HC Deb 05 March 1963 vol 673 cc352-62

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. G. Campbell.]

10.28 p.m.

Mr. Dan Jones (Burnley)

I have been prompted to raise this debate on the subject of Commonwealth trade on the instance of certain hon. Members on both sides of the House. This arises, chiefly from certain observations I made during the debate on unemployment which took place on 4th February. I was then moved to say that I had some criticisms of the export policy of the Government and of the industrialists in Britain, and that it was contributing to the unsatisfactory situation which we then faced. During that debate the Minister of Labour said, New markets and new techniques will constantly have to be sought after."—[OFFICLAL REPORT, 4th February, 1963; Vol. 670, c. 65.] I agree completely with this observation except that I add, "Never mind about new markets being sought. I am not wholly convinced that existing markets are being properly developed."

To support this argument I want to quote the experiences which I had both in Ghana and Nigeria during October and November of last year. I feel that the House will forgive me if I repeat certain observations which I made and seek to fit certain details into them. I want to begin with the sense of dismay which I had at Accra when I watched the Volta High Dam being constructed by the Kaiser Company of America, assisted by an Italian consortium. When I was given to understand that the initial diving work had been done by a London company I naturally asked why British industrialists are not participating in the work. They are not participating in it. All I could get out of the visit was that we might participate in certain of the electrification later. I interrupt myself to say that I hope that such will be the case.

Coming to Lagos and to the excellently appointed locomotive works there, I was dismayed to note that all the fitments were from countries other than the United Kingdom. I was particularly dismayed when I realised that almost all of the superintendents there had been trained in the United Kingdom—quite a number of them in Lancashire.

I move to the new bridge linking East and West Nigeria, which will be a symbol in that part of the country. It is being built at Onitsha and it will mean a lot to that country in that East and West will be linked for the first time in the history of that growing country When I inquired who was building the bridge I found, again, that it was a consortium of Dutch and Italians. When I inquired about prices I was given to understand that the initial price had been £5¼ million but that it had already risen to £6½ million —and the reason for the increase, with the bridge not one-third completed, was that the bridge builders had not provided for high tides. I could not help thinking that Dorman Long would hardly have made such a faux pas as that.

I come to the very limited use of British cars which I observed throughout the whole of Nigeria, even when the cars were in the hands of our own British people, who I felt, and still feel, should have been setting an example. At the very least they should have been driving British cars. I am saying nothing here that I did not tell them. They replied that running a British car sounded all right but that the provision of spares was so bad that it could not be done. I do not know whether they are telling the truth, but it ought to be found out. When we analyse the figures for the import of cars into Nigeria they compel our very serious attention. In 1959 Nigeria imported cars to the amount of £11,080,720. In 1960 the figure was £6,751,307. The figure for 1961 was £6,529,535. These are most impressive figures, and I calculate that the proportion of those who run cars there is less than one in twenty, that is, of course, British cars.

There is a remarkable preponderance of bicycles in that country, but I found that British bicycles were in a minority. Nigeria imported £2,440,086 worth of bicycles in 1960 and £1,154,800 worth in 1961. We should bear in mind that this is not a matter merely of the manufacture of bicycles but of the amount of steel used and the amount of tube manipulation work involved. I discussed with several Nigerians the idea, which they found completely acceptable, that British manufacturers should produce a utility machine instead of the rather elaborate machine expected of them in this country. If these machines were painted in the variety of bright colours which the Nigerians particularly like, we should have a market there for this country which at the moment is very much under-developed.

British builders make no contribution to the building programmes which are being carried out in all parts of Nigeria. I would refer again to observations I made to Lord Head at Lagos when I was asked for my views and I told him that I was not happy about the situation. I expected him to defend things as they were, but he did nothing of the kind. I give full marks to him. He said that the position was as bad as I had found it. When, for example, it was desired to extend certain British administrative offices, it was found that certain tenders could not be obtained and the work was given to an Italian firm, Del Cappa, at a cost of £76,000. This kind of thing is not conducive to developing our export trade as we are entitled to see it developed.

As to the conference at Lagos, I have to say with truth and a certain sense of dismay that the whole conference seemed to make up its mind that the United Kingdom was entering the Common Market. Those who attended the conference were terribly upset about it. Since there was in this country a substantial body of opinion which disagreed with United Kingdom entry into the E.E.C., I felt that that disagreement should be expressed. I therefore made what I thought was a mundane contribution, asking the conference to believe that the Commonwealth had many friends in the United Kingdom who believed that entry into the E.E.C. could be acceptable only on certain terms, chief of which was the preservation of our Commonwealth interests.

At the end of the conference I was simply inundated with Commonwealth delegates. These were not ordinary delegates. Many of them were Ministers, among them Mr. Sterling Lyon, the Attorney-General and Minister of Public Utility in Manitoba. He told me that Canada had a tremendous desire to trade with us. I asked whether I could quote him and he agreed. We are Manitoba's best customers, but apparently the situation does not work in reverse. I am given to understand, I hope reliably, that grain ships come to this country and travel back in ballast. It is eminently sensible that we should examine the question of developing our trade with these people and ensuring that the ships return with produce from the United Kingdom.

