HL Deb 25 June 1947 vol 149 cc266-71

3.24 p.m.


My Lords, before we proceed to the next business on the Order Paper, I would ask leave to make an important announcement on Colonial policy which has just been made by my right honourable friend, the Secretary of State for the Colonies, in another place. The statement is as follows:

The Government consider that there is need for improved machinery for developing Colonial resources. The Colonial Development and Welfare Act provides money for the improvement of the social and other services of the Colonies and helps to provide the basic services for further economic development in the form of improved communications, better agricultural services, water supplies and the like. This has been, and is, very useful. But it is not enough. An instrument is also required whereby we can undertake individual productive projects likely to increase the wealth of the Colonies themselves and to stimulate the supply of products of which this country and the world at large stand in need.

The Government propose, therefore, to establish a Colonial Development Corporation with total borrowing powers of the order of £100,000,000. It will operate on commercial principles. Its object will be to establish or assist any enterprise in the Colonies which is designed to increase their general productive capacity. No doubt these enterprises will be mainly agricultural but the Corporation will be able to undertake any enterprise which serves the general object.

We propose that the Corporation should be given power to conduct enterprises itself, or to set up subsidiary organizations to run individual projects or to give assistance to existing enterprises.

The Corporation would undertake particular operations in any Colonial territory only with the consent of the Secretary of State and the Colonial Government concerned. The intention is that the Corporation and its subsidiaries should operate generally in close consultation with Colonial Governments, in order to ensure that their activities are conducted in the way best suited to promote the welfare of the Colonial peoples.

There will, of course, be no question of giving the Corporation any general monopoly in Colonial development. It is not intended to supplant private enterprise, but to supplement it. While the Government will continue its policy of encouraging public utilities and other suitable forms of public enterprise, it will also welcome private enterprise and investment in the Colonies so long as it is in harmony with the plans of Colonial Governments for social and economic development.

The Government propose to introduce legislation to establish the Colonial Development Corporation. It is proposed that the same legislation should provide for the establishment of the Corporation which is to take over the ground-nut project established in East Africa by the Minister of Food. This would be a separate body from the main Colonial Development Corporation and provision would be made for it to undertake enterprises similar to the ground-nut project over a wide field. The two bodies would work in the closest liaison with one another.

3.28 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure the House will have heard with very great interest the preliminary announcement which has just been made. There can be no doubt at all that there is a tremendous opportunity in the interests of the Colonies themselves, in the interests of this country, in the interests of the British Commonwealth of Nations and, indeed, in the interests of the whole world, for the development now of the resources of the Colonial Empire. And, soundly developed, those resources are very great. On that, I am sure, we shall all be at one. I am certain too, of this; that the wise use of credit in this matter will command universal support. It is not a case of being sure of a steady 3 per cent. If money for development is used to assist a wise project, then, even if you receive no interest for a number of years and get your money back at the end, the indirect results you will have had in the way of increased production and increased mutual trade is of far more value, and produces far more revenue than the 3 per cents. which my noble friend and I who, in turn, held office as Colonial Secretary, used to have so often pressed upon us as a first consideration. They are not a first consideration. On that, too, I am sure that we shall all be at one.

Equally important it is, of course, that what is done should be done in the right way, and we shall see when the Bill comes before us, I hope, that that is so. I notice in the statement that it is not intended to supplant private enterprise but to supplement it. I am sure that is wise. We have, after all, a certain experience in this, in which my noble friend Lord Woolton and I, and others now on the opposite Bench, were closely concerned. Early in the last war the Government decided, for the primary purpose of conducting economic warfare, to set up the United Kingdom Commercial Corporation; I was asked to be Chairman and to pick the board and run the Corporation. It had a much wider function than merely denying materials to the enemy. As the economic war developed it became responsible for an enormous amount of trade all over the world and it did a great deal for supplying this country and Russia.

The whole of the commercial supplies and transport to Russia came to something like £120,000,000, and it was largely responsible for all the executive work of the mutual supply organization of the Middle East. I have referred to that because it was entirely financed by Government credit. We had a running credit which ran up to between £70,000,000 and £80,000,000, and I think in our peak year our turnover was over £150,000,000. Broad policy was settled between the Ministers and the Chairman. I am sure that every Minister in the last Government and every member of the board of that Corporation would agree on this, that our success was due to the fact that it was run on commercial lines. We had the best commercial board that could be collected and we had this fundamental principle—we always worked where we could through existing trade channels, and we picked the best. In that way, working through existing trade channels, we were able to keep the organization relatively small, to keep effective control over policy, and at the same time to use every resource open to us.

I feel sure that this is the intention of the Government in this. There must be a partnership. It should be a partnership between the Government, the Colonial Government, and those who are best fitted by their experience in the field to conduct these enterprises. Much work has already been done. In West Africa we had wide plans, and some of them are in process of being carried out. Let me give one example which bears out what is in the minds of the noble Lord and myself. We saw a great opportunity in using not the very best timber but the indifferent timber of Nigeria to make plywood, which means dollars; and under the wise inspiration of Sir Arthur Richards—now a Member of your Lordships' House, though he has not taken his seat—a combination of United Africa and the Government has already established a very successful private industry invaluable to the Colony and to this country. It seems to me that those are exactly the lines of the partnership on which this should work, and if those are the lines which are to figure in the Bill, as I believe they will be, then we shall be able not only to commend its purpose but, I trust, to commend the method.


My Lords, I should like to join in offering a very cordial welcome to this important and most promising proposal of the Government. I would also join with the noble Viscount who has just spoken in expressing satisfaction that it is clearly expressed in the statement made that these measures are intended not to supplant private enterprise but to supplement it. I need add nothing more except to address to the First Lord of the Admiralty one question. The Colonial Development and Welfare Acts extend to mandated territories and I should like to ask whether this Corporation will also include mandated territories.

3.36 p.m.


My Lords, I am grateful for the kind way in which the statement has been received. It is an indication that interest in Colonial development and Colonial administration is not confined to one particular Party. This is not the occasion to deal fully with the development which has taken place in the Colonies during the last ten years, nor with the plans for the future. When the story is told it will be one for which those Governments responsible will not need to hang their heads. I have no doubt that the outcome of our policy for Colonial development, which is a continuation of that which has been done, can be attributed to the fact that we have a Colonial Development Council in existence, presided over by the noble Viscount, Lord Portal, who with his colleagues on the Council has done an enormous amount of excellent foundation work. And I have no doubt that the new Development Corporation will be called upon further to assist in the complete development of the Colonies.

In regard to the question of the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, the fund of the Colonial Corporation, like the funds of the Colonial Welfare and Development Fund, will be extended to mandated territories and also to the new trust territories, those territories which will very soon come under the Trusteeship Council. They will be able to obtain full benefit both from the Colonial Welfare and Development Fund and the proposed Finance Corporation.