§ 2.40 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT SWINTON rose to call attention to Government plans for the production of ground-nuts and other oil seeds; and to move resolve, That in the opinion of this House it is essential that there should be an independent expert inquiry into the operations of the Overseas Food Corporation in Tanganyika with special reference to the future. The noble Viscount said: My Lords, in this tangled story of the Tanganyika experiment, as disclosure succeeds disclosure and as resignations and dismissals succeed each other, I think there is a risk of the traveller getting; lost in the bush and failing to see the wood for the trees. I hope to-day, therefore, to try to put the matter in a true and fair perspective. From time to time before the Food Corporation made its Report Mr. Strachey made a series of optimistic but I think not very informative speeches; and now Mr. Strachey has "softly and silently vanished away" having cancelled all his engagements. I hope that the First Lord, who, I understand, is to speak immediately after me, will be able to give the House the reason and purpose of this sudden and unexpected journey.
§ The circumstances, certainly, were very unusual. The new Deputy-Chairman of the Corporation had just returned from East Africa. After a short and, I am sure, deserved rest, he was looking forward to meeting the Minister and reporting on his tour. The last thing the Deputy-Chairman expected (indeed, I think he said so) was that the Minister should suddenly play Box and Cox with him and fly away as soon as the Deputy-Chairman had flown home. "Curiouser and curiouser," why did not the Minister, in this sudden flight, take with him the Chairman of the Corporation—the Chairman upon whom he relies so completely, the Chairman in whom he has such complete confidence, the Chairman in whom, as he told another place last month when refuting charges made from the Liberal Benches there, the executive staff in East Africa had assured the Minister they had equal confidence. Will the First Lord to-day in this House confirm the assertion made by the Minister in time other place that the executive staff in East Africa have that confidence in the Chairman? I think 1523 that is a fair question which demands a straight answer.
§ In any event, why did the Minister embark on this sudden Odyssey at all? There must have been some new development, some very special reason. The departure itself was very hush-hush; I understand that the place in the aircraft was taken in an assumed name. But however hush-hush the Minister's movements may have been, I think there can be no security objection to the First Lord telling your Lordships to-day why the Minister has gone. Before the Report came out we knew that the Government had spent £20,000,000 or more, and were on their way to spending another £8,000,000 or £9,000,000. In these circumstances, the Report of the Corporation was anxiously awaited and now it is in our hands. I am sure your Lordships have studied it.
The first thing we all naturally looked at in this Report was the accounts. Your Lordships will remember that the Overseas Resources Development Act, which was passed early in 1948, lays down in Section 16 that the Corporation are to keep proper accounts and that in the keeping of those accounts and their presentation the Corporation must conform to the best commercial standards. When we look at the accounts, which your Lordships will find on pages 66 and 67, we are faced with an auditors' certificate such as I think none of your Lordships could parallel in any responsible public company. May I read it to the House? The auditors, a distinguished firm, write this:
We are unable to report that, in our opinion, proper hooks of account have been kept by the Corporation and that we have obtained all the information and explanations which, to the best of our knowledge and belief, were necessary for the purpose of our audit.
In the case of any ordinary public company, under the Companies Acts, a qualification by the auditors on a balance sheet in those terms, or even in more moderate terms, would certainly cause the company to be investigated by the companies department of the Board of Trade. Is it surprising that there is to-day such a wide demand for an inquiry into this Corporation and their activities?
§ When one turns to the Report, it makes as sorry reading as does the balance sheet. Expenditure is as vast as results are meagre. I observe that Mr. 1524 Strachey in a recent speech—I think not in another place but on a public platform—sought to draw the parallel of the Welsh Steel Company. He said, in effect: "How unfair and unreasonable it would be if this great steel company had spent millions of pounds in erecting a great plant and no steel was as yet forthcoming! You would not blame it." Surely that analogy is hardly accurate. If that steel company had built its works in the wrong place, and if it had ordered the wrong sort of plant, then I think the shareholders of the company would have been rightly critical, and probably the chairman would have got the sack. The Minister seeks to excuse this rushed expenditure on so vast a scale because he said he had to get ground-nuts quickly; but he has not done so. There are no ground-nuts—or hardly any. It is very important, as I said, that we should see this matter in its true perspective. The Tanganyika venture must be justified, not as a short-term but as a long-term enterprise—or not at all. For that long-term enterprise, proper surveys and trials were essential. For a short-term plan of quick production, Tanganyika was a bad bet and an unnecessary gamble. If quick extra production was needed, the obvious place to go to was Northern Nigeria. I speak now in the presence of perhaps the greatest Governor that Nigeria has ever had. I shall be most interested to hear—I have had no consultation with him—whether the noble Lord, Lord Milverton, agrees with what I am going to say. No one could speak with higher authority.
§ Nigeria and French Senegal have always been the great producers of ground-nuts in Africa. The soil is right. There is a large population accustomed to growing hundreds of thousands of tons of ground-nuts as a peasant crop. In Nigeria there is an admirable railway running up to Kano and running out from Kano through Katsina right up to Sokoto which serves the whole groundnut area. At the end of the railway there are admirable port facilities. There are none in Tanganyika. The port of Lagos, with its deep-water quays, its great cranes, and its large up-to-date port facilities, could take any increase in its stride. That was the place to go for a quick, increased production. I venture to say that £1,000,000 or less spent on artificial manures would have greatly 1525 increased the production in Northern Nigeria on the existing farms. These farmers are skilled people. They are well accustomed to the use of manure. In the city of Kano itself, the whole of the sewage is treated and bagged, and these little farmers of the Kano province vie with one another to buy this manure and put it on their soil. They would have welcomed the chance of using artificials.
§ Then there is the French Niger Colony adjoining. That exports through Kano 30,000 or even 40,000 tons, all of which comes down as a matter of course to the Kano rail-head. I have no doubt that that could have been expanded too. If further production were needed, you have only to pass across into the adjoining Province of Bornu, an orchard bush country where clearance would be relatively easy. It is a cattle country where there is food for the people, which is free from the tsetse fly and where it would have been the easiest thing in the world, if it were necessary, to construct a spur line from the Kano railhead. But I do not believe you would have needed that; the roads would have been sufficient. During the last war, when I was the responsible Minister out there, we carried on those roads vast quantities of petrol much longer distances right on to Maidougari, to the great airfield at Maidougari in the eastern corner. It was petrol which serviced thousands and thousands of aeroplanes every month. Instead of going into Nigeria and intensifying production in Nigeria, where the people would have been only too anxious to help, large accumulations of groundnuts were left on the ground because the rolling stock had not been ordered in time. What a glaring example that is of the lack of co-ordination between the Colonial Office and the Ministry of Food! I go further and say: What a glaring example of the subordination of the Colonial Office to the Ministry of Food in the Colonial Office's own territories!
Here for one moment I must pause to deal with the rather odd intervention of Dr. Dalton in this controversy. My Lords, naturally extravagance on this vast scale struck a sympathetic chord in the doctor's breast and so he generously entered the fray. At Darlington on November 20 last, he is reported to have said:
The Tories have talked of vast pyramids of ground-nuts lying idle in West Africa.
He says that the reason for that was the, of the British iron and steel industry to provide steel for railways and rolling stock for the transport of groundnuts. I think Mr. Strachey (himself, I fancy, a scholar of Eton) must have exclaimed "non tali auxilio." Of course, Dr. Dalton's explanation was as untrue as it was extravagant. Everybody knows that the steel industry has exceeded every target set by the Government. The only reason why the rolling stock was not there was because the Government failed to order the engines and rolling stock which they knew were necessary in 1945. I think Lord Milverton was still Governor at the time the Nigerian Railways had tabled their detailed requirements in 1945. It would have been the easiest thing in the world to have given the orders on a priority basis. The amount of steel, of course, was relatively very small. Here was the short-term solution ready to hand. We should have been continuing the wartime effort. Millions of people in Nigeria—Emirs, chiefs, peasant farmers—only waited the call and the encouragement. There was, therefore, no need to rush the Tanganyika project and, by so doing, to prejudice the proved experience in Nigeria. Nor is there any excuse for the reckless and wasteful expenditure which has taken place.
My Lords, the Report itself, the apologia of the Corporation, shows on almost every page how costly and disastrous has been this lack of preliminary surveys and proper pilot experiments in clearing the land, and growing and harvesting ground-nuts. Let me take but a few examples, although one can multiply them from almost every page. In paragraph 34, the Corporation, through the Chairman, say that the ground proved unexpectedly untractable. Then I call your Lordships' attention to these words:
Unfortunately, the roots of the Kongwa thorn proved unduly obstinate.
My Lords, what a revealing statement! Then a few paragraphs further on, in paragraph 73, we find this:
Through abrasiveness of the soil in dry weather, the wear on machines was very rapid.
Then in paragraph 76, we find that the cost of clearing was ten times the original
estimate. I must refer your Lordships to paragraph 76, which says:
The original White Paper estimate of the cost of clearing per acre was £3 17s. 4d.; in the first year, the comparable cost of clearing an acre was calculated as being ten times this figure. Much of the difference was due to the tasks proving more difficult than was anticipated. Other reasons for the disparity were the lack of experience in African bush clearing.
Why were you not conducting a pilot experiment before you spent twenty million pounds? I quote further:
The unserviceable condition of the heavy tractors.
Tractors not tried out. No repair shops were established to repair them. The Report goes on:
The lack of proper equipment to deal with the peculiar root system at Kongwa.
Why did you not investigate it to find out whether it was peculiar or ordinary? It goes on:
Windrowing flattened bush when green and so bulldozing an excessive quantity of soil into the windrows, and root ripping in the height of the dry season, with resultant wear and tear on moving parts.
These were difficulties which were, of course, going to be encountered. The charge here to-day is: Why did you spend £30,000,000 in going into this unknown country, when you ought to have proved these difficulties and found out whether it was an economic proposition, and whether you had an answer to these things or not?
§ Then one finds one more quotation in Paragraph 63, where it says that the majority of the Valencia nuts remained in the ground and could be harvested only by hand gleaning. There have been people who say that unless the soil is light and sandy—and this soil when it cakes is as hard as a billiard table—the only effective way of growing ground-nuts economically is as a cottage crop. I do not know about that, but the experiment should have been made; it should have been proved before these millions and millions of the taxpayers' money were poured out. But all this vast expenditure was undertaken before any of these necessary experiments were made. No proper water surveys were made before the settlements were sited and largely built. If your Lordships look at paragraph 186 you will see that even to-day, in spite of pipelines and a costly tanker service, the 1528 Kongwa township is restricted for water to nine hours a day. It has been alleged—and I ask the noble Viscount if it is true—that the carriage of water to Kongwa is costing sixpence a gallon.
§ Then there is the extraordinary story of the sawmill in the southern area. Is it not a fact that a second sawmill (there was already one there) was erected at a cost of £250,000, in an area in which the Tanganyika Forestry Service had decided long, before that the timber was not worth exploiting? Is it not a fact that if that sawmill worked to capacity the timber would be exhausted within two years? But as a final excuse for it, it is said that it is so valuable because the sawmill—which certainly need not have been on that scale; I understand it is running only one day a week—will cut timber for the construction of the local township. I ask this question: Does even that excuse hold good to-day? Is it or is it not the fact that, because it is unsuitable for lack of water or some other reason, in all probability the site is going to be changed and that the southern headquarters may be twenty or thirty miles away? If so, that argument no longer holds. May I put a question about the contractors? The expenditure on contractors seems to be very lavish. Is it true that all these contractors are on a time-and-line, or cost-plus, basis, so that the higher the cost, the larger the profit?
§ My Lords, Kongwa, where all this money has been spent, is now to be limited to 90,000 acres. You will find that stated in paragraph 143 of the Report. The contractors are being given notice to discontinue. We are to concentrate in the southern province, and we are told—I daresay the decision was quite a right one—that this is the result of experience at Kongwa. I have tried to see how dearly that experience has been bought, what these 90,000 acres at Kongwa have cost so far. The Schedules on pages 70 to 74 of the Report give part of the cost. If you take buildings, land clearing and agricultural equipment, vehicles, plant, machinery and stocks attributed in the Report to Kongwa, these alone total no less than £3,600,000. But that is not all. To this must be added some part—and I ask the noble Viscount if it is not a major part—of the figure of £9,000,000 which appears in the balance sheet for development and land clearance. These figures are figures of the cost for 1529 Kongwa to only the date of the Report—last March—when the whole of the 90,000 acres had not been cleared. Since then further large expenditure has been and will be incurred, in order to get the full area of 90,000 acres.
§ When this expenditure was undertaken at Kongwa, there must have been some estimate of what the Kongwa acreage would be. No one in their senses—and I would almost say no one out of their senses either—would have dreamt of anything like that expenditure of millions and millions of pounds to get 90,000 acres. What was the acreage which the Corporation envisaged for this vast expenditure? They must know, and we are entitled to know also. Will the Government tell me this? How much has been spent at Kongwa, the only asset for which is the 90,000 acres? However defective the accounting system may be, the Government must know approximately how much they have spent on Kongwa. I ask that we should know it too. And do we even yet know that Kongwa can produce ground-nuts commercially? Is it or is it not true that this Kongwa area may have to be wholly or mainly pastoral?
§ To sum up, let me compare the figures of the prospectus with the performance (not accomplished, for nothing like this has been accomplished) which is now hoped for—what I might call the substitute prospectus. According to the original prospectus, expenditure of £24,000,000 or £25,000,000 would give 3,000,000 acres to 3,250,000 acres of cleared land. That is in the Blue Book. Now it is hoped that an expenditure of £50,000,000 will give 600,000 acres of cleared land; in other words, one-fifth the acreage at double the capital cost. I wonder what would be said of a private company which had such a record. Mr. Strachey talks about reconstruction as if it were a normal thing every company ought to go through. I thought this was a new model. What would be said of any private enterprise which had to come to its shareholders and say: "We must give you a new prospectus—one-fifth of what we promised or hoped for, or led you to expect, at twice the capital cost"? Even if 600,000 acres are won at this cost in clearance and capital works of all kinds, what guarantee is there that ground-nuts can be grown commercially?1530
§ I particularly ask the attention of the Government to these propositions. I do not put them forward without having taken very expert advice. I challenge the Government to deny these propositions, which go to the root of the matter and are the acid tests. I want the opinion of the agricultural experts known on this matter. My propositions are these. The first is that you do not really know to-day in any of these areas what you can grow commercially or on what scale. My second preposition is that you do not know yet whether you can cultivate this land economically by mechanical means to grow ground-nuts. My third proposition is that you do not know whether, if you can grow ground-nuts, you can harvest them effectively on these soils by mechanical means. These are fundamental questions questions which the pilot experiments should have answered before millions of pounds were spent.
It so happens, that I have just seen in to-day's issue of The Times a letter from Mr. Rosa, which no doubt many of your Lordships have read and which entirely confirms the propositions which I have just put. Let me read one extract from that letter:
Large-scale operations carried out at speed are doomed to costly failure, as past experience has shown, and for the same reasons as in the past."—
I invite particular attention to this—
that the answers are not yet known to the two vital questions of how to clear bush cheaply and quickly and how to make these large-scale agricultural operations economic.
Now we are asked to rush ahead. Nearly £30,000,000 has been spent, a further £20,000,000 is being drawn on. Was there ever a case on the proved facts where there is greater need for preliminary effective pilot experiments before we engage in more large-scale expenditure? Was there ever a case where there is greater need for an expert, impartial inquiry as to what the real situation is today, and what we should do in the future? It seems to me quite extraordinary that the Government do not welcome this inquiry. Mr. Strachey says that he has confidence in the reconstituted Board and the Chairman. After what has happened, I think he must be about the only man who has. And what confidence can we have in Mr. Strachey?
It may be thought that I am a prejudiced critic, but I do not think that any spokesman of the Government will challenge the premises which I have advanced to-day and upon which my argument is based. Let me quote a critic who is certainly not biased against the Government, one of great repute whom they have often cited in this House in their own defence. I quote an article from The Economist for November 26. In it these words occur:
Mr. Strachey permits the independent observer to draw only one conclusion, namely, that he would rather cling to office even if it means performing every doubtful mental antic that a highly educated intellectual can devise, and stooping to the ignoble policy of shuffling blame on to subordinates.
§ It is said, finally, that an inquiry would undermine the morale of the men on the spot. I assert that it would do nothing of the sort. I believe those men would welcome it. Their morale has been sorely tried by the way they have been treated. I am full of admiration and sympathy for these front-line troops. But, I ask, should they ever have been engaged in this particular offensive—this Passchendaele offensive? Certainly they should not have been sent "over the top" without preliminary reconnaissance and with inadequate equipment. Their advice and representations have been ignored. They have been dragooned into silence. Therefore we ask to-day for an impartial expert inquiry. That inquiry would have to deal with the past in so far as it affects the present and the future, but what is vitally urgent to-day is an expert inquiry which by the quality of its personnel and its independence will command confidence, and which should report what the real prospects are and what we can do in future to rescue this ill-starred enterprise. I beg to move.
§ Moved to resolve, That in the opinion of this House it is essential that there should be an independent expert inquiry into the operations of the Overseas Food Corporation in Tanganyika with special reference to the future.—(Viscount Swinton.)
§ 3.11 p.m.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE ADMIRALTY (VISCOUNT HALL)
My Lords, I certainly cannot complain about the approach of the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, to this question in his speech 1532 this afternoon. I rather expected a demand for heads on a charger, as has been the usual practice of members of your Lordships' House on the opposite Benches, and of members of the Opposition in another place, and I am pleased that we can approach this important matter in a spirit different from that which I had expected. I have felt for some time that many of the points raised in your Lordships' House, and in another place, have seemed more like pre-Election movements than serious attempts to deal with the issues before the House.
Before dealing with the points which have been raised by the noble Viscount, I would like to state my personal interest in this scheme. As noble Lords will remember, I held the office of Secretary of State for the Colonies at the time when Mr. Samuel, managing director of the United Africa Company, had the original conception of the scheme. He brought it to the notice of the Minister of Food and myself. I thought at that time, and I still think, that it was a fine and far-reaching conception, worthy of further closer examination. Mr. Samuel was not prompted by any member of the Government to go to Tanganyika, or to submit a scheme at all. But he did, and it was thought worthy of examination. The proposals were worked out and submitted to His Majesty's Government, who agreed with the recommendation, and the Wakefield Mission were appointed to make the necessary inquiries.
