HL Deb 23 July 1929 vol 75 cc174-90

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, in moving the Second Reading of this Bill I should like, at the outset, to express the satisfaction of my colleagues and especially of myself at the manner and spirit in which this Bill has been received in the other place. I am sure it will obtain the same consideration from your Lordships. The Bill as it emerges from the other House is, to all intents and purposes, the same as it was on its introduction, except for one or two Amendments to which I shall refer later, but which in my judgment only make more explicit some of the objects in view. Your Lordships will perhaps allow me to remind you that the principal motive for the introduction of this measure is connected with the lamentable condition of employment in this country, and this is an attempt to stimulate the British export trade, a desire with which I am sure that your Lordships will have every sympathy.

It falls to my lot to bring the Bill forward in this House especially from the standpoint of the Colonies and the Dependencies. The Lord Privy Seal has already made known elsewhere the extent and character of the trade which exists between the Colonies and the Dependencies and this country, which is greater, I think, than many people imagine. Apart from the Dominions, with their enormous trade, the Colonies themselves and the Protected Territories and Dependencies have in the aggregate a very large trade with this country and, what is very relevant in this connection, take a very large and varied selection of goods from this country. If we can in any way encourage and accelerate the development of the vast undeveloped territories which lie within these Colonies and Protectorates, we can in the ordinary course expect that their purchases from this country will be increased. We have there a potential market, we have, at any rate, good will and we have what may be called an established connection which it would be folly, to say the least of it, to ignore at a time when His Majesty's Government are endeavouring in all possible ways to promote an increase of trade. The object of this measure is, by supplying a little money in a way which I shall describe, to accelerate, as far as possible, the development of the Crown Colonies, Protectorates and Dependencies, distinctly with a view—among other objects—of causing an increase in our export trade in a way which we think to be legitimate and economically justified.

I want to forestall a possible objection. Your Lordships will realise that, in our desire to accelerate the development of these areas, we must not unwittingly place a burden upon the future finances of the Colonies. We must not let them in for expensive schemes of improvement which will take, to put it mildly, a long time to return a sufficient interest. There are limits to what a Colonial Administration can undertake if it is confined to its own resources. Some of these Administrations have a whole series of developments and improvements which they wish to undertake, ranging from projected railways where surveys have been made and there is every reason to suppose that they will be very quickly remunerative—projects which have had to be postponed for the present because of more urgent needs—to the other end of the scale, the shadowy conceptions and ideals for the future which might be undertaken if resources were available, but which cannot be regarded as even approximately within the range of economic utility. If we are to ask these Colonial Administrations to accelerate their programmes, to undertake, now rather than later, some of the schemes which are ripe for execution and which can be justified before an expert business committee as tangible and valuable improvements, I am afraid that the only way to induce them to increase their commitments in regard to interest, sinking fund and the additional expenses of administration is that this country should come to their assistance and make it worth their while to undertake for our advantage, at a time when they would not themselves be able to undertake them, some of these works.

The view taken is that the partnership which ought to exist, and which does exist, between these Crown Colonies and His Majesty's Government in this country, might very well take the form, in the first instance, of a grant of part or all of the interest which is involved during the first few years of the execution of these works, which in hardly any case can be expected to be yielded by the work itself during those first few years and which it is quite common in ordinary commercial life to regard as part of the capital expenses of the undertaking. In that and other ways we can hasten the normal course of development in these Colonies and, as we think, do a great deal, not only to promote their welfare and the welfare of millions of people in them, but also, incidentally—and I do not disguise from your Lordships that this is the immediate object of the Government—to give a stimulus to our export trade in this country which would have its effect upon the number of unemployed.

