HL Deb 08 December 1955 vol 194 cc1289-302

5.50 p.m.

LORD GRANTCHESTER rose to ask Her Majesty's Government whether in view of the fact that a number of European countries are responsible for the administration of ter7itories in Africa and others have close links with Africa, both cultural and economic, and in view of the desirability of uniting Europe in a common purpose and a common task, Her Majesty's Government will take the lead in the Council of Europe by inviting an overall European approach to the problem of African advancement. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I am grateful to the House for the opportunity of saying a few words on the Question which stands in my name, and for the courtesy of the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd, in the consideration which I am sure he has given to it. Since I put the Question down there has been a discussion in the Council of Europe on the development of African territories, and this discussion is to be resumed at the next session. It is there- fore an appropriate time for the matter to be mentioned in your Lordships' House.

Before I refer to the discussion which took place at Strasbourg I think I should indicate what I have in my mind as the aim to be achieved. We on these Benches, and I think many noble Lords in otter parts of the House, would like to see a world in which there were no tolls levied upon goods passing from one country to another, and no restriction upon the movement of peoples in our world. If I am accused of dreaming, I would recall that some of us still remember the days prior to 1914, when men and women could move freely about, at any rate in a large part of the world, without a passport and carrying gold coins which were accepted everywhere. We saw the removal of the tolls which were levied by individual cities upon goods entering them, and in the days of our youth we had reason to hope that this process of freeing men and goods from restrictions would be further extended. Unfortunately, with all our so-called progress, in this matter the peoples of the world have moved backward.

During the last war, I had occasion to entertain a prominent American who was in London investigating war crimes. With great deliberation he explained to me that in the course of his investigations he had found that much bitterness was generated and built up between nations through restrictions which prevailed at frontiers, and he explained to me that in his opinion this animosity was one of the main contributory causes of war. I told him that there was no need to preach this doctrine to me I readily accepted it—which, pleased him. But I went on to say that if he considered such action a crime between neighbours, I assumed that he would indict his own country as one of the worst offenders. That, I am afraid, did not please him so much.

It is not my object to-day to argue a general case. I am sure that for the general ease I should have a great deal of support from noble Lords in all parts of the House. If this is so, we cannot but regret that even within the British Commonwealth it has not been possible to preserve the right of free movement and free exchange of goods. My purpose today is to raise, before it is too late, our future relationship with those territories which are rapidly developing, under our guidance, to a state of independence. Restrictions are so easy to apply and so difficult to remove. If we consider that the restrictions imposed upon free movement and the exchange of goods are undesirable, if we regret that within the British Commonwealth there are limitations and restrictions which are detrimental to the real and general interests of members, it is right that we should ask ourselves whether it is not possible to get down to a discussion with these developing territories, with the object of devising a better form of independent association with them than that enjoyed even between existing members of the Commonwealth. What I want at least to see is a common economic policy of freedom established and kept in being. I know that thinking along federal lines has not been particularly popular in this country. The attempt we made in the Simon Report to suggest a federal solution to India and Pakistan was, unfortunately, not accepted. This has left problems which are still unresolved between those two Dominions. I would plead for more thinking on this subject, and for more thinking as a matter of urgency.

My object in bringing in the Council of Europe is twofold. We are not the only European country with problems in developing African territories. Study together of these problems should contribute to a sense of unity among us, and as more than one speaker in the debate at Strasbourg said, co-ordination is necessary between European nations to prevent rival European nations from undermining each other's influence, to the detriment of African advancement. To-day, internationally worked out policies are more acceptable than those which are presented on the initiative of one great Power, which are often received with a certain amount of suspicion. France has its problem over Morocco and Belgium with the Congo. In their problems and ours the question arises of the relative importance of political advancement as compared with the importance of economic advancement. In our administrations there has been a tendency possibly to overstress the value of the political side of the picture.

