HL Deb 15 July 1912 vol 12 cc454-94

*EARL CURZON OF KEDLESTON rose to call attention to the project of a Trans-Persian Railway; to inquire as to the policy of His Majesty's Government and the views of the Government of India in relation to this proposal; and to move for Papers.

The noble Earl said: My Lords, I propose to confine myself very strictly to the terms of the Notice on the Paper. Though the question of Persian railways does touch the general position in Persia, and though the customary latitude of debate in our House would allow me, I imagine, to raise that question, I propose to resist the temptation altogether this evening. Neither shall I say anything about the cognate question of the Baghdad Railway except this, that it seems to me that, if we are going in for a Trans-Persian line, such a line must react unfavourably on the prospects of the Baghdad Railway; for this reason, that if by this railway you place your passengers or your goods at the Indian end of the Arabian Sea, obviously there is less inducement either for passengers or for goods to take advantage of a railway which will deposit them at the other or Turkish end of the Persian Gulf.

My first point is this. I doubt whether your Lordships realise the extraordinary and almost unsuspected rapidity with which this question is moving. I wonder whether Parliament, and, still more, the public, has any idea what is going on and what has already been done. This is not a question of an ordinary line being built in a foreign country, whether for the development of communications, the connection of cities, or the advancement of trade. This is a question of a great trunk line running all the way through Asia to India, necessarily altering the whole position in India itself and the future security of our rule in that country, and compelling us—this will be part of my argument—to revise the principles upon which the defence of India has so far been based. How many are there, even of the public who follow the affairs of Asia, who realise that such a line as I speak of is now being surveyed, that a sum of nearly £100,000 has been subscribed by financiers in this country and in Russia and in France for carrying out these preliminary proceedings, and, what is more important, that His Majesty's Government have agreed "in principle"—these are their own words—to the creation of this line without having in any way received the authority, the approbation, or the consent of Parliament?

A year ago nobody would have dreamt that such a thing would be possible, and the witness that I call is the noble Viscount (Lord Morley) who sits opposite me, and who, I believe, is to follow me this evening. He will recall that we had a debate here in March, 1911, upon the question of Persia, the Baghdad Railway, and other cognate subjects. In the course of that debate I asked him whether the idea of a Trans-Persian railway was seriously entertained by the Government and whether it occupied any place in the field of international politics, and the noble Viscount replied to me as follows— Any ideas or designs on that subject are far too immature for any sensible, or useful, or instructive observations to be made upon them. The noble Viscount added that he himself was inclined to share my doubts as to the workableness of the particular design to which I had referred. These observations were, I think, calculated to lull any suspicions that might have been entertained by any of us as to this project. The same effect was produced by the answers of the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs in the House of Commons up till quite a recent date. As recently as May 14 he was found saying in the House of Commons, in reply to a Question, that matters with regard to this railway were still in a very inchoate state. I do not know the precise degree of rapidity with which they have advanced between May 14 and to-day, but all I can say, if my information is correct, is that they are not at all in an inchoate condition now.

Let me state the facts as they are known to me, and, of course, if I am wrong I am liable to correction at the hands of the noble Viscount opposite, who has access to information much superior to that which is at my disposal. I believe the facts are as follow. There has been founded, with the knowledge and approval of His Majesty's Government, a body called the Société d'Etudes. This is an international body composed of financiers, politicians, and engineers drawn from the three nations—Great Britain, France, and Russia—to which I referred. At the head of this body is a council of administration consisting of twenty-four gentlemen, eight drawn from each of the three nations, the British representatives upon which were appointed with the knowledge and approval of His Majesty's Government. There is to be a committee of directors of twelve chosen by the larger body. And this society has, I think, already begun to meet in Paris. Their functions are, broadly speaking, these. Their business is to conduct the surveys for the railway, to obtain the requisite concession from the Persian Government, and to submit to the Governments concerned definite estimates and plans. I believe that to be a correct account of what their functions are. For the preliminary purposes that I have described a sum of £90,000 has been raised by these three financial groups, and I think we may rest assured that this money would not have been found unless there was some substantial belief that the Government were behind the undertaking.

