HL Deb 13 July 1949 vol 163 cc1271-93

6.17 p.m.

LORD RENNELL rose to call attention to the accumulating stocks of ground-nuts in Nigeria; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, my Motion deals with what I am afraid can be regarded administratively only as a very sad mess in Nigeria. In a debate in your Lordships' House in April the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, gave certain figures about the accumulations of ground-nuts in Nigeria in reply to an inquiry of the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton. The figures he then gave (I am quoting from column 1258 of Hansard, April 13) were that at that time the failure of transport in Nigeria had led to an accumulation of over 300,000 tons of ground-nuts at Kano. The actual figures were that there were unmoved 44,000 tons of the previous crop and 276,000 tons of the current crop, making a total of 320,000 tons. The noble Earl went on to say that he was aware that between August, 1948, and January, 1949, the railings—that is to say, the amount of ground-nuts moved monthly—had been very bad, but that he hoped by June of this year the monthly railings would have gone up to some 30,000 tons a month; and he hoped that they would reach some 36.000 tons a month later on this year. I want to examine that forecast in the light of what actually took place.

In no month since December, 1948—and only in that month—did the railings of ground-nuts reach 30.000 tons. The deliveries from August, 1948, to January, 1949, were indeed poor, with the exception of that one month in December, when nearly 32,000 tons were shifted. But so far from the situation having improved in the later months, since that date they have steadily deteriorated. If I may, I will quote from figures which I have—and which the noble Earl will be able to confirm or otherwise—of the actual monthly deliveries this year; that is to say, from the last few days of December until now. So far from achieving 30,000 tons, or anywhere near it, they are as follows: 27,700 tons, 27,400 tons, 25,800 tons and 19,600 tons; and finally, in May, they fell to 15,000 tons. The effect of that upon the accumulation of ground-nuts is obvious.

I now want to compare the figures of the accumulations a year ago with those at the middle of May this year, which are the last figures I have been able to obtain. In May, 1948, there were lying unrailed 295,000 tons of around-nuts, of which 14,000 tons were of the previous year's crop—that is to say, the 1946–47 crop-267,000 tons were of the 1947–48 crop, and 13,000 tons were imported French ground-nuts from over the French border. In spite of the forecast of an improvement which the noble Earl gave your Lordships earlier this year, that accumulation has grown steadily worse. At May 12 of this year the total of unshipped ground-nuts had risen from 295,000 tons to 338,000 tons. That was composed as follows: 27,000 tons of the 1947–48 crop, 273,000 tons of the 1948–49 crop, and 37,000 tons of imported French ground-nuts from over the border. The reason for these very unsatisfactory clearances from the railhead have been stated on more than one occasion, both by the noble Earl and by other Ministers in another place, to be the lack of rolling stock on the Nigerian railways. Promises were held out of an improvement ill that respect. The noble Earl said in April—I quote from the same columns— The supply of locomotives and wagons for the Nigerian railways this year is proceeding satisfactorily. I could give the noble Lord the details but perhaps it would be more convenient if I were to give them in the form of a Written Answer rather than in debate. …

The noble Earl's forecast of this improvement in the situation of rolling stock led him to forecast that the whole of the 1948–49 crops would be cleared by January, 1950. At the present rate of progress it is obvious that they cannot be cleared by that date—and, indeed, are not likely to be cleared for many months after, by which time the 1949–50 crop will be accumulating again. As a matter of fact, the forecast of an improvement in the rolling stock situation in Nigeria is likely to be entirely wrong. The noble Earl will confirm this by the actual figures, if he will quote them. It is true that additional locomotives and rolling stock have been ordered, but if my information is correct what actually has happened is this. Up to April 30 this year, out of 180 wagons which were promised for delivery by that date, only 76 have been delivered, and of those 76 only 10 were complete and have been assembled: the rest arrived short of essential parts, such as couplings, buffers and, I think, even wheels. The responsibility for the delivery of this rolling stock is shared by the Ministry of Supply and the Crown Agents. I believe it is the responsibility of the Crown Agents, through their consulting and inspecting engineers, to see that the consignments which are sent off are complete and able to be used. If these figures are correct, and if this information is correct, it places grave responsibility on the Crown Agents and the Ministry of Supply for not having done their duty to see that when this rolling sock was sent out it was sent out in a form in which it could be used.

My last information on the subject is perhaps significant. I put down the Motion which stands in my name some weeks ago, and I do not wish to suggest that there is any coincidence between the putting down of this Motion and what has happened. But I do understand that within the last few weeks, and in point of fact in date since this Motion was put down, instructions have been sent out to the authorities in Nigeria that the clearances of ground-nuts on the Nigerian railways are to have complete priority over everything, so as to achieve a clearance of 40,000 tons. If that were achieved that would be very satisfactory, but as the best figure that has been achieved in twelve months is only 31,900 tons, I suspect that that forecast is as optimistic as the other forecasts to which I have referred. But the effect of those instructions which have been sent has been—I will not say disastrous, but it has caused great confusion, because the instructions have been interpreted as meaning that as the wagons come down loaded with ground-nuts to Lagos, they are to be sent back empty. The result of that is that all the transit sheds are so full that the wagons cannot be moved up-country, and the congestion at the bottom end is likely to be as bad as at the top end. Presumably the transit sheds are what people would want to use for the ground-nuts which have been sold and cannot be moved.

