HC Deb 20 February 1924 vol 169 cc1928-46

Resolution reported, That it is expedient—

  1. (a) to amend the Trade Facilities Acts, 1921 and 1922,—
  2. (i) by increasing from fifty million pounds to sixty-five million pounds the limit on the aggregate capital amount of the loans the principal or interest of which may be guaranteed thereunder; and
  3. (ii) by extending to the thirty-first day of March, nineteen hundred and twenty-five, the period within which guarantees may be given under the Trade Facilities Act. 1921:
  4. (b) to authorise the Treasury, with a view to the promotion of employment in the United Kingdom, to pay, in respect of a period not exceeding five years, an amount not exceeding three-quarters of any interest payable in respect of such portion as is to be expended in the United Kingdom of any loan the proceeds whereof are to be applied on or in connection with a public utility undertaking in some part of His Majesty's Dominions or in a British Protectorate, so, however, that the amount so payable by the Treasury shall not exceed one million pounds in any one year or five million ',winds in all;
  5. (c) to amend the Overseas Trade Acts, 1920 to 1922, by extending to the eighth day of September, nineteen hundred and twenty-six, the period within which new guarantees under those Acts may be given, and by extending to the eighth day of September, nineteen hundred and thirty, the period during which guarantees under these Acts may remain in force;
  6. (d) to amend section three of The Trade Facilities and Loans Guarantee Act, 1922 (Session 2). by increasing to seven million pounds the aggregate capital amount of the loan to be raised by the Government of the Sudan, the principal and interest of which may he guaranteed under the said section."

Resolution read a Second time.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution."


I should like to call the attention of the House to an Amendment standing in my name and in the names of other hon. Members, when placed on the Order Paper to-day, at the end of paragraph (a) to add the words (iii) with a view to improving the present condition of agriculture to allocate ten million pounds of the aforesaid guarantees to capital undertakings for agricultural districts, such as light railways, reclamation of land, drainage, co-operative storage facilities, depots, co-operative factories, and the like. In view of the lateness of the hour, I do not propose to move the Amendment to-night. I shall bring it forward at a later stage on the Bill.


I beg to move the Amendment which stands in my name and in the name of two other hon. Members, to leave out paragraph (d).


I am sorry; I had already put the Question, "That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution." Therefore, an Amendment cannot be moved. The hon. Member can speak on it, and can move his Amendment in Committee on the Bill.


It is true, Mr. Speaker, that you put the Question, "That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution," but you did not collect the voices, because an hon. Member below the Gangway rose to move an Amendment. May I put it that as the voices were not collected, an Amendment is now perfectly in order.


No. It is true that I did not collect the voices, and the Question, "That this House doth agree with the Committee in the mid Resolution," is still open. I had passed the point at which an Amendment could be moved.


