HC Deb 18 November 1964 vol 702 cc565-86

Order for Second Reading read.

9.58 p.m.

The Secretary of State for the Colonies (Mr. Anthony Greenwood)

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

I have it in Command from the Queen to acquaint the House that Her Majesty, having been informed of the purport of the Bill, has consented to place her prerogative and interest, so far as they are affected by the Bill, at the disposal of Parliament for the purposes of the Bill.

The object of the Bill is to provide for the independence of The Gambia on 18th February, 1965. It follows from the agreement reached at the conference held at Marlborough House in July this year between the late Government and an all-party delegation from The Gambia. The report of the independence conference was laid before Parliament by my predecessor the right hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Sandys) as Cmnd. 2435.

The independence conference showed that it is the wish of the Government and people of The Gambia that, on independence, The Gambia should be a member of the Commonwealth. I am glad to be able to inform the House that the Governments of all the other Commonwealth countries have indicated their readiness to agree to this, and I know that the House will share my pleasure.

It being Ten o'clock, Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER interrupted the Business.

Ordered, That the proceedings on the Gambia Independence Bill may be entered upon and proceeded with at this day's Sitting at any hour, though opposed.—[Mr. Greenwood.]

Question again proposed, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Mr. Greenwood

The Bill does not provide for the Constitution of The Gambia as an independent country. As is usual, the Constitution will be embodied in an Order in Council to be submitted to Her Majesty in Council after the Bill has become law. The substance of that Constitution was agreed at the independence conference and is summarised in the White Paper to which I have referred. The Gambia Government wish that The Gambia should for the present have a monarchical form of constitution and Her Majesty has agreed to become Queen of The Gambia on independence.

The past decade has seen remarkable advances in Africa and great changes in the relations between the peoples of Africa and the peoples of Europe. For us in Britain it has been the culminating stage of a work of co-operation in the building of new nations to which successive generations both of British and of Africans have increasingly devoted themselves and the full significance of which, is perhaps, not yet fully appreciated. In pursuing this deliberately chosen path Britain has been acting in accordance with the international obligations which we undertook under Chapter XI of the Charter of the United Nations, to develop self-government and to assist the peoples in the development of their own free political institutions.

A special impetus was given to this process soon after the Second World War by one of my predecessors, the late Arthur Creech Jones, to whose memory it is perhaps specially fitting to pay tribute today for his warmth, his understanding and his foresight. In the years that have followed the work has gone forward at an increasing pace. Indeed, this is the tenth independence Bill affecting Africa alone which has been presented to Parliament in less than eight years, since the Ghana Independence Act of February, 1957. I know that it will be welcomed on both sides of the House, as its predecessors have been, and that The Gambia will be equally warmly welcomed into the family of Commonwealth nations.

The Gambia is small compared with many of the African countries which have preceded it on the path to independence, but it makes up in history what it lacks in size. Its contacts with Europe go back over many centuries. A Portuguese expedition reached the river Gambia as early as 1455, only 40 years after the Battle of Agincourt. The first English traders arrived in 1618, within a couple of years of the death of Shakespeare; and our first permanent establishment there dates back over 300 years, to 1661.

The modern development of The Gambia may be said to date from the end of the Napoleonic Wars, when the capital, Bathurst, was built on a piece of land at the mouth of the river, acquired by Britain under a treaty with its African possessors, to help enforce the abolition of the slave trade. Later in the nineteenth century treaties of protection were made with African chiefs in a narrow belt of country up both banks of the river, thereby giving The Gambia the distinctive shape it has on the map of today. So our association with The Gambia dates back further than that with any other African country.

It is a long connection which The Gambia people, I think, value as much as we do; and it is with a sense of the past as well as of the future that we come now to the moment of transforming the relationship into a really free association between peoples. The size, the shape and the limited resources of The Gambia have undoubtedly been obstacles on her road to independence, and, clearly, they are problems which will continue, in some form or another, to face her as an independent country.

This the people and Government of The Gambia know well. They have a population of only just over 300,000 living within an artificial boundary imposed by a colonial past. The economy depends almost entirely on one crop, groundnuts, and has at present a substantial budget deficit. Nevertheless, the Gambians are a people with a cultural and historical identity, who have a right to determine their own future, and a history of good government which proves their ability to make a success of independence.

