Ghana

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 8th August 1966.

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Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Fitch.]

8.47 a.m.

Photo of Mr John Cordle Mr John Cordle , Bournemouth East and Christchurch

Even at this late hour I can still find it in my heart to say that I am particularly fortunate in being able to speak in this debate and having won the Adjournment ballot. The matter that I have to discuss is of some urgent importance. It concerns the present situation in Ghana.

When, a few months ago, Ghana threw off the yoke of tyranny under which she had laboured for so long, there was real and heartfelt rejoicing through that previously unhappy country. That joy was shared by Ghana's many friends here in Britain, and it would not be an exaggeration to say that this was the happiest news to come out of Africa for a very long time.

Expressions of happiness and support for the new rulers in Ghana are all very well, but in the very difficult situation in which they find themselves, and with the enormous problems they face, something more is needed. Let no one underestimate the tremendous fund of friendship and good will that exists there for Britain. From General Ankrah down to the poorest "Mammy", they truly regard us as a good friend and ally, as I saw for myself when I was there last April.

As the Economist said last week: 'The new rulers of Ghana have, in five short months, shown themselves refreshingly liberal and realistic. In spite of the debts and muddle inherited from Nkrumah the future could turn out well. But Ghana will need help. Ghana appreciates the real economic troubles that we are facing, and understand that massive financial aid from Britain is out, for the time being anyway. Yet there is one gesture that we could make which would cost us nothing in foreign exchange, and would cost the taxpayer very little in absolute terms, and yet which could be of immense psychological and material value.

The Ghanaian Army is a well-disciplined force, which is playing a key part in the maintenance of law and order in the early days of this new regime. It is largely British-trained, and uses much British equipment. Yet such was the state of the economy when General Ankrah took over that the Army was, and is, desperately short of essential equipment, such as boots, denims, shirts and berets. Stocks of these articles are exhausted, and as yet there is no money in the Ghana treasury to replace them. N.C.O.s and other ranks are having to wear plimsolls instead of boots, and one beret is divided between several men, and the working denims of the majority of the troops are now worn out. In addition, about £5,000 worth of mechanical stores are needed to make some of their military vehicles mobile.

General Ankrah asked Her Majesty's Government for help in the supply of basic equipment, which amounts to only a few thousand pounds. I was told by the Minister for Commonwealth Affairs, on 21st June, that he was "actively considering" General Ankrah's request. Unfortunately, this active consideration must have come up against the granite cliffs of the Treasury, because on 26th July the righ hon. Gentleman told my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Mr. Tilney) that he was "unable to comply" with the request and subsequently added that "the problem no longer exists."

This last statement of the Minister's reveals an extraordinary complacency and I believe, a failure to understand the problems and opportunities that Ghana presents. The Minister will be aware that nearly £70 million of British capital is invested in Ghana. He will also be aware that, notwithstanding Ghana's very considerable external debts, she is doing all she can to put her economic house in order. He must be aware of the good will and friendship that exists between our two countries, and yet we have, after a lengthy delay, turned down this very modest request that would cost us virtually nothing.

Our Territorial Army is being halved. Many units are closing down. There must be many thousands of pairs of boots and other items of uniform lying on the quartermaster's shelves throughout the country—equipment that will now be surplus to requirements. What will eventually happen to this equipment? I suspect that in due course we shall see it advertised in the small advertisements in the Saturday newspapers as "Government Surplus Stock" which is to be "Cleared Regardless of Price", and that the firms that specialise in such clearance sales will make a nice profit.

If, instead of this short-sighted parsimony, the Government had seized the opportunity to dispose of this surplus equipment to a Commonwealth friend in real need, what a wonderful gesture this would have been. We all pay lip service to the Commonwealth ideal, and yet it appears all to often that we give aid to countries that lose no opportunity in vilifying us on every possible occasion while our friends have to go short.

Apart from the military equipment there is a desperate need for food and medical supplies. We have given several thousand pounds' worth of drugs, and numbers of British medical staff are giving invaluable help in Ghana, yet this must be compared with the £6 million to £7 million worth of food given by the Americans and Canadians. I am not suggesting that we can compete at the moment with aid on this scale, but it is relevant as a background to our failure to help with military clothing and spares.

The long and unhappy trials of Mr. Kwesi Armah have also disturbed the relationship between our two countries. Is it not possible for him to be expatriated to Ghana and there face a trial in his own country? Surely we have sufficient faith that justice in Ghana will now be done.

I hope that the Minister's reply on 26th July is not the last word on the matter of military equipment. I am convinced that the cost to us would be negligible, that the good will created would be immense and that, notwithstanding the Minister's comments, the equipment is still needed and would be of great value to the Ghanaian Army.