That is roughly the situation. I do not want to bore your Lordships with more statistics. I have many more here, and I could go on for quite a long time—in fact, I have pages of them. But they are all equally depressing. I will not, for instance, go into the question of the rate of infection by bags and beetles which are busy eating up ground-nuts which have not been moved. But I want to ask His Majesty's Government why we should be spending £20,000,000 to £25,000,000 in not growing ground-nuts in Tanganyika, instead of moving those ground-nuts which are lying on the ground and going rotten.

6.28 p.m.


My Lords, we are all deeply grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Rennell, for raising this subject once again. It is not only an appalling example of muddle and I maladministration, but upon the successful handling of this project depends the exiguous fat ration of this country—and that is an important matter. I am glad the noble Lord has raised this matter, for several reasons. In the first place, the position is still extremely obscure. We have had several debates, and I must say that the noble Earl always does his best to give us the most up-to-date information. It does not always seem to be completely reconcilable with the information given in another place, although I am sure, as the noble Earl, Lord Huntingdon, said, in another connection there is the closest contact between the Ministers—at any rate in the same Department. But there is only one thing which, alas, is entirely consistent: that every time we get the story related to us, instead of getting better it gets steadily worse. Another reason why I am glad the matter has been raised is, as I said, that this is a really classic example of lack of planning. It is not as if this were some crisis into which we had suddenly drifted or that had come upon us because of something happening somewhere else in the world. There is only one person or body responsible for this mess and that is His Majesty's Government—no one else at all. No other person has had anything to do with it.

I will tell the noble Lord what we did, even before the war ended, when I was out in Africa as the responsible Minister. As soon as the war ended, it must have become patent that the first need was to shift the crop of ground-nuts at Kano, which includes the production not only of Nigeria but of the French territory, which together in a good year will produce 350,000 tons. During the war our population depended for its fat ration entirely on West Africa. The people in West Africa were encouraged in every way to produce the maximum, and they made the most remarkable response. We established new collecting stations all over the area, and instead of leaving goods in the sheds, as Lord Rennell has described, we brought up as many piece goods as we could and sent them through the little depôts to the right people. In this matter I was splendidly supported by my colleagues at home.

I want to say a word in a moment about these beetle-ridden dumps which have accumulated over two years at Kano. Kano is not only a railhead; it is the centre of the province which produces most of the ground-nuts. There was no difficulty about port facilities; Lagos is an admirable port. On reports presented to Parliament the capacity of the Port of Lagos is shown as something like 8,000 or 9,000 tons a day. But of course there was a most urgent need for locomotives, for rolling stock and for spare parts, which were very important for the repairs of the old rolling stock. During the war we ran the rolling stock to death. It is not impossible in such conditions to get the rolling stock—if you order in time and put first things first. In war we are always short of rolling stock —and we always forget the lesson. Then, of course, many more of these shops were turned over to making munitions of war of other kinds. Yet, in spite of that, at that most critical time of the war effort, when every front and every country was demanding locomotives and rolling stock, we managed to get rolling stock. In this effort we had great help from the noble Lord, Lord Milverton. We obtained sufficient to increase the amount of traffic carried on that railway by 400,000 or 500,000 tons.

All this was known at the end of the war, and the railway management in Nigeria knew all about it. Let us see where the blame lies. The last people at whose door it lies are the railway management in Nigeria. I want to pay a tribute here. When I was out there and responsible, I was extremely anxious about the efficient working of the rail- ways. I was fortunate enough to find in the Army an officer who had been one of the most experienced traffic men of the former London. Midland and Scottish Railway—one of the late Lord Stamp's star men. I "bagged" him from the Army and turned him on to making a report upon the railway system for me. In his report he was extremely rude about the Gold Coast railway system. But about the Nigerian railway system, which mattered more, he made the highest possible report. That railway management had, before the end of the war, framed and put in exact details—I challenge the noble Earl to deny this—about what was wanted if the railway was to carry on. And all the estimates the railways had made, and that the noble Lord, Lord Milverton, pressed for after I had left, were confirmed and reinforced by the Commission which the Government sent out under Doctor Keen three years ago, which ended its tour in Nigeria in September, 1946. All these should have had super-priority.

