HC Deb 28 July 1919 vol 118 cc1872-92

Order for Second Reading read.


I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a second time. The House is perhaps more fully informed as to the object of this Bill than it was when the question was discussed on the Financial Resolution. In point of fact, this is not a new question in the House of Commons. Hon. Members who are particularly interested in the matter, and some of the older Members of the House not particularly interested in it, will remember that on two separate occasions this question of the irrigation of the Soudan has been brought up on the floor of the House. In 1913 the Bill was introduced by the present Prime Minister, then Chancellor of the Exchequer, and in the following year an amending Bill was introduced, and, latterly, the project with which this Bill has to deal has been to some extent ventilated in the Press. With a view to more fully informing the House, two White Papers have been issued, one by the Treasury and the other by the Foreign Office. Those two documents are exceedingly clear and candid, and I hope hon. Members have found in them a full explanation of the objects of the Bill, and one that will obviate the necessity for my making a speech at any length this afternoon.

6.0 P.M.

The object of the Bill is to enable the Government of the Soudan to raise a loan of £6,000,000 for the purpose of the development of irrigation work in the Soudan together with certain railway construction. The House, of course, is not asked to find the capital sum involved It is merely asked to lend the still unimpaired prestige of British Government finance to the Government of the Soudan, so that that Government may be in a position to raise the loan on terms more advantageous than might otherwise be the case. If all goes well with this project, the British Exchequer will not be called upon to find a single penny. There is, however, a considerable difference between the proposal now before the House and that which formed the subject of the existing Act. The existing Act, it will be remembered, virtually became a dead letter, because the outbreak of the War prevented the loan, and it would never be possible to initiate a scheme of irrigation by borrowing on the part of this Soudan Government from the National Debt Commissioners. This proposal is avowedly a proposal to guarantee. The guarantee is asked not for £3,000,000 but for £6,000,000, and the reasons are simple. In the Soudan, as elsewhere, the War has immensely enhanced the cost of everything £of construction, of material, and of many other things. I say that here, as everywhere, such costs have been doubled, and in some respects more than doubled. Again, this is a more extensive scheme, because the area to be cultivated has been enlarged from 100,000 feddans to 300,000, it being considered by the Soudan Government and its advisers that the scheme would be established on a more substantial and more permanent basis if the area of land irrigated were so enlarged. As regards the finance of this scheme, one who represents at this box the Foreign Office can. I think, beat rest himself more largely on the Treasury than on any Foreign Office opinion. We have the approval of the Treasury of this scheme as of the other schemes in the past, and I feel disposed to say myself; —and I think the House will agree—that what is good enough for the Treasury is good enough for us. That least emotional of all Government Departments has not only scrutinised with its accustomed austerity the finances of this measure, but, as will be seen from the Bill and from the White Paper issued by the Treasury, retains at every stage a strong influence and a strong hold on the flotation of the loan and generally on the financial operations involved in the scheme.

The main area concerned in this scheme is one of 300,000 feddans situated at the confluence of the White Nile and the Blue Nile. The House will be prepared to learn that it is not proposed to use these 300,000 acres every year for the production of cotton crops. In the Soudan, as else- where, there must be a rotation of crops, and I understand that each year one-third of this acreage will be under cotton, another third will be under leguminous crops, and the remaining third will lie fallow. The Soudan Government, in advancing this scheme, are not speculating in the air. For some years past they have been making experiments. They have had over 12,000 feddans under experimental cultivation, the results of which are chronicled in the White Paper, and these experiments promise immensely well for the success of the larger scheme. The second chief item is that of railway extension— the extension of the railway from Khartoum through Gezirah to El Obeid. This is, in reality, a repayment of loan. The Soudan Government had borrowed £800,000 from the National Bank of Egypt, and have been able to repay out of their own resources £100,000. The item in the White Paper of £700,000 represents the balance of the loan due to the National Bank of Egypt. There is a secondary scheme, that relating to Tokar. It is a minor item and the money is to be devoted, if the House will sanction the guarantee of this loan, to building a railway from Suakim to Tokar and the improvement of the existing irrigation works in that district.

