HL Deb 21 March 1879 vol 244 cc1409-17

rose to call attention to the Report on Fama-gousta Harbour, and to inquire, Whether it is the intention of the Government to undertake the works necessary for rendering Famagousta habitable? The noble Duke said: My Lords, I do not propose to discuss any points alien to my present purpose, or to discuss the policy of Her Majesty's Government in taking possession of Cyprus; but will confine my observations to the Reports which have been laid upon the Table of the House of the Captain of the Minotaur and the Hydrographer of the Admiralty. The latter has prepared a very careful Report on the subject, and has had the advantage of visiting the Island in com- pany with the First Lord of the Admiralty and the Secretary of State for War —besides having a complete knowledge of the surveys previously made. His information, therefore, may be taken as perfectly complete. Now, according to the Report of the Hydrographer, the harbours, or rather the anchorages, of Limasol and Larnaca were not found to be altogether suitable for vessels of war, and that the most convenient place was the harbour of Famagousta, of which, accordingly, the Hydrographer made a detailed Report. As regards the town of Famagousta, I must say the Report cannot be said to be very satisfactory. The town is occupied by about 500 people, 300 of whom are Turks, and the remainder Greeks; and the Hydrographer reports that all the Turks had had fever, and half of them ophthalmia as well, while many of the others had cataract and incipient blindness. That is not a very favourable account of the town. The Hydrographer also gives an account how this state of things may have arisen. He says that the various maladies may, perhaps, have arisen from imperfect drainage. The Turks, trusting to Providence, have given up the idea of draining the place; all the drains are choked, and the town is full of cesspools, which, from the nature of the soil, percolate in all directions, through the soil on which the town is built. If the drainage is unsatisfactory and imperfect, much more so is the supply of water, which is brought to the town in a conduit passing through several burial grounds; besides which, whenever the people want to wash their clothes, they simply take up a stone from the conduit and set to work. That is not a condition of things favourable to the health of the town. The Hydrographer says that he is not aware whether the bad health of the population is due to the defective water supply, and want of drainage, or to the foul emanations from the soil; but it is apparently attributable to all three causes. When he came to examine the harbour, he found that the soil consisted of the sewage of centuries, and that its character was so noxious that they were unwilling to dredge up any of it. Then, I observe that Captain Lawson says it will be very easy to dredge the harbour and fill up the lagoon; but I would suggest that the operation of filling up a lagoon with sewage would have very unwholesome results, and I trust that it will not be attempted. My Questions, however, relate to the more important recommendations of the Hydrographer—that the town should be properly drained, and that its water supply should be conveyed in proper pipes. He also recommends great works for the formation of a harbour, and the erection, as far as the outside of the rocks, of about a mile of breakwater. I have no doubt that if that work is carried out efficiently the harbour will be a very fine one, and equal even to that of Malta; but the first thing is to make the town habitable. At present, the Hydrographer says it is pestilential, and he strongly urges that something should be done. What I wish to know is, whether the Government are prepared to give effect to his recommendations, and, if so, in what way they will do so? I am aware that there is in Cyprus the system of enforced labour; but I do not know whether it is a wise method of conciliating the inhabitants, and, of course, it would require constant supervision, in order that no injustice may be done. Now, who will superintend that enforced labour? The noble Marquess, I believe, superintends generally the Island of Cyprus, and, in fact, everything from China to Peru; but will he supervise the special works undertaken in the Island? Still, supposing that you improve this town, and make it habitable, whose property is it? If we want to build military and naval storehouses, on whose land are they to be built—on our own, or on land that we shall have to buy? In short, whose land are we going to improve, and will anyone reap that unearned increment of value of which Mr. Mill used to speak? Of course, too, we shall have to build new fortifications, as the existing ones would not be at all suitable, in these days, for our purpose; and, for that purpose, we shall have to acquire property beyond the boundaries of the town. Now, is that land available, and have we the power of acquiring it? Another point that must be considered is the expense—there would be expenses connected with the harbour, the expenses connected with the tower, the expense of lighting, and, he supposed, the expense of the fortifications—all these would have to be considered. Then, how are all these works to be made—by compul- sory labour, or in what other way? And how are they to be paid for—from the Revenues of the Island, or from the Imperial Exchequer, as works of Imperial necessity? I beg to ask, Whether it is the intention of the Government to undertake the works necessary for rendering Famagousta habitable?