If your Lordships will allow me, I should like to point out that there are Colonies which fall into another class. There are places which are isolated from the world and unable to find a ready market for some of the commodities which they already produce. Let me adduce, as an example, the territory in Central Africa which is known now as Nyasaland. That is a country where there is a reasonable amount of population and a great deal of cultivation, but there are at present almost insuperable difficulties in bringing the products down to the sea or to any place from which they can be exported. There are areas of Nyasaland, as we are credibly informed, where what is really wanted is an alteration in the method of cultivation and the substitution of a rotation of crops. When I remind your Lordships that the crop which it is proposed to use as an alternative crop is cotton, in the development of which within the British Empire we have such very great interest, your Lordships will see that there is something to be said for enabling this alternative crop to be produced and marketed. They do not want cotton in Nyasaland. They will have to bring it down to the sea and put it on board ship for the world market, and in particular for Lancashire, and at the present time that is an impossibility. What stands in the way is the need for a through railway route, which means the construction of a very big bridge across the Zambesi River. That is a project which has long been under consideration and has been repeatedly recommended, but it cannot be expected to pay for itself within the first few years. That is the sort of thing that we can do by this measure. We can enable Nyasaland to get rid of its produce in that way, whereas at the present time the conditions render it absolutely impossible to do so.

There are other Colonies which, at the present moment and from time to time, are stricken by calamity of one sort or another, either through the visitation of disease in one of their staple crops or through a more subtle disease, afflicting a whole Colony, when for some reason the world price of their commodity goes down temporarily and the Colony is apt to find one of its principal industries in a state of ruin. The production of sugar at the present time is one of those industries which has been brought very near to being ruined by the cheapness of the product, and it is very difficult to know how we are to stand up against such a calamity in some of these places. Probably it may be necessary to help them to change their cultivation and to introduce new industries. What is much more likely and proximate is that we must help them to reorganise their existing industries and to substitute for some processes which are, perhaps, a little antiquated and not quite up to date, new processes which will reduce the cost of production and enable them to stand up in the world market. That involves considerable expenditure of capital which bankrupt industries in a depressed Colony cannot furnish alone. It may be possible for the Government, out of this Colonial Development Fund, to enable some of the sugar producing Colonies to make headway against what seems to them a great calamity by enabling them to get on their feet again through improvement in their processes and in the organisation of their industry.

All these things, your Lordships will see, require either money or credit. These smaller Crown Colonies about which I have been speaking have, comparatively speaking, little money and not very good credit, especially at the time when they are depressed. We in this country, relatively, have some money and a great deal of credit. The partnership would be that, under proper conditions and with very careful safeguards which the Treasury would see to, we should place that money and credit in particular instances and to a limited extent at the disposal of our weaker brethren. I cannot describe to your Lordships, except in the most general terms, without anticipating the work of the committee which it is proposed to set up, exactly the projects which will be taken up under this scheme. In fact we do not know at the present time which of the projects that will be available this committee, which will be an independent committee of business men, will consider sufficiently sound to recommend to the Treasury. Therefore it would be vain for me to attempt to enumerate them.

But we do know that there are considerable areas of these Crown Colonies and Protectorates where there are potential producers of much more of the raw material, and of the food stuffs even, which this country and other old countries want, and that we can help them more or less to increase their production and therefore to supply our needs and help our industry if we are able to supply them with a little money and a little credit. Everywhere almost throughout Africa there is need for a measure which would help the cultivator to till more land and to till it in a better way, or, I should say, in a more productive way. The hoe is not the last word in cultivation. I speak as a Londoner, but I can believe that something more could be done if we could substitute for the hoe as an instrument of cultivation some more up-to-date method. That can be done—to what extent I will not venture to say—but it can be done to some extent and we hope it will be done. Then there are ports not so well equipped as they might be, and your Lordships will know that delay in the handling of ships in ports is a very vital part of the cost of production of the commodity which is dealt with. If we can help those ports to improve their equipment, sometimes in a large way, sometimes in quite small ways, that will all co-operate to the same end.