The House knows very well that this project has been subjected in some quarters to very drastic criticism. A very eminent former official of the Egyptian Government, Sir William Willcocks, has taken every opportunity to criticise this scheme, and he has, I think, distributed to Members of this House an important document which deserves, and so far as the Department I represent is concerned has received, the most careful consideration. But these charges against some members of the Government of Soudan go back for a considerable period. Some of them are of a most serious character. It is not for me, and nothing will tempt me to do it, to attack an eminent servant of the Crown who, in the past, has rendered great service, as has Sir William Willcocks. He has latterly, however, shown himself a little less careful of his own great reputation, and, what is equally important, of the reputation of other servants of the Crown, than might have been expected of a man of his distinguished antecedents. The attack which he made on this scheme and on the officers responsible for it was based on two grounds. One of those grounds is of a technical character. I cannot argue, nor do I suppose that any Member of this House would argue, with Sir William Willcocks on the technical point. I do not propose to offer to the House any observation on that part of his criticism. But he has made also grave charges of a personal character against public officials. Towards the end of last year the Foreign Office set up a Committee to inquire into these allegations. Hon. Members have not perhaps examined the Report of that Committee, although some copies of it have been in the Library for some days past. I would prefer I confess not to have been obliged to refer to this matter at all. But I must do so in support of the Bill, the Second Reading of which I am moving, and in elementary justice to those distinguished officials on whose advice the Government of Egypt and the Soudan, and indeed His Majesty's Government, have rested their confidence. The Foreign Office set up a Committee of Inquiry into the charges made by Sir William Willcocks and Colonel Kennedy, and the Committee consisted of the following gentlemen: Sir Maurice Fitzmaurice, Past President Institute of Civil Engineers; Sir John Benton, late Inspector-General of Irrigation, Government of India; Sir W. Garstin, late Adviser Egyptian Public Works; Sir Arthur L. Webb, late Adviser Egyptian Public Works; Prof. Cawthorne Unwin, past President Institute of Civil Engineers; and Colonel Lyons, late Director-General, Survey Department, Egypt, and Acting Director of Meteorological Office. I put it that it would be quite impossible for the Foreign Office or any other Department to have instituted a Committee containing names better calculated to inspire confidence in the British public or the public in Egypt or the Soudan. These gentlemen invited Sir William Willcocks to come before them and give evidence. But he declined the invitation. Colonel Kennedy did, however, give evidence before the Committee. I will not trouble the House with a lengthy examination of this question. I will explain that on the technical side the question as to whether the figures in relation to the water supply of Egypt were sufficient or not, but they were adopted.

That is a question I am wholly incompetent to deal with. I will only read to the House two of the main findings of the Committee to which I referred. In regard to the allegations that the setting up of these irrigation works about Khartoum might or would deprive Egypt of an essential part of its water supply, that was discussed by the Committee, and on page-eleven of the Report they say: We are therefore of opinion that there is no-justification for the statement that the scheme put forward will injure Egypt. As I say, on such a painful subject, the most eminent engineers of our time, some of them with lifelong experience in the highest degree of irrigation, have come to that conclusion, and we in the House of Commons, I venture to suggest, may well be satisfied. Then, again, as to the general charges of malfeasance against these officers of the Egyptian Government. On the last page of the Report we get what I call the general findings, and from them I will quote these words: In conclusion we get the report that after carefully considering all the matters referred to us we are unanimously of opinion that there is no foundation for the charges brought by Sir William Willcock a and Colonel Kennedy, and further that they should never have been made. We feel bound to express our great regret that two past officials of the Egyptian and Soudan Government Services should have descended to the course of action they have thought fit to adopt in making these charges. The rest of the matter may be found in this extremely clear, candid, and able Report, copies of which are to be found in the Library of the House. The House will probably ask, How is this scheme to to be administered? The experimental operations of the Soudan Government have so far been conducted for them by a body known as the Soudan Plantations Syndicate, of which Mr. F. Eckstein, Lord Lovat, and Mr. A. Maclntyre are, I understand, the principal directors. This body has been conducting the experiments, and has acquired the necessary experience and a part—a nucleus, at least—of the necessary organisation. The scheme will be-worked out, as I understand, on some such lines as these—I will not go in detail into the matter, because, of course, some of the details are better suited to a debate in Committee than to a debate on Second Reading—roughly speaking, the Soudan Government will be responsible for the construction of the main irrigation works and for the provision of the necessary land. The syndicate will provide the miner irrigation works, buildings, ginning factores, offices, and the like. They will be, in fact, the factors or farm agents of the estate. They are to have a run of ten, or it may be fourteen, years, during which time they are to reimburse them- selves for their main expenditure, the cost of buildings, etc., being on revaluation repaid to them by the Soudan Government. Of the proceeds of the cotton, 40 per cent. will go to the native cultivators, 35 per cent. to the Soudan Government, and 25 per cent. to the syndicate. I should observe in this connection that from all the green crop, the leguminous crop which is to be grown every three years on 100,000 acres, the total proceeds are to be given to the native cultivators. I do not think the House will ask me to enlarge any further on this matter. The House has very full information in its hands or at its disposal, and there will be, of course, ample opportunities of entering into this matter in Committee.

