§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 10.7 p.m.
§ The Minister of State for Colonial Affairs (Mr. John Hare)
I beg to move. That the Bill be now read a Second time.
The first purpose of the Bill, as hon. Members will have seen from the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum, is to validate past activities of the Colonial Development Corporation. This is in order to make it clear that certain past activities were within the powers of the Corporation as defined in the Overseas Resources Development Act, 1948. The second purpose of the Bill is to re-define the functions of the Corporation, including its functions in relation to the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland.
I naturally regret that the necessity has arisen for validating certain activities of the Corporation, but once the necessity had arisen—and I will explain why in a moment—Her Majesty's Government had to consider whether the existing law was sufficiently well-defined to enable the objectives which are behind the setting up of the Colonial Development Corporation to be carried out. This, in turn, led Her Majesty's Government to reconsider the definition of the Corporation's purpose, functions and powers. Hence it is that, in addition to validation, the general aim of the Bill is to re-define the Corporation's functions to bring them into line with what experience has shown to be desirable.
Before I attempt to explain to the House the changes made by the Bill in the Corporation's powers, I should like to make clear how this matter arose in 557 the first place. The House may remember that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State explained on 18th April that a question was raised towards the end of last year as to whether some of the Corporation's schemes for housing development were within the Corporation's powers as defined in the 1948 Act. Her Majesty's Government brought this to the notice of the Corporation and, meanwhile, withheld further financial advances. The point at issue was one of legal interpretation, and in fact Her Majesty's Government and the Corporation took different views about the interpretation of the Act. My right hon. Friend had therefore to find a means of resolving this difficulty.
One way would have been to go to the courts. I would like to make quite clear at this stage that there have never been doubts in the minds of successive Governments that the Corporation has acted all along in good faith and in accordance with policies accepted by the Government of the day.
The Corporation's first housing loan was for the Federal and Colonial Building Society in Singapore, and was in fact approved by the Labour Government of 1949. Subsequent housing loans to Kenya and Southern Rhodesia showed conclusively that successive Governments believed that housing was within the scope of the Corporation.
Now, if my right hon. Friend had decided to go to the courts to resolve the difficulty we might have found ourselves in a rather peculiar position. Suppose a court action proved that the Government was correct in its view about the illegality of the Corporation's schemes. In that case, since the Corporation had acted in accordance with Government policy, we should still have needed a Bill to validate its past actions; and if the Government had been proved wrong in a court action, we could not be sure that a ruling on specific matters taken to court would cover all other cases which might arise.
My right hon. Friend was naturally most anxious to bring the uncertainty to an end as rapidly as possible, so he decided that the best way was to ask Parliament to validate by an amending Act all the schemes on which doubt had been cast, and to revise the terms of the Act to bring them into line with the 558 requirements of policy, and if possible to prevent further difficulties arising in the future.
Hon. Members will perhaps ask why these difficulties arose so late in the day—why they should have arisen only in 1955, seven years after the setting up of the Corporation under the 1948 Act. Was it because the Colonial Office legal advisers gave faulty advice? Let me make quite clear that there was no question of faulty legal advice having been tendered by my right hon. Friend's legal advisers. In fact, no reason had arisen before last Autumn which seemed to require my right hon. Friend to refer the cases which are now in doubt for legal advice. All previous Governments and Parliament as well, which had had successive Annual Reports before it, had not up to that time been troubled by doubts. Doubts first arose when the details of a particular housing loan of the Corporation's were being examined.
Hon. Members will note that the Bill does not itself state which projects of the Corporation are deemed to be ultra vires. They may therefore want to know which are the schemes on which difficulty has arisen. Her Majesty's Government's view, which, I should state, is not shared by the Corporation, is that all the housing schemes and works contracts schemes could be challenged. The main schemes in question are: The Federal and Colonial Building Society in Singapore and Malaya (approved in December, 1949) with a total investment now amounting to £3.5 million. Housing loan to the Kenya Government of £2 million (approved in February, 1954). Housing loan to Southern Rhodesia of £1 million (approved in April, 1955). Investments totalling £645,000 in the Coast Construction Company Limited in the Gold Coast, and Highways Construction (Nigeria) Limited and Highways Engineering (Nigeria) Limited in Nigeria, approved in 1954 and 1955 respectively.
I feel at this juncture I should disclose an interest, even though it is a very remote one, in the last two companies I have mentioned. Until my present appointment to the Government I was a director of S. Pearson and Sons Limited, which through subsidiary interests owned a 50 per cent. equity interest in Highways Construction (Nigeria) Limited and Highways Engineering 559 (Nigeria) Limited. In fact I took no part in the conduct of the affairs of either of these two companies, but I feel it proper that the House should be made aware of these circumstances.
The list of schemes which I gave to the House just now is not completely exhaustive as my right hon. Friend has not attempted to make a legal inquest of all the Corporation's projects. To do this would, he thought, lead merely to sterile controversy of matters which in any event could be finally settled only by a court decision.
The Bill therefore seeks to re-define the Corporation's powers in such a way as to cover what are believed to be all the desirable activities of the Corporation as shown by experience of the last seven or eight years. In case the new definition does not cover every single scheme which has been undertaken in the past, Clause 1 (3) of the Bill validates all schemes notified in the Corporations' Annual Reports. Schemes which have been approved since the last Annual Report, for 1955, are all of a kind covered by the new powers, so that the general effect of the Bill is to put beyond doubt the legal validity of all the Corporation's approved schemes.
I should now like to go into some detail, if the House will allow me, about re-defining the powers of the Corporation. A great deal of thought has been given to this question in the light of experience gained over the last few years. In the existing Act there is what appears on the face of it to be a simple and succinct definition of the "duty" of the Corporation. It is defined assecuring the investigation, formulation and carrying out of projects for developing resources of Colonial territories with a view to expansion therein of foodstuffs and raw materials or for other agricultural, industrial, or trade development therein.This definition has in practice given rise to difficulties of interpretation.
What we have done in the present Bill is to substitute for the rather general definition of the duty of the Corporation a new definition of "purpose" as opposed to "duty", together with a specific list of powers which the Corporation may exercise for that purpose.
§ Mr. Aneurin Bevan (Ebbw Vale)
Is the difficulty of interpretation of that general purpose of the 1948 Act the reason 560 why there have been differences of opinion about the legality of certain activities of the Corporation?
§ Mr. Hare
I think that is true. The definition has presented these difficulties in getting legal opinion to agree as to what in fact was the proper purpose or duty of the Corporation. That is why we are substituting this purpose as opposed to duty. I think that, together with the specific list of powers which the Corporation may exercise, we shall be able to be much clearer in our minds about what the Corporation can and cannot do.
I should like to draw hon. Members' particular attention to the new subsection (3) of Clause 1, which lists the specific classes of enterprise in respect of which the Corporation may exercise its powers. Most of these classes of enterprise are already within the present Act, such as agriculture, fisheries, mining, industrial enterprises and the like. The others comprise the basic services and enterprises set out in paragraphs (e), (f), (g), (h) and (j) of this subsection.
These activities are to some extent allowed by the 1948 Act, in so far as they are requisite for the projects coming within the Corporation's scope. But since experience has shown that there is room for much difference of opinion about the extent to which a scheme may be requisite to such projects, the Bill simply lists these activities as desirable in themselves for carrying out the Corporation's purpose.
I think I should also refer to what the Corporation has said in paragraph 11 of its Annual Report for 1955. It speaks there of its "Mandate". I should like to quote this paragraph:(1) C.D.C. duty is to help economic development of British dependent territories, and in the process to have special regard to the interests of their inhabitants irrespective of race or colour or confession or anything else.(2) (a) C.D.C. is not responsible for comprehensive planning; nor for social services such as health and education, which are, or should be, financed from C.D. and W. or other Government funds.(b) Basic services such as power, communications and housing, should be integrated in governmental plans; C.D.C. stands by to help with essential capital development for which finance is not otherwise available.(3) The terms of reference are commercial; profitability is an essential factor as to choice of job and method of working.This is, of course, the Corporation's own definition of how it sees its task. I think 561 it not at all a bad definition, and that it is true to say that this description of the Corporation's functions is broadly consistent with the powers conferred by the Bill.
The various classes of enterprise to which I have just referred are, in the view of Her Majesty's Government, helpful in one way or another in providing general economic development in Colonial Territories. Many of them fall within the ordinary sphere of commercial enterprise: others come within the sphere of Government operations financed from loan funds. This does not, of course, mean that there is now a new policy, and that, henceforth, Colonial Governments should look primarily to the Corporation for their loan requirements. It is certainly not the intention that the Corporation should finance all the loan-worthy operations of Governments.
As is stated in the paragraph of the Corporation's Annual Report for 1955, which I have already quoted, the Corporation:stands by to help with essential capital development for which the finance is not otherwise available.It will, as in the past, be for the Government concerned, in consultation with my right hon. Friend, to decide whether they need the Corporation's help in this field, and it would be for the Corporation to decide whether, in a given instance, it could best fulfil its purpose of assisting the Colonial economy by making a loan for which it received a request.
The Bill does not, of course, enable the Corporation to provide resources for promoting what I might call the general social and administrative services of Governments. These are outside the scope of the Corporation.
I should like to make another general point. The specifying of various classes of permissible enterprises does not mean that the Corporation will be obliged to undertake schemes falling within these classes. What the Bill does is to provide the Corporation with a wide field within which it can operate. It must, however, operate flexibly in accordance with its own needs to "break even", taking one year with another.
§ Mr. Leslie Hale (Oldham, West)
Is the right hon. Gentleman telling the House that under the Bill the ambit of the work of the Corporation is being 562 widened or narrowed? Has he read the Overseas Resources Development Act, 1948, and the speech made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Strachey) in introducing it and the speech made by the then right hon. Member for Bristol, West who supported the Bill and complimented the House on the wide terms in which it was drawn?
