Clause 2. — (Constitution of Colonial Development Corporation.)

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 20th January 1948.

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6.15 p.m.

Photo of Lieut-Colonel Sir Walter Smiles Lieut-Colonel Sir Walter Smiles , Down

I beg to move, in page 2, line 19, after "to," to insert, "tropical agriculture."

This Amendment concerns the constitution of the Colonial Development Corporation. I wish to see somebody who has had experience of tropical agriculture included in this Corporation. I believe that, under this Bill, most of the resources to be developed in the Colonies will be in tropical or semi-tropical areas, and it may be said that a man with experience of farming in England or anywhere else has automatically gained the experience required for farming and for the production of agricultural produce in tropical countries. Beside me here, I have my hon. Friend the Member for Leominster (Mr. Baldwin), who knows all about farming in Hereford, although I am very doubtful if even he would claim to know all about farming all over England and Scotland, and certainly would not claim such knowledge about tropical and semitropical countries abroad.

This money belonging to the taxpayers may be spent in various parts of the world. It may be spent in a climate where four inches of rain falls in 13 hours, and more than 400 inches of rain in a whole year. It may be spent in an area that suffers from drought, although I believe that that can now be cured by means of an aeroplane going out and firing 300 lbs. of dry ice into the air, which would bring down a rainstorm. The conditions are very different in the tropics from those in this country, and, for that reason, I wish to see the inclusion of someone with experience of tropical agriculture.

I have suffered myself from the experts who have come out from the homeland to the tropics. I have seen gentlemen with high degrees from various universities here come out and advise completely wrong methods. I have seen land ruined by the application of lime, and I have seen other land ruined by too deep cultivation. I have seen an agricultural expert advising people to dig trenches 18 inches deep to break the land, when the cultivation was shallow and only three inches deep. A lot of this money is going to be spent in Africa, and I believe the African to be the worst cultivator in the whole world. Whether we see him tearing the beautiful soil down the hills of Jamaica into the Caribbean Sea, or whether we see him in Kenya, having grazed the land until there is no more grass on it than there is in the round-about at Piccadilly Circus the results are very often extremely bad. For that reason, we want someone with experience of tropical agriculture helping us to administer this scheme. There are also lots of superstitions to be got over in connection with these developments. There will, perhaps, be people going on strike because they believe that a baby has been buried under a bridge—at least, that used to be a superstition—or there will be a lion taking away their finest cattle.

Of course, all of us here have an extremely selfish interest in this matter—the loss of money that may accrue to the British taxpayers. I have known many men go out to the tropics with optimistic ideas about growing hemp, sisal, cotton, and tea, who lost their money, although they had received excellent advice. However, it was their own money they were losing. I tremble to think what is going to happen now when it is the taxpayers' money, and when, instead of hundreds or thousands of pounds, there is going to be the chance of losing millions of the taxpayers' money. I think that the inclusion of these very simple words would help to safeguard that money, and that the Government would be well advised to include in the Corporation someone with experience of tropical agriculture. None of us wants to do without basic petrol for another two years owing to the fact that a big loss is made by this Corporation. With those words I commend this Amendment to the Government.

Colonel Wheatley:

I beg to second the Amendment.

I am very happy to do so because this is a very important Amendment. I can see no reason why the Government should resist it. They might very well say that it is covered by the word "science," that the Secretary of State should choose someone with scientific knowledge, or, indeed, that it might be included in the final lines of the Clause where it talks about securing that adequate experience of those matters obtained in Colonial territories. … That being so, I cannot see why the Government should not accept this very simple Amendment which has been so ably moved by my hon. and gallant Friend the senior Member for Down (Sir W. Smiles) who has had experience in other parts of the world besides Africa, which he particularly mentioned. Of course, Africa is uppermost in my mind. Thirty or forty years ago many a promising scheme was ruined by lack of experience of those who were running them, especially in the agricultural world.

My hon. and gallant Friend mentioned the hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Baldwin). I am sure that if the hon. Gentleman went out to Africa today without any special experience, he would find it very difficult, with only his English experience, to contend with the different climate, the different soil and with the different labour. Any scheme with which he dealt would probably be a failure in the end, and he would probably lose a deal of money over it. I have seen that sort of thing happen many times in the past, but, in more recent years, when we have had more experienced tropical agriculturists available, such schemes have gone ahead with much more success.

