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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

If the hon. Member will look at the White Paper, he will see the figures set out in great detail, and I have no reason to modify them. We felt there was no doubt that a right decision was taken to employ the managing agency to plunge in with the scheme in 1947, and gain experience of operations during that year, because that experience would be invaluable in the far larger scale of operations in 1948 and subsequent years under the control of the corporation, when set up. After all, time is the essence of this contract. As I ventured to say in a message that I was asked to give to the men and women working there in the camp at Kongwa: On your success depends more than one any other single factor whether the harassed housewives of Great Britain get more margarine, cooking fats and soap in the reasonably near future. I believe that the United Africa Company and all those who have been officially and unofficially responsible for the very rapid launching of this scheme of "Operation Groundnuts," as I have called it, deserve well of the people of Great Britain. One inevitably uses a military term such as operation "in describing this scheme, because almost the only analogy of an operation on this scale is provided by the military sphere. The East African Groundnuts Operation is a great expedition, and I can never help comparing and contrasting it with the other great expedition in North Africa, the landings in 1942. Like many other hon. Members, I had the good fortune to play a part—in my case a most humble part—in that operation. When I was preparing this speech, I turned back to a description of the start of that operation which I wrote in 1942 on board a ship of one of the convoys going out to North Africa, and I will read it to the House, because I think it is not irrelevant. I then wrote of the North African expedition: A score or so of ships, in close company, so that the half-dozen nearest are only three or four hundred yards from each other, must impress the onlooker with a sense of weight and purpose. It is visibly an expedition. Thus far it has been possible to produce these major collective efforts for the purposes of war alone. What could not be done if an expedition of this scope could be fitted out, not in order, as this one is, to decide who should have the right to develop Africa, but in order actually to develop Africa? It, therefore, gives me peculiar satisfaction to have some association with this new peaceful groundnuts expedition which is sailing, and will sail, actually to develop Africa. True, this also is in one sense an expedition of war, but the enemy in this case is not other human beings. The enemy is the tsetse fly, the climate, the stubborn African bush, the ignorance of the cultivator, and the lack of communications. True, these are formidable enemies, and will not be overcome without the sustained effort, courage and grit of the men and women at this new front. These are enemies who will give us difficulties or setbacks and even moments of heartbreak, just as the Afrika Korps did six years ago, but they are enemies, again like the Afrika Korps, which will be overcome. I believe with my whole heart in this groundnuts expedition. It is the first major scheme of British Colonial or overseas development of the new type, and I can promise the men and women engaged on it that they will be firmly and un-shakcably sustained by His Majesty's Government and that the enterprise will be carried through to success.

I commend this Bill to the House. It is of far wider scope, of course, than the groundnuts expedition. It may before its provisions are all done, and the schemes that flow from them completed, directly or indirectly affect every continent of the globe. In its international aspect it is a major British contribution to world development. Here is the redemption of the pledge that we gave at the Hot Springs Conference and reiterated to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations that we British mean to play our part in increasing the world's foodstuffs and primary products. Here is proof that we shall use a portion of our strictly limited stock of resources, our precious stock of trained labour, tractors, steel, and the rest, for this purpose, in order that the world and ourselves and the Colonial peoples themselves shall, in a few years time have more food, more coal and more of all the products they need. Needless to say, we on this side of the House will welcome the most vigilant criticism and consideration of this Bill and of the schemes which are to flow from it, but I feel justified in appealing to all sides of the House for an attitude to the Bill itself which makes it clear to the world that this is a united national effort on behalf of the British people, irrespective of party, and that it will be carried through to success.