HC Deb 19 December 1945 vol 417 cc1467-9W
Mr. Sorensen

asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies whether, in view of the serious straits to which the sugar-growing industry in Mauritius has been reduced by the depredations of recent cyclones, His Majesty's Government will consider extending financial assistance to the Government of Mauritius to enable help to be given to this industry, on which the economy of the island is almost entirely dependent, to enable it to shoulder a burden which is far beyond the industry's own resources.

Mr. George Hall

I am grateful to the hon. Member for giving me this opportunity to explain the nature and the extent of the assistance which His Majesty's Government have recently offered to the Government of Mauritius to meet the present difficulties.

Those difficulties arose out of a series of four hurricanes; one in 1944, and three in the early part of 1945. These have had the effect of reducing the crop from its normal level of 300,000 tons a year to 200,000 tons in 1944 and somewhere in the neighbourhood of 130,000 tons this year. The seriousness of this calamity was increased by the fact that it occurred at a time when the industry had to face expenditure in necessary replacements postponed during the war years and on the replanting of lands diverted from cane to other food crops during the war. His Majesty's Government in considering the representations put forward by representatives of the sugar industry had regard to the importance of the industry to the economic life of Mauritius and have agreed to offer the following assistance: —

  1. 1. A bonus of £1,000,000 to be paid by the Ministry of Food on the price for 1945 sugar in respect of additional costs of production due to the short crop.
  2. 2. A grant, to be limited in total to £165,000 to the Government of Mauritius to enable them to pay £5 per acre to sugar-cane growers as a contribution towards the costs of replanting with sugar-cane 33,000 acres of land converted to other crops as a war-time emergency measure.
  3. 3. An interest-free loan of £800,000, repayable by 20 equal annual instalments commencing in 1948, and a free grant of £500,000, both to the Mauritius Government to enable them to make advances to growers for sums not ex-ceeding £1,300,000 in the aggregate. These loans, which will be issued pro rata to acreage, will be paid to individual estates and growers only if the Government of Mauritius are satisfied of the individual need of assistance. The borrowers will pay interest at the rate of 3 per cent, per annum and will repay the capital by 20 equal annual instalments, both interest and redemption starting in 1948. Provision will be made for the remission of interest and postponement of capital repayments in 1469 any year when trading conditions render that course justifiable. All interest and redemption payments received by the Government of Mauritius on these loans in excess of the amounts required to meet the capital repayments to His Majesty's Exchequer in respect of their loan of £800,000 will be paid by the Government of Mauritius into a "Mauritius General Cyclone and Drought Reserve Fund." This Fund will be held available to make grants towards losses and expenses arising out of cyclones or droughts in the Island, either to the Government of Mauritius, to the sugar industry, or to other inhabitants who may suffer from such disasters.

I should perhaps add that the assistance which His Majesty's Government have agreed to give falls short of what the industry considered necessary, but I have had to keep clearly before me our own pressing need to reduce our financial commitments to the barest minimum. I have not, however, allowed this fact to obscure the very real need for assistance and in deciding on its present form and extent I have satisfied myself that it should be adequate to put the industry on its feet. I might summarise the position by saying that the terms which I have described are the best we can afford to give, and the least we should offer.

A Supplementary Estimate to provide for the grant-in-aid to the Government of Mauritius contemplated in the foregoing arrangements will be introduced at the earliest convenient opportunity.