rice production and fully mechanised rice production. If I may take two examples of each it might be of interest to the House. There is the Rufiji form of partially mechanised cultivation and, there, some 3,400 acres were ploughed in 1950 and, in 1951, 4,000. The yield is very satisfactory. It is, I believe, a ton an acre of milled rice and it is hoped that in time some 25,000 acres can be cultivated in that district alone.

In regard to the fully mechanised experiments, there is one which I was not able to see when I was lately in Tanganyika and that is the Kilangali fully mechanised experiment which is some 200 miles west of Dar-es-Salaam. This is a scheme of some 4,000 acres fully mechanised and, so far, 800 acres have been covered. In view of disillusionment with large-scale mechanical schemes in Tanganyika and the heavy loss sustained, no one will blame the local Government or any other projector in going slowly and experimenting step by step. We have every reason to believe that both in partial and in the fully mechanised ventures successful results will be achieved.

Kilangali is on the way to another area where there is strong hope that substantial cultivation may be possible and that is the Ruvu and Kilombero areas of Tanganyika, where some people believe, though not without some authority for doing so, that there are some 200,000 acres of potential rice land available. We shall push on the projects with the greatest possible vigour. The Governor of Tanganyika and his Council realise the importance of this and it is a venture which will be given their closest personal attention.

In Northern Rhodesia we hope for small exports from the land available, and in Nyasaland the Colonial Development Corporation have done experiments on partially mechanised cultivation. These are coming in for a great deal of difficulty especially in the matters of irrigation and the problem of water control schemes. One project which we think might be hopeful is in the Limpasa Dambo district. Mechanical cultivation of rice in the swamp district has been found to be uneconomical in comparison with peasant cultivation. In the Lake Chilwa area they are running into one or two early problems, but they are pushing on with both ventures unless and until they have to confess failure in that particular field.

In West Africa there is the same sort of problem. The area is not yet fully self-sufficient but production has increased since before the war by some 30 per cent. There is a good deal of hope from research and development work going on in Northern Rhodesia and in the Gambia. We have heard about the swamp areas around the main rivers, and in the Wallikunda swamp some 4,000 acres of rice may be grown. There have been great difficulties there because of the great floods in Gambia in 1950. Hon. Members will also know of the most romantic and important Volta River hydroelectric scheme in the Gold Coast, a project which may well be a fruitful field of rice cultivation in the future.

It is in the West Indies that our hopes are highest, and particularly in British Guiana. The Caribbean area as a whole is not self-sufficient in the production of rice. In Jamaica and Trinidad schemes are on foot and every encouragement is being given. In Jamaica there are guaranteed prices for all rice of marketable quality, and there is an irrigation scheme covering some 5,000 acres where water will be available by June of this year all over the area, which is about one-fifth of the total area which we have in mind. Every encouragement is being given to the local cultivators.

The best results can be looked for in British Guiana. My hon. Friend said that I had lately visited British Guiana. It was my hope to do so. I was in the West Indies and was proposing to go on, but on the second day that I was in the Barbados I heard over the radio that the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition had decided to ask His Majesty to dissolve Parliament and that a General Election was impending. I had to return without going to British Guiana.

It is not for me to say whether the lost cause by my failing to arrive has been more than offset by the consequences of the election that followed, particularly in a debate of this kind on the last day the House is sitting before a Recess, but I hope that I shall have an early opportunity of going to British Guiana and seeing something of the schemes which are there being undertaken.

We owe a great deal to the people there for the help they are giving not only in maintaining their own people with their rice demands, but in exporting very considerable quantities to other Carribbean districts. Production in British Guiana has gone up from 45,000 tons before the war to 65,000 tons. They are sending to the Caribbean area some 25,000 tons a year, which is an invaluable aid to the other territories in the West Indies.

They have run into great difficulties about drainage and irrigation, and it is no good minimising the gravity of these difficulties. Further proposals will go before the Legislative Council in British Guiana, and I hope that the House will be interested in these proposals when they are made. Her Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom have allotted £750,000 of Colonial Development and Welfare money for irrigation schemes. We have assured the Government of British Guiana that we will do our very best to offer facilities for the raising of a loan on the London market when the time is thought desirable for further schemes. The big venture is at Mahaicony-Abari, and there we are learning the lessons of mechanised rice cultivation.

As my hon. Friend told the House, the Colonial Development Corporation has shown considerable interest in the possibility of joining in the growing of rice in British Guiana, and after the Evans Report and the visit of the American technicians, a mission went out from the Colonial Development Corporation to talk to the Governor of British Guiana. I can assure my hon. Friend that his observations will be seen by my noble Friend the Chairman of the Colonial Development Corporation, and that he and we in the Colonial Office will profit by the observations made.

My hon. Friend knows as well as I do the criticism which the Colonial Development Corporation found itself subjected to because of over hasty ventures without the necessary preliminary planning having been done. I do not think we can blame the Corporation if it is going slowly in a matter of this kind. It will have an opportunity of seeing how the difficulties are solved in Mahaicony-Abari and in the other scheme at Anna Regina, and on the way these schemes work the form of conclusion to which the Corporation comes may well turn.

At present talks are going on between the C.D.C. and the Government of British Guiana, and when the time seems right for observations to be made I can assure my hon. Friend they will be made. It is the view of the Government that the C.D.C. as far as possible should attract to its schemes the financial investment of the local Governments as well as any other private money that may be ready to venture in some of their enterprises. I am strongly in favour of the local Government, apart from its natural interest in the development of its country, taking a direct financial responsibility for schemes in their territories wherever possible. This is one aspect of the problem that has not been lost sight of in the present talks.

I can assure both hon. Gentlemen who have taken part in this debate that this is no matter of party politics of the United Kingdom. The speeches made show that we attach the greatest importance to every ventilation of this question. It has been well worth while that the House should give up three quarters of an hour to a matter affecting the lives of millions of people, for a large proportion of whom we in the United Kingdom Parliament have the greatest responsibility.