HC Deb 02 February 1955 vol 536 cc1220-9

Considered in Committee under Standing Order No. 84 (Money Committees).—[Queen's Recommendation signified.]

[Sir CHARLES MACANDREW in the Chair]

Motion made, and Question proposed, That, for the purposes of any Act of the present Session to extend the period for which schemes may continue in force under section one of the Colonial Development and Welfare Act, 1940, to increase the amounts payable out of moneys provided by Parliament for the purposes of such schemes, and to include the New Hebrides among the territories for which such schemes may be made, it is expedient to authorise—

  1. A. The payment out of moneys so provided of any increase in the sums payable out of such moneys which is attributable to provisions of the said Act of the present Session—
    1. (1) extending to the thirty-first day of March, nineteen hundred and sixty, the time during which such schemes, other than schemes for promoting research or inquiry, may continue in force;
    2. (2) substituting for the limits imposed by the said Act of 1940 (as amended by subsequent enactments) on the sums to be paid 1221 out of moneys so provided for the purposes of such schemes, including schemes for promoting research or inquiry, the following limits, namely:—
      1. (a) in respect of all such schemes, an aggregate limit of two hundred and twenty million pounds, excluding sums paid as aforesaid before the first day of April, nineteen hundred and forty-six, and excluding sums required by the Secretary of State in the period ending on the first day of October, nineteen hundred and fifty-seven, for making payments pursuant to any such scheme as is described in section two of the Overseas Resources Development Act, 1954;
      2. (b) in respect of all such schemes, a limit of thirty million pounds in any financial year, excluding sums required by the Secretary of State as aforesaid; and
      3. (c) in respect of schemes for promoting research or inquiry, a limit of three million pounds in any financial year;
    3. (3) applying section one of the said Act of 1940 in relation to the New Hebrides as it applies in relation to a colony.
  2. B. The payment into the Exchequer of any increase attributable to the said Act in the sums required to be so paid under subsection (3) of the said section one.—[Mr. Hopkinson.]

10.0 p.m.

Mr. H. A. Marquand (Middlesbrough, East)

I do not wish to detain the Committee, but I do not think that we should let this Money Resolution go through without at least examining what it commits us to and what it prevents us from doing. As hon. Members will see from sub-paragraphs (a), (b) and (c), the Money Resolution virtually repeats the words already appearing in Clause 1 of the Bill. It is only a three-Clause Bill, and the only Clause which will matter very much, or which will permit of any debate in Committee, is that same Clause 1.

It seems to us that the Money Resolution as now drawn, with the strict limits which it imposes on expenditure—limits which are copied from the Bill—will unduly restrict debate in Committee. It will make it difficult, if not impossible, for the Opposition to submit any Amendments permitting an increase in the amounts proposed by the Bill. During the Second Reading debate which we have just concluded a great deal of the discussion has turned upon whether the amounts proposed by the Bill would be sufficient in the period under contemplation.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) said that these amounts were woefully inadequate, and others of my hon. Friends pleaded similarly for an increase. Indeed, one hon. Member opposite, I think, said that he agreed, or at any rate was inclined to agree, that the amounts laid down in the Bill, and now repeated in the Money Resolution, are too low. But because they are placed there, our interpretation of the rules of order leads us to believe that it will not be possible for us, in Committee, to move any Amendment which would increase the amounts.

When my right hon. Friend, other hon. Friends and I said that the amounts mentioned in the Bill were too small, we were challenged again and again to name our own figure. The hon. Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Iremonger) asked that, and so did the hon. Member for Middleton and Prestwich (Sir J. Barlow); indeed, that was the only intervention in the debate that, unfortunately for him, he was able to make. He made that point—"What is your figure?"

It is always very difficult, of course, for an Opposition to name a figure when it has not available all the resources at the command of the Government, and without knowing exactly what this, that, and the other thing would cost. This Money Resolution does not allow us to meet that challenge at all—and we should like to meet it. When we reach the Committee stage we should like to suggest a figure and have it debated to see if it is reasonable.

