HL Deb 08 March 1886 vol 303 cc90-5

, on rising, in pursuance of Notice, to ask the Secretary of State for the Colonies, Whether Her Majesty's Government have accepted the proposals which have been recently made for the establishment of a line of first-class British mail steamers from the city of Vancouver, the Pacific terminus of the Canadian Pacific Railway, to Japan and Hong Kong, when the Pacific Railway is opened for through traffic from Great Britain in the month of June next? said, that the reasons which had induced him to bring this matter forward were, he need scarcely say, entirely dissociated from any personal connection with the Canadian Pacific Railway or with the proposed line of mail steamers, as he had nothing whatever to do with either. He had been led to refer to this question on the present occasion, solely owing to official information received by him as a Member of the late Government. His interest in this matter was further awakened by the fact that a few years ago he served, with his noble Friend (the Earl of Iddesleigh;, on the Hudson's Bay Company Committee of the House of Commons, when the question of opening up these regions was fully considered, and when that most important step was recommended by the Committee, which was subsequently acted upon—of closing the territorial Sovereignty of the Hudson's Bay Company, which had been nobly and worthily conducted for many years—and of making these vast centres a part of Her Majesty's magnificent Dominion of Canada. It had been a matter of the greatest delight to him to watch how much more rapidly than they could have hoped their Canadian fellow-subjects had been spreading Christianity and civilization over this, their great and marvellous country. Speaking of the position of the late Government on this matter, he might say that as regarded its main principles the scheme for subsidizing this line of steamers was very favourably entertained by them. The scheme was brought before them in January, and it had, of course, to be referred to the Departments of the Post Office, the Admiralty, the War Office, and the Treasury, before it could be finally approved. Whether the late Government would have arrived at a decision ultimately to support the scheme he could not, of course, positively state. He could only say that Her Majesty's late Advisers felt most favourably towards it, and that they had great hopes of being able to co-operate with the Canadian Government in the establishment of this great and most important line of mail steamers. This subject, he might observe in passing, was not in the slightest degree one of a Party or of a controversial character, and he had no intention whatever of attacking noble Lords opposite. His reason for bringing the matter forward was that he thought it possible that an expression of opinion in their Lordships' House might strengthen the hands of the Colonial Office, and might show that parsimony on the part of the Treasury was unwise, and ought to give way, in the broader interests of the Empire, to more generous views. With their Lordships' permission he would state of what this scheme consisted. It was proposed to start a great line of mail steamers from the city of Vancouver, the terminus of the Canadian Pacific Railway, to Japan and Hong Kong. This, he would at once say, he felt would be to put the suitable "crown" upon the Canadian Pacific Railway scheme, one of the greatest and most marvellous works of our time. It was impossible to speak too highly of the energy, the indomitable zeal, and patience of our Canadian fellow-subjects in carrying the enterprise through. They ought to be proud in this country of having for their fellow-subjects men who had been able to overcome so successfully and so rapidly such great difficulties as were opposed to them; and when upon this subject how could he omit to mention the names of those two most distinguished gentlemen, Sir John Macdonald and Sir George Stephen, without whose governing capacity, determination, and foresight it was difficult to conceive that this extraordinary work could have been carried through? The railway, which would be opened in June next was 3,000 miles long, and it was hoped that by it express trains would be enabled to be run from Quebec to the city of Vancouver—from the Atlantic to the Pacific—in less than five days during the summer time. During the winter the link would be furnished by the Intercolonial Railway now completed in connection with the other great line from Halifax to Quebec. So that, unlike the United States Pacific communication, passengers and goods could be sent on our railway system from the extreme winter Atlantic port of Halifax to the Pacific Ocean. On these works the Canadian Government had spent £20,000,000 sterling, besides giving large land subsidies. To show the value of those great railways, he might say that in 1861 it took 11 to 12 days for troops to go from Halifax to the terminus of the Pacific Railway at Quebec. At the time of the Red River rebellion in 1870 it took 11 weeks to convey troops from Quebec over Lake Superior to the Red River, and 95 days to transport them from Toronto to Winnipeg. These were now but trifling portions of their great line—from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Now the whole of this vast district could be traversed in six days. This was nothing less than a revolution in the conditions of the world and in the relations of Continents, the results of which it was utterly impossible to estimate at present, but for which statesmen should prepare themselves, and hasten to utilize without loss of time for the safety and prosperity of our common Empire. It was proposed that the Imperial Government should subsidize the line of mail steamers from Vancouver to Japan and Hong Kong, and thereby be enabled to convey troops, stores for the Navy, and passengers from Liverpool to the Pacific over British territory, so far as the land journey was concerned, in 13 or 14 days. He might mention that in summer the journey across the Continent from Montreal to Vancouver would occupy four to four-and-a-half days, and in winter from Halifax to Vancouver five-and a-half to six days. The amount of the subsidy asked from this country he would not go into, but would only say that its payment was to extend over a period of 10 years. The line of steamers proposed to be started would consist of first-class vessels steaming 14 to 15 knots per hour, and making the passage from Vancouver to Japan and Hong Kong once every three weeks, so that the journey from Vancouver to Yokohama would be made in less than 12 days' time. The result would be that the journey from England to Japan would be made in 26 days, and that between England and Hong Kong and Shanghai in 34 days. At the present time the journey from England to Yokohama in Japan, viâ Brindisi, occupied a period of 40 to 44 days, while viâ Gribraltar it took 46 to 53 days. Then as to Calcutta, the journey for troops from England viâ Gibraltar to Calcutta could not now be done in less than 38 days, while from Halifax to Calcutta would be only 31 to 39 days, to which would have to be added seven days for the Atlantic voyage. As far as Australia and New Zealand were concerned, the line from San Erancisco must, of course, be the shortest; but there was good reason to hope that if this line of mail steamers was established a good deal of trade would take place between Vancouver, Australia, and New Zealand, particularly when it was remembered the advantage this route afforded to our great railway system, with its command of a great timber trade and its coal resources as well. He believed there were many enormous advantages to be derived from the establishment of this mail route, and one among the greatest would be the encouragement of our commerce and our friendship with those two most important ancient Empires, Japan and China. Nothing was more clear as to the politics of the world in the future than that Great Britain's great policy was, and must be, to do all in her power to maintain the independence, the power, and the prosperity of those two most remarkable countries. Everything should be done to draw closer the ties of friendship between us. Our people might benefit enormously on both sides by such relations between powerful and independent States. To this great purpose a first-class Royal Mail Line of steamers would be a powerful aid. Another vast advantage was that we should have an alternative line of communications, in the event of European complications, to India, China, Japan, and Australia through British territory. In that respect—the advantage of which was so obvious and so overwhelming that he need not dilate upon it—nothing could exceed the importance of this scheme. Among its other advantages would be that supplies could be sent to the Fleet by it, and that coal could be obtained in Vancouver Island. Then, again, this new railway could not fail very shortly to open up fresh vast and fertile districts to our surplus population; and anything which called greater attention on the part of our working classes to that part of the world must be no slight advantage to this country. As an inducement to the Imperial Government to grant the subsidy, special terms were offered for the conveyance of troops and stores, while emigrants' sleeping carriages conveying 30 to 40 persons would be run. Even if there had not been these strong and urgent reasons for this new mail line, he must confess that he should consider it a matter of no slight national importance that the starting of their magnificent steamers would, in a time of unexampled depression in all our industries at home, give employment during three or four years to our leading shipbuilding yards. Whether the terms of the proposed subsidy were just or not he could not say; but, as the Canadian Government had done so much for this great and magnificent work, he trusted that the Government of this country would look upon this proposal with a favourable eye, and would help forward the grand enterprise by every means in their power.


