HC Deb 31 July 1923 vol 167 cc1364-70
Major-General Sir J. DAVIDSON

I was not able to speak on the Colonial Office Vote last week, and I want to touch on the subject of the Voi-Kaké Railway, about which there has been so much controversy. I cannot congratulate the Colonial Office on the decision at which they have arrived in this respect. I think that their case has been very unconvincing throughout, while the case against their decision is overwhelming. It is precisely the same thing as if a man went into hospital with a broken arm and the surgeons proceeded to amputate his leg. I should like to describe the position in regard to this railway and the neighbouring railways. As the House probably knows, there are two main trunk lines in East Africa, one leading from the Port of Kisumu, on Lake Victoria Nyanza, and running about 400 or 500 miles down to the coast at Mombasa, more properly known as Kilindini, and another railway running 200 miles further south—a railway 600 or 700 miles long—from Lake Tanganyika to the coast at Dar-es-Salam. Mid-way between these two railways there is a short railway which was built by the Germans linking up the fertile area around Kilimanjaro with the coast at Tanga. This railway is about 200 miles long. The Voi-Taveta section connects this small line with the Uganda railway and Kilindini, and it is this particular section which the Government intend to tear up, and in regard to which I believe they have given orders already that it should be pulled up. They are spending money in order to recondition the line which runs from Kilimanjaro to Tanga. The point is whether the produce of the fertile tract of Kilimanjaro should be taken down to the Port of Tanga or to the Port of Kilindini. The Government's decision is to recondition the line running through an unproductive country to a bad port. Our contention is that that should not be done, and that the line running from this productive country to a good port should be improved and put into proper order and not pulled up. Obviously the Government's decision is wrong.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies read a letter last week in order to prove that the country along the line between Voi and Kahé was unproductive, and that it was desirable to pull up the line. It is very easy to read letters from almost any source to prove anything you like. I have a letter written by a responsible person which proves precisely the opposite to what the Under-Secretary sought to prove. It says that the stretch of country which, according to the Under-Secretary, is a desert is in reality a very fertile country. I will read it: I was Assistant Conservator of Forests for the Coast Division for several years, and for this reason I hope you will record my protest against the decision of the Government to dismantle the Voi-Taveta Railway. The country through which the line runs is worth development. The bush country abounds in sansevieria, and the Teita Hills form a watershed, which might well be used for the cultivation of sugar and other tropical crops. The natives have a wonderful system of irrigation on the slopes of the hills, but at present the water after reaching M'tate is wasted. The forests on the hills are not extensive, but valuable timber is to be found there, including podocarpus (yellow wood) and ocotea (camphor wood), which species are not found at so low an elevation (under 5,000 feet) elsewhere in East Africa.—Mr. F. L. Kelly, Shenfield, East Preston, Sussex. I do not want to be hard on the Under-Secretary, but I am not inclined to give too much credence to some of his remarks, seeing that he stated in regard to the Voi-Kahé line that it was in Tanganyika territory, when as a matter of fact 90 per cent. of it lies in Kenya territory.

Let us look at the problem from different points of view. First of all, there is the point of view of the railways. The special commissioner on railways in East Africa prepared a very voluminous report on railway development in that country, and in dealing with this question of the Voi-Kahé line he said: I recommend most strongly that the Voi-Kahé section should be retained, as not only will it prove more economical in the long run, but it will aid the development of the country better. It is perfectly obvious that if you have a fertile area in the middle, with two ports equi-distant, and one is an excellent port and the other is no port at all, that the line to the good port should be maintained. From any point of view in regard to railway development in a country which is in its early stage of development, is it not far better to link up the productive area with your main trunk system than to go to the expense of maintaining another system? The Voi-Kilimanjaro railway should act as a feeder to the main trunk line. From the railway point of view there can be no two ways of looking at it. The obvious thing is to retain the Voi-Kahé line and, if necessary, pull up a considerable distance of the Tanga-Kilimanjaro line.

As far as the ports are concerned, namely, Tanga and Killindini, I am advocating that the produce should be brought to the latter, where we are already spending over £1,250,000 in development, and where there is a first-class natural harbour. It seems to me ridiculous that the produce of Kilimanjaro should be diverted to the port of Tanga. I have some knowledge of this port, because I had to spend a week there last year. It is not a port at all. The Germans, when they bulit the line from Tanga up to Kilimanjaro, wanted to connect this productive area with the sea, but they could not build a line thence to Dar-es-Salaam, nor could they connect Kilimanjaro with Killindini, which is in our territory, so they chose the nearest point on the coast, and they had to run through unproductive country. This port of Tanga is scarcely a port at all. There are shifting sands, and navigation is extremely difficult. The ships have to lie out one or two miles from the shore, and the produce has to be handed on to lighters and from the lighters on to the ships, at some considerable distance from the shore, often in a rough sea. I watched valuable coffee produced at Kilimanjaro being shipped and damaged by salt water as it was being transferred from the lighters. It was lying in the lighters, with spray going over it. The Government by their decision will be forcing produce to be sent down to this wretched place, and great damage and unnecessary expense will be caused.

