§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That a Supplementary Sum, not exceeding £32,000, be granted to His Majesty, to 1820 defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending 31st day of March, 1911, for sundry Colonial Services, including certain Grants-in-Aid."
I do not intend at this late hour to do more than ask for some explanation of the very large increase in the Vote which is necessary for Northern Nigeria, especially in view of the very large increase which we find in the Estimates for the year. I hope, at any rate, that some short explanation will be given for this very large increase.
§ Mr. BAIRD
I did not gather that the hon. Gentleman was pleased, but perhaps there is not much difference between us, for I do agree with the hon. Gentleman in desiring a few words of explanation as to how this money is to be spent. Primarily, I suppose it will be spent in that most important way—namely, on the Banchi Extension of the Baro-Kano Railway. I know from personal experience that no colony is worth anything at all unless it is thoroughly well broken up by railways. There is one matter that arises in connection with this branch line; that is the difference of gauge between it and the main line. That obviously entails a considerable amount of inconvenience and expense in necessitating traders, exporters, and importers to tranship their goods at the junction. In view, moreover, of the fact that this branch line is no doubt primarily constructed with a view to its being a means of transporting to this coast the rich produce of the tin mines of Bauchi, and that there is, I believe, every prospect that in time the Government offices will to a large extent be transferred, and that there will be a consider able development of trades and so forth that are to be carried along that line, it is desirable that there should be, if possible, uniformity. There is an obvious explanation which will occur to everyone, and that is that the narrow gauge railway is being made because the Government have not enough money to make a broad, that is a standard, gauge railway. Is not that 1821 very often false economy? After all, so far as I am aware, the main expense of constructing railways in a country of this sort is that of culverts, bridges, embankments, clearings, and so on, and there is not a very great deal between the cost of the lines of different gauges. In view of the very great importance of having the standard gauge line right through the whole colony it would seem that the financial difficulty is one which an effort ought to be made to have removed. There is another reason why perhaps something might be done to make it possible to construct this branch line of the same gauge as the main line. I take it I am right in assuming that the gauges are different? There is another reason. This is a sum advanced by the Government to Northern Nigeria, and is treated as a loan which has to be paid back. It is not the taxpayers' money; it is merely an advance made to Nigeria to enable it to carry on its developments, and the money will eventually be got back. When you have to face such big problems, and I think such profitable problems, in the long run it does seem a pity that you should spoil a ship for a halfpennyworth of tar. I wished it had been possible to advance such a sum as would enable the whole system of railways to be built on the one gauge. The principle of building as many railways as possible is most desirable in these Colonies as, of course, every one knows who has served there. Indeed those who have served in the Colonies have from time to time got into trouble because they urge people to build more railways than the whole Government was prepared to undertake. I believe it is possible to carry out further railway extension, but the introduction of separate gauges on the different lines is not a good one. Anybody who has read the reports in Nigeria is bound to know it is exceedingly prosperous, that it is making great advances, and that everything is going on extremely well. What is wanted more probably than anything else is that the railways should be further extended.
§ Mr. MITCHELL-THOMSON
Like my hon. Friend who has just sat down, I should be the last to complain of railway extension either in Northern or Southern Nigeria. Along with Mr. Shackleton, now at the Home Office, I was one of the earliest Parliamentary sponsors for railway development in this country. I think there is a great deal in what my hon. Friend has said, that when you are really 1822 going to do anything that is worth doing you ought to do it well. Let the Committee realise the situation. A new railway is being built about 150 miles from the south-east, to Bauchi, where there are large alluvial deposits. A road is being built which will facilitate the transfer of machinery and ore to and from the mines and provide the railway with considerable traffic. The construction of that road is going to be postponed as the railway is to be undertaken. I am far from denying that a railway would probably prove in the long run a better paying speculation than the road. But if you are going to have a different gauge railway on these branches from what you have on the main line I think that before many years have passed the commercial development and extension in the Colony will have been such that the Government will regret that when they undertook this job they did not make a complete job of it. The only other question I wish to ask is concerning the £200,000 for a junction of the railway. I do not know where that junction is going to be. The line is going to be 150 miles long, and if that is so this provision certainly seems inadequate. I should like to know exactly what the length of line is going to be, and what the estimated total cost is. I also wish to know whether any of the commercial undertakings naturally interested in the development of this line are going to make any contribution towards the cost. I hope the Colonial Secretary will be able to give us some information on these points. I wish to ask a question about the item dealing with the over-estimated balance in Northern Nigeria. If hon. Members will look at the Estimates they will see that the deficit is attributable to the fact that the balance of 1910 was over-estimated by £29,000 and it is also due to the excess expenses of administration. May I say that I think it is a little unfortunate that we have to wait such a long time before the reports from these parts are issued and available to hon. Members of this House. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will not think that I do not realise the difficulties connected with compiling Blue Books in foreign parts, and I know that the officials engaged in the development of a new country can be better occupied than in filling up pigeon-holes for the information of the Colonial Office. What I wish to draw attention to is the fact that the last report we have from Northern Nigeria is for 1908–9. I think it would be to the 1823 advantage of this House if the Colonial Office could manage to get their reports so that they would be available in February; that is to say, I think we ought to have the 1909–10 Report in February, 1911, instead of waiting until March, 1912, before we can discuss the financial position detailed in the Report dated 1908–9. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will make representations to that effect in the proper quarter. The Report for 1908–9 also shows an excess of expenditure over the Estimate of £10,104, and this year there is an excess of £29,000. It would be interesting to know whether that excess is due to an over-estimate of the revenue anticipated and under-estimate of the expenditure, or both, and, if so, in what proportions. I imagine that a certain amount of it must be due to the increased charges for interest in Southern Nigeria for railway construction. If that is so, perhaps the Colonial Secretary can give us some information on that point. I am sorry to put such technical points, but they are of considerable interest, and without detaining the Committee further I will ask the right hon. Gentleman to reply to my question.