What the measure proposes is that the sum of one million pounds per annum should be set aside out of money provided by Parliament from which assistance can be given to projects of development which are approved by the expert committee which will be set up to examine all the various schemes which will be submitted by the Colonial Office at the instance of or in consultation with the Colonial Governors, and that committee will itself decide as an independent body which of the schemes it can recommend to the Treasury for assistance. The Treasury will be the final arbiter as to whether the schemes are sound enough for assistance. I hope we shall not find the committee or the Treasury taking a too restrictive view and expecting a scheme to be of a gilt-edged nature returning 5 per cent. in its first year. Such schemes do not need assistance. It is schemes which are not of that nature but are yet sufficiently removed from the wild cat department that we want, to help. We do not want this committee and the Treasury to confine our help to those schemes which can do without us. We shall not attempt to control the committee, and your Lordships know that nobody can control the Treasury; but I am only expressing the feeling with which the Government brings for ward this measure when I say that we hope that the committee and the Treasury, if I may fall into a colloquialism, will play the game. The method will be either by way of payment of interest in whole or part for a certain number of years, the first few years of the life of the work, or it may be by way of a definite loan from the Fund, or by way of a definite grant from the Fund. We must leave that to the committee and, ultimately, to the Treasury to sort out.

That is all I think I need trouble your Lordships with in regard to that part of the measure; but there are two almost technical amendments which are included in the Bill because they will, we believe, co-operate very potently in the work which the Bill is intended to do. It is proposed to widen the scope of the Colonial Stock Acts so as to make it possible to bring within their scope certain territories which are, I think almost as a matter of the drafting of the Acts, now excluded. They are confined at present to the Colonies. Since the date of the Colonial Stock Acts the Colonies have, so to speak, proliferated into various other kinds of government. There are Protectorates, there are Protected States, there are Mandated Territories, which are, to all intents and purposes, the same thing for this purpose as those areas which are dealt with in the Colonial Stock Acts. They are under the control of the Secretary of State for the Colonies in the same way and to the same extent. There is no reason why the Federated Malay States, for instance, which we always think of as if it were a Colony, but which is technically outside the Colonial Stock Acts at present, should have to pay a higher rate of interest when it has to borrow money in the City than if it were nominally a Crown Colony. It is proposed by this Bill to make it possible for His Majesty by Order in Council in suitable eases to apply the Acts to future loans raised by any territory which is under His Majesty's protection, or in respect of which a Mandate on behalf of the League of Nations has been accepted by His Majesty and is being exercised by His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom.

The process will not be automatic. They will not come by virtue of this Bill under the Colonial Stock Acts automatically. In each case His Majesty will have to issue an Order in Council and before that Order in Council is issued the Government will of course scrutinise the resources of the territory applying for this privilege and the security which it can offer to the lender. No such Order in Council will be passed unless the Government of the day is satisfied that the stock holder is as adequately secured from every point of view, political and financial, for the period of the loan as he is under the existing provisions of the Colonial Stock Acts. If any additional safeguard is required I may add that it is provided that the Order in Council must be laid before Parliament for twenty days before it becomes operative.

There is also an amendment which is included in this Bill of an analogous nature. The Palestine and East Africa Guaranteed Loans Act, 1926, which was passed for the express purpose of enabling Palestine and East Africa to raise, loans on the best possible terms, did not, as it, proved, permit interest to be paid out of capital on the works which it was intended to promote under that Act. Consequently the amendment will allow interest on loans for schemes to be paid out of capital for a period not exceeding five years from the initiation, and also to increase in suitable cases the period for repayment of the loans from forty to sixty years. I think those are very moderate amendments and they will admit schemes which I am advised cannot be executed if the unfortunate Colony or Dependency has to provide interest on capital out of revenue from the moment the work is initiated.

In particular that is required to enable this Zambesi bridge to be made. The negotiations for the bridge are now well forward, and, subject to final arrangements being made with the Portuguese Government—which it is hoped will shortly be concluded—we ought to be able to start the project in the very near future. The bridge will cost about £2,250,000. It will be a very big bridge, not that the river is so extensive, but the scheme involves also making approaches to the river. The bridge itself will not cost more than £1,000,000 or £1,100,000, but the approaches and the necessary improvement of the railway line on each side, and even a steamer to connect up, will raise the expenditure to £2,250,000 or so.

