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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 Edgar Granville Mr Edgar Granville , Eye 12:00 am, 6th November 1947

I am sure the House listened with great interest to the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Ivor Thomas), and to the constructive and helpful speech which he made in welcoming a Bill which comes from a Department with which he was associated, and I know the House would wish to congratulate the hon. Member on the contribution he has made today. I think the appeals of the Minister will be answered from all sides of the House, and I have no doubt that this Bill will be supported by all hon. Members of every party. At one stage I thought that this might have been a Bill from the pigeonholes of the last Coalition Government, but the only reference which the right hon. Member for West Bristol (Mr. Stanley) made in that connection was when he suggested that the Minister of Food could have referred to the files with regard to the United Africa Company. I hope we shall not see a controversy over whether this great experiment is to be handled by the Minister of Food or by the Secretary of State for the Colonies. Perhaps there will be a good deal of trial and error and experiment before we know. My own view is that a great deal will depend upon the two corporations before we see what happens to this scheme, with its enormous possibilities, and its possibly enormous expenditure.

I hope that the Government will appoint the right men to these two corporations, because they will have the spending of tens of millions of pounds. They may have the power of life or death over almost every new idea and enterprise connected with this project in these areas. However well a scheme is estimated to work on paper, that is how it really works in practice today. Therefore, I hope that the Government will benefit, in the larger sense, by their previous experience in the appointments to these public boards, and will see that for these two corporations we get the right men on the boards. I hope the Government will not make the mistake which I think all Governments have made with these public boards. Take, for instance, civil aviation. I would have said offhand that today the civil aviation industry is almost in a state of chaos. Vast sums have been handled by inexperienced boards and individuals. I repeat that it is of great importance to see that the men appointed know something about the job.

Whichever Minister is responsible for the appointments, I trust that he will have the courage to get men who know something about the business they are running—even if he has to go to ordinary businessmen who would understand fully the types of industries connected with this large Colonial area, and get them to work, as the hon. Member for Keighley said, for a proper salary. I am perfectly certain that if that is done they will be found willing to serve and to carry out this great enterprise. It is absolutely essential to have experienced men who can take decisions on vital questions of policy and administration when they arise.

I think that the right hon. Gentleman made a good attempt in introducing this Measure, but I cannot visualise him as a great Empire builder. Frankly, he terrifies me when I think of what he might do if let loose. In his description of this operation, I thought he was going to bring in the Eighth Army, and send for Monty, or that he was falling back on his broadcasting days and looking for gremlins among the groundnuts. I am not at all sure that the noble Lord, who I understand is chairman-designate, strikes me as a great pioneer or a man with a mission. He does not appear to me as someone who is filled with a great purpose to carry out the spirit of the scheme, which is absolutely necessary if it is to succeed. The noble Lord distinguished himself in past days in this House, and we all respect him and his record. Nevertheless, is he the great Empire builder who can make this scheme succeed, ready to devote his whole life and energies to it? Because only in this way, with such leadership, can we make this scheme succeed. We need individuals with vision and courage to work these public corporations. If the men who are put on these boards do not know their business from the practical point of view, they have to depend on their permanent officials. It is not altogether fair to the officials to ask them to take decisions on administration which touch upon almost every aspect of these problems. In my view, that is where we get the bottlenecks.

Reference has been made to paper planning, and I tell the Minister of Food that if this scheme fails—and we all hope it will succeed—it will be because it has been planned on paper; because there is no practical administration and experience to carry it out here and on the spot. If the men who are to carry out this scheme think in terms of paper planning, and consider that all that is necessary is to dictate a memorandum to someone whose secretary puts it in a file for reply, there will not be the necessary drive for success. I am hoping that the Government will consider this an appropriate time to reconsider the personnel of all these public boards—electricity, civil aviation and now this Empire scheme. Let the Government go to. men who have proved themselves already. Does the right hon. Gentleman think that a public official can foresee all the snags which will arise, ports, equipment, production, soil and so on. If one fundamental blunder is made, not only will this House and the country be disappointed, but millions of pounds will have gone into an enterprise doomed to failure.

Why not do what the late President Roosevelt did in the case of the T.V.A.? He found men with knowledge and experience who were prepared to sacrifice themselves and give their time and skill to work that scheme. I say to the Government: find the men with experience, or your scheme will not succeed. The Minister of Food referred to the ground nuts scheme, and consultations which have been taking place with Australia, New Guinea and elsewhere. I should like to feel that this is a Commonwealth plan. I believe that we have to bring the Dominions into this. Have the South African Government been consulted on an economic and geographical area and co-operative basis in regard to this scheme? I imagine that they have a great deal of experience with smaller similar schemes. We have now appointed a Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations. Are the Government really going to give us a progressive and forward-looking policy, and is this to be a plan for a democratic Commonwealth as a whole? This is an opportunity, and I hope that the Government will go forward on that basis.

A statement was made recently by Sir John Boyd Orr, in which he said that we are facing a world shortage of raw materials and food. He envisaged a crisis situation in regard to food in the near future. This scheme is a long-term plan, but we may have to adjust it, suspend it, or supplant it for an emergency Colonial plan for food. I hope that the Government and the Minister of Food are giving that matter some consideration. The Minister for Economic Affairs has said that we have to export our manufactured goods in order to get our raw materials and food supplies, but foreign markets are dry- ing up, and it is becoming increasingly difficult for foreign customers to import and to get import licences. The Government may shortly find themselves in a position when their export drive may be in danger because of currency shortages and the difficulty of getting licences due to adverse balance of payments. We may have entirely to redesign our export policy, and we may be forced to adopt an emergency programme to import food from the Colonies and Dominions.

I hope that the right hon. Gentleman, in considering these long-term plans, is not losing sight of what was referred to by the right hon. Member for West Bristol, namely, that there are areas from which we can get groundnuts today. There are areas in the Commonwealth and Empire which, with a little bit of planning by people who understand the job, could increase our food supplies in the immediate future. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman, who is to be responsible for the administration of this scheme, will bear in mind the necessity for these emergency adjustments.

The House will, of course, give the right hon. Gentleman a blessing, but I say to him that speed is an important factor. I would ask the Minister to get good men to help to run this scheme, or it will fail. Get good organisers, builders, and business men, who have had practical experience. Get those men to help see it through, and the scheme will be a success. Bring in the Dominions and, if necessary, the civil engineering capacity of the United States of America. They may be able to help with some of the difficulties; they may be able to help with machinery and the building of the port. I expected the right hon. Gentleman to say that the Government would set up a Mulberry harbour. If there is a bottleneck in port facilities, it might be necessary to do that and, here, America could help us, because they have the steel and the skilled men. It was help like that, from America, which enabled us to win the North African campaign. I have always understood that the Labour Party wished the Empire to be inclusive, rather than exclusive. That being so, why not bring in every country which can help?' After all, it is a world problem. Above all, speed is the essence if we are not to be too late for this generation.