Bank of Africa

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 4th August 1961.

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Photo of Mr William Aitken Mr William Aitken , Bury St Edmunds 12:00 am, 4th August 1961

I wish to echo the congratulations offered by my hon. Friend the Member for Surbiton (Mr. Fisher) to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-with (Mr. J. Foster) on his initiative in introducing the Motion before the House. I hope that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State will take note of the fact that the project has had very wide support from both sides of the House.

I am very sorry indeed that my right hon. Friend the Secretary for Technical Co-operation is not on the Front Bench today, because I think that if ever there was a "natural" for this new Ministry this is it. I was particularly struck in the Second Reading debate by the very great interest which the House took in the matter and by the occasional strictures from the benches opposite as to whether or not this new Ministry ought not to be responsible for finding finance for suitable enterprises overseas. This, to my mind, is one of the most suitable kinds of enterprise that the new Ministry could consider.

My hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Walker) made an appeal to the banks and financial institutions to do more as a deliberate policy to help to train Africans in the field of finance. I echo that appeal very much, but, to my mind, this could be done much more effectively by the new Department of Technical Co-operation because there are immense resources in this field, and, in fact, in so many different fields. Therefore, it is perfectly natural that in the prospectus they seem to appeal again and again to the Commonwealth for help in this project. That is entirely natural because the whole of the knowledge and background of all the Africans who engage in trade and commerce and in any kind of technical job has come from United Kingdom sources.

I feel that this project for an African bank is of particular significance at this time. Speaker after speaker, including my hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall), has referred to the importance of such a project as a stabiliser. We have probably the best banking system in the world in our older Commonwealth countries. It is noteworthy that in the 1929–31 slump some 2,000 American banks went bankrupt. Not a single bank or insurance company in the British Commonwealth went bankrupt in that period. The importance of this project as a stabiliser has, as I have said, been emphasised. We all know that next to owning money owing money is a strong inducement to responsibility. Those of us who have had a very wide experience of banks know that sometimes we owe an awful lot more to the banks than just money.

This is one of the most fundamental institutions which every evolving country must have. The whole history of the early days of the British Commonwealth is that after a certain stage someone started a bank. Sometimes in those early days it was successful and sometimes it was not. It is perfectly true that this particular service is one of the things most necessary to an expanding economy, and I am very glad to read the memorandum and to hear my hon. Friend emphasise the fact that the politicians in Africa will leave the bank strictly alone and allow it to develop on its own lines.

Very briefly, I wish to call attention to something which happened during the Committee stage of the Department of Technical Co-operation Bill. I was very attracted to the suggestion made by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. Chapman) that the new Department should not confine its activities to technical aid but should also give guidance and advice on how to raise money. It seems to me that the functions of the new Department, which is to help people to get things started, provide it with a unique opportunity for such assistance. If the new Department is willing to provide technical aid this should not make it too difficult for the money to be raised for the new project.

In reply to the hon. Member for Northfield during the Committee stage, the Financial Secretary to the Treasury seemed to miss the point. He said: One question that was not raised by hon. Members opposite but which I include for the sake of completeness is whether the new Department should provide information not only about the sources of finance available in this country but about what other countries are doing in the way of technical assistance and where it can best be sought. That is a point that we would like to examine further."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th May, 1961; Vol. 639, c. 543.] I sincerely hope that my hon. Friend will examine it further and that we shall proceed with this magnificent idea and do everything we can to influence the appropriate sources of finance. It is not a question of setting up new institutions and machinery but of making use of the existing resources in the form of technical knowledge which the City of London already has in greater measure than any other country in the world at the present time.

I conclude by asking my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State to make it quite clear to the new Department of Technical Co-operation that the House wants it to look into the matter and to tell my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northwich whether or not it is prepared to offer to the sponsors of this new bank the technical aid and machinery which they are bound to require and also that the new Department should give all the assistance it can to provide the necessary finance either from this country or, perhaps, from institutions elsewhere in the Commonwealth.