Commonwealth Development

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 30th November 1956.

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Photo of Mr Ronald Russell Mr Ronald Russell , Wembley South 12:00 am, 30th November 1956

The hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr. Albu) mentioned earlier in his speech that the country was suffering from a balance of payments crisis. I am not going into an argument with him about the severity of that crisis, and in particular I shall not delve into past political history, but I do not think that anybody will deny that we certainly have a severe balance of payments problem.

I hope that we shall pay much more than lip service to Commonwealth development in future years. We have been far too much inclined to pay lip-service to it without doing very much about it in years gone by. I want to make one or two suggestions of how, I think, we can help in the solution of the balance of payments problem.

There is the question of the commodities which we buy from the Commonwealth. It is one which I think we ought to probe. I have been looking at the figures of wheat imports into this country over the past ten years. We have always regarded the Commonwealth as a great wheat growing area, and Canada is certainly one of the biggest wheat growing countries in the world, and so is Australia. It is, therefore, surprising to find that since the beginning of 1946 we have spent £137 million on buying wheat from the United States, and slightly less, £133 million, on buying wheat from Australia.

We spent much more than that, of course, and absolutely rightly, on buying wheat from Canada, and the Canadians, so far as I know, have no complaint about the amount of wheat we buy from them, but the Australians have, and I gather that their dissatisfaction over their exports of wheat to this country was one of the reasons why they sought renegotiation of the Ottawa Agreement, which was carried out only recently, and of which we have not yet had the conclusion. There is a shining example of how we could have bought more from Australia and thereby enabled Australia in her turn to buy more of our manufactured goods if we had so arranged things that we could have cut down our imports of wheat from the United States and taken more from the Commonwealth of Australia.

I know that there are difficulties in that it was in 1938, on the insistence of the United States Government, that we abolished the duty of 2s. a quarter which was levied on foreign wheat up to that time from 1932. That was a great tragedy. It was done on the insistence of the United States and, I think, with the co-operation of the Argentine. I know that under existing obligations under the G.A.T.T. we cannot restore that duty, but at least we should think of some other means of ensuring that we buy more wheat from Australia and less from the United States.

It is not as if we were under any obligation to consider our balance of trade with the United States either. Speaking from memory, I think that we bought from the United States last year about two and a half times as much goods as we sold to her. Therefore, we can well afford, without fear of retaliation against our own exports, to buy less wheat from that country and rather more from Australia.

There is another product which is not grown in large quantities in the Commonwealth and which therefore could be used to provide more finance for Commonwealth development—that is maize. Over the last ten years we have spent no less than £142 million on buying maize from the United States, and that, of course, is a dollar import, as is wheat. Yet I am quite sure that if we set about it in many parts of the Commonwealth and in the Colonial Territories as well there could be found areas which would grow maize in large enough quantities to supply the needs of this country and possibly of other parts of the Commonwealth.

Some progress has been made in buying from South Africa. The quantity has gone up from £58,000 worth in 1953 to over £3½ million worth last year, and the figures for the first ten months of this year show a slightly greater improvement. But that is nothing like enough. We bought £3·6 million worth from South Africa last year but we still bought £28 million worth from the United States. There is a great opportunity to save dollar expenditure and incidentally to provide for more Commonwealth development by concentrating upon maize-growing in the Commonwealth. If my right hon. Friend carries out the suggestion embodied in the Motion of inviting the Commonwealth to consider certain machinery for carrying out Commonwealth development, I hope that one of its earliest considerations will be how we can save the drain on our dollar resources which is now caused by the purchase of maize from the United States.

My hon. Friend the Member for Somerset, North (Mr. Leather) complained of a sort of lassitude in some Government Departments about Commonwealth development. I am not indicting any present or past Minister, but there should be much greater Commonwealth-minded-ness about the Treasury in these matters. I was very glad, as I am sure were all hon. Members, when the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced last April the concession on taxation which I think he hopes to introduce this year for Colonial companies, but the Treasury must be much more Commonwealth-minded in its attitude to the taxation of these companies and in dealing with the Commonwealth generally.

I think sometimes that Treasury mentality is back in the 1890s, before the late Joseph Chamberlain stirred the imagination of the country and we started to take a great interest in the Empire. I should like to see that pre-1890 attitude abolished altogether and to see a much more Commonwealth-minded attitude inspire the whole Department.

My hon. Friend the Member for Somerset, North and my hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East (Mr. Braine) complained of the use of the word "Colonial", and I should like to endorse what they said. I tend to be conservative as well as Conservative, and I do not like change unless it is absolutely necessary, but I think that it is necessary to get rid of a word which is now completely out-of-date. Its disappearance would have a great effect particularly on our relations with the United States. There are many parts of the Commonwealth which do not like the use of the word "Colonial", and compared with the time when the United States occupied that position in the Colonial Empire I do not think that there is any part of the Empire today which is a Colony in that respect.

Last year I found on a visit there that Jamaica does not pass any legislation affecting its two dependencies, the Cayman Islands and the Turks and Caicos Islands, without first consulting the people of those islands. In other words, what are called the dependencies of Jamaica are not regarded there as Colonies. The word is completely out-of-date and I should like to see it abolished.

I support the suggestion made by my hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East that the Colonial and Commonwealth Relations Offices should be reorganised and combined under one Commonwealth Minister, whose title would be a matter for consideration. The tiers of the Commonwealth should be placed under one head. It is wrong to put territories which formerly had Colonial status and are moving towards self-government and those which are self-governing into two different categories under two different Ministers. It would be of great benefit to the Commonwealth as a whole if they were combined under one Minister.