I understand that I may offer some observations upon paragraph (d), in regard to which I had intended to move my Amendment. It refers entirely to the proposed guarantee of a further £3,500,000 to the Sudan Government for the purpose of extending irrigation schemes. This subject was raised in considerable detail last night, and the Financial Secretary to the Treasury said, at the close of his speech, that there would be further opportunities for discussing this matter, and that he would defer giving an explanation on behalf of the Government as to why this addition to the Trades Facilities Act should be proceeded with. I do not propose to go in detail over what was said last night, but I want to ask specifically for guarantees from the Government that they will, at least, undertake that there shall be a limitation of profits by this Sudan Plantation Syndicate, Limited, who really get the money, a limitation of profits which will ensure that the British consumer of cotton will get cotton at a reasonable price. Secondly, I think that we should have a guarantee that this cotton, which has been grown by moneys and credits subscribed by the British taxpayer, shall be at least supplied to the British Empire. Why do we put forward this second question? What is there suspicious about this company They were formed of 18 shareholders. This is a new chartered company formed by 18 shareholders, seven of whom were directly connected with the firm of Wernher, Beit & Co. Among the directors I find the names of Lionel Philips, Julius Wernher, Albert Beit, Ludwig Wagner, 5rederick Eckstein, Ludwig Breitmayer and Charles Rube. The shares in this concern were standing last time at £5 2s. 6d. A year ago they paid 35 per cent., and I do not know that I could say anything worse about them than was said a year ago by the greatest authority in this House, the present Foreign Secretary and Prime Minister. Writing a year ago, after having analysed the balance sheets and studying the agreement, he wrote: The British Treasury, in other words the British taxpayer, has been asked to guarantee both principal and interest of a loan up to £3,500,000, to be floated by the Sudan Government for building a barrage on the Nile so as to irrigate the Gezireh Valley for cotton growing. The Sudan Plantation Syndicate has an agreement with the Sudan Government under which it is to benefit enormously, to such an extent that no sane business man would ever have granted such an agreement. By this irrigation it has already exploited the Sudan, and, with the concurrence of the Government, so successfully, that it has given a bonus of 10 per cent. on the new shares, while the dividends have stood at 10, 25, 25, 15 and 35 per cent. through a series of years. The corruption that surrounds all business dealings with the Sudan Government is notorious, and has been exposed by Lieut.-Colonel Kelly, formerly a member of the Council of the Governor-General of the Sudan. This syndicate, the nature of its business, and the amounts of its profits are a type of the group of exploiters who get together to scrape wealth into their own pockets, not by service, but by opportunity and putting their hands into other people's pockets. It is a bad example of capital using political influence for its financial ends. The people connected with this syndicate may he as white as angels, but they have hit upon an affair whose financial history, political connection, and shareholders' lists must inevitably create suspicion. I will pass over a part of what the present Foreign Secretary wrote, because I do not want to raise personal issues in this House but he goes on to talk about notorious promoters of great exploiting schemes, South African millionaires, and meat trust magnates, and he says: Everything about this transaction smells, and it is the duty of Parliament to probe the whole thing to the bottom. Astonishing facts have come to light and an early opportunity must he found next Session for a discussion on the subject. This is the concern for which the present Government a year afterwards asks for £3,500,000. Who are the shareholders? The Earl of Derby, 1,200 shares; Godfrey Isaacs, 3,400 shares; Lord Vesty, of the Meat Combine, 500 shares; Sir Otto Beit, 9,000 shares: and William Mosenthal, 2,500 shares. If they get this £3,500,000 they will have had guaranteed a sum of £15,000.000. The ex-President of the Board of Trade, speaking at that box last night. indicated his opinion—I hope that I am quoting him correctly—that this £3,500,000 would not suffice, and that they would be coming back for more.


I did not say anything of the kind.


I am not alone in having had the misfortune to misinterpret what the right hon. Gentleman said at that box last night. £13,000,000 they have had. It is true that a big portion of that money has disappeared—"gone; no trace." £6,000,000 of it was operated upon by a foreign contractor. I believe he was a Greek. It was on this basis: he was to get 10 per cent. upon everything he spent-10 per cent. upon the £6,000,000. Some of you lightning calculators can say what he got. Then someone discovered that the Makwar dam was not going up quickly enough. An official or officials from the Sudan Government came back here to urge upon the British Government the necessity of supplying further credits. £3,500,000 was supplied a year ago, and now a British Government, with all this knowledge, a Socialist Government, is prepared to supply another £3,500,000.

I understand that the Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs is to reply. I hope he will remember what he wrote about this subject. I have just had handed to me a copy of yesterday's OFFICIAL REPORT containing the speech of the ex-President of the Board of Trade (Sir P. LloydGreame), to which I referred a moment ago. He said this: I should like to be assured that he is taking full powers now for whatever guarantee is necessary for public issues for the completion of the irrigation of the present Sudan cotton-growing scheme."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 19th February, 1924; col. 1009, Vol. 169.] That, at least, was an indication that in his mind there was a doubt. The present Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs, writing little over a year ago, commended what the present Foreign Secretary said about this Sudan plantation syndicate with its hands in the public purse, and added: As Mr. Ramsay MacDonald said, such episodes may happen again and again, while the Government is subsidising, either directly or indirectly, private exploiting companies. The House is entitled to have this business cleared up. Before another penny of public credit. is voted we ought, for our own credit, to have this thing thoroughly analysed. We ought to have a firm guarantee that this Sudan plantation syndicate, which is a new chartered company in the Sudan—it has floated up from South Africa, and it will cost as much to get it out of the Sudan as it cost to get the other company out of South Africa—shall be allowed to operate only on the basis that it is a public utility company, that dividends will be limited, that the 35 per cent. business will be stopped, and that the British cotton consumer will get his cotton at a reasonable price. Further, we ought to get most frigid assurances that the poor natives in the Sudan—6,000,000 of them—are being decently, honourably and equitably treated by the Ecksteins and the Beits.

