HC Deb 19 December 1952 vol 509 cc1856-66

2.22 p.m.

Mr. Douglas Dodds-Parker (Banbury)

I am very grateful to Mr. Speaker for having given me the opportunity of raising on the Adjournment today the subject of the economic conditions of the High Commission Territories. I think I am right in saying that these are the last territories under the direct administrative responsibility of the Commonwealth Relations Office. It sometimes seems to us that, in the great sweep of the development of territories dependent on the United Kingdom, these three territories are left out of consideration. Sir Evelyn Baring, now Governor of Kenya, has written an interesting report and has done, as I think posterity will show, most useful work in the economic and social development of these territories since the war.

I should like to have spoken rather longer today, but as there are at least two other hon. Members who wish to speak and as we are running about half an hour behind time, I will make my remarks shorter than I intended.

Everybody knows that since the war—indeed, in the last 20 years or so— these territories, like most other territories, have had increases in population. Since the war there has also been a better social standard, which in turn requires greater wealth to support it. What is not so generally known is that in the Southern hemisphere there has been a considerable increase in periods of drought which has led to shortfalls in the production of food.

Before the war we had considerable imports of sugar from Southern Africa, but since the war we have had virtually no imports at all from those countries. The drought and the increased consumption in Southern Africa is accounting for a greater absorption of the food produced there.

I, and I think my hon. Friends, believe that the function of Government is rather more to create the conditions under which individual effort can fructify than to direct Government schemes, and in Africa, in particular, this means, in my opinion, paying attention to the development of roads, railways and harbours—what are generally known as the utilities—and possibly hydro-electricity. It is, of course, often a question of some discussion as to which comes first, because in Northern Bechuanaland. for instance, there is said to be good cattle country which cannot be used until the transport system is developed. whereas, equally, a transport system is a very expensive thing to develop until there is something worth while carrying.

I want to ask my hon. Friend whether he has any information about the suggested railway development from Southern Rhodesia to Northern Bechuanaland and to a west coast port. As hon. Members know, this has been under discussion for a great many years, and although I do not believe it is of first priority in railway development in that part of the world, it is nevertheless important not only for the economic development of Northern Bechuanaland but also in order to provide a much shorter means of access to Central Africa from the west coast, thus saving the sea journey round the Cape.

Turning to the problem of the production of cattle in Northern Bechuanaland, I believe what is needed is more a development of existing production than the introduction of entirely new schemes. I do not suggest that there is not great value in the latter, but I believe a great deal could be done throughout Africa by assisting and developing existing peasant production. For instance, I believe that of all the problems of Africa, and of most of these territories, the most important is the provision of water, and if something could be done about developing adequate water supplies, that would do more than any other single step to provide an increase in the production of cattle.

Equally, there is need to develop a proper veterinary service, not only for the control of disease, but also for the checking of unselected breeding. Further, the individual producer must be able to feel that when he has produced the cattle he will get a reasonable return for his efforts—and, in that out-of-the-way part of the world, it means processing plant for hides as well as for meat, and containers on road or rail to carry frozen meat to the markets where it will be consumed.

As hon. Members know, new breeds of cattle are being developed which are more suitable for these areas. For instance, the Santa Gatruda cattle produced in Texas is meeting with success in these rather arid parts of the world. It is a cross-breed between a local Texan breed and an Indian breed, and it has produced excellent results both for milk and for meat. Has it been suggested that new breeds of that sort should be introduced so as to test their suitability for the needs of Bechuanaland in particular? Turning to the problem of coal, I saw in the newspapers this morning that there are considerable coal deposits in Northern Bechuanaland. As far as my information goes, they are not accessible to present rail traffic.

May I say a word about the other two territories, which generally are rather less well known than Bechuanaland—I refer to Basutoland and Swaziland. According to my information, both these territories, like Bechuanaland, have been short of food since the war. In my opinion, the first essential in a continent like Africa is to ensure an adequate food supply over the long term. We all know that the population of Africa will probably double in the next 30 years or so, and at the moment it is difficult to see how we shall be able to double the food supplies. The first essential in these territories is to make them self-sufficient in respect of food.