Now, my Lords, let me state in a few words what the scheme, so far as I understand it, is. This great Trans-Persian railway is to start from Baku, the Russian port on the western shore of the Caspian Sea; or rather the railway, in so far as it is a Persian line, will start from Astara, but will be connected by rail with the Russian port. From there it is to run via Resht and Kazvin to the capital, Teheran, and onwards to the old capital Isfahan. From that point there would appear to be some difference of opinion as to the alignment. One idea has been to take the railway down by the town of Yezd to Bundar Abbas on the Persian Gulf, but I believe that that idea is not now favourably entertained. The other idea is to take the railway more to the East, through Kerman down either to the Persian port of Charbar on the shores of the Gulf, or, more easterly still, either to Gwattar or to Gwadar, which are ports in British Makran and therefore in Indian territory. The total length of this line is estimated by the promoters at 1,800 miles, but knowing the country fairly well through which it will go and remembering that you start at the sea on one side and end at the sea on the other, and that in the interval you have to climb at least 6,000 feet to cross the passes in certain sections of the Persian plateau, I venture to say the line will be nearer 2,500 miles in length than 2,000. The cost has been estimated at from £15,000,000 to £20,000,000; but I have no doubt that the actual cost, if the railway is ever constructed will be much nearer £30,000,000. It is said that this railway will reduce the journey from England to India from twelve and a-half to seven or eight days.

Such, my Lords, as far as I can give it, is a brief outline of the scheme of which I am asking your Lordships to discuss the political, strategical, and commercial aspects to-day. I think there have been evidences of Government sympathy beyond those to which I have already referred. I think I am right in saying that the British and Russian Ministers have been in consultation at Teheran with the Persian Minister of Foreign Affairs in order to procure an option for the survey, and, later on, the construction of the line. The Indian Government have deputed one of their Engineer officers, no doubt with the knowledge and approval of the Government at home, to examine the country lying to the west of Karachi, between Karachi and the eastern border of Persia, and I have seen it stated, apparently on good authority, in The Times newspaper that the Russian promoters have agreed—I call the House to notice the words "Russian promoters," because they indicate the source from which the active inspiration for the railway comes—that the Russian promoters have agreed to an equal participation at a later stage of the three countries concerned in the finance of the scheme. If I have been incorrect in any of my particulars no doubt the noble Viscount will put me right when he speaks later on.

Now we come to the attitude of His Majesty's Government. Fortunately, since I put down my Notice on the Paper this has been defined in circumstances of some precision by the Secretary of State, Sir Edward Grey, in the other House of Parliament, and I will ask your Lordships' leave to read what he said on the matter. These are his words— His Majesty's Government do not in principle oppose the Trans-Persian railway, and should under proper conditions be favourable to the principle. He went on to say that His Majesty's Government must reserve to themselves full freedom of action with regard to certain points—namely, the alignment of the railway, the constitution of the board, the representation of British interests upon it, freight, passenger rates, and in regard to the break of gauge. Further, the Foreign Secretary said— Before it receives support from His Majesty's Government we should have to come to an agree- ment with Russia with regard to the branch lines to be made, with regard to the retention and control of lines in the British spheres, and with regard to equality of treatment for British trade. The question of guarantees had been raised in the House of Commons, and the Foreign Secretary agreed that no guarantees should be given without the consent of Parliament. Finally, Sir Edward Grey said that he would at a later date lay the report of the Société d'Etudes before the House, and that the Government would state to the House under what conditions they were prepared to consent to any definite scheme before the country was absolutely committed. All these are sound and valuable assurances. I do not thank the Foreign Secretary for having given them, because in the circumstances of the case they were inevitable and indispensable. He might have given more; no Foreign Minister could possibly have given less.