May I, here, pay a particular tribute to the Prime Minister of The Gambia, Mr. David Jawara, whom I had the pleasure of meeting in London earlier this month? It is, above all, his wise leadership during the past two years which has made it possible for The Gambia to achieve independence despite all the practical obstacles which nature and circumstances had placed in her path. With his name perhaps I may be allowed to couple that of the Governor, Sir John Paul, to whose sym- pathetic understanding and guidance The Gambia owes so much.

The obvious geographical fact about The Gambia is that it is surrounded on all three landward sides by the Republic of Senegal. It is, therefore, particularly important that there should be a special and friendly relationship between the two countries, countries which are so similar in their African background, but so different in their recent history. Their two Governments have, in fact, been examining for some time the problems involved in this relationship and sought the advice of a team of experts from the United Nations whose report was received in April this year.

Subsequently, in July, the Governments of The Gambia and Senegal initialled agreements providing for cooperation in foreign affairs and defence. It is intended that joint committees will be set up to promote this co-operation, and it is expected that the agreements will be signed after the independence of The Gambia. I want to say that Her Majesty's Government welcome this decision of the two Governments to develop close relations and we hope that with the passing of the years they may become even closer.

Turning to the problem of finance and economic resources, it must be acknowledged that through no fault of its own, The Gambia cannot be expected to be able to balance its budget unaided for at least some years ahead. For this reason Her Majesty's Government agreed at the time of the independence conference to provide assistance towards recurrent expenditure until the middle of 1967. The Gambia Government have, however, made considerable strides in the last two years in their efforts to reduce the level of financial dependence on Britain, and the assistance asked for and promised is on a tapering basis.

In addition to budgetary aid, we have also offered to assist the Gambia Government's current development plan at the rate of £800,000 a year for a period up to the end of June, 1967. In addition, the resources of the Ministry of Overseas Development in the field of technical co-operation will, of course, continue to be available on request to The Gambia on the same footing as to other independent Commonwealth countries. Moreover, independence will not affect, of course, the continuing operation of the 10-year agreement under the Overseas Service Aid Scheme which was signed between the British and Gambia Governments in 1961.

In these, as in other respects, independence does not mean cutting all our connections with The Gambia, but placing them on a new footing in harmony with present-day circumstances and the wishes of the people. The Gambia can be confident of our continuing good will and I know that when His Royal Highness the Duke of Kent goes out to represent Her Majesty the Queen at the independence celebrations, in February, he will take with him the deep and heartfelt good wishes of the Parliament and people of Britain to the Parliament and people of The Gambia.

10.9 p.m.

Mr. Julian Amery (Preston, North)

I would like, at the outset, if I may, to congratulate the Secretary of State on his appointment. He and I were colleagues in the Middle East in wartime and I am glad that our first encounter across the Table is on a non-controversial issue.

My own experience of The Gambia is very limited. I spent a day there nearly 20 years ago during the war, and have a vivid recollection of the motor-boat that took us through the shark-infested waters from the seaplane to the rather rickety landing stage. We spent a pleasant day in Bathurst. I went up the river and saw crocodiles and a leper colony on the shore—and I assure the hon. Member that I see no political significance in this.

At the time, shortly after the Dakar operation, there was great interest as to what might arise to the Colony from the neighbouring Senegal, and independence was not very much in people's thoughts. Since then very rapid progress has been made—extraordinarily rapid if we look at our own island's constitutional history—and both parties have contributed to this. It was Arthur Creech Jones, to whom the right hon. Gentleman paid tribute—and I join him—who decreed the unofficial majority in the Legislative Council. In 1954, there was an elected majority in the Legislative Council and an unofficial majority in the Executive Council. In 1960, universal franchise was extended to the Protectorate and in 1962 there were elections leading to full internal self-government.

The Bill stems, as the right hon. Gentleman said, from the July conference of this year over which my right hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Mr. Sandys) presided. I should like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to my right hon. Friend's work. How he found the time last summer, in the midst of all his other preoccupations, to handle this problem amazes me, but he has always been a glutton for work.

