HC Deb 06 November 1961 vol 648 cc757-66

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Gibson-Watt.]

10.13 p.m.

Miss Joan Vickers (Plymouth, Devonport)

I am grateful to you, Mr. Speaker, for allowing me to have a debate on these two important but little known Territories in the Commonwealth, namely, Sarawak and North Borneo.

They have an important part to play in the Far East, and I am glad to say that they were able to send two distinguished members to the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association which met in London this year. My main object is to draw the attention of my hon. Friend to these Territories and to certain aspects in which I consider that Her Majesty's Government may be able to help in the immediate future.

In my opinion, there is a need for a Citizenship Bill in order that the inhabitants of these Territories may have a feeling of loyalty to their country, not just to their race, and I feel that it would be of infinite benefit to them to have such a Bill in the near future. It would be a particular asset to the Chinese immigrants and to the Indonesians now residing in these Territories if they could know what their position is and also what will happen to them as and when the elections take place.

Furthermore, I think that it is essential that more money should be granted for education. Article 26 (1) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states: Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. It is neither compulsory nor free in these Territories.

For example, in Sarawak only 42,481 Dyaks and Malays go to school in the elementary section. That is only 338 per cent. of the child population. Six thousand, seven hundred and forty-seven Chinese are in the same category, which is 80.3; per cent. of the child population. There are 7,929 Chinese and only 1,229 natives undergoing secondary education. We must be grateful to the many Churches and mission which have helped with the building of the schools in both Territories and which run them very efficiently today. We must also be grateful to the Colombo Plan teams who help in secondary education and in training agricultural students in both Territories.

There is a great shortage of survey officers, which is holding up the opening up of land. I know that the owners of some land are willing to sell their land so that it can be further opened up by smallholders, but I understand that this is not possible at present because there is nobody to survey the land. There is also a shortage of agricultural officers to help with the many excellent rural development schemes, especially those of the smallholder type. In the medical services there is a shortage of doctors and physiotherapists and in Borneo, for some reason which perhaps my hon. Friend can explain, I understand that married women are not allowed to work as nurses.

The fact that 80 per cent. of Borneo is still a forest and that Sarawak has only about 705 miles of road point to the urgent need for help with the road programme. The Report of the South-East Asia Trade Delegation in 1961 said in regard to Borneo: No overland communication between east and west coast is a major factor in retarding the progress of the country. I have been along many of the roads now being built. They now have the Iban trekkers going ahead with a certain amount of equipment and people working behind them knocking down the trees. Then they make the rough jeep track afterwards before it is finally surfaced. This is far too slow progress. I understand that only about two miles a month are made. I suggest that my hon. Friend should recruit teams from Australia or Canada who have great experience in road making, as this is a very urgent problem at present.

Neither Territory has a department of social welfare. I recognise that excellent work is being done by voluntary organisations and particularly by the wives of expatriate officers, those serving in the Civil Service. However, in due course they will leave and there will be far fewer persons to do the work. Further, training has been given to quite a number of people in social services—probation officers, women's officers, and so on. These are now working in separate departments and this is a waste of energy. It would be far better if they were co-ordinated in one department. I am not necessarily suggesting a large department of social service or social welfare, but I do suggest that the existing people should be co-ordinated and if possible given a little help. In the way they are being run at the moment they are certainly not being used to the best of their abilities.

In any mention of both these Territories one must recognise and praise the excellence of the Colonial Civil Service. Its members are extraordinarily good. The local people coming in and taking their positions as district officers are also performing good service for their country. Several are also being trained in this country at present.

I was very impressed by the calibre of the civil servants, quite a lot of whom served with the last Rajah in Sarawak or with the Borneo Company. Many have given a life's work to the Territory. A great many were prisoners of war under the Japanese and suffered great privation, but in spite of that they went back to the country and continued to help to rebuild it following the Japanese defeat. I hope that my hon. Friend may be able to say how much he appreciates their work; and that they may have no fear that their careers will end in the near future. While I was there this time some new cadets arrived from Great Britain, and they were, naturally, very anxious to know something about their future. I hope that they may be given some assurance tonight.

The Colonial Development Corporation is doing excellent work in both Territories, Borneo Abaca Ltd., and the Mostyn Estates (Cocoa), the Borneo Development Corporation, and also a housing development scheme.

I should like, if I may, to consider the histories of the Territories of Sarawak and Borneo. Sarawak was formed after a treaty made between the Sultan of Brunei and James Brooke, who afterwards became the first White Rajah, in August, 1839. It was governed by him and the second and third Rajahs until the Japanese invasion in 1942. It had been made a British Protectorate in 1888, and seceded to the Crown in 1946.

The population now totals just over 744,000, and comprises, in order of numbers, Sea Dayaks—or Ibans— Chinese, Malays, Land Dayaks, indigenous peoples and Europeans. The Chinese are the most educated, are financially better off than the other races and are likely, in Sarawak, to form the largest race in future. In North Borneo there is a population of over 454,000, consisting of Dusans, Chinese, Bajau, Murats, and other indigenous races, and at present there are approximately 27,000 Indonesians.