I will now mention the Amendments which have been made in another place. They are really very small. I mention them because they are improvements of the measure as it was introduced. I do not know that they were necessary, but they are improvements because they say explicitly some things which were only implicit. The production, distribution and supply of electricity, and public health, are included as objects which are to be aided under this measure. I think those objects might have been aided before, but it is just as well to have it stated. There are a great many other activities which I should like to see aided under this measure, but after all it is a measure very definitely limited, with the object of dealing with unemployment and increasing the trade of the country. Therefore many other things, like education, are not included in this measure. It is a measure strictly confined to one object, and does not purport to make a new heaven and a new earth in any of these Colonies and Dependencies. The most important Amendment added is that to Clause 1, in order to ensure both that the Secretary of State shall satisfy himself as to the conditions of labour on any works undertaken under this Bill, and that the community as a whole shall, as far as practicable, get some share of the benefit which may accrue as one of the results of the operation of the measure. The Amendment goes as far as possible to attain that object, and I can only say that the Government, or at any rate myself as long as I have the honour to hold this office, will undertake to see that the objects aimed at are carried out in the spirit as well as according to the letter. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Passfield.)


My Lords, I rise to intervene in this debate for a very few minutes only. I need, I think, hardly say that we warmly welcome the broad principle upon which this measure is based—a principle which the noble Lord has explained to us very clearly. We welcome this Bill in the first place because if passed it will put into operation a policy which took a prominent place in the programme of our Party at the last Election, and, perhaps what is much more important still, we welcome it because it gives us an assurance that there will be continuity of policy so far as our Colonies and their development are concerned. It is intended by this Bill to set aside annually a sum not exceeding £1,000,000, with the object of helping the agricultural and industrial development of the Colonies, Mandated Territories and Protectorates, with the important hope and object of assisting the unemployment situation here at home.

I think it is generally agreed that it is a point of controversy and argument as to how considerable and appreciable an effect money spent on large schemes in the various parts of our Colonial Empire will have upon the employment situation here at home; but the experience of the past clearly shows us that a very large proportion of the imports of the Colonies, Protectorates and Mandated Territories come from the United Kingdom, and we have some justification, I think, for concluding that the United Kingdom would derive benefits in the same large degree from any schemes which may be instituted as a result of this measure. At any rate, whether or not the passage of this Bill is going to have early and direct results, or whether or not it is going to make any considerable impression upon our unemployment figures—and I sincerely hope it will—it is quite clear that in view of the fact of the enormous trade which we do in the United Kingdom with other parts of the Empire, nothing but good can come from a policy which is calculated to develop the resources of our Colonial Empire, and to improve the standard of living and the purchasing power of the people who live in those countries. Indeed I think one is justified in saying that it is more than probable that the ultimate development to the full of the vast and almost inexhaustible resources of the Colonies and the Empire as a whole will, in the long run, have more influence upon our industrial position here at home than any other factor we can think of at the moment.

When we look at the provisions of the Bill, at the means by which it will be permissible to achieve the objects in view, I think that it is very satisfactory to note that these means are drawn up on broad lines, and that there are no unnecessary limiting restrictions with regard to their scope. A specially pleasing feature is the prominence which has been given to the promotion of scientific research. On this point I speak with a good deal of timidity, because there are others who can speak with much more authority than I can, but I imagine that there is no way in which more can be done to help the Colonies than by the practical application in them of the knowledge of science and scientific discoveries in general. Another pleasing feature is one to which the noble Lord has already alluded in his opening speech—namely, the proposal to extend the provisions of the Colonial Stock Acts to the Protectorates and Mandated Territories. I can see no valid reason for refraining from doing so, and I think the proposal may be of very considerable use.

I only want to say a word or two about the sum that it is intended to spend with these various objects in view. I imagine that for the present the £1,000,000 set aside annually will be a sufficient sum, and I dare say it is very doubtful whether that sum will all be spent in the first year; but I do think that it might have been preferable if this sum had been paid over to the Fund as a definite grant to be carried over from year to year if any balance remained. I feel this for various reasons. In the first place I think that it would have given greater freedom, and it would have facilitated the maintenance of continuity in the development of different parts of the Colonial Empire. I think it is one of the first objects of the Government to get things going as soon as possible, and I honestly believe that the method which I have indicated would achieve that object more quickly than the method adopted by the Government. We must remember that the method adopted by the Government entails very strict Treasury control indeed, in fact almost complete Treasury control; and, speaking from my short experience at the Overseas Settlement Department, I would confidently assert that constant Treasury interference at every step must of necessity entail considerable delay and add to what are already great difficulties in negotiating with the different parts of the Empire.

