HL Deb 13 August 1896 vol 44 cc679-82

moved the Third Reading of the Uganda Railway Bill.


said that before this Bill finally left the House he wished to call the attention of Her Majesty's Government to one point which he ventured to think was not undeserving of their consideration. The utility of this railway depended in no slight degree upon the date of its completion. The German authorities intended, very naturally and very rightly, that railway communication between the sea and the Victoria Nyanza should exist on their territory also, and, if he had been correctly informed, works with that object had been already undertaken. Now, whichever railway first reached the Victoria Nyanza would have an advantage—a natural and perfectly legitimate advantage—over the other, almost exactly proportionate to the length of time which elapsed between the arrival of the one railway at the lake and the arrival of the other. National predilections would not outweigh trade interests, and their Lordships might depend upon it that whichever line was first opened would be used by all the traders on the lake without regard to nationality. But when once a trade route was firmly established it was not an easy thing to alter it, even in favour of one perhaps in some respects more advantageous. The practical reason which induced him to press that fact on the attention of Her Majesty's Govern- ment was this. The large increase in the estimates for the construction of this railway, which was referred to the other night, was not wholly or even mainly due to a revision of the probable cost of the works originally contemplated, but to alterations in the character of those works themselves, which it was now intended to construct in a much heavier and more solid manner than was originally contemplated. Now he was quite ready to admit that solid and good work was in the long run cheaper than work of a more flimsy nature, but he had spent too many years in North America not to have imbibed a suspicion that, when the object in view was the rapid opening of a line, English engineers were apt to sacrifice rather too much for the sake of solidity, and he would earnestly press on the Government, or those to whom they might delegate their authority in the matter, to consider very seriously whether by the use of temporary expedients with which American engineers were familiar, but which made English engineers shudder, the line might not be opened for traffic at a much earlier period than would otherwise be the case, and that monumental bridges and a track able to stand the wear and tear of 50 trains a day might be postponed to a time when they were more wanted than they would be in the early days, when it was, he believed, estimated that the trains would be only one or two a week. He could not sit down without congratulating his noble Friend at the head of the Government, not only in having carried a Measure which out of office he had so powerfully and persistently advocated, but in doing it with the cordial sympathy and support of the noble Earl the Leader of the Opposition. If that noble Earl took some time to come to a decision on the subject, he had, at all events, now done so thoroughly and heartily, and he could only regret, in the interests of Uganda, that the noble Earl did not at an earlier period perceive, as he now did, that the construction of a telegraph could never make up for the absence of a railway.


The cause of the increase in the estimate cannot, I think, be described as a Resolution to construct the railway on a monumental type or even with a very great increase of solidity, except only in this point, that we have substituted 50 lb. rails for 35 lb. rails. That, I believe, is a healthy substitution, and one that will not involve any loss of time. The main cause of the increase is, as I said the other night, that when the survey came to be more closely examined than was possible in the first instance it was found necessary to make certain alterations in the line and to undertake engineering difficulties which had not been overseen before. There was also this difficulty, that when the first survey was made it happened to be a rainless year, and therefore there was no anticipation of danger from floods, which in those countries is a serious danger. After more careful survey it became clear that culverts would have to be made to a much larger extent than was originally anticipated. I do not think all those things could be safely postponed for the purpose of procuring that greater rapidity on which my noble Friend lays stress. I do not think, so far as I am able to judge from the details of the estimates, that there is anything unduly solid or professionally extensive in the construction of the railway. But I am wholly unable to accept my noble Friend's philosophy about the laws of commerce. I believe railway traffic will be much the same in Africa as anywhere else, and no one can tell me that because one railway reaches a terminus a few months before its competitor therefore it will for all time have the advantage in the lines of commerce and the directions of trade. There is nothing in our experience which justifies such a belief. No one will say that because the London and North Western Railway was at York many years before the Great Northern therefore the London and North Western Railway has all the traffic and the Great Northern Railway has none of it. I believe his doctrine to be wholly without justification, and I view without the slightest jealousy or apprehension the construction of a rival line through their own territory by the Germans. On the contrary, I believe it will stimulate the industry of the country and produce a large amount of railway traffic by which both lines will be benefited. We have no ground whatever of apprehension from the construction of the German line. I say this in order to dissipate my noble Friend's fears; but he preaches to the converted when he preaches to us the necessity of adopting the most rapid method for the construction of the railway. We feel on every ground, political as well as commercial, that every month lost is to a certain extent an injury, and no effort will be spared in order to bring it to a speedy conclusion.

Read 3a (according to Order), and passed.