The question I have to ask is, Do these assurances go far enough? I cannot help thinking—and I should be only too pleased to be disabused of the belief if it is wrong—that when the Government have encouraged, as they have done, the group of British financiers; when they have interested themselves, as I believe they have, in the appointment of members of the council; when they have set their diplomatic machinery working in the interests of the Scheme; and when, lastly, they have declared their sympathy with it in principle—when they have done this I cannot help thinking that they have gone a long way in the direction of support of this proposal. Their attitude seems to me to be more than an attitude of benevolent neutrality and to be really an attitude of implied support if not of positive encouragement of the scheme. So much so that I can quite believe that it may be a matter of rather serious difficulty for them to retreat at a later date, and if they come with definite proposals before the House of Commons it may be a matter of difficulty for their supporters in that House not to see them through in this affair. It may even be a matter of difficulty for the country, not fully informed upon the case, not to support the Government in the line that, according to my hypothesis, it may have taken. And thus, my Lords, it may be that, starting from these inchoate proceedings to which I referred just now we may end by finding that we are more or less committed to a measure of which I will only at this moment say this, that whether it be right or whether it be wrong it involves a more fundamental change in British policy towards India and the defence of India than any event that has taken place in the history of India since the days of Lord Clive.

In these circumstances I think your Lordships will agree that it behoves this House to look rather seriously into the grounds for this great departure, and to inquire what is the attitude of those who are really best qualified to advise about it. As regards the grounds, Sir Edward Grey, in the speech to which I referred, only found time for one, and that was the argument of inevitability. He said this railway must come; it is sure to be made sooner or later, and therefore we had better join. I should like to make these observations upon the argument of inevitability. If I were asked for my private opinion, I think I would truthfully say that some day or other the overland connection with India will come. I do not say that it will come now or in ten years or in twenty years, but I think some day it will come. But because you may look upon it from that point of view, because you may regard it as inevitable to that extent, it does not follow that the railway ought to be made now. It does not follow that because it is inevitable to that extent it will be good for us or good for India. It does not follow that because it is inevitable we ought to take an active part in joining at the present stage. In fact, it does not follow in the least that because it is some day certain to be made this Government or any British Government ought to be favourable to the scheme. There are, for instance, other ways to approach India overland which have met with favour in some quarters. The shortest overland route to India is through the Russian territories of Trans-Caspia and through Afghanistan. I think that less than 500 miles intervene which are not now covered by rails. There are many people who think that that is the line by which Europe ought to be united to Asia. The arguments for that line are just as strong or just as weak, whichever way you like to put it, as those for the Trans-Persian line. The argument of inevitability applies equally to that line with the other. Yet no British Government has brought forward a concrete proposal for such a line, because we know that the Ameer of Afghanistan, as was his predecessor, is inflexibly opposed to it. There is another scheme—that of running a railway from Egypt viâ Port Said across the Peninsula of Sinai and then across Arabia to the Persian Gulf. I make this observation to show that there is nothing in the argument of inevitability, for what it is worth, which applies particularly to the Trans-Persian scheme.

Upon this question of inevitability may I recall to your Lordships a memory which is probably fairly fresh in the minds of many of you—I mean the construction of the Channel Tunnel. How easily it used to be shown in the House of Commons that the Channel is an artificial and superannuated obstacle which ought not to be allowed to continue, in so far as the action of man could counteract it, in view of the wider and more cosmopolitan ideas of modern days. When first I entered the House of Commons I was rather affected by those views myself, and I fancy I gave a foolish vote in favour of the construction of the Channel Tunnel. But as soon as the military authorities had been heard on the matter, and when they demonstrated, as they did, that the Channel Tunnel would make England not safe, that it really would amount to a sacrifice of the incomparable frontier presented to us by nature, and that this little tube running under the sea, instead of merely being an instrument of amity and of commerce, might become an engine of invasion and destruction, from that moment public opinion changed and the Channel Tunnel scheme was overwhelmed with complete annihilation, an annihilation from which our friendly regard for France was not able to rescue it. And yet precisely the same reasoning was used about the inevitability of the Channel Tunnel. Therefore I am not impressed in the least degree by that argument.