The Gambia's progress to independence has been free, happily, from the deep divisions which have afflicted so many other former Colonies on their road to independence. As I understand the matter there were very few differences between Mr. Jawara and Mr. N'Jie at the 1962 elections or, indeed, at the July conference. We regret that Mr. N'Jie did not feel able to sign the independence agreement. We sympathise with his desire for new elections—which of us does not?—but I am bound to say, having studied the matter a little, that I accept the reasons given by my right hon. Friend the Member for Streatham in May, 1963, for the revalidation of the electoral register.

May I say a word on the economic side? This country has made a contribution in loans and grants which is not unworthy in comparison with the general level of economic support for the former Colonial Empire as a whole. Sometimes it has been attended by success and sometimes not. There was the egg scheme, but I will not go into that in detail. I welcome the decision to provide assistance for the budget, at any rate until 1967, and I hope that we shall be able to help in the development of the port and the development of the airfield. These seem to me to be the two most important single projects under consideration.

The greatest asset of The Gambia is, of course, the river, which has never been sufficiently used. Here the interplay between The Gambia and Senegal, to which the right hon. Gentleman referred, is crucial. I should like to pay tribute, as did the Minister, to the devoted work of British overseas civil servants in The Gambia and to the enterprise of traders who flourished and worked there over many generations. They laid the foundations. I should like to pay a personal tribute to the work of Sir Percy Wyn-Harris, Sir Edward Windley and Sir John Paul. They have been the builders in our time.

Looking to the future, I welcome The Gambia's decision to seek membership of the Commonwealth and rejoice at the fact that there is unlikely to be any opposition to this intention. I think that the United Nations' team which went there clearly underestimated the strength of the Commonwealth ties as they are felt by The Gambia when they concluded that The Gambia's special ties with the Commonwealth did not require explicit Commonwealth membership. This was a mistake, and the events and the decision of The Gambia Government have shown it to be so.

The precise nature of The Gambia's relations with Senegal is a matter for The Gambia, but, like the right hon. Gentleman, I agree that they have many interests in common, geographical, economical, and, above all, the river. Strong and lasting affinities are recognised by the creation of a joint inter-ministerial committee and by agreements on foreign policy and defence. Whether the right road is by means ultimately of a federation or of a harmonisation of interests, I do not know. There may be a case for an Africa of nations like a Europe of nations, but this is a matter not for us but for The Gambia to decide.

In conclusion, I welcome the Bill and wish to express the full support of my right hon. and hon. Friends to the application of The Gambia to become a member of the Commonwealth. We would like to give a farewell salute to those of our countrymen who have worked in and for The Gambia during the period of Commonwealth rule and to offer our good wishes to The Gambia and its people for a full and close connection with ourselves.

10.16 p.m.

Mr. Douglas Dodds-Parker (Cheltenham)

I wish to add my congratulations to the right hon. Gentleman on the Government Front Bench, who accedes to a great office. I wish him well in the tasks which lie ahead.

I understood from his remarks that, like my right hon. Friend the Member for Preston, North (Mr. J. Amery), he has had personal experience of The Gambia when passing through during the war, in which case I am the third hon. Member to speak to have had at least one day's experience of The Gambia. These comments may underline the importance of outposts of this type in times of danger.

In May, 1941, when I came back to Britain after the liberation of Ethiopia, I found myself in The Gambia. At that time it would have been difficult to get to Britain from the Middle East without being able to land at Bathurst. In this connection, I hope that the House will forgive a brief reminiscence on my part, because I had one gay, endearing 24-hour period in Bathurst, the next night in the air, the next night around the night-clubs of Lisbon, the next night in the air and on the fifth night I found myself on anti-parachutist duties in St. James's Park. That was on 10th May, 1941, and I remember saying, "My goodness, I wish I were back in The Gambia." I will always remember that occasion.

My next connection with The Gambia was in 1947, when Mr. Arthur Creech Jones asked me to serve on a Government committee to look into the difficulties of the smaller territories and, like both right hon. Members who have spoken in the debate, I, too, pay tribute to the work which was done by Mr. Creech Jones. I can think of no man who was more dedicated to the welfare of the Colonial Territories, as they were after the war.

The main problem, I recall, on that committee—and our work continued for two years—was the question of viability; that we could not agree to independence unless we were absolutely certain that the smaller territories would be fully viable. Policy has changed in the ensuing period, and rightly so, and we are giving further support to The Gambia so that she will have a good chance, while independent, of standing on her own feet.