Unfortunately, as the Money Resolution stands, we cannot meet the challenge which was thrown across the Floor of the House a few minutes ago. For example, my hon. Friend the Member for Flint, East (Mrs. White), suggested an irrigation scheme in the Shire Valley in Nyasaland. She would, no doubt, like to move in Committee an Amendment adding to the sum mentioned an amount to cover that scheme, to see if it could be included in the five-year period.

Mr. David Ormsby-Gore (Oswestry)

If the right hon. Gentleman does not know what the plans are and cannot work out their cost, how does he know that the present figure is inadequate?

Mr. Marquand

I shall explain why I think the present scheme is, broadly, inadequate. My point is that the Money Resolution will not give us the opportunity to debate whether particular schemes will be available during this five-year period, or could be brought into it, or whether there is any financial limit with regard to these schemes.

On the general question which the hon. Member for Oswestry (Mr. Ormsby-Gore) has just raised, the Colonial Secretary said that he thought his figure was fair. He did not give any particular reason for thinking so, but the Minister of State for Colonial Affairs gave some reasons why he thought his figure was fair. I am still not satisfied, even by the arguments which he adduced that this total figure of £220 million is fair for the five years now proposed.

I do not want to make a long speech, and I will not go over all the reasons again, but I will briefly allude to the three main reasons which have been adduced from these benches as to why we feel that the total amount now suggested is inadequate. The first reason is that the colonial population is expanding very rapidly indeed. There is, I am sure, no hon. Member here who has visited any of our Colonies recently who is not very well aware of that fact, who has not seen the schools teeming and bursting with children, and children who are unable to get into schools at all because there is no accommodation for them.

This increase in population has resulted in a need for more schools than ever before, more teachers and more medical services, especially preventive medical services. It means a need for a simple thing like milk in schools. Is the Minister of State going to tell me that he is satisfied that there is sufficient provision in this estimate for all the milk in schools which ought to be provided for every child in every Colony? He cannot tell me that it is not needed, because I know very well that it is.

I could speak at length about what I saw in British Honduras, the difficulty that children there are having in obtaining sufficient milk in schools, and the fact that they are having to drink whatever milk they can get out of old soup tins with serrated edges because the Colony has not got sufficient money to pay for decent mugs. When I told that story in my constituency a fund was raised and mugs were sent out. But the provision of sufficient milk in schools ought not to depend upon private charity, and I do not think this Money Resolution provides enough money for that purpose.

The second broad reason is that, since the 1950 Act was passed, though there was a brief period when the prices of colonial exports rose rapidly, since then they have fallen. There has been a diminution in the national income of many Colonies. Indeed, the right hon. Gentleman admitted that just now when he said that one of his difficulties was that the Colonies could not meet the recurrent expenditure after the Colonial Development and Welfare Fund had provided the capital.

If they cannot meet the recurrent expenditure during this time of falling prices, I think we should meet some of it out of the Colonial Development and Welfare Fund. Judging from the remark which the right hon. Gentleman made about the inability of the Colonies to meet recurrent expenditure, I am afraid that he has not provided enough in this Fund, and I wish it were possible for me, later, to move an Amendment to ascertain whether that is so, but I am afraid it will not be possible.

The third main reason why we think the total amount is inadequate is that the prices of our own goods which we have to provide by way of capital equipment have themselves been rising. Prices of colonial exports have often been falling while the prices of our own have often been rising. When I asked the Minister of Health the other day what it would cost today to provide the £9 million worth of capital expenditure which I provided for the hospitals in this country in 1951, he said that it would cost £12 million, which means an increase of about one-third.

To provide today the £140 million which was available for colonial development in 1950 would presumably cost about £186 million. In other words, the increase represented by the figure of £220 million is not, in real money, the £80 million set out in the Explanatory Memorandum, but only £34 million.