In face of the speech of the noble Viscount, I think it is necessary to give a little of the history of this scheme. One would imagine from the remarks which fell from his lips that no preparation was made. I would that he and your Lordships' House would understand the circumstances of the situation. There was a great shortage of fats. In this country alone, apart from the other countries of the world, the shortage in 1945–46 was equivalent to 1,250,000 tons of nuts. Indeed, in a speech which he made on the Second Reading of the Overseas Resources Development Bill the noble Lord, Lord Milverton, said the scarcity of fats amounted to the equivalent of 4,000,000 tons. It was under circumstances such as these that His Majesty's Government considered the scheme, after it had been inquired into by the Wakefield Mission. That Mission was made up of 1533 men who had great experience in Africa. Mr. Wakefield himself had spent sixteen years of his life in Tanganyika, dealing with agricultural problems. Mr. Martin was the plantations director of the United Africa Company. Mr. Rosa, a person to whom reference has been made by the noble Viscount, was a Colonial servant, and a very good one. These three men were sent out to Africa, and they brought back a report which far exceeded the report originally submitted by Mr. Samuel. In his report Mr. Samuel estimated that something like 2,500,000 acres of land in Tanganyika could be used for the purpose of growing ground-nuts. The report submitted by the Wakefield Mission suggested that 3,250,000 acres of land in Tanganyika could be used for growing ground-nuts.
As the Government were not entirely satisfied with the findings and the recommendations of the Wakefield Mission, the report was submitted to the Colonial Economic Advisory Committee, a committee of distinguished persons who had considerable experience in industry. Its members included Sir Frank Stockdale, now the late Sir Frank Stockdale, a distinguished Colonial agriculturist—indeed, I do not think that any better Colonial agriculturist lived in his day. The Advisory Committee strongly advised that the recommendation of the Wakefield Mission should be adopted—it is true that they warned of certain difficulties that might arise—and after discussion the Government accepted their advice, though being themselves of the opinion that the scheme would probably have to be revised because of difficulties which were likely to arise. In circumstances such as these, the Government took a risk; but it was a risk that any Government would have taken. Not only did the Government take that risk, but the whole scheme was submitted to Parliament. Parliament accepted that the recommendation should be worked out and operated, that a public corporation should be set up—as was in fact done—and not a single person in your Lordships' House or in another place raised any objection to the scheme. The noble Viscount himself on two occasions during the course of one of his speeches said that he wished this scheme every success. I want to be fair to him: he did say that he doubted how soon nuts would be produced, and I think 1534 he said that a nut in the basket was better than a nut in Africa, or something of that kind. The noble Lord, Lord Milverton, in an excellent speech—I think it was his maiden speech—took no exception at all to the scheme. Indeed, the basis of the scheme itself was that Tanganyika was to be the Colony where this scheme should be tried out.
It has been said that everything was rushed. It is true that His Majesty's Government felt there was some urgency about commencing the plan and putting it into operation. What did His Majesty's Government do? I think they did the right thing. They did not wait for the Corporation to be set up, but asked the United Africa Company whether they would act as managing agents. The "United Africa" is a name to be conjured with in Africa; it is an organisation which has done an enormous amount of work. It cannot be said that that company has had no experience in dealing with the agricultural problems there—not so much on the productive side, it is true, but on the buying and sales side. For sixteen months this company undertook the responsibility. The Corporation did not come into existence until twelve or fifteen months afterwards. So, for the first year or fifteen months, it was the United Africa Company, the managing agents of the Government, who undertook the responsibility of dealing with the initial problems. I am not going to lay any blame at the door of the United Africa Company. They were faced with a very difficult job. Here were miles and miles of bush—I think it may be said, thousands of square miles. They went into Tanganyika (not that they did not know Tanganyika and the soil) and went, of course, to the Governor. Certain sites were suggested, and the Governor—again, I have no doubt, advised by his agricultural adviser—seleted this site of Kongwa.
I am not going to refer at great length to what happened during the course of that sixteen months. The noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, referred to the cost-plus basis of contractors' prices. I had quite a lot to do with the cost-plus question during the period of the war, and I know what it means. I do not know whether any other system could have been adopted in the early stages of the scheme for the clearing of the, bush. It is true that the managing agency had to collect 1535 a considerable amount of material. They had their organisation not only in Africa but in other parts of the world, and there was a considerable amount of surplus war material which became available at the time. The result was that they were able to collect a considerable amount of machinery, some of which was good and some not so good. The noble Lord, Lord Milverton, referred to a battleship scraper the other day. I made inquiries about that, because I wondered how it got there. The secret of it was that it was in a dump which was purchased. Everything in the dump had to be taken, and that was included as part of the bargain.
There were the difficulties. I thought the noble Viscount was a little hard upon the Corporation, because the Corporation has been in existence for only about twenty months.
§ VISCOUNT SWINTON
Is it not a fact that, though the Corporation took over in February, 1948 (I think it was), the chairman-designate, and the General who is now the chief executive on the spot—I forget his name—went out in the autumn of 1947?
§ VISCOUNT HALL
That may be so, and I have no doubt that they had consultations. But they did not undertake the responsibility. The responsibility of the managing agency was handed over on February 29, 1948. Until that time the responsibility was with the managing agency.
§ VISCOUNT HALL
And the Minister. But I dare say the Minister left the matter very largely to the men on the spot. The question has arisen as to why Nigeria was not chosen—I certainly know the value of the ground-nut crop there.
§ VISCOUNT SWINTON
I do not want to interrupt the noble Viscount unnecessarily, but I want him to deal with the proposition which I put, and not the one he is putting. What I said was that Nigeria should have been used for quick development, to get ground-nuts quickly, while the pilot experiments were being carried out in Tanganyika.
§ VISCOUNT HALL
I was going to attempt to answer the case. I do not want the noble Viscount to come across to this side and answer his own case, as it appears he would like to do. Take the position in Nigeria. Tanganyika has a population of 6,000,000 people, and Nigeria a population of 20,000,000 to 22,000,000. No large-scale experiment could be tried—indeed, no large-scale experiment was submitted from Nigeria, not even under the Colonial Welfare and Development Act. If Nigeria could produce additional ground-nuts to those which she was producing, then it was for Nigerian Government to make the approach to His Majesty's Government. When I was at the Colonial Office I sent a request to Nigeria, in common with other African territories, begging of them to produce as much of the necessary fats for export purposes as it was possible to produce. Nigeria did respond to that, but there was no suggestion—I know the limitation of the railway, and the difficulty about locomotives—that assistance anything like the scale of this scheme, or indeed any assistance under the Colonial Welfare and Development Act, should be given to her.
I am not complaining. Nigeria has made a magnificent contribution to the ground-nut problem, and even at the present time is sending something like 350,000 tons of nuts. We wanted nuts from whatever part of the world we could get them. A very large proportion of our imports came from India. For the seven years from 1938 to 1945, the average imports of ground-nuts from India amounted to no less than 518,000 tons: in 1947 it was 12,000 tons and this year it is less than 1,000 tons. That is an indication of the seriousness of the position, and wherever ground-nuts could have been grown, provided there were the necessary facilities to bring them down to the port, then every effort should have been made in the territories to grow ground-nuts.
The noble Viscount dealt with the estimated cost of clearing the bush. As he said, it is true that the actual cost of clearing the bush is something like ten times that of the estimate. But who gave the estimate? The estimate was prepared by the Mission. I think most people, 1537 particularly agriculturists in our own country, were rather surprised at the very low estimate. I am not speaking as an agriculturist, but I doubt very much whether land in this country from which trees have been removed could be cleared, with even the most modern equipment, at anything like £3 17s. 0d. an acre. It is true that the price was about £30 an acre, but it has been reduced from £30 to about £14 an acre, and it is hoped that the cost will come below even that figure. The noble Viscount also asked me about the sawmill. I have made some inquiries about that, but I am afraid that I am not yet in a position to give him a reply. There is some difference between the figures which he mentioned and the figures that I have been given, but the difference is so marked that we have asked the Minister of Food, whilst he is out in Africa, to furnish us with accurate information, both with regard to the site and with regard to the cost of this saw mill.
The noble Viscount then referred to the possible abandonment of Kongwa, and asked why the headquarters were placed there. The noble Viscount is quite right in saying that, so far as Kongwa and the other northern site is concerned, they will each be limited for the time being to something like 90,000 acres of crop area. In the southern region it is hoped that by next year we shall have nearly 100,000 acres under crop.
§ VISCOUNT HALL
Ground-nuts and sunflowers—it will be a rotation crop—and possibly a certain amount of maize.
§ VISCOUNT HALL
I am afraid the noble Viscount "has me beat" there. I could not say whether it is a two or a three years' rotation, but it is now deemed necessary to have this rotation of crops, and it is to be carried out on all these cleared lands. It will mean that by 1953 there will be 400,000 acres cleared in the southern area, 100,000 acres in Kongwa and 100,000 acres in Urambo. At that time there will be a thorough examination of the situation.
1538 The noble Viscount dealt with the accounts. One is bound to admit, when one reads the Report, that the auditors' certificate is very disconcerting. I do not know that it is a subject for hilarity.
§ VISCOUNT HALL
But it was an example which, unfortunately, was followed by what was regarded as a very efficient company. The managing agents said that the Corporation took over a situation which gave rise to a considerable amount of concern, and I think that, on the whole, a year was scarcely sufficient time to clear up the muddle which existed when the Corporation took over. Now, whatever the views held by noble Lords opposite, I believe it can be said that the Chairman of the Corporation, Sir Leslie Plummer, with the Corporation and the staff, have done a fine job. His drive and enthusiasm, with the assistance of his colleagues, have carried the scheme forward. They have had a very difficult task. A thought should be given to the conditions under which the Corporation took over twenty months ago. They inherited a legacy from the managing agency which carried a heavy responsibility. I cannot at this stage go into the rights and wrongs of whether the previous mistakes and muddle could have been avoided. There is no doubt that the managing agents had a difficult task, but it remains true that they handed over the work to the Corporation with many of the worst problems unsolved and with a very inadequate accounting system.
I am not going to deal with the accounts, because the balance sheet has made them quite clear. The noble Viscount, I know, intends to press this point and he has pressed very strongly for an inquiry. But what does he hope to gain by an inquiry? And what form is the inquiry to take? Es it to investigate what has happened in the past? If so, all the information on that matter is contained in the Report, including (on page 75), a very frank letter written by Mr. Webster, a director of the United Africa Company, giving his view of the situation. If the noble Viscount wants an inquiry to deal with the future, my right honourable friend in another place has explained the programme of the Corporation; and the 1539 Corporation intend to carry out that programme. So far as accounts are concerned, when this matter was debated in another place the Minister of Food said that if there were any need for a further inquiry into the accounts the Public Accounts Committee, which is a very competent Committee, is fully empowered to examine the accounts and to send for persons and papers. I understand that this Committee have already commenced an examination. No, my Lords, we have no need for an inquiry, and His Majesty's Government have no intention of setting one up. The project has not gone according to plan. It has had to pause in order further to examine the situation. I am sure there is no one who would wish that this great project would come to an end just because it has run into difficulties. This has been described as a pioneering venture. What that means is that the best way of doing things must be learned from experience. There is no one who knows anything like as much of the work that is going on in Tanganyika as the people who are working there. What a futile business it would be to ask the experts to undergo an inquiry by people who must inevitably be far less versed in the difficult jobs which they are carrying out in East Africa! An inquiry would have the most unsettling effect on the men who are doing the job, and doing it remarkably well.
His Majesty's Government have reaffirmed their belief in the scheme and have strengthened the hand of the Corporation's Chairman, in whom they have the fullest confidence. The appointment of Sir Eric Coates, who is highly efficient and has a fine record of public service, and Sir Donald Perrott, who is also well known, has strengthened the Board. Our concern now is to restore that confidence in the scheme which has been shared by nearly all of those who have been connected with it from the start, and which has, unfortunately, often been weakened by so much political and ill-informed criticism. For it is a fact that these repeated political attacks on the carrying out of a project which carries the support of all Parties have made difficult the successful development of the enterprise. There was no disagreement with the ideas and ideals of this scheme, and it ill befits noble Lords opposite to carry out this campaign because those 1540 who have undertaken the difficult task of initiating this project have run into difficulties.
The noble Viscount asked me about the Minister's visit. He thought there was something mysterious about it. There is nothing at all mysterious about it. It was felt by Mr. Strachey that a visit from him would be very timely—
§ VISCOUNT HALL
Some time before Saturday. The reason for the visit was, I think, obvious. All these comments and hostile statements are calculated to cause misgiving among the people out there who are doing the job under exceedingly difficult circumstances. The Minister has thought it right to go out to East Africa to reassure the staff there that the Government are determined to carry on with the scheme on the lines announced in another place on November 21, and which I confirm to-day. I am glad to say that the latest telegram which has been received from him is very reassuring as to the staff and their morale.
There is one point which I have been asked to make clear. It is a point which the noble Viscount mentioned, and I hope your Lordships will bear with me while I deal with it. The Minister of Food has asked me to submit the matter to your Lordships so that it can be cleared up. On November 21 the Minister of Food said in another place that on his visit to Africa last June he had been careful to interview privately and alone the senior members of the executive, and to ask them their opinion and attitude, and that their replies had not borne out the allegations made by the Opposition speakers that there was a general lack of confidence in the Chairman and in the leadership of the Corporation. The Minister realises that people outside Parliament and in East Africa might have read this statement as an assertion that he had solicited a positive expression of confidence in the Board and the Chairman of the staff in East Africa. This was certainly not what the Minister wished to convey. He would not, of course, have put a direct question to the staff in the form "Have you confidence in the Board and Chairman of the Corporation?" It would have been quite wrong for him to do that, and I do not suppose there was any misconception in another place on this point. If 1541 there has been a misunderstanding, the Minister regrets it and will certainly be prepared to make his statement more precise. His object was to ascertain the general condition of the morale of the organisation, and he took a full note of a meeting with the executives and the Chairman collectively in which Professor Phillips expressed himself along the following lines. Although there had been a period of strain, things were settling down considerably. The men were realising that the management were not rushing ahead regardless. They were trying to think and plan. Previously people were sceptical about statements which had been made by the management. In the Southern Province people felt that the sound planning was going ahead. At Urambo the spirit was excellent—it had always been good there. There had been a general improvement at Kongwa. As the management settled down to plan with a clear consistency of purpose, morale would continue to improve. The management were agreed that it was works and works alone which made morale. He thought that if the Minister could make a definite statement about continuity of employment, the improvement in morale over recent months would continue steadily. Mr. Raby expressed views which are similar to those which were expressed by Professor Phillips.
It is too early to say whether, even by 1954, some capital reconstruction will have to take place. The Minister of Food has rightly pointed out that if the scheme is to pay it will depend upon the price of ground-nuts and other crops which will be grown in Tanganyika. I believe the cost of ground-nuts is higher to-day than it ever was it is up to an average of about £50 a ton—about £20 a ton higher than it was in 1946. The Corporation are determined to make this scheme efficient, but the fact is that we need more food, and even if it turned out that we had to subsidise the agricultural land in Tanganyika, this in itself would surely not make the project wrong. Would it be any different from the policy of subsidising our own home agricultural products? I feel that noble Lords will have no doubt about the rightness of that policy. As I said earlier on, I regard the Tanganyika scheme as a fine and far-sighted conception.
1542 The scheme will not only bring benefits to this country; it will bring untold benefits to the lives of the Africans and through them to the whole world, which will be the richer from their higher standard of living. I have seen questions asking whether the money which has been spent in East Africa on the ground-nuts scheme is going to be spent in the way best calculated to help the native population. I can say emphatically "Yes." This scheme will provide what the people of all nations need most. It will also provide for the Africans a means to help themselves to a better standard of life, where they will not have to see their children suffer starvation and disease, where they can learn to produce their physical needs with implements suited to the conditions, and where they will learn slowly but surely the happiness which comes from getting things, not by receiving good at the hands of others, but by exerting themselves. The contribution that this country is making will give the Africans a start in the right direction. Let them benefit by the use of our experience in mechanisation and organisation. It is a fine conception that, by helping the Africans in this way, we help ourselves and the other people of the world.
§ LORD HAILEY
My Lords, may I ask one question of the Minister? When he referred to £50 a ton as the price of ground-nuts, was he referring to some local price in Tanganyika, or to a world price or to the price we pay in England? Because my information is very different.
§ VISCOUNT HALL
Yes. It is the average. It varies between two different levels, but the average is about £50 a ton.
§ 3.55 p.m.
§ LORD MILVERTON
My Lords, I had no intention of dealing with Nigeria this afternoon because I had hoped to put forward—and I still intend to—a rather different point of view. This will take up all the time that I can reasonably 1543 allot to myself in this discussion. But as I have been referred to, and as I am able to say definitely from personal experience what might happen and what did happen in Nigeria, I will begin by saying that I fully and entirely endorse everything that was said by the noble mover of the Motion on that subject, as to the potentialities and the failure to make use of Nigeria. I cannot help feeling—I am sorry to introduce that note into this debate—that although the noble Viscount, Lord Hall, talked a great deal about the welfare of the African and the shortage of fats in the world, those considerations are irrelevant to our debate this afternoon. I do not propose to argue the question of the welfare of the Africans. I think we are all in favour of doing what we can for them. The question with which we have to deal is whether this particular experiment in producing fats on a big scale has or has not been properly handled.
Before I pass to that, may I say that it is a matter of common scientific knowledge that, had the British Government, who surely are the source from which that suggestion should have originated, chosen in their need of fats, to spend £1,000,000 on superphosphates for Nigeria, that would have increased the crop by 15 per cent., which on a simple calculation would have meant an increase of 50,000 tons of ground-nuts per annum. As regards Mr. Dalton's false statement (I have no hesitation in describing that quite bluntly as a false statement), when he blamed the iron and steel industry for the failure of the Nigerian railways to remove the nuts, I happened to be there at the time, and I know that the reason was that we could not get the Ministries in London to take any notice of our requirements. I can remember that, simultaneously with the Ministry concerned in London mislaying our indent for a certain number of locomotive spares—for we had sixty locomotives out of action for want of spares (our indent was mislaid in London, not by the Colonial Office but by the Ministry concerned)—I received a message saying that the Prime Minister himself was taking a personal interest and that I must expedite the export of ground-nuts. My reply was that I could not repair the engines with the good wishes of the Prime Minister, and that if I could have only some of the 1544 locomotive spares which one or more authorities of that magnitude could have produced, the matter would have been solved.
May I pass now to deal with the question as I wish to deal with it? I do not wish to say what might have been done in Nigeria. I do not wish to say whether or not the Corporation are a competent body. It is not for me to make those criticisms. I wish to deal with the responsibility of the Minister, which I think is the key point in this matter. I picked up my paper this morning and I saw that according to the The Times correspondent, Mr. Strachey had made a statement in Nairobi that he had gone out there in order to improve the morale of all classes of employees of the Corporation. I should have thought that anything more calculated to have the reverse effect than a visit from Mr. Strachey could not be imagined. I should have thought that by staying in London and announcing either his own resignation or that the Government had decided to take the management of this scheme out of his hands and place it in more competent hands, he would have done far more to stimulate morale. No doubt the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, sitting opposite will try to reprove me for lack of Liberal principles.
§ LORD MILVERTON
Doubtless the noble Lord is a very good judge of that.
