HC Deb 10 March 1892 vol 2 cc587-94

Order read, for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question [7th March], That the Resolution [4th March],'That a sum, not exceeding £20,000, be granted to Her Majesty, to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1892, as a Grant in Aid of the Cost of Preliminary Surveys for a Railway from the Coast to Lake Victoria Nyanza,' be read a second time."

Question again proposed.

Debate resumed.

(11.40.) MR. MORTON (Peterborough)

I hope the Government will not go on with this matter tonight.

(11.40.) DR. CLARK (Caithness)

I have very much sympathy with the Government in spending this money, but I think they have adopted a bad way of doing it, and a very much better way is that which I propose. The way I propose is to stop the whole of the caravan routes, and not one of them, and the formation of this railway would only affect the central trade route. It would not affect the Slave Trade coming down from Lake Nyanza, nor from the German sphere of influence. The one way by which you can stop all these slave caravan routes and develop the trade of Africa is to use the great water ways; and now, since the mouth of the Zambesi has been cleared, and we know it to be open all the year round, you have a splendid water way right through from Liverpool to the centre of Africa. Water ways are cheaper than railways, and you would affect all the slave caravan routes. If the Government had done as they ought, and put a gunboat on the Lake, they could have stopped the Slave Trade. From the top of Nyassa and by the Victoria Albert and Alexandra Lakes you will have an influence on the whole trade of Central Africa. It will be cheaper, and you may develop trade to ten times the amount you can under the present project and at one-tenth of the cost. Why not utilise the waterways? You can check the Slave Trade and carry your commerce anywhere. It would be almost impossible to make a railway except by a punitive war against the Masai. They will resent the entrance of strangers by that route. They did not murder Bishop Hannington because he was a missionary, but because he came that way; and Mr. Cotrell who was 14 years with the Uganda Mission, sent messengers to the coast to try and stop the Bishop from approaching that way. In the present condition of Uganda this project of yours will do much harm. The Arabs lead the people to believe that the Sultan of Zanzibar has lost all his power, and that the lands will pass into the hands of the white men. The position is further imperilled by the entrance of Colonel Lugard by a route and in a manner that gave colour to the rumour that he was come to take possession of the land. You may have another civil war in Uganda. If you are going to make this railway you must protect your surveying party, your constructors, and your stores. You must guard your iron, for the Masai will regard your railway as a splendid iron mine; they will steal your rails to convert the metal into weapons. Supposing your railway made, you tell us you can carry goods at £3 per ton. That railway will have a length of 500 or 600 miles. How do the African railways pay? There is a railway to the Diamond Fields, 540 miles from end to end, and this railway has considerable coal and other traffic; but the charge is £8 10s. for coarse goods and coals to the coast. That railway scarcely pays. We have experience in Africa of railways that do not pay their running expenses. There is no place in the world except, perhaps, India, where railways are so difficult and so costly to maintain. You have the tropical rains that sweep away banks, culverts, and bridges; you have the rapid growth of rank vege- tation, and the keeping up of the permanent way is a most costly business. From an economical as well as political aspect, I oppose the scheme. When the Charter was granted to this Company and they were permitted to receive a concession from the Sultan and were allowed to tax everything coming into their neighbourhood, then the Company should be required to pay their own money on a survey if the railway is to be a commercial success. The Company is to have full control over the lands and this railway, and I say they have no right to ask us to put our hands into our pockets and subscribe £20,000 for a preliminary survey. I have not heard a definite or intelligible reason for the course taken except that by this means the Government hope to be able to carry out one of the intentions of the Brussels Conference. They will do little against the Slave Trade; and when this preliminary survey is paid for, and we read the correspondence between the Treasury and the Foreign Office, we shall see that we are to be asked for something more as a subsidy or guarantee. This is the first step. It is not justifiable, and with the greatest pleasure I vote against it.


I do not think I can complain of the spirit in which the hon. Member has spoken. On questions affecting Southern and Equatorial Africa he speaks with authority, and what he has put forward fully deserves the attention of the House. The hon. Gentleman has urged that the Government ought not to have considered for a moment the possibility of the adoption of a line of railway from Mombasa to the Victoria Nyanza. The route is, however, much shorter than that suggested by the hon. Member. The mouth of the Zambesi lies hundreds of miles to the south, and as the water-ways to which he has referred would not extend the whole way, there must be transhipment of goods and a railway would have to be built between the lakes to connect the water route, or else the cost of carrying goods would be as prohibitive to trade as it is at this moment. So far as the Slave Trade can be stopped by commerce, in the neighbourhood of Nyassa and the southern lakes, it will be stopped by the development of that water-way, but that alone will not be sufficient; and as to the Slave Trade from the north of the Lake Nyanza down the Nile towards Wadelai, as well as along the route towards the coast to the east and also along the route to the west of the Lake, all three routes will be stopped by a railway running from Victoria Nyanza to Mombasa. I understand that one of the chief slave routes goes from the North-West and West side of Lake Victoria Nyanza to the South of the Lake, and passes through the German sphere of influence, arriving somewhere in the neighbourhood of Bagamayo. That slave route would clearly be tapped, not so much by the existence of the railway, as by the existence of steamers upon Lake Victoria Nyanza, and the railway alone could afford the means of placing the steamers there. The hon. Member dealt with the recent history of Uganda. I shall not follow him into these matters. He advises Her Majesty'3 Government to have nothing to do with Uganda. He said he thought the present was a dangerous time to interfere, and that the Waganda are in the habit of murdering all those who arrive amongst them. Captain Lugard has been in Uganda now for a year and a half, and, so far as my last information goes, he is alive and well. Captain Lugard came up by the very route to which the hon. Member takes exception. He came to Uganda by the South-Eastern route, and so did those who immediately preceded him. That does not seem to me to be relevant to the question before the House. The question is not our relations with Uganda, but whether prima facie there is sufficient reason to suppose that it is possible to make a survey of the territory lying between the Lake and Mombasa. The hon. Member said that if the railway was to be made at all, it should be made by the Company, and that it was their business to make the railway. When I submitted this Vote to the House, I submitted it solely on the ground of the responsibility which lay on this country to take some steps to carry out the Brussels Act. The East Africa Company received their Charter before the Brussels Act was signed. At the time the Charter was given to the Company, there was no obligation laid on the Company to take any steps to put a stop to slavery by means of making a railway such as this. It was two or three years after the Company had received their Charter that this obligation was placed on the country by adding their signature to the Brussels Act. I do not think there are any other points which the hon. Member raised, and I trust the House will allow the Report on this Vote now to be taken.

