HL Deb 19 July 1949 vol 164 cc124-37

2.40 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, I hope and believe that this Bill will give rise to less controversy and to less protracted discussion than some of the Bills to which your Lordships have recently been directing your attention. It sets out to achieve two main objects. It seeks, in the first place, to raise the annual ceiling of expenditure on research schemes from £1,000,000, which is the limit under existing legislation, to £2,500,000; and, in the second place, to raise the total annual expenditure permissible on all schemes under the Colonial Development and Welfare Acts from £17,500,000 to £20,000,000. These are the two objects of the Bill and I think I can clearly express them each in a single sentence. The reasons why we are recommending Parliament to authorise these changes in the administration of funds provided by these Acts arise from events which could not have been foreseen at the time this legislation was enacted.

In the first place, expenditure on all schemes since the last Colonial Development and Welfare Act came into force in 1926 has been much slower than was expected, chiefly owing to shortage of materials and technical staff. Expenditure on research schemes, however, I am thankful to say, has proceeded recently with much increased momentum, and during the current financial year expenditure to the order of £1,500,000 has been forecast. This level of expenditure is likely to be exceeded during the following years, provided, of course, that Parliament sanctions so doing. The importance of research work in the development of Colonial territories needs no emphasis from me. Your Lordships must often have reflected on the ravages of animal, plant and human diseases, and we are convinced from our knowledge of this subject that this work should not be impeded by such a low annual ceiling as £1,000,000.

The second main reason for these proposals is that expenditure on development schemes of every sort is gradually increasing, if not at such a rapid rate as that on research schemes. It is true that the present annual total of £17,500,000 permitted under the 1945 Act is not likely to be reached in the immediate future. But unless this annual total is raised from £17,500,000 to £20,000,000, it will be quite impossible in time to come, owing to the under-expenditure that has prevailed until now, for the whole sum of £120,000,000 provided by Parliament to be spent by March, 1956. That, of course, is the date when the present Act expires. We are therefore anxious to raise the overall annual ceiling of expenditure under the Colonial Development and Welfare Acts at the same time as the annual expenditure on research. This will also ensure that we shall not have to go to Parliament later on for piecemeal legislation to authorise a higher ceiling of annual expenditure. In that way I think we shall be doing a good service both to the next Government and to the next Parliament when the time comes for them to meet.

I should perhaps say that the present Bill involves no commitment to increase the total sum of £120, 000,000 provided under the 1945 Act. In view of the importance of expenditure at the present time, it is right that that fact should be made perfectly plain. I feel sure that your Lordships will approve these adjustments, which are required in the light of experience since 1945—which has been rather different from w gat we expected—in the authorised flow of expenditure on welfare and development schemes in our colonial territories. I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2*.—(The Earl of Listowel.)

2.45 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Earl who introduced this Bill has done so very briefly, which I think is a great tribute to the understanding and intelligence of your Lordships. It was introduced in the other place to the tune of a great many columns of Hansard. I shall quote one or two figures which the noble Earl did not bring out, and I would like him to pay particular attention to them, and tell me whether or not they are right. Whenever I think of this Bill I cannot help thinking of the circumstances in which its first edition was passed. It was the very darkest time of our fortunes in 1940, when the German armed forces had scattered our Allies, and many people who were devoted to our cause all over the world wondered whether or not we were finished. In that dark hour the Parliament of this country, mindful of their responsibilities, and absolutely certain of eventual victory, passed this far-reaching Act, which has been called by some a milestone and by others a great act of faith —indeed, it is both.

The present edition to which we are addressing ourselves this afternoon, as the noble Earl has said, dates from 1945, and has a ceiling of £12,000,000. The noble Earl has given us the figures—namely, £17,500,000 in any one year, and £1,000,000 in any one year on research. This is rather like an annual general meeting of a company where one reviews the period that has passed and considers the recommendations of the directors for the future. I would very much like to know from the noble Earl how many schemes put forward by Colonial Governments have in fact been approved, because sometimes the noble Earl and his right honourable friend do not quite agree on the subject of figures. The noble Earl told us in the Colonial debate in this House on April 13 that twenty-four schemes had been approved; but his right honourable friend the Secretary of State, speaking on May 27, gave the total as only twenty-one. Are we to understand that in five weeks three approved schemes suddenly became disapproved?