Is it the case that their common lands have been broken up and taken away from them. The Tinder-Secretary for Foreign Affairs will be able to tell us that, at any rate. Has their salt and sugar taxation been increased? Is it the case that the natives are worse off now than they were before the syndicate. arrived? What steps have the Government taken to guarantee freedom, personal liberty, and decent economic conditions to the natives of the Sudan? I ask the House to remember that the Sudan is not a Crown Colony, it is not a Protectorate, it is not a Dominion—it is that curious indescribable thing known as a Condominium. Nobody is responsible for it. No official could be got by the Public Accounts Committee to answer for it; we could not trace out how it is being administered. All we know is it is being administered by a nominated Governor-General, with a nominated council, and it is high time this House, more particularly hon. Members opposite, who pride themselves on being guardians of the Empire and the peoples who inhabit the Empire—hon. Members who take a pride on their attitude towards the Empire—should see to it. It is the business of hon. Members to find out what kind of treatment is being given to these poor people, who have no self-government, no voice in public affairs, whose grievances are never heard, much less redressed. it is the duty of the House to see that some channels are opened up immediately by which the assurance can be obtained that these people are not being exploited by a soulless capitalist ring such as we know this gang to be.


I remember, last year, cheering my hon. Friend when he made that speech, because at the time he was doing his best to help the Labour Opposition. I own, to-night, when he is, apparently, trying to help the Labour Government, I do not feel the same enthusiasm for his speech. I must confess I thought he, as an internationalist, rather overdid his sneers at various other nationalities. There are, however, substantial points in what he brought forward which require answering. This is a legacy which we have taken over from the last Government. We are not responsible for this Scheme and we should not have hesi- tated to drop it, had we, on examination, found that it was not worthy of support and-that it was not going to give any advantage, in any direction. But, on examination, we find there are three distinct advantages to be derived from this scheme. Firstly, it would bring in a supply of raw cotton which will benefit Lancashire. Those interested in the cotton industry recognise that the supply is no longer equal to the needs of the world. Secondly, the expenditure of considerable sums in Great Britain on plant, machinery and iron works material will help in some degree to alleviate unemployment; and, thirdly, there 'is a benefit and an advantage that will arise from it to the natives of the Sudan; and I think my hon. Friend very rightly inquires into the conditions of the natives and exactly how they will suffer under this Scheme. I will take the points in the order in which he raised them last night in his speech, that he repeated to-night.

A large number of natives are coming in to profit by the advantages of the Scheme. They are coming from all parts of Africa, even from the West Coast. The taxation in the district does not differ from the taxation levied elsewhere in the Sudan. Last night my hon. Friend mentioned petitions that were sent in by the natives and not forwarded by the Sudan Government to His Majesty's Government. I can well believe that is so, but in Oriental countries petitions are forwarded by natives very much in the same way as our constituents forward printed postcards to us. With regard to the expropriation of the natives, that is a very important point, and I would like to give my hon. Friend full details about it.

Practically all the land within the area to be irrigated is the registered freehold property of the natives of that area. Their titles were acquired by centuries of occupation for the purposes of rain cultivation, and were finally settled and granted to them by a Land Commission in 1908. The Government have rented the whole of the area from its owners for a period of 40 years, and the land will be re-allotted to the owners as tenants in plots of regular size bounded by canals, but lying as near as possible to the position of the original holding. Throughout the period of renting, the native retains the freehold of his land, and is at liberty to sell, bequeath, or otherwise dispose of it, and, of course, to inherit in accordance with the provisions of Mahommedan law, and when the period of the lease is over the full use of the land, with all the benefits of development, will revert to the freeholders.


What is the period of the lease?


Forty years. To protect the native from the foreign speculator, an Ordinance is in force prohibiting non-natives of the Sudan from acquiring land. The provision is in force to protect the ignorant cultivator from the native usurer. I think, therefore, there is ample protection for the natives.

Lieut. - Colonel WATTS - MORGAN

How long has that been in force?


For some time past. I did not know this last year. My predecessor did not give this useful information to the House.


Why did you cheer the hon. Member last year?