Sarawak is mainly an agricultural country, its principal exports being rubber, timber and pepper. The pepper growers are very anxious that they should be able to establish their products in the United Kingdom.

The Government of Sarawak is run by the Council Negri, and has been since 1959. It is elected by indirect elections through divisional advisory councils from district and urban councils. I think that this has worked extraordinarily well, and I hope that the franchise may be enlarged in future. I understand that the ballot box was generally used for the first time in 1959, in the district council elections, which numbered over 300. and there was 75 per cent. voting, which shows that there is keenness to take part in the political activities of the country.

There are two registered political parties, the Sarawak United Party and P.A.N.A.S.—Party Negara. Up to date, 38 trade unions have been registered. According to the Annual Report, industrial disputes have been infrequent, and no stoppages occurred last year.

In Borneo, the British flag was first hoisted in Lebuan by H.M.S. "Iris", in 1846. This was followed by a treaty of friendship, and affairs were later run by the British North Borneo Company, whose activities dated from 1909 until, again, the Japanese occupied the Territory in 1942. Borneo became a Colony of the Crown in 1946. It has a Legislative Council, still nominated but it has an unofficial majority of five. There is also an Executive Council consisting of an equal number of officers and unofficial members. There are five trade unions in this Territory.

I should particularly like to mention the facilities given in North Borneo to the Army from Malaya. The area of Kota Belut has been given up for the training of the Army there at some inconvenience to the inhabitants.

Exports from Borneo are very satisfactory since they are above their imports, but the picture is not the same for Sarawak, which is a poorer Territory. These two Territories have a considerable amount in common. They have the same currency, they use the same leprosorium, they share a mental hospital and they do a considerable amount of training of young people in the training colleges, particularly in the Tarat Agricultural College.

When one remembers the help given to many Territories which did not suffer from devastation and near-starvation, like these people, it is remarkable to see what tremendous progress has been made in rebuilding the cities and replanning the countries since 1946.

The people of both these Territories are happy, peaceful folk and they deserve a chance of better conditions and I hope that, as a result of this short debate tonight, my hon. Friend may be able to say that Her Majesty's Government are considering helping them to continue their progress.

The many civil servants who have spent their lives working there also deserve to know what their futures will be. I have had the opportunity of seeing these Territories on two occasions. I have been able to stay with the Sea Dayaks in their long houses, and I have visited the Malay campons. I have seen the Chinese at work, planting rubber, working the fields, engaged in their activities in the towns and managing their shop houses. I have had the opportunity of attending council meetings. I hope that tonight we shall hear that Her Majesty's Government appreciate the great work that has been done in the rebuilding of these Territories and will say that they have a happy future before them.

10.27 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies (Mr. Hugh Fraser)

We have listened with great interest to the assess- ment which my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Miss Vickers) has made of the situation in Sarawak and North Borneo as she found it when she visited the Territories recently. It is clear proof of the value of these visits which have enabled my hon. Friend to come back full of ideas and questions and I will endeavour to answer some of those she put.

Regarding education, I agree that there is still much to be done and, in passing, I echo her tribute to the missionaries and Churches for the part that they have played. This problem—and it is a basic and vital one—is being tackled, as I am sure my hon. Friend will agree, vigorously in both Territories. Provision is being made for increased primary and secondary school facilities and the aim is universal free education for all. But that. of course, cannot be achieved overnight and we are limited by the resources available especially, as my hon. Friend will know, by the great shortage of suitably qualified teachers. At this moment, in the higher grades, there are six vacancies—a small number to us, but to them it is vital—and we are working hard to try to find replacements.

I believe that the Commonwealth Education Scheme will help. We hope that it will result in the Territories getting more teachers and that it will draw people from this country. The scheme tops up salaries and makes arrangements by which pension rights in Britain, when the teachers return, are safeguarded. This is an important new development which may be of considerable value to these Territories.

I have noted what my hon. Friend has had to say about the shortage of survey and agricultural officers and I can assure her that Her Majesty's Government are doing everything possible to fill the vacancies. These officers are not easy to come by, but I can assure my hon. Friend that we are determined— and my right hon. Friend is most anxious —that there should be no brake put on development by lack of qualified staff.

I was interested to hear my hon. Friend's views on the question of the introduction of a citizenship and nationality Bill. This is a very complex and difficult question, but it is one which I assure her has our immediate attention. Indeed, we are at this moment giving it urgent consideration.

With my right hon. Friend's approval the Governor is going ahead with plans to introduce elections in North Borneo at local government level next year. Consultation with the Governor is proceeding about the possibility of a further constitutional advance.

My hon. Friend has suggested that there is need for national registration of all citizens in North Borneo, and this ties in with the other question that she asked. This, also, is being considered.