I would conclude by saying that this seems to me to be precisely that sort of project in which we, as a Great Power, can both prudently and legitimately engage. I go further, and say that it is such an enterprise as we must be always willing to undertake if we are to justify our lordship over undeveloped territories inhabited by peoples perhaps less advanced than our own. The House will pardon me if I say that throughout recent difficulties and troubles the people of the Soudan have proved themselves to be staunch and faithful Allies of the British Empire. Here there is no question of the alienation of native interests or the exploitation of native labour. If there is profit and advantage in this venture, the people of the Soudan will share in it to the full. On the other hand, they lose nothing that they now possess if the venture fails. I do not say that I ask for support of this Bill in the interests of the Soudan alone. Quite frankly, I am thinking as much of Lancashire and of that industry which, next after agriculture, is the most important industry in this country. It is impossible to exaggerate the importance of Lancashire. The provision of the raw material for the staple industry of Lancashire must ever be a prime consideration of Members of this House. It is imperative that the cotton-growing areas should be enlarged, and it is almost as important that we should develop as fast as we can those areas within the British Empire, and so under our control, that are capable of growing cotton. This is especially true of those areas not to be found in all cotton-producing countries that are capable of producing fine cotton with long staple, for which the soil of Egypt and the Soudan is so well adapted. Until now, as I am informed, we have been dependent for nine-tenths of our supply of raw cotton on the United States of America. This trade in raw cotton has been profitable to them and to us, but who will say that our blind reliance on one main source of supply will always be justified? We cannot take risks with Lancashire. We should be negligent indeed if we refused any businesslike expedient for securing the prosperity of Lancashire's chief industry. It is because this Bill will promote the cultivation of cotton of an especially valuable quality, and will also tend to ensure continued success to a vital English industry, that I ask the House to support the Second Reading of this Bill.


As, when I had the honour to occupy the position which the hon. Gentleman now adorns I was responsible for the two existing Soudan Loan-Acts, I may, perhaps, be allowed to say a very few words. I am very glad that the Government is bringing forward this Bill, and I hope the House will regard it with approval and pass it. I very strongly agree with what has been said—that, when we take over, as we have done, a territory such as the Soudan, under a condominium between ourselves and Egypt, it is an obligation on us, if we can find a scheme which is going to be of great benefit in developing that territory, to lend our credit so that the scheme may be put through. From such experience and knowledge as I gained in going into this matter before the War, I can bear out what the hon. Gentleman has said—that this scheme of irrigating the Gezireh Plain or parts of it for the purpose of growing cotton is most promising from the point of view of Lancashire and cotton-users in general. There are no two opinions as to the gain there will be to the resources of the Empire in raw cotton when this scheme is successfully developed. It is a pity that we have not been able to make progress hitherto. I remember that after the two Bills were passed—Bills which are incorporated really in this Bill and therefore are now repealed—LordKitchener, before the War, came to London in order to raise part of the loan which was guaranteed under the existing Acts. The House may be interested to know that he came to inquire the terms on which he would be able to raise, I think it was, £1,000,000 for the purpose of beginning this irrigation scheme. He asked me, at the Foreign Office, to obtain for him the figure at which, if a loan was issued—I think it was a 4 per cent. loan—he could get his money. It was quite easy for a Treasury official to work out this, that if a loan was issued at that time on the Consolidated Fund he would get about £98 offered for each £100 of stock. I recall the simple-minded, direct way in which Lord Kitchener said, "Well, if Lloyd George can get £98 for a loan of his, of course, I shall be able to get £100 for a loan of mine." He went to his friends in the City, and in ten days' time returned to my room a sadder and a wiser man, having realised that there was precious little sentiment in business and that when it was a question of a mere million being issued for a special loan of this kind, as against the world-wide reputation and stability of Consols, he would have to put up with a little less than an the Chancellor of the Exchequer would be able to get for a loan on the Consolidated Fund. The War intervened, and I think no progress was made then. I can only say that I am glad the matter is now being taken up, and I hope it will be a success.