My Lords, the noble Duke has brought before our notice a subject in which both he and the Government are alike deeply interested. He has, however, somewhat enlarged on the entertainment he promised, by introducing several subjects which are not involved in the Notice he placed on the Paper. The subject of Famagousta harbour hardly includes the three questions of compulsory labour, the tenure by which we hold the Island, and the point whether or not I am the proper person to look after it. Now, as these were, so to speak, the garnishes of the dish provided for us, I will endeavour to dispose of them first. As to the question of compulsory labour, I am afraid we do not get labour in Cyprus on different terms from those anywhere else. We have to pay for any labour we employ. What has been done with regard to Cyprus is that, for works of public utility, a required poll-tax of not very great amount is imposed, sometimes realizing between 10s. and 15s. a-year—and in those cases in which a man cannot pay that amount, he must work it out, receiving 1s. a-day for his labour. I do not think that fairly comes under the head of compulsory labour; but, be that as it may, all that is intended to be done is to modify, in a more indulgent sense, the law which already existed in the Island, and what has been a custom in Cyprus from time immemorial. I now pass to another system of forced labour—namely, that which is imposed upon the Foreign Office in respect to this Island; and I wish we could escape it as easily as the inhabitants of Cyprus escape making roads. I think, however, the noble Duke will bear me out when I say that there is no part of the business of the country more difficult to conduct, with anything approaching to satisfaction, than that which has to pass through more than one or two Departments; and it seems to me that, under all the circumstances of the case, as there are still many questions upon which the Island must be dealt with, in the Foreign Office, it is more convenient that the business connected with Cyprus should be transacted there entirely. The noble Duke knows how difficult it is to conduct the Public Business with despatch, where more than one Office has been brought into requisition; and my opinion is that, as a matter of mere internal convenience, and from no passion for work on my part, it is better that the course which we have adopted should be continued. As to the tenure of Cyprus, I do not quite see what the tenure by which we hold Cyprus has to do with the improvements the noble Duke has in contemplation. As to the Crown lands, all the Crown lands belong to the Queen, and the Agreement on the subject will shortly be laid on your Lordship's Table. Compensation will, of course, be given in the case in which lands belonging to individuals are taken for the Public Service; but lands belonging to the Crown will be made use of for that service in the same way as Crown lands are used in this country. Having referred to these matters, I will now turn to the Question included in the Notice of the noble Duke. I must say I am by no means surprised that he has called your Lordship's attention to the Report, because it deals with a matter which is of very great interest, as affecting the position of England on the South-East coast of the Mediterranean. The harbour of Famagousta has, undoubtedly, been selected, and such improvements are to be made in it as may be required to make it fit for the purposes of a great Power. I do not believe the expenditure would be a large expenditure; but, whatever it may be, of course, if Famagousta is to be made a harbour for Imperial purposes, the necessary expenditure ought to be borne out of Imperial funds. When the harbour is completed, it will, I believe, be a considerably finer harbour than that of Malta; for, if I recollect rightly, whereas the harbour of Malta can only contain nine large ships, three-quarters of a cable's length apart, that of Famagousta will be capable of containing 14 ships a cable's length apart. The position, besides, is one of very great importance in that part of the world, and is not to be overrated in a stragetical point of view. But, in reference to the expenditure, it happens that the Imperial Government has a good deal to do with its money at present; and they may, therefore, be willing to put off this particular work until they may have less expense upon their hands. Before proceeding with the construction of the harbour works, some steps must be taken towards making the place more healthy. That is one of the reasons why it seems to me to be advisable that we should not move too hastily in the matter. It has been popularly assumed that what you have to meet is the malaria in Cyprus, and it is very difficult, from the experience of last year, to come to any satisfactory conclusion on the subject; because inquiry has, undoubtedly, resulted in the establishment of the fact that throughout the whole coast of the Mediterranean there was a wonderful wave of fever, for which there is no parallel in ordinary years. Ninety per cent of the inhabitants of Tripoli have, it appears, been stricken down by fever; and in Malta, I am informed, it affected a larger portion of the population than had ever been known before. Those who were attacked in Malta were, in proportion to the number of inhabitants, greater in number than in Cyprus; and it bore the same character — sending very large numbers to the hospitals, but killing very few. It is not, therefore, easy to draw any very certain or accurate conclusions from the information which we possess. In my opinion, the unhealthiness of Famagousta is in a great measure to be attributed to the detestable sanitary arrangements. There are a series of cesspools side by side, separated only by a porous soil from the wells which the people use, and there is a constant percolation to some extent between the wells and the cesspools. The filthy habits of the people have also a good deal to answer for; but their more recent progress in cleanliness has not been without inconvenience. So long as the people did not wash their clothes at all the aqueducts at least were pure; but when they took to washing their clothes in the aqueduct the water became infected. There the inhabitants have the custom of washing their clothes in the aqueduct. The Government are trying to introduce what is known as the dry-earth system. I will not annoy your Lordships' ears by describing the process in detail; but it seems to be the most efficient