We naturally wish to avoid any form of extravagance or waste, but I venture to say that the committee which it is intended to set up under this Bill, and on whose recommendations grants are to be made under the Bill, should, if properly constituted, prove an effectual guarantee against wild and uneconomic projects being embarked upon. It would have been interesting, I think, if the noble Lord had been able to say something to us about the composition and constitution of this committee. I have no doubt that it is not possible for him to do so to-day, but I would express the hope that it will be strong enough and of such a character as to be able to push on the work as rapidly as possible. There is no other comment that I have to make at the present moment. I would only conclude by assuring the Government again that we on this side view this measure with complete sympathy, and we shall be prepared to do everything that we can to facilitate its passage through your Lordships' House.


My Lords, I should like for my part to offer a warm welcome to this Bill, and I do so more particularly because it refers expressly to "the promotion of scientific research, instruction and experiments in the science, methods and practice of agriculture." I had the interesting experience, and indeed the privilege, of presiding over the Imperial Agricultural Research Conference in Westminster Hall in October and November, 1927; and there was expressed at that Conference the very strong opinion that the oversea Dominions and the Colonies alike were best assisted, so far as the development of their agriculture was concerned, by encouraging agricultural science and research, and more particularly by the application to local requirements of the results of agricultural research, wherever conducted throughout the world.

I should like to urge upon my noble friend opposite, Lord Passfield, that so far as possible overlapping should be avoided in this connection, because, as we discovered then, and many of us had known as the result of travelling in various parts of the world, there is an enormous amount of the same kind of fundamental agricultural research going on in various parts of the world and in various parts of our own Empire, the results of which are in no way communicated to other parts of the Empire; with the result that there is not only a loss of mutuality of benefit but, of course, a very great waste of public money, expended on exactly the same work conducted in different parts of the world, and being in effect a surplusage of effort.

On that occasion eighteen months ago there were certain centres which were selected for agricultural research in different parts of the Empire, most of them being selected in the Mother Country, and mainly because most of our Dominions and Colonies had not yet sufficiently developed their scientific organisation to provide what was wanted. In one notable respect, on which great emphasis will be placed during the next month in South Africa, where the British Association is now assembled, we had all of us to admit that Great Britain did not provide the facilities for research which were to be found in that particular part of the world, that is, in the matter of veterinary research as carried on in South Africa, which we all admitted was superior, so far as we could judge, to anything of the sort being conducted at our research stations here. What I do want very much to emphasise is that in giving grants towards localised scientific research every effort should be made to avoid duplication not only of Colonial effort with effort of the same kind being carried on in this country, but of similar effort in any particular direction being carried on in the Colonies themselves.

There is another matter which arises out of the same paragraph, paragraph (l) of Clause 1 (1). I notice that it is contemplated to apply money towards the organisation of co-operation. All of us who know anything about the effect of co-operation upon the success of agricultural methods in the countries of the world know perfectly well that co-operation is an indispensable element of successful agriculture in any part of the world, particularly where it is carried on over small areas and in small units of industrial or economic organisation. Wherever in the world agricultural organisation or co-operation is being successfully carried on it is not as the result of State action or of State subsidies, but as the result of effective effort on the part of individuals cooperating in the agricultural industry itself. I venture to suggest that if there is any attempt to use Government organisation or Government funds to prop up agricultural co-operation it is probably calculated to fail. Agricultural co-operation can only be a successful growth if it is the result of individual effort on the part of the co-operating agriculturists. I hope that in applying this money to the development of agriculture and industry in our Colonies the attitude of our own Government will not be too grandmotherly, because I am quite certain that, at least as regards agriculture, it is most desirable to maintain independence, resourcefulness, and business capacity, and I am inclined to think that all are to some extent impaired when the State comes with a heavy grandmotherly hand in order to promote what individuals ought to do for themselves.