§ Mr. Hare
I am afraid that the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale) was not present in the early part of my speech, when I tried to make it clear that certain difficulties have arisen and that this new Bill will help to make it less likely that there will be legal doubts about what the Corporation should undertake. I think that I have made that fairly clear.
I was saying that the Corporation does need to operate flexibly in accordance with its own need to break even from year to year. I can assure the House that there is no question of Her Majesty's Government laying down in advance what projects should be undertaken. Selection of projects must continue to depend on the opportunities which arise from time to time. Nor does the list of enterprises imply a new emphasis in the Corporation's functions. Long-term commercial projects in national resources development obviously remain an important function of the Corporation. Projects which indirectly assist such development have been undertaken in the past and may still continue to be carried out in the future.
Some hon. Members may ask whether, in view of the wide range of functions now conferred upon the Corporation, it will have the resources to carry out these functions. To this I would say that the redefinition of the Corporation's functions does not itself imply any view as to the total amount of resources that should be made available to the Corporation. This is a matter which must be considered by Her Majesty's Government from time to time in the light of the Corporation's general position.
§ Mr. Gerald Nabarro (Kidderminster)
Will my right hon. Friend permit a question from this side of the House? How does the House of Commons exercise any form of Parliamentary accountability over the expenditure of these funds by the Corporation? Is it intended that they should come within the Select Committee 563 on Nationalised Industries, a Motion for the establishment of which stands on the Order Paper?
[That a Select Committee be appointed to examine the Reports and Accounts of the Nationalised Industries established by Statute whose controlling Boards are appointed by Ministers of the Crown and whose annual receipts are not wholly or mainly derived from moneys provided by Parliament or advanced from the Exchequer.]
If not, how is the House of Commons to exercise any sort of control?
§ Mr. Hare
The House of Commons has a control over my right hon. Friend, who is intimately concerned with the working of the Corporation and is accountable to the House for his function in connection with the Colonial Development Corporation.
The last point that I should mention in introducing the Bill is the purpose of Clause 2. This Clause deals with the territorial application of the Corporation's powers. It has never been the intention to bring Southern Rhodesia into the Corporation's scope, but with the advent of federation in Central Africa, certain powers of the Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland Governments were transferred to the Federal Government. In order to prevent these two territories being deprived of the Corporation's assistance in matters transferred to the federal field, the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland (Constitution) Order in Council added "the Federation as a whole" to the list of Colonial territories in which the Corporation might operate. In practice, that has not been found to be a satisfactory statement of Her Majesty's Government's intention.
The Bill, therefore, re-states the position entirely. The Corporation will in future not be empowered to operate in Southern Rhodesia without the specific authority of my right hon. Friend. That authority will be given only in respect of projects or undertakings needed for promoting and expanding enterprises in Northern Rhodesia or Nyasaland, and when my right hon. Friend is satisfied that it is expedient to do so having regard to the purpose of the Corporation.
This will enable the Corporation to continue to operate in Southern Rhodesia 564 so far as this is necessary as a means of assisting the development of the economies of Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland. I should emphasise that Clause 2 does not represent a change of Government policy, nor does it imply indifference to the needs of Southern Rhodesia. Her Majesty's Government's responsibilities towards Southern Rhodesia are, of course, much less direct than those towards the territories for which my right hon. Friend is responsible to Parliament and other means must be looked to for furthering these responsibilities towards Southern Rhodesia.
§ Mr. James Johnson (Rugby)
Do we understand that there will be no C.D.C. schemes self-contained in the self-governing Colony or Southern Rhodesia as such?
§ Mr. A. Fenner Brockway (Eton and Slough)
Since this House is not allowed to interfere in the affairs of Southern Rhodesia, if the Corporation gives assistance to any schemes of Southern Rhodesia, will it be within the competence of this House to make comment or criticism upon those schemes?
§ Mr. Hare
If the scheme has been approved by my right hon. Friend, it can be the subject of comment in this House. I think that is the answer. All these schemes have to be approved by my right hon. Friend. The Colonial Development Corporation remains an instrument for assisting those territories for which Her Majesty's Government have a direct responsibility.
I would now commend the Bill to the House, which will, I hope, agree to its Second Reading. The Bill removes doubts which, if not dealt with, would seriously handicap the excellent work which this House has decided should be carried out by the Colonial Development Corporation to develop the resources of the Colonial Territories. It clarifies the functions and purposes of the Corporation. I hope the House will join with me in thanking Lord Reith and those who work with him in the Corporation for the vital contribution they are making in this 565 field. I hope the Bill will make their task easier, and that we all wish them well.
§ Mr. John Hynd (Sheffield, Attercliffe)
I would like to be clear on this part of the powers of the Minister in dealing with matters concerning the Federal Authority in the Rhodesias and Nyasaland. The right hon. Gentleman said that the new colonial development work would be transferred to the Federal Authority; it has been frequently ruled from the Table of this House that matters which are within the purview of the Federal Authority are not competent to be raised in the House and that the Minister has no further authority once he has transferred these powers to the Federal Government.
§ Mr. Hare
I do not think I said anything of the sort. What I said was quite clear. I said that now the Colonial Secretary, my right hon. Friend, would be responsible for approving any scheme which took place in Southern Rhodesia and that any scheme which took place in Southern Rhodesia under the Colonial Development Corporation—which is what we are discussing—would have to be directed to the benefit of the inhabitants of Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland; and that as my right hon. Friend has responsibility in this connection this House would therefore be able to hold him accountable for his decisions.
§ 10.38 p.m.
§ Mr. Aneurin Bevan (Ebbw Vale)
I should like, first, to protest against the long delay in introducing the Bill, especially in introducing it at the fag-end of the Session, late at night, and leaving us with only one day to put down Amendments for the Committee stage on Friday. It is not good enough that we should be treated in this way.
This has been going on now since last October. There has been no reason why the Bill—if it is necessary at all, which, I must confess, I gravely doubt—could not have been introduced much earlier, at a time when we could give much more attention to it. The Government have wasted the time of the House, both in the last Parliament and in this Parliament, with all kinds of stupid Acts which the Government have failed to carry out afterwards. [HON. MEMBERS: "Which?"] I could give a whole list of the Acts which occupied the attention of the House for many weary months and 566 which have been sterile on the Statute Book. [HON. MEMBERS: "Which ones?"] Well, "Operation Rescue", for example. Is any Government supporter proud of that now? That occupied the attention of the House for a very long time, and so did the passenger transport question. Yet these very important matters, which affect the welfare of millions of people in our charge, are left to the fag-end of the Session. I want to protest at once against that.
It will be necessary for us to examine the Bill very carefully indeed in Committee on Friday. I hope that the Minister understands that. We are not going to vote against Second Reading, because if there are legal doubts we want them to be cleared up. We quite agree that if the lawyers have disagreed—I am bound to say, with all respect to my legal hon. Friends, that they appear to be anxious to disagree—and there are any legal doubts whatever, we want them to be cleared up.
When the right hon. Gentleman said that this Bill not only clarifies but expands the powers of the Colonial Development Corporation he was using the most extraordinary language. Let us have a look at it. It is always common form, in preparing legislation, that if you can find general terms to define the purpose of the legislation that is the most generous and wisest thing to do. If, however, you put into a Bill a catalogue of the powers you are seeking from Parliament, the assumption always is that what you do not put in you are not giving. Does the right hon. Gentleman disagree with that? The powers defined in the 1948 Act were in very general terms indeed. They were deliberately so, because it was desired that the Corporation should have the widest possible powers in the work it had to do.
I am not certain of the origin of the legal doubt. It seems to me to have a sinister source. I am not quite sure whether the doubt was not deliberately generated in order to have an excuse to limit the powers of the Corporation. That is what we are doubting in the matter. We know hon. Members opposite have never liked the Corporation. They conducted a mass of misrepresentation all over the country for very many years. They have talked about the money lost in the groundnuts scheme. [HON. MEM- 567 BERS: "Was there not?"] The amount of money lost in the groundnuts scheme was very small compared with what the Chancellor of the Exchequer is costing us every year now on the National Debt.
The Chancellor is costing us already about £148 million compared with £38 million lost on the groundnuts scheme. He met his masters the day before yesterday to lose a bit more. I do hope that hon. Members opposite will not talk about the groundnuts scheme, because they are getting their answer in what is now being done. They are getting their answer as well in the by-elections, and they will have a good many more answers like that.
The point I am making is that what we on this side of the House are worried about is that the Government appear to be anxious to define the powers of the Corporation so narrowly. [An HON. MEMBER: "That is not correct"] An hon. Member says that that is not correct, but when you define powers by a catalogue you are against what you do not put in. One of the things not put in is the possibility of the Corporation entering into arrangements with Governments, or parties or associations set up by Governments. That is at once a narrowing of the powers of the Corporation. We are, therefore, rather frightened about this aspect of the matter.
It was always intended—I face it quite frankly—by the Labour Government that the Corporation should undertake enterprises in the colonial areas and should manage them; that it should call into existence physical schemes and stay on the ground. But more and more the Corporation has been taking on the form of the finance corporations in Great Britain, lending money at cheap rates to people to exploit colonial possessions and then clearing out. This is what the Corporation has been doing. It has been acting in very much the same way as the two finance corporations established by the Government during the war, the smaller and the larger.
We do not like that. Indeed, hon. Members opposite will find just now that the colonial people themselves will not like it when they get more power, because what is now happening is that the Colonial Development Corporation is being used to find money for companies 568 in order to exploit the low standards of living in the Colonies. We do not like that. It is no good hon. Members opposite denying it. We have an hon. Member sitting just opposite me at present—the hon. Member for Croydon, North-West (Mr. F. Harris)—who does the same thing in Tanganyika.