As my right hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Creech Jones) said, the fact that lack of technicians and of technical assistance may be a bottleneck impeding development at this moment does not necessarily mean that it will be a bottleneck throughout the five years. Why not provide a more flexible, more elastic, global figure over the five years? I agree that it is necessary to lay down a global figure; Parliament must do that, and I am not complaining about it. I think it is right to lay down a global sum for a five-year period so that the Colonies may know where they are, and may plan ahead. That is sensible.

But these are maximum figures—that is all they are; there is no obligation to spend that amount, only a limit beyond which we cannot go. Since that is the case, why not make the maximum sum larger? I should have thought that, simply on the calculations which I have given of the rise in the cost of capital equipment, it would be not unreasonable to increase the sum by one-third. I should have thought that, for the other reasons which I have given, the total increase might be at least 50 per cent.

I do not know whether the Minister of State will be persuaded at all by what I have said into agreeing that the figures ought to be larger. Will he at least be persuaded that I am not unreasonable in asking for an opportunity, in Committee, to debate this virtually one-Clause Bill a little longer and to a little more useful purpose than will be possible under the Money Resolution?

The debate today has been very good-humoured. There has been no bad temper or ill feeling, and nobody wants to generate any now. If I speak at all heated1S, it is only because of my anxiety, arising from what I have seen in the Colonies. The right hon.. Gentleman could take this Financial Resolution back and have it rewritten. Its present drafting means that even if he himself is convinced by anything which has been said during the Second Reading, he cannot increase the figure. The Queen's Recommendation has now been signified to these amounts, and even he could not move an Amendment in Committee.

Will he take the Money Resolution back, withdraw it for the time being, with no ill feeling and no aspersions passed, and bring it back in another form—we know that the draftsmen can always do these things—providing an opportunity for the Opposition to propose increases which could be debated properly in Committee?

Mr. Niall Macpherson (Dumfries)

I find it a little difficult to understand the point of view put forward by the right hon. Member for Middlesbrough, East (Mr. Marquand). After all, this is mainly a financial Bill. What we have been talking about all afternoon is the continuance of the existing legislation and the amount of money which should be spent. There has been any amount of opportunity all afternoon to discuss this point. In fact it has been discussed to a large extent.

We have also to remember another point. The right hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Creech Jones), if I understood him correctly, said earlier that it is not enough to vote money. It is not just the amount of money which is being voted that counts. It is how it is spent, and whether it can be spent. As I understood what was said earlier, the fullest inquiries have been made from the colonial Governments to find out what can be spent and to what limit they can spend without damaging the economies of their countries, and how they can spend to the maximum advantage.

Mr. J. Griffiths

Are we to understand that the Minister said that this is all that the colonial Governments asked for?

10.15 p.m.

Mr. Macpherson

I am not quite clear what the right hon. Gentleman meant.

Mr. Griffiths

I understand that the point of the hon. Gentleman is that the figure of £80 million is in the Explanatory Memorandum because it is all they asked for. I do not think the Minister went as far as the hon. Gentleman is going.

Mr. Macpherson

What I understood the right hon. Gentleman to say was that they were asked what amounts of money they could spend profitably.

He did not say exactly that this was all that had been asked for but, no doubt, the function of the Colonial Office is to see how all these schemes can be fitted in together. Obviously I cannot answer that question, but let us remember that in the early stages what was asked for in 1945 was £120 million for 10 years; that is to say, if we take it over the average, it was at the rate of £12 million per year.

That runs to March, 1956. This amount is £80 million for the next four years. We are giving it a five-year scope, but we are voting it until 1960, that is, at the rate of £20 million a year for four years. And we are told that it is inadequate. In actual fact, because there is already a carry-over of £40 million for the remaining year, this means that it will be £24 million for the five-year period. And we are told that it is woefully inadequate.