He also did not know. I have now imparted to the House information which will bring the whole House round to the view that I take in the matter. The hon. Gentleman has rightly said that the Government of the Sudan is a little bit difficult to understand, and I may explain that there is control kept by Hips Majesty's Government over this district. The Governor-General of the Sudan is under the British High Commissioner at Cairo, and the Sudan Bedget is submitted to the Egyptian Council of Ministers. Besides that, there is a Financial Secretary to the Sudan. who is an official selected after consultation with our Treasury, and His Majesty's Government exercises through this official a general control over the policy of the Sudan, so that there is supervision lent over all that takes place in this area. This information was given by my predecessor last year, but perhaps I may repeat it. The agreement shows that the tenant cultivators and the Syndicate were, in effect, co-partners in the undertaking. The proceeds of the sales, after the payment of working expenses, were divided between them in the following proportions. The cultivator has 40 per cent., the Government 35 per cent., and the Syndicate 25 per cent., and there are certain obligations imposed upon each. Though it is a private undertaking, it is necessary to have some management in order that the cultivators may be taught how this cotton trade, with irrigation on a large scale, can be conducted. The native cultivators have experience of ordinary cotton growing in natural ways, but not on this large scale by means of irrigation. The private undertaking will come to an end in 10 years, but it can be extended for a further period of four years, provided that the Syndicate carry out their obligations fairly and to the satisfaction of the Government.

I do not think I need enter into further details of the scheme except to say that this £3,500,000 we are asking Parliament to sanction is the last instalment of the total of £13,000,000 which has been guaranteed and submitted to the House. In 1913 £3,000,000 was guaranteed. In 1919 the amount Was raised to £6,000,000. In 1923 there was a further £3,500,000, and now this is the final amount of £3,500,000, making a total of £13,000,000. I would like to emphasise the fact that we are not committed to any further guarantee. This is the last instalment, and the Government are doing this to fulfil an undertaking which was made in order to set this great enterprise on a sound basis, and to promote What, we think, will be an advantage both to this country and to Sudan. [An HON. MEMBER: "Then the last Government was right "] I think in regard to the original scheme we might certainly level a good deal of criticism as to what was done. There is no doubt about it, but I think it would ill become us to start on these criticisms when we have pressed on us an obligation to see that this scheme is sanctioned by the House. I agree with my hon. Friend's indignation to a certain extent, and I regret very much that my first appearance at this box should be in support of something which does not have the full backing and the initiation of a Labour Administration, but day by clay, for the next few months, we have to carry out obligations undertaken by our predecessors. We have to clear a great deal of the ground before we can ourselves initiate, and in doing that I hope we shall not only have the support of hon. Members opposite who initiated these schemes, but of our own supporters, who, I am sure, want us to make great endeavours on our own account in the future.


Will the hon. Gentleman answer the point I put to him about maintaining the proposals! Are the Government going to allow this 35 per cent. to go on?


I do not quite understand where the hon. Gentleman gets the 35 per cent.


Out of the Stock Exchange Year Book.


The lease of the land is for 40 years, and during that period the Government have control over the prices.


We have witnessed a most pathetic spectacle. The hon. Gentleman, the Under-Secretary, left the Liberal party because he was too good for it. He was so used to Liberal Ministers deserting their ideals because of the stress of circumstances when they were on the Front Bench that he got tired of it, and would in no wise follow them further. He found a more excellent way. He joined a party whose purity was unchanged, whose record was unstained, and which have never in its devotion to its high idealism given way to that paltry timeserving which hail influenced the other parties. He has followed the gleam 1 He has followed it up to the Treasury Bench—with the usual result ! The light has failed! This is the second exhibition of the same kind to-day. But in the other case the hon. Member never was a Member of the Liberal party and we cannot, therefore, quarrel with him on that point. The hon. Gentleman the Under-Secretary for Scotland was perfectly frank. He said we must bend to circumstances, but we still retain our ideals. The Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs has given up his ideals, and pays a tribute to circumstances. I was, of course, quite prepared to see the hon. Member for Western Stirling (Mr. Johnston) take up this matter to-night. He by no means earned the sneers which were levelled at him by the Under-Secretary. At any rate, his disinterestedness is above reproach. My association with the hon. Gentleman has been of a varied nature—that of opposition. We have fought on many occasions both here and in the West of Scotland. But there is no man that has ever been associated with him who will doubt his fearlessness, or who will assert that whatever the circumstances he will adhere to his views. I only wish the Government had taken the same line.