To make a party point, possibly this is the result of 13 years of Tory rule. Possibly because of that period we are now able to afford to spend all this money supporting our erst-while dependent territories overseas.

My next contact with The Gambia was in 1961, when I had the privilege of attending the Senegal independence celebrations in Dakar. There was a cheerful delegation from The Gambia which got on very well with out Senegalese friends. We were discussing the future negotiations and one interesting point was that two distinguished individuals came to me—from the same tribal group on both sides of the frontier—but one spoke impeccable French and the other better English than I do.

Nevertheless, they could not talk to each other because there was no common language. Whatever benefit we may have given to the area during our years of rule, we have deprived them of the ability to talk to each other. However, before long I found an interpreter and, by this means, those two distinguished individuals were able to begin discussing future plans.

As has been said, it is for The Gambia to decide the future form of her treaty associations because, as we can see from the rest of Africa, only by working together can there be any lasting benefit.

Following on my visit in 1961, I helped, through the Council for African-British Relations, to organise a school educational cruise, which just got as far as Bathurst because that was about the extreme range of the ex-troopship. The cruise was a great success—the children were half French, half British—and went to Dakar and Bathurst. I very much hope that we may be able to organise a similar cruise in about 1966 in a faster ship that might be available. I hasten to inform the House that I have no commercial interest, but it is of great value for the young to get to these countries.

Judging by the welcome given in 1962, I believe that it can only do good. It is possible that by that time some of us in this House may be able to go and see how well our friends in The Gambia are working under their independence.

10.21 p.m.

Mr. John Cordle (Bournemouth, East and Christchurch)

I, too, would like to congratulate the right hon. Member for Rossendale (Mr. Greenwood) on attaining this high office. My only hope is that he will not be there too long.

Through the good offices of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, several delegations have been able to visit this small but very delightful State—this enclave which lies, as it were, on the bulge of Africa. It fell to my happy lot to go there for the first time in 1963, but I have since visited the place twice. It has been a delight on every occasion, and I would support my right hon. Friend the Member for Preston, North (Mr. J. Amery), who, just now, described what a pleasure this place is to visit and, in my view, it provides great prospects for any outside investment in tourism.

Before referring further to tourism, I should like to speak very briefly about these happy, warm and friendly people. There are no racial problems in The Gambia; the people immediately extend to one that warmth of approach that, perhaps, is not always in evidence in other States on the West Coast of Africa—or, indeed, on the East Coast. They are delighted to make one's acquaintance, and really want one to be welcomed, and looked after while there.

This small State of 4,000 square miles, with its remarkable asset of a river running 300 miles into the hinterland, provides one immediately with great interest. The soil is poor, the place is flat, but the climate is superb. It is an ideal spot for the naturalist and the ornithologist. As my right hon. Friend has said, the river is filled with crocodiles, and there are the most beautifully-coloured birds. The place is bulging with delight for the naturalist and this, in itself, gives a great deal of scope to the present-day industry of tourism. There is excellent duck shooting, there is fishing, and the large market in the town is worthy of a visit.

I found the people particularly united. They were all out for independence, but all were backing Mr. Jawara. The People's Progressive Party was the one receiving the greatest amount of support, not only in Bathurst itself but in the bush and in the hinterland.

As has already been mentioned, the livelihood of The Gambia is derived from the main groundnut cash crop. This could be developed, and my own view is that The Gambia could be viable if more money were available to advance its agricultural industry. Of that there is no doubt. The oxenisation of the area was introduced in order to free it, as it were, of all the roots that are there in great profusion, and do not allow the soil to be properly cultivated. The use of oxen seems to be the only means by which the groundnuts can be properly sown. If they could only introduce more modern methods by tractors and the like, surely within a short period they would be able to produce more groundnuts.

We first heard of The Gambia through the egg scheme way back in the days of 1945 to 1951. It is interesting to note that the chicken houses used then are now well used as schools, so the scheme was not entirely wasted. It should be said that the scheme failed in producing eggs largely because those who planned it did not understand the industry. I gather that they should have put the fowls' nests higher as that would have stopped the termites getting the eggs. There is plenty of scope even now for increasing this industry in The Gambia.

