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Overseas Resources Development Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 6th November 1947.

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Photo of Mr Evelyn Strachey Mr Evelyn Strachey , Dundee 12:00 am, 6th November 1947

I beg to move "That the Bill be now read a Second time."

I believe that when the Measures which have come before this Parliament and will come before it, are seen in perspective, the Bill which I have the great honour to commend to the House this afternoon will be seen to have been one of the more significant. What the House is asked to consider this afternoon are new Measures for the development of underdeveloped territory, and this House has ultimate sovereignty over a great many of these under-developed territories. It is true that the Bill is wider than a Colonial one, but it is with the Colonial aspect of the Empire that I would like to deal first of all. Indeed, Britain has sometimes been accused of neglect of its Colonial possessions. Hon. Members and right hon. Members opposite have been accused, sometimes from these benches, and sometimes from a vocal section of their own party of such neglect. I would be the first to agree that that accusation is not universally valid.

There are many parts of the Colonial Empire and many particular commodities in respect of which there has been a great deal of development. One has only to mention the large quantities of British capital that have been invested in Malayan tin and rubber and Rhodesian copper. I could give many other examples. But all this development and investment has been of the old traditional type. That is to say, it has been undertaken by private entrepreneurs seeking, in the first instance, as they must and as a condition of their own survival, profit for their own firms. A great deal of this development has undoubtedly been highly successful from a balance sheet point of view I agree, therefore, that any charge of neglect of development in the Colonial areas is by no means universally valid.

What I am putting to the House this afternoon is this: This old type of development, which I have just defined, has become decreasingly desirable and even decreasingly possible in the case, at any rate, of many arcas. The whole tenure of world influence today in the areas themselves and generally is making it less and less possible to rely exclusively on that form of development. I am not saying, of course, for one moment that there is no place in the future for private enterprise and profit-seeking in Colonial development. On the contrary, the organisations, the instruments, which the House is being asked to set up this afternoon will, undoubtedly, use private firms in many cases in every kind of partnership and contractual relationship with themselves. In East Africa one of these enterprises is already under way, and many private firms are already being used to play an active part in that way. Neither would I say, for one moment, that the day is done for individual private enterprise in Colonial territory.

I would put it to the House as a fact which cannot be gainsaid that the peoples of the world—the Colonial peoples and the world generally—will never again regard the old private enterprise type of development as the sole or even the main target or method by which undeveloped territories can have their development undertaken or hastened. If that is so, and if the old type of development is insufficient and in many cases inappropriate today, we are under the obligation to find some effective settlement or substitute for it. We are the greatest of Colonial powers, and we cannot afford a deserted Empire. We cannot do so for two reasons. First, the whole world, including ourselves, is crying out for an ampler supply of primary products—foodstuffs, minerals and the rest—and many of these primary products can be made to flow from areas on the map which are painted red. The world's trade, as we know only too well, is out of balance today, and the rest of the world is apt to fall more and more deeply into debt to the undamaged Western Hemisphere. One of the most important ways in which that balance can be redressed is by an ampler flow of primary products from hitherto underdeveloped territories. Secondly, the Colonial peoples themselves desperately and urgently need new development of their means of production and of their resources.

Therefore, the Government have deemed it essential to devise new, more effective, and less objectionable methods of overseas and, in particular, Colonial development. We are putting before the House this afternoon what I would call the "public corporation" method of development. We believe that characteristically British institution, the public corporation, is the instrument of the future in this sphere. The public corporation in its structure is very like any large private organisation and public company, but it has this essential difference, that its capital is publicly-owned, and, in the last analysis, therefore, it works for public purposes, and is not open to the charge of exploitation for private profit. We have hitherto thought of the public corporation as essentially an instrument for taking over the great basic industries, or some other enterprise which has been developed a long time in private hands. We believe that there is now a place, and an indispensable place, for the public corporation actually to initiate productive activity in hitherto undeveloped areas of the world. We believe that this new departure—and it is a new departure—is essential because the world would not tolerate much longer the leaving fallow of undeveloped areas, and because, as we see it, the Colonial peoples themselves will be the first to benefit from such development.

The truth is that the Colonial peoples, at any rate in some areas, cannot wait. It is not too much to say that ruin and starvation in some areas in our charge may overtake the Colonial peoples unless some methods are found for the rapid development of their methods of production. That, at any rate, is the opinion of some of our most distinguished Colonial administrators. They believe, and publicly put on record, that unless what I would call "heroic" measures are taken to break through the vicious circle of growing population, waning fertility and primitive methods of cultivation, diminishing returns and growing malnutrition, the future of these people would be dark indeed. I quote in that connection from one of the classic despatches of Sir Philip Mitchell, Governor of Kenya Colony. Sir Philip wrote: Primary production by African peasants is already on the decline. Populations working under that system are going to find it increasingly difficult in supporting themselves at their present level. There have accordingly to be found measures to enable the African cultivator in appropriate cases to break away from his economically weak and primitive form of cultivation. Where this cannot be achieved no amount of benevolent assistance for social services can avail to improve the lot of the people… I want to emphasise that last sentence. If is in this sphere of methods of production as the basic element in the economy of these regions that we believe is to be found the key to this difficult problem. What is the use of providing schools for people whose primitive methods of production condemn them to evergrowing malnutrition? What is needed is, as Sir Philip Mitchell put it, this breakaway from methods which form no basis on which to extend and develop life. I would add that it is that decisive breakaway from these primitive methods which has actually started in East Africa.

I will describe in a moment the work that has already been started in Tanganyika on the groundnuts scheme. But perhaps I may illustrate the contention that I have made that the first fruits of this initiative in the economic field will go to the native population themselves with a description of an event which happened in the last few weeks in the Southern province of that Colony. It is in the Southern province that the layout area for the groundnuts scheme has been selected, but a port and a railway have to be built before any large scale development can take place, and all that is in this part of the field is an advance party of the managing agents. It is an exceedingly remote area, and hitherto it has not been possible to have the services of more than three medical men in a vast area of country. It so happened that in the last few weeks one of those terrible epidemics, in this case smallpox, swept the native population of that area.