What is the case made by the Under-Secretary? It is precisely the case that was made from the Bench last year by the right hon. Gentleman now on the opposite side. We were told then that a supply of raw cotton was needed; that Lancashire demanded it., and the support of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Platting (Mr. Clynes) was invoked, and that of the other Lancashire Members, whose support was pleaded as an excuse for this scheme. These things were all known last year to the Under-Secretary. He knew the need for raw cotton; that this was a scheme for providing it; so that this is not a new revelation. They are old facts. They did not convince him last year. They do this. What a difference it makes to convictions when you cross the Floor of the House!

The force of argument is extraordinary according to geography. This expenditure was to relieve unemployment here, and that was the argument last year. It was said that this proposaal would help the unemployed and also help the natives. Then it. was a scheme with Imperialistic and capitalistic aims. What about the 35 per cent. which the Prime Minister quoted only a year ago? Then we were given statistics for something like ten years of the dividends which it was asserted would require no guarantee from the Imperial Government at all. It is true that the Minister has now added a few not very important or significant details to what was said last year, and he said something about the terms of tenancy of the freeholder which seemed to me to be rather a contradiction in terms. The tenancy of the freeholder seems to be about as anomalous as a condominium. Even the details which he has given are very vague and misleading in their character and leave a great deal to be desired as to what the conditions are to be in relation to the natives of the Sudan. He made an extraordinary statement that there was a kind of migration from West Africa, a sort of new movement of the tribes to take advantage of the Elysian conditions provided by Messrs. Beit and Eckstein which have proved so attractive to the natives of other parts of. Africa. I think we should have some further particulars about this migration. I have been told by an hon. Member who has had some acquaintance with Africa that there is nothing of the kind going on there. Where does the Minister get this information? Does it come from the Sudan, the Foreign Office, or the Colonial Office? What part of West Africa are these people coming from? It seems strange that this hurry-skurry should have come along all at once to justify the Labour party in supporting capitalistic exploitation. Are these people coming with their families, because that is very important? Are the agents of Messrs. Beit and Eckstein going about offering admirable terms of service in West Africa and are the natives being recruited? We want to know, is it a voluntary migration? Who has carried the good news? Has it been done by those natives making known their views by a postcard as an hon. Member hears from his constituents, or has Lord Vestey something to do with it? He is one of the gentlemen who permeates the whole globe, and we know that he showed his devotion to the British Empire during the War by removing his principal company from this country in order to escape taxation, and for that he received a peerage from the late Government. It does not seem to me that this is a gentleman who is a particularly deserving object for subsidy on the part of the Labour Government. Yet undoubtedly this is one of the big men in addition to Messrs. Beit and Eckstein who are interested in this imperialistic and capitalistic exploitation.

I think the House will agree that the explanation of the Under-Secretary is totally inadequate. If the explanation he has given to-night is good it was good last year. But when it was given last year to him it only covered a sinister design for the exploitation of the natives of the Sudan. What has occurred since? I would ask if in connection with the new guarantee the Labour Government have made an independent investigation in relation to this matter. Have they looked into the conditions of the contract? Have they introduced any condition in addition to what appeared before, for the purpose, first of all, of safeguarding their interests and, secondly, of safeguarding the natives of the Sudan? There is not the slightest indication that any independent survey or any independent action has been taken by the Government, and in view of that I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has once more raised this question, and I think when the Bill comes on in Committee it will be necessary to challenge the vote of the House.


I am very sorry that the hon. Member for Penistone (Mr. Pringle) has treated this subject in a somewhat humorous way. He has chaffed the Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs about his change of front on this matter through added knowledge, but, if my recollection serves me right, when the hon. Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. T. Johnston) was raising this matter in the House last year, the voice of Penistone was absolutely still. I know there were certain reasons on that occasion why the hon. Member did not want to associate himself with the case, because on that occasion the matter took a personal turn which is fortunately absent now. But conversions are welcome, seemingly, both ways. On this I want to bring clearly before the House that it is most unfair for a Labour Government that they must carry this on as an honourable agreement handed on to them by their predecessors without allowing also credit to the other side that they were merely carrying it on as an honourable duty to those who went before them. This was not, as I gather, instituted by the hon. Gentleman on the Government bench, but under the auspices of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carrarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), with the able support of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Paisley (Mr. Asquith). But the fact that there have been two rogues in this field does not make it right that either the hon. Member for Stirlingshire or myself should allow the first Labour Government to lay down the principle that, however dishonourable the contracts may be that have been entered into by their predecessors, they must, in honour and in duty to the persons concerned, carry out a dishonourable agreement. I, for one, as a member of this party and as a Socialist, deny absolutely that I should ever give a vote—and I will not give one on this business—for the carrying on of a dishonourable agreement.