What is the use of hon. Members opposite denying it? One of these days it may be necessary for us to read out a list of hon. Members opposite associated with the Government here and in another place in order to show exactly what is happening in the Colonies. It is nearly time that we had a catalogue of them. The right hon. Member the Minister of State himself, in the course of his speech, had to declare, quite properly, an interest arising out of the operations of the Corporation. It was a quite proper thing to do.
What I am saying to hon. Members opposite is that we are getting rather tired of listening to protests from the other side of the House when charges of this sort are made, and in future when we make them we shall see to it that they are accompanied by chapter and verse—and names as well, if hon Members want them, and dividends- and the rates of wages being paid and the conditions of labour.
§ Mr. Beresford Craddock (Spelthorne)
Since the right hon. Gentleman seems to be addressing his remarks to me, if I may respectfully say so some of us on this side of the House are getting a bit tired of speeches from right hon. Gentlemen opposite who have had no experience of the Colonies at all.
§ Mr. Bevan
What is apparently defined as experience of the Colonies is the chance of taking loot from them. In fact, I was not referring to the hon. Member at all. It happens to be a matter of geography that I am where I am and he is where he is. I was involuntarily 569 looking towards him, but I am bound to say that if he objects I will look in a more pleasant direction.
What we on this side of the House are complaining about is that this Corporation is being diverted from its original purpose either by pressure from the Government or by what it considers to be its job into putting up money for private enterprises in the Colonies. I am not saying that there is not a field for attracting private capital for colonial development. It is well known that there is a field for this purpose. In fact, the International Finance Corporation has just been established to recruit capital from different parts of the world to canalise it into undeveloped areas. That is true. Nevertheless, we on this side would like to see some different kind of balance in the matter.
It happens to be a fact—hon. Members oposite must face it when they talk about inexperience; they do not seem able to read the facts as they are today—that in many part of the world, over almost half of mankind, the industrial developments which are taking place, the reconstructions that are going on and the economic progress that is being made, are done under State planning and State direction. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh".] Hon. Members opposite should not be so silly. Some of us have been pointing this out for five years.
In India, in Pakistan, in China, in Indonesia, in Indo-China—and in Russia, certainly, so effective has it been that hon. Members opposite are frightened of the consequences. They must face the logic of their own fears. Apparently, apart from any other faults we may have to find and criticisms we may make about the Russian Administration, it is the economic success that hon. Members opposite are frightened about.
We on this side are anxious that we also should establish instruments by which there can be some national planning and State organisation in the dependent territories. I know that hon. Members opposite do not like it, because it does not give them a chance of loot. We shall have to provide hon. Members opposite with a list of what those countries are doing. We shall, in fact—[Interruption.] It is time that hon. Members on the other side learned the truth.
570 We are pointing out that in the Bill and in the activities of the Corporation we are gravely concerned, because what the Corporation is doing is putting money in, assisting the enterprise and then clearing out. That was not the original intention of the Corporation. The original intention was to take the initiative where private enterprise would not take it, to organise projects where private enterprise would not do it—
§ Mr. Bevan
Or in conjunction, certainly. I have said that there are circumstances where private capital is required and where it should be helped. I am prepared to stand by that position. What I am saying, however, is that there is now a lack of balance and that the Corporation's activities are not being directed sufficiently towards the other projects contemplated by the 1948 Act. That is my first main point. Therefore, we are not satisfied that the definition of the Corporation's powers as stated in the Bill is any other than a diminution, a contraction and a limitation of the powers of the Corporation.
Neither are we quite satisfied in another connection, because to the extent that the Corporation is more and more indirect in its economic activities the protection for the workpeople contemplated and stated in the 1948 Act is not now sufficient. Where the Corporation itself undertakes enterprises and becomes the direct employer, the 1948 Act is perfectly clear in the obligations that it lays upon the Corporation for the welfare, protection and interest of the workpeople concerned.
We are not satisfied that where the Corporation's interest becomes more and more indirect the workers' interests are sufficiently protected. We are not satisfied at all, and when we come to the Committee stage we shall strive to strengthen the Bill to provide that where the Corporation provides money for any enterprise whatsoever that enterprise shall be obliged to recognise normal trading practices as recognised in this country, and the individuals concerned shall be protected.
§ Mr. Beresford Craddock
This is very important. The right hon. Gentleman has talked about the groundnuts scheme, but in the Kongwa area the wages paid 571 to Africans under the Government scheme varied from 23s. to 30s. a month.
§ Mr. Bevan
I had left that point ten minutes ago. The hon. Member's cerebration might be a little quicker than that.
I am saying, and apparently hon. Members agree with me, that where money is obtained from the Corporation by private enterprise of any sort whatsoever it is necessary that the enterprise should be able to give the Corporation guarantees about the conditions of employment of the workpeople. I think that that is quite right. We are not at present quite satisfied that the Overseas Development Act, 1948, is clear enough in that respect, as a consequence of the more indirect financing of the Corporation.
There is a further point. We are really worried about the constitutional position of Southern Rhodesia. The Minister of State is quite clear, and I agree with him, in saying that where the Minister does something then the House, of course, controls him. But when he does something in the territory of a sovereign Power what does that control mean? The position of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland is peculiar. It is represented as a watcher at the Commonwealth Conference, but it is a sovereign Power.
The Bill makes it possible for the Minister to authorise expenditure by the Corporation in that area, and the Minister said, in moving the Second Reading, that that makes the Minister responsible to us. But how does it make the Government of Rhodesia and Nyasaland responsible to us. I think that there is a constitutional hiatus here. We can. of course, say to the Minister what he shall or shall not do, but once he has done it and, as it were, has projected himself into Rhodesia and Nyasaland he cannot do anything more about it. I hope that the point is seized. At the point where the Minister acts, or just before he acts, the House can influence him, stop him or encourage him, but after he has acted, if the action is in the territory of a sovereign State, from that point on we cannot control anything at all about it. Therefore, this is not quite as clear as the Minister was suggesting.
§ Mr. Graham Page (Crosby)
This is an interesting point, which I should like the right hon. Gentleman to develop one step further. Surely, if the Colonial Development Corporation is running a concern in a sovereign State, whether it be in the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland or in the Union of South Africa, the Secretary of State is still responsible for that.
§ Mr. Bevan
No, that is constitutionally improper. We had an instance of that in Abadan. One can have a concession or a project. One nation can have a project in another nation's territory, but the first nation's writ does not run if the second nation does not want it to run. Indeed, the Minister explained that the different position of Rhodesia and Nyasaland had to be written into this Bill, because unless it was written into the Bill in this way no money could be provided for the Corporation in that area. I think I am constitutionally correct when I say that there is a very great difficulty here, because the Government there, once the project has alighted inside their territory can, in fact, take charge of it.
§ Mr. Nabarro
I agree with the right hon. Gentleman. This point, in another context, has come to my notice in the last few weeks. It is a constitutional point. Surely it is true to say that the sovereign State can take a decision if the project is a nationalised project, part of a colonial development project, and it is equally true of a private enterprise project. It is risk capital, be it nationalised capital or private enterprise capital.
§ Mr. Bevan
The hon. Member is correct. He will agree that I have to deal with the point, because we are making special provision in the Bill.
That brings me to the next point in the development of my argument. What happens to the Development Corporation capital which has been invested in the Colonies which have become independent? For example, the Gold Coast will, we hope, before very long become independent. Has the right hon. Gentleman armed himself with a reply? What happens to the Corporation's activities in the Gold Coast? Are they to be withdrawn—suspended? No new operations can be carried on in the Gold Coast under this Bill, because the only exception made is Rhodesia and Nyasaland.
§ Mr. Bevan
I am not putting that point, as the hon. Member will hear if he will listen. The point is that we understand that the Corporation can make no further investments in any area that has become self-governing. That is the first point. The hon. Member shakes his head, but I think it is clear. The second point is, what happens to the investments already made? We should like to have an answer. I do not expect an answer tonight, but we might have one on Friday, because we should like to have it cleared up. When a Colony becomes self-governing something has to be done about the investments made by the Corporation.
I do not suppose that it is a very great difficulty, but we raise it so that we may have clarification on Friday. It is a little late now, and I do not want to keep the House too long, but there are a number of other points that we should like to make. We propose to make them in Committee on Friday when we move our Amendments.
I must say, in conclusion, that we on this side of the House are quite unhappy about the limitation placed upon the Corporation to enter into co-operation with Governments. It may be, for instance, that a Government would establish a corporation of their own—any one of the Colonies. It may be that the Government will say to the Corporation, "Can you become a partner with us in this enterprise?" As we understand, as the Bill is drawn, that would no longer be possible. We think that to be an unnecessary limitation. Where a colonial Government are anxious themselves to raise money for wider purposes, we on this side of the House are agreed that perhaps the Development Corporation 574 should not be the only source by any means from which that Government can raise finance.
§ Mr. Hare
I think the right hon. Gentleman is getting a little worried, perhaps more worried than he need. Clause 1 (2) gives the Corporation wide powers which it can exercise:… either alone or in association with other bodies or persons …The words "bodies or persons" include Government and Governmental authorities. That might help the right hon. Gentleman.
§ Mr. Bevan
In another part of the Bill the limitation with respect to the finances of the Corporation is specifically written in.
I do fundamentally sympathise with the idea that if a colonial Government are to obtain finances outside the purpose of this Bill, it is a good thing that they should get them from some other medium than the Development Corporation. There are other funds available. There is the Colonial Development Fund. Therefore, it would be unwise if the finances desired by colonial Governments should be entirely canalised through this Development Corporation.
I would prefer that there be Government-to-Government relationships in that respect, such as we have, say, with Malta, and are developing more and more with Malta and other Colonial Territories. I am not really quarrelling with the main purpose behind that inhibition. I am asking the Government to look more carefully into whether they have made the proscription too great. Where a colonial Government have set up a body, like a corporation, would it not be possible for this Development Corporation to have financial relationships with that body? That is not clear. I hope, therefore, that the Minister will look at this matter before Friday so that, if necessary, the Bill can be amended to make it possible for that to be done.
