HC Deb 09 March 1955 vol 538 cc425-6
13. Mr. John Hall

asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies what steps are being taken to prevent illicit mining of diamonds in Sierra Leone.

Mr. Hopkinson

The growth of illicit diamond mining and an illegal traffic in diamonds in Sierra Leone is causing the Sierra Leone Government grave concern. In March last year, heavier penalties were imposed for the illegal possession of diamonds. Measures taken by the police and Customs authorities to prevent the smuggling out of the Territory have been intensified, and a number of seizures have been made. The police force is being expanded for this purpose. Because diamonds are found in many parts of the Territory, while the frontiers are long and the country often difficult, these measures have not proved effective. The Sierra Leone Government are now considering urgently what further measures can be taken.

Mr. Hall

I am sure that the House will be glad to hear about the measures that are being taken, but may I ask my right hon. Friend whether he is aware that the measures so far taken do not seem to be very effective, that it is estimated that about 30,000 workers have been diverted from the agricultural industry in Sierra Leone to take part in illicit diamond mining, and that that is having a very serious effect indeed upon the revenue and the prosperity of the country as a whole?

Mr. Hopkinson

I think the trouble is that diamonds are scattered so plentifully in all areas of Sierra Leone that it is very difficult to impose an effective control over illicit mining. It is certainly not possible to effect a full control.

Mr. Rankin

Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether the diamonds belong to the Government of Sierra Leone?

Mr. Hopkinson

The right to mine diamonds actually belongs to the Government of Sierra Leone, but it is on a long lease to the Selection Trust.

Mr. Alport

Can my right hon. Friend say what is the estimated value of the production of diamonds in Sierra Leone at the present time?

Mr. Hopkinson

I am afraid that I should have to have notice of that question.

Mr. Stokes

Does this really mean that Mr. Oppenheimer has the lot?