way of disposing of this drainage. Sanitary work is, therefore, the first thing necessary; but there is considerable doubt whether the sanitary works could be carried out whilst 300 inhabitants are living in the place, or whether they should not be moved as soon as sufficient accommodation can be found. It would probably be found much easier to restore Famagousta to healthiness if the inhabitants went than if they remained. There is 15 feet in depth of sewage at the bottom of the harbour, and it frequently sends up noxious gases; so that, even if we could remove that deposit, the doing of it would not at the time conduce to the health of the inhabitants. The drainage of the lagoons would possibly produce more fever than already existed there, though, no doubt, it would ultimately prove of great advantage. There is, however, another remedy to which the Government of Cyprus is turning its attention. There is the historical fact that Cyprus formerly had a large population, and that it was remarkable for the density and extent of the forests that it contained. It is the removal of these forests that has affected the healthiness of Cyprus, and one of the first steps of the Government was to save the forests that remained and to renew those that had been destroyed. The Indian Government have considerable experience in this kind of work, and an Indian official has been sent for to carry out what is to be done, and has sent a valuable Report, which I hope shortly to lay before your Lordships. But all these things are questions of money. For matters of local importance, Cyprus will have to trust to its own revenue—a revenue of which about one-fifth is applicable to public works. But there are matters of more pressing importance even than sanitary works. A road to Nicosia and other places is the most pressing thing. Then the gaols are altogether inadequate to English notions of what prisons should be. Then there are post-houses, as to which it was reported that the beams are absolutely separated from the walls, and it is quite problematical when the roofs will come down. There are, therefore, very pressing demands upon the immediate surplus to be disposed of, and possibly it will not be until the next financial year that the drainage and sanitary matters can be entertained in any effective way. I chiefly wish to dispel the idea that this subject is one that has been neglected or that the importance of it is underrated. The Government think that the harbour of Famagousta is one of great importance, and that every means to adapt it to our convenience should be used as quickly as is consistent with other circumstances. The work, however, is not pressing in point of time. The Treaty of Berlin, we hope, will establish a permanent peace; but then we know that noble Lords opposite once thought that the Treaty of Paris would do the same; and when such men as Lord Palmerston were deceived, we cannot conceal from ourselves the fact that the time may arrive when England will have to look actively after her interests in that part of the world, and when she would have to give forcible effect to her policy. I hope that time is far distant, and therefore we do not wish to incur any financial extravagance for the purpose of accomplishing works of this kind with unnecessary speed. We are anxious, with respect to Cyprus, to take larger and more extended views, and, as far as it may be given to us to carry them out, the noble Duke may feel assured that that will be done.


My Lords, I cannot think the answer of the noble Marquess is satisfactory—indeed, it appears to me to be insufficient. I think one point on which it is desirable some information should be given by Her Majesty's Government is the ground on which Cyprus was confided to the Foreign Office. It is also desirable to know to what Department of the Foreign Office it is confided. I quite acquit the noble Marquess of any wish to monopolize the administration of Cyprus; but, on the other hand, the reasons that he gave why its administration is confided to the Foreign Office appear to me insufficient. The noble Marquess said that in Cyprus foreigners would have to be dealt with; but do not both the Colonial Office and the India Office constantly deal with foreign questions—with slavery and fishery questions? If the argument of the noble Marquess were worth anything, it would follow that it was wrong to have put the Ionian Islands under the management of the Colonial Office. Why the administration of Cyprus should not be confided to an Office that thoroughly understands the business I cannot see. It is said that we are afraid to under- take the harbour works, lest fever should result from stirring the sewage; but this is hardly a satisfactory reason. I am glad to find that there has been no compulsory labour in the Island; but as to sanitary matters, I must say that in all the accounts that have come before me, it is difficult to conceive anything so unsatisfactory as the statement that has been made in regard to them. I cannot conceive anything more cruel than to compel persons to go on living in such a pestilential hole as Famagousta. We were told that the administration of Cyprus would not cost us anything, and that its revenues would be sufficient; but if we are to undertake Imperial works in that Island, surely that will cost us money. We were told that this year we should have a sufficient harbour for commerce; but it would seem, from the statement of the noble Marquess, that we may have to wait 15 or 20 years before the harbour is begun. While, however, money is to be spent here, the requirements of Malta are starved, and Dover harbour cannot, for reasons of economy, be carried out. The object of Imperial expenditure is to be a pestilential Island like Cyprus, whilst there is no money to spare for spending upon Imperial interests at home in our own Island. In the case of Dover harbour, a Report was presented some years ago, by which it appeared that naval and military authorities recommended in the strongest way that works should be constructed in that harbour. The Report was adopted, and a Bill on the subject was introduced in the House of Commons, the Select Committee to which it was referred reported in its favour; and then at last we were told by the Prime Minister that, though the works referred to were most desirable, at present, for reasons of economy, they could not be undertaken. I hope that the matter will be more fully gone into by the Government before any expenses are incurred.