Orders of the Day — Colonial Loans Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 2nd April 1962.

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Photo of Viscount  Hinchingbrooke Viscount Hinchingbrooke , South Dorset 12:00 am, 2nd April 1962

I thought that when my hon. Friend went to the Commonwealth in his kilt he did not attempt to use it to hide anything, but rather to flaunt his virtues and Scottish lineage.

The other point which I wish to make equally briefly is that the figures should be enhanced. In the last few weeks I have been looking up some of the figures connected with Commonwealth development and I have found them absolutely staggering. First, there is the total. This country generates about £22,000 million worth of goods and services every year. Regarding us as the major lending and giving agency in the Commonwealth, I have left out of account those who might be associated with us in any figure, namely, Canada, Australia and, to some extent, New Zealand. I go next to India and all the countries down to the tiniest fortress island, adding them all together—India, Pakistan, Malaya, Nigeria, Ghana and so on down the scale of geographical size, if not importance. Does the House appreciate that that total from the rest of the Commonwealth, minus Canada, Australia and New Zealand, is merely £16,000 million? We have a power potential of £22,000 million generated annually while the rest of the Commonwealth generate only two-thirds as much.

We ought to do more than we are now doing. We are not doing as well as France. I looked up the figure for France in the last forty-eight hours, and found that it was 1·3 per cent. of her national income against 1·1 or 1·2 per cent. in our case. Be it remembered that French dominion responsibilities are very much reduced. One can see the contrast when one goes to Senegal, as I was privileged to do quite recently for forty-eight hours. No doubt one would see the same sort of thing in the other French territories of West Africa.

French commonwealth-associated Powers are fewer and France's dominions are less, and yet for these purposes France generates more money, relative to its national income, than we do, so that the standard of living enjoyed by those countries is consequently very much higher. I argue that we should do as well as France in absolute and also relative terms—that is, spend enough to make the standard of living in our territories as high as theirs.

I shall try to say how this should be done, but I should like first to take up a very weighty point which was made by the right hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Creech Jones). His speeches in this House on this subject perhaps carry more influence than those of anyone else because of his great knowledge of these matters. Going round one gets the same picture. People speak with grief about the British having dressed their Colonies up for the feasts of independence like trussed up Strasbourg geese, and the moment that independence and feasting have died away practically nothing takes place.

The loans which have been organised by the Colonial Development Corporation and the technical aid mean that a certain amount is done. I found in Ghana and Nigeria some laboratories which, to the extent of a few thousand pounds were still being completed because independence had taken place and it was felt that we should be honest and continue the operation. But everywhere in these Dominions and independent republics one finds an atmosphere of sadness that Britain has not been able to continue the pace of development which she initiated when they rose towards independence.

Of course there must be limits to this. We could pour money into India, but it would be lost down the drain. There are 400 million inhabitants. Every pound we invest in India we somehow think produces a new life which in due course will suffer from privation. Of course there must be limits and some criteria must be applied to stop the thing getting out of hand, but I do not think that the criteria should be the date of becoming independent. The French, more wisely and intelligently, carry the process over. When the daughter of a Frenchman marries, she gets her dot of course, but her father does not forget her for the rest of her life. I sometimes think that that is the policy of Her Majesty's Treasury in regard to overseas lending.

In Sierra Leone—a very recently independent country—I was told that the loan which the Treasury offered was 6¼ per cent., 6 per cent. because that was what the British Bank Rate was and ¼ per cent. for handling charges. Next door, in Guinea, the Russians had offered £3 million at 2½ per cent. I think those were the figures. Of course the contrast is made straight away. I am not saying that we could take on the Communist world in its mass bribing techniques. That would be ridiculous and would yield us no good at all.

Yet the British Government are able to propose a £30 million loan to the Cunard company and so to arrange matters by an associated grant of money that the interest is cut down to something which the company is able to tolerate. I wonder why we cannot think up in the Colonial Office this same sort of device so that we could give a loan of whatever is required and give, associated with it, a grant of money which is a permanent grant and which in effect cuts by half the interest which the country will have to pay upon the loan. Devices of that sort, which we have applied already at home, I should have thought could be applied to the Commonwealth also.

We are always being told by Chancellors of the Exchequer, by Treasury officials and by financial writers in the Press, "You cannot make these great loans to the Colonial countries because they are all on independent currencies. You will have a balance of payments crisis on your hands in five minutes." If we cannot get round that situation, what is the use of the Commonwealth and of Britain continuing to suggest how it can be run? I have said this before in the House. We should think of the schemes which the Russians use to trans-ship men, materials and goods and services from one end of that vast territory to another, not always by political persuasion but often by subtle financial and economic techniques. We see how from north, south, east and west the United States of America can send capital consumption goods right across that vast continent without suffering balance of payments crises. Surely we can think of something by which we can ship gifts from this country to deserving members of the Commonwealth. We should perhaps lose a fraction more of the £22 thousand million and be giving them a fraction more than they are getting now, but we should avoid a balance of payments; crisis supervening.

I should like to propose a motif, "Buy and ship", lease-lend to the Commonwealth. Let the Treasury buy outright certain industries and services in this country and the technique associated with them and send them out across the exchanges to establish them in the appropriate parts of the Commonwealth. That is the kind of technique, in default of a Commonwealth Bank and payments union, which we have to think of if we are to keep these people supplied.

These are things perhaps not for this moment but for after the certain collapse, which I am sure it will be, of the approaches which the Government are making towards union with Europe. I am quite sure from the attitude which the Labour Party is now beginning to adopt in the country that it too is thinking in these terms and will join some of us on this side of the House in turning that zeal and enthusiasm to new projects for assisting the Commonwealth when the time arrives and when the Government finally acknowledge defeat.