But may I digress for a moment, to speak of Mr. John Morley, whose Liberalism I suppose is beyond question. In speaking to President Theodore Roosevelt on one occasion, Mr. John Morley said:To think that I left literature, where there is nothing but the first rate, for politics, where there is nothing but the second best"—or, shall we say, allowing for devaluation, third rate. That will be the tenor of my remarks this afternoon. However much you may get away with third-rate management in politics you cannot run a big business with third-rate management. It is bound to eventuate in the disaster which has occurred in East Africa. Whatever one's views about the wisdom of our ever having embarked on this scheme or about the way in which it has been conducted, we are now irrevocably committed, and we must do all we 1545 can to ensure its success. But can anyone, least of all the men on the job, have any faith in a scheme, whatever may be the intention of its originators, which has been conducted not as a project for the rapid production of vegetable oils, not even as a piece of general Colonial development, but primarily as a stunt for the glorification of the Minister and the Government? In such circumstances, what chance had the Corporation, or the managing agency before them, to carry out successfully what the country believed to be their task? The failure to realise the Minister's promises and forecasts is surely less a criticism of them than of the flamboyance in the beginning of the ministerial promises!
In the face of this failure the Minister discovered that he had lost confidence in two members of the board of the Corporation. One of the dismissed men, Mr. Wakefield, has publicly stated his case. His statements, which have so far not been denied by the Minister or the Corporation, would suggest that his technical advice, which was presumably the cause of the Minister's lack of confidence, was not so much technically unsound as politically unpalatable. The other dismissed man, Mr. Rosa, has evidently decided not to make public at any rate his defence, which is perhaps hardly necessary since his defence is implicit in the contradictory remarks of the Government's own spokesmen. Speaking in another place, the Minister implied that he had no confidence in Mr. Rosa's ability to clean up the financial and accounting mess, which was presumably the reason for his dismissal. Yet in winding up the same debate, the Government's other spokesman was at some pains to explain that, thanks to the inspiration of the Corporation's Chairman, there was in fact no financial or accounting mess at all. At this point may I ask the Government with all the emphasis at my command, why accounts were not kept? I do not think we have had an adequate answer to that. In my long and considerable experience of spending public money I have never known anything like such recklessness as has been condoned by the Minister of Food.
May I cite one or two more examples? Speaking in another place, the Minister stated that the Corporation inherited from the managing agency a clearing target for 1546 the 1949 planting season of 82,000 acres, which the Corporation thought was too ambitious and brought down to 50,000 acres, a figure which turned out to be within 1,000 acres of the acreage actually cleared. Mr. Wakefield's statements to the Press, which have lever been contradicted, show that the Corporation in fact set themselves a much higher target than 82,000 acres but progressively reduced that target until, at the end of the clearing season, when it was no longer possible to clear any more, 50,000 acres was accepted not as a target but al a fait accompli. There is nothing particularly discreditable to the Corporation in having cleared no more than 49,000 acres in time for the 1949 planting season. But why then attribute to the Corporation a prescience which they did not possess and to which they lay no claim whatever in paragraph 72 of the Annual Repot, where reference is made to this clearing target of 82,000 acres? The Corporation make no reference to having proceeded to reduce the target to 50,000 acres. Why then must the Minister introduce all these unnecessary and quite misleading frills?
Again, when referring to the 49,000 acres which were cleared in the 1949 season, why did the Minister omit to make the very material point that a large part of that acreage (some 23,000 acres, I am informed) required no clearing at all, because there was no bust there? I imagine he felt that the solid achievement which he was describing would then have appeared not quite so solid. Later on in the same speech, the Minister claimed that the Corporation had succeeded in the first year in reducing the cost of clearing from £30 per acre to approximately £14. Where did he get these figures; and how did he get them? I personally do not understand what they can mean. Nowhere in the Corporation's Report can I find these figures mentioned; nor am I surprised at that, for it is claimed that it was not possible to introduce proper cost accounting during that year. Without proper costing how can figures of this kind be obtained? Surely even the Minister would not make so positive a statement on so unrepresentative a basis as mere sample costings or experiments.
Again, if these figures mean anything, they presumably mean the over-all cost of clearing; otherwise, if he wished to be honest, the Minister would have had to 1547 qualify them in some way. Yet I find it hard to believe that the Corporation, which make no such claim, could have reduced to £14 per acre their over-all cost of clearing—by which I mean the direct cost-plus, adequate provision for repair and maintenance, overheads, depreciation and idle time. If one relates this figure of £14 to the tractor performance figures given in paragraph 81 of the Corporation's Report, it will be found that the operating cost works out at 52s. per tractor hour. Is it likely that heavy tractors, many of them past their prime, can be operated at an over-all rate of 52s. per tractor hour when they are engaged on exacting work of this nature which causes such high tractor mortality, and in a region where the Corporation themselves have to provide all the necessary and very costly repair, maintenance and supporting services? Perhaps the Corporation have discovered not only a new way of clearing bush but also a new and much cheaper way of operating heavy tractors! Yet if that were so, the Minister would hardly have resisted the temptation of claiming credit for so remarkable a discovery because, after all, modesty is one of the few failings with which public opinion would never charge him.
Again in the same speech, no doubt in order to allay widespread and growing uneasiness over the continuing high level of expenditure on the scheme, the Minister said—and this was another strange statement—"All the high initial expenditure has been incurred." This remark, too, bears all the hallmarks of that wishful thinking to which he has accustomed us. Initial expenditure, in this context, clearly cannot mean capital expenditure, for what other than capital expenditure is the heavy expenditure which will still have to be incurred on clearing a further 500,000 acres and on the necessary support installations and services? Presumably his expression "high initial expenditure" must mean expenditure on capital equipment and, possibly, also on non-recurring developmental work. How can this be reconciled with the facts? It has already been officially disclosed that during the eight months since the end of the Corporation's first year further advances have been made to the extent of £8,000,000. The rate of this expenditure—£1,000,000 a month—is only slightly lower than the average for the first 1548 thirteen months of the Corporation's life, and is almost double the average for the managing agency period, the launching period of the project, when "initial expenditure" would obviously play a very important part. What then does the Minister's statement mean? It would seem to mean nothing, which, I venture to suggest, is what it does mean. But it was, nevertheless, designed to divert attention from a very disturbing trend and to induce a belief that all was for the best in the best of all possible worlds. It is worth noting that none of these exaggerated and misleading statements and claims is contained in the Corporation's own Report. Were they true, surely the Corporation would have used them, for they would have been telling points in their favour. The reason, no doubt, is that these, like so many of the Minister's statements, are merely examples of that poetic licence which he allows himself when dealing with the East African scheme.
There is, admittedly, little object in digging up the past, except to profit by its lessons. But are we learning those lessons? The responsible Minister, in his complacent review in another place, showed no signs of wishing to learn any lessons or even of admitting that he had any to learn. Whatever the reasons may be, whether good or bad, the fact is that the ground-nuts scheme in East Africa has failed dismally up to date to reach its objectives. We are therefore confronted with a new situation. What should the new objectives be, and how best can they be realised? To recognise that the scheme has failed is not to deny any credit to those who work for such attainments as have been made. But I suggest that we should not lose our sense of proportion. Let us forget the original estimates and judge achievement by absolute, and not by comparative standards. By any rational standard, even one that ignores profitability and gives full weight to those advantages, not assessable in terms of money, which flow from developments of this kind, achievement has been distressingly small for the money spent.
Let us not deceive ourselves or he deceived on this point, for deception will render a great disservice to the scheme and will merely discourage all those who are working so hard over there. Of the £23,000,000-odd spent on the scheme to 1549 March 31, 1949, over £9,000,000, less the value of some 50,000 acres of cleared and not very fertile land, had been lost. That a part of this expenditure of £9,000,000 may have been necessary to render possible the creation of the other and more tangible assets is not denied; but the fact remains that this money is represented by no earning asset and is, therefore, lost. It is an alarmingly high proportion of the total expenditure. The remaining assets (approximately £14,000,000), with the exception of such part of the movable plant, equipment, machinery and stores as is realisable, and of a little under £1,000,000, represented by cash, debtors and the investment in Queensland, will also be completely worthless unless the scheme as a whole can be made viable, a stage which is still very far off. That is the problem.
Great play has been made, from time to time, with the fact that the Corporation's expenditure includes the cost or the financing of public works which are of value to the Territory as a whole and not to the Corporation alone. How important financially is this factor? It would seem to me to have been grossly exaggerated. Expenditure on new railways, and the new harbour at Mtwara has been put in the Corporation's balance sheet at just over £953,000. Other public works which might be deemed to be of value to other users as well as to the Corporation are not shown separately but are, presumably, included under the heading of "buildings and installations." Unfortunately, no analysis is given of this item in respect of the Southern Province of Tanganyika, where the heaviest expenditure has been incurred. In the other two areas, Kongwa and Urambo, the net values of air landing strips and roads and bridges total just under £72,000. If the same proportion is applied to the gross figure for the Southern Province, we get a figure of approximately £115,000. So we get a total of about £1,200,000, a part of which must represent items of common user value. This may be a useful contribution to the economy of the Territory, but it does not go far towards explaining away the expenditure of £23,000,000. In the light of these facts, can anyone honestly pretend we have had value for our money?
Supporters of the scheme have sometimes countered criticism by pointing out 1550 that under private enterprise development in these backward countries is bought at the price of a chain of bankruptcies which enable the last person to succeed. Whether or not that is the pattern of development of finance under private enterprise—and I must say that in my experience all over the world it has not been—it is certainly true that any private undertaking which had spent as much as the Corporation and had so little to show for it would have been in the bankcruptcy court long ago. However, it is not too late, even now, to consider dispassionately this problem, a problem which is almost as old as enterprise itself: should we cut our losses or should we put up more money in the hope of bringing the scheme to a self-supporting stage? No one can seriously entertain closing down the scheme at this stage, for, even though financially that might still be the more prudent course, it would be too harmful to Tanganyika, to Colonial development and to Britain's prestige. But if, for these reasons, we are committed to proceeding with the scheme, at least we are entitled to seek an assurance that in the course chosen for the future we have the best one in all the circumstances, and that the additional money will be used to the best advantage. That assurance is altogether lacking. There is no confidence, either public or private in the judgment or the capacity of the present Minister of Food.
The responsible Minister has given in another place a shadowy outline of the plan for the future. He has spoken airily of clearing 600,000 acres by 1954 within the limit of the Corporation's present borrowing powers. But not even he is prepared to say that a project of that size, costing some £50,000,000, would be viable, although he thinks that if all goes well it might be. It is fair enough to argue that no one can forecast with any assurance the Corporation's operating account five years hence, but is it reasonable or even honest to ask the taxpayer to double his stake in this so far most disappointing and speculative venture on nothing more than a general assurance from a Minister all of whose past assurances in this field have been proved wrong by events? I say that it is an insult to Parliament and to the country for a responsible Minister to treat so lightheartedly, and indeed, so frivolously, the expenditure of such vast sums of public money.
1551 When the scheme was first put to Parliament we at least had the original White Paper to support the then anticipated expenditure of £25,000,000. Wrong as those estimates have turned out to be, the White Paper was at least an honest attempt to make available to Parliament a reasoned and reasonably detailed plan based on the fullest data that it had been possible then to assemble. We are now told that a further £25,000,000 is to be spent, and all we are given by way of explanation is a brief outline of a plan and a statement that it is acceptable to the Minister and to the Government. In the light of the same Minister's complete failure in the past to assess or control this situation, I cannot help wondering how even the Government's supporters can so ignore their responsibilities to the people as to accept his vague and unreliable assurances. With the considerable fund of knowledge of operations of this kind which presumably has been built up during the past three years, it should have been possible to-day to prepare a plan based largely on proved achievement, a plan which would stand some chance of realisation. Surely, the Corporation have prepared such a detailed plan for consideration by the Minister; and why cannot that information be made available to Parliament?
In another place, the Government were asked to agree to an investigation into the present position and future plans of the Corporation. The request was made, not with a view to establishing blame for past disasters, not with any desire to embarrass the Government, unless, indeed, the Government or the Minister had something which they wished to conceal; it was intended simply to provide for the impartial and expert "vetting" of the plan for the future. Only thus could Parliament be brought fully into the picture, and only in this way could it reach a judgment in the knowledge of all the material facts. That request was refused. I would ask the Government seriously to reconsider that refusal. It has been argued that an inquiry into the workings of the Corporation would disrupt their work and upset the morale of the staff. That, of course, is pure nonsense. Nothing could be more salutary for the scheme and more fortify- 1552 ing to morale than an impartial inquiry into the present workings of the Corporation and their future plans. Admittedly, any inquiry, however well conducted, will take some of the valuable time of the men on the job. But is this too high a price to pay in order to clear the air of all the ill-founded suspicions, to remove uncertainty about the future of the scheme, and to enable the men on the job for the first time to get down to their tasks without constantly having to look over their shoulders? I should have thought this price well worth paying.
In conclusion, let me say that I think the curse of this scheme—and I feel this should be said—has largely been the initial share-pushing publicity indulged in by the Minister of Food. I can well believe that the Minister in the beginning thought that he could better Omar Khayyam, and presumably his motto was:Take the Cash and grab the Credit too,Nor heed the murmur of a distant Drum.But he had to come back to the original Omar, and now his motto is:Take the Cash and let the Credit go.And he has been forced to "heed the murmur of a distant Drum," because I gather that the drums of Africa have rather a menacing tone at the present moment, and it is necessary for him to go and do what he can to silence them. This scheme has been, and is likely to remain until an inquiry has cleared it up, the laughing stock of the world. Recently, I was at a country fair in England and was delighted to find a stall where groundnuts were being sold. The man there was inviting his customers to come along. He said: "Come along, come along, buy my ground-nuts; Strachey's best. Most expensive—£29,000,000 a nob." That, I feel, gives the background far better than all these wonderful speeches about welfare, and so forth. No one denies any of the sentiments behind them, but to my mind they are quite irrelevant to this discussion, which is whether or not this scheme can ever prosper under its present auspices, however good the scheme may be. We want this scheme to succeed, and we wish to help it. If we are willing to give it our support, we must know where it is going. If our support is sought, and we are willing to give it, we must demand in exchange frankness from the Minister and from the Government. That we have had from neither of them up to date.
§ 4.32 p.m.
§ LORD WINSTER
My Lords, Burke once remarked:Men should approach to the faults of the State as to the wounds of a father, with pious awe and trembling solicitude.No one could accuse the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, of being a disciple of Burke in that respect. We have had from the noble Viscount quite recently two tremendous philippics, one directed against Lord Pakenham, and one to-day directed against Mr. Strachey. I am wondering if the noble Viscount has his eye upon some third Minister in order to complete his hat-trick.
With regard to this ground-nut scheme, it appears from what has been said to-day that we all, without any distinction of Party, feel great admiration for the conception of the scheme, a conception which is in the greatest of our overseas traditions. I would welcome other similar great ideas in other fields on the part of the Government. Much has been said to-day about those in the held. Again we all appreciate the tributes which have been paid to the devotion which they have shown, and are showing, to the furtherance of this scheme. I feel that one result of to-day's debate will be largely to overcome any discouragement they may feel, because it is clear from all the speeches to which we have listened so far that the country, without distinction of Party, is determined that this scheme shall go through: our prestige and our duty to the Africans alike dictate that it shall. I am confident that the scheme will succeed and confound its critics; and believe that we are all at one in this because I have noticed that the Opposition, in another place and here, have not spoken against the scheme itself, but have made only criticisms of its handling in certain respects, which, of course, as an Opposition they are entitled to do.
It is impossible to deny that much has happened which gives ground for criticism. I am one of those who believe that it would have been better if this scheme had been put in charge of the Colonial Office, that Department having the experience, knowledge and personnel for dealing with a great pioneering venture such as this. On that point I am in agreement with the critics. But there is then the question about an inquiry. I am sure that responsible leaders of the Opposi- 1554 tion would agree that an inquiry which developed into a political witch hunt would do far more harm than good—in fact, it would do no good and could do only harm. I should think that great difficulty would be experienced, if an inquiry were set up, in preventing it from developing, little by little, by side issues, into such a witch hunt. I have listened to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Milverton, and once or twice I thought that I detected an undercurrent—I will not say of a personal dislike but a perception of certain defects in the Minister of Food. If an inquiry were set up, I feel that against his better nature, with every intention not to err in this respect, the noble Lord would find it very difficult indeed to prevent his opinion casting itself in favour of a witch hunt.
Let us get this criticism into proper focus. In spite of what the noble Lord said, the scheme is more than a food scheme, and it is more than "humanity and 5 per cent," as the noble Lord, Lord Milverton, recently described it. To-day he has described it is a stunt for the glorification of the Government. The noble Lord seems to he unable to make up his mind as to what he does think the scheme is. Those are two different versions of the scheme which the noble Lord has given in the course of a few days. This scheme is a great development project; it is the forerunner of other great economic projects, and above all it is an answer to the African demand for progress.
In their wisdom the Government decided to entrust the execution of the scheme to the Overseas Food Corporation, the Corporation being made responsible to the Ministry of Food. As I have said, I doubt whether that arrangement is a good one. The argument in favour of it is, I take it, that the planning of our economic resources in the Colonies calls for men with experience in business, commerce and industry, of whom the Colonial Office do not at present dispose. Long ago I thought—and I agreed with others who thought—that the Colonial Office should have a Department of Economic Development. We are perhaps sometimes apt to forget that the Colonial Office do for 60,000,000 people in forty different territories what six Ministries do here at home for 47,000,000 people. I believe the task 1555 laid upon the shoulders of the Colonial Office has now become vastly greater than its staff and organisation permit it to discharge effectively. It may have been said that the Overseas Food Corporation was a necessary executive tool for the groundnuts scheme. All the same, I should have liked to see it made responsible to the Colonial Office.
Does the noble Lord mean responsible to the Colonial Office direct, or responsible to the local Governor and through him to the Colonial Office?
Does the noble Lord want the local Government to carry it out, or some outside agency of the Colonial Office?
§ LORD WINSTER
I recognise that the Overseas Food Corporation may have been a necessary executive tool, but I would have liked to see it made responsible to the Colonial Office, instead of to the Ministry of Food.
We have heard again this afternoon the criticism that this scheme should have been launched in West Africa. Here I speak with the greatest possible diffidence in the presence of Lord Milverton, but I was under the impression that the Clay Mission in 1947 examined certain of the unoccupied areas in Northern Nigeria, and that they decided that the mechanised methods necessary in such a scheme would not be voluntarily accepted by the farmers there. But I also understood that nevertheless the Clay Mission did recommend that certain development experiments should be tried out in the Gold Coast and in Nigeria, and that in fact a pilot scheme covering 30,000 acres is in hand at the present moment, although I am sold that no prospects of very rapid progress can be looked for. It was decided that it was Tanganyika which offered the opportunities—a country seven times larger and with a population ten times smaller than Great Britain, and with unoccupied land on a large scale. It was here that the technique of clearance and production in marginal and sub-marginal lands by means of mechanisation and large scale farming had to be mastered. In spite of much that has gone amiss, considerable progress has been made.