I do not want to interrupt the noble Lord, but I am sure he would wish his meaning to be plain. When he uses the word "schemes" is he referring to the ten-year plans of the Colonial Governments?


Yes. I trust that there is no mistake in the millions of pounds, because in this project we are, willy-nilly, all shareholders. I understand that these ten-year plans call for an expenditure of about £200,000,000, met in the following way: £64,000,000-odd under the 1945 Act; the same sum of £64,000,000 by local Colonial loans; and £71,000,000 from local Colonial revenues. That, with the loose change, makes up nigh upon £200,000,000. I gathered from the few words with which the noble Earl introduced this Bill that the object of it is not a change of policy, but merely a change of emphasis—to accelerate the tempo and step up the £17,500,000 to £20,000,000 a year, and the £1,000,000 on research to £2,500,000 a year. Voting the money is the easy part of all these schemes; it is how the money is spent that matters. Welfare, as we all agree, waits on development. The social services of this country are as a house built on sand unless they have the solid basis of economic security. We could plan to-morrow to build a thousand hospitals and ten thousand schools in the Colonies, but most of them might well be closed the following year for lack of funds to maintain them. Though education, health, housing and such like, are economic expenses in every sense of the word, they must at the same time be founded on the base of the pyramid, which is economic security. If he can, I would like the noble Earl to say a word on what proportions of this expenditure are going directly to productive activities or to public utilities or to social services. My understanding of the proposals in that order is something like one-half to productive activities, one-third to public utilities and about one-sixth to social services.

The noble Earl commented on the fact that for the first five years or so of this scheme the tempo had been extremely slow. He warmed our hearts by telling us that material and capital goods would come forward in rather greater supply. We were once a rich, proud and powerful nation. We are still proud and still powerful, but we are no longer rich. The Colonial territories have not asked for us to be their continuing financial support, nor could we continually support them thus. This Bill, and other measures like it, are designed surely to be a springboard for their own future progress, a future progress in the design of a great partnership. One of the reasons, I think, why the East African ground-nuts scheme has not been a shining success is that His Majesty's Government have failed to make it plain what exactly are the functions in these schemes of Government investment and private investment. Some projects are suitable for Government investment alone, and some for private investment alone, while many more are suitable for a joinder of the two. I wish the Government could see their way to making this quite plain.

As regards research, upon which the noble Earl said a few words, I think my noble friends on this side of the House will rejoice with me that the ceiling for the research grants has been raised. It is doubtful to my mind whether there should be a ceiling year by year. After all, research proceeds with the momentum of one discovery to another. I do not think it should have any confining influence or limitation, and if it has I hope the noble Earl will come quickly back to Parliament and ask for the limitation to be raised. For what millions would it not be worth if by research we mastered the rinderpest in Africa, the swollen-shoot disease in West Africa and the banana disease which has decimated banana crops in the West Indies! One of the criticisms of the ground-nuts scheme is that there was not enough research. Research is not always an easy thing to define. After all, research shades into the pilot scheme; the pilot scheme shades into the final project. As I have said, voting large sums by itself is the easiest part, but I am prepared to bet that every ten-year plan put up and approved by every Colony is seriously hampered by lack not only of materials but also of men. I believe that a great deal of the capital goods and materials which we have exported in the last few years to foreign countries—some, indeed, behind the Iron Curtain—might well have gone with greater advantage to the Colonies themselves. After all, they earn 200,000,000 dollars a year in the aggregate. I believe that if we could increase that element it would he greatly to our mutual benefit.

Last of all, apart from the question of money, machinery, concrete and steel, there is the question of the investment of our human capital. To my mind, the Colonial Service has not the inducements it had when I had the honour to serve in it fifteen years ago. We must always see that those inducements exist, and that we always attract the best people. We must do whatever we can from all sources to attract those experts whom we need to participate with us in this great task. I have avoided making a full-scale Colonial debate upon this issue—indeed, they are having such a debate to-morrow in another place. I think my colleagues on this side of the House will join with me in welcoming this Bill and wishing it every possible success.

2.55 p.m.