The loss of this crop because of the failure to shift it means that it has failed to make its contribution to the needs of this country or to the dollar gap. I imagine that some of the ground-nuts are wanted in America. And what of the effect of this loss upon the population concerned? These people have been stimulated in the past to the greatest efforts. I have told elsewhere the story of the Emir of Katsina. I told it to show what the keenness was like, and perhaps I may be allowed to repeat it here. This old man was over seventy years of age, weak in health but not at all in intellect or in vigour. The doctor said to him, "If you don't take things easy you will die. What about it"? The old man replied: "I fought with Lord Lugard fifty years ago; I am not too old to fight now. I have told the King's Minister that my people will raise more ground-nuts than ever before. And I shall ride out at dawn and come back at dusk." The doctor again said to "If you do that, you will die." One evening he came in, knelt down and turned towards Mecca and said his prayers, and then turned over and died.

That was the kind of thing that was happening in that territory in the war effort. It was an effort made, not by great companies but by millions of small people. These people are small pro- ducers, whether of ground-nuts or of oil palm kernels. What will be the effect on the minds of these people of seeing all these ground-nuts rotting? You are also making it impossible to exploit the most fruitful field for development. I could never understand why you should want to go into Tanganyika, particularly into an area which, I understand, was marked "desert" or "famine" on the elementary maps and which was devoid of population, because not only did the natives have Ito contend with the tsetse fly, but they knew that there was nothing to eat when they got there; and there was no water. I believe that some has now been found—full of Epsom salts! But wily go there when you have adjoining in Northern Nigeria the Hausa population, a homogeneous people, I suppose about 10,000,000 or more? You have in the Bornu Province, adjoining the very densely-populated Kano Province, just the right country in which to produce groundnuts. It has the right soil, for it has the same sort of soil as is found in the Kano Province. It is orchard bush country, easy to clear; it has no tsetse fly; it has a cattle population.

During the war we established the great Biltong works at Kano to use these cattle. From it we fed the African Army and the workers in the ports, not only in Nigeria but outside. You have water not in great quantities, but you can contain it if you deepen the ponds. What I found extraordinarily interesting was that, even though this territory has a great dry period, when you go down you find the water table, and all through the year we kept large transit camps going on this perfectly good water. Indeed, everyone who knows Kano will remember that for nine or ten months in the year the River Kano is completely dry, and yet the town has an excellent water supply because wells have been sunk into the bed of the river, and twenty to thirty feet down there is a permanent supply of water all through the year. People would come in, people who are accustomed to growing subsistence crops. Grain crops such as millet are grown in that country. I really cannot understand why, with that possibility at their disposal, the Government went off into Tanganyika. Communications would have been much easier, provided of course the railway had been kept in proper repair.

The Mission that have just returned have said "No plan is of any use at all if you cannot even shift the crop you have got." Of course, you cannot deal with a new area without communication and rolling stock, but at Nguru you have a line which connects with Kano. In this area—which again the experts now say is the right area—it would be perfectly simple to extend that line about 120 miles on to Potiskum. In the meantime, there is a good road with strong bridges which goes to the railhead at Nguru, and the port of Lagos is well capable of handling any amount that could be put into that port. I ventured to put forward this idea when I first heard of the project in Tanganyika. I said: "Why on earth do you not develop this other area?" In the port of Lagos you have not only an ideal port but a port which is thousands of miles nearer to this country and to the United States. Is that not so? Was I wrong when I said that this was a classic example of want of planning and want of performance?

I say to the Government "Better late than never. Do haw the courage to admit your mistakes." We made plenty of mistakes in the war, but we admitted when we made mistakes and we learnt from our mistakes. We did the right thing, and eventually we won through. I beg the Government, admit your mistakes and get on with the job in the way it ought to be done. Then even you will pull through.

6.45 p.m.


My Lords, I rise to support the deductions which have been made by the noble Lord who moved this Motion, and to underline some of the criticisms which have been made by the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton. At this hour of night I do not wish to detain your Lordships with a great number of figures. I have my own figures here, which correspond roughly with those of the noble Lord the mover of this Motion. The main thing that I want to stress is the very unsatisfactory nature of the deductions which must be drawn from the figures which are generally agreed, however small the disparities in the actual totals may be. The fact remains that on November 1, 1947, there was a carryover of 92,000 tons. On November 1, 1948, there was a carry-over of 155,000 tons. What will it be on November 1, 1949? The crop for 1948 was 315,000 tons. If, by simple arithmetic, you add that to the carry-over of 155,000 tons, that leaves 470,000 tons to be dealt with in the year of which we are now speaking. I am informed that up to the end of June—my figures go a little further than those of the noble Lord who moved the Motion—205,000 tons of old and new crop ground-nuts had been railed from Kano to Apapa. That is a monthly average of about 25,600 tons, or a weekly average of 6,400 tons.