These are reasons enough for us to engage in a joint study without any reserve. When reference was made at Strasbourg to the problems of local government, to capital investment and taxation, I felt that our Government representatives took too restricted a view of our responsibilities when they stressed that, to a greater or less extent, we had deprived ourselves of powers over these questions by delegation to the Legislatures of the new African federations—the Gold Coast and other African territories. Surely, this shows up the deficiencies in our relations with these territories. It pinpoints what I might call the drifting apart, to which I have been trying to draw attention. This drifting apart is not to make independence sure; it is fragmentation leading to weakness; and weakness cannot sustain independence in our modern world. In conclusion, may I say that I hope the Council of Europe's experts who are studying this problem will study very carefully the Report of the Royal Commission on East Africa. I hope that at the resumed debate at the next session of the Council at Strasbourg we shall hear quite a lot about this excellent Report. It sets out the principles which, if followed, will build for Africans a higher standard of living. They are the same principles of freedom within the rule of law which laid the foundation for improved standards of living in this country.

6.0 p.m.


My Lords, I will detain your Lordships for only a very few moments, but having had occasion to take the initiative in Strasbourg in regard to this question I feel that I must support as strongly as I can the suggestion contained in the last two lines of the Question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester. The Question stresses that Her Majesty's Government should take the lead in the Council of Europe by inviting an overall European approach to the problem of African advancement. Since the war, the future of Western Europe has been more closely linked with that of Africa and African development than ever before. When I say "Africa," there are other countries to which that term also applies—South Asia, Commonwealth countries, and so forth—but, as the Question refers to Africa, I use the term in that respect only. That particular theme runs right through the European movement, the tendency to European unity that has taken place since the war. For example, at The Hague Conference of 1948, sponsored and initiated by Mr. Churchill (as he then was), the theme was set out there all the time.

What is the theme of the post-war situation? Surely it is this: that the effect of the Second World War has been materially to alter the pattern of world trade. The erection of the Iron Curtain has broken the exchange between Central and Western Europe and Eastern Europe. The circumstances of the war and the fantastic development of the United States have produced a dollar problem and the outpouring of manufactures of agricultural products which have again altered the relationship between Europe and the West. There remain the South and the, generally speaking, non-dollar countries of the world. It is inevitable that there must be a much closer development of trade with the non-dollar world, including the British Dominions, than ever before, in order to create this new equilibrium in place of that which has been disturbed in both the East and the West.

If it is clear that there is to be a change of that kind, it is the task of statesmanship to expedite it as quickly as possible and to endeavour to ensure that there are no clashes of policy and no lack of co-ordination of policy in that direction. By expediting those changes the disturbance and trouble that might other-wise arise is saved to the world. Let me add, in passing, that there is another aspect of this question. There is an intensely political aspect. We all know what part the colonial question played prior to the war. But since the war Italy has lost all her colonies. Germany and Italy are "have not" nations and therefore, unless we are to have a recrudescence of the colonial question somewhere, if it is true that European interests as a whole are involved in the development of Africa, that fact must be taken account of by the nations which have overseas possessions associated with the development of Africa. This theme runs right through the European Movement. In the first year of the Assembly, the present Minister of Education was the rapporteur of the Economic Committee. If your Lordships take the trouble to look at the results you will see there that straight through there appears this theme about change of the pattern of trade. Let us get busy to try to develop it and see what can be done.

In 1950, the Assembly invited observers from the Dorninion3. In 1951, as this issue was still hanging fire, it appointed a working party to examine this whole problem. In 1952, the working party produced what has come to be known as the Strasbourg Plan, which dealt, first of all, in general terms, with the co-ordination of policy between European countries and the overseas countries. It then proceeded to make a series of suggestions dealing with international trade, seeking, in the first place, to arrange that the removal of the quantitative restrictions by European action should be extended to the overseas countries and, later, when it was obvious that as soon as the quantitative restrictions were removed, tariffs should be the crucial issue and something should be done in the tariff direction. It is quite impossible for me to pursue these questions any further now, but one of the issues was common—a proposition to facilitate investment between all the countries of Western Europe and the countries of Africa and other parts of the world. Specific proposals were put forward to that effect.