The recent unhappy events in Nigeria point to the fact that Ghana may be our last stable friend in West Africa. I therefore urge the Minister to match up to the challenge and have the guts to reverse his decision. If this democratic decision were to fail, and General Ankrah were usurped, Ghana would be once more plunged into misery and we would shoulder responsibility for that tragic event. I trust that very serious consideration will be given to the urgent needs of Ghana.

8.56 a.m.

Photo of Mrs Judith Hart Mrs Judith Hart , Lanark

I apologise to the hon. Gentleman the Member for Bournemouth, East and Christchurch (Mr. Cordle) for not being here for his first few opening remarks. I was in a distant part of the building when his name appeared on the annunciation. However, he was kind enough to let me know what points he would raise, so I do not think that I will be handicapped in replying.

I know that the hon. Gentleman is deeply concerned about this question and the general well-being of Ghana. I know this great and beautiful country well. I was hoping recently to be able to visit it again, and I hope that it will not be long before I can do so. I am aware of the friendship and good will there for Britain. I am sure that I speak for the House when I say how much good will and affection we have for the Ghanaian people and that we wish them well.

Following the change of Government in Accra, in February, we have established friendly relations with General Ankrah and the National Liberation Council. The Government have very much at heart the peaceful and fruitful development of Ghana as a nation in the Commonwealth, and we greatly value the friendship of its Government and people. We responded quickly and gladly to the wish of the new Government, when General Ankrah came to power, to resume relations with us. We hope that relations between our countries will continue to be cordial and close. We are, therefore, anxious to help the Government of Ghana in the most useful ways within the limits of our capacity.

When the new Government assumed power they were faced with a formidable volume of commercial debt far beyond their immediate capacity to pay. We took the lead in the international examination of this problem, which was certainly the most immediate and acute facing Ghana. A meeting of the countries concerned was held in London on 1st and 2nd June this year after a good deal of previous discussion with the Ghanaians. The way in which the discussions were handled by the Her Majesty's Government's representatives has been publicly acknowledged by General Ankrah and we continue to take the lead in the resolution of this urgent problem.

Constant discussions are going on through diplomatic channels and we propose to convene another meeting in London in the autumn, at which we hope that a satisfactory arrangement can be made. I need not explain the urgent necessity, for the Ghanaian Government, for a reasonable settlement of this problem. We shall certainly do all we can to work for a fair and equitable arrangement. In this, we shall be making by far the most important contribution open to us at present to help the Government of Ghana with their economic problems.

In addition, we have recently announced our readiness to make available for important electricity distribution schemes £3½ million which is still undrawn from the loan which we provided towards the big Volta hydro-electric project. The use of the money is still under discussion. We also made a gift of essential drugs which, though not large in itself, met an urgent need at that time. The hon. Member is aware, in addition, and largely as a matter for my right hon. Friend the Minister of Overseas Development, of the very substantial aid which we have given under technical assistance and also towards the training needs of Ghana's Armed Forces.

I turn to the general question which the hon. Gentleman raised. A gift of military clothing and equipment to Ghana cannot be a simple transfer. This must be clearly understood if we are to appreciate what the problems have been. Even surpluses have a priced value and anything given through the Commonwealth Office would have to be paid for. It is not simply a question of giving away things which would otherwise appear in Army surplus stores; it is a question of costing everything and deciding whether this and that item should be included in the aid which is given. The position was complicated by the fact that this could not be treated as ordinary economic aid.

We considered carefully, and I can say sympathetically, the request for this form of aid, but we came to the conclusion that because of the overriding need for economy in all forms of Government expense we were unable to comply with the Ghanaian request at the time. Certainly, had there been any possibility of our doing so we should have given it a great deal more consideration. But at this point, almost a month ago, we learned that the Ghanaians were successfully covering from their own resources the greater part of these requirements, and it therefore seems that the urgency of their need is no longer as great as the hon. Gentleman suggested. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman has his own view about what our decision should have been a month ago, but it seems that there is no longer the extreme urgency that there may well have been some weeks ago.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned the case of Kwesi Armah. As he knows——

Mr. Deputy Speaker:

Order. Mr. Kwesi Armah is facing a criminal charge and I do not think that the House should entertain comments on the course of justice in this case.

Photo of Mrs Judith Hart Mrs Judith Hart , Lanark

I was about to say that the hon. Member would not wish me to comment on this case because the matter is now before the courts and, therefore, sub judice.

I assure the hon. Member that we value very highly the good will of the people and Government of Ghana and that we are certainly ready to the full extent that our resources permit to help them in restoring their affairs to a position that will make it possible for them to get ahead in their efforts to regain national prosperity. The Ghanaians appreciate what we have been able to do to help them. I certainly do not believe that it is true that there has been any damage to our relations with them by our inability to meet them on this particular request for clothing and equipment for their Army. I wish that we had been able to do so, but I believe that they understand the difficulties in which we found ourselves. They have now successfully managed to meet the problems which afflicted them on this matter at the time that the hon. Gentleman raised it.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at three minutes past Nine o'clock, a.m.