As I have said, we shall not divide against the Second Reading of the Bill, for the reasons I have given. But I am bound to say that the Government have put far too limited an interpretation on the activities of the Corporation. We would prefer a very much more adventurous spirit.
§ 11.3 p.m.
§ Mr. Gerald Nabarro (Kidderminster)
There was a good deal of what the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) said with which, strangely, perhaps, I find myself in sympathy, and not least that a matter of this kind has found its way to the House towards the end of a long and arduous Session. Therefore, I hope there will not be any inhibitions tonight upon those of us who wish to express views about colonial development matters and the way in which public funds are to be employed for that desirable purpose.
To what extent are public funds to participate in, and to what extent is private enterprise risk capital to be attracted to, colonial development, with special reference to Africa? I thought that the right hon. Gentleman was a little "off the beam" when he talked of a supposedly massive scale of investment in the Colonies by the Colonial Development Corporation. That is what he implied, although he did not use those words.
What is the fact of the matter? Under the Act of 1948 there was a limit of £100 million put on the loans issued by the Corporation. Eight years have gone by since then, and the £100 million is not yet exhausted. So we may infer that the rate of investment by the Corporation is perhaps a matter of a few million pounds a year—but certainly not more than £12 million a year, otherwise the £100 million would by this time have been exhausted.
The Explanatory and Financial Memorandum to the Bill uses the words:the limit of £100 million is not affected by the Bill.It follows that the scale of investment by the Corporation during the last few years has only been at the rate of a few million pounds per annum. What is the scale of private enterprise investment? I suggest it is fifteen to twenty times as great, in an aggregate sum among all the Colonies.
I do not want to see more investment than is strictly necessary by a nationalised body, such as this Corporation, in colonial development matters. I think it is significant that my right hon. Friend, in his introductory remarks and I wrote down his words—used this sentence, "The Corporation will provide capital for essential development for which finance is not otherwise available." In other words, the policy of Her Majesty's Government, which, in my 576 view, is the correct one, is to ensure that this nationalised body, the Colonial Development Corporation, using public funds, will furnish only the fringe investment for purposes and projects upon which private enterprise cannot, for one reason or another, attract risk capital.
§ Mr. Nabarro
I am sure that I could become involved in a very interesting controversy with the right hon. Gentleman as to whether the big or little finance corporations in Great Britain served that purpose or this during a period of credit squeeze, and in any event, it is the joint stock banks which finance their operations, and it is difficult to judge their efficacy. But to return to the point, it is the Colonial Development Corporation which has contributed only a tiny part of capital development sums in the Colonies since 1948, and that is fringe investment. The great bulk of investment monies has been provided by private enterprise.
The second point, which is one of some substance and importance, was the subject of my intervention during the right hon. Gentleman's speech. I hope that there will not be any doubt in any part of the House as to the character of the animal which we are discussing tonight. The Colonial Development Corporation is a nationalised industry. It is as much a nationalised industry as the Central Electricity Authority, except that it happens to be devoting its attentions and energies to overseas territories within the Commonwealth.
How are we in this House to control the expenditure of funds? A lot of words have been bandied about tonight concerning Parliament controlling the sums invested by the Corporation. It seems to me that Parliament does nothing of the sort. I cannot get a Question past the Table about the day-to-day activities of the Corporation, any more than I can ask why a particular sum of money has been spent on the Nantgarw Colliery, in South Wales. I should be ruled out of order if I tried to do so—and" there are few annual debates upon the subject.
577 I ask my right hon. Friend—and this Second Reading debate is the pertinent time to do so—to show how we, in the House of Commons, exercise a proper form of Parliamentary accountability in what is essentially a nationalised industry. Will it come within the purview of the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries, a Government Motion for the establishment of which stands on the Order Paper of the House of Commons at this moment? I would regard that as a matter of primary importance, because investment by the Corporation in certain circumstances may have a direct bearing upon the activities and development arrangements of our own State industries in Britain.
For example, associated with my words on Parliamentary accountability, perhaps the House will look at Clause 1 (3, c), the words of which are carefully delineated and of very great importance today. They are:enterprises for the working or getting of minerals".That would, of course, be a question of great concern and interest to the National Coal Board in Britain.
§ Mr. Nabarro
I had occasion to say, in the Second Reading debate on the Coal Industry Bill, on 10th May last, that the question of African coal was now looming large and assuming a special importance in this country. It was not of special importance until the National Coal Board recently published its document called "Investing in Coal", when it became quite evident that this country could not be self-sufficient in coal supplies for any foreseeable time in the future, at least until atomic energy was able to make such a massive contribution as to balance our annual coal budget.
The fact is that we have to continue importing coal on a large scale, and this evening I make no apology for hanging the coal imports position on to this very important paragraph in the Bill. What will the Colonial Development Corporation do about the limitless coal resources in Africa which will serve the purpose of balancing our coal budget in this 578 country as the only available alternative to burning dollar bills every year in hauling coal across the North Atlantic to Britain.
Any hon. Member who thinks that the British coal industry will match the growing energy demands of our economy in the next twenty years is suffering from hallucinations. The energy demands of expanding British industry are such that in a very recent survey it was said that in 1954 the total energy demand of the United Kingdom was 269 million tons of coal and coal equivalent. In 1965, it would be 329 million tons of coal and coal equivalent, an increase of 60 million tons in a period of only ten years. Will we get that extra 60 million tons of coal from British coal mines? Of course not.
§ Mr. Nabarro
I should be digressing if I went into matters of that kind.
The fact is that the Coal Board itself, on a very conservative estimate, cannot foresee any sensational advance in coal production. It is estimated—I think reasonably—that ten years hence we shall be getting about as much coal out of our pits as we did this year, namely, 222 million tons. There will be a gap in our energy needs in 1964 of no less than 107 million tons of coal and coal equivalent, which will have to be met by oil, by atomic energy and, to a very small extent, by hydro-electric power.
It could be met by oil and by those other sources of power, providing that the tonnage of oil which comes to the United Kingdom is 150 per cent. higher than it is today. That involves many political considerations in the Middle East, enormous tanker tonnage, and it involves much dollar expenditure and many economic difficulties and problems. Those hon. Members who so often plead that atomic energy will save us within ten years might consider the latest statement of the Atomic Energy Authority to the effect that in 1964, out of 329 million tons of coal and coal equivalent, being the aggregate energy demand in this country, not more than 12 million tons of coal equivalent will come from atomic energy or, in other words, one twenty-seventh part. The only salvation in the period of the next three decades is to develop 579 the sterling area's coal resources as a balancing factor in the United Kingdom's energy demands.
§ Mr. J. Johnson
Does the hon. Member want to tell the House that it would be a good thing for the C.D.C. to develop Songea coalfield, in Southern Tanganyika, that he is willing for the taxpayers to open up Southern Tanganyika so that he and his friends in the City can invest in Songea coalfield, export coal, and make money from so doing?
§ Mr. Nabarro
If the hon. Member will allow me to make my speech in my own way, I will deal with each one of his points. I was making the case that to develop African coal resources we must first establish the market need for the coal and I think that by the figures I have quoted I have established the need.
Whatver our politics, few of us would controvert what the Financial Times said in its leader on 21st July. It was:To calculate this budget one can take Dr. Daniel's estimates for maximum fuel requirements. That would give a figure of 329 m. tons of coal equivalent as the need for 1965, as against the 269 m. tons of 1954. Most budgets go on to estimate some increase in coal production. That estimate seems, however, to be unreliable as no such increase has occurred in the last five years. We can therefore assume that there will be 222 m. tons of coal available in 1965, and we can assume that as a constant potential through to 1985. If that figure is correct that would leave in 1965 a gap of 107 m. tons of coal equivalent to be filled from oil and nuclear power.Out of that 107 million only 12 million tons will come from nuclear energy, leaving 150 per cent. more oil to be transported to this country than we are consuming at present. That is an impossible situation.
I now pass to the question of British African coal resources. It would not be politically or economically practicable today for any single body to promote the large-scale development of African coal resources without regard to the political situation. For instance, who are involved? I was interested in the point about the Central African Territories. There is a nice constitutional point. Members of the Legislatures concerned have recently considered this question.
It is not only a question for Great Britain but also the Central African Federation, and the Union of South Africa, and colonial and dependent terri- 580 tories, because the railway lines to get the coal out of the Rhodesias, for example, would probably have to traverse many territories, including the Mandated territory of South West Africa, which is under the control of the Government of the Union of South Africa.
Also there are Portuguese as well as British interests, in addition to the eternal conflict as to whether the investment is to come from public funds or be furnished by private enterprise. What part has the Colonial Development Corporation to play? It is significant that at long last a Minister of the Crown has recognised the potentialities of African coal resources, and the need to develop them for United Kingdom use.
It is only three weeks ago that the Minister of Fuel and Power announced that an inter-departmental committee would go into the question whether it would represent economic long term investment to bring Southern Nigerian coal, Tanganyikan coal, and Southern Rhodesian coal, to the United Kingdom, and whether there would be a sustained demand in this country for a large quantity of coal were private enterprise risk capital found to develop the necessary transportation system and mine the coal.
That committee is at work. I would like to be told tonight, or on Friday, what are the terms of reference, and which are the Departments. Is it correct that they are the Colonial Office, the Commonwealth Relations Office, the Ministry of Fuel and Power, the Ministry of Transport, and the Foreign Office? They are all interested Departments. I hope that we shall have the report of the inquiry this year, and that it will not drag on for two or three years while we spend vast sums in dollars on American coal. Pari passu with the investigations of this Committee, the Colonial Development Corporation might devote a part of its funds to surveys.