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for the COLONIES (Mr. Harcourt)
I am anxious not to detain the House, as the Supplementary Estimates are to be finished today I think I had better answer the questions which have been put to me now. The hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. Baird) referred to the expenditure upon railways in Nigeria and expressed some doubt as to the policy of changing the gauge of the railway. I quite agree with him there, but perhaps he is not aware how extremely difficult it is for a Colonial Secretary to get all the money he wants from the Treasury for the development of a particular Colony, and at certain stages I have to consider whether it is better to wait until I can get the large sum necessary for a broad gauge, or whether it would not be better to adopt another course. If the railway is going to be a success at all—and after all these things are speculative—the resulting prosperity of the colony will enable it to widen the gauge afterwards. If, on the other hand, it is not going to be a success, it is distinctly an advantage that as little money as possible should be wasted at the beginning. This railway extension to Bauchi will, I believe, be a success. It goes to the tin mines, but it does more than that, and in this connection I will 1824 deal with the point made by the hon. Member for North Down (Mr. Mitchell-Thomson). He thought the Government road had been abandoned. That is not so. The Government road has been made, but the Bauchi railway is not going to follow the same line as the Government road. They are, happily, going to develop different parts and different valleys of the territory. I am glad to say the Bauchi Railway makes a slight detour, and passes through a fairly populous part of the country, where there is already a considerable amount of cotton growing. I believe this light railway passing through that district will contribute largely to a further supply of cotton for our markets. The hon. Member asked me where it joins the railway. It will join at Zaria. The estimated cost of the railway is £200,000, and the net mileage is one hundred. The tin mines have engaged to send their tin by the railway at a fixed rate approved by the Treasury, and which will be remunerative for that purpose. With regard to the reports being submitted earlier, I will do all I can. But I am very unwilling to press these officers unduly, and I may tell him that the report which he thinks ought to have been presented earlier, only reached me last night. I am working at it, and there shall be no unnecessary delay in presenting these reports to Parliament. Then the point was put to me why there was this rather gross underestimate. Hon. Members who are acquainted with the circumstances will be aware that the Governor has to make out these Estimates in October for the year which commences on the first of April following. That is a long time, and it is difficult to know what the realised surpluses are going to be for the year. Almost the whole of this erroneous Estimate is due to the fact that it was estimated that there would be a balance of £31,000 in hand, whereas, as a matter of fact, it turned out that there was only eleven thousand with some odd hundreds. Therefore, £20,000 of this new Estimate is due to that. I do not see that it could have been avoided. I understood one of the hon. Members to inquire as to the terms of repayment. They are 3½ per cent. interest and 1½ per cent. sinking fund. If any further information is required I shall be happy to give it in the form of answers to questions.
