HL Deb 20 July 1960 vol 225 cc534-8

3.38 p.m.

Debate resumed.


My Lords, before dealing with the subject of the Motion that is before the House, may I, on behalf of those who sit on these Benches, welcome the statement that has just been made by the noble Earl the Leader of the House, and particularly the help which is being given to the Congo.

To come back to the subject of the Motion, whenever I listen to any important debate in this House I am almost certain to receive one very refreshing main impression; that is, that, whatever the problem before the House at that moment, there is quite certain to be somebody in the House who knows everything about it, backwards and forwards, and is a master of the subject under discussion. This House is an assembly equipped with special knowledge of every special, and particularly every difficult, subject. To-day, in addressing the House on the Colonial Development Corporation I am unfortunately in the position of presenting a picture of the exact opposite, of bringing before noble Lords not special knowledge of the subject but my very special ignorance. For whatever reason, I have never learned anything about the management of money. Though I have talked a good deal about the way in which people other than myself should manage money, I have never managed to learn the language of the management of money. I may add that until the last day or so I had not intended to say anything in this debate, but two factors led me to change my decision.

The first was a request from my noble Leader on these Benches that I should take part and should support, as I think all the Members on these Benches wish to support, the principle of the Motion that has been moved by the noble Viscount on my left. Naturally, having undertaken to speak, I have studied with all my brains, hard as I could apply them to the subject, and to the best of my limited financial understanding, the Report of the Committee under the Chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Sinclair of Cleeve, which was published in September, 1959. I found it full of language which I personally have never met or used before, about "finance house business", about "equity capital" and many other things. But I could get the impression that the Report was admirable in its temperate but strong reasoning, and before I conclude I shall quote what seem to me to be the most reasonable paragraphs.

My second reason for wishing to be allowed to speak—and on this occasion I shall be very short—is that, quite apart from its financial and technical importance, the work of the Colonial Development Corporation has a direct bearing on making a better world for all of us. I want to emphasise that point at once. The Colonial Development Corporation was born at a moment when World War II was just finished, when we were hoping to see a world free for ever from the fear of war. We in Britain set out at once to raise the standard of life in every part of the world for which Britain had responsibility, by financing economic development through the Colonial Development Corporation.

At the beginning, the scope of that Corporation was much wider than it is now. We had many more Colonies and fewer independent members of the Commonwealth; and if the decision of 1958 is maintained, the scope of the Colonial Development Corporation will grow steadily narrower as the number of independent members grows. That may be right. It may be that there is some excuse or reason, which has entirely escaped my limited intelligence, for having two bodies to do two jobs that are very much the same and different only in the fact that they are dealing, on the one hand, with nations which have already become independent, and on the other, with those which are anxiously emerging into independence. I find it difficult to see why, for one and the same job in character, there should be two entirely different bodies.

If that is the gist of the argument that has been put up against the noble Viscount on my left for rejecting one of his proposals for restoring the former scope of the Colonial Development Corporation, let me remind your Lordships of the circumstances in which the Colonial Development Corporation came into being. They were, the hope of lasting peace and a determination to make a better world for all in the world, using such extra powers as we could for the purpose. We all know that less than a year ago, with Mr. Khrushchev's proposal of total disarmament, the end of war seemed in sight. We know that this year has been less hopeful. But I do urge that we should continue to act on our hopes of 1948 of a better world for all, because the alternative to peace is destruction.

I remember that, speaking in the recent debate in this House on international affairs, I urged that a large part of the savings that would come from ceasing to spend money on armaments should be handed over to the United Nations, or to some other such body, for raising the standard of living in all countries throughout the world wherever that standard was low. That kind of blessed activity could not be limited to countries without self-government, making foreign control by somebody outside a condition of help. That, if I may say so, is what is done by Khrushchev or under the Soviet system. We all know how the Soviet acts. She helps people like Hungary, but on condition that they are kept Communist. She helps East Germany in order to keep them Communist Then we have Cuba and the Congo. This is carrying on a cold war against America, and is a criticism of, and an attack on, everybody else. May I suggest that that is not the kind of policy that we want to pursue. We ought, equally, to help people who are still tied to us by some kind of friendly string getting ever and ever looser, and those who have become fully emergent. Why should we distinguish between the two types? May I suggest that our motto—I should like this for the Colonial Development Corporation as for any other body—should not be "Prosperity for you, on condition that you do what we tell you, and on condition chat you are controlled by us", but that our policy should be "Prosperity for all nations in the world with independence".

Coming back to the admirable Report of the Committee presided over by the noble Lord, Lord Sinclair of Cleeve, I should like to quote paragraph 43, where there are summed up the considerations resulting from the study of the financial conditions and organisation of the Corporation on which they are reporting. That paragraph reads: Consideration of these matters has led us to the conclusion that it is not possible for the Corporation to continue to carry out the purposes for which it was set up as described in Sections 1 and 2 of the Act and, at the same time, to meet the obligations laid upon it by Sections 14, 15 and 16, unless there is a change either in its financial structure or in the nature of its activities. I suggest to your Lordships that that is an argument so temperate as to be irresistible. Let me add that there is a risk of imperilling the work of the C.D.C. in having another body doing the same kind of work for people in the Common- wealth. That argument, I suggest, has not yet had a good answer. I shall be only too happy if Her Majesty's Government are able to-day to give a real answer. Certainly I hope that they will reconsider this, question and will think differently.

Therefore, with all humility about my own understanding of the financial details, I would urge upon Her Majesty's Government that, having before them the closely reasoned Report of the Committee of the noble Lord, Lord Sinclair of Reeve, and his colleagues, they will approach all its detailed proposals with deep sympathy and will attempt to understand and apply them. Let them do what I know from experience is one of the hardest things of all to do in this country—to persuade the Treasury to say "Yes" more often than "No" on terms of borrowing or repayment or treatment of past loans to the Colonial Development Corporation or any of those problems. Those, my Lords, are details. On the bigger question, which has been quite fairly raised, I would suggest that Her Majesty's Government should seriously consider rescinding the decision taken in 1958 which excludes from the help of the Colonial Development Corporation any part of Her Majesty's Commonwealth that has become independent. I have nothing more to say. I hope that the Government will consider the plea that is made Ito them for letting this wonderful organisation go on and prosper without duplicating it in other ways; and that they will accept the plea we put to them.