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 Henry Clark Mr Henry Clark , North Antrim 12:00 am, 4th August 1961

I wish to add my support to this very worth-while proposal and look to the active support of Her Majesty's Government in getting the Bank of Africa started. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Aitken) said, one of the very best things that we have sent out from this country to the Commonwealth has been our banking system. But it is also true, and rather unfortunate, that very often the banks in countries in which there are many illiterate and ignorant people get a sinister name, because a man without much learning finds it hard to understand how the banks get their money. Quite often, there is a stupid prejudice against the banks which we open up in different parts of the world. This is unfortunate because, I believe, these banks have done a thoroughly good job.

It is essential that we should encourage the Africans to start the idea of banking by adopting our system of banking institutions. If it is found that there is any dog-in-the-manger trying to prevent this, the Government should take action to quash those activities as soon as possible. In Africa, which is an expanding country, there is ample room for more banks to be set up. I think that our own banks in Africa can do with a bit of competition so as to encourage them to push their branches further. I know of a town which could be considerably expanded if the bank could be persuaded to open another branch, even if it were an uneconomic branch. I think that one of the important aspects is to see that an effort is made to support not only the idea of this bank, but also the British banks which are already working in Africa.

I believe that some people—not necessarily hon. Members of this House, but perhaps some people in the City of London—may doubt the possibility of raising money in Africa. But that possibility is not quite so fantastic as it may seem. We often hear statistics regarding the income of the African which is stated in Southern Rhodesia to be £28 a month and in Tanganyika £16. I once carried out a survey and found that in one district the figure was under £10. But these figures are absolutely meaningless by the standards we set in this country. To an African they represent spending money.

It is hard to illustrate this clearly, but it is worth reminding the House that it is usual in Africa to pay monthly because Africans like a lot of money in one lump; not like the British working man who may find it impossible to make the money which he receives weekly last beyond the Wednesday or the Thursday following pay-day. The Africans carry a surprisingly large amount of money in their pockets. One may note from thefts which take place on the railways that the victims may be Africans who had as much as £100 or £200 which was being carried round in a wooden box when it was stolen. As I say, the money is there in surprising quantities.

I was connected with one small scheme for the selling of the maze crop in a village. The sale was carried out by co-operation in bulk and amounted to 100 tons. The money for the maize came to over £1,500, which went to that village. Had there been proper banking facilities available, instead of the Post Office Savings Banks which are common but which are not sufficient, a great deal of that money would have gone to swell the assets of the country. The standard of living of the African is so low that most of the money he makes represents spending money, and I have no doubt that if such a bank as is envisaged could get going with the right sort of support, it would prove a great success.

One aspect which appeals to me about such a project is that it would link the African territories together right from Southern Rhodesia to Kenya, and perhaps West Africa also would join in. Anything which has the effect of linking these Commonwealth countries together is to be recommended. There is nothing which the emergent people of Africa want more than status and the respect of other people. I feel that a successful banking system, backed by the City of London and by the Government here, would give the people of Africa the sort of status which they desire.