§ Mr. ALFRED LYTTELTON
Like my hon. Friend, I have no criticism to make on the question of railway expenditure in Nigeria. I have always, when our finances 1825 are in a state to permit of it, approved of such expenditure. I hold it is ridiculous while we have been in the habit of spending enormous sums of money in the acquisition of Colonies that we have shrunk from necessary expenditure in developing and improving them. As the Colonial Secretary is well aware, there have been two schools of opinion with regard to the method of railway development in the tropics. One school has always maintained that greater economy was served by constructing these railways in first-rate style, putting down heavy works and rails, and, in fact, making a thoroughly good job of it from the beginning. But I quite agree that there is a good deal to be said for the other school of opinion, which is in favour of developing the country by means of light railways, and when the development is sufficiently advanced putting in heavier railways and more expensive work. Of course, there is much to be said for both views, but I submit that the Colonial Secretary has rather fallen between two stools. In regard to the Bouchi branch he has given reasons why it is likely to be a paying branch, not only because there are tin mines along it, but because there are also valuable cotton prospects. That is precisely a railway which is not of a speculative character: it is more or less of an assured character, and it seems to me to be very false economy indeed when it is a question as between £200,000 and £300,000 to shrink from making a really good job of it. I do not think the right hon. Gentleman gave any assurance with regard to the cost. He gave us figures quite frankly—suggesting a sum of £2,000 a mile. I have had some experience, and I put it to the Committee that an expenditure upon light railways in the tropics and through the bush of that amount is really ridiculous. I do not think that anybody who has had experience in these things will say it can be done for that money. Even the crudest requirements of a railway in that district could not be maintained on such a sum. The right hon. Gentleman should remember that Nigeria can come to this country for a subsidy—or a Grant-in-Aid, and there is no difficulty in producing the money, which will be repaid, seeing that the Colony has the Treasury and the resources of this country at its back. I should like to have some further assurance with regard to the cost. If the right hon. Gentleman says it is an absolute estimate, of course we must accept it, but I put it to the Committee that the Estimate is very small indeed.
§ Mr. HARCOURT
Perhaps I had better answer that question at once. I quite admit that I thought the cost very light. I made special inquiries, and I was quite convinced that it could be done for that. The wonderful thing is that the heavier and broader gauge as been completed for very little over £3,000 a mile.
§ Mr. HARCOURT
I was going to point out that the country for the Bouchi line is very good and level, and therefore in itself it will be a very cheap line.
§ Mr. WEDGWOOD
I do not like Supplementary Estimates as a rule, but I must say that there seem to be more reasons in favour of this Supplementary Estimate than in favour of most. One point previously made is that this mnoey is not expended in the ordinary sense of the word, but is lent on good security. The second reason why we should certainly approve of this Supplementary Estimate is that it is within the knowledge of the House that the Barro-Kano Railway was practically the child of Sir Percy Girouard, who had extraordinary skill in building railways at very low cost. Whereas most of our railways in the Colonies, as the Secretary for the Colonies has told us, have run up to something like £10,000 a mile, the estimate for this railway is an extraordinarily low estimate—about £3,000 a mile. I think we may regard any excess upon that as being thoroughly legitimate, and nothing to be cavilled at by the most hypercritical economist. The third reason why I think this Estimate should be accepted without the slightest hesitation is that this is really different from other Colonial railways. In other Colonies we develop the property of some bright speculator who has got the concession for the land, but in Northern Nigeria the whole of the land belongs to the State, so that we are here in the exceptional position of improving our own property. I think we not only have a paying investment in the railway, but we shall help to develope Northern Nigeria in a way which will be very satisfactory. But there are two points which I would specially press upon the Colonial Secretary. We have heard that this Bouchi extension is on a different gauge to the main line. It is true that you will save £500 per mile more or less by making it on the small gauge, but it is most important, especially as this Bouchi branch is likely to be the 1827 residential portion of the line that the culverts on that railway should be made of sufficient size to take the larger gauge. The expenditure later on will be very considerable unless you can get it laid out in that manner, and it is worth while paying a little extra to get a prospective benefit in years to come. Another point which the Colonial Secretary mentioned, and which I should like to touch upon, is that he said he had a guarantee from these various companies in the tinfield for the carrying of the ore produced at certain fixed rates, I should like to ask whether he bas any guarantee for these tin companies of any fixed amount of export, because whether that railway is to pay or not depends not so much on the rate to be charged as on the amount of ore to be carried by the railway. I should like to know that there is some definite knowledge of the rate of interest which will probably be secured on the capital sunk in that railway.
§ Lord BALCARRES
We understand then that no money has been spent during the present financial year on Mombasa apart from what has been voted.
§ Mr. HALDANE
I think we ought to appeal to the right hon. Gentlemen opposite. There was an arrangement that we should get through these Votes if possible to-day by five o'clock.
§ Sir A. ACLAND-HOOD
Yes, I understand that an agreement was come to last Friday. It was not made across the floor of the House. It was made privately, but it is in our opinion absolutely binding on us—equally binding as an agreement made across the floor of the House. I appeal to my hon. Friends behind me. We intend to stick to our bargain. We certainly do not intend to follow the evil and unprecedented example which was set by the Government last night.