This seems to me not to match up with what it has been possible to spend so far. If we look at the table accompanying the White Paper, we find that in the last three years the amounts spent in each year have been between £14 million and £15 million. Bearing in mind what my right hon. Friend has said, it is clear that it is difficult to expand rapidly in development of this kind because any number of considerations and potentialities have to be taken into account. So it is clear that it would be absurd to ask for more than, in effect, twice what was asked for in 1946, and more than half as much again as has been spent in these past three years.

I put it to the right hon. Member for Middlesbrough, East, that there really is nothing which we can debate profitably further in Committee in regard to the amount to be spent—particularly as he will not even have the opportunity of seeing the exact plans, as they have not yet been made out—and therefore we ought to pass this Money Resolution as it is.

Mr. F. H. Hayman (Falmouth and Camborne)

Perhaps the Minister will be able to answer his hon. Friend by telling him whether he received in full the amount he asked for from the Chancellor.

Much has been said in the debate today about the need for technical people for the development of the Commonwealth. My constituency has supplied perhaps more technical people for its development than any other constituency represented in this House. I represent what used to be known as the mining constituency of Cornwall, and there is not a metalliferous mine in any part of the Commonwealth without a Cornishman in it. Indeed, for many years past, most of the mining engineers have been trained at the Camborne School of Mines.

I want to draw attention to paragraph 67 of the White Paper which says: A Geochemical Prospecting Research Centre, in co-operation with the Imperial College of Science and Technology, and a geophysical section are also being established. I wonder whether the right hon. Gentleman is aware that geochemical experiments have been carried out at the Camborne School of Mines in the last two or three years, and that they have been successful ones. I myself have seen tests carried out by research students at the school compared with actual surveys made underground, when a sewer was being being driven nearly a mile through a mineralised territory.

One-third of the school's students are drawn from the Commonwealth. As I have previously said here, I feel that the school could be the mineralogical college for the Commonwealth, and I hope that within the terms of the Money Resolution the right hon. Gentleman will be able to ensure that money is available to carry out this most interesting development in geochemical research, which can have very great advantages for the Commonwealth, and that the Camborne School of Mines will be given full opportunity to play its part.

Mr. Hopkinson

As I explained earlier, the question of the amount to be set for the five-year period has been gone into with the very greatest care, and it has taken a very long time to determine it. It is not possible to be exact in these matters, as the two right hon. Gentlemen opposite know perfectly well.

Mr. J. Griffiths

I thought the right hon. Gentleman was being too exact.

Mr. Hopkinson

As I said earlier, we have not even forecasts. We have ideas of what Governments might be able to do were they to be given a certain sum of money. We have taken those ideas and from them we have tried to work out the most suitable sum in the interests of the Colonial Territories. The sum has, of course, been discussed with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and he needed no persuasion whatever about the need to press on with the development of the Colonial Territories.

I do not say that it is as much as we in the Colonial Office would like. We should always like to get more. As I explained earlier, the chances are that the Governments concerned would not be able to spend the money or, if they were able to spend it, it would mean building up capital investment which would require recurrent expenses beyond their power to meet. We believe that we have here the nearest approach we can make to the sum which can properly be spent in the Colonial Territories over this period.

The Money Resolution has certainly not deliberately been drawn restrictively in any way. It is in the nature of the Bill that we should set a figure. This is the figure that we have estimated, and we believe that the Colonial Secretary is really the only person who is in a position to say whether it is the best figure or not.

Mr. Marquand

Has the right hon. Gentleman considered the point that the figures are all in the Bill? Does he need to have them in the Money Resolution? Could he not say something like "such moneys as are necessary for the purposes of the Bill" and leave it at that, and then we should have a chance to move Amendments? He could still reject our Amendments if he did not like them. Surely it is necessary only to have the figures in the Bill.

Mr. Hayman

Will the right hon. Gentleman say whether he has taken into account the point which I made?

Mr. Hopkinson

All that has been said will be taken into account.

Mr. J. Griffiths

Might I say, as an old miner, that the country owes a great debt of gratitude to the work done by the Camborne School of Mines? Everywhere one goes one meets ex-students.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolution to be reported upon Monday next.