HC Deb 08 February 1954 vol 523 cc827-32
The Secretary of State for the Colonies (Mr. Oliver Lyttelton)

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement on British Guiana.

I want to tell the House something of our plans for further economic development in British Guiana. We have been preparing such plans for some time, but could make no real progress under the former British Guiana Government. Now, however, we are getting to grips with the matter. The Governor has set up the Economic Council recommended by the Waddington Commission, and while I have been in Nigeria he has been over here explaining his proposals for immediate development and discussing how they are to be financed.

We cannot yet estimate exactly what the development plans of the Colony for the next five years will involve, but the cost is likely to be not less than £15m. The details are being worked out in British Guiana, and in this work the Report of the International Bank Mission is proving a great help. We and the British Guiana Government are deeply grateful to the Bank for this help.

The Governor and I want to get ahead as fast as is practicable and he has produced detailed proposals for the next two years, costing some £9m. This includes: first, rather more than £3m. for transport, communications and other public works, to reconstruct and expand roads, railways, ports and telephones; secondly, over £2½m. for agriculture and forestry to carry out research, major drainage and irrigation schemes, which were recently reviewed on the spot by Mr. Lacey, my adviser on the subject, and land settlement for small farmers on lines recommended by Mr. Frank Brown after his recent visit; thirdly, £2½m. for social development, including a housing programme of £2m. in addition to expenditure of over £½m. from sugar funds to speed up the replacement of antiquated accommodation on the sugar estates known as "ranges"; and, lastly, about £1m. for agricultural and industrial credits, to be administered by a credit corporation, the Chairman-designate of which has recently arrived in British Guiana.

This is an ambitious programme and there will be shortages to be faced—of materials, skilled staff and artisans, and so on—which may slow down the rate at which the programme can be carried out. But Her Majesty's Government are determined that as much as is practicable should be done as soon as practicable and that worthwhile development shall not be held up for lack of money. As a first step, therefore, Her Majesty's Government have decided to make available a further grant of £3,125,000 from Colonial Development and Welfare funds, and to provide facilities for up to £3,417,000 extra loans to be raised as required in London. With the unspent money already available for development, this will make up the estimated £9m. required.

We shall watch the position carefully, and decide later how exactly to provide further finance for the plan when we see how the schemes progress and what the Colony needs.

Mr. J. Griffiths

While welcoming the proposals embodied in the Report, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman three questions? As he indicated in his statement, one of the handicaps will be a shortage of technical and artisan labour. Is it proposed to make a special grant to provide for the artisan training which is essential to the success of the scheme? Secondly, £3½ million are to be provided for the Colonial Welfare and Development Fund. Can that be met out of existing funds now available, or will it be necessary to add to the Fund? The third question is linked with the fact that there are two economic development councils and the credit corporation. In view of the fact that the Colonial Development Corporation already has a number of schemes, will steps be taken to ensure that these two corporations will work in harmony with the Colonial Development Corporation, and will be supplementary rather than butting into each other's work?

Mr. Lyttelton

I do not think that the credit corporation, which is for the benefit of small farmers and traders, will cut across the work of the Colonial Development Corporation at all; but if the right hon. Gentleman wants an assurance, I will see that they do not get in one another's way. The first question related to artisan labour. Without making a special grant, that is a matter which the British Guiana Government must attend to, if these moneys are to be properly spent. The position in regard to the Colonial Development Fund is that £812,500 out of the new money is an immediate grant out of the reserves under the existing Act. The remaining £2,312,500 is advance cover for money to be committed out of the £7 million under the new Measure which has already been announced in the House of Commons.

Mr. Griffiths

Shall we be having a new Colonial Welfare Bill to cover these schemes?

Mr. Lyttelton

I have already made a statement in the House about this position. Colonial Governments, taken as a whole, have been permitted to commit themselves up to £7 million in advance of the Bill's being introduced. Of course, we are still waiting for the development plans from the others.

Mr. R. Robinson

While congratulating my right hon. Friend on the practical steps taken to help British Guiana, may I ask whether it is correct that all the funds for this purpose are being provided by Her Majesty's Government? If that is so, is there a possibility of getting further funds from the World Bank, which recently made its Report?

Mr. Lyttelton

So far I have been concerned with seeing that finance for the first two years is provided. We hope to get help from outside in addition.

Miss Lee

What information shall we have later about wages and working conditions in connection with all the employment which will be created by the money that is being publicly provided? Shall we be kept informed about what profits have been made out of it? We all want the maximum advantage to go to those who are employed and to see an improvement in their present deplorable conditions; and we want to be sure that profits for private persons will not be made out of public funds

Mr. Lyttelton

The hon. Lady may be assured that when such large sums are involved we shall make statements from time to time about the progress of the schemes, to cover most of the points which she has raised.

Mrs. White

Would the right hon. Gentleman elaborate a little further on the provision of hired technical staff, which was so much emphasised in the Report of the World Bank? I understand that there has been a deficiency in many branches of the service already. It is clear that these ambitious schemes cannot be carried out adequately without increased recruiting. I understand that it is impossible to keep trained British Guianese.

Mr. Lyttelton

The hon. Lady has asked something about which I cannot make a very specific reply. This matter, skilled staff and artisans, covers an immense variety of subjects and it is clear that we shall have to do our best to make good these shortages. They include not only agriculture but railways, ports, communications, and so on.

Mr. Warbey

The right hon. Gentleman indicated in the early part of his statement that it was difficult to get to grips with this problem of economic development during the lifetime of the previous Government. What did he do to get to grips with this problem before he suspended the Constitution?

Mr. Lyttelton

The reason for the hold-up in economic development was that the Ministers in the previous British Guiana Government did nothing at all about those matters. These plans have mostly been formulated in detail since the suspension of the Constitution, but they were all in being before the suspension took place.

Dr. Stross

Can the Minister tell us a little more about the mixed farming units that it is proposed to set up? Can he say, roughly, how much money is being provided? Did he mention any specific sum of money out of the allocation. Lastly, approximately how many farmers will be engaged in these schemes within the next three or four years?

Mr. Lyttelton

The hon. Gentleman is referring to land settlement for small farmers?

Dr. Stross

Yes, Sir.

Mr. Lyttelton

It is an experiment. It is not a large-scale scheme. The money allocated is for the experiment and it depends upon the success of that experiment how far it will be extended.

Mr. Harold Davies

While welcoming the fact that these large sums of money are to be spent in this Colony, may I ask the Minister whether he will try to make use of the British trade union movement in Guiana, so that we can begin to see the growth of a real trade union movement?

Mr. Lyttelton

I hope that the British trade union movement will make use of me.

Mr. S. Silverman

How long were these schemes in existence before the late Government of Guiana were elected? Is it true that that Government held office for about two months in all?

Mr. Lyttelton

Oh, no. Speaking from memory, I should say it was nearer six months. Although these schemes were not brought to finality, most of them were in being.

Mr. Silverman

How long before?

Mr. Lyttelton

I shall have to have notice of that question.

Mr. Burden

Is it not the case that whatever length of time the Government under Dr. Jagan held office, it was far too long to be in the interests of British Guiana?