I venture to say that the decision of a great issue of this sort ought not to be made on a priori grounds, nor on the fatalistic principle of accepting what will one day come. The sole test is whether the railway will be for the advantage of England, India, and Persia. Is this railway wanted for any of those three parties? Will it do good to any of them? Will it materially improve their security, their peace, their prosperity? If so, let us go ahead with the railway. If not, let us desist. If you look at the matter from this point of view I think you cannot fail to be impressed by the attitude so far taken up by those who may fairly be called experts on the matter. I have only myself met one man who can properly claim that title with regard to this question who is in favour of the Trans-Persian scheme. In the debate in the House of Commons last week not a single speaker on either side of the House gave it anything like a whole-hearted support. In fact, I think every speaker who alluded to it was against it. There are some newspapers which ordinarily support His Majesty's Government with unswerving fidelity—for instance, the Manchester Guardian—which are strenuously hostile to this proposal, on the perfectly worthy ground that it conflicts with all the ideas they have always entertained as to the principles of Indian frontier defence. Then we come to the military authorities. I can only speak for those whom I have come across, but among them there has not been a dissentient voice; and I dare say your Lordships may have noticed that there have been during the past few days two letters in The Times by a military authority who certainly speaks with great ability and with great weight and to whom His Majesty's Government are indebted for many kind acts of written support—I mean the Military Correspondent of The Times, Colonel Repington. Last week he had a letter in The Times of which I will only read one paragraph, because it really contains the objections entertained by many people to this railway in a very convincing way— My opinion is that this scheme, if carried out, will gravely alter the conditions under which India must be defended will enable external pressure to be applied to India and will therefore be politically unacceptable; will not materially benefit Persia nor British and Indian interests in Persia, except by affording a quicker route for mails; will divert mails and some passengers from the sea to the land route through Germany and will correspondingly injure our maritime carrying trade and industries; will reduce the profits which the public derives from the Suez Canal; will probably burden the finances of England or India or both; and, while being of no conceivable military service to us in any circumstances that can be foreseen, may in certain contingencies aggravate the military risks of India, increase the front which the Army in India has to defend with relatively weak forces, inflate expenditure upon defence, and render India more liable to foreign aggression by depriving her of the shield of her desert frontiers. That argument has been reinforced by the same writer in another and longer letter which many of your Lordships may have read in The Times of this morning; and I must say this, that to the criticisms to which I am referring no answer whatever has yet been given either by Sir Edward Grey in the House of Commons or by any other spokesman of His Majesty's Government.

You will expect me, perhaps, to examine a little more closely these various points—namely, the manner in which this railway, if built, will affect the security of India, will affect our communication with India, will affect Anglo-Indian trade with Persia, and will affect the security of Persia itself. First let me take the defence of India. I imagine that it would be true to say that the history of the frontier defences of India during the last hundred years has, broadly speaking, passed through twophases. First there was the time in which the Government of India were spreading their conquests over the level plains of India until they came up to the mighty barrier of the mountains, which stand like an artificial palisade around our borders. Sometimes, of course, as in the case of the first Afghan War, we were tempted to cross that barrier, but usually to our detriment. Then came the period, beginning about fifty years ago, when either because of the depredations of the tribes in the mountains or the existence of hostile and intriguing influences beyond we were driven forward in search of what used to be called a "scientific frontier." The consequences of those forward movements pursued over a wide circumference were these. In parts we took completely into our own hands the country beyond the palisade; such was the ease with Baluchistan; elsewhere we put the mountain passes in charge of Militia levies, or military police raised from the tribes themselves, and we gave subsidies to the tribes; and as regards the countries beyond we contrived, by treaties or other arrangements, to protect or guarantee or neutralise the whole of the surrounding kingdoms to which I refer. Such was the case with regard to Persia, to Afghanistan, to Tibet, and, more in the East, Siam. But the whole point throughout in both these phases has been this, that India ought to be surrounded for the purpose of safety by a belt, be it of mountains or be it of desert, which it would be difficult to cross. You really may compare the position to that of a fortress with a great glacis stretching around it, cleared by the treaties and political arrangements which have been made, and swept by our guns. The theory has always been that no one should be at liberty to advance across that glacis up to the walls of the fort except by great expenditure to themselves and at the risk of open hostilities with the British Government.