1556 As regards finance, what has been done by the provision of services by the Corporation has received rather scant consideration to-day; it has been dismissed rather summarily. There has, of course, clearly been waste and inefficiency—no one could or would wish to deny that. Much of it has been inexcusable, but some has been the legitimate price of gaining knowledge and experience. The question I heard asked this afternoon was: Have we had value for money for this expenditure? I must say that, looking back into history, I wonder whether the original shareholders in the railway projects of this country thought they had had value for their money at the hands of the gentlemen who floated those schemes. The expenditure has included considerable sums for social services and for public works. In East Africa, with hardly any population, and where there is arid bush and no services, the Corporation have necessarily had to bear the charges of establishing services. The Governments concerned could not possibly afford to do so. But, as the scheme progresses, Tanganyika will have the immense benefits of new roads, townships, schools, hospitals, training centres, techniques and organisations. They will have those great benefits which have resulted from the expenditure by the Corporation—benefits which will lead to new and better ways of life and, best of all, will lead to new reserves of trained manpower in those territories. Already new enterprise has been attracted to those territories by the scheme, which is increasing the scope and the tempo of the new development.
This scheme is a witness to the intention of our Colonial policy to give all aid possible to the African peoples to enable them to develop and take their place in the modern world. It is the enlargement of the old régime of law and order to one of social and economic betterment. It aims at raising, broadening and stabilising the lives of the Colonial peoples. Problems of development and land use in Africa must be tackled, and it is also essential to develop a system of mixed farming in contrast to reliance upon one crop. This is necessary because the spectre of starvation hangs over East Africa. The population there has increased by 4,750,000—some 30 per cent.—in eleven years, and the increase threatens to outstrip the 1557 food supply in the course of twenty years. We have largely stabilised African society. We have removed the ravages of internal wars, and by our doing that the population has risen beyond what the primitive agricultural society can feed. That is a situation which duty demands that we should meet. This threat of food shortage, which is a very real threat indeed, can be averted only by transforming these vast sub-marginal lands with thorny scrubs, pests and parasites, into food production areas. It is a matter which concerns not only Africa. The world steadily demands more food, and at the same time the supplies from some sources are steadily diminishing. India, which at one time used to export 1,000,000 tons of fats to this country, is to-day exporting only 200,000 tons. The whole world demands this increase in food production.
I have referred to criticisms made by the noble Lord, Lord Milverton, of the ground-nut scheme, but his criticisms have gone beyond ground-nuts. Discussing the difficulties of the Colonial Office in obtaining recruits for the Colonial Service, he said that it was because no one has any confidence in the way in which the present Government have handled affairs or in their understanding or grip of a situation. I find it very difficult to believe that when parents are considering the future career in life of their children, or when the candidates themselves are doing so, they take the complexion of the Government of the day into active consideration. I think the real difficulty in which the noble Lord finds himself in advancing that criticism, is that in ten years' time we may have a Government in this country of which the noble Lord approves. That Government might find themselves in great difficulties in regard to the Colonial Service because they were short of those recruits which the noble Lord has discouraged from joining the Service. I should have thought that we would have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Milverton, after his 39 years in the Colonial Service—a most distinguished service, for which he has received great rewards—words of encouragement to those thinking of entering that great Service. Even I, with my small experience in Cyprus—which I am almost afraid to mention in the presence of 1558 others with so much longer experience in our Colonies—would feel able to encourage young men to enter the Colonial Service, telling them that they have fine prospects ahead of them and a tine life to live while attaining those prospects.
This scheme, hunched in the lonely bush, is already a great influence in East Africa. It is beginning to fill that lack of an artisan community which has held back development of that country. East African Governments deserve great credit for what they have done to provide training facilities to produce African skilled workers. The efforts of those Governments in this (Direction have been fostered and furthered by the Overseas Food Corporation, who have established a large training school. A skilled artisan class will go far to produce a more balanced society in what Mr. Winston Churchill has called "an Eldorado of opportunity," where we are planning to spend immense sums to realise those opportunities. We can feel legitimate pride in the conception ns of partnership with and of duty to the Colonial peoples which now hold the field amongst all political Parties. We have at this moment an enlightened Secretary of State for the Colonies, who has made years of study of Colonial problems and who has been untiring in his travels to the Colonies. And we have two great political Parties at one abet t the broad lines of the political and constitutional approach to our Colonial problems. It is in harmony with all that that we have this ground-nuts scheme, in which we are conducting one of the greatest experiments ever carried out in history. I am confident that it will eventually come to great success and redound immensely to the credit of this country.
§ 4.52 p.m.
THE LORD BISHOP OF LICHFIELD
My Lords, I rise with some diffidence to take part in this important debate. I do so because I think it is important that certain things should he said representing what should come from this corner of the House. Indeed, the most reverend Primate himself would have been here to-day but for other engagements, and he has asked me to say something in his stead. I would say clearly that I think that the moral issues behind this debate are of the first importance and cannot 1559 be separated from the general rough-and-tumble of Party politics or from the discussion which has been going in your Lordships' House this afternoon. I am a little anxious lest the larger issues should be at all obscured by the economic and political difficulties which have been encountered.
I welcome what was said in the closing remarks of the First Lord, indicating that the Government are not unaware of some of these great moral issues. And I welcome also what fell just now from the noble Lord, Lord Winster. We must not overlook the background of this matter. The set-up of what is happening in Tanganyika is nothing less than a revolution in Africa. What we are doing in Tanganyika in this tremendous groundnut experiment is to accelerate the revolution which was already getting under way. There are now at least 10,000 native Africans working in Kongwa, and nearly as many in the Northern area; and as the scheme develops there will be more and more. I am most anxious that the true welfare of the African should not in any way be left out of sight in this debate. I think it is true to say that there are a great many people outside this House who, when they read the report of this debate, will look eagerly to see whether the House has shown itself really sensitive to these great moral issues which are at stake.
If I may I should like to take up and endorse something which fell further from the noble Lord, Lord Winster, on the food situation. It is often said that one half the world knows very little about how the other half lives. I wonder how many people in our favoured country know, for instance, that there are a thousand million people in the world who cannot read or write; and that a very large proportion of those are either on or just below the hunger line all the time. The chief education officer of the Overseas Corporation made this statement at an interesting conference on rural life in this country and overseas which was held in January of this year:Not for a single year in the last twenty years has Tanganyika been able to provide enough food for her small population.To that I would add what Mr. Wakefield, who was also at that conference, said in his address: 1560I finished my Colonial service fearful for the future of Africa: I could see nothing ahead but famine, pestilence, war and disease, and I think that conclusion of mine was shared by 90 per cent. of any thoughtful men who had worked in Africa, whether in Government service or as missionaries, whether they were British or Africans….I would never have supported the establishment of the ground-nut scheme if I had thought that it was contrary to the welfare of the African. I think it would have been quite immoral for Britain to have set about increased food production at the expense of Africa or the African. If you will read the White Paper you will see the emphasis put on the social aspects of the scheme and the value we put on the human being.I believe that when the scheme was launched the whole idea of it carried a very great appeal. It is significant that, at the launching of the scheme, there were more than 100,000 offers from men and women to go out and take some part in this great service.
Not a little has passed about this question of morale. I have had the opportunity and privilege in the last few days of reading letters from Tanganyika, from which it emerges that in the early days, at any rate, those men who tackled the job were sustained by a sense of mission, by a vision and an inspiration; and it was in this spirit that they went ahead. There are men out there to-day who will tell you that if it had not been for that kind of spirit they might well have collapsed. My informants also say that prominent among the men who had that kind of vision was Mr. Wakefield himself. I am bound to say that it seems to me that his dismissal has been a blunder of the first magnitude. I feel that it is true to say, here again, that there are many people outside this House who realise that the Churches and the missionaries and the native African Christians have played an immense part in helping forward this morale. The Christian Churches and their missions have from the outset done their best to give any assistance in their power to the men who were sent out on this work by the Overseas Food Corporation.
Your Lordships can imagine that it was a great undertaking. There have been for many years missionaries in Tanganyika. There is a Bishop there; and for this small mission, with its small staff, suddenly to have thrust upon it this tremendous responsibility was a great event. I am proud to say that the 1561 Church out there has risen splendidly to these responsibilities which have been laid upon it. The Bishop and members of all denominations have worked together with the utmost enthusiasm, and they are doing everything in their power to co-operate with the Overseas Food Corporation in such matters as welfare. I have read and heard of clubs and forums where Europeans and Africans meet together to take stock of one another and to learn the art of living together. What has happened in the hospitals is notable. There was for instance a very good mission hospital at Kongwa when the Corporation took over. Since then a magnificently equipped hospital has been set up and manned by the Corporation, but I am proud to say that this new grand hospital send their midwifery nurses to the old mission hospital to be trained. I mention that as one of the examples of the co-operation of the best kind that has been going on. Many and various educational projects are afoot to which Christian missions have contributed workers, both European and African.
Like many others, I have been deeply disturbed at the mishandling of a project which shows such great promise; and I am bound to say that I think there seems to be a considerable case for a searching and impartial inquiry. But whether or not this is the right step at the present time I am not sure. What I am clear about is that if and when all economic and administrative difficulties have been cleared up, if the whole scheme is to reach ultimately a successful conclusion, it will need continually the dynamic of a great moral purpose and of a compelling vision of Africa's real good. After all, you will remember that great word of old:Where there is no vision, the people perish.Curiously enough, that is true in this particular instance, not only on the metaphorical and moral level but also on the physical and material level. One may say, I hope without complacency, that for the last hundred years, and especially since the turn of the century, we in this country have dealt with our overseas Dependencies in something of that spirit. We have not been destitute of vision. One thinks of South Africa after the Boer War; one thinks of the Sudan, Northern 1562 and Southern; one thinks of Uganda and, above all now, of India. Who could have listened unmoved to what was said in this House last evening about India in wishing that great country good as she goes off on her own? Indeed, it is only on such a basis and in the sight of Providence that we in this country can dare to hold all these tremendous trusteeships. Once again in our history we are faced with a new challenge and confronted by a fresh and gigantic opportunity to work for the good of Africa. I hope that we shall not be found wanting.
§ 5.2 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT BLEDISLOE
My Lords, in no hostile spirit do I venture to participate in this debate this afternoon. First, I should like to say how thoroughly I have enjoyed, as your Lordships must have enjoyed, the delightful speech by the right reverend Prelate to which we have just listened. If I may venture to say so, he has raised our discussion, which of course is preponderantly an economic one, into a higher sphere. I find it extremely difficult to tae part in this debate for one particular reason; and that is this. During the last three years I myself have gone on missions for the Royal Agricultural Society of England to various parts of the British Commonwealth, including all six States of Australia, New Zealand, the Union of South Africa and Southern Rhodesia. As I am sure the Leader of the House would be prepared to testify, I have done all in my power, in the course of these missions, to encourage the food producers for export in those countries to satisfy so far as possible the demand and the requirements of our Ministry of Food. And I feel confident that we must support this ground-nuts scheme.
The right reverend Prelate said that it tends to accelerate a revolution which was bound to come. I entirely agree but, with all respect, I would vie to remind the right reverend Prelate of the old Latin motto festina lente. At the opening of his speech, he said what I was going to venture to say in the course of mine; that we must consider this scheme in the light of the present world food position and outlook. For my part, I feel that if that situation and that problem are duly considered, Africa must come in a very real sense into the picture. At least one-fourth of the world's population are half-starved, to the detriment of their health 1563 and their, working capacity. As your Lordships know, the world's population is growing faster than the world's food output. In this country, for dollar shortage reasons, many of us have reluctantly to grow cereal corn, potatoes and other starchy foods. I come from the West of England, where the rainfall is high, and where in the past livestock production has always been the sheet anchor of the local farming. Of course, I deplore this necessity but I admit that it has to be faced. Taking the long view, the alarming prospective food shortage is not of starchy foods but of proteins and fat, both animal and vegetable fat—and fat, we must bear in mind, has the highest calory or energy value of all foods. We cannot raise a sufficiency of these fats, especially vegetable fats, in this and other temperate countries. They can come in sufficient quantities only from tropical and subtropical countries, notably Africa and Australia.
I admit that there is one small exception which one is bound to make. It is a rather remarkable fact that sunflowers, which are now coming into what I may call the Kongwa picture, will yield in this country as large a percentage of fat as those grown in any other part of the world; and perhaps larger. In answer to a Non-Oral Question which I put down about three weeks ago, we were told (and the statement about fat percentage has not been denied), that they are not likely to be an economic proposition if grown in any large quantity in this country. But of all oil yielding plants—and all of them, by the way, provide a residue of concentrated cattle food such as we badly need—none is more valuable than ground-nuts. That is mainly due to the fact that, being a leguminous plant, so far from exhausting or defertilising the soil they add fertility to it, through the medium of the nitrifying nodules on their roots which, as your Lordships know, absorb nitrogen from the air. Moreover, they are all good human as well as good animal food, and in every tropical and sub-tropical country are recommended by all the experts as an alternative crop to maize for native consumption.
Of course, we all—at any rate, those of us who have visited different parts of Africa—know that what the native suffers from more than anything else is trying 1564 to live wholly, or almost wholly, upon starchy foods, with no proper balance in the matter of proteins or, indeed, of fats. We must not entirely abandon the growing of ground-nuts—large quantities of ground-nuts—in Africa. As has been pointed out this afternoon, the weakness of this particular scheme is its, immense size, concentrated in one region instead of in different latitudes and at different altitudes, as has been recommended by many of the agricultural research stations in Africa. This area is subject to the same vagaries and uncertainties of climate, with insufficient and unsuitable equipment especially in bush clearing and in transport facilities, and also with detribalised natives, many of them being brought from a great distance and, at any rate at the outset, being insufficiently provided with proper housing and welfare facilities. Above all, what I want particularly to emphasise is that it was done without proper previous surveys or scientific experiments as to soil, fertiliser treatment or cropping rotation.
May I say on this point—and here again I find myself in agreement with the right reverend Prelate—that it is very unfortunate, if not deplorable, that Mr. Arthur Wakefield has been summarily dismissed from his important post? I say so particularly for this reason. No doubt, as the issue has proved, there were very serious mistakes made by the Corporation in the early days; but Mr. Wakefield appears to have desired to modify materially the scheme as originally framed. Indeed, if I may say so in passing, he is largely responsible for what, to my mind, is the much more convincing scheme which has lately been initiated in Queensland. Mr. Wakefield is a student of one of our own important agricultural colleges, as I was myself about sixty years ago, and he has done a great deal for the reputation of agricultural training in this country. He is a Bachelor of Science; he is a Companion of the Order of St. Michael and St. George, and he is not only an agricultural college-trained man, but he holds a degree both of Edinburgh and of Reading Universities. He has done conspicuous work in agricultural administration in Northern Rhodesia; in Tanganyika, where he was a member of the Legislative Council: in Jamaica, and on a very important Caribbean Development Commission; and incidentally he is a (member of our own Agricultural Ad- 1565 visory Service which has lately been set up with such advantage to agriculturists in this country. I deplore finding a man with those attainments and with that history, thrown, so to speak, upon the scrap-heap at the age of fifty; and I venture to hope that other employment of a sufficiently important character may be found for him in the not too distant future.
In the course of my experience just before the war as Chairman of the Rhodesia-Nyasaland Royal Commission, and more recently, two years ago, on my mission to Africa, I asked the Governments of the Union of South Africa and of Southern Rhodesia whether they could frame for me a list of the optimum conditions under which all the chief, subtropical crops could best be grown south of the Equator, and I regard the information which was furnished to me as most valuable. When in Southern Africa two years ago I visited all but one of the agricultural research stations, including an important one at Potchefstroom in the Transvaal, one in Cedara in Natal, and a progressive station now developing at Salisbury in Southern Rhodesia. I mention that because I consulted the authorities in all those research stations as to what were the optimum requirements for the successful cultivation of ground-nuts. Summarising them so far as the texture of the soil is concerned, they are undoubtedly a light loam at anything from 1,500 to 6,000 feet above sea level. I want to emphasise that, because I personally hold—I do not know whether Lord Milverton would share my view—that in the case of ground-nuts there is an unusual margin in the matter of altitude, so unlike, for instance, tea or coffee, the two different kinds of tobacco, cotton and other crops which can be grown only within a much narrower margin of altitude. The next desideratum is a soil with a slight acid reaction—what the scientists call P.H. value—of anything from 5 to 6, and a rainfall of from 20 to 25 inches.
I am bound to say that what troubles me when I take up this document which I hold in my hand now and which apparently has only lately been published by the Scientific Department of the Overseas Food Corporation in East Africa, is that I find that those conditions, which were presented to me at these research stations as the optimum conditions for the growing of ground-nuts, do not appear to be present to any material 1566 extent in any of these territories, including Kongwa, where this vast scheme is now in operation or is contemplated. There is one disease to which I must make reference, because it is possibly the most serious virus disease in the whole world; and, from the point of view of expense, should it develop in any ground-nuts scheme it is a most dangerous factor. It is the virus disease known as "rosette." On this subject I ventured to consult the agricultural research stations as to what was the best way to safeguard the growing of ground-nuts against the development of rosette disease which might easily destroy from 50 to 75 per cent. of the whole of the crop in the course of a single season.
The first answer given to me (and this is why I interrupted the noble Viscount the First Lord of the Admiralty just now in regard to his rotation; it appeared to be a two-year rotation) was that groundnuts should preferably, be gown only once in a four-or five-course rotation including three years under grass. Of course what is contemplated, according to the First Lord, is an alternation between ground-nuts and sunflowers. I cannot believe that if we are to avoid this rosette disease, and if our manurial treatment is going to be correct, we shall find that we are satisfied with only a two-course rotation, particularly, in view of the fact that, as I have indicated, the manurial requirements of the two crops are entirely different. The next desideratum was that no very large area of ground-nuts should be created in one locality. It is apparent to me that the biggest mistake that has been made—at any rate from an agricultural and scientific point of view—is that there will be this vast area in Tanganyika Territory all more or less in one latitude and at one altitude. My main reason for urging these considerations is the serious possibility of the development of rosette disease.
I wish before I sit down to mention another scheme which has emanated from the Overseas Food Corporation and which has my entire sympathy. I hope that we shall give every encouragement to it. I refer, of course, to the scheme initiated about eight months ago in Central Queensland, which will rapidly produce animal fat as well as protein food there, through the medium of pigs fed upon grain sorghum, which is called in Africa 1567 "Kaffir corn." It is unfortunate that abnormal weather has adversely affected this scheme in its early stages, and caused a temporary setback. Pigs can produce both protein and animal fat more rapidly than any other animal. Further—and this I do not think is very well-known—there is no other domestic animal which is so little affected by tropical or subtropical diseases as is the pig. So long as he is given a reasonable amount of shelter he keeps practically free from disease. One cannot say that about any other domestic farm animal in Africa. It so happens, also, that grain sorghum—most magnificent crops of which are to be found in Queensland, as I can testify—is an ideal food for pigs. Moreover, a valuable part of the scheme is that any surplus grain sorghum which is not utilised on the spot for the feeding of pigs will come to this country and provide badly-needed food for the maintenance of our own herds of-pigs.