At the beginning of this month, there were about 265,000 tons in stock upcountry. These figures exclude the French Niger nuts which also have to be railed from Kano to Apapa. If you take an estimate which has been given to me of 37,000 tons for the French Niger nuts, that leaves you with present stocks upcountry of about 300,000 tons waiting to be shipped. I ask your Lordships to imagine how many years it will be before anything approximating to that amount could be obtained from East Africa. They are lying there deteriorating in North Nigeria at the moment. There are four months between July 1 and November 1, as I understand it, and if we give a generous estimate of 30,000 tons per month of railing capacity—which I very much doubt, although those are the optimistic figures to which I believe the Government look forward; the June figure was 28,000 tons and the May figure, at its most optimistic estimate, was 19,000 tons only—that will leave on November 1, 300,000 tons less 120,000 tons, which means a carry-over for the new year of 180,000 tons. In other words, the carry-over will have risen from 155,000 tons last year to 180,000 tons this year. The new crop this year is estimated again to be about 315,000 tons, so that the total facing the railway from November 1 next will be about 495,000 tons, plus the new crop of French Niger nuts.

I think I have said enough to prove that no serious progress is being made with this problem. What is the reason? It is not the fault of the Nigerian Railway. The railway is working, as it has worked for many years, to capacity—indeed, beyond prudent capacity. When Lord Swinton organised the output of West Africa during the war, as he confessed this afternoon, he worked the railway to the limit. He saw that it took first things first, and he demanded the effort which was made. Everybody worked all out. At the same time, while we were doing that—and we all served the noble Viscount willingly in his efforts—we were asking the Government at home to replace the things we were using up; we gave them ample notice, years ahead, of what our requirements would be lest that railway should break down at the end of the war. If we look briefly into the history of the past six years, I am sure that it will emerge that there is blame to be placed on someone. But that blame does not, and never did, lie in Nigeria; it lay, and lies, in London.

My Lords, I do not believe in crying over spilt milk, nor do I wish unnecessarily to stir up the smouldering embers of past controversies, but it is not possible properly to appreciate the present position without some reference to the past. The difficulties to-day are the lineal descendants of past errors and of past lack of liaison between the different authorities in London. The story started as long ago as 1942, when Nigeria began to press for the supply of new locomotives and of locomotive spares to replace the old equipment which was becoming worn out. It has run its chequered career ever since—one of the longest runs of any farce on the Colonial stage. Amongst other incidents which happened during my time there, or rather before my time and on through my time, was the supply to us of bogies of every gauge except that of the Nigerian Railway.

The ground-nuts scheme came and was in full swing when I went from Jamaica towards the end of 1943 to take over the Governorship of Nigeria. I mention this fact partly to justify my knowledge of what happened, and partly for the information of those Cabinet Ministers who cannot be expected to have any knowledge of the Colonial Empire. We began to press for the supply of rails as well as for new locomotives. All the Ministries in London—the Ministry of Supply, the Ministry of Food, the Ministry of Production, the Board of Trade and the War Office—were involved; but very little happened. In 1946, and again in 1947, the question of the removal of ground-nuts and the needs of the Nigerian Railway received the attention of the Cabinet, and even Mr. Hugh Dalton, as Chancellor of the Exchequer, and the Foreign Secretary contributed obiter dicta about the importance of the Nigerian around-nuts in the maintenance of the fat ration of England.

As Governor, I received a communication that the export of ground-nuts must be expedited, since the Prime Minister himself was taking an interest in the matter. My Lords, we have a proverb which says that fine words butter no parsnips. Equally, pious opinions move no ground-nuts. Locomotive spares, locomotives and rolling stock, on the contrary, do. Even Cabinet decisions, in my experience, do not seem to effect co-ordination between the contending Ministries in Whitehall, and so far as I know there has never been issued from the top a clear-cut directive that Nigeria must be supplied promptly with the railway requirements essential for the job.

There is only one way to do this. The clearest instructions, in unequivocal terms and at the highest level, should be issued to the various Ministries and authorities in the United Kingdom that the supply to Nigeria of all materials, rolling stock, locomotive wagons and spare parts, and also all the various road parts required, is of the greatest urgency and must have the same priority as the need for oil seeds to maintain the fat ration in this country.

The Nigerian Government pleaded for years to be given something more solid than exhortations. In the latter half of 1946 an expert Mission was sent out to inquire into the production and transport of vegetable oils and oil seeds. The Mission's Report verified and repeated what the Nigerian Government had been saying for years, and so it suffered the same fate. A year later, in 1947, yet another highly-qualified Mission was sent out to Nigeria, to investigate the suitability of conditions for large-scale mechanised production of ground-nuts for export. One of the paragraphs in their Report seems to me to be worth reading in this connection. Paragraph 6, on page 32 of Colonial Paper 224 says: It cannot be emphasised too strongly, that sinless the indents of the Nigerian Railway at present outstanding are met in full and within the periods specified, it would be idle to contemplate any increase in the production of ground-nuts in Nigeria, either by opening new areas or by the use of artificial fertilisers in existing areas. If, however, indents in respect of men and equipment are met according to the programme, the railway should be in a position to undertake the carriage of further quantities by the end of 1949. My Lords, I leave you to guess how much progress has been made towards that end after considering the figures which have been given to you to-clay. We are now in the latter half of 1949, facing the same old dilemma of accumulating stocks.