My Lords, until the last sentence of the noble Lord's very interesting speech, I was not sure whether he was supporting or opposing the Bill—blessing it or damning it—but I certainly missed any word of praise from him, and I propose to supply that omission. I think His Majesty's Government are much to be congratulated on spending more on these admittedly vital and essential services, especially on scientific research in the Colonial Empire, than any previous Government. As for what the noble Lord said about our being poor and impoverished, it is not a question of money at all. Anything we can do in the way of scientific research to develop this vast and almost virginal state—I am thinking particularly of East Indian territories now, who are crying out for help—will be repaid to us many times over in a few years.


If I may interrupt the noble Lord, I did not suggest by anything I said that that particular expenditure was a waste of money.


No. The noble Lord spoke of our poverty, and I am pointing out that however poor we may be this is a lucrative investment. I agree with him about the undesirability of having a limited scientific research, but I imagine that my noble friend and my right honourable friend in another place, if they find that there is urgent need for more money for some particularly promising project, can always ask for a supplementary estimate, and I do not think any Party in another place will oppose it. ft is all very well to talk about the ground-nuts scheme as not having been properly planned in advance, but at the time it was initiated everyone praised it; and I gather that when certain initial difficulties are overcome it will be a most valuable project. Certainly it is something on the right lines, which is better than our sitting back and saying that we cannot afford to buy in certain markets because the currencies are too hard or are against us. Here we are really trying to develop from hitherto unused lands the necessary fats which we require. Whatever mistakes have been made in that scheme, I am sure that the project itself was good and that eventually the results will be satisfactory.

I had intended to ask my noble friend one or two specific questions about research into the elimination of certain pests, but I do not think it is fair to do that without notice, and if I may I will reserve those remarks to a later stage of the Bill. I cannot imagine anyone who knows the situation in our Colonies being prepared to oppose this Bill, and I was very glad of the concluding remarks of the noble Lord who speaks for the Opposition.

2.58 p.m.


My Lords, I did not come with the intention of speaking in this debate, and I am therefore speaking without preparation; but I would like to say a word on the aspect of Colonial research. I happen to be concerned in that because I am chairman of one of the sub-committees of the Colonial Research Council, and in that capacity I have recently become a member of the Colonial Research Council. The Council of which I am chairman is called the Colonial Products Research Council and, as the title explains, it is a scientific committee. They are all scientists except myself, and we work in an attempt to find new uses for Colonial products, especially in the industrial sphere, though by our terms of reference we are not strictly limited to that. We have to be careful, however, not to overlap too much into the medical and agricultural research work, for which special provision is made, and all of which is co-ordinated by the Colonial Research Council itself.

A year ago I was in the West Indies, opening at Trinidad a micro-biological institute. The Americans have done a great deal of work in micro-biology, and it seems to hold out great prospects, especially in the field of Colonial research. But this is the first British establishment, so far as I know, which is working entirely on micro-biology. Now it is of first importance, and I hope it will always be kept in mind in all this research, that there should not be too insistent a demand for immediate results. Results follow from pure research, but they often have to lag some way behind. A good deal of pure research remains to be done, and I think that is the first consideration. But we do achieve results in this body to which I belong—for example, we have a promising substitute for linseed oil.

As your Lordships know, linseed oil is very much used in the paint industry and in other industries, as well as for cricket bats. It has been very scarce, and its price has been high. Most of it comes, I believe, from the Argentine Republic. But there is a weed in West Africa from which a group of Liverpool scientists have produced a very valuable oil known as conophor oil, which has great promise. It has not been finally approved, I believe, and it must be remembered that because it is possible to produce an oil from a weed it does not necessarily follow that that weed can be grown as a crop. That matter is being actively pursued under Colonial Office direction, and according to the latest information I have, I think it is extremely promising. There is also a promising rubber seed oil which would be a by-product of the rubber growing industry. This has been proved out scientifically—and more than scientifically, proved out, like the conophor oil, by the skill of the user. Unfortunately, however, it has been held up in development by the unsettled conditions in Malaya.