I desire, in the first place, to thank the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs both for the White Papers and for the very full and frank statement he has given on this Bill this afternoon. I am particularly glad that he took his coat off and came, out into the open on the controversy which has been raging round this subject now for months, if not years, and definitely stated that His Majesty's Government accepted fully and without reserve the findings of the Nile Projects Committee, and that they had no hesitation in saying that the charges brought by Sir William Willcocks and Colonel Kennedy have been found, under impartial examination, to be without foundation, and to have been not only unnecessary but uncalled for. I say that because I have read most carefully the further charges of Sir William Willcocks on this scheme embodied in the recent book that was circulated to Members, of Parliament commenting on the findings of the Nile Projects Committee. Any impartial man who knows anything of Egypt or of the East, and who knows the persons concerned, will, after reading that book, agree with me that Sir William Willcocks has not behaved very fairly in the matter, that he has now no case, and that where he says that the Committee have passed over some of his charges in silence he will find on a little examination that they have been dealt with fully. It is very unfortunate that so distinguished an engineer as Sir William Willcocks should not only continue to criticise this most important scheme which we have under discussion this, afternoon, but should appear to be actuated by personal animus against the person holding the position of Adviser to the Public Works Department, Sir Murdock Macdonald. who is mainly responsible for advising both the Egyptian Government and His Majesty's Government to go on with this scheme. I was very glad to hear the representative of the Foreign Office this afternoon give unstinted support to Sir Murdock Macdonald and the officials working with him. He deserves it and needs it. As there are continual attacks made in the Press at the present moment, all inspired from the same source, it is time finality was put to it.

Let me say one or two things about the scheme itself. I am perfectly confident that the House is safe in going on at once with the Blue Nile scheme—with the scheme for erecting a dam near Senaar for the utilisation of the water of the Blue Nile for the irrigation of cotton-growing land in the Soudan. I think we are safe in doing that, but in order to reassure public opinion in Egypt, in order that there may be no doubt about it, I hope that any subsidiary projects which may be necessitated as the result of the construction of the Blue Nile dam at Senaar may be published without delay. While I absolutely agree with all these technical points about evaporation and about figures, and I think Sir William Willcocks has been quite put out of court by the findings of the recent most responsible Committee, there is one criticism which he makes of a quite general character which has some substance, and that is that the projects of the Irrigation Department and of His Majesty's Government in these matters has not been given sufficiently early publicity. The great thing in a country like Egypt is to publish everything, and then it is most desirable that there should be no ground for rumours and suspicions that the adviser to the Irrigation Department, or any other Department, is anxious to avoid free criticism or publication of his plans. It is important that there should be free criticism of all the plans. I understand, in order to ensure against low Niles, which only happen once in many years, it may be necessary, as the result of this Blue Nile dam, to proceed at once with the construction of a new barrage in Egypt for the raising of the water that is available for Egypt. The Blue Nile scheme will leave quite enough water for Egypt. It will not take away water which will be urgently needed by Egypt in the critical months of Aprl, May, and June, before the flood comes. It may turn out, in a bad year, that the effect will be that though there will be a sufficient volume of water, especially in middle Egypt, which is becoming increasingly one of the most valuable cotton-growing lands—about 250 miles south of Cairo—you may require a new barrage in order to get your water at a higher level, because in Egypt it is not merely a question of the water available for irrigaton but the level you have it at is a. vital point, and I hope an early opportunity will be taken by the Government, and by the English advisers to the Egyptian Government, for the purpose of re-assuring public opinion in Egypt and in this country, of putting all their cards on the table in regard to this scheme.

The line taken by Sir William Willcocks, and those who have inundated me with appeals in the last few weeks in opposition to the Bill, is that the commencement of the construct on of the Blue Nile dam, which we are sanctioning by this Bill, should ho held up pending an examination of the White Nile scheme as an alternative. I hope the House will not take that course, but will be content, after what it has heard from the Government and what it may hear in the Debate, to go on with the Blue Nile scheme. But that criticism exists and it has got to be met, and there are people outside the House who think that the White Nile scheme should be considered before we are deeply committed on the Blue Nile. The position is this: The Nile rises in Egypt at the beginning of July, and the cause of the rise, up till the time of the full flood in August, is the rise of the Blue Nile, which comes from "the mountains of Abyssinia. That is a very rapid and a temporary rise, and it conveys an enormous volume of water. But even so, taking it all the year round, the Blue Nile is not nearly as fundamentally important, both to Egypt and the Soudan, as the longer and the greater river, the White Nile, which has no such remarkably sudden rise, and therefore seems to a layman almost out of the picture. Yet it is on the maintenance and the perpetual addition, if we can get it, to the volume of the White Nile that the real prosperity of the country fundamentally depends.