One word about sugar. I notice that the noble Lord opposite referred to sugar, which of course as an industry is in a somewhat depressed condition in some of our Colonies. I had the experience of being what was called Sugar Controller during part of the War, and we discovered that there was enormous scope for doing just what the noble Lord opposite mentioned, which was to encourage better methods of production and primary refining among sugar producers in some of our Colonies, notably, of course, the British West Indies. Certainly at that time—I cannot say what is the case now because I believe great improvements have been effected—it would have been a waste of money to attempt to bring some of our West Indian Colonies in this respect into effective competition with the sugar producers of countries like Java, Cuba and even our own Mauritius, simply because it would have put a premium upon a continuance of somewhat reactionary methods of cultivation and conversion which, of course, it was most desirable in their own interests that they should supersede by something more progressive and up-to-date. For my part, I heartily wish success to this Bill. I only wish to repeat what I said just now—let it not be carried out in too grandmotherly a spirit.


My Lords, if no other noble Lord has any comment to make I might be allowed to thank the noble Earl, Lord Plymouth, for his kindly welcome to this measure and to explain that, as I dare say he has already appreciated, the decision as to the technical form of the grant of one million pounds and the procedure which the Treasury would adopt with regard to that grant are a little too complicated for me to try to explain. It was, I think we may say, insisted on by the Treasury. It is fair to say that there are two views—as to whether it is better to have a fixed grant which you are allowed to accumulate if it is not spent, or, as is the form in some cases, a grant which is only issued from the Treasury in proportion to the amount which is really required within the year. It is not that the Colonial Development Fund will be required to surrender any unexpended balance at the end of the year. The Treasury will only issue the amount of money that is required during the year. The idea that any unspent balance will have to be surrendered sometimes leads to extravagance, and it is for this reason that it is held that there ought not to be any unspent balance. The way which is preferred by the Treasury may on the whole be better even for the interests of the measure. But, as I have suggested, that was really a financial matter which we had to accept.

The noble Lord, Lord Bledisloe, put his finger upon a real difficulty; that is, the possible overlapping of research in these matters in so large an area with so many varied places. We are going to take every possible means not only to prevent duplication of research, but, as far as it is possible, to take care that such research as is instituted shall be, if I may use a common word, coordinated. Genius cannot very well be drilled. We must let them go ahead to some extent in the way they feel inclined. But we can take care that no research is instituted without full knowledge of what is going on elsewhere, in order, if possible, to avoid any sort of duplication.

With regard to co-operation, experience has shown that co-operation in agriculture can best go on if it is independent and spontaneous. On the other hand, I think the noble Lord was a little pessimistic. One may remind him of the case of India, where the Government has rendered very great assistance and there is a large amount of agricultural co-operation which, it is said, would not have come without the Government rendering that assistance; and it is said in places like Africa that a little Government assistance may be the right course. There is the homely analogy of the old-fashioned pump. You have to put a little water into the pump in order to make it draw. It is possible that in some of these dry areas is may be necessary to do that. In view of the nearness of the Recess and the fact that your Lordships have suspended the Standing Order, I do not know whether we might be allowed to take the Committee stage and the other stage of this Bill to-day. That is entirely for your Lordships to say.


I suppose the noble Lord could not give us any information about the composition of the committee, could he?


I beg the noble Earl's pardon. As the noble Earl will know, with a committee of this kind you have to ask everybody whether he is willing to serve and to wait until you have received the last reply. It is very difficult to say. All I can say is that the committee will be of a character which will satisfy every criticism. It will be an absolutely impartial committee, a business committee on which finance will be represented and there will be no attempt to make it in any case even a Treasury or a Colonial Office Committee. The only connection of the Colonial Office will be that that Department will supply the secretary. I am sorry that I cannot give the names. I have not even got them myself, and it will take a few more days before we get the replies.


My Lords, I am under the impression that the noble and learned Lord, the Leader of the House, has not suspended the Standing Order in respect of this Bill. That will not happen till to-morrow.


That is so.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.