Colonial Affairs.

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons on 4th August 1942.

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Photo of Sir Hamilton Kerr Sir Hamilton Kerr , Oldham

I am certain that the House is grateful to the hon. Member for Shipley (Mr. Creech Jones) for having raised, a variety of subjects dealing with the Colonial Empire. Although I cannot agree with him in all his contentions, I agree with him on one point. He mentioned that the American Ambassador, in a recent speech, had referred to the fact that nothing had so divided the two English-speaking peoples as the conception—and I think the wrong conception—which other people have had of our Colonial Empire. I could not help thinking of an interesting article in "The Times" on Colonial problems recently, in which the writer said that had any one of us here visited the Malay States before the war, we should have found excellent drainage, excellent roads, and excellent hospitals, but had we asked any inhabitant for what purpose the British Commonwealth of Nations existed, we should have met raised eyebrows and awkward silences. I cannot help feeling that all of us in this House bear a portion of blame for this state of affairs. In past years, we have only devoted one day a Session to the discussion of problems of the Colonial Empire. Even to-day, when the subject is under review, the House is sparsely attended.

For what purpose does this British Commonwealth exist? I profoundly believe that it is one of the two great political discoveries of all time, the other being the Federal system of the United States of America. It falls into two parts: one consisting of the great independent self-governing Dominions, free, sovereign units, tied by loyalty to the Crown, and the second the Colonial Empire, the junior Ministers, so to speak, of the combination, which will one day enjoy the full, responsibilities of Cabinet rank. This Commonwealth, like all living organisms, must either develop or perish; it cannot stand still in its development. Unless we realise this, the Commonwealth will recede in the public estimation. Each member of the Commonwealth cannot stand alone by itself. Look at this Island of 42,000,000, about the same size as the State of New York: its basis the coal, iron and steel industries, but unless we have markets, its shipping and its manufactures cannot survive. Look at the Dominion of Canada, with 11,500,000 people, mainly grouped along the 49th parallel, a fringe of industry round the Great Lakes; wheat at Winnipeg; fruit at Vancouver; the rest of the country forest, lake and river—economically, only an appendage of the United States. Take Australia, a great Continent, with the population of the City of London, depending upon exports of wool to Japan and this country; New Zealand, existing on agricultural exports to Britain; South Africa, a pastoral country mainly dependent on one great export, gold. Separately, we cannot hope to play a part, either economically or politically, in the postwar world, but, united, I believe that we can play a great part in one of the great political experiments of history. That is why I should like to see the Dominions playing a greater part in the development of our Commonwealth and the Colonial Empire. After the war I should like to see, perhaps, a Canadian Viceroy of India; a South African High Commissioner of Palestine; an Australian Governor of Nigeria, a New Zealand Governor of Kenya, and, throughout the Colonial Empire, civil servants from all the great self-governing Dominions, setting a standard of integrity and good administration.

To obtain this state of affairs, we must revise our propaganda about the Colonial Empire. In the past, there have been two pictures, engendered largely by the cinema and the novel, in the minds of most people about the Colonial Empire. The first I would call, for lack of a better definition, the "Somerset Maugham" picture. If you go to one of those Colonies, you expect to find the European Club, with rows of fat men sprawling in deck chairs drinking countless whiskies and sodas. The other picture is the "white man's burden" picture, of the lonely white man in a thatched hut in darkest Africa, racked with fever, and taking, with a shaky hand, endless bottles of quinine. Those are not true pictures. I would like after the war for anyone going into a school in this country or in the Dominions to see there a good text book setting forth the facts of the geography and history of the Colonial Empire. At present, the only source of information I know of is the admirable Whitaker's Directory. Once we grasp the possibilities of the Colonial Empire, we can develop them. After the War, under the principles of the Atlantic Charter, we shall see free access to raw materials for all nations, and presumably low tariff groups. These measures should help trade. We should find ample markets for the sugar of the West Indies, for the cocoa, the hides and ground nuts of the African Colonies, and for the mineral resources of Rhodesia in a better organised post-war world.

Here is a new field for financial investment. This war has brought about the liquidation of our foreign investments. Here is a new and more profitable field for them. To bring about the development of these countries we should first concentrate on communications. I was struck by a remark made by T. V. Soong, the Chinese Finance Minister, when he came over here, at the time of the Economic Conference. He was pleading for money to develop communications in China. He said, "Do you realise that had it not been for the railroad, the United States of America would have fallen apart?" Indeed, it is a strange reflection that perhaps the train did as much for the unity of America as Lincoln did. We must develop communications, not only rail and road, but, above all, air communications. Perhaps some hon. Members have read passages from that remarkable book by Major Seversky, the great American air expert, called "Victory through Air Power." He says that the imports of food into this country average about 25,000 tons a day, and that it would be possible to construct 500 planes on the B.19 model, each carrying 50 tons of cargo, and able to supply Britain with food if her sea communications were ever cut. It would be possible to cook food in the morning in New York and deliver it steaming hot to hungry millions in this country on the same day. It would be a fine thing if any hon. Members here were able, after the war, to travel to our Colonies, and there to see great transport-planes leaving the run- ways, carrying cocoa, hides, skins and nuts to every part of the Commonwealth and the world. I will end with those much quoted words of Cecil Rhodes: So little done, so much to do. There is so much to do in our Colonial Empire if we only have the imagination and the energy to grasp the fact.