HL Deb 27 August 1907 vol 182 cc364-8

Order of the day for Second Reading read.


This is a Treasury Bill which, I think, I am right in saying is generally formally moved and not debated at any length in your Lordships' House; but I would like to call the attention of the House to the fact that the sum taken for the purpose of public loans this year is smaller than that of previous years, because it has been found necessary to place restrictions upon the advancing of loans by the Treasury to local authorities; and also it is noteworthy perhaps this year for two other exceptional circumstances, in that power is taken in this Bill for the loan of £2,000,000 for the Nigerian Railway and for the sum of £800,000 advanced to Jamaica. I am desired by the Secretary of State for the Colonies, who is concerned with both of these particular measures, to say that if any noble Lord desires any information on these particular subjects he will be very glad to afford it. I do not think there is anything else of a noteworthy character in this Bill, and I beg to move that it be now read a second time.

Moved, "That the Bill be now read 2a." (Lord Denman.)


The only two points I would wish to refer to in this Bill are the two Colonial loans to which the noble Lord, Lord Denman, has just alluded. The loan to Jamaica is a proposition with which. I think, all your Lordships will sympathise. The sufferings of Jamaica were very severe, and that the Mother Country should come to the help of the Colony in such a case is a very sound proposal. As to the Nigerian Railway, I think we are entitled to some little explanation from the Secretary of State for the Colonies. It is rather curious that the proposal should come from noble Lords and right hon. Gentlemen who bitterly opposed the Uganda Railway not very long ago. The Uganda Railway is likely to turn out a very considerable success, and I hope the Nigerian Railway will be equally fortunate. I understand that this line, unlike the Uganda line, is to be constructed as a light railway in a very cheap manner. That might be a cheap policy at first, but I venture to doubt if it is a sound policy, assuming, of course, that you have a complete survey of the line, and know exactly the possible gradients which engineers can arrange in the country through which it has to be taken. The traffic, which, of course, will be small at first, will increase in the future, but there is a good deal of work in the construction of a line which had better be made at first than by waiting for a future opportunity, and I am not quite sure the Government have not gone to the opposite extreme in this proposal. I have nothing to say against the principle of either loan. I do not doubt that opening up Nigeria in the manner proposed will stimulate the growth of cotton and an interest in this country in one of our possessions which will be of great advantage both to Nigeria and to the United Kingdom, and I wish every success to the undertaking. I am not quite sure there is any precedent for placing two such important proposals in the Public Works Loans Bill; that is another point on which I should like some information to be given. This Bill is generally a Bill for providing funds solely for loans to municipalities in the United Kingdom, and therefore passes through both Houses with very little comment. These are two proposals of a very different and of a very important nature, and it is quite conceivable that similar proposals in a Bill of this kind may be made to Parliament some day to which objection may be taken, and which it may be very difficult properly to deal with. I hope it may not be made a regular practice when loans of this sort are intended to be given.


I was not prepared to make a very detailed statement on this subject. I knew, of course, that the Bill was coming up, but I did not know that the noble Viscount opposite would call attention to it. With regard to the last point he mentioned, of course that is a matter rather for the Treasury than for me. I cannot very well discuss the propriety of extending the provisions of the Public Works Loans Bill to these cases of the Colonies, but I think that they are exceptional and that the two cases which are now before the House show that they are exceptional. For instance, the case of Jamacia, I think everyone will admit, is exceptional, and after what the noble Lord has said I do not imagine I need dilate on that part of the subject. It was a satisfaction to His Majesty's Government to be able in this way to meet a calamity, or to help to meet a calamity, which had befallen one of the most ancient of our Colonies, and we trust not only that it will restore the prosperity of the Colony, but that we shall be able to be recouped of the sum which we advance under this Bill. With regard to the Nigerian Railway, I think I can, even on the spur of the moment, give some explanation which may perhaps satisfy the noble Viscount. It is quite true that the Uganda Railway was the subject of very considerable criticism in former times, but in a statement which I made to the House not very long ago—perhaps the noble Marquess opposite will remember—I gave a return for the three years showing how that railway was recovering its position or making its position in the matter of receipts. No doubt that does not mean that it is yet paying the capital cost, and that is a matter which has to be borne in mind in saying that it is now becoming a success; but for my part I do not hesitate to say that I believe there is a great future before the Uganda Railway and its extensions in those districts. With regard to the Nigerian Railway, the matter stands in this way. Not so many years ago Nigeria was a pathless wilderness. That we have been able to establish our dominion in that country is principally due to that great pioneer of civilisation, Sir Frederick Lugard, whose operations had necessarily to be conducted on foot, and every pound of whose stores had to be transported on the heads of natives, and that is the condition of the country largely to this time. Two years ago Sir F. Lugard put forward schemes in anticipation of a railway running through his province, but these schemes had to be very carefully considered at home, and before a decision could be come to in regard to them it was necessary for him to bring his long service to an end; and his place was supplied by one who may be called the pioneer of railways, Sir Percy Girouard. The scheme now before your Lordships is in part a pioneer railway, but only in part. The portion of the Nigerian Railway in respect of which £2,000,000 sterling are to be advanced under this Bill is really to be in two sections. One section, which was in Sir Frederick Lugard's mind, is to run from Baro on the Niger, through Zungeru to Kano and Zaria, all in Northern Nigeria. That is to be constructed as a pioneer line; that is to say, though it was surveyed two years ago, though it follows a proper survey, and will be constructed with gradients and otherwise so as to suit a fully constructed line in the future, it will in the first instance be constructed with the least possible expenditure, with no stations, signals, and so forth which are scarcely necessary for a line that will at most run two trains a day. But that is only part of the scheme. We have also another line of railway, which has already proceeded a considerable way from Lagos to Jebba on the Niger, and this scheme provides funds for the extension of that line also. I am not quite sure whether the £2,000,000 under this Bill will absolutely meet the whole cost, but of course it will take some years fully to complete the construction of the scheme, which, when it is fully completed will be not only the line of Sir Frederick Lugard from Baro northwards, but also the line from Lagos to Jebba on the Niger, where it will cross by a bridge and couple up with the line through Zungeru. The pioneer line is estimated to cost £3,000 a mile, and the other line is being constructed at something like £6,000 a mile. It has now reached practically the boundary of Southern Nigeria, and is about to pass into the district of Northern Nigeria, which is south of the Niger River. There is another financial consideration I ought to mention. The Government of Southern Nigeria at present contributes to the assistance of Northern Nigeria, to which there is a large Imperial grant-in-aid, a grant in aid on its own account of some £75,000, out of which it is proposed to meet the interest on this sum of £2,000,000. Eventually the Southern Nigerian Government will replace the advances made under this Bill by a loan, but so far as the interest is concerned the Southern Nigerian Government will be relieved of the same proportion of the £75,000 contributed to the expenses of Northern Nigeria as is accounted for by the interest on the loan. We think that in the particular circumstances of this country that is a fair arrangement. There can be no doubt that eventually Nigeria, Northern and Southern, must become one large Colony from the sea to the interior, and when that is so these railways will one and all become the property of the Government of the Province as a whole. We have great expectations from this side of Africa as well as from the East. Those who are experts in Lancashire have great expectations of the future of cotton-growing in Nigeria, where it is no new industry, as there are traces of a considerable trade which existed in days gone by, and we think that these railways will not only diminish the expenses of government, increase the opportunities of spreading civilisation, and facilitate the process of administration, but in the not far distant future may afford a very wide field for contributions towards that great staple on which so much of the trade of this country depends.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Bill read 2a accordingly. Committee negatived. Then (Standing Order No. XXXIX. having been suspended) Bill read 3a and passed.