I hope that the Minister of Food has been able to draw on a good many experienced tropical agriculturists in connection with his groundnuts scheme because I am perfectly certain that scheme will not succeed unless such experienced men are dealing with it. Not only is the actual growing of crops important; it is vastly important to have a knowledge of the plant diseases which suddenly arise, and which may never have been heard of before. If men with experience gained in the last 20 or 30 years are available, it will be a great advantage to any scheme. Although this Amendment may seem redundant because science is already included in the Clause, I hope that the Government will accept it so as to make quite certain that men with experience of tropical agriculture will be selected by the Secretary of State.

Photo of Mr Jon Rankin Mr Jon Rankin , Glasgow Tradeston

I intended to ask the hon. and gallant Member for Down (Sir W. Smiles) before he sat down whether he could explain if there is any difference between tropical and sub-tropical agriculture.

Photo of Lieut-Colonel Sir Walter Smiles Lieut-Colonel Sir Walter Smiles , Down

I think there is a very great difference indeed. In fact, there are very many differences. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman heard the whole of my speech.

Photo of Mr Jon Rankin Mr Jon Rankin , Glasgow Tradeston

I did my best to follow it.

Photo of Lieut-Colonel Sir Walter Smiles Lieut-Colonel Sir Walter Smiles , Down

At any rate, the hon. Gentleman did not suffer from the inability to hear it. I was pointing out that some areas suffer from drought—they sometimes do not get rain for a whole year—and that other areas get 400 inches in a year. Therefore, I consider that there is great scope for the different treatment of soil.

Photo of Lieut-Colonel David Rees-Williams Lieut-Colonel David Rees-Williams , Croydon South

The Government have very much in mind the matters put to us by the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Senior Member for Down (Sir W. Smiles) and the hon. and gallant Member for East Dorset (Colonel Wheatley). We are fully aware of the necessity for always having in mind the requirements of tropical agriculture. We also know that tropical agriculture differs in kind, in degree, and in every other way from home agriculture. But we have covered the necessity for a knowledge of tropical agriculture among the members of the Corporation by inserting in the Clause which we are now discussing the words "primary production." Those words cover tropical agriculture, sub-tropical agriculture, and any other type of production of primary products which there may be. To put one particular type of primary production or one particular type of agriculture, into a Clause of this kind would be quite useless. In fact, by being inserted before the words "primary production," it might have a restricting effect upon those two wider words at present in the Bill. Therefore, we believe that it is highly undesirable to limit the expression "primary production," either in this or any other way.

To reassure the hon. and gallant Gentleman I would say that the Deputy-Chairman of the Colonial Development Corporation Board is Sir Frank Stock-dale, who was for many years the agricultural adviser to the Secretary of State for the Colonies. He has an unrivalled knowledge of tropical agriculture and knows the difficulties of agriculture in every country in the Colonial Empire. I do not think it is going too far to say that he has visited every country in the Colonial Empire which has an agricultural problem. Therefore, the mover of the Amendment and the hon. and gallant Gentleman who supported it can rest assured that their purpose—which we appreciate—in putting down this Amendment will be amply covered by the Clause as it exists, and that the Government will never for one moment—nor, indeed, will the Corporation itself—forget the requirements of tropical agriculture.

6.30 p.m.

Photo of Lieut-Colonel Sir Walter Smiles Lieut-Colonel Sir Walter Smiles , Down

I am not satisfied with the reply of the Under-Secretary. "Primary production", can cover anything. The coalmines in Southern Rhodesia will be developed, and the best man to send out to advise on the development of those coalmines would probably be a man who had been working in the mines in Wales, Durham or Scotland. But tropical agriculture is a different thing. I agree with the remarks of the Under-Secretary about Sir Frank Stock-dale. At the moment there could be no better man than Sir Frank Stockdale, but this Colonial development will not finish when Sir Frank retires or dies. It will go on, and people in the future will be looking at this Bill to see the actual words which are in it. I believe it would be improved very much by the inclusion of the words "tropical agriculture."

Amendment negatived.