May I give one more citation of a Report—namely, the Fifth Report of the Select Committee on Estimates published a year ago? After a summary of capacity and needs, and the inability to get them, of the Nigerian Railway, the Report (in paragraph 90 of page xxiv) contains the following: The foregoing account makes it plain that the present accumulation of ground-nuts in Northern Nigeria was due not to the shortage of engine-building capacity hut to a complete breakdown of the organisation in London for arranging priorities. That is the Select Committee's own Report.

Well, my Lords, who is to blame, and how can it be set right? The blame lies not with the Crown Agents, I think, who have done their best in this matter; nor with the Colonial Office, except that I feel the Colonial Office might occasionally substitute a little aggressive determination for the limpid neutrality with which they are apt to voice their requests in other quarters. I blame the bureaucratic "merry-go-round" of Whitehall, and in particular the ineffectiveness of the Ministry of Supply. Action in Whitehall generally means writing a minute to someone—a minute which the overworked recipient may decide to ignore. After all, all that has been needed over these years is a direction from someone high enough to direct that certain things must be done. It is true that if it is a Cabinet matter the Secretary of State for the Colonies has a superhuman task. He has to interest and convince colleagues like the inspiring and aspiring Minister of Health, who apparently has very little knowledge, and very little desire to acquire it, of the Colonial Empire.

Nigeria is fortunate in that it has not yet become a corpus vile for a Ministerial stunt, like the East African ground-nuts scheme. It lies, in tact, outside the mythology of Colonial planning and all it needs is a plain decision. Perhaps the noble Earl who is to reply to this debate can give us the promise of that instead of the smooth hopes which have left us heart-sick in the past. It would seem that to some Ministers the Colonies represent "that undiscovered" country from whose bourn no traveller—or perhaps I should say fellow-traveller—"returns." Unfortunately, they do return, keep on returning, the only noticeable exports to date; and while expenses pile up at Kongwa, ground-nuts pile up at Kano and, if I may quote the poet: The hungry sheep look up and are not fed. My Lords, I support the Motion.

7.0 p.m.


My Lords, if I may start on what I hope your Lordships will not regard as a flippant note, may I say that I sometimes wonder why ground-nuts seem to have engendered such a remarkable amount of Parliamentary heat and laughter. The problem was not so difficult to solve when I inspected the exhibition which is at present being held at the Marble Arch, for I observed that it was shown there that almost anything can come out of groundnuts, including plastic materials and dynamite. If I may continue this metaphor in rather more serious fashion, my contribution this afternoon will be mainly in the form of light, which I hope will be a no less valuable by-product than those with which your Lordships are all familiar. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Milverton, and other noble Lords who have spoken need not apologise for having quoted facts and figures. This is a matter which can and should be decided by facts and figures and your Lordships must base your judgment on facts and figures. Because I draw the opposite conclusion to the conclusion which is drawn by the noble Lords who have just spoken I shall not emphasise it. I shall merely leave the facts and figures which I shall give to tell their own story, and I shall allow your Lordships to draw your own conclusions.

My own conclusion, let me say at the outset, is that if things go reasonably well—I do not make any prophecy; I never make any definite prophecy—we shall, in the course of next year, be back to normal in Nigeria. We shall be gathering the current crop as it comes up and have little or no backlog from past years' crops. I do not wish to weary the House at seven o'clock with a lot of past history, but I cannot explain the reasons for the backlog of ground-nuts at Kano without going back a few years. I think the noble Lord, Lord Rennell, and other noble Lords who have spoken wish to know what, in our view, with our command of the facts, are the reasons why these stocks have accumulated, as well as what has been and is being done to expedite their clearance.

The backlog started in 1946 with a carry-over of 10,000 tons of bagged nuts from the previous year's crop. Up to 1945, the Nigerian railways had been able to move the ground-nut crops from the collection area as and when they were purchased. That was the pre-war position; that was the position up to 1945 and that is the position to which we hope to be able to get back next year. Before 1946 there had never been an accumulated stock of nuts from past years' crops. This first small backlog was mainly due to a seven weeks' railway strike, which reduced the tonnage carried by rail and slowed down maintenance. From 1947 onwards the much more serious backlog to which reference has been made by all noble Lords who have spoken to-day has resulted—and I think all noble Lords are agreed about this—from an increased production of ground-nuts in West Africa which has outstripped the carrying capacity of the Nigerian Railways.


Will the noble Lord forgive me for interrupting but these figures are extremely important? Is it not a fact that a yield of 350,000 tons, not merely just in the war years but even before the war years, if there was a good planting season, with rain at the right time, was not at all uncommon?


I think the noble Viscount will agree that even if there was a small carry-over from one year to another there was never any substantial backlog.


I am not disputing that. What I am disputing is that you have now to deal with an extraordinary amount of ground-nuts, an amount that was not of quite common occurrence even before the war.