Good will is an indispensable factor in relations between any people. I refer now to the Amalgamated Engineering Union, of which I am a member. It might be wondered what a trade union has to do with our export trade. I will try to explain. In 1957, the Amalgamated Engineering Union took a decision that made a tremendous impact over the whole continent of Africa. In that year, the union severed 22,623 members in the Union of South Africa from United Kingdom membership because of the practice by that country of racial discrimination. In 1961, when the membership had been in existence for 66 years, we did precisely the same with our membership in Southern Rhodesia, totalling 2,000 people. My impression when talking to Nigerians about this was that they felt that those facts, showing that the United Kingdom had feelings of this kind towards those countries, should be more widely known and more generally understood, to promote the good will which is indispensable in trading.

I mentioned to one of the trade ministers at Enugu my misgivings about trade with various countries. I told him of my dismay that although the United Kingdom was quite good enough to teach their children the three Rs, quite good enough to teach them Christian religion, to nurse their sick in the hospitals and, indeed, to undertake research to make their fine country more habitable, we were not, apparently, good enough to participate in their economic development.

The Minister did not, as I thought he might, take umbrage. Indeed, he admitted that that was true. When I asked why, his reply, which still rings in my ears, was that "We do not trade as we formerly did, and as we could do now, because you have no faith in us." I leave that statement in that setting, but I consider that this position should be looked at much more closely. I am convinced that if the Minister of State's call for new markets and new techniques is con- stantly to be followed up, our existing markets had better be developed.

I impress upon Her Majesty's Government the tremendous need for the setting up of a Commonwealth Exports Council on the same lines as the European Export Council if we are to save the industrial situation. We could do this in a way that would be satisfactory to us all by developing our manufactures and selling them in the markets abroad.

10.44 p.m.

Mr. James Callaghan (Cardiff, South-East)

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Burnley (Mr. D. Jones), as, I think, other hon. Members would wish to do, on raising this important topic. I push again the suggestion made by my hon. Friend for a Commonwealth Export Council. This idea is not novel. I put it to the Minister in a debate a month ago, when we were given no answer. It is now time to have the result of the Minister's consideration. There is no doubt that the Dollar Exports Council and the European Exports Council have had an effect in diverting exports. There is trade in the Commonwealth just waiting for us to pick it up. If we had a concentration of effort on Commonwealth trade similar to the concentration we have had upon dollar trade and European trade, we could get a great deal more than we have now.

In this country today, much of our heavy engineering industry and our steel industry is running below capacity. I am certain that we ought to be considering seriously the granting of long-term credits to the developing countries of the Commonwealth, countries such as India and Pakistan, so as to enable them to develop their own industries and get the basic structure of their life on a sound foundation. We cannot emphasise too much that, by raising the standard of life of the developing countries and helping to get their industries going, we shall help our own exporting industries. This is enlightened self-interest on our part. We cast our bread upon the waters, and it will certainly return to us.

At a time when our own exporting industries are lagging and suffering from unemployment and short time, this is the moment when we should consider once again our financial arrangements with these countries and help them to help themselves, so that, in due course, they will help us.

I am grateful to the Minister of State for allowing me this time, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising this important topic.

10.46 p.m.

The Minister of State, Board of Trade (Mr. Alan Green)

l accept at once that the development of Commonwealth trade by whatever means are open to us is an entirely desirable, proper, honourable and constructive thing to achieve.

May I first deal with the major point made by the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan). I mean no disrespect to the hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. D. Jones), who is in some respects a close neighbour of mine and with whom I have always had and I trust will have good personal relations.

The hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East knows that we do grant massive credits and massive loans to developing countries within the Commonwealth. The only possible question is whether we do enough and, perhaps, whether we tie the aid which we give sufficiently closely to certain chosen industries in this country. These are matters for debate, but I think that the hon. Gentleman will agree that, today, as we have always done not only under Conservative Governments but under Labour Governments, we give massive aid to the developing countries of the Commonwealth. It might be said that we should do more. It can certainly be said, and I think agreed on both sides, that we do a very great deal in this respect.

Hon. Members will not mind if I put back to them a point which anyone calling for an increase in trade between this country and developing countries must take on board and really face. I put it particularly, and without malice aforethought, to the hon. Member for Burnley, because here lies a burning local issue in Lancashire which must be faced with great honesty—more honesty than it often receives—if our whole approach to the developing countries is to be really fruitful.

If we are to help these countries, as I trust we are—in the terms used by the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East—to get their industries going so that their standards of life are raised, in our mutual interest, we must not refuse to take the goods which they produce. It distresses me at times to hear the two contradictory propositions advanced, that, on the one hand, we should give more and more aid to develop industries in the Commonwealth, and, on the other, when their goods come here, that we should cut back on their exports to us. The hon. Member for Burnley will not mind my saying that, because he is an honest man. This is a problem he himself faces in his own constituency, as I face it in mine. We must not run away from it. We must not shut our eyes to it. Otherwise, we shall not achieve a fruitful outcome from whatever we do.