At the moment, a large amount of rice has to be imported there. In the basin of The Gambia there are 20,000 to 30,000 acres of swamp land which would be right for planting rice. This would mean that the country could be viable within a short time and self-supporting, for it could grow sufficient rice not only for the people's own needs, but for export also. They have numerous social problems. One which leaps particularly to mind is the number of men who are unemployed largely because for only a short period in the 12 months of the year is work found on growing groundnuts. For the rest of the time a man has little to do and often the word "famine" is heard throughout that very delightful country.

It seems a pity that we could not in the past have given more financial support and brought the country to a more modern state of agricultural requirements, thereby offsetting these problems. Child mortality is something which should give us a great deal of concern. Nearly 50 per cent. of the children do not reach the age of 5. If we had a better system of medical care and a greater number of experts there to give them the education they require there would be a considerable reduction in the number of deaths. Education is a basic need. If we can get more teachers there and give the people the money to build the schools they need I am sure that they will benefit in a very short time.

I am delighted to know that the budget will be met until 1967, but I wonder what is to happen after that and whether it is possible for us to come to their aid. We have heard about the port which is vital for The Gambia's import and export trade and we have heard of the airline. That, also, is vital especially if the Gambians are to develop some of the projects which we hope they will develop. They have been giving a great deal of consideration to these. We have heard about tourism, the developing citrus industry and the vast opportunities in the fishing grounds available outside Bathurst.

I make the plea that we should be particularly generous as The Gambia sets out on its independence and give it all the support financially that we are able to give. I wish it godspeed as, on 18th February, it takes its independence which the Gambians have won so well.

10.30 p.m.

Mr. John Biggs-Davison (Chigwell)

I am afraid that yet another self-appointed honorary Gambian is about to address the House, but I assure hon. Members that this one will be very brief.

My opportunity of visiting this lovely territory was with the delegation from the United Kingdom branch of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association in 1956. I feel somewhat in the melancholy position of a survivor because that delegation was led by the late and loved Walter Elliot and the deputy leader of our delegation has already been referred to in this debate from both sides of the House. He was Arthur Creech Jones, and, if I can add my own tribute, I would say that Arthur Creech Jones was a very constructive Colonial Secretary, a man of wisdom, a man of his word and a man of honour.

Hon. Members

Hear, hear.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

I did not have the opportunity of seeing what my right hon. Friend the Member for Preston, North (Mr. J. Amery) saw, namely, a leper colony, but, like my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East and Christchurch (Mr. Cordle), I did see something which came out of The Gambia egg scheme. I saw the fine buildings which had been prepared for this scheme being used for a teacher training college. My hon. Friend saw them being used for schools. Anyway, this has really shown that The Gambia egg scheme was very educational indeed.

I had the opportunity with my friends in this delegation of visiting and not only meeting the politicians in Bathurst, but also travelling right up river in the extraordinary craft which looked as if it had come from Edgar Wallace's "Sanders", the Governor's steam-launch which rejoiced in the name of "H.M.C.S. Mansa Kila Ba". I cannot translate the name. We had the opportunity of meeting the Gambians in their villages and our guide on this expedition has already been referred to. He was Sir Percy Wyn-Harris, who distinguished himself not only in The Gambia but in other territories of the former Colonial Empire.

The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State and other hon. Members who have addressed the House have referred to the grave economic difficulties that face the people of The Gambia. Sir Percy Wyn-Harris was a man who fought like anything to try to end the hungry season in The Gambia. He did much to enable the farmers to cultivate their land more efficiently and to sell their groundnuts on more advantageous terms, and he fostered the rice production to which my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East and Christchurch referred and which is a key to the solvency of a country which is still threatened with starvation.

We had a very tactful historical outline from the right hon. Gentleman, whom I should also like to compliment on his appointment and on his speech. I say a tactful speech because in our short trip up the river we landed at Fort James. It is just 300 years since Fort James was set up as an island fortress, which shared with Cape Coast in what is now Ghana the dubious honour of being the most important depot for the slave trade. We landed at night and this island, I thought, was full of grim ghosts.

I mention this not to cast gloom on the debate, which marks a coming happy occasion, but because much which has been done by our race in Africa has been an atonement, if that be possible, for the great evils of the slave trade. What has been done by colonialism, much maligned, has in the words of the right hon. Gentleman reached its culminating stage and The Gambia will be the tenth African State to have been brought forward to independence, thanks, the right hon. Gentleman will be the first to agree, to the work of Conservative Colonial Secretaries.

