Orders of the Day — Africa

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 29th July 1949.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mr Harold Davies Mr Harold Davies , Leek 12:00 am, 29th July 1949

I have listened with interest to the speech of the hon. Member for Woodbridge (Mr. Hare). Looking at the colonial territories of the world and the countries to which they belong, there is not the slightest doubt that the country which has managed its territories with the least trouble and strife, following the war, is Great Britain. I do not want to give credit entirely to my own party for that; I believe it is due to the innate common sense and political stability of the British people as a whole.

As yet, we have not been able to pick the fruits of the political programme of the past four years, but what some of us forget is that there is no going back to the pre-war period. In this shrinking world, across which it is possible to throw voices in a few seconds by radio, and to travel in a few hours by plane, the complexities of life are immense. It needs a great amount of stability and care on the part of the Colonial Office to steer the correct course through the present transitional period. The hon. Member for Woodbridge referred to travel in the Colonies. I am sure that statistics will show that more Members than ever before have been afforded opportunities of visiting the Colonies during the last four years. That being so, I appeal to the party opposite not to say that these visits are a waste of money, because their fruits are seen in our discussions.

I was delighted to hear the hon. Member for Hornsey (Mr. Gammans) mention the question of racial discrimination. I believe that hon. Members on all sides of the House would wish to see its eradication. The Colonial Office and the Government should come down heavily against colour discrimination, for example, when African students come to our universities or technical colleges and find difficulty in obtaining hostels and boarding houses. Colour discrimination is a black mark not against any one political party but against the British people as a whole. I believe that it is fair to say that we do not find it supported on any side in this House.

The hon. Member made statements about the E.C.A. I have sat in this House during Question time when statements have been made on the subject. I cannot remember them offhand but I know that statements have been made about geologists and technical experts visiting Colonial areas. Only the other day we were told that three United States farm experts were to conduct a three-month survey of East, West and Central Africa, as part of the E.C.A. technical assistance programme. Therefore there has been an alertness in the Colonial Office to the possibilities of assistance under E.C.A.

The question arose whether America would invest. I am more concerned with the fact that American foreign investments have been rather capricious. The question is whether America, whatever her internal political situation, will maintain a steady level of investment. We do not want to see a repetition of what happened in the famous 1920's when millions of dollars were poured into Europe and then, at the whim of one or two political people in the United States, the stream of dollars suddenly ceased.

The real need therefore is not for a wild scheme of investment right away but agreement on a steady stream in various parts of the world which will help world stability. We all see the dangers of a sudden withdrawal of American investments about the time of the Hoover moratorium of 1929–31. We do not want to see a repetition of that in the Colonies if economic crisis should come to the United States of America. Whatever criticisms there may be about bulk buying—and I do not want to enter into a political fight about it at the moment—by its establishment in various parts of the Colonies, for example in Nigeria in the groundnut marketing board, and the cotton, timber, oil, and cocoa marketing boards, there is not the slightest doubt that the system has helped the Nigerian farmer and that it will maintain stability of progress.

The danger may come from the willy-nilly investment on the part of the Colonial farmer, who prefers to put all his money into his cash crops to the neglect of stable agriculture for the Colonies. Whatever system of investment we have, whether it is American. British or Government, we must see that we do not encourage investment in cash crops to the detriment of the nutrition of colonial people.

I should like to ask the Secretary of State for the Colonies if there is any possibility of stepping up transport development, for example in Nigeria. Kipling said that transport is civilisation. Last year we were enabled to send 20 locomotives to Nigeria. More important is the deterioration in Nigeria of rolling stock, in relation to the gathering of groundnut stocks. We are told of its not being possible to send more rolling stock and more railway equipment. I believe it will be worth our while to do this on a greater scale. I understand that the longer those thousands of tons of groundnuts hang around, the greater is the difficulty of the pest control officers.

I wish to make two other points in relation to the Colonies and education. Out of the provision of £63 million last year, some £41,500,000 has been allocated to Africa. Over £611,000 was allocated for soil conservation, the largest single payment in East African expenditure. Since January, 1944, both sides of the House have now spent £160,500,000 in the Colonies. Before the House goes very much further, we ought to realise the truth of the statement made by the hon. Member for Hornsey (Mr. Gammans) that Africa is a poor continent. It will be, until we can develop its water power. I believe we could apply to Africa a lesson learnt from the Japanese who took small units of power to the highways and byways of Japan. They took ribbons of asphalt in the form of roads, and they took the tractor, the motor car, the small dynamo and the electric motor. To the peasants of Africa, that is far more practical than massive capital investment schemes which will take 20 or 30 years to develop.

The hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) spoke about education. The difficulty about education in colonial areas is that we have a double job, the education of the child and the education of the adult. The hon. Member for Dudley said that we should use the services of the Army. That would be an excellent idea, but I believe that, as in the case of medicine, too often we are waiting for—I do not know whether this is quite the right phrase—over-qualified people to take on the elementary type of education. I am sure that appeals could be made for British women to go out to the Colonies for short periods of time to teach elementary hygiene to their opposite numbers there. That would bear fruit in a short time. There ought to be more education for the women in our African, Malayan and other Colonies than at present. Too much emphasis has been placed on the men. Every hon. Member knows that we do not judge a civilisation by the might of its architecture or the size of its bridges, but by the place it gives to its women. Once again, we should emphasise that the attitude towards the women is the civilising factor in the colonial areas.

I saw a suggestion some time ago in a letter to a newspaper. In view of the shortage of doctors and technicians, could we not find displaced technicians, engineers and doctors in Europe who would be only too glad to work in the colonial areas? They would contribute not to the building of the British Empire in the old stock phrase but to the building of civilisation and stability if they could be given constructive jobs in the Colonies. I hope that the Secretary of State will bear in mind that it appears that on both sides of the House much more interest is taken in colonial affairs now than ever before in the history of Britain.