HC Deb 01 August 1919 vol 118 cc2491-5

Order for Third Reading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Bill be now read the third time.


I must apologise for repeating one or two points that I brought to the notice of the hon. Member who represents the Foreign Office (Mr. Harms-worth) on Monday last, but I did not care to move Amendments to the Bill because the very courteous and splendid way in which the Government have dealt with the question of the supply of cotton in Lancashire led one to believe that the alterations which I am suggesting should be made in another place will be considered with that same courtesy. The amount which is put down to carry out the objects of the Bill is £6,000,000, and in the White Paper which has been issued the Government set out in detail the manner in which the loan is to be applied. The amount of £6,000,000 is exactly double the sum which was estimated for the year 1913–14 in connection with the work of irrigation and the repayment of certain moneys expended on the railways. I appeal to the judgment of every experienced engineer in the House whether the cost of the work detailed, especially in the Soudan, is not likely to be much more than double. I therefore appealed on Monday last for a very much higher amount to be provided for this purpose. The purpose of the Bill is not only to provide labour and work for our Dependency the Soudan, but that the cotton which is to be grown there shall be early procurable for the Lancashire manufactures. That is the real purpose of the Bill. I therefore suggest an increase from £6,000,000 to not less than £9,500,000, which would be a suitable, acceptable and facile amount to deal with the position. If such a sum is not acceptable, and if the Treasury are not prepared to consider the matter in that light, I would suggest an alteration in the Schedule as to the manner in which the money is to be spent. It is there suggested that nearly £5,000,000 shall be spent for the purpose of irrigating the Gezireh Plain, and there is a second item for the extension of the Soudan Railway system. That work is pretty well completed, and I suggest that the money should be applied to the more important scheme of irrigation and allow the completed railway costs to remain on loan interest. I would also suggest the vital necessity of speeding up this work. Those connected with the cotton trade know perfectly well that during the last hundred years the cotton industry has run in cycles. There have been cycles of from five to six years of good trade, and sometimes cycles of ten years of very bad trade. A cycle of good trade is now commencing, and we have the opportunity of doing business in Lancashire in cotton, but unless there is some speeding up of this work it may be six or eight years before the first 10,000 or 20,000 bales of usable cotton is obtainable.

Therefore I suggest that the Government should, in the way that they supply this money, provide that cither the planter or the Soudan Government, or whoever may have the power of dealing with it, as a necessary condition for obtaining the money, accept definite dates at which the work—whether it be the dam or the irrigable part—shall be completed. The third point to which I wish to draw the attention of the Foreign Office is that when this cotton is grown it shall be of that type and nature which shall be useful for British markets. There have been great districts in which the cotton grown has been of a type which is only acceptable to an alien Government. The coarse kinds used in Germany have been sometimes supplied by a certain part of the British Dominions, and I want to be assured that the cotton which is to be grown shall be the long-staple Egyptian, and also the rain-grown American species. We want one or the other, or both, and we want it of such a quality as will be useful and acceptable in any part of the British Dominions rather than only acceptable to our competitors.

I want also to be quite assured that we may have facilities for getting the cotton into our own country. I am delighted to notice that a certain amount of money is to be set aside for the purposes of the railway system in the Soudan and in parts of Egypt. I want to be certain that the great shipping difficulties which are now upon us, and which will probably continue for the next two or three years, will be overcome, and that we shall have some power of organisation, either by the Soudan Government or by the Shipping Control—if that is still in existence—to obtain supplies for our own country. May I bring to the notice, both of the Government and of the Foreign Office, the splendid meed of praise which has gone forth from all sections of cotton Lancashire, who realise that at last, even in these difficult times, when money is scarce and dear, the Government are accepting the pledge given by a previous Government five years ago, and also the responsibility attaching thereto, and making it possible for us to compete even with the cheaper labour and still to put our cotton on the market?


I will occupy the attention of the House but a very few moments in dealing with the points raised by the hon. Member. The Bill has been received with great favour in the House, and I therefore do not desire to trespass upon its indulgence by making a further speech. But my hon. Friend has suggested that the Government—it is the Soudan Government which is responsible—shouldhave applied for a larger amount of money. In this matter, of course, we act on the advice of the Soudan Government, and that Government, in its turn, has the very best advice in the world in regard to its great irrigation schemes. I am informed that this amount of £6,000,000 will be spread over a certain number of years. The Soudan Government will not be able, as I understand, to embark on the whole of this expenditure as and from the passing of this Bill. I have very little doubt that if in the future the Government of the Soudan find it necessary to come to this House for the support of British credit in the flotation of a further loan, such a proposition as that would be received with favour in the House of Commons. My hon. Friend may rest assured that the Government of the Soudan will proceed with all possible dispatch with the further development of their scheme. They are as anxious as we are that cotton cultivation on the largest scale commensurate with the scheme should begin as soon as possible, but the House will not expect, and indeed it is impossible, that any large part of this new area should be in full cultivation for perhaps two or three years from this time. My hon. Friend refers to the type of cotton grown in the Gezireh and Tokar. He may rest assured as a matter of fact that the demands for the long staple—the fine cotton which experiments has proved can be grown in Egypt with success, and in the Soudan as well, especially in view of the fact that the price is so high—will be grown by the Soudan Government, which will devote itself to that kind of cotton, almost if not entirely exclusively.


I suggest that even that would not be quite acceptable. There are certain types of American cotton which are essential for Lancashire, and if cotton of one type only were planted that would not suffice. If I may suggest it, the British Cotton Growers' Association has pointed out that rain-grown American cotton could be grown in the Gezireh which would be useful for certain sections in Lancashire. A large portion of Lancashire is fitted up with machinery to deal with American cotton and what we are afraid of is that the very lowest grades of cotton may be grown which are alone fitted for the German market. The American type of rain-grown cotton, which can be produced at Tokar, Khartoum, and also in the Gezireh, should be aimed at.


This is much too technical a question for me. But there is very little probability of low-grade cotton being grown in this area, if it means a low-grade cotton which sells at cheap prices in the market. I am wholly uninstructed in the technicalities of the cotton industry, but I will direct the attention of the Government of the Soudan to what my hon. Friend has said. He also refers to the question of shipping facilities. I do not think he need feel any doubt on that point, for even during the War, in circumstances of the greatest difficulty, it was found possible to secure the carrying to this country of very large cotton supplies. With these few remarks I should like to conclude by thanking the House for the cordial and friendly way in which it has received a measure of great Imperial advantage.

Bill accordingly read the third time, and passed.