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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 George Chetwynd Mr George Chetwynd , Stockton-on-Tees 12:00 am, 6th November 1947

It is seldom that hon. Members on this side of the House can find themselves in a large measure of agreement with the hon. Member for East Fyfe (Mr. H. Stewart), but I find myself in that position, and with very much of what he said I am in complete agreement. I would also like to say that I do not think any good is done by any recriminations at the moment about what Tory Governments did or did not do in Colonial development before the war. There is no doubt that they did not do enough, but no Government ever did enough, and even in the case of this particular Bill before us, I doubt if it is enough to produce the great results which all of us want to see for the Colonial people in the immediate future.

This Bill is of vast importance, both to the Colonies themselves, to this country and to the world at large. I do not think it is profitable to argue which came first—the Minister of Food, for the food which it will bring in, or the Secretary of State for the Colonies from the point of view of the advancement of the Colonial people. The really important thing is, now that we have got this Bill, to see that it is in operation at the earliest possible time. It is quite clear that, by abandoning the old methods of Colonial production, we are making a large-scale attack on the low level of Colonial productivity, and that is perhaps, the greatest consideration which we shoud bear in mind now. The low state of productivity and the poverty of the Colonial people have been the greatest drawback to progress in the past, and so, by raising the standard of living through this Bill, we shall achieve a great measure of success for them.

As regards this country, the hon. Lady the Member for Coatbridge (Mrs. Mann) made quite clear the benefits of this Bill in bringing in essential food which we so badly need now, and, as well as this, the more food we bring in from the Colonies the more dollars we shall save and the more dollars we shall have for the essential food which we can only obtain from the United States. As regards the overall world situation, it is quite clear that, if we can produce more at home, more in the Colonial Empire and more in the Dominions, we shall be going a long way towards that world of plenty which all of us want to see. I think that we have, perhaps, spent too much time today in discussing potential developments in Africa. Of course, the reason for that is that this great groundnuts scheme is of such importance at the present time. I remember that, as a boy—and that is not so very long ago—we had great pleasure in eating monkey nuts or peanuts, or whatever they are called, and in crushing their shells beneath our feet. They cost us practically nothing. I did not realise then that a few years later this commodity would be almost as valuable as gold. It just shows how one's ideas of values can change within a comparatively short time.

The Minister this afternoon gave us a very vivid picture of what is happening in regard to this great scheme in Tanganyika, and he showed the kind of vision which all the men engaged in this scheme must show in order to make it a success. The scheme, as we all know, is to relieve the acute world shortage of fats. It is an exciting experiment, but it is something even more than that; it is a great historic scheme at the present time. I would like to know from my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary tonight, or, if he has not the information now, when the full statement is made upon this scheme, how exactly the model settlements for the employees are being worked out, because this scheme can be a model to all future development, not only in Africa, but elsewhere. They should set a pattern which will be of great value in the future.

I would like to ask whether, in stressing the importance of the groundnuts scheme in Tanganyika, this territory will depend upon one major export crop. That was a serious objection in the past when great colonies were solely dependent upon one such crop for export. We must safeguard against that in the future. It is quite clear that amid the tremendous activity going on in East Africa, in the turmoil and upset of uprooting all these trees, and getting the scheme working, that civilisation, which used to follow the Army and the flag, must, in this case, follow the bulldozer. In actual fact, I hope that the African people are being bulldozed into civilisation. This is a long-term pro- gramme but I think that the beginning, as indicated by the Minister, is showing great promise.

I also wish to mention something else of which there is a very great shortage at the present time, and which, unless it is corrected pretty soon, will cause great misery and hardship in this country. It is the timber shortage. In the Gold Coast we have the opportunity to get more hard timber than we can use, because there are great untapped reserves there which are completely dependent upon transport at the present time. If we can use this corporation to develop the Gold Coast, and can provide a first-rate harbour, good rail transport, saw mill machinery, and even, perhaps, set up plywood factories, we shall be able, in a short time, to relieve ourselves of our dependence on timber imports from dollar countries. I would like to see such a scheme pursued as quickly as possible. There are other possible developments which have not been mentioned in this Debate; for instance, tobacco in Central Africa, rice in Sierra Leone and Borneo, and manila hemp in Borneo. I hope that these possibilities will not be lost sight of because of the urgent necessity of getting the groundnuts scheme into full swing.

The difficulties, as I see them, in the whole of this plan are twofold. First, there is the question of the availability of manpower throughout the Colonies. Can we be sure that we have both the quantity and quality of manpower to do these jobs? Without a great expansion of education and so on, can we be sure that we shall find the right kind of skilled labour on the spot? Secondly, there is the availability of machinery. Can we be certain that we can get sufficient bulldozers, scrapers, ploughs, and so on, when, at the same time, we have to provide for the opencast mining plan at home and for the great expansion of home agriculture? Any enlightenment that we can get on those points will be welcome.

Perhaps the greatest danger of all is an organisational one, which has been touched upon by most hon. Members who have spoken in this Debate, and that is the overlapping of the two corporations and the overlapping of responsibility between the Secretary of State for the Colonies and the Minister of Food. Even after the opening statement of the Minister of Food, which convinced me of the need to have two corporations, I was not convinced about the actual division of functions which he described. I am more in sympathy with the remarks of the right hon. Member for West Bristol (Mr. Stanley), that we should have a clear-cut division between all the Colonial developments and all the developments outside the Colonies. That would give far greater scope and clarity. That point can be discussed at a later stage, but I am a little sceptical about the work which the Overseas Food Corporation will have to do. The Minister mentioned Australia, but I thought the suggestion was intangible; there was nothing hard and fast about it. Apart from Colonial ventures, where exactly is the Overseas Food Corporation going to find scope for its activities? I suppose it could tackle whaling or something connected with the sea.