We had then—and shall have again—a much greater quantity of rolling stock and locomotives with which to collect the crops. That, I think, is the answer to the noble Viscount. The Nigerian railway system was designed to carry about 1,500,000 tons of goods per annum. Since 1943, this figure has constantly been exceeded, and in the year 1946–47 the railways were carrying nearly 1,750,000 tons, or 250,000 tons more than they had been constructed to carry. In spite of this remarkable effort, they have been unable, up to the present time, to keep pace with the mounting output of agricultural produce from French and British Africa. I am sure we are all agreed about that. It must also be remembered and this is a point which was rightly stressed by the noble Viscount opposite that this increased tonnage was carried by rolling stock which had suffered severely from lack of normal maintenance and replacements during the war. The difficulty of obtaining spare parts and replacements during the war years left the stock of locomotives in a pretty poor condition when the war was over. The same thing was true of wagons. Many railway wagons which had been repaired again and again—for the workshops did a remarkably fine job during the war—reached a point of deterioration where they could no longer be put into use.

But the authorities on the spot were not lacking in foresight. Certainly lack of foresight is the last thing of which one would accuse Lord Milverton or the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, who also had responsibility for a time in this matter. The authorities saw what was coming well in advance and they warned the Home Government of the difficulty which they saw ahead. It was, in fact, plain to the Nigerian Government before the end of the war, and they made it no less plain to the Government at home, that new rolling stock would be required in considerable quantities if the Nigerian railways were to be equipped to deal effectively with the much larger volume of vital goods traffic which they would be expected to handle. As early as 1943, the Crown Agents provided the Ministry of Production with a list of Colonial railway requirements which included eleven main line locomotives for Nigeria. It was hoped that these locomotives would be available not later than 1946. As I have said, 1946 was the year in which there was the first backlog of ground-nuts, even if the amount at that time was only small.

I would like to remind the House that 1944 was the year when the wrong turning was taken. At that lime the Coalition Government were in power. I am not attaching blame to any Government, individual or firm. I am only saying this as a matter of fact, because the noble Viscount seemed to heap the blame on the present Government. Wherever blame may lie, I shall not attempt to distribute it, but I do not think that the noble Viscount's effort to lay it on the present Government is strictly in accordance with the facts or the case. Great efforts were made by the Crown Agents in 1944 to push this order for locomotives so that the manufacturers should have them built in time for shipment in 1946. The Crown Agents were unable to get it into a manufacturer's programme until 1946, when the order was increased from eleven to twenty locomotives. At that time it was still hoped that these locomotives would all be ready for shipment in the following year, 1947. If this had in fact been done, the present heavy accumulation of ground-nuts at Kano might have been avoided. In the event, the firm selected decided to give priority to a large order for the London and North Eastern Railway, and the Nigerian order was not finally completed and shipped until May, 1948, two years later.


My Lords, I think it is important that, we should get this accurate. The noble Lord has said that in 1944, when we were in the middle of the war, the Nigerian Government did not get their allocation. I quite agree. He then goes on to 1946. What I would like to ask is, what review was made by the Colonial Office when the war was over in 1945 and the whole position was known, and what progress was made in changing the position. Priority can always be diverted.


I can assure the House that the Colonial Office did their best at that time to get the order accepted by a suitable manufacturer, but in spite of that the order was not completed and shipped until 1948, two years later than the vital date from the Nigerian paint of view. I am not saying that there is not a good deal of blame attaching to a great many people —Governments, firms and individuals—but there is no good trying to allocate blame or say who was wrong and to what extent this or that person, firm or Government was in error. An even more serious transport crisis in Nigeria was averted only by the delivery of fourteen Canadian engines in the summer of 1947. The gap was filled by the arrival of those Canadian engines. I am sure the noble Viscount will agree with me that it would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to allocate the blame fairly between those responsible for this delay of two years in providing the new locomotives required by the Nigerian railways.


The noble Lord has asked me a question. I want to put this straight. We will take full responsibility for all our period, but what the noble Earl has entirely left out, and what was the gravamen of my charge and I think of those of other noble Lords, is that when we could have placed orders for locomotives, wagons and spare parts for shifting the vast amount of groundnuts in Nigeria, another Minister got in front and placed locomotive orders for shifting non-existing ground-nuts in Tanganyika.


I can assure the noble Viscount that not a single wagon or locomotive was diverted from Nigeria in order to shift groundnuts in Tanganyika.


I am not saying that. I hope the noble Lord will deal with the point put to him. I am not suggesting that this further twenty locomotives were diverted. What I am saying, and I will be corrected if I am wrong, is that a decision was taken at some stage to place large orders for rolling stock and rails for Tanganyika. What I want to know is: When was that done?- And could not those orders have been given to Nigeria, where the groundnuts were, instead of to Tanganyika, where the ground-nuts were not?