When the Tanga Railway was built there was no other choice open to Germany. Now since we have control of Tanganyika, there is a choice, and we have to make a decision now. The reason why the wrong decision has been made is largely because there are petty jealousies between Tanganyika and Kenya Colony. The Colonial Office should have nothing to do with these jealousies, but should do what they believe to be right in the interests of the country. Now is the opportunity of doing it. I am convinced that these Colonies of Tanganyika and Kenya will be federated in the near future, and that their interests will be one, and that the Colonial Office should regard their interests as one. The Under-Secretary told us that the Voi-Kahe line would cost £500,000 for reconditioning. I suggest that it will cost nothing of the sort. On balance, according to the Special Commissioner of Railways, who ought to know something about the matter, it will cost £315,000 to recondition and realign. It has been working until recently quite satisfactorily for the amount of produce it has to carry, and with very little expense it might be kept going for any amount of produce that it may be required to carry. Therefore, to come down and to say that it will cost £500,000 to put in order is entirely wrong. The railway experts and the present and previous governors of the Colony, and chambers of commerce at home and out in East Africa, are all agreed that the Government's decision is wrong. There is only one chamber of commerce that believes that the Government's decision is right, and that is the chamber of commerce of the port of Tanga, which is an interested party. The chamber of commerce of Tanga consists of a number of juniors from four or five firms, and their opinion is not worth anything. I cannot understand why the Colonial Office persists in their decision, and why they say they will not reconsider it. I want an answer to one question. What right have they to pull up this line, 90 per cent. of which runs through Kenya Colony, without asking the permission of the Colony, without getting an expression of their opinion, and without referring it to the Colony in any way. To my mind, it is a most drastic action and indefensible.

I want to deal with one or two points which were raised by the Under-Secretary in his speech and by the Colonial Secretary in his speech in another place. The Colonial Secretary gave every reason against his own decision. He said: Of the two ports Mombasa is by far the more promising, and greater use may be made of it. It is suggested not by the Colonial Secretary but by other responsible people that the port of Tanga may be developed in the future, and that it will be developed in the future. I predict that in the course of the next 25 or 30 years not a halfpenny will be spent on the port of Tanga. If one halfpenny is spent on the port of Tanga it will be money wasted, considering that we have a good port at Killindini, only 70 miles away. Then the Secretary for the Colonies says that he has made most careful inquiries and is quite satisfied that to relay the line would not cost less than £500,000. We do not want a lot of work done; we want just a line which will carry the produce from Kilimanjaro, and when that line begins to pay, then is the time to improve it. He says also that, at any rate for some years to come, the loss must be from £5,000 to £6,000 a year. Has anybody ever heard of a railway in an undeveloped country which pays in the first few years? Of course it does not, and this is no exception to the rule. Then he points out, in reference to the objection that the line was in mandated territory, that we should be within our rights in removing part of an existing line in mandated territory, so that there is nothing in that. He further goes on to say that though no doubt the Voi Kahé line is an ideal one, if he had to make a fresh decision, he feels that in the circumstances the decision arrived at is the only justifiable one. Then he says that the mandated territory of Tanganyika is now suffering severely from the effects of the War, and it will take a long time before that country is placed in a satisfactory position.

It is not right to look at these questions from a parochial point of view. They should be looked at from the East African point of view. The Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies made a speech last week on this subject, which was the most unconvincing that I ever listened to on this matter. If I had known nothing whatever about it, I should have said at the end of his speech, "He is supporting a decision with which he does not agree himself." He said: After the War the railway became practically derelict and although very few trains were run on it it had become dangerous for traffic. The temporary structures were in a bad condition—an important bridge had recently been destroyed by a flood—and expenditure quite out of proportion to the traffic had to be incurred to keep the line open. May I point out that this line was carrying traffic quite recently, and an individual, who is a great expert on railway matters, happened to travel over that line less than a year ago, and reported that it was in quite respectable order, and in sufficiently good condition to carry produce and traffic required. Then the hon. Gentleman said: Estimates presented to my Noble Friend showed that the cost of these works would be £500,000."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 25th July, 1923; cols. 510–511, Vol. 104.] I have already dealt with that. If you were called on to convert the line into a first-class railway line, something on the style of a railway line in England, you might have to spend something like £500,000, but that is not required at all. I would ask the Chancellor of the Duchy, who represents the Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies, if he will insure that this problem can get further consideration. It is an essential factor in the development of that part of East Africa. It is a question of the development of the country in the interests of those who grow produce in the country, and it affects gravely the question whether the railways will pay or will not pay in the future. This decision is going to make a great difference to the country, and I would ask that the pulling up of this line should be at least postponed until the matter receives further consideration.

The CHANCELLOR of the DUCHY of LANCASTER (Mr. J. C. C. Davidson)

I have not yet had time to inquire into this matter. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary for the Colonies asked me to take his place in his absence, and, having heard what my hon. and gallant Friend has said, I can assure, him that all his representations will be conveyed personally by me to the Colonial Office, and I shall see that what he says is put before the Secretary of State for his consideration. I cannot promise more than that, but I am sure that the Colonial Office will give every weight to what has been said.