The winning of minerals from Southern Rhodesia, Tanganyika, and Southern Nigeria, and bringing them here, depends on the railway transportation system. I have no doubt that capital could be found from private enterprise sources for this, for it is not only a question of bringing out coal, but countless other raw materials and minerals. What the Development Corporation could do is to 581 survey and finance such surveys from its funds. This would be a most proper purpose to which the Corporation should devote funds.
There have been in the last few years several piecemeal attempts to survey a railway route from Bulawayo, and the Wankie area of Southern Rhodesia to the Atlantic coast, over British territory throughout, terminating at Walvis Bay, but no comprehensive survey has been put together.
What is urgently needed is that the Colonial Development Corporation, with its diversity of interests, should spend money—not a large sum—in the next year or so in surveying these railway routes and making their findings available to private enterprise as well as to our nationalised industries, which would principally benefit by the development of British African mineral resources, notably coal.
No interdepartmental inquiry into African coal resources, no winning of African coal to balance our United Kingdom coal budget, and no surveys of the railways, can succeed unless the Coal Board is prepared to recognise that there is, long-term, a need to import coal into Great Britain, and is prepared to guarantee a market for African coal in the United Kingdom. Unless that market is guaranteed by the State monoply in Britain it will not be possible to attract risk capital for the development of the transportation system of the mines, many of them opencast, many of them drift as well as many deep mines, in these territories.
§ Mr. Harold Davies (Leek)
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that I was one of the first hon. Members to raise this matter of imported coal, long before the crisis? We had a debate in this House, when the hon. Gentleman's party was in Opposition and scoffed at my statement that we should have to import coal. I mentioned East African coal at that time, and it was all turned down. I want the hon. Gentleman to consider this: I was told by friends of mine in the coal importing industry that one of the difficulties of importing West African coal is that it will not carry for long distances over sea without the danger of combustion. Anybody who knows anything about coal agrees with that. Is the hon. Member now asking that the Colonial Development Corporation should do all 582 the major research, and that private enterprise should then come in, so that we could socialise the losses and privatise the profits? That is exactly the kind of operation that would arise if we followed the hon. Gentleman's suggestion.
§ Mr. Nabarro
I am saying that it would not be possible to attract private enterprise risk capital to any of these territories for developing coal resources unless the Coal Board was prepared to guarantee a long-term market in this country, because there is nowhere else that the coal could be sold. [AN HON. MEMBER: "That is hardly risk capital."] Of course, "risk capital" is a somewhat generic term. I will not go into that point any further, but will reply to what was said from the benches opposite about the quality of the coal from Africa.
There is every conceivable type of coal in Africa, from lignite and brown coal in Nigeria to the high-quality bituminous coal of Southern Rhodesia, as there is in Britain. With modern methods of firing, there is no coal which cannot successfully be employed for industrial purposes. We deliberately build our power stations today to use coal with the highest possible ash content and of the lowest possible quality. The same thing can apply to African coal. It is infinitely more important to draw imported coal front sterling sources, paid for by sterling with British capital invested rather than continue to rely upon American supplies.
I want to answer the hon. Member who asked: is it my case that the Colonial Development Corporation should sink capital in these ventures? No, all I want the Colonial Development Corporation to do—I would regard this as a very proper function for a Corporation of this kind—is to conduct surveys for the railway routes. I do not think that the hon. Member can really uphold that that would be wasting public money. To conduct surveys of the type I am talking about would be relatively cheap, and if those private concerns successfully invested capital and the coal was brought out, where would 50 per cent. of the profit go? To the British Treasury, in the form of taxation. Therefore, although the cost of the surveys would be relatively small, it would be fundamentally important.
§ Mr. Bevan
I entirely agree with what the hon. Member is saying. If he will 583 do me the honour of looking at HANSARD he will see that as far back as 1951 I asked for surveys to be made in British territories. In fact, I think the hon. Member will find that a proper geological survey has not even been made of Great Britain yet.
§ Mr. Bevan
I am connected with the coal industry and I know that one of the inhibiting conditions about guaranteeing the coal market in Great Britain is the fact that the miners themselves are always filled with a sense of foreboding. I do not think that the hon. Member treated me with courtesy when he talked about the economic position. How can we, on the one hand, conduct a financial and commercial policy the object of which is to restrict production all over Britain and, on the other, expect the miners to agree to instructing the Coal Board to import coal from Africa? I am not saying that the hon. Member is wrong, but the two policies do not jell; they do not meet.
§ Mr. Nabarro
On the contrary, they precisely meet. I will come to that. I claim no prescience for what I am saying this evening. No doubt it has been said many times before, but we have no Parliamentary accountability for these nationalised industries and this is the only opportunity I have had for some time of raising this matter. I have no doubt that the right hon. Member talked about South African coal and transportation surveys years ago. He was in this House twenty-seven years, but I am talking about it this evening. This Bill refers to mineral resources and it is very important that the Colonial Development Corporation should use a part of its funds for those surveys.
I want to talk about the psychology of the right hon. Member. Evidently he was not in the Chamber on 10th May, when I was talking about the British coal industry, and said:A further objective is to stimulate the growth of Empire coalmining production, for it can fill a very real need in our requirements during the next few years—and without prejudicing the employment or the position or the wages of a single British coalminer. In fact it would buttress and improve their prospects for the future."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th May, 1956; Vol. 552, c. 1465.]584 The right hon. Member sits for a constituency in a coalmining area and I believe that he was a miner. He knows as well as I do that coal exports today are the most powerful political instrument in Western Europe and elsewhere. He knows equally well that if we brought coal from Africa to this country it would free certain high-grade and quality coals from British mines which could be sold at a very healthy premium abroad and, on balance, greatly assist our payments position overseas. I say without any fear of contradiction that vesting capital in African coal mines would make more secure the position of the British coal miners, not undermine it.
§ Mr. Hale
I agree with 90 per cent. of what the hon. Member has said. I agree about Parliamentary accountability, both in relation to the Colonial Development Corporation and in relation to the National Coal Board. I think we ought to be able both to attack and to defend them; and we are deprived of the right to do either. But does the hon. Member realise that the very powers he now suggests should be vested in the Colonial Development Corporation are powers which the Bill takes from the Corporation? There is a reference to transport facilities or services, it is true, and ancillaries in Clause 1 (3). There is no mention of roads and railways, and the omission is significant. If he looks at subsection (4), which excludes almost all works from the public services, he will agree, I think, that it appears that the very powers which we all think the Colonial Development Corporation should have are taken away by this Bill.
§ Mr. Nabarro
I do not know whether the hon. Member is right or not, but, springing from what he has said, may I ask my right hon. Friend two specific questions? If he cannot answer them tonight let him answer them on Friday, when we deal with the remaining stages of the Bill. This is the first question: would it be possible for the Colonial Development Corporation to vest capital sums in surveys for railways to join Southern Rhodesia and the coal resources there to ports on the coast of Southwest Africa, for instance Walvis Bay and other such ports, within the terms of the Bill? I emphasise that I am talking about railway and port surveys.
585 Secondly, arising from the intervention of the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale), would it be possible, within the terms of the Bill and the provisions delineated in Clause 1, for the Corporation directly to invest in the construction, the building and the operation of those railways, either as the sole investor or as an investor pari passu with private enterprise, or in any other way? Let us have that doubt cleared up.
I do not wish to pursue these arguments any further at this late hour. All I am pleading for is a realisation that the Colonial Development Corporation, as a nationalised industry—and it is that—has a very important rôle to play in the provision of those marginal tonnages of coal year by year which we are to purchase at such a high cost from dollar sources and which, with energy and vision on the part of the Corporation, supported by the British Government, with a guaranteed market in this country for the marginal supplies of coal, could, in my view, wholly be drawn from British African sources.
§ 11.33 p.m.
§ Mr. John Dugdale (West Bromwich)
I am very glad indeed that the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) has made such a speech, because he has made it abundantly clear what his party thinks about the Colonial Development Corporation. When the idea of the Corporation was first introduced, plainly they did not like it at all. Then they had the though that it might be useful as something to help private enterprise and as something to do the jobs which private enterprise had not done. They believed they would find it particularly useful, because if the Colonial Development Corporation should make a loss anywhere they could point to it and say, "This is what happens when you set up a public corporation. It makes a loss. Private enterprise does not make a loss".
If the Corporation does all this work, then what is euphemistically called risk capital has a better chance. In other words, the Corporation is to undertake the greatest risks and take on all the most difficult occupations and the others are to be left for private enterprise.
I am glad that the hon. Member spoke, for another reason. I think the 586 Government misjudged the House this time. They thought, "Here is a little Bill which does not matter very much; it is just this silly Corporation which we do not treat seriously. We will bring in a little Bill and get it through in the middle of the night, with a little Committee stage on Friday when we think not many hon. Members will be present".
They have found that this has not happened. They have found that hon. Members are concerned about it. I should like to join in the protest made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) that this practice has been followed, and I hope to join with him and others in considering at very great length on Friday the considerable details in the Bill and, indeed, the principles, and in examining at some length what the Colonial Development Corporation has achieved and in some respects has failed to achieve—and why it has failed to achieve them in certain cases.
While I would like to reserve most of my remarks for Friday, there is one thing which I wish to say tonight. As my right hon. Friend has said, the Corporation began by being a Corporation to develop certain industries in the Colonies. It has now become a finance corporation. So much is this the case that if one looks at the schemes in the Report of the Corporation, one finds that more than half the money that is now, to use a term frequently used by the hon. Member for Kidderminster, "at risk" by the Colonial Development Corporation is either invested in co-operation with a private concern which is managing it or is on loan to a private or public corporation. Therefore, less than half the money is going to industries which are run by the Colonial Development Corporation to develop the Colonies.
That is not at all what was meant originally. We have drifted very far from the original purpose of the Corporation. For that reason, if for no other, we hope, on Friday, to give the Bill our most detailed consideration. I think that the Government will find that when that consideration is given, it is not such a simple little proposition as they thought and that this House attaches much more importance to the Corporation than they had supposed.