Sir William Willcocks criticises the Blue Nile scheme because he thinks more attention should be paid to a scheme of his in regard to this White Nile. The Government have promised, and are proposing, in connection with this Blue Nile scheme, a subsidiary scheme in connection with the White Nile in the neighbourhood of Khartoum. They are proposing a barrage about twenty-five miles from Khartoum, and that has been severely criticised by Sir William Willcocks—a very extraordinary proceeding on his part considering that he suggested not very long ago the construction of a barrage in a somewhat similar place. However, he has gone back on that now and he wants the whole of this part held up for the exploration of his scheme for the Upper White Nile in what is called the sudd region. In the sudd region there is, of course, a vast expanse of water that now goes to waste. It is now evaporated and eaten up by vast areas of vegetation. If they could be cleared, and if the water that collects and evaporates could be brought down the Nile, both Egypt and the Soudan would take another big leap forward. It would be a gigantic work. The construction of the Assouan dam would be a small thing to it. I think the House would be well advised to urge that, while going on with this Bill and the Blue Nile scheme, an impartial outside Commission should be set up forthwith to examine what can be done on the White Nile in addition to the Blue Nile and not as an alternative. It will be an insurance against the fears that, some people have of the scheme that we are sanctioning by this Bill. I have no fear that we arc doing anything dangerous, but some people have; and I hope that at the same time that we begin work on the Blue Nile scheme an impartial Commission will examine into the possibility of supplying more water from the sudd region and bringing it down to Egypt. The controversy will go on unless you have an absolutely impartial Commission to go into it. It seems to me that there is a vendetta on the part of Sir William Willcocks against someone in Egypt, and it would be absolutely fatal to entrust either Sir William Willcocks or the present officials in Egypt with the task of examining this sudd region without opening up a further great area of controversy which will all find its way down into the Lobbies of this House. So I hope, if any Commission is set up, the Government will get someone who has never been in. Egypt or had anything to do with Sir Murdock Macdonald or Sir William Willcocks to go and examine the all-important question of the sudd area.

I hope in carrying out this scheme of the Blue Nile it will be done as far as possible not by a contractor but directly by the Public Works Department. It will be much better, in view of the further consideration that is to take place, to see that that Department carries out directly, with local labour and local knowledge, the construction of these important works. They can be trusted to do it, and I hope they will do it. I think I should give expression to the satisfaction; which we all feel that our Debate should have been witnessed by representatives from the country now under discussion who have played so loyal and magnificent a part in the War. There are no portions of His Majesty's Moslem subjects who have been more loyal or have done more for the United Empire that the Soudanese, and if it is only for the debt of gratitude we owe the people of that country, the House will be justified in doing what the Government urges it to do, namely, pledging the credit of the Empire in the development of their great country. Those of us who have seen any of it believe in its future and in the future of its people. They believe it may be a great help to civilisation and that its development is our duty as well as theirs, and I am very glad my hon. Friend (Mr. Harmsworth) is determined to press on with it. I do not think there will be many points to raise in Committee and I hope the Bill will soon be on the Statute Book.

Captain SHAW

I welcome this Bill as I believe it will increase to a very large extent the amount of cotton produced under British auspices. It will also raise our prestige in the Soudan. It will increase the prosperity of the natives there and it will give them a. tangible instance of the benefits derived from British protection. By pledging British credit the Soudanese Government will be able to get cheaper money, and I am certain that is the desire of both this House and the country. I am also certain that neither this House nor the Government nor the country desire to provide cheap money in order to increase the profits of any international financial group. The Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs has referred to a Soudanese syndicate. I understand that this company has made a provisional agreement with the Soudanese Government in which that Government is to provide 3,000,000 acres. The Soudanese Government are going to build the canals, to equip the land, and do everything needful and the company is merely, as I understand it from information at my disposal, to provide the administration and to provide and supervise the tenants for the land. As the Under-Secretary stated the Government of the Soudan are to take 35 per cent, of the gross cotton produced on the land cultivated, and the syndicate is to take 25 per cent., while the cultivators are only to get 40 per cent. of the total produce to meet the cost of seed, etc. Under this agreement it seems to me that the syndicate is to get far too big a, share of the proceeds of these developments, which can only be carried out by pledging British credit. I trust, therefore, that before the Government go further in this matter they will give the House an assurance that this agreement will be looked into so that we shall be able to feel that British credit has not been pledged in this instance simply to provide profits for a group of financiers.


I should like to follow the hon. Member for Stafford, with whom I have been associated in this matter, in congratulating the Undersecretary, not only on his speech this afternoon, but on the very clear statement which is put forward in the White Paper. I think, also, that congratulations are due to the Government for having taken the second step—the first step having been the creation some years ago of the Uganda Railway—in what I hope will be many steps to develop, either by direct Imperial assistance or by Imperial guarantee, the vast potential riches of our huge African Empire. There is an old French proverb —I do not know whether I can quote it correctly or not—that a sack of wheat is worth a bag of gold. That means that it you can really produce you can get back the value of your gold. That is true of our African Empire to-day. If this House and this country is really prepared to put its hand to the plough and to develop the huge assets that exist in the mineral wealth and the fertile soil of our African Empire, indeed in the whole of our tropical Dependencies, for the next few years, we can go a long way towards paying the cost of the War. We have in the Soudan, as in so many other parts of our African territority, tremendous potential riches. The Under-Secretary has spoken of some of them this afternoon. From my own personal experience of that country, I can say that he has not overestimated the opportunities that lie open to us if we really develop the Soudan.