There were also suggestions for planned development in which it might be possible for the capital of those countries, the "have not" countries, to be associated with that of the "have" countries. Such was the Strasbourg Plan. This was not a starry-eyed proposition. The Chairman of the Economic Committee was a retired Treasury civil servant known to many of your Lordships, Sir Cecil Kisch. The Committee had on its membership, on the British side, various people, including an experienced economic adviser to one of the "big five" banks. It was a powerful Committee and it produced this solid Report. Since 1952, there has been very slow progress. Prolonged examination took place. This Report has gone backwards and forwards between the O.E.E.C., and the Committee of the Council of Europe, and so on and so forth, from one body to another. This year, after two and a half years of discussion on the issue, the Economic Committee of the Council of Europe came to the conclusion that it was trying to push the thing on too broad a front, and therefore it decided to move in the direction of taking some of these items one at a time. Again, it is not possible to deal with that matter now, and I do not propose to pursue it. I will simply say that, whereas hitherto the Report has been discussed as a whole, the issues will now be raised from time to time individually in the spheres of trade, finance and industry.

In pressing Her Majesty's Government to take a favourable attitude towards all these suggestions for a European policy and European action in relation to Africa, I do not want it to be assumed that I am purely critical of what has been happening in the last few years. In one respect, Her Majesty's Government have led very effectively with regard to the overseas countries. I think I am right in saying that Britain is the only country which has specifically made the terms of the Convention of Human Rights apply to forty-three overseas associated countries. All I am asking is that, similarly, European co-operative action should take place in the economic sphere. That has not happened so far. On the economic side we have been hanging back. The answer that has been given has almost invariably been "We agree in principle. What you say is perfectly sound. We accept that. We are doing all that is humanly possible," and it is at that point that I think we should take a rather critical view. Indeed, when I hear that formula, it fills me with the greatest alarm because usually the next thing we hear are the words "Too late." That has happened frequently in regard to the European movement of the last five years. One is alarmed lest what has been happening before our eyes in the case of Cyprus should happen here.

My Lords, again I urge the Government to take a broad view of this problem of the development of African and similar territories, in the hope that, if action is taken in time on that sort of level, it will prevent the Colonial question from arising again in a somewhat slightly changed form that will divide Western Europe.

6.11 p.m.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, for raising this important matter and for giving me the opportunity of stating the views of Her Majesty's Government. I should also like to thank him for his introductory remarks in which he particularised the points he had in mind. Before I deal with the points that he and the noble Lord, Lord Layton, have made, I should like to refer to the resolution which was passed by the Consultative Assembly of the Council of Europe in June, 1954. The resolution was that the Committee of Ministers should adopt the principle that the policy of European integration entails as a corollary co-operation in the interests of their common prosperity between metropolitan Powers, the overseas countries which have constitutional links with them and the other members of the Council of Europe. I hope not to fill the noble Lord, Lord Layton with alarm or despondency—he mentioned alarm, but I dare say despondency is associated with it—but I am bound to take this opportunity of reiterating that Her Majesty's Government concur in this statement of principle. I am afraid that really has alarmed the noble Lord. I think that one can believe in a principle without necessarily agreeing upon how the principle should be carried out. That, I am afraid, is where the noble Lord will probably find that we part company.

May I come back to the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester? As I understand it, the noble Lord has primarily in mind the discussion in the Council of Europe of the relationships between the metropolitan countries and our overseas territories in Africa—obviously he has. The Strasbourg Plan and previous discussions in the Council have been particularly concerned with economic aspects of the relationship between the European and the African dependent territories, but this new proposal, if I understand it correctly, raises even wider issues. However before commenting on those wider issues perhaps I may be permitted to refer very briefly to the general question of "African advancement" which is contained in the Motion of the noble Lord. No tone can deny that the problems of development in Africa—political, racial, economic and social—are on a vast scale. In view of the enormous size of the continent, the comparatively recent emergence of some of the societies inhabiting it and the difficulties of the climate, this is perhaps not surprising. The fact that these great natural problems exist does not, of course, mean that advancement cannot take place; but it does have a considerable bearing upon the pace of the advance.