Africa and Europe are complementary Continents. This is well symbolised by the necessarily close relations between The Gambia and Senegal. The Gambia river is more central and a more natural highway to the French-speaking republic of Senegal than the Senegal river itself which runs along the northern frontier of Senegal. The trans-Gambia highway, we hope, will mark the close association of friendship and co-operation between Gambia and Senegal and perhaps point a way in future to the rapprochement in harmony with Europe of French-speaking Africa and the English-speaking Africa of the Commonwealth.

In that spirit I should like humbly to salute the people of Gambia and to wish them well in their independence within the Commonwealth.

10.36 p.m.

Mr. John Tilney (Liverpool, Wavertree)

I should like to add my congratulations not only to the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Colonies, but also to the hon. Lady the Under-Secretary of State, who, I know, has taken a tremendous interest in the affairs of Africa for a long time. I remember meeting her more than 10 years ago in one West African country, and there have been many debates about the problems of Africa in which she and I have participated.

I only wish that we had met in The Gambia. Unlike my hon. Friends, I did not go there during the war, but I think that I also can count myself an honorary Gambian, like my hon. Friend the Member for Chigwell (Mr. Biggs-Davison), since I had the honour of going there in the spring of last year to spend far too few days as the guest of the Governor, Sir John Paul. While there I met the Prime Minister, Mr. David Jawara, and had considerable talk with him and many of his Ministers and also with members of the Overseas Service to whom I should also like to pay tribute.

I learned about some of the major economic problems that face The Gambia in the course of going round Bathurst and the neighbouring countryside, having landed not quite on the rickety landing stage to which my right hon. Friend the Member for Preston, North (Mr. J. Amery) referred but on the iron-mesh runway at Yumdum. I wonder whether the Under-Secretary can say how the development of that airfield is going on now.

I had the privilege of seeing how the eggs scheme had changed into a training scheme and, at Fajara, of going round a very impressive building and seeing some of the work of the Medical Research Council on tropical diseases, work which is so badly needed to combat the death-rate to which my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East and Christchurch (Mr. Cordle) referred in a most interesting speech. I only wish that I had been able to spend more time in The Gambia. I was there long enough to appreciate the charm of the country and its people.

I regret that, unlike my hon. Friend the Member for Chigwell, I was unable to go up river. I very much agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East and Christchurch. When I was having an early morning bathe in the Gambia river I could not help thinking that if there had only been a fairly cheap hotel there and if only these delectable countries of the Commonwealth were nearer to these fog-ridden islands of ours how much more pleasant it would be for us to go there and how much easier for these countries to acquire the necessary revenue. I believe that if we could get cheaper air transport and medium-priced hotels in countries like The Gambia, it would do a tremendous amount of good for both our peoples.

I have the honour of representing a city on Merseyside which, centuries ago, had a possibly unhappy connection with The Gambia, but there is, I am glad to say, a Wolof proverb which says: If Allah gives reason to hate, he also gives reason to love. When one looks at the shape of The Gambia today, one sees that it derives from the decision, after the slave trade was abolished, to police one of the great slave trade rivers to prevent that happening again, and all honour to Great Britain and the British Navy in that regard.

I wonder how my constituents, who live on an estuary like The Gambia, would fare if their trade depended on territory from eight to 15 miles either side of the Mersey? It is one of the great economic problems which face The Gambia. We also share the problems of crossing a large river, but how much greater are the difficulties of The Gambia, and I wonder whether the hon. Lady could say something about the modernisation of the ferries. The trans-Gambian highway is many miles away to the east, and even private enterprise finds it rather difficult to make a profit on river transport in that country, to some extent because the actual communities live a little way away from the river.

They have a one-crop economy, although there is hope now of growing rice as well as groundnuts. There are the great rains taking up many months, and there are the hungry months of the past, referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Chigwell, which are not all that far away even now. There are, indeed, major economic problems, and everyone on this side of the House is pleased that we can help both the development and the recurrent budget. I hope that we shall not be mean, not now, because it looks as though up to 1967 revenue is reasonably assured, but in the years after that.