To those of us who for years have advocated a policy of Imperial development, either by direct assistance or by guarantee, it was very pleasant this afternoon to hear the speech of the Under-Secretary and to realise that the Government are taking steps to carry out the Soudan irrigation policy which was foreshadowed in the 1910 Parliament but could not be carried out owing to the War. I should also like to say in this respect that I am very glad this money is to be spent in the Soudan, because I think there is no part of our territories which are a better example of what I may call our native dependence on Imperialism than the Soudan. The word "Imperialism," for various reasons, is used by many people as a sort of sneer, or almost as a term of abuse; but applied to what we have done as a nation in the Soudan during the last twenty years—and this Bill is only to carry out the policy which has already been laid down—we may claim that what we have done in the Soudan is something of which the nation may be very proud. We found a devastated, starved—one might almost say ruined— country, with a population so reduced that one would scarcely have thought that it could have been so reduced in so few years under the Mahdi and his followers and the Kalipha; but in little less than twenty years we have restored contentment and prosperity to a growing population, and there is more work than labour actually available in the Soudan. Here is a country which, as the Under-Secretary has so truly said, when practically all other countries were suffering from upheaval as a result of the War, has remained tranquil and prosperous throughout. It is for that reason alone that it is very pleasant that the policy of further developing the Soudan is being pursued by the Government. As to the strictures of Sir William Willcocks and Colonel Kennedy, I think the case has been fully answered by the Government in the White Paper and also by my hon. Friend's speech.

I only rose to say a few words about a very interesting question which forms part of the charge which Sir William Willcocks makes as to how to deal with the sudd of the White Nile and as to the alternative for the White Nile as against the Blue Nile scheme. Generally I agree with my hon. and gallant Friend, and I support him in the suggestion that an entirely impartal Commission should be sent out for the purpose of dealing with this sudd question and the White Nile. I can speak with perhaps even greater authority than my hon. Friend on this matter, because I have seen a great deal of the White Nile. I have seen the enormous storage of water which exists in those regions. I used a phrase in the Debate on the Financial Resolution which is unfortunately incorrectly reported in the OFFICIAL REPORT. I said it was the greatest water catchment area in the world, but, stored as it is in the sudd area, unfortunately, it benefits Egypt and the Soudan very little, because it eventually evaporates in the dry season. If the sudd could be properly dealt with, it would be of incalculable benefit. It is a question of the greatest importance, and some very wild charges have been made against the irrigation department. It is also an intricate question. I am convinced that if this sudd could be dealt with the amount of water available for Egypt and the Soudan would be perfectly enormous. For these reasons, I entirely support my hon. and gallant Friend in the suggestion that a Commission should be sent out to report upon this question, but to look upon it as an addition to, and not an alternative to, the Nile scheme. If we are going to wait while the Commission reports, and while further investigation is made, before we proceed with the Blue Nile scheme, the whole thing will be held up, and there has been far too much in connection with these development schemes of what is called jam yesterday, jam to-morrow, but never jam to-day, or what in the native vernacular is called by a term which means "to-morrow apricots," but they are never ripe. There has been too much of the "to-morrow apricots" about this scheme.

It is most important at the present time, with our position in Egypt what it is, that it should be known that we are going to get to work on this scheme. I press upon the Government the need for further investigation as to the possibility of really dealing with this sudd question, for if it could be dealt with there would be quite sufficient water for Egypt and the Soudan. I hope that this is only one of further schemes for developing the potentialities of the Soudan. It has tremendous possibilities. It has an enormous acreage of rich, black, cotton soil, and it is of vital importance that we should develop this area, in view of the serious position in which we find ourselves, when nine-tenths of our cotton supply comes from countries not under the British flag. True, it comes mainly from a friendly country, America, but still a country which is not under the British flag. That our cotton supply should to the extent of nine-tenths come from countries not under the British flag is a most serious thing for the industries of this country, and it should be looked at from that point of view. It is, I believe, looked at from that point of view by the people in Lancashire and the cotton districts of this country who have studied the question. It is a most dangerous position, but that is not the only point at issue, although it is a material point. We have an increasing population in the Soudan, and undoubtedly under British rule the population will continue to increase, and employment will have to be found. There is no doubt that under this African development scheme, when it is eventually carried out, the guarantee of this loan, will immensely increase the prosperity of the country, and will bring contentment and prosperity to thousands of natives in the Soudan. That is a point which should not be lost sight of. The House should not think that there is in this scheme anything that could possibly exploit the natives or which can harm the interests of the natives. The facts are all the other way. It is of immense importance that we should be able to give employment which will be of benefit to the population and their descendants, and will at the same time increase the cotton-growing industry in the Soudan. If it is developed, as it has been developed in Egypt during the last generation—in fact, ever since we have been in Egypt—there will be each year more employment for the native population, who will be able to make better wages and arrive at a higher standard of living. It should be looked at from that point of view by those who cannot look at it purely from the Imperial point of view. I do not look at it simply from the Imperial point of view or the native point of view, but I look at it from both the Imperial and native point of view. I am glad that the Bill has been brought for- ward, and I hope it will be carried through with all due speed, and that we shall have begun the scheme before the year is out.

