Orders of the Day — African Territories

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 31st July 1957.

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Photo of Mr John Stonehouse Mr John Stonehouse , Wednesbury 12:00 am, 31st July 1957

In following the hon. and gallant Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Commander Donaldson), I think it should be made clear that hon. Members in all parts of the House who have experience of these African countries are well aware of, and fully appreciate, the contributions that Europeans have made in them. I am sure my hon. Friend the Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Brockway)would agree wholly with that. Those of us in the House who take an interest in colonial questions have no desire in any way to underrate the practical and valuable contributions which the European communities make to the development of the economies of these countries.

The hon. and gallant Member must not, however, run away with the idea that everything which is good in Africa has been done purely and simply by Europeans. I would remind him that a great deal of the agricultural produce in African countries comes from peasant farms. If he will compare, for instance, the economies of Kenya and Uganda, he will find that Kenya has a permanent deficit in its balance of payments with the outside world and that Uganda has a very substantial balance in its trade with the rest of the world.

I expect the hon. and gallant Member knows the economies of those two countries and will not need me to remind him that the economy of Uganda is almost wholly based on the peasant agriculture of millions of farmers on their shambas producing cash crops such as cotton and coffee. If he wants to compare those two countries further, he will find that the amount of progress made in the production of these cash crops in Uganda is every hit as good as the progress made in Kenya. The African peasant farmers of Uganda have shown that they can produce cash crops on an ever-increasing scale, and they have not only made a valuable contribution to the building up of the economy of Uganda but have made an indirect contribution to upholding the stability of Kenya itself through the linkup between the two countries. If the hon. and gallant Gentleman wants to compare progress in others of these countries, he will recognise that progress in Nigeria and Ghana is almost wholly dependent on the work that is done by the African population.

I do not want the hon. and gallant Gentleman to think that in saying these things I am throwing any aspersions on the European communities in those countries, for they make a very fine contribution indeed, but the Europeans in those countries must not expect to have any privileged economic position in them. They have their contribution to make. They will, indeed, probably earn a higher income than the mass of the communities there by virtue of the special contribution which they can make and the special technical skills that they have, but they still depend on the endeavours of the mass of the population, and without the work of the Africans in those countries the economies would be very weak indeed.

I agree wholly with what my hon. Friend the Member for Eton and Slough said at the outset of his remarks. It is regrettable that we have to delay the House at this hour, but the subjects which we raise are important ones and we have not had very much opportunity in the past few weeks to obtain proper answers to our questions. I am glad to see the Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies following this point, and I should like to put it to him directly.

For example, we on this side of the House have been trying for weeks to find out what is the Government's policy in respect of the establishment of a military base in Kenya. We still have no decision. The Minister of Defence went on a tour some weeks ago and, on his return, made a statement at London Airport that he would soon be able to state his intentions about the establishment of a base in Kenya. We are still awaiting that statement, and it ought to have been made to the House, because the House is entitled to debate the statement, not only in view of its great importance to the defence of this country and to the burden which we shall undertake with the establishment of that base but also in view of the important political considerations involved.

We are beginning a Recess of three months, and in that time Ministers will be taking decisions on this very important subject; and we shall be unable to question them in any way. We have done our best. We have put down Questions week after week, but the Minister has continued to evade them and to decline to give a satisfactory answer. I have just received a written reply from the Minister of Defence on this very Question. All he can tell me is that he has nothing to add to his reply of 10th July to my right hon. Friend the Member for Belper Mr. G. Brown). That reply was: …. When the policy is decided. I will make a statement to Parliament."—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 10th July, 1957; Vol. 572, c. 50.] Yet The Times, in an obviously inspired report, stated categorically some weeks ago that a military base was to be established in Kenya, and I have seen no correction in that newspaper. It is about time that hon. Members were given answers to Questions which they put on the Order Paper.

This is an important subject. If a base is established in Kenya—and I sincerely trust that it will not be established there—it will involve us in considerable expenditure. We have to judge whether that expenditure is justified. A military base in Kenya will not produce all the advantages which some hon. Members opposite expect it to produce. I refer particularly to the hon. Member for Stafford and Stone (Mr. H. Fraser), who was a great advocate of this base a few weeks ago. I hope that it will not be established there, but if further consideration is to be given to its establishment I urge the Under-Secretary of State to consult his right hon. Friend and to make sure that the African people in Kenya are consulted on this vital question. The days have long passed when it was possible for this country to decide these important questions without consultation with the indigenous populations.

We have already made a great mess of an attempt to establish a base in Cyprus, wasting a lot of money at the same time, and it is no good transferring that base——