I am advised that no orders were accepted and carried out by manufacturers for rolling stock for Tanganyika to the detriment of similar rolling stock for Nigeria. The view I take—it may not be shared by other noble Lords, but I hold it with great conviction—is that no useful purpose would be served at this stage by a post-mortem examination to allocate blame for delays that have occurred in Nigeria. If this were done, it would inevitably start off a good deal of sterile recrimination, and I do not think that would be constructive or helpful. I am sure it is not going to help to move ground-nuts in Nigeria, which is what we all want to do. What I should like to emphasise is the substantial improvement in railings, due mainly to the more frequent arrivals of new rolling stock which have taken place since the delivery of the Vulcan locomotives in June last year. Your Lordships will agree that the figures show that considerable progress has been made during last year. I cannot accept the figures of monthly tonnages since the beginning of the year that were given by the noble Lord, Lord Rennell.


Could the noble Earl tell me in what respect they differ? I have the figures here tabulated in four-weekly periods.


The figures we have, based on the official figures from Nigeria, are 31,000 tons for January of this year, 26,000 tons for February, 29,000 tons for March, 23,000 tons for April, 24,000 tons for May, and 32,000 tons for June. These are approximate figures. I cannot remember the precise figures given by the noble Lord, but one figure fell below 20,000 tons.


Two of them fell below that.


I can assure the noble Lord that that is not borne out by the information at our disposal. May I now briefly look at the evidence which shows the degree of improvement that was made last year? The average monthly tonnage was raised in the second half of 1948 to a figure above 30,000 tons. The magnitude of this improvement can be assessed by comparison with 1947 and the first half of 1948, when no single month reached a figure of 30,000. And this figure of 30,000 is in a sense a key figure, because while it is a sufficient tonnage to clear current crops, including French ground-nuts, anything above this figure starts to overtake accumulated stocks. Your Lordships will be glad to know that the last monthly figure we have for June of this year, is a figure of 32,964 tons, and marks an appreciable advance on the quantities moved during the Spring. We hope that the achievement in June will be exceeded later in the year. It has been rendered possible by the much more rapid delivery of rolling stock in the current year. Sixteen British locomotives have reached Nigeria in the present year, while three more are ready for shipment and a further eight will have left the manufacturer by September. Moreover, ten more Canadian engines were delivered in May.

No less satisfactory has been the delivery of goods wagons. Out of 395 covered wagons on order, the complete sets of parts for 170 arrived in Nigeria by the end of June, and sufficient parts to assemble a further 100 will have reached Nigeria by the end of July. These covered wagons can be assembled and put into service at a rate of about 100 a month. Out of 150 hopper wagons intended to carry coal, which will release other wagons for the carriage of groundnuts, 112 have already arrived in Nigeria, and 137 will be ready for use by August. We estimate, with this increase in the quantity and quality of engines and goods wagons, that there will be sufficient rolling stock in Nigeria by the end of this year to carry 40,000 tons of ground-nuts a month. This figure, as your Lordships will note, exceeds by 10,000 tons the tonnage required to clear the current groundnut crop.

I should like to mention two other measures for improving the efficiency of the transport system in Nigeria. The only other practical method of transporting the ground-nuts is by water. The amount of ground-nuts carried by water is being increased for the moment by the use of Government marine craft which are operating from Baro to supplement the usual barges employed for this traffic. This is a stop-gap arrangement pending the arrival of new barges and tugs on order. The increase in tonnage carried will not be large, as it would be a mistake—I am sure the noble Lord opposite will agree with this—to divert railway wagons used for ground-nuts on the main route to the sea to the Kano-Baro line. The second thing that has been done is this. It has been arranged for a senior officer of British Railways to pay a three-months' visit to Nigeria. His advice, based on long experience of conditions in this country in peace and war-time alike (I think that is important, because he has also experienced abnormal conditions such as he may find in Nigeria), will be sought by the Government in ascertaining ways and means of improving the operation and efficiency of the railway system. This officer will be leaving for Nigeria towards the end of this month.

I have here a note about the trogoderma beetle. I do not know whether your Lordships want me to deal with that at this late hour.


Yes; let us hear it.


Up to June 25 of this year the presence of the trogoderma beetle had been detected in 22,000 tons of the 1947–48 crop, and in 60,000 tons of the 1948–19 crop. As soon as the presence of the pest was known, fumigation under a properly-qualified staff was carried out with considerable success. The result of this prompt action has kept down the total loss of nuts through insect attack to a low level and, so far as can be ascertained, a total of not more than 273 tons have been completely destroyed. Do let us keep a sense of perspective about this. The figure of 273 tons is only a small fraction of the quantity of ground-nuts moved every month. It is an exaggeration for the noble Lord to speak of ground-nuts lying rotting on the ground in large quantities. That is the total amount destroyed.


The others are none the worse?


