Colonial Affairs.

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

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Photo of Mr Harold Macmillan Mr Harold Macmillan , Stockton-on-Tees

The Debate to-day has ranged over a very wide field, and as it follows so soon upon the very comprehensive Debate which we had upon the Estimates, I found myself in some difficulty in collecting, or acquiring, sufficient information to answer the many points which have been raised. I am very much indebted to the bon. Member for Shipley (Mr. Creech Jones), who, with his usual courtesy, gave me some warning of the major points which he meant to raise in starting the Debate. He was good enough to ring me up from his country residence yesterday morning, and he found me at the Colonial Office, to tell me what he was going to say. Before I start to answer the points which have been raised, may I make a preliminary observation which I want to impress upon hon. Members, who have conducted this Debate in such a helpful and constructive spirit?

I have been only a few months at the Colonial Office, but the major problem which haunts me is the duality of my work. There are two lines of work, two lines of thought, all the time. First, there is the war—the oppressive, tremendous, overwhelming demands of war. They have hardly been mentioned to-day. We might have been having a Debate almost remote from the war; but I feel all the time the urgent needs of this tremendous cataclysm in which we have found ourselves. I have been two years at the Ministry of Supply, I have striven in that atmosphere of urgency; and I have tried to bring into the Colonial Office something of the same urgency. We have to supply the most tremendous needs, we have to press on all the time. Nobody who has not dealt in some degree with the details of the transference from a prewar price economy to a war-planned economy—because that is what we have had to do—can know the amount of detail involved. The organisation is based, not, as in pre-war days, on what it pays somebody to import or export to or out of a Colony, but on what it suits the war effort to import or export out of a Colony. It means an enormous detail of organisation both in the Colonies and at home; of arrangements between Colonial Governments, the home Government, foreign Governments, friendly Governments, Allied Governments; of great detail of inter-departmental organisation—and only those who have had experience of inter-departmental organisation know the degree of permanent and sustained effort required to bring these negotiations to a successful conclusion. Therefore, one has only a little bit of one's mind left at the end of long days, and sometimes far into the night, to think about these bigger problems of post-war organisation and development, political problems, and the like. If I am not able to make a complete review—I shall not keep the House very long; we have had a Debate before—I hope hon. Members will not say that I have suddenly turned from a progressive-minded liberal Member who used to sit and harry Governments from the Opposition Benches into a hard-faced man; it is because I conceive I have one major job to do in the war, to assist in any way I can in its successful prosecution—which is not certain, the results of which are not fixed, which we cannot take for granted, which will not be achieved without the most powerful efforts, but on the results of which depend all these discussions, all these Debates, all these hopes and aspirations for the future.

The subject of the standard of living has been raised by many hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Shipley and the hon. Member for the Combined English Universities (Mr. Harvey). What is to be the standard of living in the Colonies? How can we improve it? In war the standard of living of all peoples tends to fall, if one means the standard of living in terms of realities, goods and services, and not in terms of money. In the Colonial Empire I think we may say that in the more primitive countries there has been this compensation, that in terms of services, in terms of medical services, and so on, standards may have risen. In West Africa I think the standards in food and so on have not fallen. In East Africa they have slightly risen because of new arrangements we have been able to make for the great mobilised forces both in the Army and in the labour forces. In the West Indies there will be great difficulties—we may as well face the facts; it is no good telling untruths to the House—unless the submarine campaign in the Caribbean is rapidly overcome. We shall have great difficulties in maintaining standards. We have done our best to overcome the difficulties. We have to make arrangements which are necessary, but it will need great ingenuity to maintain even existing standards.

I have been asked about the economic development of the West Indies and what we have done. Since the war we have purchased all the West Indies sugar at a reasonable price based on the cost of production. Total production has not been increased owing, firstly, to the shortage of labour and of manufacturing capacity, which is really the governing factor of sugar production; secondly, to shortage of shipping, now intensified. Therefore to increase sugar production will not solve our problem. The answer is to increase local production of foodstuffs. It is the best thing to do now. It was the right thing to do before. It had started to some extent before the war, and we are now pursuing it most actively, firstly by guaranteed prices for the vegetables, peas, beans, etc., produced; secondly, by regulations requiring and enforcing the devotion of a certain proportion of plantation estates from sugar to food production—for instance, in Barbados we have enforced a 25 per cent. devotion—thirdly, by increased aid and instruction. There again the limiting factor may be the shortage of agricultural officers. In Jamaica where, as Members know, there was a large sum of money made available shortly after the war for the assistance of banana production, we have made an arrangement with the Treasury whereby the whole of that sum can be devoted to the production of alternative foodstuffs, and to the compensation and payment necessary to turn over from banana production. I will not go into details, but they are available if any Member would like to know them.

Our next problem is the actual maintenance of the shipping situation in the West Indies. Members would not be here now if they were not interested in the Colonies, but I am bound to say that some people do seem to talk rather as though it was a question of sending something from Kent to Cornwall. There are a thousand miles between one island and another, and these agreeable adjustments one is supposed to make in a day or two to send this or that from one place to another are as great an undertaking in defence of your convoys as some of the great trans-oceanic convoying of shipping. There is an increasing shortage of petrol which will cause difficulty in agriculture, both in production and in distribution. Lastly, and this is the thing which has most pained me—