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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 Hon. Oliver Stanley Hon. Oliver Stanley , Bristol West 12:00 am, 6th November 1947

I do not deny that. I agree that indirect benefit will flow to the Colonies, but let us be frank about it. Under other headings, this is put forward as something which is going to be of great benefit to the consumer. In fact, the choice of the product is to depend upon what is wanted by the consumer here, and the choice of the locality will depend upon where that product can be grown. It is true that, inevitably, in the particular area where the development takes place, it will be of great benefit indirectly to the economics of the Colony upon whom the lucky choice falls for the development.

As I say, I do not want to go on with the argument which the right hon. Gentleman has already refuted—that there has been neglect in development before. The fact is that under private enterprise in the past, just as under these public corporations in the future, what was developed was the thing that people wanted at the time. In prewar years development was largely concerned with copper, tin, the metals and the rubber which were wanted. It is true that this groundnuts scheme was never envisaged. Indeed, had anybody attempted before the war to submit a scheme of this kind to the House, he would have been considered a lunatic. At that time our difficulty was to dispose of the vegetable oil products which the Colonies were already producing. West Africa were experiencing a continuous decline in their exports of vegetable oil. Now, of course, the conditions of world demand have entirely altered. There is a new emphasis and, quite rightly, therefore, the Government are responding in this Bill to the new demand. They are developing new supplies which were unnecessary or un-needed before.

I have only two general remarks to make on this Bill, two warnings with which I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will be in agreement. The first is: Do not let us, in discussing the future of these schemes, raise people's hopes too high, either as to their magnitude or, still less, as to the speed at which they can be carried out. Essentially these must be long-term projects. The very nature of what it is intended to produce necessitates that. The Minister for Economic Affairs, when speaking on the Address, drew the distinction between the short-term crisis which we are facing now and the long-term difficulties which are stretching out beyond. People must not expect, they have no right to expect, from any schemes under this Bill, any relief from the immediate crisis over the next two years. The relief these schemes offer, and which I believe they will bring, are those for our long-term economic position. Not only must people not expect anything immediately, but they ought not to be led to expect too much.

The groundnuts scheme is a project of considerable magnitude. It will absorb about one-third of the total capitalisation under the Bill. But if all the forecasts are achieved—I prefer to say "when" because I think that they will be achieved—the amount of production will be only equal to about 14 per cent. of our prewar consumption, and that will be in a good many years' time. It is substantial, it is helpful, but we must not lead the people to think that as a result of this there is going to be a sudden miracle and that all our difficulties over fats and soap will disappear overnight. In that connection, I was a little worried by a statement made by Mr. Plummer when he returned from East Africa the other day. Interviewed at the airport, and talking about Tanganyika and the development schemes there, he said: In my view, it is comparable only with the opening up of the Western States of the U.S.A. The Western States of the United States of America include among them some of the most fertile soil in the world. They have a complete diversity of climate, they suffer from none of the tropical ills, they have many mineral reserves, and they are today supporting something like 50 million people on the highest standard known in the world. Really, I do not think we ought to hold out the idea that we are going to do something of that kind in Tanganyika. I make every allowance for the gentleman's previous newspaper experience, but I think that over-statements of that kind are likely to be damaging in the future.