I do not know whether anybody will dispute my summary of Indian frontier policy. Rightly or wrongly, I believe that has been the accepted policy of British Governments and Governments of India for the best part of 100 years. To support that policy we have fought wars, we have indulged in great expenditure of men and money, and on one occasion in 1885 Mr. Gladstone almost went to war with Russia. This has hitherto been the accepted policy of both political Parties in this country. There has been very little difference on broad ground of principle between us. I do not say that this policy has saved India from scares or from great expenditure. It has not. But it has saved India from attack, for during that time no single enemy has marched across the glacis of which I have been speaking or has crossed the protective zone. Now if this railway is built, if the theories upon which it is to be constructed are accepted, all these views are wrong. They are to be relegated to the limbo of obsolete and mistaken ideas, and we have now to acclaim and to accept the opposite theory—that the right frontier policy for India is not to close but to open her frontiers upon the west. We are, if assent be given to this railway, to assist in a proposal which will directly connect India on its most vulnerable side—that is, on the west—with the outside world; which will destroy the value of Afghanistan as a buffer State—and His Majesty's Government should consider the effect which will be produced on the Ameer by this proposal; which will span the desert upon which we have hitherto relied; which will turn the flank of Quetta, and will provide a route direct from the Russian military base to the borders of India. It is the fact that if this railway be made the Russian troops will be brought 1,000 miles nearer to India than they are at the present moment, and that the Russian War Department at St. Petersburg, should the unhappy circumstances ever occur that we should be again at disagreement or at war with that country, will be able to put their troops on the India frontier before reinforcements sent from England could get to Bombay round the Cape. I see that Colonel Repington, in his letter in The Times this morning, sums up the situation as regards Russia in these words. Assuming the construction of the railway, he says— Russia could, in my opinion, deploy within three months such a powerful military force on or near our frontiers that the Army in India would be unable to resist it even provided that all our Field Divisions were available, which I do not think is likely to be the case.

The only ground on which we are invited to run this very considerable risk is that of our present friendly relations with Russia. I rejoice at those relations. There is not a man in this House who does not regard our Entente with Russia as of extreme value, and supposing by any accident the Front Bench opposite were suddenly denuded of its present occupants and we were to step over and take their place we should be as loyal to our engagements with Russia as the Government are at the present time. About that let there be no doubt at all. But, my Lords, history shows too often that international understandings are not eternal. National sentiment, after all, is largely determined by national interests, and national interests are things that vary from year to year and from decade to decade according to the conditions of the hour. Therefore whatever may be our hopes or desires, it by no means follows that because we are on friendly terms with Russia now we always shall be, or that what we used to call the Russian bogey may not again show its features in the East. Let me put it in a rather more general way. There are two approaches to India—by land and by sea. Hitherto we have had command of both. We have had command of the sea route because we were supreme upon the sea; we have had command of the land route partly because of our treaties but still more because without a railway it was impracticable to any invader. But now it is doubtful whether, under your new naval arrangements, you are going to keep command of the sea, and at the moment when that command trembles in the balance you propose, if you agree to this railway, gratuitously to surrender your control of the route by land. There are many instances in history in which nations have been compelled by war or defeat to surrender or modify their frontiers, but I honestly do not know of any case in which a great Power, for no reason at all except surrender to what is called the inevitable, has abandoned a frontier so unique as that which is presented to us by nature in those parts.

I may be pardoned for saying that even in this breathless and staggering age I am too slow to be able to make these rapid changes myself. I am too slow to be willing to abandon, almost at a moment's notice, all the convictions of my lifetime about Indian defence, all the teachings of all our Generals and Statesmen and Viceroys during the last fifty years, all the accepted dogmas of both political Parties in this country. Before His Majesty's Government invite us to take such a step—I do not, of course, say they will do so—but before they contemplate inviting us to take such a step I hope they will think, not once, or twice, or twenty times, but a hundred times. I hope they will show better reasons than they have up to now advanced, and I hope they will give us the opinions of their military advisers on the matter. When I was in India a few years ago a scheme, almost identical with this which I have been examining, and which was at that time identified with a Russian officer named Captain Rittich, was sent out to us in India to be reported upon by the Government of India. We advised very strongly against it, and if I remember aright no one was more strong about it than Lord Kitchener, the then Commander-in-Chief.

What is the opinion of the Government of India now? What are the opinions of the military authorities in India and in this country? What is the advice of the Committee of Imperial Defence? Sir Edward Grey has been asked in the House of Commons for the opinions of his military advisers, but has answered as if the opinions of those officers were secret oracles which belonged to the Government to be treasured up by them and not revealed to any one else. I do not take that view of the opinions of our military advisers. Our military advisers are paid by the nation, and their views on matters of great urgency like this are, in my opinion, the property of the nation. That was the case in regard to the Channel Tunnel. There the military advisers were examined before a Parliamentary Committee; and if that was done in a matter affecting the security of England, surely we have a right to demand the same in a matter affecting the security of India.