I will say little further except this. I hope that no criticism in regard to this unfortunately large scheme in Tanganyika Territory will prevent us from giving our confident support to the development of the production of ground-nuts in Africa and, indeed, in other tropical and subtropical countries. I hope we shall do all in our power—whether in this particular scheme we attempt to cut losses and public expenditure or otherwise—to raise fats in tropical and sub-tropical countries for the whole of the world population, knowing full well that we cannot raise them on our own soil. There is one question I should like to put to the First Lord of the Admiralty. I am not sure that I followed his figures correctly, but I think he spoke of 400,000 acres in the southern area, 90,000 in future in Kongwa and 100,000 in the northern part of the territory, at Urambo. I should like to ask him whether he has studied and has been influenced by the interesting and I think convincing letter in this morning's Times, written by Mr. Rosa. I should like to know whether he might be influenced to a sufficient extent to consider modification of so large a programme in the State of Tanganyika. I apologise for speaking so long. I am afraid that I have bored your Lordships to some extent with agricultural science which has been the greatest interest of a lone life.
§ 5.27 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF LUCAN
My Lords, it may be that it will seem foolhardiness on the part of someone so ill-equipped and as inexperienced as myself to venture on such a battlefield as this to-day. An appropriate analogy might be that of infantry going to engage in a battle between hostile armoured forces. I have been encouraged to take part in this debate, however, not because I speak from long experience of Colonial administration, as do so many of your Lordships, but because I have had the good fortune to be acquainted in some measure, more or less superficially, over the last twenty-five years with many parts of Eastern, Central and Southern Africa. In listening to what has been said and reading what has been written on this subject, I have been struck by the fact that so little mention has been made of the place of the scheme in the bigger framework of Africa and African policy. In fact, that aspect was almost ostentatiously put aside by the noble Lord, Lord Milverton, who said that it was irrelevant to the matter in hand. It was refreshing, after that, to hear what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Winster, and by the right reverend Prelate. That is the side with which I would like to deal this afternoon.
My hope is that in the long run this scheme will be judged, not by the amount of edible oil which it is going to produce, or by the financial loss or profit, but on the place which it will take in the future development of Africa. I think we owe a debt to Africa. Until very recent years, our history of the development of our Empire has not been very creditable. It was only in 1929 that the Colonial Development Fund was set up by Parliament, and it was not until 1940 that the scope of that Fund was extended to include welfare. The Act of 1940 was entitled the Colonial Development and Welfare Act and was extended to include recurrent as well as capital expenditure. The amount of expenditure was increased from £1,000,000 a year to £5,000,000 a year; later, it was again increased—to a sum of £120,000,000 in the ten years ending 1956. I hope that the difference between these sums is the measure of our realisation of the value of the human resources of Africa, as opposed to the material resources.
1569 To my mind this scheme is an extension of the Colonial Development and Welfare Acts of the past. It is a prototype of the methods by which Africa will be developed. The old leisurely rate of progress of the past cannot be tolerated in future. The world can no longer afford to leave Africa lying fallow, and the methods of the past will be quite inadequate to develop a Continent so large as that. Whether peasant cultivation is the answer in any part of Africa I do not know, but in East Africa, at any rate, I suggest that it is out of the question that any large increase of world food supplies can come from African sources. For the most part, the African in his village is not accustomed to growing food for sale: he has a hard enough job to grow food for himself. He has to pay taxes, and to do that he has to go away to work in the mines or in the centres of industry.
To judge by their Report, this Corporation have started and are continuing on admirable lines. They are not planning on the old system of obtaining male labour for only short terms and housing them in compounds until their contracts expire, which was the old way by which the man-power of the African villages was drained away to the big industrial centres. They are proceeding to set up settlements where men can come with their families for permanent employment. The Corporation are spending a lot of money, money which no doubt is included in the £9,000,000 alleged to have been wasted or "lost" (I think that was the expression) to build houses and set up the surroundings in which African labour can live a reasonable life. The Corporation are helping the Africans over the transition between the old village life in the bush and the new large-scale mechanised agriculture which must come in the future.
Nobody denies that mistakes have been made in this project. Nobody would deny, I imagine, that in the conditions of 1945, urgency and speed were real factors in the situation. Some noble Lords have referred to the project as being rushed, and I read in the proceedings of another place of the "indecent haste" with which this project was put in hand. Think of the situation in 1945, the stagnation of commerce and the reduction in the production of food, the increase of 20,000,000 mouths every year to feed in the world. Can any- 1570 body then say that it was indecent to cut a few corners, and go on with the risk without full experiment?—because it would have been not one or two but ten years before these methods could have been tried out. It seems to me that the Corporation will be judged not on their financial showing, nor even on the number of tons of edible oils they produce, but on the extent they have furthered the Colonial policy which has been accepted by all Parties and by public opinion in this country. I would remind your Lordships that this policy is laid down in the 1940 Statement of Policy in the following terms:The primary aim of Colonial policy is to protect and advance the interests of the inhabitants.I think that is the yardstick by which this project should be measured.
§ 5.37 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT CALDECOTE
My Lords, it is only a short time since I stood, so to speak, in the same shoes as the noble Earl to whose speech we have just listened with such pleasure. Therefore, it is with some embarrassment, as well as with great pleasure, that I follow him and thus have the privilege of congratulating him on his excellent maiden speech in your Lordships' House. His knowledge of the Colonial Empire cannot fail to be of value to the debates in this House, and I hope that we shall hear the noble Earl on many occasions in the future.
I had not intended even to touch on the economic side of lids matter, but there is one point on which I would like to ask a question, The noble Viscount, Lord Hall, said that we might well have to face subsidising the production of ground-nuts. Surely it is a bad start if we are to subsidise a product whose price is now higher than it has ever been before, and higher perhaps than it is ever likely to be again. It needs no economist to see that. Do the Government consider that prospect with equanimity? the noble Lord, Lord Milverton said, nothing has been said, and nothing ever can be said, to alter the plain unpalatable fact that up to now this scheme has been a failure. It has fallen far short of the expectations and estimates of those who conceived it and gave it their blessing. The early history of the scheme is a sorry tale of a great company of enthusiasts driven to extravagance and disorganisation by 1571 politicians and administrators who had a clear vision of the goal before them but little or no idea of how to reach it.
In the first place, paragraph 29 of the Report states that the Ministry took the best advice available to them. I believe that even had they done so the information on which that advice would have been based would have been meagre indeed; but in fact they did not do so. Apparently the decision taken by the Government to proceed with the plan—and here they cannot escape responsibility, because it was they who took the decision—was influenced mainly by the Wakefield Mission to Africa. That Mission spent perhaps three to four weeks in the Kongwa area, where the bush is so impenetrable that no samples of soil could be taken in the area under consideration. They did not apparently consider why this vast area had never been cultivated before (I shall return to that in a moment) nor, I understand—and this has been borne out by the remarks of the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe—did they take advantage of leading scientific experts who had spent a life-time in that area. In short, their Report was based on estimates and guesses, with only a very small fraction of evidence which a scientist would accept.
The noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, has already raised the question of rainfall, which is one of the most important factors of the whole scheme. The estimates—or perhaps it is more accurate to say the guesses—were based on a small number of records that had been taken in the mission station further up into the hills. It is well known that near hills the rainfall varies quickly as you get away from them. Accurate reports in the mission area are not reliable when predicting the rainfall in the ground-nuts area. All through the debate in another place, and in the Report, one of the achievements that is claimed for the earlier work in Africa, and particularly in Kongwa, is that great experience has been gained. But surely, in any new project, however badly organised, experience of some sort is gained. The point is whether that experience has been too dearly bought, and whether it was all new and therefore valuable.
Let us consider the port of Dar-es-Salaam. That is not a new port. Its 1572 capacity for handling ships is well known, and as a result of war experience a close estimate can be made of the port facilities required to handle the stores and other materials of a vast operation of this kind. Yet in paragraph 39 of the Report we are told that the additional burden of the ground-nut traffic became an insistent problem to the port authorities, and that the problem of handling the stores became a nightmare. The Government cannot escape responsibility for such chaos. They, and they alone, had available all the experience pf the Sea Transport and Army Docks Group organisation of the war. Were they consulted? I cannot believe they were. Again, what consideration was given to the supply problem of the type of tractors which it was known would be required? Would it not have been better to investigate that supply position before the scheme started, instead of having to comb the scrap-heaps of the world? It is all too easy to be wise after the event, but problems such as those were commonplace during the war, and we are entitled to expect that such experience as is available will be used in this type of project. The enterprise was inevitably risky, but such lack of forethought, of which I have given two examples, must increase manifold the odds against success.
I should now like to make a few brief remarks from a rather different point of view. As is pointed out in paragraph 30 of the Report—this point has been raised by many other speakers to-day—the native population do not find it easy to keep up even a meagre standard of living. Therefore, it is reasonable to suppose that any area that is suitable for growing crops will have been so utilised. That at once makes a prima facie case for treating any large uncultivated area with suspicion, because by a well-tried process it has probably been found unsuitable for any crops, let alone ground-nuts. That does not mean that, by modern scientific methods and with mechanisation, no crops can be grown there; but it does mean that, if due to lack of rainfall record, and the impossibility of getting samples of soil for analysis, no proper investigation can be made, then a risk is being taken when an area such as the Kongwa is chosen for development. In addition, I understand that the ground-nuts plant is one of the most troublesome and finicky 1573 of tropical plants. The natives, I am told, confine their planting period to about a week. From page 113 of the Report it appears that the optimum, as opposed to the possible, planting period, is a great deal less than the seven or eight weeks mentioned. So an operation on a small scale of a few square yards, with one man looking after it, may be quite easy; but when it comes to planting on a vast scale of hundreds of thousands of acres, it then becomes a major operation. That is another point on which a gamble, on the scale effect, had to be taken. Perhaps it had to be taken, but we do not yet know how it will turn out.
There is another departure from a well-tried practice which introduced a further element of risk—namely, the scheme of planting. The natives, I am told—I am not an expert on this matter—spread their plants evenly over the whole area, about a foot apart, so that the area is covered with leaf and the ground does not bake hard between the plants. Clearly, the wide spacing of twenty-eight inches apart, as described in the Report, was followed to enable mechanical cultivators and mechanical harvesters to do their work efficiently. But that also accounts for the relatively poor yield, as compared with the yield from the experimental plots, and for the fact that more than 25 per cent. of the ground-nuts were left in the ground. That is another important effect of increasing the scale of the operation, and introduces a further element of risk.
It is easy for us here to criticise those who are, and have been, busy in Africa working to make the scheme the success which we all hope it will be. They are working, often in unpleasant conditions. My object in delving into the failure revealed by the Report is to attempt to show how great were the risks involved in this scheme, and to emphasise the supreme importance both of minimising and appreciating the risks that have to be run by using to the full the best experience and scientific knowledge that we have available. That, I submit, has not been done. But even the sum total of our scientific knowledge of conditions in Africa is lamentably small. If we had had reliable data on the type of soil, the rainfall and suitable crops, how much greater would have been the chances of success of this great venture! Certainly an active scientific service appears to be in being now, as can be seen from Appendix V of the 1574 Report. But what a tragedy that that information was not available at the out-set of the scheme! Noble Lords opposite will perhaps be pleased that this is not merely a criticism of the present scheme—it is a wider issue. We failed to gather that data while we had time, and we are now paying for that past neglect.
There are signs, however, that at last we are aware of that shortcoming, for I understand that the last African Agricultural and Forestry Research Organisation has been set up since January. 1948, and is already doing valuable work with a comparatively small staff. Will the Government tell us whether it is planned to expand that organisation, and whether it has been decided to make conditions such as will attract first-class scientists who alone can do the job? It is only in that way that data will be available when the time comes—and I hope it comes soon—for great new development schemes to be launched. It is no use, as has been the practice during the past few years, to send out experts on a three weeks visit, or even less. We may be able to say that we have had an expert on such-and-such a matter, but it does no good. He may scrape only the surface of the problem, and even if he finds out anything of value it will be unco-ordinated with the efforts of other experts.
In conclusion, may I repeat my contention that this enterprise has been so extravagant because we rushed into it without proper preparation, without using the meagre data we had available and without making the best use of scientific knowledge? In that way we added many times to the unavoidable risks of such an undertaking. Must we then conclude that such an operation should never be started until all risks have been eliminated? I believe that would be the most damaging conclusion that could be drawn, and it is more dangerous because already it seems to have some adherents. We shall not survive as a great nation unless we develop the Empire, and unless we launch new projects with vision and forethought. But vision alone is not enough, nor is courage and determination enough to ensure final success. We must use all the resources of scientific knowledge and past experience which are available, while seeking all the while to expand and extend that knowledge. When we have done that, there will still be risks to be 1575 taken, and those risks must be taken; but we shall then have reduced them to a minimum. Let the Government have the courage now to admit their past mistakes and to face up honestly to the errors which have been made in the conduct of this ground-nut scheme. Let them tell the whole truth now, and if an inquiry is necessary to get the whole truth glen, for this country's sake, let us have an inquiry, for that is the only way we can be sure that the same mistakes will not be repeated and the success of future great development schemes endangered.
§ 5.53 p.m.
My Lords, like the noble Viscount I would also like to be allowed to congratulate my noble friend Lord Lucan on a most admirable maiden speech, and to congratulate all my noble friends on these Benches on the asset we have in the noble Earl as one of our number. I would also like to congratulate the noble Viscount, Lord Caldecote, on his speech. I heard his maiden speech, and he has fulfilled the promise of that. It is with mixed feelings that I listen to the speeches of the sons of old friends and antagonists, and I suppose many noble Lords sitting here with me have similar feelings when the younger generation carry forward the torch which we used to try to extinguish when it was held by their fathers.
All my life, professional and political, I have been carping and complaining about the slow methods of bureaucrats—that they were so cautious and so over-prudent or that they could not get a move on—and the slowness of Governments generally. Now, to our astonishment, we have the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, complaining bitterly in his otherwise interesting speech about the quick movements, the rapidity, almost the impetuousness with which this scheme was pushed forward and the necessary drive applied. It is quite a new thing to complain of speed and energy on the part of Governments. I agree that every step should be taken to prevent extravagance, and that every step should be taken to prevent unnecessary expenditure, waste, and bad accounting. But after all, this was the African bush. As the noble Viscount, Lord Caldecote said, it is all very well for us sitting here to say: "Why were 1576 not proper indents kept; why was not everything done in triplicate or quadruplicate; why were the books not properly balanced and the accounts properly cast?" These men had to go out into a wild country, without roads, with a trying climate; and they had to improvise. They had to get what they could in the way of equipment and stores. There was a shortage of bulldozers and of tractors, they had to buy war stores from the Pacific and everywhere else, to comb the dumps, and to make the best of what they could get. Notice this—and this is the point—that the bad bookkeeping and the extravagance arose for the most part during the first sixteen months when the agents, the United Africa Company, were acting and carrying on the scheme. I am making no sort of attack on the United Africa Company; their reputation is very high indeed. They probably know more about Africa than any other private company in this country, and they have at their disposal the finest experts and other knowledgeable people. But it was during their time, and not during the time of the Corporation that the worst bookkeeping and so on took place. I hope your Lordships will appreciate that point. Furthermore, many of the mistakes which were admittedly made at the beginning have now been rectified.
In this connection, I want to raise a matter with great delicacy, and I hope that I shall not be misunderstood. I am sorry that in this debate we have not heard the voice of my noble friend Lord Rothschild, because he is a director of the Overseas Food Corporation—a part-time director, if you like. I understand that he was anxious to speak on this matter, but that he was told (as we are always told) that there is a convention that members of your Lordships' House who are directors of these semi-public companies must not intervene in a debate. I have spoken to one or two noble Lords with greater experience than myself who agree with me that it is time this convention was done away with. I do not see any reason for it. Take the example of my noble friend Lord Douglas and the Air Corporation of which he is Chairman. In the man-hunt of a week ago, when the chase was after my noble friend Lord Pakenham, the second greatest expert of actual civil flying we had in the House was Lord Douglas. 1577 As we all know, the first expert, the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, was ill. Lord Douglas was the second expert, and yet we could not hear him.
He did not speak in the debate. My noble friend Lord Douglas's experience is rather more recent than that of the noble and gallant Viscount, Lord Trenchard. I am only taking this as an example, and I do not wish to be drawn into a controversy about the respective merits or civil aviation experience of the two noble Lords. This convention, that the directors of semipublic Corporations are not allowed to speak in this House, is absurd, and should be done away with. Another example is that of my noble friend Lord Citrine. At any moment we may be plunged into abysmal darkness, owing to the labour troubles in the Electricity Authority. I suppose we shall be told that my noble friend Lord Citrine must not give us the benefit of his experience because he is Chairman of that Corporation. With the greatest respect to your Lordships who have made this convention, I think it ought to be done away with.
As my noble friend Lord Lucan has said, the Opposition are taking a very parochial view of the whole matter. What is the total expenditure? From 1946 to 1954 we shall have spent £50,000,000, for which we shall have a great deal to show. How much are we spending on our armaments this year?—£780,000,000. How much are we to spend next year?—£800,000,000 perhaps, or even more. Now, £50,000,000, spread over seven years, is the cost of five battleships, and their effective life is not much longer than seven years.
Here is another point which I would respectfully like to raise, and I have given my noble friend the Leader of the House notice about this. If the railway from this new port of Mtwara—I apologise if I do not pronounce it properly, but my knowledge of Swahili is very "rusty"—up to Nachingwea and beyond is continued—and I believe the country is not too difficult from all I have gathered—it will run to Lake Nyasa, where there could be a train ferry, and a railway from Nyasa- 1578 land will bring the line to Northern Rhodesia. And the one thing that Rhodesians are always eager about is that they should have better access to the sea. There, then, is a way of providing that access. That is what we ought to be doing now. We ought also to be helping the Rhodesians to get their railway across to Walfisch Bay in the West. There would then be an East-West railway across Africa—which is something worth doing. That would be indeed a great investment. It is along those lines that we must develop this vast area in Africa. And by that process we can also produce valuable food crops by opening up new country. Surely that is the wise policy. And if we can find administrators and executors like the original pioneers, who will risk and push and drive, let us clasp them to us "with hoops of steel"; they are very rare in this modern world.
I should like to say just a word now about the main outlook. This whole debate is rather like Hamlet without the Ghost. We ought to have had the Minister of Food sitting on the steps of the Throne.
§ VISCOUNT SWINTON
Would it not be more tactful to call the Minister of Food the Prince of Denmark, rather than the Ghost?