Fundamentally our policy towards our overseas territories in Africa is to assist and encourage local administrations, to develop and expand their economies, to encourage production, both for local consumption and for export, to develop the social services, and in general to help to create such economic and social conditions as will provide a sound basis for the ordered advance of the territories towards political self-government within the Commonwealth. On this subject it is trite and a platitute to say that we all know that this has been the policy of isuccessive Governments, but see no harm in repeating it because I think it is fundamental to this issue. In applying this policy we regard the interests of the local peoples as paramount. The role of the United Kingdom is to guide and assist them in their task. In terms not only of money, but also of skill and personal sacrifice and of devotion to a noble cause, the contribution of the United Kingdom has been enormous, and the progress made by the African territories in recent years by any standard has been remarkable.

We do not claim to have a monopoly of administrative wisdom in dealing with the problems of Africa. The fact that other colonial Powers approach these problems in a different way does not mean that they are necessarily wrong and that we are necessarily right, or vice versa, and we have the greatest respect for their varying views. Nevertheless, we are justly proud of our own achievements and are anxious to maintain the position of confidence which we believe our policy in Africa is creating in our own territories.

The constitutional progress towards self-government in these territories—as, for example, in the Gold Coast—is, I believe, creating an atmosphere of mutual trust and confidence between this country and our British territories in Africa. It would therefore, in the view of Her Majesty's Government, be indefensible to put these good relations in jeopardy by appearing to question the whole basis upon which they have been built up. I must be frank about this. This we feel might well be the consequences of discussing in the Council of Europe the fundamentals of our relationship with the dependent territories. Indeed, even in the more limited sphere of economic policy, we are doubtful of the appropriateness of the European approach. We do not believe that overseas investment in Africa can best be encouraged by centralised action on the part of the metropolitan Governments. The stimulation of overseas investment in the African territories depends fundamentally on the creation of suitable conditions in the territories themselves, and it is for all the local Governments concerned to work out their own policies in these matters and for sponsors of individual projects to see that overseas investors are made aware of the opportunities open to them.

This is not to say that we discourage European investment in the United Kingdom territories. On the contrary, we welcome it and we accept it on equal terms with other foreign investments. At the same time, there is no justification for the imposition of special privileges for a restricted group of European countries, and Her Majesty's Government could nor agree to subordinate the interests of the Colonies in this way. In our view, the extent to which the overseas territories may wish to encourage European invest-merit is a matter in which they themselves must have the predominant voice and in which their particular interests must be paramount. Here, may I digress for a moment? The noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, said that we always made, as it were, an excuse that we no longer control fully these territories. Of course that is true. How can you give people a greater measure of self-government unless they have a greater say in their own affairs and we have less say? That is the whole basis of the matter. We have never accepted that in the more advanced territories, they should have no say in their economic policy and should be told what they have to do.

We have repeatedly made it clear that in our view the British territories in Africa should be developed in the best interests of the people who live there. It is they who must, with guidance and assistance from us to the limit of our available resources of money, manpower and skill, initiate and carry through the developments which will raise their standards of living and bring them to political self-government. We cannot subscribe to the view that Africa is somehow a European preserve—as it were, a new world being created to redress the balance of the old.

As I have already observed, this does not mean in any way that we do not welcome the co-operation of other European Powers, nor does it mean that, remarkable though our progress in Africa has been in recent years, we are unwilling to learn in the technical and economic spheres from the wisdom and advice of other colonial Powers. We have not been content to work in isolation. International co-operation in the colonial field in Africa has grown rapidly since the war and it is certainly still the policy of Her Majesty's Government to welcome such co-operation. The Commission for Technical Co-operation in Africa, with the Governments of Belgium, France, Portugal, the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland, the Union of South Africa and the United Kingdom as members, has been in existence for five years and is proving a valuable means of exchanging information and ideas on a very wide range of technical matters. The Commission, as the noble Lord will probably know, has organised a number of technical conferences at which all kinds of subjects have been covered—health, nutrition, labour, agriculture, animal husbandry, geology and so on—and has established as many as nineteen committees and bureaux for the dissemination of technical information. Then, the O.E.E.C. provides a forum for the discussion of economic problems in Africa which affect the European Powers, and there is a special Committee of that organisation—the Overseas Territories Committee—which devotes much of its attention to African problems.