One other point before I pass away from strategy. The strategical danger to India is not confined to the opening of her frontiers in the manner I have described. There are many people who fear that we shall be drawn forward into the open and driven to undertake responsibilities which I am sure every one of us would wish to avoid. We may very likely find ourselves, with this great railway running through Persia, compelled to send out garrisons to defend it without the soldiers in India to do it and without the money which would render such a scheme possible. I do not regard such a situation as fantastic. Let us conceive what might very likely arise. It might very well be, the railway having been constructed, that the Persian Government would be powerless to guarantee its security. Russia would obviously—and I do not say wrongly—undertake the policing of that portion of the line which affected her. What about the railway that lay in our sphere? We could not tolerate Russian guards in our sphere. We should inevitably be compelled to take similar steps on our own side; and it seems to me not unlikely that in this way our Government, whose one desire has been to keep out of these complications, might have to send Indian soldiers to Persia. So much for the question of strategy.

Is there any other way in which India would benefit by the construction of this railway? There is the question of the acceleration of the mails. I dare say there would be some acceleration of mails—a reduction of two or three days, though I doubt very much whether the Government would welcome the transmission of Indian mails exclusively through foreign countries in the future, and in the event of war I imagine that such an arrangement would have to be suspended at once. There may be some convenience to passengers in the reduction of the time spent on the journey, but against this you have to set the fatigue and heat of the journey, impossible at some periods of the year, the certainty almost that women and children could not travel by such a route, and the certainty that the steamship companies would at once make, as they could make, in my judgment, a corresponding reduction both in time and fares to meet the competition with which they would he faced. Anyhow, I think your Lordships will agree that in respect of mails and passengers there is nothing on the side of advantage which justifies us in accepting any risk or sacrifice of Imperial security.

Then I pass to the interests of commerce. If this railway were made, how would it benefit Anglo-Indian trade? The gross value of Anglo-Indian trade with Persia at the present time is something less than two millions sterling per annum. The greater part of this trade consists in piece-goods and in tea which is taken from Indian ports, deposited at the Persian harbours, and then put on pony-back, or camel-back or donkey-back and sent up to the towns in the interior. We know that that trade has to suffer many difficulties, difficulties arising from the severity of the passes, the insecurity of the country, and the cost of the caravans. But supposing this railway to be constructed. How is it to benefit that trade? How are our goods to do better when they are placed upon the railway at Karachi, or the harbour, wherever it be, and when they have before them the necessarily heavy freights of the railway before they reach the Persian towns? If you take that part of Persian territory contiguous to our border which the railway would first touch there are only two cities of any size, Yezd and Kerman, distributing centres of some but of no very considerable importance, with a population in neither case of more than 50,000 persons. After that there is nothing until you get into the Russian sphere, and when once you enter that sphere Russia will be able, by her system of rates and rebates at her end of the railway, to destroy any advantages which British or Indian trade may have obtained. I remember when I was in India I had as my financial and commercial adviser that very able man, the late Sir Edward Law. Before coming to India he had served as commercial attaché both in Persia and in Russia, and was warmly attached to both countries; and discussing as we did this question of a Trans-Persian line he always stated as his emphatic opinion that such a line, if made, could only act as a feeder for Russian commerce and would be a great detriment both to British and Indian trade. The fact is that if this railway be made we shall really be doing very much the same thing in the sphere of commerce as I have been contending we shall do in the sphere of strategy— that is to say, we shall be reversing the whole of the traditional policy on which we have so far acted. Hitherto our trade with Persia has been seaborne. Now you are going to substitute landborne traffic for seaborne. You are going to divert the trade from the routes which we do command to the routes which we do not.