I agree with what my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East and Christchurch said about agriculture. One of the problems of Africa is how to keep people on the land. We have it in a minor way in our own country, but it is a far greater problem in Africa, and I was appalled to find that in Bathurst there were many more unemployed than employed. It seems that one of the problems for the Western world is to prevent the drift to the towns of Africa where there is not enough work.

In the same way, another problem is the fragmentation of Africa either by frontier or by language, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Mr. Dodds-Parker) referred. It is one of the tragedies of Africa that it is divided between the British and the French zones. This has meant vested interests not only to the smugglers, but to many others. But this, as my right hon. Friend has said, must be solved by the Gambian people, though they may with their friends and relatives in Senegal remember the Mandingo proverb: Take not the fish from your neighbour's net lest a bone stick in your throat. The river is the important artery which brings the produce of Senegal down to the coast and should help everyone. But there are the past loyalties and the historical ties with this country, not only in language and in education, but also in law, and we welcome the decision over the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council.

However, before the Gambian people decide whether or not to link up with Senegal I hope that they will have a look at what has happened in the ex-British South Cameroons, and the Cameroon Republic. I say this not because of purely British interest in trade, but because we and the Gambian people share links with the past—links which we hope will continue in the future, because we have a different way of looking at things in the Commonwealth. How glad one is that The Gambia will become a member of the Commonwealth, that Her Majesty will be Queen of The Gambia on 18th February, and that The Gambia is the twenty-first independent member of the Commonwealth.

It seems to me that this British policy of decolonisation, shared by all parties, has at last really come of age, and on behalf of my hon. Friends here and the whole of the Conservative Party outside I would like to reiterate the good wishes that we all have for the peace and happiness of all the people of The Gambia.

10.46 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies (Mrs. Eirene White)

We are all most grateful to everyone who has spoken in this short debate. Every speaker has had some personal experience of The Gambia, however brief. I am happy to say that I, too, had a very short but most agreeable and interesting stay in The Gambia, now, I fear, as long as 12 years ago.

I had the good fortune to go there under the exhilarating tutelage of Sir Percy Wyn-Harris. I had the experience of being taken up river in that famous launch and being landed at Fort James in the middle of the night. It is true, as the hon. Member for Chigwell (Mr. Biggs-Davison) said, that one can almost feel the ghosts around one, including those of many British soldiers of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries who lost their lives there from tropical illness. It is partly in tribute to their memory that one is glad that there is in The Gambia, as one of the relatively few research organisations there, the organisation for research into tropical diseases.

We all recognise that the position of The Gambia, its fate governed by past history, is not an easy one. But we all feel, equally, that this is a country of promise. It is a country whose people one takes to naturally—a most attractive people; people one would wish to do everything possible to help. I hope that the kind words that have been said on this occasion by hon. Members on both sides of the House will mean that in future, although The Gambia will be fully independent politically, we shall recognise a continuing sense of responsibility, and that if our help is called for we shall not in any way be grudging in giving it. Fine words are all very well, but when one looks at the past history of The Gambia one cannot be entirely happy.

The problems are not easy, but when one remembers that the income per capita of The Gambia is reckoned to be not more than about £30 per annum—much lower than that of the other African territories whose independence has been granted in recent years—it causes one very considerable disquiet.

We have had references to various possibilities for improving the economic situation, and I have been asked one or two specific questions, which I hope to deal with. These really turn on three issues—transport, agriculture and the possibility of developing tourism. On transport, it is quite true that one of the greatest rivers in Africa has been under-used owing to past history. Because of the territorial position of The Gambia the neighbouring Senegal has developed a completely independent transport system, to some extent in parallel with The Gambia, and this is regrettable; but there it is. One hopes that with the closer connection which may come between The Gambia and Senegal in the future the full potentialities of this great river may be realised.

That may, of course, take a little while. I was asked about the development of the port, and I am told that at the moment the emphasis is on improving the handling facilities. That seems to be the most urgent matter, and I think that for any more ambitious development one will have to wait a little and see how things go in the way of general development in that part of the world.

I was asked about the ferries, and I am advised that two of the existing ferries are to be replaced with more modern ones under The Gambia's own local loan arrangements. This is a step in the right direction.