My hon. Friend asked that there should be some guarantee that the cotton grown in this area should come to England when it was produced. The Under-Secretary, while he said that that was one of the objects desired to be attained by the scheme, absolutely ignores the suggestion that there should be any arrangement by which Great Britain or the British Empire will get the products of that area, and he objects to the sneers at certain internationals, although he himself sneered at the natives; but I do not think there is any guarantee, from the names of the directors read out by my hon. Friend the Member for West Stirlingshire, that they will have a greater desire to sell the products of that area in the British market than in any other. If I judge them not unfairly, I assume that they will sell the cotton produced in that area in the place where they can get the biggest price for it, and I think that, when public money is being spent in guaranteeing this enterprise, at least we should have some guarantee that the British nation has a chance of reaping some direct benefit from that expenditure. We have not even any indication that the machinery and plant which are being sent out there are of British origin, and the most outstanding point of all is that we are told that British capital will only operate on a patriotic errand if the interest to be obtained is something in the region of 35 per cent.

Incidentally, I may say that the Under-Secretary laid down this curious doctrine for a Socialist, if I understood him correctly, that you must have private enterprise in this field if you want to have skilled management. I think that perhaps on reconsideration he will not really insist on that point. We have skilled management in many public enterprises that are directly run by the nation for the benefit of the nation, without the 35 per cent., and I think similar steps might have been taken in the Sudan in this business. Quite frankly, I do not like this job the least bit. My natural inclinations are all in the direction of criticising the people on the other side of the House or below the Gangway—quite indiscriminately—and I do not like this at all. But, having regard to the Debate of last year, and to the changed situation—and, after all, I was one of those simple people who believed that the advent of a Labour Government meant big, fundamental differences; I did believe that, and I am still wanting very much to believe it—and having regard to the fact that this view is the view of most of the hon. Members who sit here, I think this should be taken back and reconsidered with a view to seeing if the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member far Stirlingshire can be given effect to in some way.

12 M.


I only intervene for three minutes, not in any way to stir round the pin in the unfortunate winkle who now adorns the position which at one time I occupied at the Foreign Office, but merely to make two points. I was the Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs in 1911 when this scheme was brought. forward for the first time, and I only intervene now because my hon. Friend who is now Under-Secretary suggested—and I do not think it was one of the best of his arguments—that, whereas there might have been grave objections to supporting the scheme, for which, in my official capacity, I was then responsible, there were not objections to going on and pouring these further millions into the scheme now that it has been started for 13 years. With regard to that, I should like to say, first of all, that, at the time when we started the scheme, this Sudan Development Syndicate, or whatever its proper title may be, had not been born or thought of, and therefore, there was no question of our being drawn at the tail of international financiers. The company did not then exist; no one knew of it.


Tell that to the Marines.


That is a fact; it is a matter of dates. I was in the Government when the scheme was started. It was being planned by Lord Kitchener for the Sudan, and he had nothing before him, as we have now, to show that when syndicates undertake cotton growing in the Sudan, they can, apparently, make it very successful financially. We had at that time to put the backing of our credit behind a scheme of the Sudan Government alone, without, any of the knowledge that has since come of its success. The fact that it is becoming year by year more apparent that cotton growing in the Sudan can be made a really considerable commercial success—we had not that knowledge 13 years ago—ought to incline us, I think, to be less willing to regard it as a thing which must be helped by Parliament, but, on the contrary, as a thing which ought to be allowed to run more and more on its own basis. It seems to me that, if there is a company which has now been established for several years, which has such good credit, and whose shares stand so high, it should be capable of raising the further money that is needed for this business, without coming to this House for recurring guarantees. It seems to me, therefore, that, whereas, when the matter was in the experimental stage, and was being pursued by the Sudan Government alone, it was not unnatural to ask for a guarantee of interest from the Imperial Parliament, as time goes on it ought to be less and less necessary to ask for further drafts, particularly as, apparently, cotton growing can now be proved to be capable of being done there with very considerable commercial profit.