In all these organisations we are, of course, keen and happy to play our part and, whilst learning from the technical progress which is being made in other Colonial territories in Africa, to share with other Powers the fruits of our own British colonial experience. We are very appreciative of all the assistance of the Specialised Agencies of the United Nations and of the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development and the International Finance Corporation which is just now being set up. We are equally grateful to our friends in the United States for the financial and technical assistance which they have given us. I fear that the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, will regard this as a very "dusty" answer, but I must say, frankly, and I am sure the noble Lord will understand, that it is the view of Her Majesty's Government that the existing machinery for international co-operation in colonial matters is adequate and that there is no need to invent new machinery and new institutions to achieve our objective. We believe that there may even be danger in so doing. I hope, therefore, that I have been able to convince noble Lords that there are good and sound reasons for our not taking a lead in the Council of Europe by inviting an overall European approach to the problem of African advancement.

I should like now to leave the European aspect and say a word about the very interesting suggestion of the noble Lord in regard to our relations with British overseas territories in Africa. He spoke of the danger of fragmentation and of the necessity for a re-examination of what he called the federal approach. Perhaps he was a little hard on us in saying that we turned our face against federalism. Perhaps I misinterpreted the noble Lord; but we have never done so. There is the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland and the Federal Constitution of Nigeria; and coming up next year is a conference to try to produce a West Indian Federation. What the noble Lord really meant, perhaps, was federation in the context of ourselves and the colonial territories. We have not a closed mind on this matter and we are constantly trying to ensure that the best and closest bonds exist between ourselves and the colonial territories in Africa.

Again, I am bound to say that, on the whole, though federal relationships may be appropriate for other colonial Powers, I am not sure that they would necessarily suit the circumstances of the African territories. After all, our primary purpose is still to maintain the ties of our Commonwealth association—ties without any formalism but which have bound us in partnership with other members of the Commonwealth, bonds of friendship and mutual trust which have stood the test of time and adversity, and which will, we hope, be the pattern of our relationships with the self-governing African territories of the future. I believe that must still be our policy and, as I pointed out to the noble Lord, that is why we have delegated a great deal of responsibility to many of the African territories. We do not regard these developments as a drifting apart but rather as a means of strengthening the relationship of mutual confidence which it is our aim to foster. It is in this atmosphere that the problems of freedom of movement of peoples and goods, of which the noble Lord has spoken, have to be settled.

I am not entirely clear in my mind how the noble Lord's federal idea affects the question of freedom of trade and, while I should like to think further about that aspect, it seems to me that if the federal idea is to be applied to trade we may find ourselves up against some fairly difficult problems. I gather that what the noble Lord has in mind is some kind of customs union between ourselves and the self-governing territories in Africa. That would mean the exclusion of present members of the Commonwealth and the establishment of a tariff wall against other nations; and, to an extent, it would mean a renunciation of all our efforts in recent years towards liberalisation of trade. Such a policy might involve us in a breach of our obligations under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. Of course, we wish to give every encouragement to trade between the United Kingdom and African territories, but the difficulties which I have mentioned are very formidable.


My Lords, it is not a customs union that I want, so much as a no-customs union.


My Lords, if we have a federation without any form of customs union I am not quite clear how that would work. However, we shall get into very deep waters if we follow this point, and perhaps we should discuss it later. We have not a closed mind on any of these matters and I shall be pleased to discuss the subject with the noble Lord. On the general principle, however, I do not feel that we could give a lead in the Council of Europe such as the noble Lord has asked us to give.