Mr. D. Jones

I know what is in the hon. Gentleman's mind, and I am prepared to face up to it. But surely the point is that all this argument hardly applies to automobiles, to building and to bicycles. These constitute avenues which seem to be completely unexploited, and I wish that the hon. Gentleman would direct the impetus of his remarks in that direction.

Mr. Green

I propose to do so, but in seeking for the general it is very important not to evade the particular. This aspect is very important. If a local interest in this country is affected when a Commonwealth industry is built up, and therefore there is too much resistance to that industry being built up, then that Commonwealth industry will not be built up. I hope that I am not being awkward, but I ask him to face the facts that I am trying, in all honesty, to represent.

The hon. Member chose to concentrate primarily on Nigeria and Ghana within the general framework of Commonwealth trade. As he said, he recently visited both countries. No doubt they made a vivid impression on his mind. He will not mind my reminding him that I also visited them at almost the same time with the express purpose of seeing in what way, if possible, we could further advance the economic interests of Nigeria and Ghana.

I was a little surprised to hear him give certain instances of apparent British failures to secure contracts or to push particular sales, and he mentioned the Volta Dam in Ghana. I respectfully remind him that it would have been just as well to mention also the Tema harbour and the great work entrusted to British contractors, admirably carried through and managed. It might be a good idea, in order to give encouragement to those who are doing for Britain a very great deal of constructive and useful work in both these countries, to mention these things.

Perhaps it would be no bad thing to remind the House and perhaps some of our detractors abroad that the first and most important thing we do for Nigeria is to buy, almost duty-free, 45 per cent. of her total exports. Is this not a very good thing to say? Should we not reproach ourselves if we did not put first what we are doing for Nigeria, and I hope will go on doing?

I was very impressed by the great interest shown by all the British construction companies with which I have come in contact in their desire to secure British construction work in those countries. I will not quote Lord Head back at the hon. Member because I have not his permission, but it would not be fair to suggest that British construction firms are not interested in these two countries. They are deeply interested.

We should bear something else in mind. As I have said, we buy 45 per cent. of Nigeria's total exports and they are conscious of this and grateful. They are far from being distressed. I found them very co-operative and friendly for all that we are doing for them. This is a point worth making and the House would wish me to make it, for it is true.

Of course, Nigeria with 40 million people and an enormous territory and all the development requirements in the world needs world-wide help, and I would not like to go on record as saying that she should have only British help. I think that she needs help from all developed and developing Western countries, and I think that all the developing members of the British Commonwealth need that help too from as many sources as possible, but the help they most need is the help that it seems we alone among the Western countries most truly provide, and that is an open market.

If we could get other developed Western countries to give the same kind of market treatment to African countries as we afford, we should really strike a bigger blow for these developing countries than almost any single kind of grant or aid or supply of bicycles, or whatever it is, could strike. This would be something constructive for them. We are setting an example here, and I believe that we are entitled, without being complacent about it, to a little recognition for doing this.

I perhaps might be permitted to remind the hon. Gentleman that in Nigeria the oil development, which is very substantial by Nigerian standards, involves British investments of about £80 million. The hon. Gentleman might perhaps set this in the scales of the bridge, and I invite him to do so. There are many other instances which show that British industry, British enterprise, and British Government activity is truly directed towards helping these countries.

Of course I want more, and here I might perhaps be permitted to make one plea. I do not know that it will go to a very wide audience, but I am glad of the chance of making it. When I came back from visiting these two countries, I made a strong point of inviting British business men to go and visit them, because in my view, for certain kinds of business, there were very good fields for further British investment, and I am glad to repeat that plea now.

These countries do not necessarily suit all kinds of Western organised commercial operations, but they suit many kinds, and of course the business man can only find out whether it suits him if he goes to the country and finds out for himself, and this I hope he will do.

I shall consider the idea of a Commonwealth Export Council, but I know that hon. Members appreciate that the Commonwealth is so diverse, its stages of development are so different, and the needs in each country are so very different, that it is doubtful whether the concept of a Western European Export Council to a homogeneous market applies to a Commonwealth Export Council market. We are to meet the Commonwealth Trade Ministers at the earliest possible date, and we shall discuss this idea and any other constructive ideas that are put forward, but do not let us lose sight of the fact that the Commonwealth is immensely diverse, and that what suits Western Europe or America as a form of organisation for exports does not necessarily suit the whole of the Commonwealth.

Mr. D. Jones

I should like to go on record as saying that although I referred specifically to Nigeria, and to a lesser degree to Ghana—

The Question having been proposed after Ten o'clock and the debate having Continued for half an hour, Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned at one minute to Eleven o'clock.