§ 11.37 p.m.
§ Mr. Graham Page (Crosby)
It is extremely difficult to discuss the Bill without getting on to Committee points, but I will endeavour to keep as general as possible in my remarks. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro), I had looked at the Bill to see whether it would enable us to develop the coal resources of Africa. I came up against a number of points in the Bill which seemed to raise difficulty in that one score. That led me to consider what difficulties the Bill might put in the way of the Colonial Development Corporation in other matters.
I assure hon. Members who have spoken from the other side of the House, and who seem to think that the Colonial Development Corporation is their baby and the enemy of everybody on this side, that there are many of us on these benches who regard the C.D.C. with very great respect in the way that it is at present being run. We do not look on it merely as a Corporation to develop for the purpose of private enterprise. It is carrying out some very sound schemes for the great benefit of colonial peoples.
Like the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan), I am worried lest the specific wording of the Bill might reduce the powers of the Corporation. The right hon. Gentleman raised the question of whether the Corporation can, in future, combine with Government authorities. In the 1948 Act that was specifically mentioned, and the absence of it in the Bill makes one wonder whether there is any point in that.
A number of schemes are being carried out at present by the Corporation in cooperation with Governments and Government authorities. The Southern Rhodesia African housing has already been mentioned. The Rhodesian Government is in on that. There is Chilanga Cement, Ltd., in Northern Rhodesia. There are several schemes in Jamaica, the Falkland Isles and British Honduras, in all of which the Governments of those areas are taking part, and hon. Members will know of the proposed Kariba Dam, in which Governments and the Corporation and others are taking part. I hope that my right hon. Friend will make it clear that that sort of scheme will not be prevented by the Bill.
I am a little worried about the position where the Colonial Development Cor- 588 poration is undertaking schemes outside a Colony for the benefit of that Colony. May I come back to the African coal? There are at least three mining areas in West and Central Africa which could provide us with all the coal which we are now importing from America They could provide us with coal of as good and in many cases better quality than that imported coal. I have carefully checked their calorific values and ash content. We could obtain coal from the Tanganyika mines, the Southern Rhodesia mines and the Witbank coalfields—in that last case by building a railway through Swaziland.
There are three schemes which in each case involve more than one Colony, and if the C.D.C. is carrying on one project in more than one Colony it seems to me, from the wording of the Bill, that there will be difficulty in extending its work to carry out the project in full. In Tanganyika, the C.D.C. is developing the coal mines. It has to take coal along the existing railways whereas there is a short cut to the East coast, namely, to the port of Mtwara. There is a railway already built 200 miles or so inland. All that is needed is to join up that railway with the mines Will the Bill enable the Corporation to develop that railway?
One immediately thinks of the projected railway which my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster mentioned, from Wankie across Bechuanaland, across South-West Africa and out at Walvis Bay. Again, that would not be one project because the railway across Bechuanaland would develop all the cattle ranching in that area. There are C.D.C. projects for ranching in Bechuanaland and tremendous developments can go on there. It would allow all that country to develop, but, from the wording of the Bill, I wonder whether we shall be up against the difficulties which we have come up against with the legal interpretation of the 1948 Act.
If, as another example, the railway were built by the C.D.C. through Swaziland it would enable development of a great number of different types of projects in that country, and it might be advisable to set up a marketing board of some sort in the Union of South Africa. I do not think that under the Bill the C.D.C. would have the power to do that. That is why I was pressing the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale 589 as to whether, if there were a project in a sovereign State like the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland we should have control over it from here.
§ Mr. Bevan
There is an obvious intention to get over some of the difficulties in Clause 1 (5), which refers to the Secretary of State being able to sanction a project where it is necessary to communicate with several Colonies to carry out an enterprise of the classes referred to in subsection (3, f). But the great difficulty, to which I hope the Government will address themselves, is that these definitions are by themselves not inclusive, but exclusive. We should really look at this matter again.
§ Mr. Page
I am not going into the wording in detail, but I have studied them. The points which I am making arise from the actual wording of the Bill. There are a number of other points of a similar kind.
Now, may I ask a question about that part of the Bill which deals with Southern Rhodesia? As far as I understand, it validates existing agreements only, unless the Secretary of State is satisfied that there is some need for further development. Has that been the principle on which the C.D.C. has decided up to the present? Surely it has not been on the basis of need or necessity for development.
There is no need, one might say, ever to develop. We can stay as we are. It is a question whether it is beneficial, desirable, advantageous or convenient. Cannot we use some such phrase rather than the word "need"? It seems to me that it is changing the whole emphasis of the C.D.C. projects.
In connection with Southern Rhodesia, there arises the point raised by the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale. What happens when a Colony gets self-government? I intervened at that stage in the right hon. Gentleman's speech because the C.D.C. has the power legally to go on developing in that Colony even though it has obtained self-government, for the simple reason that it was given the power to carry out projects anywhere in a Colonial Territory which was a Colonial Territory at the date of the 1948 Act, no matter whether that Colonial Territory becomes a self-governing territory or even an independent nation afterwards. There would have to be a 590 Statute to amend that position. No doubt there is some policy about this. If the Minister can indicate what will be the policy when Colonies such as the Gold Coast become independent, it would be a great help in considering the Bill.
One can best consider this Bill by taking specific projects and seeing whether there will be difficulty over them. The specific project in which I and my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster are keenly interested is the development of the African coal mines and African railways. I do not speak theoretically here, because during the Whitsun Recess I was in Africa and went down mines there. I saw the type of coal that could be brought up. I saw the very good amenities for native labour there and the extremely good way in which they are treated. I can assure hon. Members that there is no need for our coal miners to be afraid of sweated labour and under-cutting from there. These are the activities we want to develop, and we want to ensure that the Bill does not stop us developing them.
§ 11.48 p.m.
§ Mr. James Johnson (Rugby)
The hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) talked about African coal. Tanganyika is an excellent case in point, and what he said showed the difference between the two sides of the House. We have surveyed the Tanganyika line from Nachingwea, which he probably knows, on to Limesu Jol and to Songea, and it will cost about £22 million. Who is to find that money? There is the difference.
On the opposite side of the House they want C.D.C. money, taxpayers' money, to open up the hinterland and to enable future economic exploitation to take place preferably by capitalist or private money. We on these benches say that it would be much better that we should have a C.D.C. coalfield there, with public money, so that if and when we have a black State, and a black Government in Tanganyika, an African Government, there will be much easier conditions for handing over to the Africans these assets which we hope to develop on their behalf. That is the difference between us.
When I look at the Bill and at the whole tendency of the workings of the Corporation since the party opposite came into power, I see that not merely has the 591 Corporation become a finance corporation simply lending taxpayers' money as a bank would do in the City of London, on advantageous terms, but even more significant to me is that we are having less and less emphasis on schemes of economic development and we are having more and more money put into communications, to open up the hinterland for capitalist development. Why have a Bill like this at all? It is stated that it is to make valid activities of the Corporation which have been deemed invalid by some lawyers. What are these activities? They are not schemes of economic development: they are schemes such as roads in North Nigeria, where I was a few months ago. I never thought, and I do not think Mr. Oliver Stanley thought, that the moneys here voted were to be used for roads in North Nigeria for cocoa farmers or other farmers. That is development and welfare which should be done through the colonial development and welfare funds.
More and more, as the years go on, the party opposite, who never liked the Colonial Development Corporation, are wishing to make more of its activities go into development and welfare. They have attacked the Corporation since it began and would like to abolish it if they could and have the money spent on opening up the hinterland, on roads, railways, docks and harbours, to provide the framework for capitalist enterprise. That is their philosophy.
So we have this Bill to validate these non-economic activities. What did the Minister say earlier?—that when he was drafting this Bill he finds he must use the words "re-defines the functions of the Corporation" in the light of his experience in the last two years; and he goes on to list the activities.
We are not happy when the taxpayers' money goes into activities, which should be development and welfare activities, enabling the City of London and other interests to go in and develop purely economic activities.
§ 11.54 p.m.
§ Mrs. Eirene White (Flint, East)
I do not wish to detain the House, particularly as some hon. Gentlemen opposite seem to be nearly asleep. We are not going to divide the House, so they could go 592 home if they wanted to. I am sorry the Patronage Secretary wants to keep them here.
I protest that we are having to discuss this important subject after ten o'clock and have to rush through the remaining stages of the Bill. Before we conclude tonight, perhaps we could be told whether the Government hope to conclude proceedings in another place before the Recess. Is it hoped to obtain the Royal Assent before the Recess, or is the Corporation to have to wait until we return, probably towards the end of October, before it can proceed with these projects, which have already been held up for many months?
I have been asking questions about the Bill for weeks past, and I cannot understand why it has taken so long to produce it when the facts were brought to the attention of Her Majesty's Government last autumn. It is not as though the Bill, as we now have it, is a masterpiece of drafting. In fact, as my right hon. Friend has indicated, some of us are very much concerned that a Bill of this kind has been brought forward, which we believe will add considerably to the possibility of complexities in the future, instead of avoiding the sort of situation which is arising owing to the differing interpretations of the existing Act.
This is one of the very few occasions we have of discussing the work of the Corporation, and during this time some extremely important matters have been touched upon. None of us complain about the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) riding his hobby-horse.
§ Mrs. White
Coal production. He rode it at some length, but perfectly germanely. There are many points which the right hon. Gentleman should have discussed. There is the whole question which my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby (Mr. J. Johnson) has touched upon. How far should the Corporation undertake work such as housing? As far as we can tell from the Bill, it is housing in general with which it is concerned; not that which is directly ancillary to some other project.