7.0 P.M.

Sir J. D. REES

The father of history has described Egypt as the gift of the Nile, the father of rivers. I am content to allow the distribution of the waters of the Nile to be carried out by the eminent engineers who have had it in hand, and who have it in hand at the present time. I do not quite understand some of the speeches which have been delivered. I gathered that there is no opposition to this Bill, and that everybody welcomes it. Therefore, I do not quite know why it is desirable to send out a Commission to settle a question between: dissentient engineers while the Government apparently, so far as present requirements are concerned, are satisfied to-be guided by the engineers who are at present their authorised advisers. However, if the Commission is to go out, I would agree with my Noble and gallant Friend that it should be unconnected with the project with which this Bill is immediately concerned. I rose to speak from the more commonplace point of view of one who is interested in the production of cotton. I wish to congratulate my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State and the Government on the action they are taking. The production of long staple cotton, such as Egypt produces, is a very urgent need of commerce, and of the greatest trade which we have in this country after agriculture. The need for this cotton is increasing every year. It is doubtful whether the Government of India, which by making a barrage over the Indus might grow a great deal in Sind, will have the necessary funds after the War, and as the Government apparently see their way to provide the necessary funds for the development of not dissimilar land in respect of a not dissimilar river, I can only wish them God speed and bless the Bill which they have brought forward.

I will leave the engineering question to be settled by eminent engineers with the advice and assistance of my hon. and gallant Friend. I asked the Secretary of State the other day, as my knowledge of Egypt is more ancient than that of my hon. and gallant Friend, what steps were being taken to make public the action which the Egyptian Government take at the instance of His Majesty's Government. My information, whether right or wrong, is that the public in Egypt do not follow what is going on in regard to such action, that they are not posted, and that where they see in some cases land waterlogged with too much Nile and in other places land arid and useless not having enough Nile, they are under the impression that the English policy is at fault. If that is the case in these days, when all Governments not only find it advisable but absolutely necessary to carry the public with them, not only the public at home but the public in the country immediately concerned, if my information is approximately correct, it would be quite worth while to consider whether some steps cannot be taken to keep the public in Egypt well informed from time to time of measures such as that now under discussion. The hon. Gentleman said that there was a Press in Egypt to deal with these things. The Press may have altered very much, but in my time it was of no great account, but, since in these days all foreign countries are not so grateful as they might be for the benefits brought to them by British rule, great as those benefits really are, I would suggest that it would be worth while to take particular care to urge the Egyptian Government to make public in the broadest possible manner in Egypt and in the Soudan the measures which they are taking and the limitless benefits which will undoubtedly result from them.


It is with great satisfaction that I have listened to the statement by the Under-Secretary in regard to irrigation works on the Blue Nile. It is more than ten years since I went from Khartoum through the Sud, to which my hon. Friend referred, to Fashoda. I saw a little also of the Blue Nile. I have also been to the source of the Nile in Uganda. The impression left clearly on my mind with regard to the Soudan was that, given irrigation, there were enormous areas that would produce rich crops, particularly of cotton, and also of grain, and, indeed, that there were almost unlimited possibilities of development in that great region, and I have visited, near Berbera, experimental cotton farms, the land of which was irrigated by very recently constructed irrigation works. I do not know much about cotton myself, but I was assured that the samples which I saw were some of the finest long staple cotton produced in the world and that the results, so far as they have gone, were entirely satisfactory. One thing of which I was convinced from my slight knowledge of the Blue and the White Nile was that the volume of water in those rivers at certain seasons of the year is so great that if, by the construction of a dam, it is properly impounded there would be ample water, not only to bring into a state of fertility large areas in the Soudan, but also to ensure that the development of Egypt would not suffer by reason of the water being thus utilised in the other regions of the Blue and the White Nile.