The Prince of Denmark could not make up his mind—like the Opposition, who began by praising this scheme and now take every opportunity of damning it. I thought perhaps the noble Viscount was going to say that the Minister of Food is rather a substantial ghost. At any rate he can make up his mind and has made it up. From what the newspapers say—and I always believe half of what I see in the newspapers—the officials, engineers, and technicians and so on out there are very disturbed—and I do lot wonder. It is not only the continual criticisms of late that troubles them; it is the ridicule that has been worked up in the newspapers opposing the Government, and by the Opposition themselves making a joke of the whole business. It is not a joke. We had the noble Lord, Lord Milverton, this afternoon, talking about the scheme being the laughing-stock of the world. Who is laughing at it? When that sort of thing gets into the African papers (and the words of Lord Milverton will naturally 1579 be repeated in many African papers) what effect will it have on the men who are sweating and toiling in dangerous conditions?
§ LORD MILVERTON
If I may interrupt the noble Lord, may I protest against this red herring about people working out there? It is not the people working out there; it is the people responsible in London.
Red herring, Indeed! On these men depends the whole success or otherwise of this ground-nuts scheme which we know that the more responsible members of the Opposition want to succeed. The noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, says he wants it to succeed, and so does the noble Viscount Lord Bledisloe; and they are men for whom we in this House have respect. The welfare, efficiency and morale of these people out there will determine the prestige and everything else of this scheme. No, my Lords, I do not think that this is exactly a red herring. I think words should be chosen a little more carefully by our opponents and critics. There is no doubt that constant nagging has unsettled these men in Africa. To read some of the speeches and articles which are made, one would think that if by some miracle the Conservatives were to win the next General Election, they would immediately wind up the whole scheme—and what then of the men who have devoted their careers and made great sacrifices carrying it on?
We admit, of course, that there have been blunders. Some of them have been referred to in this debate. But they have been put right or are being put right. I must quote here what was said by my right honourable friend the Minister of Food in another place about the tractor problem, a subject which has been referred to by the noble Viscount, Lord Caldecote, the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, and others. We know that there was a lack of spare parts and of other items, as well as a lack of foresight; we are told of the combing of old dumps to get tractors and other machinery. But look at the actual figures—I am here quoting the Minister of Food:When the Corporation took over on March 31, 1948, 289 tractors were available, but only 91 of these were serviceable.1580 It is a terrible story. It shows what happens when one tries to get things done quickly and improvises and makes do with what is at hand. My right honourable friend went on:One year later 425 tractors were serviceable.He went on to explain the other experiments in the use of tractors, which brought down the cost of clearance per acre from the high figure of £30 to approximately £14.
Of course, mistakes were made at the beginning, but some of them were the ordinary teething troubles which any great enterprise has. Many of your Lordships will know the story of the Rhodesian copper mines and the great failures, disappointments and heavy losses incurred there in the early years. And then a member of your Lordships' House, Lord Geddes, was discovered (incidentally he is a medical man and not an engineer); he is a man of great vision, drive and character. He made a tremendous success of the Rhodesian copper scheme, incidentally benefiting the natives—I apologise to Lord Milverton for mentioning them. The scheme also produced one of the finest assets the Empire ever had, of great benefit economically and strategically. Mistakes were made at the beginning of that scheme but it was not thought necessary to set up a delving Committee of Inquiry. We know that these mistakes have been made, but we also know that this is a very great project of Imperial development. I hope it will be the forerunner of many other schemes of development, in Africa and in other parts of the undeveloped Colonies, and that in the future we shall be able to look back almost with pity on those who tried to pull this scheme to pieces in its early, formative, pioneer years. I certainly hope that there is no question of the Government giving way to the demand from the Opposition to send out another Committee of Inquiry to unsettle and upset those men who have had the difficult task of carrying out the scheme and who, we believe, will in the end carry it out successfully.
§ 6.10 p.m.
My Lords, I should like to preface what I have to say by saying that, in attacking the administration of this scheme, as I propose to do, I do not wish to attack the conception of 1581 the scheme in any way whatsoever. I think the conception of the scheme was right; I hope it will be continued and that such order as is necessary in the organisation will he introduced so as to stop the very considerable waste of money that has taken place up to date. Therefore, I do not want arty of your Lordships opposite to feel that I have any doubts in my own mind about the desirability of having initiated the scheme or of going on with it, not necessarily in the form in which it is now but in some form best adapted to the circumstances which have been found to obtain. There is no doubt whatsoever—and it comes out clearly from the reports which have been published—that there has been a serious element of bad administration in the conduct of this enterprise since the beginning. There appears to have been, even in the course of this debate, a certain misconception about the responsibilities and dangers.
In the speech made by the noble Viscount, Lord Hall, the question arose about the part of the managing agency. If the noble Viscount will allow me to say so, he had the date wrong in regard to the inception of the managing agency. The dates are perfectly clear; they come out in the Report. The managing agency was appointed on November 6, 1946, and came to an end on March 1, 1948. The terms under which the agency were appointed have been referred to in a number of places. Exactly what the terms of the appointment were must be made clear, because any criticism that has been made of the managing agency's conduct of affairs is, in fact, as I propose to show, only a criticism of the Government themselves. At the beginning of the Report, in paragraph 30, these words are printed:The Government accepted the view"—that is, after discussing and agreeing to the scheme in the previous paragraph, which is headed "The White Paper (Cmd. 7030)"—that the most suitable body to undertake the management of a project of this kind was a Corporation owned and financed by the Government.I think it is fair to say that a Corporation could not have been brought into existence in a sufficiently short time to undertake the work, and the work was therefore entrusted to a managing 1582 agency. In the first place, the very term "managing agency" implies, as it was intended to imply, that that body was an agent, and no more than an agent, for His Majesty's Government, and in particular for the Ministry of Food. If there should be any doubt on that particular issue, it is so stated in the Report of the Corporation where, at the top of page 7, there appear these words:and in order that there should be no delay in launching the Schenk, it was decided to proceed by means of agents responsible to the Government.They were, therefore, at agent responsible to the Government, who had perfect liberty to terminate that agency if they were not satisfied with them, or to call them to book or otherwise direct their activities. It is clear that the interests of that agency were directed by the Government. Furthermore, as the Corporation came into existence, but before it actually functioned and took over on March 1, 1948—
The accounts cover a thirteen-month period. It is a matter of a month either way. I think it is March 1, as a matter of fact. During the previous autumn, the autumn of 1947, effective direction had already been taken over by Mr. Leslie Plummer (as he then was), who subsequently became Chairman of the Corporation, and, as was perfectly right and reasonable, the managing agency deferred to him and his friends in the conduct of their affairs from that date onwards. So thin effectively, between the autumn of 1947 and the formal taking over, the responsibility lay with him who was later on Chairman of the Corporation. So far as the Corporation's failure in administration—to which I propose to allude in a moment—is concerned, the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, suggested that the major part of the trouble had occurred during the period of management of affairs by the managing agency.
I mean only the accounting troubles. No doubt, the noble Lord has considered the accounting section to which I shall come in a minute. Your Lordships will be aware that the auditors' certificate, which is printed at pages 66 and 67 and which refers to the activities of the Corporation, covers only by implication the activities which were the managing agency's responsibility by including on the following page the actual figure alleged to have been spent by the managing agency in land clearing—namely, £1,950,000. That figure is incorporated without comment in the accounts on page 66. But, as compared with the £1,950,000 which had been spent on land clearing by the managing agency up to that date, a matter of £9,000,000 was spent on land clearing by the Corporation subsequently to that date. If, therefore, there were mistakes, that was a mistake of the order of one-quarter of the total amount involved. Wherever the mistake lay, however, and whatever mistakes in accounting were made, the responsibility rests solely with His Majesty's Government and the Ministry of Food, who were the responsible Ministry, because they as principals must be held to have been responsible for the activities of the agents appointed by them.
The combination of the two accounts of the managing agency and of the Corporation itself have borne the comment on the accounts to which the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, referred and which I do not believe anyone in this House, with all your Lordships' combined experience, has ever before seen paralleled in a certificate given by an accountant of any corporation. The noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, read the first two sentences, in which the accountants state that theyare unable to report that in our opinion proper books of account have been kept by the Corporation…And moreover they were unable to state that they hadobtained all the information and explanationsthey required. The second part of that statement is at least as damaging, if not more so, than the first. In addition, the first paragraph after that reads:for the reasons set out in the Explanatory Notes, proper records of the expenditure relating to both fixed and current assets were not maintained.1584 Here is no question of stores having been lost, or of equipment not being accounted for, or of proper inventories not being made; here is the crude statement that they were unable to trace expenditures which had been made. And since that certificate is on the balance sheet of the Corporation and not on the balance sheet of the managing agency, it is a direct reflection on the state of affairs in the Corporation itself.
I do not want to enter into personalities, but it is perhaps as a result of that that the Minister of Food has seen fit to dispense with the services of Mr. Rosa. At the same time, however, I find it incomprehensible that in the debate which took place in another place on November 21, the Secretary of State for the Colonies took the trouble to refer in flattering terms to what the Corporation had done in keeping its accounts—a statement which, I may say, is completely at variance with the statement made on the same day by the Minister of Food. Which of these two versions is correct I do not know; but there appears to be some lack of co-ordination, at least, in the explanations that were made. But if your Lordships will look at the accounts in a little greater detail, you will see that it is not only the extraordinary state of affairs disclosed by the accountants' certificate that excites a certain amount of attention; it is, in fact, the accounts themselves. They, at any rate, are a model of brevity. The lack of detail is surprising to those of us who have to consider accounts.
There is one item about which the noble Viscount the Leader of the House, who, I understand, is to reply, can perhaps offer a little elucidation. On page 68 the Statement of Development, Land Clearing and Agricultural Expenditure is given. An item of £423,000 for merchandise sales is there referred to. I, for one, should very much like to know to what merchandise this item relates. Up to date, not enough ground-nuts have been produced to sell; at any rate, we are told in the Report that those which have been produced were not sold but were retained for seed. Futhermore, the ground-nuts which were grown amounted in value to £1,200,000, and therefore they cannot, presumably, be represented by the item of £423,000 for merchandise sold. Probably the explanation is that "merchandise sold" means the sale of 1585 machinery and assets which were no longer required. If that is so, it should at least be stated, and some explanation ought to be given as to why it was found necessary to dispose of that equipment.
The other surprising thing is the complete discordance between the estimates of revenues referred to by the Minister of Food in another place on March 14, by which time the Corporation had taken over the scheme for about one year or nearly a year, and the subsequent results. The Minister at that time stated that the net results of estimates up to date had shown that the scheme would be more costly and more difficult, but that it would be far more profitable than was originally estimated. Let us contrast that statement and the figures for the clearances that we were given at that time, with the position which was disclosed on November 21, and compare both those with the Report itself, which at any rate is a far more realistic document.
One is led to the conclusion that the Minister of Food resembles in this respect the African in a rather famous story which at one time was current in the Sudan and which your Lordships will perhaps allow me to relate. This African was employed in a lonely post, and among other duties, apart from being a telegraphist, he was required to send meteorological observations every morning at nine o'clock. One morning in Khartoum, a telegram was received from him—and this, of course, is singularly apposite also in connection with certain pieces of publicity about the Overseas Food Corporation's activities in the southern part of Tanganyika—saying, "Post surrounded by lions, tigers and other wild animals. All instruments destroyed." As an afterthought, about an hour later the telegraphist sent another telegram which read, "Re telegram: delete 'tigers.'" However, next morning at nine o'clock, there arrived quite normally in Khartoum a series of temperature and barometer readings. On the subsequent day the same thing happened, and again on the third day. The people in Khartoum, becoming more and more puzzled, sent him a telegram, asking, "Your telegram said that all instruments had been destroyed. So how are you getting readings?" The reply came back in a flash: "Confirm all instruments destroyed. We are estimating readings and find them most accurate." My Lords, 1586 I think that is about the quality and value of the estimates which we have had up to date.
I want to touch en one other point about the accounts before turning to other matters. It arises out of the remarks Lord Strabolgi made. He said, without attributing any blame to the managing agency for any deficiencies in the accounts, that in an enterprise of this nature people went out into Africa to do things, and they had to improvise, and it was perhaps not unnatural that proper accounts should not have been kept. I have had a great deal of experience of these matters, and if your Lordships will forgive me for speaking about something with which I was very much concerned, I would say that during the war I was responsible, under the War Office, for setting up a financial structure of accounts for, I think, nine Governments in occupied territories in Africa. In 1941 and 1942 there was no staff; it was impossible to get them We were practically isolated and we could not get personnel out from England.
In spite of that, the accounts were set up. In the three years during which they were conducted, in the latter part by others, some £30,000,000 passed through those accounts. After the first nine months, the accounts went in regularly once a month to the War Office. They went in, with a delay of two or three months, from Eastern Africa and Cairo to London. The accounts were passed monthly by Exchequer or audit, and they were reviewed four years later by the Public Accounts Committee. There was never any question of any trouble, or failure to bring to account any stores. food or money. If tint can be done in Africa in the middle of a war, it is just preposterous to say that it cannot be done in times of peace and that even in the year in which the Food Corporation had taken over, it was not possible to avoid a situation such as has been created. Whilst the publishing of that certificate to the world may not have made us a laughing stock, it has certainly brought a feeling of great shame to those of us who have taken pride in the administration of public monies in this country.
But it has had a worse effect than that. Whether noble Lords opposite like to hear this or not, I may tell you from my personal experience that comments 1587 in America on the conduct of this enterprise are such that they are calculated to discourage people there from embarking on enterprises of that sort in our Colonies. I have had it said to me personally by responsible Americans, "If that is what it is going to cost to develop Africa, it is no good asking us for any help; it is too expensive." My Lords, that is the result of bad administration: it is not the result of its being too expensive.
Turning to the question of administration, I find it very difficult to understand why there was this attempt, by planting more, by doing too much, to achieve a result too quickly. We have been trying—I say "we" because it is this country and not only His Majesty's Government—to buy time, to do things in seasons in which in Africa it was not possible to do them. It is said—and it is known to anyone with even elementary knowledge of those parts—that certain times of year are appropriate for clearing, and certain other times are not. I understand that, under the present scheme, it is proposed to clear the bush after the rains, when the ground is wet. Surely it must have been obvious that that was more sensible than trying to pull trees out of the ground when it was as hard as concrete. The money spent on wind-rowing, pushing trunks of trees about which, if left to dry out in the tropical sun, could have been burnt, is almost incalculable. That is where the cost of clearing, in major part, has gone—trying to do the wrong things, trying to do the right things at the wrong time. That is what I mean by bad administration. That is what we have to criticise, not the scheme itself; nor, for Heaven's sake, the efforts of the men out there to do what they are told; it is the orders given that have been wrong.
Orders have been given by people who have not had experience of public administration. I do not want to be unfair to anyone; I do not want to be unfair to the Chairman. But what has been the Chairman's experience of administering? He has been a luminary, I understand, of a slightly vivid political complexion, in the newspaper world. So far as I know, he has never had any business experience of administering anything. Is it not elementary that in 1588 embarking on an enterprise of this kind you should try to select a man who has had some experience of that sort, who has had that background, and, if possible, who has some knowledge of Africa? These misconceptions on how the thing ought to be done—not whether it ought to be done, but how—run right through. You can see it in the Reports. You can trace it even in the written words of the Reports. May I invite your Lordships' attention to a part of the Corporation's Report that has not had the same publicity as the miserable balance sheet?— I refer to the hinder part of the Report dealing with the admirable scientific work which has been done out there. There is one of the worst bits of "give away" of bad administration in the whole Report on page 98. It there states that:The Department"—that is the scientific Department—was initiated by the appointment of the Chief Scientific Officer on January 30. 1947.That was shortly after the managing agency took over. A little lower down the page we find this:No laboratory facilities were available until March, 1948"—that was more than a year later—when a temporary chemical laboratory in two tents was opened at Kongwa.That was after clearing had started at Kongwa. The Report goes on to say that:The first task of the Department was the survey and appraisal of the areas suggested for development.That was after they had started.
Lord Caldecote referred to rainfall. The erratic nature of the rainfall was brought out very clearly in the Wakefield Report. The authors of that Report ought not to be blamed for having taken too optimistic a view. They deal with rainfall on page 19 of their Report. The opening sentence of the paragraph is a perfect platitude to anyone who has been to that part of Africa, but it does not seem to have occurred to the people who started the scheme. The Report states:Agriculture in East Africa is largely dependent upon an erratic rainfall.Surely it would be an elementary precaution to find out what the rainfall is in the particular area you are going to clear before you do start clearing and not to find out what it is afterwards. We know what experience of that has been, 1589 for it is in the Report. On the same page there is reference to domestic water supplies. We know of the tragedy of Kongwa and the water supplies. Why was no investigation of water supplies made before Kongwa was first selected for development? As I say, it is not the authors of the Wakefield Report who are to blame; the blame lies with the decision of the people who started the scheme in a hurry. The same thing applies to soil analysis. I could take your Lordships through dozens of pages in these Reports where it is clearly stated that investigations into the suitability or the practicability of a plan were made after, instead of before, the decision had been taken to do something. That is had administration. That does not damn the scheme as a scheme; it damns the people who are in charge of the administration.
Finally, may I pick up a point which Lord Caldecote made about transport? The chaos in 1947 and 1948 in transportation is well known. It is referred to in the Reports. An attempt was made to do something for which a junior staff captain who had never been on a Staff course would have been court-martialled within a week if he had been responsible. What happened was that the carrying capacity of the railway and the throughput of the port were not first ascertained. May I take up one particular matter to show how ridiculous the position became? In the Report it is shown that after a great deal of first-class work by the Central Railway Line, the carrying capacity of the line was raised by certain figures to a certain level. Reference to this is to be found on page 40 of the Corporation's Report. It is there stated that the Corporation's weekly rail tonnage from Dar-es-Salaam to Kongwa during the first quarter of 1949 averaged 828 tons. To Urambo, which is on the same line, the figure was 363 tons. If my arithmetic is correct, as both those places are on the same line, if you add those two figures together you find that the carrying capacity from Dar-es-Salaam is 1,200 tons a week, which is 62,500 tons a year.
The estimate for the first part of the programme for ground-nuts grown in the area, if the programme had been realised, showed a weight of ground-nuts very considerably greater than the railway could have carried—that is without taking into 1590 account the use of the railway for the rest of Tanganyika for its ordinary and normal purposes. All estimates of stores landed, priorities, are in excess of what the port could put through and in excess of what the railway could carry up. Yet it was only when that chaos had been allowed to develop, only when chaos had reached an almost insoluble point, that a conference was held in London, in January of this year, about development of the Port of Dar-es-Salaam. That was one and a half years after the congestion had begun. That is also to be found in the Report, on page 38, paragraph 227.