There is one other country that has to be considered, and that is Persia herself. I am sure that if the construction of such a railway as this were to be of benefit to Persia there is no one who would be better pleased than the members of your Lordships' House. But I wonder if this will be the case. I have been a little struck, in so far as I have been able to follow this matter, with the extent to which Persia seems to have been left out of consideration. I have heard nothing of Persia in connection with the Société d'Etudes. There is no Persian member upon it, and I have not heard of any Persian finance in connection with the scheme, probably for the very good reason that there is no Persian money forthcoming. Sir Edward Grey, I think, said in his speech that the construction of such a railway would be an advantage to Persia because it would strengthen the central authority and enable it to deal with disturbances. It needs only the slightest acquaintance with the history and geography of Persia to know that the main centres of disturbance are far away from the projected line; and this railway running through the heart of Persia, from West to East, will no more enable Persia to grapple with the particular difficulties with which she is now confronted than would, for instance, the London and Brighton railway enable His Majesty's Government to put down a riot in Bodmin or Penzance. Even if Persia were enabled by this scheme to acquire a greater control over her territories—and I am sure we should be glad to see it—she may have to pay a heavy price for it. We have had some experience in recent years of international railways. International railways are apt to Le followed by international guards, and international guards involve some form of foreign protection, and foreign protection very easily merges into foreign control. Therefore I doubt whether Persia herself will really gain by this railway any substantial addition to her authority, her means of pacifying her own country, or her power.

There is only one other matter to which I will refer before I resume my seat. Issues such as those of gauge and of alignment—the reserved topics mentioned by Sir Edward Grey—can very well be postponed until the matter matures. But ought we not to say one word on the question of finance? I should like to impress upon your Lordships in my concluding sentences that the financial burden will be very much greater than anybody at present apprehends. I said just now that estimates of £15,000,000 and £20,000,000 had been published. I have no time to lay before your Lordships the grounds which lead me to think that the expenditure will probably not be less than £30,000,000. But the question I want to put is, whether it be £20,000,000 or £30,000,000, where is the money coming from? Or, if the money is found by the financiers of the three nations to whom I have referred, who is to give the guarantee? Because you may be quite certain that without a guarantee the money will not be forthcoming. Will Russia give the guarantee? At an early stage I saw a statement to the effect that Russia would not accept any obligation on the Russian Treasury for this line, but it is now said that out of the surplus on the Russian railways she may be willing to guarantee a loan for the northern section of the line. But when we come to the British section or the Indian section, who is going to give the guarantee? I confess I cannot imagine the present Chancellor of the Exchequer, or I may add his successor, coming down to the House of Commons and asking the consent of that House to a guarantee for a great railway outside of England, outside of India, in the heart of Persia, about which a great many people will tell him that its construction will add very much to the future burdens of India and of this country and will materially impair the defensive strength of our Indian Empire. I do not see an English Chancellor of the Exchequer making any such proposal, and I do not see any Indian Finance Minister going down to the Council Chamber at Calcutta—I ought now to say Delhi—and explaining to the more representative body created by the noble Viscount opposite, at a time when India is called upon to bear the heavy burden of the cost of the transfer of the capital to Delhi and of the suspension of the opium traffic, and when railway finance is so stinted that there is no money to build more than 100 miles of railway in the present year, that it is proposed to take Indian money and spend it upon a guarantee in respect of a continental line. I cannot imagine an Indian Finance Minister making any such proposal, at any rate with any chance of success. And if neither this country nor India will give a guarantee, then I want to know where the security for the money is coming from. I venture to say that if the scheme, should it eventuate, does not perish before that point, the rock of finance is the one upon which it will founder.

May I ask the noble Viscount who will answer me to consider another point '? May it not be said that in the treatment of the railway question in Persia His Majesty's Government are beginning at the wrong end? Here they are apparently contemplating presenting to Persia, a country- so poverty stricken and so backward that it has no railways at all—it has, I believe, not more than ten miles of railway—


Six miles.


Here they are apparently contemplating presenting to this country a full-blown continental system without any regard to the commercial interests or the requirements of the country itself, and in complete ignorance of the fact that in many parts of Persia railways are waiting to be built (the promoters are actually forthcoming), which would add to the security of the country, diminish the burdens resting on the Government, and add to Persian trade. Is it not rather an absurd thing at such a moment to force upon that country a great continental scheme which is only introduced in other countries after long years of development and when the conditions of the country are those of peace and prosperity advanced to a very high degree? I should like to hear from the noble Viscount that His Majesty's Government are prepared to take advantage of the rights which we possess in respect to Persian railways. When we had our last debate here he will remember quoting with some satisfaction the terms of the Rescript of Nasr-ud-Din Shah, under which, if a concession for a railway be given to others in the North, the Shah—and the promise has been confirmed by his successors—undertook to give a similar concession to the British in the South. The case for such a railway has, I think, already been brought into existence. The Russians have obtained their concession in the North. I speak of the concession for the railway from Teheran to Khanikin on the Baghdad line, and there is no reason whatever, therefore, why British proposals should not materialise in the South. I believe that His Majesty's Government have taken steps in this matter. I have heard of a syndicate being formed and of powerful groups connected with Persia taking part in it with a view to a concession from Mohammerah to Khoremabad. I hope that this may be true, and that His Majesty's Government may be able to give us some information about it.