(12.7.) MR. CONYBEARE (Cornwall, Camborne)

As a matter of commercial importance, I do not know that I have any great objection to this railway being constructed, but I do take exception to the manner in which it has been brought forward by the Government. The Government shelter themselves for what they are doing and propose to do under the old cry of the triple duty which England has undertaken for the purpose of putting down the Slave Trade. I have my doubts as to whether this will really effect the purpose which the Government have in view. But the question I should like to have some information from the Government upon is this. Assuming that they meet with all the success they anticipate in the way of checking the Slave Trade by means of this railway, do the Government intend to relieve us of the heavy charge which we are now incurring by keeping cruisers running up and down the coast? If that is not part of their plan—and I do not gather from the statement of the Under Secretary that it is—I think we should be burdening ourselves with a very heavy extra expenditure, without any certainty of deriving very much benefit from it, and with the certainty that we shall also have to pay through the nose for the prevention of the Slave Trade. I do not believe that this idea of putting down the Slave Trade is the real motive of the Government. The question of the survey for the railway is, to my mind, undoubtedly wrapped up, in the welfare of the East Africa Company. I have not voted for the railway, nor do I intend to do so, although I feel strongly convinced that the interests of the Company are extensively bound up with the question of the railway. It is an open secret that if this Vote was not passed, and the railway was not constructed, the East Africa Company would have little chance of maintaining itself in the long run. The question we have a right to ask ourselves is this—"Is it a reasonable policy, upon which we, the guardians of the public purse, can rightly enter, to take a step which, although it may be a small matter at present, must necessarily lead to the expenditure of vast sums of money by this country?" The Chancellor of the Exchequer the other evening admitted he would have to come to the House later on in order to ask for a subsidy or guarantee for this railway. What we have to consider is this—If we take the initial step by voting this £20,000 for a preliminary survey, later on we shall have an application made to this House for either a subsidy or guarantee. £2,000,000, I should say, is a very moderate estimate of the amount that would be asked for. Is it right to saddle this country with an expenditure of this kind? The Government fall back upon the Brussels Act. They say that we have declared slavery by that Act, and that the other civilised Powers have also given1 their adhesion to it. But it has been contended that, whatever the Brussels Act amounted to, it did not bind us or require us in any way to undertake such active measures as are now proposed for the suppression of the Slave Trade. If that be so, we are not more bound to involve ourselves in what are called in the City these "wild-cat schemes" than any other civilised Government of Europe. If we are bound to do anything in this respect, surely other Governments of Europe, which have equally with us given their adhesion to the Brussels Act, should also be bound to assist in this work of the suppression of the Slave Trade? If that be so, why is it that the German Government, which has large interests in this part of Africa, should not be called upon to undertake a portion of the heavy liability to be incurred in putting an end to the Slave Trade? Do what you will you will still have slave caravans passing down through German territory. Why should not Germany assist us?


I have seen by the papers that the German Government have voted two and a half million marks to put down slavery in their sphere of influence.


I hope that is true, although the sum named is very small compared with what we shall have to spend in the long run. I hope, at the same time, that the Germans within their sphere of influence will be successful in putting down the Slave Trade. But this information as to the intentions of Germany shows the desirability of having some decision on the part of the Government. Are we to be perpetually saddled with the expenditure on the cruisers employed in putting down the Slave Trade on the coast? If the German Government and our own are able to attack the Slave Trade at its source, there ought to be but a small amount of slavery at the coast. But until you carry your railway up to Khartoum—which I hope will yet be done—there will be a large amount of slavery down to the Red Sea Coast. If the Government had acted with their eyes open when they entered into negotiations with Germany, we might not have been called upon to make these large sacrifices. It was open to the Government, when they handed over Heligoland, and when we bartered away the possible future rights of the natives of South Africa, if they had put some backbone into their negotiations, to have prevented the Germans cutting us off from the South. We might have had the whole of the great waterways of Lake Nyassa and Lake Tanganyka, and a line of railway carried up through this district where the Slave Trade flourishes most. But as the Government chose a different course, there is no good crying over spilt milk. Although it is very desirable that this railway should be constructed, it is not a policy upon which we in this House should lightly embark and pledge British resources for the purpose. I have no doubt that in a territory like India, where railways are of strategical importance, and not merely of commercial value, it is quite right that the railways should be constructed at Government expense. The policy of this country, of late, has been, where railways are purely a matter of speculation and prospective commercial importance, to leave them to private enterprise. I am astonished to find this Government lending themselves to a policy so different. Although I see that the construction of this railway, under British guarantee, will be of immense service to the British East Africa Company—however much I may be personally interested in the Company—I shall not desist from trying to prevent the House embarking upon an expenditure the limits of which are wholly unknown.

Question put, and agreed to.

Resolution read a second time, and agreed to.