In its last annual report the Corporation suggests that it should not be responsible for social services, such as health and education, but for basic services, in which it includes housing. 593 Housing may raise all kinds of social problems and decisions as to social policy of one sort or another, and it is particularly difficult in a territory such as Southern Rhodesia, which carries out certain policies with which many of us—at least on this side of the House—find ourselves out of sympathy. Yet we are being asked to vote money for housing projects in that territory, over which, as my right hon. Friend has indicated, once we have agreed we then apparently have no further say in the matter, because the houses are put up in the territory of a self-governing country. I am speaking now of Southern Rhodesia and not the Federation as a whole, which is not in the same position.
§ Mr. Nabarro
The hon. Lady is quite right. My major point was that even if they were not in Southern Rhodesia the Table would not let us get a Question through on these topics because this is a nationalised industry.
§ Mrs. White
I am not perfectly clear from the wording of the Bill whether any future housing projects in Southern Rhodesia would be permissible. It is not very clear. That is a point which the right hon. Gentleman might clear up.
We surely ought to have a discussion as to the relationship of these two separate funds—the Colonial Development and Welfare Fund and the Colonial Development Corporation, because it seems as though the Corporation is being discouraged from carrying out the kind of projects which were certainly envisaged when it was first set up, and it is possibly seeking what we might call a soft option from its point of view, in putting money into social development which is extremely important and desirable. We none of us dispute that for a moment. What we are asking is whether this is the purpose for which the Corporation was established, and ought it not to be using these funds for economic development and enterprises, in the sense which we thought it was intended to cover? That is something which we certainly ought to have an opportunity of discussing, and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman is going to say something about it.
Then there is the question of those countries which are approaching self-government. As I understand it, Section 19 of the 1948 Act is left untouched 594 as far as Colonial Territories and the definition thereof are concerned. The hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) was not quite right in what he said, because it is the countries which were Colonial Territories in 1940 which are still covered by the Bill.
Is the C.D.C. necessarily the best vehicle for disbursing the funds when a territory has reached self-government? I am not speaking now of projects already started before the date of independence. Should we not consider some other method of finance, Government loans for example, which could then be used directly by the Governments concerned? Would not that be a more desirable way of dealing with self-governing territories? I am not saying that that is necessarily so, but we should discuss it, because we are approaching that sort of situation, certainly with the Gold Coast.
There are various matters of this kind which we should discuss at greater length, but one hesitates to do so now when it is already midnight. There is the whole subject of railway development which, very properly, has been raised. On this side of the House we consider that where railway development is required it should not be undertaken entirely by private enterprise. We are not at all satisfied that public enterprise should conduct a survey and then leave it entirely to private enterprise to carry on—and those considerations also apply to mineral exploitation. We believe that there should be some public participation—not necessarily 100 per cent. by any means—but some kind of partnership.
I am not clear about the C.D.C.'s attitude. Railways are mentioned as one of the things which the Corporation can undertake. On page four of the Corporation's Annual Report there is a reference to the Usutu Forests where transport facilities are needed which it is not the Corporation's job to provide. That is an extremely important project. If the Corporation is seriously to undertake railway construction, which is very expensive, will £100 million be enough and, if not, what have the Government in mind? Will they come to the House again?
Those are matters about which we should be informed. This might have been an opportunity for discussing other financial matters to which the latest 595 Report of the Corporation refers. One such topic is the Special Loss Account. I am not certain whether legislation would have been needed to deal with that matter, but this was an opportunity for the right hon. Gentleman to refer to it, because it is part of the general policy of the Corporation and is very important.
Apart from all those major issues, there is the form of the Bill. On Friday we hope to deal with that in greater detail. Far from clearing up doubts and ambiguities, for a lay person the Bill creates them. For everyone which it clears up, it creates at least another dozen.
§ Mrs. White
Anyone looking at Clause 1 (3) must ask himself what was the aim of the draftsman. What was he trying to do? Was he trying to make things more and more difficult for the Corporation and provide endless employment for the legal fraternity? Once there is a beginning to cataloguing and an indication of which matters are included, by implication matters which are not specifically mentioned are excluded. In almost every one of the paragraphs (a) to (j) in that subsection I can think of something which has been omitted and which might have been inserted. I will spare the right hon. Gentleman the list of what I have in mind. He will get most of it on Friday. I will give him one, however.
We were interested in the special reference to marine mammals. That, I think, means whales, and may include dolphins. What happens if in one territory it might be desirable to establish a cannery for turtle soup. Turtle is not included in this list under fish or under marine mammals. I would like to know whether the right hon. Gentleman thinks he is taking powers which would include the possibility of canning this soup, or processing tortoise-shell and so on. There is mention of water, electricity and gas, but no mention of nuclear energy, which might come in. One can do something in, on and over the water, but what about under it?
I have given some examples which might be thought comical; but once one begins to legislate in this fashion, trying to include a detailed list of possible activities or projects, one comes up against the difficulty that one is almost 596 bound to have left out something. One cannot foresee everything. It is better and wiser, as one of my hon. Friends said, to have a much more general definition. If the definition included in the 1948 Act was not adequate, I believe that in three or four lines it could have been extended to cover the kind of work which the Corporation was intended to do. I conclude as I began, with a protest that we have to discuss the Bill at this time of the night, and with the promise that we shall bring a great many important points to the Minister's attention on Friday.
§ 12.7 a.m.
§ Mr. Leslie Hale (Oldham, West)
I personally have agreed with almost every thing said by two hon. Members who spoke from the back benches opposite. I agreed with the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) on the whole question of accountability to Parliament, and I believe that it is good that we should be able to question matters. It is a good thing for the corporations. Corporations which have had some years of experience would welcome the change, because the House now cannot criticise a corporation, and it cannot defend it from attacks which often are unjust. I read through the hon. Gentleman's speech in the National Coal Board debate. I think I agreed with him there, especially about the psychological effect of taking large houses for colliery managers and expecting the miners to work harder in those areas. These are matters on which we ought to be able to question the National Coal Board, as other authorities for which we are responsible. That, in my view, is the essence of Parliamentary government and democracy.
I also agreed with the hon. Member who spoke afterwards. The doubts which he expressed are clearly certainties. It is clear that the Colonial Development Corporation thinks so too. It does not believe that the Bill is being introduced to extend its operations, or to define them. It makes clear that it believes that the Bill is being introduced to restrict its operations, and to cut away all the nonprofit making operations which may be necessary. I am sorry to say that I rather disagree with some points put from this side of the House. I may have misunderstood them because of the way they were put. The point about big corporations 597 having to shoulder the losses of an industry while private enterprise reaps the profits is fair in relation to transport in this country.
I do not believe that it is relevant to Africa, because the problem there is that there is an immense amount of background expenditure which is essential and which can never bring in a profit. If we are to double resources there and give the population a reasonable chance of a livelihood, there is much expenditure which cannot be profit-making and which individual small countries cannot undertake on their own.
If it be a question of saying, "This is a matter for special credits and loans," I have no conflict with my hon. Friends. I hope that we should never visualise the Colonial Development Corporation as primarily a profit-making body.
§ Mr. J. Johnson
Is it not a fact that the C.D.C. cannot carry out its functions of opening up backward areas in the hinterland of the African Continent unless it operates on a commercial basis? It cannot open up a continent upon a deficit.
§ Mr. Hale
That is the point I was coming to. It never has done. In point of fact it has just had to write off a very great deal of expenditure, and not all of that money was wasted. Much remains as intangible assets. I am not here to criticise the C.D.C. I do not like its Report. I never know why the Report is published in pidgin English and why the Corporation, which handles hundreds of thousands of pounds, should economise in commas and so make the reading of the Report extremely difficult. Swinburne used to talk about the… lilies and languors of virtueFor the raptures and roses of vice"—Nowadays we shall be talking about the… zebra and mink of virtue,and the commas and colons of vice,which are being abjured.
Nevertheless, the Report is an impressive document. Once it has been translated into English and has become intelligible it is worth reading. No corporation has ever published a more forthright condemnation of the activities of the Minister responsible for its creation and running than appears in this latest White Paper issued by the C.D.C. It gives details of many of the activities that have been carried out in the Colonial Territories.
598 I was present at the 1948 debate; I remember it well, as we all do, with a certain amount of grief. Hopes were engendered, and the Bill was accepted willingly by the House when it was presented by my right hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Strachey), who was then Minister of Food.
Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman did not state the financial provisions correctly. The Bill provided that the Corporation should not have outstanding at any one time more than £100 million. That was optimistic. As one £100 million was paid off, another could be commenced. Then we provided another £50 million on the same basis for the Overseas Food Corporation. All the speakers welcomed the Bill as a very great gesture.
The Speaker from the Front Opposition Bench was the then right hon. Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Stanley). No one could have spoken from the other benches with greater authority on the Colonies, and no one was listened to with greater respect. He put the point, which I myself would certainly have wished to put had I been called. He criticised the Minister and said, "You are talking rather large about using this development corporation for producing the needs of Western Europe and America. Surely one of the objects must be to produce the needs of the Colonial Territories themselves."
It could be said that if we were taking up the soil of Africa to get at the copper to make use of it in Washington and London, some benefit would go in the wages paid to the workmen, but most of us know that unless there is a planned economy, with the development of large-scale new industries, a poorer area creates its own problems of local inflation, of social services, and of unrequited demand. The Government must see to it that there are consumer goods to develop purchasing power so as to give it practical value. We could never contemplate industrial development merely in terms of digging up the soil, getting at the minerals, paying the wages and bringing the minerals over here.
The prime need and the prime duty of a Colonial Development Corporation should be to develop projects which are in the interests of the Colonies themselves. It is to that extent that—I do not say there is any disagreement, because I know 599 how my hon. Friends think; but I disagree with what I thought was the implication of the words they used. I would say it is the duty of the Colonial Development Corporation and should be within the powers of the Colonial Development Corporation to be able to develop background expenditure, to make roads and railways and provide the necessary ancillary services to industrial undertakings, to stimulate local farming and local enterprise of every kind and the first consideration should not be profit but utility.
