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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 Sir Douglas Dodds-Parker Sir Douglas Dodds-Parker , Banbury 12:00 am, 6th November 1947

I hope the hon. Member for Wednesbury (Mr. S. N. Evans) will forgive me if I do not attempt to follow in detail some of the points he was raising. I ventured to seek to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, in view of the fact that I have spent some two months in Eastern and Central Africa. In fact, on Monday I had lunch at Victoria Nyanza and on Tuesday I had lunch here. Such is the speed of the modern magic carpet.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Ivor Thomas) on his speech, and there is general regret in those large parts of the world where I have been that he should have had to leave the office in which he did so well for the Colonial Empire. In the very few minutes I have, there are one or two points I should like to make. I think an hon. Member has already said that the question that is important at the moment is that of priorities, and I think there is a need in all this question of development for a proper overall plan. Because of what I have seen, I am going to refer particularly to East and Central Africa. So far, Southern Rhodesia is the only territory which has got down to priority, and it has invited Sir Miles Thomas, of Morris Motors, to preside over a commission to set priorities for Southern Rhodesia. It is an important task which he has undertaken, and I hope that the Government will sec that the precedent set thereby shall be extended to the contiguous territories of Northern Rhodesia, Nyasaland and the East African territories.

Before I come to that, I also would like to feel that there were in the Ministry concerned individuals who had studied some of these great over-all plans that have been made for development, such as the Tennessee Valley Authority, the Nile Projects Commission, and such great undertakings as the Sudan Plantations Syndicate, which is developing some two million acres for the benefit of all concerned, and which is, I believe, one of the best examples of a combination between government and enterprise and the African landowner. I suggest to the Government that there should be someone to plan on that sort of level, and that then there should be worked into the plan those other projects of immediate development, such as the groundnuts project, which we have largely been discussing today.

I would point out to the Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies, who is to reply, that there already seem to be very obvious opportunities for the use of this fund, over and above the important production of food. As my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Sevenoaks (Colonel Ponsonby) pointed out, expansion is to a large extent a question of transport and the development of already existing industries. If as one flies north from the Union of South Africa over the valleys of the Zambesi, the Limpopo, the Shari, up to the Great Lakes, one sees a great framework for transport purposes, and one sees there is already provided water for hydro-electric power and waterways, which can be developed for the proper exploitation, in its best sense, of all these territories.

There is needed another network of roads, railroads and ports. At present, development has gone so fast in the postwar rush that already the railroads, roads and ports are inadequate to the traffic that is being offered, quite apart from the superimposition of the groundnuts scheme. When one thinks in those terms, it is not a question of five or 15 years ahead, but of 50 years; and of hundreds of millions of pounds which can usefully be used for future development. It is wrong to think of that part of Africa becoming another Western United States, but it has tremendous possibilities which are as yet unexplored, and which will benefit tens of thousands of Europeans and hundreds of millions of Africans who can live in that often fairly temperate climate.

Within that framework of river valleys, roads and railroads that will, in course of time, be set up, there are great opportunities not only for public corporations such as are being set up under the Bill, but also for private enterprise to develop further, for co-operatives, for European settlement and enterprise and for African co-operatives. I am not going to argue which particular form of activity I believe in.

As to the groundnuts scheme, I would like to add my tribute. The Minister has already stated that efforts are being made by those on the spot to carry out this very important task which is I believe—let us be frank about it—primarily for the benefit of those of us here at home. There is no reason to believe that we cannot turn it to the great advantage also of those who are out in Africa. By all accounts, a very excellent task is being carried out by Mr. Plummer. He has shown the tenacity, enterprise and bonhomie that one would expect from one who was associated with the Beaverbrook Press. I hope that the work he has put in will produce the result it deserves. I should also like to pay a tribute to those who are operating existing industries out there and who can show a very substantial effort at production at the present time. I interrupted the Minister to ask him a question about transport. Several million dollars worth of sisal are held up in the country and might be shipped out. There is grain lying there, too. The people are short of gunnies. They have not enough of them to get the grain out. Because of the shortage of transport, the buyers have suspended buying. Next season there will not be so much demand and therefore not so much grain grown. It seems a pity that already existing industries should be adversely affected by the superimposition of this groundnuts scheme.

I suggest to the Minister the formation of a priorities committee in Tanganyika, with representation back here in London. It could perform a very useful task in seeing that priority shipments, for instance, of fertilisers, from this country is taken in its due perspective and that we do not try to ship all the supplies immediately as they are available. In the brief moment or two which I have, I would mention two further points. As has been already mentioned by the hon. Member for Keighley, African labour, I believe, has great need for incentive goods. There is no savings movement out there, and it is no good paying people in money for them to save it against some future chance of spending it. Unless they can spend it immediately they will not work as hard as we wish them to do. It is more necessary in Africa than it is here that there should be an adequate supply of consumer incentive goods.

Another point already mentioned by one or two hon. Members is that of mechanisation. It is quite obvious that all over the world agriculture and mining are becoming increasingly unpopular as forms of activity. There is a tremendous outlet for British agricultural machinery, tractors and so forth, throughout Eastern and Central Africa and wherever else these schemes are put into effect, whether as public corporations or whether some existing private company is given an opportunity, as on the lines of the Sudan Plantations Syndicate. I suggest to all concerned that there is a very good opening there and that experts should be sent out to study the type of machinery needed. It was found, for example, that a lot of useful small agricultural tractors in this country which can be used for hoeing and so forth are not of sufficiently high horsepower to be used at heights between 3,000 and 7,000 feet as they are required to be used in Africa. Research and investigation into that kind of problem could do good.

Finally, I ask the Minister if he could give us some indication, from the mists of the future—in which it is most improbable that the present Government will be in power—that there will be an assured market for all these products which will start to pour out five, ten or fifteen years from now. Several hon. Members have pointed out that if these great schemes had been in operation, it would not have been possible to absorb their output at the economic level of this country in the 1930's. It may be that an era of cheap food will come again, and there may be demands in certain directions that we should absorb their output rather than that of the territories we are now developing. Whether there will be Imperial Preference or some form of customs union as mentioned by the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs is a question I am not raising now, but I ask the Minister if he can give us an assurance that every effort will be made as time goes on, to ensure that markets will be found in the United Kingdom or even in the Empire for the products that one day we are sure will pour out of East and Central Africa.