That conference was presided over by the Minister of Food. The conclusion of the conference was that they favoured a scheme for the construction of deep-water piers at Dar-es-Salaam. Could not that have been thought of in 1936 before we went there? Any junior officer in the most humble line of communication formation in the war would have been court-martialled for incompetence and deliberate neglect for having done that. That is what the Government are asking us to excuse to-day in this scheme, saving, "Of course, that does not matter. This is a grand scheme for developing Africa and we are going to get ground-nuts in five or six years' time." Meanwhile we have spent £24,000,000, up to the time of the balance sheet, and money has been spent at the rate of £1,000,000 a month since then, I would judge by the amount that has been called for. No, we on this side of the House wish to see Africa developed and this scheme of development in Tanganyika gene ahead with, but we wish to see it under the direction of people who are competent to administer public money and who have had experience of handling men, materials and other people's money, instead of those who are in charge of the scheme to-day. If your Lordships are still not certain, I can go on giving more and more details and examples of this from published reports, and not from any private communications that have been received.
In conclusion, I would point out that it is the knowledge of that incompetence in high places that has created the bad moray to which many speakers have referred; but it can be cured. As the right reverend Prelate has said, there is a sense of missionary work among the people in Africa. Even to-day they feel that they are doing some- 1591 thing more and greater than is paid for by their salaries, or than they can get out of the conditions under which they live. They believe in what they are doing. They believe something can be gained. But if this incompetent administration goes on much longer, not only will that be killed but they will not be there to do it, because they will not stay. We want to see this put right. When we are told that everything is all right, we do not believe it; nor do the public generally, either in this country or abroad. That is why we want to see an inquiry, not to ascertain who was to blame in the past but to discover what is the best thing to do in the future. We want an inquiry because we have no confidence in the estimates which are being made by the Minister of Food, because he has been disproved in his own estimates by the results achieved. For that reason my noble friends on these Benches and I will support the Motion asking for an inquiry by experts. Whether these experts are from this country or any other country is immaterial to us. We want an inquiry by experts into this plan, if necessary to advise us what to do next but above all to satisfy people that the money which has been wasted has not been wasted in vain.
§ 6.44 p.m.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, I rise at the end of this most important debate to sum up the views of those noble Lords who sit on these Benches. Whatever our views as to the functions of your Lordships' House—and I think this applies to all sides—there is one thing on which there will be common agreement in all Parties; it is that this House provides an appropriate and valuable forum for the examination of burning questions of the day. I am sure, therefore, that the Government will have no complaint if we who sit on these Benches and the Liberal Party who sit on the Benches below the gangway, have thought it right to raise a debate on the Government's ground-nut scheme which has been the subject of discussion this afternoon. This is a question which I cannot believe the Government are unaware is a subject of deep anxiety throughout the country and they should welcome any opportunity of giving any information on the subject, from the 1592 point of view of allaying those anxieties. I wish that we could say that to-day's debate has had that result; but I am afraid that the effect on most of us is only to increase our preoccupations.
What are the salient views which have emerged from the discussion to-day? In discussing this it is desirable that we should draw a differentiation between two alternative arguments on which the Government appear to base their support of this scheme and the way in which it has been operating. At one moment they defend it as a great long-term idealistic conception of Colonial development. That was the view expressed with great sincerity this afternoon by the noble Earl, Lord Lucan, in the charming maiden speech which he made to your Lordships. But if this is primarily a scheme, not for food production, but for opening up the Colonial Empire, is it certain that this is the best way of spending £50,000,000? I imagine that everywhere throughout this House we are just as much in favour of the development of our Colonial Empire as are the Government. But is this the most appropriate direction, from that point of view alone, in which to exert our efforts? There are many other projects which I should have thought might give more immediate and widespread benefit to the Colonial peoples themselves. I know that the noble Viscount, Lord Hall, does not favour this view, because he said so frankly at the end of his speech. But, in fact, this area of Tanganyika is very lightly populated. It is not an area that it would be natural for one to choose for the pure purpose of benefiting the Colonial peoples, and I find difficulty in believing that this was the main purpose in the minds of the Government.
Moreover, I agree entirely with what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Winster, when he asked why, if this were really a scheme of Colonial development it was entrusted to the Ministry of Food and not to the Colonial Office. If this is said—and it has been said, both in this House and in another place—the Government move immediately on to their other leg and recommend the scheme as a thoroughly practical plan for increasing food supplies and, in particular, fats. That gyration was performed with great grace and elegance this afternoon by the noble Viscount, Lord Hall. No doubt it 1593 is perfectly possible to make a strong case for increasing the production of groundnuts. It may well be argued—I think we should none of us deny it—that there has been a severe shortage of this commodity, which is so important for the production of edible fats, both during the war and in the years that have succeeded it. But even if we accept the Government's contention that a case for a ground-nut scheme has been made, and I do not myself dispute that a very good case was made for it, the question will remain in all our minds: Was this the best scheme that could be devised, and has it been efficiently executed?
It seems to me that here we are on even more debatable ground. It invites all sorts of further questions. First, is this the type of initiative which is best operated by a great State organisation based on London? Is London the right place to situate the management of this concern? Secondly, as the Government, whether for ideological or other reasons, decided that they should have a great State scheme of this character, would it not have been 'better to put in charge a man with some experience of agriculture in tropical countries and, what is more, a man resident on the spot and not 4,000 or 5,000 miles away? The Minister obviously knew nothing about the technical details of tropical agriculture. And how should he? Nobody expects the Minister, with the sort of training he has had, to know about the technical details of this subject. He was inevitably dependent upon the Chairman of his Corporation. He was the key man.
And what do we know about the Chairman? I should like, if I may, to underline what has already been said by the noble Lord, Lord Rennell. I have nothing personally against Sir 'Leslie. To the best of my knowledge, I have never seen him. I understand he is what is called a "live-wire," and no doubt that is a considerable qualification. But his experience, apparently, has been entirely—not partially—in journalism in Great Britain. We have been given, in a paper with the very imposing title Our World, which is the official organ of the Overseas Food Corporation, and is, therefore, presumably in possession of the facts, the main details of Sir Leslie's carter. This is what k says. In 1919 he joined the staff of the Daily Herald; in 1922 he started the 1594 New Leader, becoming its manager; in 1926, after the General Strike, he founded a paper called the Miner, in which he was associated with the present Minister of Food; and at a later date, I understand, he was associated with the Daily Express, on whose staff he remained until 1947, when he received his present appointment. It certainly appears that he has had a varied and successful career in journalism, for which we must all give him full credit. But can the Government possibly say that his career fits him for appointment as head of a vast corporation, the purpose of which is the production of ground-nuts in Central Africa?
The Minister may, of course, argue that he knew Sir Leslie well, and that he considered him capable of shining in any walk of life. That is, as the French used to say in Geneva, "these au moins discutable." The Minister may equally argue that Sir Leslie, even if he did not know anything about ground-nuts himself, was provided with a staff of expert advisers, all having had long experience of the technical aspects of the work of the Corporation. But it now appears that at least three of these expert advisers did not agree either with Sir Leslie or with the Minister. One of them, as your Lordships know, was Mr. Wakefield, who has spent his life in agriculture. The noble Viscount, Lord Hall, quite fairly, referred to Mr. Wakefield in connection with his original Report. I think that Mr. Wakefield was probably mistaken in his original estimates; he may have been very badly mistaken. But, like other sensible men, he found himself able not only to modify, but even to alter his views. As your Lordships know, he came to the conclusion, in the light of two years' practical experience, that the Corporation was going much too fast. What happened to him? He was immediately dismissed. The same fate befell Mr. Rosa, who, as your Lordships know from his very wise and moderate letter in The Times this morning, gave the same advice.
Then there was the third, Mr. McClean, who was special adviser to Sir Leslie Plummer. He resigned voluntarily, and his reasons were extremely significant. I now quote from The Times of December 2. He there said:I am resigning because, while retaining my belief in the concept, under present-day conditions, of Large-scale agricultural development projects, I no longer have confidence either in 1595 the chairman of the Board or in the Minister of Food as being capable of ensuring their success.He refers specifically, among the immediate reasons for his loss of confidence, to the information on the ground-nuts scheme given by the Minister of Food in the recent debate in the other place, which, in common with his previous statements, could not fail to mislead the general public, who could not obtain the full facts. The noble Viscount, Lord Hall, in his speech this afternoon said: "What do you want with an inquiry? The full facts are already in full possession of the public.' What I have quoted is a view of these facts that has been given by the special adviser to the Chairman of the Corporation.
It seems that the Chairman, Sir Leslie, no doubt filled with a burning enthusiasm, gained on the staffs of the Daily Herald, the New Leader and the Daily Express, was unwilling to take the advice of these experts to proceed with caution, and preferred to rely on his own unaided genius—and, of course, that of the Minister. He might well have borne in mind what was said many years ago by Sir Walter Raleigh, who, after all, if I remember aright, had made a plantation:Haste is an enemy of good deliberation; for whoso greedily desireth anything proceedeth rashly; and rash proceeding ended ever in repentance.I would say in answer, if I may, that in this context, at any rate, I am inclined to prefer the counsel of Sir Walter Raleigh to that of Sir Francis Bacon, upon whom the Minister relied in the debate in the other place. For, as historians will remember, it was not in financial affairs that Sir Francis principally excelled.
In his speech this afternoon the noble Viscount, Lord Hall, laid great emphasis on the fact that this scheme was referred to Parliament in its earliest stages, and that no opposition was found in any quarter at that stage—I do not think I am misinterpreting the noble Viscount. But I do not think it was then divulged to Parliament that there were to be no pilot experiments of any kind, and that the Government intended to go straight ahead and spend millions of pounds of public money without trying out first whether the terrain was suitable for cultivation of this character. It really is no use the Government trying to 1596 unload the responsibility on Parliament, on the United Africa Company, or on all and sundry. The Minister must take responsibility for the operations of his Department, and the Government who support him—and I understand they continue to support the Minister—must share that responsibility. No Government can shuffle out of their responsibilities in that way.
Such are some of the broad facts, both as to the nature of the enterprise on which the Government embarked, and also as to the character of the chief personalities to whose conduct the enterprise, in which millions of pounds of public money was invested, was entrusted. It is in the light of those facts that we have to examine the results of their stewardship. We are told by the Government—it was indicated by several speakers this afternoon—that it is much too soon to draw any conclusions about this venture. I cannot help thinking that that argument would not have been used if the results had been rather more satisfactory. But, in any case, it is surely legitimate that we should look into what it was hoped to achieve and see how far those expectations have been realised. It is a little difficult to do even this, for the Minister, perhaps wisely, has surrounded the whole scheme with a veil of obscurity. But there are certain salient facts which have emerged, and about those facts I think there is no dispute. I beg leave to repeat sonic of them, because it is necessary that noble Lords, and the country at large, should understand the reason for the anxieties which we feel.
First, it was expected that in the two years from 1947 to 1949 600,000 acres would be cleared and planted. In fact, up to March, 1949, the acreage cleared and planted was 50,000 acres—that is, one-twelfth of the acreage which was expected. Then it was expected that the yield per acre would be 850 lb., rising to 1,120 lb. In fact, up to March, 1949, the yield per acre was 528 lb.—little more than half. It was expected that the cost of clearing the bush would be £3 17s. 4d. per acre—a figure which I think has already been quoted. In fact, as your Lordships know, up to March, 1949, the cost of clearing. was £39 an acre, which was progressively reduced to £15 an acre. The noble Viscount, Lord Hall, indicated 1597 in his speech that when these original estimates were produced, this particular one seemed to the Government astonishingly low, and I think he said that they were almost bewildering to British agricultural experts. But did that not give the Government and the Minister some cause for thought? Did not they say to themselves: "Ought we not to conduct some practical experiments to see how far this estimate is correct before going full steam ahead?"
We all know that in this country, when you are clearing woodlands by mechanical means, it costs upwards of £30 an acre—very much the same as it has in fact cost in East Africa. The Government must have known that. Did they not then send out a message, or did not the Chairman then send out a message and say: "Will you please try some limited experiments to see how far this estimate is justified?", instead of saying, as they have, two years afterwards: "Well, we always thought it very queer." And now I come to the final figure I wish to give. It was expected that the cost of production f.o.b. at the African port would be £14 5s. 6d. per acre. Now, even after three years, we do not know what the cost of production has been. The figure, as I understand, is not available. I hoped that we were to be given that figure to-day. Possibly the Leader of the House will be able to give it, or possibly it is one of those things which the British public is not to be allowed to know.
No doubt certain divergencies were to be expected from the original estimates; I should have thought that almost inevitable in an enterprise of this kind. But I ask the Government: Are not these divergencies unduly large? Is not the miscalculation of ten times rather exceptional, even for a public Corporation? We have been told in the auditors' report—my noble friend Lord Swinton has already referred to this—that it had been expected that the Kongwa bush would be easily de-rooted. I am not going any further into that matter except to ask: On what expectation was the view founded that the uprooting of this hush would be an easy matter? Was it on any practical tests that had been carried out, or was it merely guess-work? I would like to ask, in particular, how far were the large sisal companies, who have had very long experience of similar conditions, consulted, if at all? We 1598 received no information on these points from the noble Viscount, Lord Hall. Possibly we shall get more front the noble Viscount the Leader of the House.
Then it appears from the same report that the scale of tractor maintenance was greatly underestimated and that insufficient provision was made for reconditioning and maintenance. I am told on good authority that upwards of 50 per cent. of the tractors were entirely out of use at any one time. I would ask, therefore, who provided the information which led to such an underestimate, which has resulted in very large numbers of tractors being immobilised for such long periods as that? Those are the kind of questions which would be asked by the shareholders of any private company, and we, as the Government constantly tell us, are the shareholders in this company, and we want to know the facts. They are facts which are relevant to our own responsibilities and, in my view, if the Government have not this information it would seem abundantly to justify an independent inquiry.
The Government supporters in another place and in the Press have sought to unload responsibility for the failure of this scheme on the United Africa Company, who were, as has been said, the agents of the Government—"managing agents" I think is the technical expression—during the first year of its operation. I thought that there was a faint implication of that, even in the speech of the noble Viscount, Lord Hall, and I thought I detected an implication too in the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi.
It was the accounting which was so bad during the first sixteen months, and I tried to excuse it. But it was the United Africa Company.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
I got the wrong impression from the noble Lord's speech. In any ease, we on this side of the House—which is all I can speak for—are not concerned to defend the United Africa Company or, indeed, anyone else. We are concerned to get the facts and find out not only the reason for what appears to have been an appalling waste of public money but, even more, to ensure that tint waste shall not continue in the future. For the House 1599 and the country should realise—as the noble Lord, Lord Rennell, said just now—that this expenditure is still going on. Already £30,000,000 has been spent and £20,000,000 or thereabouts is still in the kitty. By all accounts that is going pretty fast, and we are by no means certain—I do not believe noble Lords opposite are by any means certain—that it is being wisely invested.
For instance, I am told that in the southern territory which, as your Lordships know, is now being developed, a railway has already been built and an oil pipeline 127 miles long has been constructed. But the soil survey and the water survey in the area which these facilities are to serve are still far from complete. In fact, in the case of water I am told that it is still at a very early stage. We do not in fact know—and I suppose the Corporation do not, in fact, yet know—what will grow in these areas, which the railway and the pipeline have been built to serve. The same mistake is still possible there which, as the noble Lord, Lord Rennell, has just said, has already been made at Kongwa. The noble Viscount, Lord Hall, with great satisfaction, said that 100,000 acres of this southern territory were to be cleared and planted by next year. I think he meant the next two years.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
The noble Viscount was good enough to send me a note to correct what he said. But can we have any confidence that the soil survey and the water survey, when completed, will justify going ahead at this pace and developing so rapidly 100,000 acres? We know of the mistakes already made in the Kongwa area, and they are very considerable. I will give your Lordships just one instance. I ask the Leader of the House whether this is not correct: that at Kongwa, on the assumption that a vastly greater area was to be cultivated than has been, and that a vastly greater labour force would be necessary, a hospital was actually put up with 400 beds. Now it appears that only 90,000 to 100,000 acres are going to be cultivated in the immediate future—if indeed any more are to be cultivated at any time. The accommodation at that hospital, therefore, is largely redundant and attempts are now being made to 1600 make use of it by employing it for some other purpose. The noble Lord, Lord Winster, said that the Government had not had enough credit for the social work they had done. But I am certain that, with his experience as a Governor, he would agree that it is indefensible to spend unless you have some accurate knowledge of the needs of the area which is to be supplied. Yet that is what has undoubtedly happened in various ways at Kongwa.
We do not want—and cannot allow, so far as it is in our power to prevent it—such mistakes to be multiplied and repeated in the new area. Nor have our anxieties been allayed by a remark which was let drop by the noble Viscount, Lord Hall—to which the noble Viscount, Lord Caldecote, referred in what, if I may say so, was a very admirable speech—that the production of ground-nuts might possibly have to be permanently susidised. He said cheerfully that the British farmer was subsidised and why, therefore, should we not subsidise the lot? The Government seems constitutionally unable to realise that there is somewhere a bottom to the public purse. That is one of the main reasons for our present unhappy national situation. But this question of expenditure is a matter with which both Parliament and people must concern themselves. For all these reasons I most sincerely beg the Government to reverse their earlier decision, announced by the First Lord, and agree to an independent expert inquiry. That, I believe, would be in the interests of the staff employed in this great venture.
The noble Viscount gave the impression that the staff would resent such an inquiry and regard it as a reflection on themselves—and by the staff I mean in particular the staff in Tanganyika itself; those whom the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, called the "front line troops." That, of course, would be most unfortunate if it were true, because they have worked in a most devoted manner throughout. But it is not my information that that would be their view. On the contrary, my impression is that they would warmly welcome an inquiry of the fullest kind. At present they are utterly bewildered and they have largely lost confidence, not in the scheme itself, but in the present management of the scheme at the London end. Nothing would please them better than to have 1601 all the facts disclosed and the scheme put on a realistic basis. Indeed. Mr. McClean gave as one of the main reasons which encouraged him to resign his post:the refusal to hold a public inquiry without which it was impossible either for the general public or the staff of the Corporation to have any confidence in those at present responsible for the scheme.That, I am sure, represents the views of a large proportion of the staff in Tanganyika.
I ant not going to suggest to-day that this venture should be scrapped. I personally should be very sorry to see it scrapped. Whether it was originally well conceived and well sited or not, we must make the best of it now, if in any way economically possible. Especially at this crisis in our national affairs, we cannot afford to lose £30,000,000. But if we are to go on, the British public—what I have called the shareholders in this project—must know the full facts. It is not our aim this evening—as I think the noble Viscount, Lord Hall, recognises—to censure the Minister or anyone else, except in so far as the facts in themselves do this. But it is vital for the future, even more than for the past, that a full inquiry should be held. It is for this we ask. In doing so, we believe we have behind us the overwhelming body of public opinion in every Party, and I hope that the noble Viscount the Leader of the House will accede to our request. In his closing words Lord Hall, who is usually so courteous to us on this side made (I hope he did not mean it) what seemed to me to be a very offensive suggestion. That suggestion was that the demand for an inquiry which we are putting forward has been actuated purely by Party political motives. If I may say so, we on this side deeply resent that suggestion. Here is a case where £30,000,000 of public money has been, in our view, squandered on what clearly was—
§ VISCOUNT HALL
May I assure the noble Marquess that my remark was not intended in the way he suggests?