The amount of water that must be lost in the sudd by evaporation and otherwise is, indeed, enormous. My own judgment is that no better spent money could be imagined than that which is expended on the construction of these irrigation works, not only on the Blue Nile but also on the White Nile. The water supplies in both rivers should be utilised without delay to the fullest possible extent, because not only will it increase enormously the prosperity of those regions, but it will also provide profitable work for the increasing number of inhabitants. It is of the most vital importance to Lancashire that we should increase to the largest possible extent the production of the raw cotton which we need within the British Empire. We have been spending £8,000,000,000 in conducting a great war, and we know that Government Departments have been squandering money right and left. Therefore, I have no hesitation in saying that, everyone ought to welcome the spending of money to good purpose instead of the waste of money which has recently taken place, and has added enormously to the expenditure of the world. And if British credit guarantees £5,000,000 or £10,000,000 for the development of irrigation works on the Blue Nile or the White Nile for the benefit of the Soudan, and also for the benefit of this country, no project of greater utility or value could be undertaken by the Government, and I congratulate them on. having at last, late though it may be, taken this important step forward.


I think it but right that, at last, a Member from Lancashire should proffer the Government very hearty thanks because something is being done in respect to cotton for Lancashire. I have no special knowledge of the general conditions in relation to cotton so far as Egypt is concerned, but I do know this, that when the great countries across the water are doing their very utmost to the extent of £20,000,000 or £30,000,000 to corner and advance the cost of that raw material upon which Lancashire depends, it is vital for the Government to deal with this problem in no cheeseparing manner. I also join in congratulating heartily the hon. Gentleman who represents the Foreign Office, and, if I am permitted to associate myself with hon. Members on the Labour Benches, I would speak also in this respect for the employés as well as those who provide capital for that great industry which produces the largest export of this country. We require to-day an increased export trade if we are to equalise the rate of exchange and cheapen the food of the people. The Government are, at length, taking practical steps to consolidate the means which are necessary for this purpose, but the first point which I would impress on the hon. Gentleman who represents the Foreign Office is that £6,000,000 should not be fixed as the maximum sum that shall be devoted to this purpose. I have a little knowledge of the amount of money that is required in connection with these schemes. I have been associated with cotton schemes in India, Africa, and other parts of the world, and, as the practical man on the spot has to face the great pioneer work which is essential to the growth of a good type of cotton, it is not wise to limit him to one certain sum, even though that sum appears to be a large one.

Therefore I hope that the Foreign Office will not limit the sum dealt with under this Bill to £6,000,000, but that when the Bill comes up in Committee it will be possible to accept an Amendment by which a larger sum may be made available, so that the cotton trade may receive more immediate benefit. If this great scheme is not pushed forward rapidly it may be too late. Speedy action is essential. Therefore the Government might consider whether they should not double the sum that is now proposed. From the experience of those who are interested in cotton schemes in India, Africa, and other places, it would seem that the sum proposed in this Bill will not be sufficient if results of the best kind for the Lancashire cotton industry are to be obtained. Special attention must be given not only to planting, but also to transport. The greatest problem in connection with cotton is not altogether the growing of the cotton, but rather the transport of it to the place where it is to be used, and when we consider the great dearth of shipping and the fact that shipping to-day is mainly in the hands of our great competitors, the American people, it will be seen that the great question is how soon this cotton will come to our country. Therefore I would suggest that a portion of this sum should be put on one side for the purchase or organising great shipping lines to bring the cotton to our country. I agree with the suggestion of another hon. Member that schemes should not be in the hands of uncertain native contractors only, but should be put under the guidance and management of our great public works Department for we know that they have a power in the Soudan which no other people would have.

Time is the very essence of the contract if the cotton is to be of practical value, and if it is to be obtained it must be obtained rapidly. I beg, therefore, in proffering congratulations to the Government, to ask the hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill whether he will suggest, when the Bill goes in Committee, the alteration of certain Clauses, with a view of securing speed, an increased sum of money, and greater proficiency? May I ask, also, that there may be co-opted on the Committee which deals with this Bill practical men of affairs from the great Lancashire industry, representative both of the great trade unions and those who provide and utilise the capital, so that the type of cotton which ultimately comes may be of the most serviceable kind. There has, in the past, been cotton grown which was of little practical value in this country, and there is always a danger, unless the right seed is sown in proper season, that the growth will be useful only to our American competitors.

Major NALL

I understand that the Bill is not opposed in any quarter. Beyond wishing to associate myself with the hon. and gallant Member who has just spoken I do not wish to detain the House.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House for Wednesday.£[Mr. Harmsinorth.]