Skip to main content

African Groundnuts Scheme (Appointment Of Public Corporation)

Volume 437: debated on Friday 16 May 1947

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

The House will wish to be informed of the steps which are being taken to ensure continuity of direction of the project for the large scale mechanised production of groundnuts and other agricultural produce in Africa. Clearance of the bush and other work on the project has already begun. As originally arranged the managing agents who are at present in charge wish to terminate their agency not later than August, 1948. Legislation necessary to set up a public corporation which will then take over will, as already announced, be introduced in due course. Meanwhile it has been desirable to proceed with the selection of the members of this corporation so that it will be in a position to assume its large responsibilities in due time.

The following gentlemen have now agreed to serve as the members of the corporation when the necessary Parliamentary authority has been obtained:

Chairman: Mr. L. A. Plummer, assistant general manager and a member of the board of directors of Express Newspapers, Ltd. Formerly business manager of the New Leader, the Miner and the Socialist Review, and assistant manager of the Daily Herald.

Vice-Chairman: Mr. James McFadyen, director of the Co-operative Wholesale Society, Ltd., and a member of the Colonial Economic and Development Council.

General Manager in Africa: Major-General Desmond Harrison, member of the Institution of Civil Engineers, Director of Works at the War Office, and formerly Engineer-in-Chief to South East Asia Command.

Members of the Corporation: Sir Charles Lockhart, economic adviser to the East African Governors' Conference; formerly Chairman of the East African Production and Supply Council and Chief Secretary to the East African Governors' Conference;

Mr. J. Rosa, member of the banking firm of Helbert, Wagg & Co., Ltd.; during the war Treasury representative in Syria and the Lebanon, and later a member of the Economic Division of the Colonial Office. One of the signatories of the original report recommending the groundnuts project;

Mr. A. J. Wakefield, formerly director of Agriculture in Tanganyika Territory and Inspector General of Agriculture in the West Indies. One of the signatories of the original report recommending the project.

The above will be full-time members and executives. In addition, the following two gentlemen have accepted invitations to serve as non-executive members:

Mr. Frank Samuel, who first suggested the project, managing director of the United Africa Company;

Lord Rothschild, biologist. Formerly fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge.

I would very much like to congratulate the Minister on his choice of Mr. Plummer as chairman of this new corporation. As the Minister has shown by reading his "crime sheet," Mr. Plummer has passed from the obscurities of Socialism to the high Imperialism of Lord Beaverbrook's organisation. I know he is undertaking this task with a very high spirit of service and sacrifice. He is a man of good mind, good character and great organising ability, and I congratulate him.

In this set-up, which the Minister has read out, it is quite clear that the whole-time serving members are those who have the greatest qualifications on the production side. Of the two advisory members, at least one has experience on the marketing side. Will he say whether during the period of production the deepest study will be made of the marketing side, so as not to cause undue upset to those producers of groundnuts throughout the world who do not come under this scheme, so that there is no bad effect of wrong competition from a Government-controlled groundnuts scheme with the vast majority outside?

I am grateful to the hon. Member for giving me the opportunity of saying that I do not think producers of groundnuts elsewhere in the Empire, or elsewhere in the world for that matter, need have the least apprehension about that-situation. The truth is that the almost cessation of exports from India has left such an enormous margin to fill, that this scheme, vast as it is, will be inadequate, rather than adequate, to fulfil the world's needs for groundnuts. The other producers, whose interests we have, of course, very much at heart in our interest, need have no fear whatever on that score.

What are the plans with regard to the technical and other staffs? Is my right hon. Friend aware that in India and Burma a large number of Europeans are now considering their future prospects? They are much interested in this scheme, and would welcome some information from the Minister as to whether they are likely to be employed.

The corporation will, of course, recruit its own staff. We would not wish to bind its hands in any way. In the meanwhile, the managing agents, who are actually at work on the project now, have recruited staff, and a good deal of that recruitment, which I am sure has been very well done, will no doubt be taken over by the corporation, but no doubt men with experience in tropical areas have an advantage over others and will certainly be eligible for recruitment.

Has a decision yet been made as to where the offices or headquarters of the corporation may be located?

No, Sir. Not, I think, in Africa. The actual headquarters will be in this country, because these activities are not necessarily confined to the present estates or the present territories. I do not think any headquarters are suggested in Africa.

Is there likely to be sufficient native labour available to handle this vast project? Has that been carefully considered?

Yes, Sir. That has naturally been one of the greatest concerns in the whole launching of the scheme. If my hon. Friend will read the White Paper, he will see that it has been taken fully into consideration. That is why the scheme is based on a high degree of mechanisation—because we realise that only by a very economical use of labour will there be sufficient. If that is done, and it will be done, we are assured that the labour will be forthcoming.