HC Deb 02 April 1962 vol 657 cc163-7

The Secretary of State may—

  1. (a) from time to time make, to the government of any colony to which section five of this Act applies, being a government whose resources are, in his opinion, insufficient to enable it to defray its administrative expenses, grants of such amounts as he may, with the approval of the Treasury, determine;
  2. (b) from time to time make, to any federal government established by virtue of section six of this Act for any colonies, grants of such amounts as he may, with the like approval, determine, for the purpose of enabling that government to make grants to the governments of any of the colonies for which it is established whose resources are, in its opinion, insufficient to enable them to defray their administrative expenses;
  3. (c) from time to time make, to a government of any other form established as aforesaid for any colonies, being one whose resources are, in his opinion, insufficient to enable it to defray its administrative expenses, grants of such amounts as he may, with the like approval, determine.—[Mr. Maudling.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Maudling

I beg to move, That the Clause be read a Second time.

The new Clause, which is shown in brackets as Clause 8 of the Bill, will, I am sure, commend itself to the Committee. Its purpose is a simple one. Before the Federation was sot up, we had the power to make grants in aid to the various territories, but under the British Caribbean Federation Act, 1956, provision was made for annual grants to the Federal Government, which distributed those grants to the unit territories. If the Federation is to be dissolved, as is proposed, we must have the power to resume the making of grants to the individual unit territories, and that is provided by the first subsection of the Clause.

The second subsection provides the power for us to make grants in aid to any federation that may be set up. Obviously, a federation of the Eight is one possibility. The third subsection gives us power to make grants to any association of the territories concerned.

I am sure that this proposal will be in accordance with the will of the Committee. It is really a matter of machinery to give us the powers for making grants in aid which we should not otherwise have because, as I explained, they were subsumed by the Federation while the Federation was in being.

Mr. Chapman

I am delighted to support the proposed Clause, but there are two questions that I want to ask the right hon. Gentleman.

As to the background, I think it is not realised just how varied the living standards in the West Indies are. I made some inquiries just before coming into the Chamber and found that in 1957, the last year for which I have figures, annual income per head in Trinidad was 822 West Indian dollars per annum, in Jamaica 572, St. Kitts 280 and Montserrat 203. Thus, the national income per head per annum in Trinidad is four times that in Montserrat. With these figures in mind, no one can doubt how imperative it is for Britain to contribute to the administrative expenses particularly of the Leeward and Windward Islands.

The annual recurrent expenditure of the Windwards is 22 million West Indies dollars, of which 5½ million is provided by Her Majesty's Government. Thus, we provide 25 per cent. of the annual expenditure there. That is an index of the poverty there and of the need for us to help. It is particularly pleasing to be able to support a Clause which is a continuation of existing policies.

The first question that I want to ask the right hon. Gentleman is whether in the interests of the West Indies he will reply to the rumour which is current in the West Indies and is being reported in the newspapers there, that the British Government are likely to be lukewarm about a federation of the Eight. Honestly, I do not see the reasoning behind this, but it needs denying. It is said that the British Government are afraid about financial support for the Eastern Caribbean. It is said that as part of the British Government's general economy drive there is to be a lopping of expenditure in the Eastern Caribbean, and this makes the Government lukewarm about the founding of a federation of the Eight for which they would have considerable financial responsibility.

We are busy trying to heal as many breaches in the West Indies and to create as much good will as we can. Therefore, it would be helpful if the right hon. Gentleman would deny that rumour, which is being put about by high-level people in the West Indies and reported in the Press out there.

10.15 p.m.

The second assurance I seek concerns certain expenditures which we would not normally think of as being administrative but which will be covered by the Clause. The sort of thing I am thinking of is the Agriculture Advisory Service, which is so badly needed. For development in the Leewards and Windwards, additional agriculture officers and more advisory work and information services will be needed in addition to the pure administration of the moment.

Another example is the need to develop the medical services in the Windwards and Leewards. That might entail the development of medical centres, which means capital expenditure which might be described as administrative. This is badly needed. I hope the right hon. Gentleman can assure us that this kind of expenditure will be covered by the Clause. If it is, it will cover the points I had in mind when I put down three Amendments which were ruled out of order.

Mr. G. M. Thomson

I endorse what my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. Chapman) has said. We are particularly concerned that the Government should say that they will look sympathetically on the question of giving financial aid to a little Eight federation, if it can be brought about and if that is what the peoples want. There is a grant in aid under the old agreement which is, in a sense, outstanding, and I understand that Professor Lewis, in his survey, indicated that, with the sum of perhaps £10 million, it would be possible to make a little Eight federation viable.

I do not know how reliable that figure is, but it is tremendously important that, in this very difficult situation, the Government should be able to say, as early as possible, that they will be generous and will give economic help on as adequate a scale as possible to make a little Eight federation, if that is the wish of these islands, a success.

The word "administration" covers all forms of social expenditure. I have in mind, as my hon. Friend had, some of the small islands of the Leewards and Windwards. Dominica, for instance, is very beautiful but it is under-developed and lacks even a road round the island. I saw the most overcrowded school I have ever seen on that island. I hope that this new Clause will cover that kind of expenditure.

Mr. Maudling

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. Chapman) for raising these two points and for giving me the chance to make the Government's position clear on them. This Clause does not prescribe that we shall provide certain moneys, but it gives us powers to do so. Obviously the normal controls will operate.

Clearly, this country has obligations to these islands, whether or not they federate. Our concern—and I think that the Committee will agree—is that proposals for a federation of the little Eight should be examined, particularly when thinking in terms ultimately of an independent federation, to see whether such a grouping is likely to be viable in its own right economically, and to see how it can be done.

Professor Lewis's activities have been extremely helpful and we are examining in the Colonial Office what is proposed. We in this country have an obligation towards these territories, whether or not they federate. That is the answer to the hon. Gentleman's first point. We are right to examine very carefully the economics and finances as well as the politics of any proposed federation.

I am glad to confirm that the word "administration" in this context is a little different from the normal use we give it in this Committee. It means current expenditure and the continuation of the normal grant in aid towards the general budgets of these islands, including purely administrative matters such as salaries but also including general current expenditure which the Governments there incur.

Mr. Chapman

Not precluding some development aid which can be regarded as aid for developing administrative services?

Mr. Maudling

That is rather a different point. We give grants in aid of the budgets as well as development aid, and this Bill is concerned with current expenditure. Development lies outside this Bill. Nothing that we do now will upset that.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.