There is good land in Basutoland, although it was much eroded in the '20s. I should be grateful if my hon. Friend could tell me to what extent land erosion has been checked, to what extent overgrazing in certain areas has been checked, and what facilities have been introduced for de-stocking. The Orange River is one of the few rivers in South Africa with a flow which justifies large-scale hydroelectric or irrigation projects. To what extent has action been taken in connection with the head waters of the Orange River in the last few years, and what are the plans for the future?

Perhaps Swaziland has the biggest future of all these territories. It is nearer to the sea, it is better off for minerals than the other territories—so far as they have been discovered—it has the highest hydro-electricity potential, it has good agricultural soil and, what is far more important, it has a well-trained population of skilled agricultural workers.

Here again, I should like to stress the point about the importance of self-sufficiency in foodstuffs, and, to go beyond that, to ask: What industrial schemes are there for this part of the world, that will enable a new market to be found, what schemes are there with hydro-electric potential, what minerals, and finally, what has happened to the Colonial Development Corporation's afforestation scheme, which, in the long run, may provide a very useful improvement in the economy of this part of the world?

2.30 p.m.

Mr. James Johnson (Rugby)

The hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Dodds-Parker) has made it abundantly clear why it is that the Union of South Africa would like to incorporate these three Protectorates within its political sovereignty—because of the economic considerations involved. The Protectorates depend on the Union for communications. Two of them are land-locked. They depend on the Union for jobs for their surplus labour supply. In this way they are interlocked with the Union, and they are desirable areas to be incorporated in the Union.

I should like the Under-Secretary of State to speak about the standard of living in those Protectorates, because the standards of the Basuto and the Swazi peoples are really deplorably low by comparison with standards in other parts of the Colonial Territories. If we want to put up a case against South Africa's claim to them, we must lift the standards in the Protectorates to a level much higher than that at which they are at the moment.

The South African Nationalists taunt us with the lack of social services when they make this claim. One has heard in the past men like Dr. Donges, for example, threaten to put a ban—he has not put a ban, but threaten to put a ban—on higher education and technical education within the Union of South Africa for natives of Basutoland, Bechuanaland and Swaziland. So we have to make a better case than we have made at the moment to withstand the demand of the Nationalist Party that these peoples should become nationals of the Union of South Africa. Hence we have to meet this challenge by this other Dominion within the Commonwealth.

Therefore, I say that we must do better than we have done, and I hope that when the Under-Secretary of State answers the debate he will tell us what we are doing in the way of economic development, because at the moment it seems we have only chancy intervention by the Colonial Development Corporation. I say "chancy" deliberately because it is becoming even more chancy since the party opposite got into power, because they seem to me to place less value upon the work done by the Corporation than we in our party did between 1945 and 1951. So I do beg the hon. and learned Gentleman to consider this particular action, and second, the importance of full technical education, particularly if we are to have, as we must have, more of the people of these territories looking after their own affairs.

For this purpose they have to turn out veterinary surgeons; they have to turn out within these territories their own agronomists; they have to turn out their own engineers, doctors, dentists, lawyers, and teachers—the whole gamut of the so-called professional classes. At the moment we are dependent upon white—and European—technicians. That is not good enough for the Gold Coast; it is not good enough for Nigeria. It must not be good enough either for these more backward, less developed territories we are discussing today.

So I hope that the hon. and learned Gentleman will give us a full answer about these matters, particularly about more economic and industrial development and the development of secondary industries and the development of technical education, which is so vital.

2.35 p.m.

Major Tufton Beamish (Lewes)

I am very glad indeed that this has been one of the subjects chosen for this Christmas Adjournment. I think the House will agree with me that it is a subject that is well worthy of a whole day's debate, when a day can be provided. My hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Mr. Dodds-Parker) and the hon. Gentleman the Member for Rugby (Mr. J. Johnson) have both spoken from expert knowledge of this subject and asked a series of important questions, to which, I have no doubt, my hon. and learned Friend will be able to reply.

I want very briefly to say a word about the cattle raising possibilities of the Bechuanaland Protectorate, particularly in the vast Kalahari Desert in the southwestern part of the territory. I have given quite a lot of study to this question, and it has led me to the conclusion that this part of Africa, and parts of Swaziland also, can probably support very large cattle populations indeed, provided development can be kept on the right lines. It would, of course, be only fundamental that any increase of the cattle population should be based primarily on the indigenous native strains, graded up, perhaps, with the very best British beef types.