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
I am grateful to the noble Viscount for saying so, but he did make a reference to "attacks on purely political grounds." He may, of course, have meant political attacks outside this House—but certainly that was the implication of his remarks. 1602 As I say, £30,000,000 has been, as we believe, squandered on what is at best a doubtful proposition—and more is being spent now. It seems to me that we in Parliament have a positive duty to make proper inquiries into this expenditure. That is our constitutional job, and we should be grossly to blame if we neglected it. As the noble Viscount sailed a little near the wind, I hope he will allow me to do the same. I should like to say quite definitely that in our view (and it is a view which I believe to be widely held outside this House) the reason the Government are refusing an inquiry is not because all the facts are already known to the public—that is definitely not so—but because they cannot flee an inquiry, since the results would be too damaging. Yet, if an inquiry is not held, there is no certainty that there will be any improvement in the management of this project. I am afraid I can only regard the Government's attitude, if I may use a word already employed by the noble Lord, Lord Milverton, as an insult to Parliament and the country, and I would ask those who hold this view to express it in no uncertain way by going into the Division Lobby in support of this Motion. It seems to me that it is impossible, in view of the Government's refusal, to take any other view.
§ 7.19 p.m.
§ THE LORD PRIVY SEAL (VISCOUNT ADDISON)
My Lords, we have had a most interesting debate. It has been much as I expected, except in one regard, and that is a certain revelation of the defects in the memory of noble Lords opposite. I will endeavour to lift the curtain for them a little before I finish, but it was a great surprise to me that noble Lords, in their ostensible forgetfulness, wished to have it both ways. However, I will remind them of some of their sayings on this matter, and perhaps they will think a little more wisely of the matter when I have finished. For the purposes of this reply I am bound to recapitulate in a few sentences the story of this scheme.
It did not originate in a Government Department. It originated in the minds of the hard-headed business men who are on the staff of the United Africa Company. That is where it came from. Mr. Samuel made some interesting suggestions which were then explored, as my noble friend the First Lord of the 1603 Admiralty has said, in 1946, and ultimately, as I shall show in a moment, life made a start in 1947. For the reasons so eloquently put forward by the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, the general purpose was to increase the food production in those parts of the world where the temperature and other conditions might be favourable to that type of production of which Africa was the most notable place; and, at the same time, to help to develop this great Colonial territory.
At the time—that is, in 1946–47—these proposals received general support. They were not proposals covering the modest acreage about which we are now talking. There were 2,500,000 acres to be cleared; that was the figure. I am not giving away any secrets when I confess that I regarded the proposals with some surprise. They were accepted generally and the United Africa Company, with general approval—and as the Government we accept the fullest responsibility for asking them to act—acted as managing agents for the initial scheme. They did so act from the beginning of 1947 to the spring of 1948. It is true that during a part of that time, as the noble Lord, Lord Rennell, reminded us, the nominated Chairman was in close touch with them, although for a great part of that period, the autumn of 1947–48, he was in Australia. However, this Company managed the scheme until March, 1948. The original estimates were put before the country and were carefully gone into by a responsible mission, composed of Mr. Wakefield, Mr. Rosa and Mr. Martin, of the United Africa Company. They made up their own detailed review. They were trusted experts. The managing agency then acted upon their recommendations—this was in early 1947. I am not blaming the Corporation, the managing agency or anybody. I am merely stating the facts. In a minute I will remind noble Lords opposite of their own views about this. During 1947, various projects were started and in one instance a choice was made of the Kongwa region. Included in these operations were these immense purchases of war dumps, of which the noble Lord, Lord Milverton, reminded us. Some contraption was found which dealt with ships. There were all kinds of strange things in the war dumps. They had to buy the lot or 1604 nothing. Anyhow, this managing agency bought these war dumps. I am not blaming them. It was possibly the best thing they could do in the circumstances. The work went on in that way.
In the spring of 1948, the Government proposed to set up this Corporation. Accordingly, a Bill came before this House. While the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, was speaking to-day, I had what I may term two operations of memory. One was a vision of the noble Viscount standing there saying what he thought about this Bill. That, of course, was a year after the scheme had started. They were already on the job in Kongwa; they had already bought the dumps. It was decided to set up this Corporation to carry on at that particular place. I find my recollection is correct. I have obtained a copy of Hansard, as the Speaker says in another place "in order that my quotations may be correct." I also thought this afternoon that the noble Lord, Lord Rennell, was in the same position as the noble Viscount, and I find that he was. I will remind the House what the noble Viscount said about the Bill, because these noble Lords have gone out of their way to condemn the whole scheme lock, stock and barrel.
§ VISCOUNT SWINTON
No, I have not. If I am being charged, I want the right to answer that charge. I have said that I want to rescue this scheme from the way in which it is being mismanaged to-day. I wished it well a year ago; I wish it well to-day. But a year ago, if I had known the way it was going to be mismanaged I should have known that it could not succeed.
§ VISCOUNT ADDISON
My Lords, I beg the noble Viscount to read his own speech as reported in Hansard. He will see that what I say is correct—that the gist of the whole speech was that the scheme was improperly conceived, the wrong place was selected, and so on. I recommend the noble Viscount to read his speech. That is the impression it makes upon anyone who reads it. The same applies to the speech of the other noble Lord. This scheme had been going on for a year. Then before this House there came a proposal that this Corporation should be set up. This is what the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, said about it when this scheme had been going on for twelve months. That is my point.
§ VISCOUNT ADDISON
Oh, no. The noble Viscount is not going to get away with that. He said:I think that in all quarters of the House—or certainly in almost all quarters—it will be agreed that it is a Bill to which we can give our general and broad support. I should like at the outset to congratulate the Government on not having laid down any sealed pattern.
§ VISCOUNT ADDISON
Wait a minute. That was the Bill to carry on these very operations, to enable a Corporation to be set up to carry on the scheme. I am not excusing anybody's mistake, or saying what some of them were, or how big they were. All I am trying to say now is that it is not fair to be wise after the event, and to turn round and make a suggestion that you have been out of favour with the whole scheme from the very start. That will not do.
I hope the noble Viscount will forgive me for interrupting but I do not follow what he is trying to say. I supported the Overseas Development Corporation Bill. I have never condemned the Overseas Food Corporation either then or this evening. I have condemned its management.
§ VISCOUNT ADDISON
The case against the scheme during its initiation and the early operations of the scheme is that in the place chosen—Kongwa, for example—the soil was far too hard (I think one noble Lord said it is as hard as concrete, and I believe it is sometimes) where there was low rainfall and various other defects. What I am pointing out is that at the time when noble Lords nave the scheme their blessing the operations were in that area.
§ VISCOUNT SWINTON
But does the noble Viscount suggest that we knew that there had been no pilot experiments?
§ VISCOUNT ADDISON
I do not know what the noble Viscount knew. This is what the noble Lord, Lord Rennell, said:I am aware that the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, is going to take part in this debate, but it may perhaps be easier for another to emphasise, for what it is worth. how much we owe to the initiative, not of 1606 the Colonial Office or of any Government Department, but to a private company, for proposing, working out and starting a scheme which has everybody's praise for its imagination and scope.That is what Lord Rennell said on January 29, 1948, when the scheme had been going for a year. That is the point I am on. I suggest the noble Lord that it will not do for him to assume this mantle of wisdom so long after the event, when everybody knows that these great mistakes were made. Without a doubt, one of the mistakes (Fat was made was the choice of this place, Kongwa, for the initial experiment. I think it was a mistake, but we did not know it then. The choice was made by a mission of three gentlemen who were all supposed to be experts. I suppose they were; they did their best. They were Mr. Wakefield, Mr. Rosa, and Mr. Martin of the United Africa Company. These gentlemen suggested this particular area for these operations, and the operations were started by the managing agency in all good faith on that advice. I ant not blaming the managing agency, but, unfortunately, it was proved that this was not a good place to start.
In the first place, there was a deficiency of rainfall. I agree with the noble Viscount that we ought to have known there was not sufficient rainfall. The ground is very hard and almost like concrete for parts of the year, and during other times these fellows working there are subjected to very frequent dust storms. It is a very miserable place in which to live, and I do not wonder that sometimes they get depressed and rather disheartened. I think that was an initial mistake. There were several other mistakes. Certainly it was a mistake to suggest that that ground could be cleared at this very rapid pace. We are not denying any one of these things. What we want to do is to learn by the lessons of experience how to put things right and to encourage the men on the spot in their difficult tasks. Before I leave that matter, may I say in reply to the Lord Bishop of Lichfield that very good progress is being made in the various welfare services by the Corporation officers, particularly in the south and round Kongwa. I could go into the details but seeing the time of night I will refrain from doing so. I will make it my business to send to the right reverend Prelate a report of the excellent work 1607 that is being done with regard to hospital accommodation, welfare, schools and all the rest of it.
Now I must move to my main theme. I have put the House in possession of the history of how this scheme grew up. Then, in February, 1948, we passed the Bill setting up the Corporation, with the blessing of noble Lords opposite who said all those pleasant things about it when it had been going for twelve months. Since then this Corporation has been in charge—a period of twenty months. That is the particular period. Of course, as these difficulties have emerged, and the enormous handicaps from lack of transport, inadequate repair facilities for machinery, and all the rest of it, have inevitably developed, the Corporation have had to reduce their programme more and more.
Early this year the Chairman, because the managing director on the spot was ill, had himself at Kongwa to undertake the very unpleasant task of telling the staff that certain of them were redundant, that the scheme must be reduced in its scope, and so on. That was a very difficult and wretched thing for anybody to have to do, and it was very disheartening to the men on the spot. Unfortunately, it is part of the lesson which has emerged from the work in hand, and the result is that a greatly reduced programme is now before us. I hope those concerned will be able to achieve that programme, but I would not pretend that in the southern area they may not meet with even more unforeseen difficulties. Even now we do not know what the insects are going to be like in that region; what the health records are going to be; and to what extent these plants are going to be exposed to various diseases; and other things such as accidents may emerge. Not for a moment do I wish to conceal a single one of them.
I must remind the House of another fact. The noble Lord, Lord Rennell, described these accounts in very strong language. I do not know that it was too strong. But whose accounts were they? If you look at the Report, you will see at page 75 a letter from Mr. Webster of the United Africa Company to Mr. Huntley of the Ministry of Food, submitting the accounts. The letter is a very good, honest, straightforward 1608 letter, printed in full in this Report. That does not show that the noble Lord is short of facts: they push themselves out at him from every page of the Report. We have not sought to conceal these ugly facts. I ask your Lordships to read that letter at page 75. It is no doubt a very truthful account of the difficulties which they experienced and why the accounts, to put it in plain and simple language, were in such a considerable muddle in the starting of the enterprise in that area.
If noble Lords will refer to Appendix 4, they will see, on page 95, what jobs this Corporation had to tackle when it took over the business in March, 1948, only twenty months ago. I must admit that I was dismayed when I read this, and I do not think that private enterprise had anything to be proud about, either. Here it is. There were great difficulties because the heavy tractors, from surplus stores, were much worse than had been anticipated. There were no spares. It took months to get things to Kongwa from overseas and the supply position was very inadequate. There was an incomplete overall plan of operations, an incomplete integration between the operations, over centralisation and so on. The Report goes on in this way:In normal circumstances the transfer of responsibility would have been accompanied by detailed audited accounts at the date of transfer, but, in the circumstances in which the Scheme was started, it was apparent that there must be many gaps in the accounting records so as to make the preparation of such complete accounts impracticable.That is a statement of the position when the Corporation came into office. Were they talking about accounts? They were talking about the state of affairs as presented to them on the termination of the responsibility of the managing agency. That is what this dreadful Paper describes.
The noble Lord, Lord Rennell, told us a charming story of what he did concerning War Office accounts in West Africa. It is stated in this Report that there are four difficulties to be put right. With regard to three of them very good progress has been made. In the matter of the fourth, which concerns the getting of audited accounts into proper order, it is stated here that this takes at least twelve months. No doubt that is right. That is only twenty months ago. If you look at 1609 the record of this Corporation you will see that they have appointed auditors, got the accounts into better shape, got things collected together and sorted out and dealt with heaps of documents, and I believe it is fair to say that the accounts are now in a much better condition and are improving rapidly. The appointment of Sir Eric Coates to the Board is evidence of our great anxiety to help the Corporation to get the accounts into better order. Lord Rennell asked me about a figure of £422,938. That represents the sales of merchandise in the Corporation shops to their employees, both Europeans and Africans—the goods sold including food, clothes, furniture and other things. Lord Rennell further complained that there way no laboratory at Kongwa until March. 1948. I dare say there was not. In this immense enterprise it had not been found possible to establish adequate laboratory facilities at Kongwa in 1948. That had been the business of the managing agency. They had been in charge up to that time. I am not prepared to accept responsibility on behalf of the Government.
§ VISCOUNT ADDISON
Since then laboratories have been established there and at many other places, under the ægis and the direction of the Corporation.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
I just want to be clear about this point. The noble Viscount the Leader of the House said that he would not accept responsibility on behalf of the Government, except, I understood him to say, in so far as the thing was done by the Corporation. Do the Government accept responsibility for what was done by the managing agency or not? It is rather an important point.
§ VISCOUNT ADDISON
I do not want to put it unfairly. What I meant was that before that particular time when the Corporation found this state of affairs, the managing agency had been in charge. It is true that the Government were responsible for the managing agents. I do not in the least suggest that they were not. If I did make any suggestion of that sort it was a slip.
The noble Marquess made various points to which I would like to reply 1610 specifically. He said that he was anxious to get the facts. He has a great thirst for facts and a passion for inquiry which he has displayed to us to-day. I confess that I have seldom read a published Report of transactions which is franker or more crowded with facts—some of them very desolating facts—than this particular document. And it has provided abundant material for noble Lords opposite because it is so prolific in its statement of facts. I think the noble Marquess might for the time being be reasonably satisfied with that. He said that the effect of the debate will be disturbing. I agree; I think it will be disturbing. I think that all that has been going on about this matter has been disturbing. I think it will cause misgivings in the hearts of many of the fellows who are working hard out there under most adverse conditions. It is no use the noble Marquess shaking his head; I am certain that misgivings will be caused. He is a very responsible person, and—I say it with the greatest respect—when he goes out of his way to disparage the Chairman of the Corporation, as he has done, it is bound to have a disturbing effect.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
Is Parliament to be allowed to say anything or not? I do not know anything about Sir Leslie Plummer personally; I have not met him. I did not know anything against him. I simply related what his past career had been. It was just a statement of facts. If the noble Viscount does not like the facts, that is not my fault.
§ VISCOUNT ADDISON
The recital of these facts was designed to, and will, have the effect of creating misgivings in the minds of a large number of people and to make them think: "This is not the right sort of man to be Chairman." That is why those facts were recited. I contend that the recital of them by the noble Marquess will have a disturbing effect.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
Does the noble Viscount think that the public ought not to know these facts?
§ VISCOUNT ADDISON
I do not mind the public knowing them. I daresay they knew them already. The point which I am on is that it is not consistent for the noble Marquess to recite them and to dispute my statement that they will have a disturbing effect.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
I am sure that the noble Viscount would not wish me to misrepresent him nor would he wish to misrepresent me. The point I want to make is that the disturbing effect had already been created. Reports concerning the attitude of the staff which came back some time ago showed a grave state of disturbance long before the Opposition began to ask for an inquiry. The general disturbance which has occurred is indeed one of the many reasons why we are asking for an inquiry. Our belief is, as Mr. McClean said in the published statement, that nothing would do more to reassure the staff than to have this public inquiry.
§ VISCOUNT ADDISON
I do not share the view of the noble Marquess. I think these reports are sometimes the result of very misleading gossip. I will have something to say in support of that in a minute. Such reports have had, or are calculated to have, a most damaging effect on the spirit of those plucky men who are doing this work out there, thousands of miles away from home under the most adverse conditions. I think it is wrong that it should be dealt with in this way.
Let me now refer to one or two reports. Here is an example of the kind of campaign which has been going on. Your Lordships will remember that an article about this scheme was published in a paper called Picture Post. A member of the staff out there—I will not give his name received a letter from this paper, as did several of his colleagues. I am going to read this letter to the House. The man in question was one of the chief officers. He was so disgusted with this communication that he sent it to us. It reads:Dear Mr.—Following the publication of our article … the Overseas Food Corporation sent a long criticism which we are publishing in the issue of December 3. I am replying to this in the following issue, the 10th, but many points raised by the Overseas Food Corporation, will be of great interest I think to the men on the spot. As, however, they could not receive copies for some considerable time. 1612 I am sending you copies. It may well be that some of the men on the spot may feel moved to comment on this Overseas Food Corporation document.that is to say, the statement of their own superiors—If so, I think it would be a pity not to include their comments in any readers' letters printed. You know, of course, that while we prefer readers to sign letters for publication, if they desire, we are prepared to publish them under a nom de plume."In other words, they sent a letter to the employees of this Corporation asking them to write anonymous letters to this paper criticising the doings of their Corporation and of those who are in charge of it.
I do not know of anything more utterly disgusting than this. That is the kind of campaign that has been going on. It is altogether abominable, and it is having the most disturbing effect on the men out there in Africa. I say at once that we have no intention whatever of accepting this Motion. There have been expert inquiries into the questions of administration and finance, right throughout the whole period, and I hope that the staff will now be allowed to settle down to the prosecution of a greatly reduced programme. The programme has been carefully surveyed in advance and I feel sure that they have learned from their mistakes of the past. Is it much to be wondered at that in a great undertaking of this kind there should be blunders at the beginning? It has happened before. It has often happened to private companies. Even in my knowledge of these affairs many private companies have had to wind up their affairs.
§ VISCOUNT ADDISON
Of course it has. There is nothing exceptional in having great difficulties or unforeseen difficulties in a new and great pioneering venture. What about the history of the Panama Canal? I would like noble Lords to recollect that history. After several private companies had "gone broke," it was finally taken over at immense cost by the American Government—but it was a great project with immense difficulties that were unforeseen. It is no good the noble Marquess making that sort of interjection. We find in our 1613 own land that various private concerns have large deficits. We have heard a great deal recently about the debts of a film corporation, running into millions. I dare say that is new ground which is being explored, as in the ground-nut scheme, but it is not new that there should be difficulties in these great pioneering undertakings. And here is an undertaking that was advised in the first place not by a Government Department but, presumably, by experienced business men. The men out there in Africa and the Board here are entitled to our support. We are not going to he party to these wretched
§ Resolved in the affirmative, and Resolution agreed to accordingly.