Speaking of results, some wonderful work has been done in sugar. It is extraordinary the promise that sugar research shows. The actual accomplishments vary from a substitute for blood plasma (which has been used up to 50 per cent. in certain hospitals) to antifreeze mixture. When we started on sugar research a few years ago we were hoping that sugar would become once again a cheap commodity—indeed, we thought there might he a glut. But, as your Lordships well know, there is no glut, so that prices have remained high. However, I do not think there is the slightest doubt that the price of sugar will come down one of these days; and the hope is, of course, that from these discoveries there will be new markets for our Colonial sugar. I will not detain your Lordships any longer but I thought it might be of interest to you to hear these facts. I should like to say how grateful the world of science, so far as I know it, is to the Colonial Office for the help which they have given and the initiative which they have shown in this subject. This is a matter in which all Governments have done their utmost. We have to remember that when such research is started it has to be developed gradually; it is necessary to spend your money to the best advantage by finding out where the research most needs help. As a matter or fact, however, that work has been improving steadily under each Government, and I think the present Government have done their duty very fully.

3.6 p.m.


My Lords, like the last noble Lord who spoke, I had not come here with the idea of making a speech. I should, however, like to ask a question. Statements have appeared in the Press lately to the effect that the West Indies are anxious to make a sugar agreement with this country. Well, my Lords, this country, as we all know, is very short of sugar, and I think we all agree that anything we can do which will help the sugar supply from the sterling area should be done. This is a point of the greatest interest to the Government and the people. Can the noble Earl who is to reply tell us what steps, if any, have been or are being taken to try to develop the production of sugar in Jamaica, for instance, as opposed to sugar coming from Cuba and other places? I should be interested if the noble Earl could give us an idea of the prospects and whether it is a fact, as has been stated in the Press, that we are contemplating making a ten-year agreement with the sugar growers of Jamiaca. If we did that, would not sugar become more plentiful for our people? If, on the other hand, the Government have turned down this idea, or are going to do so, could they tell us the arguments for or against it?


I, too, should like to ask the noble Lord a question—on the subject of British Somaliland. In 1944 it was pointed out to His Majesty's Government that British Somaliland was in a fair way to becoming a howling wilderness, because of over-grazing and lack of proper water for the beasts there. What progress, if any, has been made in arresting that trend?

3.8 p.m.


My Lords, I. too came here this afternoon without any intention of either speaking or asking a question. I assumed, and I think I was right in assuming, that every noble Lord here was in favour of the terms of this Bill; and although the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, appears to have been in some doubt as to the meaning of the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Tweedsmuir, I suffered under no such apprehension. I took it for granted that he was—as he is—strongly in favour of the terms of this Bill. Had the matter been left at that I should have remained silent. Nobody who knows anything about the Colonial Empire, or who is interested in it, would consider him as not supporting the terms whereby a larger sum is made available every year and, in particular, where a larger sum can be devoted to research.

The noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, took the opportunity of claiming for this Government all the credit for the amount of money which is now to be spent on this scheme of development and welfare in the Colonial Empire. I want to go into the question, with great self-restraint, of how much of the credit for this is due to His Majesty's present Government. If we enter into a balance of accounts of this kind one must remember that in this Colonial Empire of ours it is not only financial considerations which matter. It is totally useless to spend any quantity of money and to make any number of millions of pounds available for development and welfare schemes if, throughout the Colonel Empire, there is a feeling of uncertainly and doubt about our intentions. If the question of whether we mean to govern or to get out is still left uncertain, and if the Colonial Service is left not knowing what its future is to be, owing to the lack of a perfectly definite statement of policy and of intention to adhere to that policy, then all the money which is to be spent under Bills of this sort will be entirely wasted. I do say that during the last few years that feeling of uncertainty has been prevalent throughout the Colonial Service.

I happen to be in a position to know and to be asked constantly by the parents of young men in the Colonial Service, what is the future for their sons in a Service where apparently the Government are prepared to give way to pressure and to give not and disorder what they have previously, and only recently, denied to reasonable representation. That consideration has to be taken into account; if you do not wish to waste the money of the nation, it is necessary to have a firm policy. Recently, I was privileged to read the comments of a distinguished foreigner who has recently been touring and studying the Governments and the conditions in our West African Colonies. His comment at the end of it all was that he called it "government by dissent." He pointed out how our professions are not being carried out in practice, how apparently we are not pursuing a definite policy but are slipping and sliding slowly into chaos. He concluded his comments and criticisms of what has been happening recently in the lack of decision on the part of His Majesty's 'Government in the West African Colonies by saying: "This may be magnificent, but it is not government." I suggest that we cannot afford this magnificent uncertainty, this attitude of the open mind in matters of government. If one is to govern, and if one is to bring backward people to a stage where they are fit to govern themselves, one must display openly to them an example of what real government means.