The airport facilities have been, of course, improved, and from the point of view of tourism, in particular, I know that this is something very much in the minds of the people of The Gambia. But while one will hope that adequate facilities will be maintained for tourism, one must recognise that the proximity of the very great international airport at Dakar is bound to have some effect on possible developments at Bathurst.

As far as tourism is concerned, I have always thought that The Gambia is somewhere that really could be developed if one could obtain the cheap air fares which the hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Mr. Tilney) referred to. There is no place where you can be more sure of sunshine in February within possible distance of this country, without going to the Antipodes, and where you have delightful people and, as long as you take reasonable precautions, excellent sea bathing. I did not dare to try the river myself because of the crocodiles, but I had some very good sea bathing there.

I hope very much that some imaginative developments may be possible in these directions, and I have much sympathy with the views put forward by the hon. Member for Bournemouth, East and Christchurch (Mr. Cordle). I hope that some people who have pretty well done all they can in the Mediterranean will go further afield, and I should have thought The Gambia would be a very favourable spot for them.

The basic need for The Gambia, however, is for improvement in agriculture. Here, quite frankly, I feel a little disappointed. There has been progress undoubtedly, but it seems to me that the problems that are still being discussed are very much the problems that were being discussed when I was there 12 or 13 years ago. It is true that there is fairly considerable under-employment, and perhaps I may say that it is partly due to the fact that when it comes to growing rice it is the women who are expected to do the work and the men who are apt to be found lying around.

But, of course, it is quite true that there is the difficulty there of a single crop economy so far as the commercial crop is concerned. Rice is purely a subsistence crop.

I hope now that there will be more progress in the development of fisheries. That was something very close to the heart of Sir Percy Wyn-Harris, who was trying to get outbroad motors to help towards catching more fish, which is a very good protein food as we all know. I hope that fisheries are something which may be improved in the not too distant future.

But when all is said and done, we must face the fact that the immediate economic future for The Gambia is not a comfortable one. We have made it clear that the United Kingdom will accept responsibility for development and current aid in specific sums until 1967 at the least.

I think that it would be quite unrealistic not to recognise that the problem is not going to end in 1967. Although there has been no kind of specific commitment, and there may be other arrangements on a different basis—not a bilateral basis between the United Kingdom and The Gambia—it is perfectly plain that The Gambia on its own is not going to be viable in 1967.

Therefore, if we are expressing our good wishes we must also accept the fact that continuing help is going to be required. We have discussed, of course—this was mentioned tonight—the possible co-operation and closer association with the neighbouring territory of Senegal. I would like to mention to the House that Senegal, as we know, is politically independent, but it does, in fact, in one way or another, receive very substantial help indeed from France. The methods of help are, of course, different from our own because of our different system, but I understand that Senegal, which is roughly 10 times the population size of The Gambia, receives approximately £31½ million in one form or another of external aid, roughly £10 per head, compared with £5 for The Gambia.

I hope that we shall accept our responsibilities for this country in a constructive way. The Gambia is a country of which all who have been there are very fond, but affection is not enough. It is a country where some further sustained effort is needed. I hope very much that its progress may be accelerated by association with Senegal, but this, as has already been said, is something for the people of The Gambia to decide for themselves after in-dependence.

As the House knows, draft treaties have been prepared to cover association and defence matters and foreign policy, including representation abroad where desired, but this is really not a matter for us in this House. It is a matter for the people concerned. I hope very much that one of the ways in which we may perhaps be asked to assist, and might be happy to respond, is in the question of language. I was not so very long ago at an educational conference concerned with African countries where we had exactly this experience with those coming from French speaking and English speaking territories, unable to converse. They said that one of the greatest things that we could do was to help them to become bilingual. Great progress is being made in educational methods for language teaching, and a nice christening present might be a language laboratory.

I think that this is a matter on which international co-operation is desirable, and I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Minister for Overseas Development will have this kind of project very much in mind. I hope that we shall see The Gambia in due course taking its place in a West Africa where French and English speaking Africans can all live together in co-operation and mutual assistance.

So we wish The Gambia well, and I am sure that everyone of us who has taken part in this debate is determined that those good wishes shall be supported in the future by deeds and not merely by words.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Committee of the whole House.—[Mr. Whitlock.]

Committee Tomorrow.

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