My hon. Friend mentioned the necessity for improved communications. This is a vital matter. I know that the right hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Creech Jones) has visited these parts and knows the enormous difficulties of communication, especially inland, with a coastline cut by rivers. My hon. Friend put forward some most valuable ideas about speeding up the building of teams to deal with these problems, and I can assure her that this is under way.

We are taking steps to remedy these communications difficulties. About 26 per cent. of the total development expenditure in North Borneo is for roads, to provide a link between the east and west coasts. In Sarawak, an expenditure of over £3 million on road development is contemplated in the period between now and 1963. Of course, a road linking the two Territories would be most desirable, but it would be idle to pretend that this can be given the first priority. It would be an immense task, and I think that my hon. Friend and the right hon. Member for Wakefield would agree that there are more immediate targets which have to be achieved. As my hon. Friend said, it is important to build up these road teams, and survey investigations are being carried out now so that the speed of construction can be greatly accelerated.

My hon. Friend referred to help which has been given by the Commonwealth, and I would pay a special tribute to the help which has been given by both Australia and New Zealand in the provision of people—I do not like the word"personnel"—to help in education, road making and agriculture. I am sure my hon. Friend will agree that their help has been invaluable in these two Territories.

I agree wholeheartedly with what my hon. Friend has said about the devoted and splendid service which the expatriate officers have given to these two Territories. They have served through a variety of regimes. They have suffered. They have been imprisoned and they have come through with flying colours to gain our respect and the respect of all whom they have so notably served. I am glad to say that the Governments of both Territories have now accepted the Overseas Service Aid Scheme, which will ensure that the interests of these officers will be safeguarded. I hope that my hon. Friend, who has many friends in the area, will always keep the Colonial Office informed of any sense of grievance or difficulties which her friends there may have, or feel that they are experiencing.

Much has been said by my hon. Friend, rightly, of the need to speed up development. She also said that there should be much greater aid than we have been able to give these Territories. Unfortunately, as the right hon. Gentleman will know, this is a proper claim by the friends which the many Territories of our great Commonwealth have in this House. The Colonial Office is, naturally, forced to balance priorities, and also the amount of money available from the Exchequer.

I want to say a word about what we have succeeded in doing. A great deal is being done. It is not the ideal, but within our resources it is more than a fair contribution. One important aim— and a basic aim—is to diversify the economy and correct an excessive dependence on one main industry, namely, rubber.

North Borneo's current development plan covers the period 1960–64 and provides for the expenditure of more than £6½million, towards which Her Majesty's Government will contribute over £3 million. In addition, the Electricity Board and the Rubber Fund Board expect to incur just under £1 million in capital expenditure. About 38 per cent. of the development expenditure will be devoted to communications, 17 per cent. to other economic projects, 14 per cent. to social services, and the remainder to administrative and miscellaneous projects. My hon. Friend urged that there is a need for the establishment of a social services department for the two Territories. This is something which must be considered, but I feel that it is best for the present to rely on the existing facilities for co-ordination.

Turning to Sarawak, the current development plan provides for an expenditure of more than £17¼ million over the period 1959–63. Of this total nearly £3¾million will be contributed by Her Majesty's Government from colonial development and welfare funds. More than 34 per cent. of the expenditure will be devoted to development of communications, particularly roads, nearly a quarter will be devoted to agriculture and forestry projects, and more than 27 per cent. to social services.

A large part of the expenditure on agriculture is for planting high yielding rubber, and is partly financed by a rubber cess of two cents per lb. Great importance is attached to developing the rural areas to reduce the present disparity in development between them and the towns.

These, in a few words, are some of our immediate objectives. During the past few years it has been possible to move ahead with development in the territories. Her Majesty's Government's aid to Sarawak and North Borneo for economic development and welfare is currently running at about £1 million a year. Since 1946—to go back through the regimes of both ourselves and our predecessors—nearly £12 million has gone in these forms to these two territories. In addition, my hon. Friend referred to the work of the C.D.C. in North Borneo. I agree that this is work which is highly effective, and deserves all the praise that my hon. Friend gave to this development.

Finally, it is appropriate for me to make some reference to Tunku Abdul Rahman's proposals for a Greater Malaysia. As announced on 13th October, the Tunku has accepted the invitation from the Prime Minister to come to London this month for exploratory talks about these constructive proposals, which Her Majesty's Government have welcomed.

As announced, the object of the discussions is to reach an understanding with Tunku Abdul Rahman on the broad issues and to prepare the way for consultation with the Borneo territories, without which no commitment can be entered into.

I have dealt to the best of my ability with the points which my hon. Friend has raised. As to the points which I have failed to answer, I shall, in the course of perusing her speech, go into them more deeply and correspond with her about them. I thank my hon. Friend, on behalf of the House, for having raised this interesting topic.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at twenty minutes to Eleven o'clock.