said, that he entirely agreed with very much, although not with all, that had fallen from the noble Earl. He concurred with the observations of the noble Earl that this was not a Party question, and with what he had said as to the energy and ability shown by Sir John Macdonald, and Sir George Stephen, the Chairman of the Company, in carrying forward their great railway so expeditiously and successfully. Individually, and as Colonial Secretary, he should be very glad if it were found practicable to carry out the scheme of subsidizing mail steamers proposed by the Dominion. But the matter did not rest entirely with the Colonial Office. It concerned the Departments of the Treasury, the War Office, and those of his Friends the First Lord of the Admiralty and the Postmaster General. It appeared from a Minute by his Predecessor (Sir Frederick Stanley) that the late Cabinet had come to the conclusion on principle to approve of this project, and that inquiry should be made on the whole subject by Representatives of the different Departments of the Government interested. He was afraid that primâ facie the opinions of those Departments were not as favourable to the project as he could have wished; but they made no Report, having suspended their sittings in consequence of the change of Government. The late Government seemed in this case to have somewhat departed from the course generally pursued, not only by philosophers and men of science, but also by men of business, who were accustomed first to inquire and then to decide. In this case the opposite plan was adopted—first to decide, and then to inquire. There might, however, have been reasons why delay might have been inconvenient at that time. When he came into the Colonial Office, this was one of the first subjects which claimed his attention. Her Majesty's present Government, desirous of having full information before them, had requested the Committee to resume their sittings, which they had done, and to give a complete Report. The Report, when presented, would receive the most careful consideration on the part of Her Majesty's Government, and the Dominion would receive an answer without loss of time.

House adjourned at Five o'clock, till To-morrow, a quarter past Ten o'clock.