When the Resolution was framed, it was the duty of those of us at the Treasury to consider this particular proposal. We looked very closely at the papers that were submitted. I agree entirely with my hon. Friends on this side of the House that there is a great deal in the history of this Sudan irrigation scheme to which, quite properly, exception can be taken; but they have exonerated us from any blame in that connection. It is far from my purpose in this debate to apportion blame in other quarters. The practical point for the House of Commons is to consider the facts of the situation from two points of view, namely, the effect of the abandonment of the guarantee upon employment in this country and the supply of cotton for the world's use and, secondly, the effect which abandonment at this stage would have upon the guarantees which the Government has already given and by which this House and the country are bound.

Not very long ago the system of building up this irrigation scheme was on a very unsatisfactory basis. It was on the basis of cost percentage which, I think, is always an undesirable way of running any contract, if it can be avoided. There cannot be very much difference of opinion about that. Not long ago, the basis of the contract was altered and put on what is commonly called an economic foundation. It was let to a British firm and they are now in the process of overtaking the work. In the terms of the contract the work must be completed in 1925. If the contract is carried out as arranged it will be possible to plant a cotton crop in July, 1925, and sometime after that date, when the crops become available, there is ample evidence to show that about 70,000 bales of cotton annually will be available for Lancashire. That is one point which I respectfully ask the House to bear in mind to-night.

On that issue, hon. Members ask what guarantee can we give that the supply is going to come to this country. Quite obviously, I should be misleading the House if I told any hon. Member that I could give a guarantee on that point. We have not the power to control the Sudan Government or the other parties, the syndicate, but I want to remind hon. Members that in the four years' extension of the powers of this syndicate, which was granted, there is provision at the end of that time for a review of the circumstances and to a certain extent the position of the Imperial Government is safeguarded. We shall have a locus in considering the political and economic conditions in the area involved, so that, quite clearly, we are not without protection. I would ask the House to look at this question from the point of view of the supply of world cotton. That is the consideration which we must keep in mind from the standpoint of Lancashire and from the standpoint of the whole problem of cotton supply and the employment of very large numbers of our own people. If this cotton crop is forthcoming from the Sudan the tendency, of course, must be to reduce the world price of cotton, and to that extent a larger supply at our disposal and at the disposal of other countries would be forthcoming. I put these facts as regards the general position because they seem to me important at this stage of the Resolution. As regards employment, this contract, as I have mentioned, has been let to a British firm, and there is not the slightest doubt that the work will involve the provision of a great deal of plant and material and other commodities which must engage the labour of a comparatively large number of British workers for some time to come. That, I think, is another argument which can be usefully employed, although I do not suggest it is a final argument. There however, to my mind, one conclusive argument after reading all or most of the Papers in the hands of the Government and the Treasury.


May I ask if the Gov-element will lay Papers on this matter?


My hon. Friend knows perfectly well that I am not in a position to give a definite promise on a matter of that kind to-night. All I can say is that that question will be considered, and that a reply will be given by a leading Member of the Government without delay. I wish to speak now of what would be the inevitable effect if we were to repudiate or withdraw the remaining £3,500,000 of this guarantee. There is not the slightest doubt that without this guarantee—and I would emphasise that it is not an advance of money, it is a guarantee—this money cannot be raised by the Government of the Sudan. There is a distinct possibility, without the guarantee, of the scheme either collapsing altogether, or, not to exaggerate the difficulties, being landed in a very serious position. Supposing we in the House of Commons took that risk by withholding this guarantee, there is the greatest danger that the scheme would be placed in a serious position, and we would then become liable to the £10,000,000 we are committed to, whatever view or argument we chose to express regarding it. When, after all the difficulties, this scheme has been built up, when it is just at the stage of approaching success, is it desirable for the House of Commons to run the risk of killing it and landing us with possibly the loss of the £10,000,000 to which we are already committed, to say nothing at all of the effect of a collapse of that kind on the employment immediately available and of the supply of cotton being reduced? There will be a further opportunity of discussing this matter, if hon. Members so desire, on the Second Reading and during the Committee stage of the Bill, but I hope I have said enough on the purely economic side to justify the House in giving us the Report stage of this Financial Resolution.

Question, "That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution," put, and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in upon the said Resolution by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr. Webb, Mr. Lunn, and Mr. Ponsonby.