The Bechuanaland economy rests, as everybody here knows, almost solely on cattle, and most of the capital that has been invested recently has been invested in those parts of the territory which are already settled, for obvious reasons. Large parts of the Kalahari Desert, which are Crown land, I think, might well be able to produce many thousands of head of cattle if a scheme were started on a sound pilot basis. That would, of course, enable the territory not only to increase exports to neighbouring territories but also to make an important contribution to British imports of beef.

Development has already been begun. I do not think the hon. Gentleman the Member for Rugby was quite fair in what he said to us on a slightly party point about the Colonial Development Corporation, because, of course, we know that much of the work it has done has been good, as everybody here would admit—though by no means all of it; and the C.D.C. certainly has done some very successful development in Bechuanaland. It has a very sound cattle ranch in the Molopo area in the south Kalahari Desert that was started, I think, a little less than three years ago. Money has been invested in it and in cold storage facilities and abattoirs, rising £2 million, and on this particular ranch, only three years old or less, there are already 14,000 head of cattle. The venture was started on a small scale—and rightly in the beginning.

It is obvious, of course, that the key to success for any large scheme to be embarked upon is the question of adequate supplies of permanent underground water. I welcome the fact that my hon. and learned Friend took an active and leading part in moving very fast indeed, as soon as the project was put forward, in sending an expert mission to that part of the world to see whether underground water supplies existed or not, and I hope that when he replies to the debate he will be able to say a word about its report, which, I understand, has already been written. It may be that my hon. and learned Friend has not yet received it, but even so, perhaps he has some preliminary information about it.

Although this is a subject on which I should like to dilate very much more, I feel that I must give way to my hon. and learned Friend so that he can reply to the debate, because so little time remains for it. I look forward to his comments on the questions that have been raised. I feel sure I am preaching to the converted when I say that if a successful pilot scheme can be started for the large-scale rearing of cattle in the Kalahari Desert, there is no reason at all why it should not make a really important contribution to the prosperity of the Protectorate itself and to the beef supplies of this country.

2.40 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations (Mr. John Foster)

I am very grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Mr. Dodds-Parker) for raising this question on the Adjournment, and also for the contributions which the hon. Gentleman the Member for Rugby (Mr. J. Johnson) and my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Lewes (Major Beamish) have made to the discussion.

I should like first of all to deal with the general point that the hon. Gentleman the Member for Rugby raised, because I think it is an important one—as to the emphasis at the moment. At the moment our policy is to put the main emphasis on increasing the productivity of the territories for their own future, so that later we may improve the social services quite considerably. It is our policy to increase productivity in the territories in this way so that they can carry the weight of the social services. It does not mean that the social services are neglected, but the weight of our efforts in the last 15 months, since we took office, has been to increase the productivity of the territories.

I should like to take each territory in turn, because in that way I think I shall be able to answer most of the questions raised. Let me first take Basutoland. As the House knows, that is a country having, as far as one knows, no minerals. It is always unwise to say that categorically, but as far as we know at the moment it has none, and no prospects of immediate industrial development. Therefore, the emphasis in Basutoland has to be on agriculture.

The main problem there was soil erosion—a very terrible scourge. It was due to this fact: the African tribes were nomadic originally, when before the development of the Continent it was possible for them to exhaust one piece of land and move on to another, but the growth of population has prevented that; they have had to stay in the same place and continue much the same methods of primitive agriculture, becoming, so to speak, a residential agricultural population, and the result has been soil erosion.

A lot has been done in Basutoland to tackle this problem. About two-thirds of the arable land of the lowlands and about half of the arable land of the mountains has been treated for soil erosion. Experts from all over the world say that it is the best treated land for erosion in the whole of Africa; there is unbounded admiration for the way it has been done. There is no party point about it: it was started under our predecessors, and it has been continued under us. I am told it is really a treat when going to Basutoland to see the terraced contours and the diversion furrows which keep the land from being eroded and bring it back into cultivation.

But we have not stopped there, and I think we may take great credit in the last 15 months for having gone on to the next stage with, I hope the House will agree, a good deal of energy, namely, on to the problem of tackling the question of improved agricultural methods for the Basutos. Quite shortly, we have allocated a considerable sum of money, about £180,000, to a pilot project, in which the Government will take a whole catchment area, farm it in a modern way, with a proper system of rotational grazing, and then go on from there to mechanised group farming. We have already laid plans; we have the blue prints and the number of officers we want to engage, and we have also ordered the machinery. At the same time, we are making provision for better education and medical services.