No. I am coming on to the others in a moment. The effect of this infestation (I must say that I did not realise this myself until I made a study of the subject) is to increase the free fatty acid content of the oil. The noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, knew that very well, and he hoped to catch me out on it. Let me go a step further. Although this renders it unsuitable for use for edible purposes—for margarine, for example—it can be and is used for such industrial purposes as making soap.


That is slightly less valuable and earns fewer dollars.


I agree. But if we are concerned about the rationing position, and we want to help the people in that respect, surely we must worry about soap as well as margarine. I agree that nobody wished this beetle to attack the crops; we would have all been happier had it not done so. The long-term cure for this pest is the clearance of these accumulated stocks. If the storage time can be reduced, the danger of damage by the trogoderma beetle will become negligible.

I would like to conclude with a few words about the future. It would be unsafe and unwise, in view of the many unpredictable factors, to prophesy definitely about future railings of groundnuts. I have never done so. I think if your Lordships read what I said before, you will see that I used the word "should" and not "would." I am certain that only a knave or a fool prophesies about the future.


You must not say that about your colleagues.


I am afraid I cannot accept that from the noble Viscount. With those qualifying remarks, I think I may say that it is not unreasonable to expect that the latest monthly figure will be increased in the autumn of this year, and that the accumulated stocks of ground-nuts should be cleared at no distant date. With the large amount of new equipment which has recently arrived, or will soon arrive, in Nigeria, there is a good prospect, if all goes well, of the complete clearance of the 1948–49 crop by the early spring of 1950, by which time a start will also have been made with moving the 1949–50 crop. Later, as I have already said, we hope to get back to approximately normal conditions in Nigeria. I hope your Lordships will agree that the sustained and successful effort to speed up the movement of ground-nuts since the summer of 1948 reflects considerable credit on all concerned. The Government of Nigeria, the Nigerian Railways staff, the Colonial Office, the Crown Agents and the private firms involved have each contributed their share to the common purpose of improving the railway system in Nigeria in order that this valuable crop may be processed and passed on to the consumer at the earliest possible moment. I know your Lordships will all wish complete and early success to this combined operation.

7.27 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Earl started his reply to this motion by wondering why the subject of groundnuts—I think he used the words, "engendered so many debates." The reason why this subject does engender debates is because it affects our food ration. It is not denied that by November 1 there will still be an accumulation of about 150,000 tons, and taking a very low estimate of the fat content—a lower oil content than usual, due to deterioration, not on account of the beetle, but on account of the long standing of the piles of ground-nuts there—the 150,000 tons of unshipped ground-nuts, which ought to have been here, represent approximately one ounce of fat per week for a year for 46,000,000 people. That is why the subject of ground-nuts engenders a good many debates. If those ground-nuts had been shipped, there would in theory—I do not say it would happen in just that form—have been one ounce of fat more per week per head of the population of this country for one year than there has been. I did not touch on the ravages of the beetle, but I did, rightly as I claim, speak of ground-nuts rotting. It is perhaps a slightly picturesque phrase, and maybe I should have said "deteriorating." They have deteriorated. The longer groundnuts remain in a pile unshipped, the lower becomes the edible oil content of the ground-nuts, as the noble Earl himself said. That is why we are interested.

The final reason why we are interested in the subject is because we want to know why we are spending money and equipment in not growing ground-nuts in Tanganyika, when we could more profitably have spent equipment and money in shipping ground-nuts which are already in Nigeria. To that question I consider that the answer we have received is completely unsatisfactory. The noble Earl said he does not agree with my figures about the arrivals of trucks and missing spare parts. I hope I am wrong. He also does not agree with my monthly rail shipments. They happen, as a matter of fact, to come from Nigeria, and they show, as I have said before, a decline from nearly 32,000 tons at the end of 1948 to 15,000 tons in May, 1949. I have not the June figures. The noble Earl said those figures are wrong, and naturally I accept his figures, which come from much better sources than those to which I have access. But the fact of the matter is that for three years we have been swimming upstream, and have been steadily washed down. The carry-over of ground-nuts at the end of the year, on December 31, in each of the three years, has been steadily going up, and by November of this year will have reached a figure which would have represented a very substantial addition to the fat ration in this country. I do not wish to say that the noble Earl has indulged in prophecies—that would not be right. He has on two previous occasions given what might be called optimistic forecasts, and he has made another to-day. The other two have not been realised. I hope this one will be, but, in view of the experience of the past, I am rather sceptical.

Finally, the noble Earl said that it is perhaps idle and useless to have a postmortem on why certain things have not taken place. Post-mortems are useful if they detect a disease, and if they prevent others from suffering from the same disease in the future. I think this subject of Nigerian ground-nuts, and the mismanagement of the scheme—which the noble Earl admitted has taken place for the last few years—is one which requires a post-mortem. We have not had the information to-day which would enable us to start on a post-mortem, but I hope the subject will be raised again hereafter and that we shall go into the question of who is to blame for what has happened. In view of the very late hour I do not propose to continue, and I beg your Lordships' leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.

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