3.13 p.m.


My Lords, I want first to say that I am most grateful to the House and to all the noble Lords who have taken part in this debate. We have had five speakers. Noble Lords have spoken from the Conservative and the Liberal Benches and also from the Independent Bench, and not one word of disapproval of the present Bill has been expressed by any speaker. In reply to noble Lords—and I must confess now that I cannot answer all their questions; I am sure they would not expect me so to do without previous notice—may I say a few words on some of the points that have been raised? I am much obliged to the noble Lord, Lord Hankey, for his remarks. I should like to tell him how much we value the work he is doing, as Chairman of the Colonial Products Research Council, and how much we appreciate the work of his committee, which is one of the many bodies working in association with the Colonial Office on this problem of research into matters affecting the welfare and development of the Colonies. I can assure the noble Lord that we shall not expect immediate results. We know quite well that scientists take a long time to work out their schemes. We certainly do not want to hurry his work and produce incomplete or ineffective results.

In reply to the noble Earl, Lord Howe, I should like to say that we appreciate just as much as he does the importance of buying sugar from the sterling area. That is one of the reasons why it is particularly desirable that we should be in a position to buy our sugar from the West Indies. We also realise how much Jamaica and other Colonies in the West Indies depend for the maintenance of their standard of living, of their social services and of their general prosperity upon the condition of this basic industry. I can assure the noble Lord that any discussions that may take place between us and the sugar producers in the West Indies will take place between people who fully realise these facts. The noble Lord, Lord Hawke, asked me a question about British Somaliland. We appreciate the value of meat production in British Somaliland and the importance to the Somalis of a flourishing pastoral industry. I cannot answer the question that he has put to me, but I shall be pleased to communicate with him as soon as I have had an opportunity of consulting with my advisers. The noble Lord, Lord Milverton, spoke as though there were some doubt or uncertainty about our policy in regard to the political development and future of the Colonies. Honestly, I do not think that there is any such doubt. Our policy for the Colonies and for all our dependent territories is that they should achieve ultimate self-government. That is the policy which is approved by every Party in the State, including the Party to which the noble Lord, Lord Milverton, belongs.

I should like now to answer two or three points that were made by the noble Lord, Lord Tweedsmuir. I think he reproached me, in his usual polite and mild manner, for the brevity of my introductory speech. If he did not do so, it was a false impression that I received, but we should be delighted, at any moment when a member of the House considers it convenient or desirable, to discuss far more fully the economic policy in relation to the Colonies and the whole past and present economic development of these territories. I thought that on this occasion I would be complying with the wishes of the House if I limited myself narrowly to the terms of the Bill. I was glad to observe that the noble Lord spoke with approval of our ten-year plans for the Colonies. I am glad that the noble Lord opposite and his Party support the policy of planning in this field, because it is most important that these plans should be carried out continuously, without interruption, whatever Party may be in power in this country. These plans achieve two things which I think no piecemeal economic development could hope to bring about. They co-ordinate the efforts of Government, of private enterprise and of the public corporations within the different territories; they make co-ordinated economic development possible for the first time. They also enable development to take place, striking a proper balance between the different aspects of the economic resources and the social services which ought to advance together in any particular Colony. They enable a proper ratio to he struck between the expenditure on communications, agriculture and industry, and expenditure directly on social services and this can be planned over a period of years for the first time.

The noble Lord asked me a question about investments in the Colonies. I should like to make it plain—and I am sure everyone will agree—that the great need with the Colonies is for more capital investment. One of the greatest evils from which the Colonies suffer is acute poverty, and the more capital resources, in brains, skill and materials, which can be invested in the Colonies, the sooner the standard of living there will be improved and the sooner we shall benefit from their progress. We welcome the co-operation of private enterprise in the Colonies with Government agencies and with the Colonial Development Corporation. These three economic agencies, we hope, will advance side by side with complete co-operation and co-ordination in the common effort to improve the welfare of the local inhabitants. I must apologise for not covering the wider field without notice, but I can assure noble Lords whose points I have not replied to, that I will try to do so on another occasion or by communicating with them directly.

On Question, Bill read 2*; Committee negatived.

Then, Standing Order No. XXXIX having been suspended (pursuant to the Resolution of July 13), Bill read 3*; and passed.