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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 Colonel Charles Ponsonby Colonel Charles Ponsonby , Sevenoaks 12:00 am, 6th November 1947

I am pleased to find that we are all of one mind tonight. That is in accord with what I have wished for many years—that Colonial affairs should be outside party politics. I welcome this Bill. It is a logical outcome of the necessity for expansion, brought about partly by the war and partly by the improvement of the standard of living throughout the world, which has taken place in the last 10 or 15 years. If the hon. Lady the Member for Coatbridge (Mrs. Mann) were here I should tell her at once that she was quite wrong when she suggested that there were no surpluses in the past. In the sisal industry with which I was connected there were large surpluses at one time, resulting in a fall in prices to an uneconomic level. I can remember the difficulties of the tea industry, and the propaganda which they had to make throughout the world in order to take up a surplus of tea which was expected. I have been up the San Paulo railway in Brazil, and seen piles of coffee burning. The situation now is quite different. As the right hon. Member for West Bristol (Mr. Stanley) said, anybody who had thought of producing the groundnut scheme before the war would have been regarded as a lunatic.

Before I come to the few questions and caveats which I wish to put, there are one or two matters I should like to mention, and particularly the limitation of the Colonial Development Corporation to Colonial territories. I am convinced in my own mind that its activities should extend to Colonial and Commonwealth territories, at any rate. I will give an example. Let us take the case of Southern Rhodesia and Northern Rhodesia. There are wonderful opportunities for development there, wonderful opportunities for the production of dollar earning and dollar saving commodities—for instance, tobacco, chrome, copper, and coal. But all the traffic goes on one single line to Beira, which, as hon. Members know, is a port belonging to the Portugese. They are doing their best, but there is always congestion.

I will make only a passing reference to the coal. The Wankie coalfield has an area of 400 square miles, with great seams of coal quite close to the surface, but any hon. Member will recollect from the map that Wankie is about 800 or 900 miles from Beira, and there is no other outlet for its coal. Suppose it is necessary, as it probably is, to build a railway to the west, perhaps to Walvis Bay. That will be approximately a distance of 1,000 miles, and the railway which would have to be built, about 600 miles, would start in Southern Rhodesia, go through the Bechuanaland Protectorate, and end up in the Mandated Territory of South-West Africa. Who would undertake the provision of funds for that railway? Obviously, it should be operated by Southern Rhodesia; but Southern Rhodesia has many other schemes and, apart from anything else, has a population of Only about 100,000 people. They cannot provide the capital, and it seems to me that in that case the capital should be provided from here; and I can see no object in the formation of a corporation such as this if it is not able to deal with a proposition such as I have suggested.

It is important that this Colonial Development Corporation should proceed with imagination and care, in exactly the same way as if it were a business corporation. I would here mention a comparison between two schemes which are already in the course of preparation in order to show hon. Members the im- portance of care when a great scheme involving public money is being attempted. In Southern Rhodesia there is a huge scheme, partly railway building, partly hydro-electric, and partly the building of steel works; the Southern Rhodesian Government will put up £9 million, the Northern Rhodesian Government will put up £9 million, and private industrialists will put up £5 million. That scheme, which involves the damming of the Zambesi in the Kariba Gorge, will produce 570,000 kilowatts of water power. When the scheme was put forward it was said that a great dam could be built only if a market could be found for large supplies of electric power at cheap rates. In fact, the whole idea is to sell this great quantity of power at ¼d. a unit to industries in Southern Rhodesia. That scheme has been worked out, it is well balanced, but is still not ready because a further sum of £75,000 is being spent in order to investigate the iron ore to make quite certain that steel of the right quality can be produced.

Against this, there is a scheme to dam the Owen Falls in Uganda outside Lake Victoria Nyasa. That is a proposition which started as a £5 million proposition; then they thought it may cost £6 million; now they think it might cost £8 million. As far as I know, there are no careful estimates of the users of power once the scheme has started. If this Colonial Development Corporation is to take up that scheme, I hope it will look into it further, especially if the phosphates deposits, which should take a considerable amount of power, are proved, to see whether there are other factories also able to take the power that can be produced. In any case, it will be taxpayers' money. I mention those schemes so that hon. Members may realise the importance of these new corporations working out schemes in a businesslike way.

I have two or three caveats to put forward, together with one or two very simple questions. The caveats are these. First, I am not at all sure from what we have heard tonight that we are right in putting this Overseas Food Corporation under the Ministry of Food. I think it is becoming more and more evident that this House feels that it would be far better, either to split up one corporation according to localities—whether operating in the Colonies, or in the Dominions and elsewhere—or, if the food scheme is operating in the Colonies, to have it under the Colonial Office. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will not mind me saying so, but after all there is the possibility that we may not always have a Food Ministry with us, and so why tie it up with this corporation?

My second caveat is this. When new schemes are launched, it is absolutely vital that existing schemes shall be taken into account. I would also point out that existing other industries come into this question. I am not going to repeat what I said in the last Colonial Office Debate about the impingement of the groundnuts scheme on the sisal industry in East Africa. I happen to have a newspaper from Dar es Salaam containing a speech by the right hon. Gentleman. It had been prepared here and was a speech of encouragement to what are called the "ground nutters." He was followed by General Harrison, who said that the priority at home was coal, agriculture, cotton and groundnuts. From General Harrison's point of view, and from the groundnut point of view, it was a very good thing to put that across, but it would have been equally important had it been pointed out that the sisal industry, by its sale of sisal to America, might earn between 10 million to 20 million dollars. We should always remember in any schemes like that in the future the effect on existing industries.

The Minister of Food painted a picture of the African changing quickly from his present habits and customs into a modern fanner. All I wish the House to note about this, and especially hon. Members opposite, is that if we are going to try and hurry the native out of his present frame of mind and of thinking, we are going to put an end to indirect rule and interfere with native customs generally and especially in regard to land holding. If we are trying to advance the natives quickly, we must be prepared to meet criticisms which certainly would have been rather difficult to meet before the war, although times may have now changed.

Lastly as far as my caveats are concerned, I should like to say a word about the way accounts are kept in respect of these new corporations. This was referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Wight (Sir P. Macdonald). I hope we shall get an assurance that there will be proper balance-sheets and profit and loss accounts—exactly the same as with companies under the present Companies Act. Nothing should be hidden. I would point out how especially important it is that this should be done, because of the criticism which is always likely to arise in the future especially from the partly educated African. Lastly, what happens if the groundnut corporation makes a profit? Will it inure to the corporation or will it inure to the territory in which the groundnuts are grown. I hope very much that the latter will be the case. Also will the groundnut company be subject to Income Tax? If so, I suggest that it should be formed in Tanganyika, where Income Tax is not so severe as in this country. It is most important that as much profit as possible should go back into the territories where it is earned.

I would like to congratulate the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Ivor Thomas) on his speech. Perhaps I might also condole with him that, through force of circumstances, he has moved a little to the right from the Treasury Bench to a seat below the Gangway.