I hesitate to put forward any Socialist doctrine in this House because it is becoming rather non-political, but the fundamental thesis of Socialism I was taught, economically speaking, is that goods should be produced for use, not profit. It was not that profit was an evil thing. It was never that it was necessarily a bad thing, but the motive should be that someone needed those goods. We should be making goods in the Colonies because there is a pent up demand—not what we call an economic demand and that a number of people could pay for them, but that they needed things of which they were deprived and which our endeavours could enable them to get.
It may be fairly said that the Act of 1948 did not go far enough in that respect, but the Act of 1948 was a very widely phrased Act. I think I am correct in saying that no question was raised on this when that Measure was going through Committee. I am not going to weary the House by quoting it in detail, but it provided forcarrying out of projects for developing resources of colonial territories with a view to the expansion of production therein of foodstuffs and raw materials, or for agricultural, industrial or trade development therein.and went on in a Clause to say that it could engage in all activities to produce that purpose. I should have thought there was nothing much clearer than that.
I do not want to be dishonest about this nor to be unfair to the right hon. Gentleman, for whom I have some regard in this matter. It is clear that there is something in the point made about building societies. I do not think anyone thought the Corporation would develop building societies. This whole story started last October and resulted in counsel's opinion being taken by the Govern- 600 ment and the Colonial Development Corporation. Those hon. Members who have not had time to consult the White Paper might like me to refresh their memories about it. Lord Reith, to whom the Minister has paid such extravagant—not extravagant but generous, fair and appropriate commendation—I do not dissent from it at all—might feel there was a certain sardonic implication in these words of compliment coming from a Bill which is designed to restrict his powers. Lord Reith says the Colonial Development Corporationhas been of help to territories urgently needing houses and roads for development; many governments have these high on their priority list;(b) the fine record of Federal and Colonial Building Society in Singapore and Malaya, and loans for African housing to Kenya and Southern Rhodesia stimulated proposals for similar loans for Nyasaland and Northern Rhodesia, and for a building society in Lagos;That is in paragraph 12 of the Annual Report and Statement of Accounts up to 31st December last. That is a pleasant enough statement. Whether it was strictly within the ambit of the Corporation's duties to finance building societies I do not know but I should have thought that anything which tended to the building of houses for workers in the Colonies would be a good and useful thing to do.(d) about £7.5 million is contractually involved … But in October C.D.C. was informed that the Overseas Resources Development Act was now so interpreted that all these projects (severally approved by successive Secretaries of State) were ultra vires; they were not 'projects' as in 1 (1) of the Act; neither were a number of proposals which C.D.C. was considering;(b) C.D.C. consequently has in effect had to default on both legal and moral engagements (see 1 (d) above);(c) having taken legal advice and consulted eminent counsel, C.D.C. declined to accept the official legal view.I do not think I have ever seen a public document issued by a Corporation, an instrument of the Government, with a more forthright criticism of the Government than that. They say, "We do not believe a word of it. We have ourselves had counsel's opinion. We do not believe this is necessary". I challenge the Minister, except in relation to this single facet of the matter—building societies, on which there may be a case, although I am not arguing it—to produce, in relation to roads and other matters, the words of any 601 opinion which says that there is any doubt about the matter. I should have thought that the Act was clear.
There is no one present who can read the Bill now presented to us and say that it makes the position clearer. My hon. Friend the Member for Flint, East (Mrs. White), to whom I always listen with respect, thought that railways were included in transport facilities and that subsection (7) applied to subsection (3). If we want to include railways, why not say "roads, railways and other transport facilities"? Why ally one thing with another and say that this is in relation to certain enterprises only? Who is now to interpret what the Bill means? Nobody knows.
One Clause of the Bill is very serious indeed. Let us see what the Government are saying. C.D.C. can build hotels. It can go into a Colony, which has nowhere for its people to live; it can go into Kenya for instance and, if it has permission, it can build a hotel in an area such as Nairobi which has 10,000 people homeless every night. But it cannot build schools or colleges or hospitals and it cannot build Government offices or other buildings for the public service. All that is specifically excluded by subsection (4) and none of it was excluded by the words of the 1948 Act—and that is why this is a contemptible Measure.
I say frankly that the Government may have been wise to bring the Bill forward at 9.30 at night, however contemptuous it is of the House and however much an invasion of the rights of the minority. Had they brought it forward at the ordinary time a great deal more would have been said about it.
This is part of a system which forces the C.D.C. to make loans for the building of houses for workers in the Colonies and then pushes rates up so much by the Government's financial policy that they are faced with a burden which they cannot carry. It has forced the Corporation to enter into contracts with various Companies which it has had virtually to repudiate. It has forced it, as the Corporation itself says, to default not only on its financial but also on its moral obligations.
This policy was completely supplemented and exposed by the speech of a junior Minister for Foreign Affairs at the United Nations meeting yesterday when he attacked the expenditure of the 602 Specialised Agencies of the United Nations, one of which, the International Children's Emergency Fund, is doing some of the noblest work in our Colonial Territories that any fund could do. This is a fund to which this Government gives less than it gives to Covent Garden Opera House each year—£200,000—for the whole work of saving the children of the world. Having given this miserable sum, which has exposed us to humiliation and contempt throughout the word, which puts Britain about 15th or 16th on the list, the representative of our Government says, "We want to know how carefully you are spending the money because you are spending too much."
This is economics gone wild. We are to cut down on the Colonies. Had we spent this money in Kenya in 1948, 1949 and 1950, how many millions should we have saved?
Had we done the work of winning the confidence of the people of Africa, how much good will should we have got. Had we been building up the standard of life, I would not see people out of work in Oldham today. We would have our share in that prosperity. We are deliberately diminishing these markets and depriving ourselves of trade and we are losing the confidence of the people, and all this to gratify the most fantastic economic policy that has ever been formulated by any Government and one which has consistently failed to produce the results that the Government have forecast.
§ 12.26 a.m.
§ Mr. Hare
I always listen with great interest to the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale), who is extremely eloquent, although, unfortunately, I cannot always agree with what he says. Both he and the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) protested against the fact that the Bill was brought in at a late hour at the end of a Session. Naturally, I cannot agree with the right hon. Gentleman that the Government have wasted all their time in carrying through legislation which was not necessary, but I appreciate very much the courtesy of the Opposition in agreeing that the Bill should be taken at this hour and that we should be having the Committee stage only two days after the Second Reading of the Bill. I very much appreciate the co-operation of the Opposition in agreeing to this.
603 The real difference which seems to have divided our approach to this matter has been the Opposition have said that we are curtailing the powers of the Corporation under the 1948 Act. I am sure that hon. Members opposite sincerely mean what they say, but I should like to assure them that the whole object of our bringing in the Bill was not to curtail and restrict the activities of the Corporation, but to widen its activities.
As I tried to explain in moving the Second Reading, serious doubt arose concerning some of the excellent housing schemes, which I am sure the hon. Member for Oldham, West would not wish to stop. There was serious legal doubt as to whether the Corporation was justified, by the powers given to it by Parliament, in carrying out that work. Therefore, our whole object has been to try to increase the powers of the Corporation, and not to restrict them.
The right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale and a number of hon. Members opposite, including the hon. Lady the Member for Flint, East (Mrs. White), have criticised our technique of trying to carry out this object, saying that it was wrong to try to tabulate large numbers of activities, and so on. Everybody has a right to an opinion. All I ask the House to accept is that our object is not to restrict, but to make the functions and activities of the Corporation more easy to carry out and on a more generous basis. Therefore, I assure the right hon. Gentleman that we certainly did not invent any of the legal doubts, as he suggested.
§ Mr. Hare
No; that is not our view. We would not have bothered the House with a long Bill had that been all that was necessary. As I tried to explain in 604 opening the debate, we felt that this action was necessary to remove the doubts and to widen the scope and power of the Corporation.
Nothing in the 1948 Act itself clearly authorises us, and since it was a matter of opinion whether these general housing projects could be carried out it was necessary for us to do this.
I believe that it was the right hon. Member for West Bromwich (Mr. Dugdale) who asked whether the amount of resources available to the Corporation were sufficient. That hardly comes within the scope of the Bill. The question of increasing the £100 million limit was raised recently and is being considered by my right hon. Friend.
§ Mr. Dugdale
I did not happen to raise that point, but if the Secretary of State is considering some measure to deal with this problem, why could he not have introduced it in this Bill? Is it not an extraordinary sign of incompetence to have to introduce two Bills?
§ Mr. Hare
I disagree. Considerable thought has been given to this matter. We do not want the Corporation to have to go on operating limited as it is, for instance, in the important matter of housing. Therefore it was necessary to have the Bill so that these doubts should be cleared up.
A number of points have been raised by hon. Members on both sides of the House and a general wish has been expressed that these should be brought up in Committee on Friday. I do not wish to show any discourtesy to the House in not taking up these points in detail now, but I assure hon. Members that we shall give them every consideration in Committee.
§ Mr. Hare
I cannot give that assurance to the right hon. Gentleman. Lawyers very often have to disagree, and I am not saying which side is right. But as long as there were doubts—and throughout the debate I have repeatedly used the words "doubts"—we thought that the Bill was necessary. The fact that the right hon. Gentleman said at the beginning of the debate that he was prepared to give the Bill a Second Reading shows that he is not in such disagreement with me as he indicated at certain stages of the debate.
§ Mr. Dugdale
The right hon. Gentleman has tried to make out that this was a question of just legal technicalities, but does the Corporation believe that it will have the powers it thinks necessary and will have more powers than it had before?
§ Mr. Hugh Delargy (Thurrock)
Surely the right hon. Gentleman discussed this matter with the Corporation. What did the Corporation think about it, apart from lawyers' opinions?
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time.
§ Bill committed to a Committee of the whole House.—[Mr. Barber.]
§ Committee this day.