In parenthesis, I should like to say to the hon. Member for Rugby, on the question of technical education, that I have a list, with which I will not now weary the House, of the centres of technical education. For the moment, for higher technical education they have to go outside the territories. We have under way in the Department and on the spot a project for joint facilities between the territories, giving scholarships, and so on. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that that is very much under consideration.

Perhaps I might now move from Basutoland, which is mainly agricultural, to Bechuanaland, and deal with the questions raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury. Water is the main difficulty in Bechuanaland. It is wonderful cattle country. Bechuanaland cattle are among the best in Africa, but they suffer from a difficulty in the supply of water. In order to relieve pressure on the grazing areas, we have undertaken a considerable plan for finding increased water supplies, and in consultation with the Colonial Development Corporation we have sent out an expedition, which was mentioned in a written reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes. The composition of the expedition is an interesting one, and I hope the House will approve the balance of it.

It consisted of Mr. Arthur Gaitskell—mentioned in another connection in the House quite recently—Chief Bathoen, Mr. Tshekedi Khama whose experience of these things is invaluable, an American experienced in the methods of desert ranching in Arizona, and a Kenya rancher. With local help and local administration, we think that was a well-conceived and balanced expedition. They have come back and we had a telegram that their initial reaction is favourable to the idea of a pilot plan in the north of the Kalahari Desert; they are hopeful of finding water. There is another survey out trying to find water, and that will help. There are two present projects of the Colonial Development Corporation which are well under way, with a ranching project in the south of the Kalahari Desert.

If everything goes well, we hope to find water along the route to the abattoir from the north of the desert, where there is a fertile area. We hope to find water in the desert, which is a grass desert, and therefore very fit to hold water. If all goes well, we look forward to having in this fertile area perhaps a scheme where there are European and African farmers working side by side, with local government having put in the basic development and, perhaps, some external company to help them with marketing, and so on. The abattoir, which the Colonial Development Corporation have brought to completion, is almost on the point of starting, and will, of course, get the native producer a much better price on the hoof than he would get from Johannesburg or the Copperbelt. If cattle are killed in this abattoir, we anticipate a much greater revenue for the territory. So much for Bechuanaland—

Mr. A. Fenner Brockway (Eton and Slough)

Before the hon. Gentleman leaves Bechuanaland—

Mr. Foster

I am only on economics. I am a little fearful of the hon. Gentleman trying to lead me into politics, so I am afraid I cannot give way.

Mr. Brockway

I was going to deal—

Mr. Foster

No. As I say, I am a little bit fearful of getting into politics. I always like to give way, but I have very little time. If the hon. Gentleman could assure me he was sticking to economics I would give way, but I do not want to be led into the by-ways of politics.

In Swaziland there is plenty of water. We are spending £200,000 on rural development, and that includes agriculture, cattle, hygiene, health, and water supplies. There is there an interesting project of afforestation carried out by the Colonial Development Corporation; it has gone very well, and it looks as if it will be very successful, both financially and from the point of view of developing the resources of Swaziland. This is a project of afforestation side by side with private enterprise. In connection with afforestation, the Colonial Development Corporation also have plans for irrigation, which have been carried out to a certain extent.

Recently we encouraged and approved a survey of the hydro-electric possibilities, of Swaziland, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury referred. Swaziland is the hydro-electrical engineer's dream. We think that 250,000 kilowatts could be developed if it were all got going. The bye-products would, of course, be enormous, with the possibility of the extension of the irrigation to something like 500,000 acres.

We are thus carrying out a survey into the possibilities of hydro-electric engineering, and also encouraging irrigation, partly by private enterprise and partly by the Colonial Development Corporation. Coal, iron, and other minerals, have been found in Swaziland, and a survey is going on with a view to the possibility of large-scale production of the electric smelting of ferro-silicates and manganese.

This has been a very brief and rather rushed account of what we are doing in the three territories, but I welcome this opportunity of being able to give an account, pro tem so to speak, to the House of what we have done in these three territories. I hope the House will approve of what is being done, and will agree that it has been done so far with. efficiency and energy.