Here in this smaller policy of internal railways in Persia is a scheme which I think is practicable, which will not excite any jealousy, which will not raise any alarms in India or anywhere else, and which you may pursue with the knowledge that all parties are agreed upon it. I hope His Majesty's Government will curtail their ambitions in regard to the larger scheme, and will devote themselves to the humbler task which I have dared to suggest to them. And, above all, I hope that they will not involve this country or the Government of India in the great responsibilities that would result from a change of policy in regard to the defence of India without placing before us in the fullest manner the opinions upon which they propose to act, and that, whatever views they may entertain themselves, they will not proceed to convert those views into action without giving both Houses of Parliament an opportunity of expressing an opinion upon them. I beg to move.

Moved, That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty for Papers relating to the project of a Trans-Persian Railway.—(Earl Curzon of Kedleston.)


My Lords, the noble Earl expressed the wish that the Government might curtail their ambitions, but the picture he has drawn of the so-called ambitions of the Government is really imaginary and unsupported. I am at a loss to know how, after reading Sir Edward Grey's speech in another place, the noble Earl should have taken up the attitude that he has done in respect to the Government. It is no discredit to him at all that he is not accurately informed as to the immediate relations of the Government to this Société d'Etudes. The noble Earl has fallen into various errors as to the facts and circumstances connected with that body and our relations to it, which I must point out to him and to your Lordships. The proposal—there is no concealment about it—was initiated in Russia. The promoters of this body were Russian promoters in the first instance. They have had no support whatever from His Majesty's Government beyond the negative refusal to veto their existence and to prohibit their operations so far as we could. Not one atom of money has found its way from our Exchequer to the chest of that body. The noble Earl has been entirely misinformed when he tells your Lordships that the two Ministers at Teheran, the Russian Minister and our own, approached the Persian Government and invited them to give facilities for the operations of this commission. There has been no communication of that sort.

Then the noble Earl said that we had encouraged this body and its operations. That is entirely imaginary. We have not encouraged it beyond the fact that when the proposal was presented to us we examined it—the fact of the proposal, not the contents of it—and in describing that as encouragement and in taxing us with using diplomatic machinery the noble Earl is entirely wide of the mark. The noble Earl made a point that supposing this body were to report in favour of some through line of which we, when the time comes, disapprove, it would be impossible for us with diplomatic decency and consistency to withstand the report of that body. I cannot imagine anything that has been said by any member of the Government—certainly not by Sir Edward Grey, who is the only person, I think, who has spoken officially—which could warrant the view that we should not be justified in dealing with perfect freedom with the report of this body. The noble Earl talked of the rapidity with which this proceeding had gone on, and he said that last year when I had the honour of following him in debate—in March, I think—I gave him a sort of assurance that nothing was on foot. My language does not bear that—


I did not say that. I merely read the noble Viscount's words. I did not draw any inference from them.


The word I used in that debate was "immature." There was nothing disingenuous in that. There was no suggestion that there was no project on foot. I ask the noble Earl, Does he of all men think that this question of Persian railways is at all a new one? He knows better than anybody in the House, from his experience in two Government Offices and in India, that since the year 1872 the question of railways in Persia, including the Trans-Continental railway, has been a thoroughly live issue. In 1872 there was, if I remember aright, a Committee of the House of Commons appointed. That was the first Committee which inquired into this question of Persian railways. From 1872 to 1888 there was a stream of applications from Germans, Russians, Frenchmen, Americans, to Persia for concessions, some of them on a grand and magnificent scale and others entirely insignificant. Still there was a constant series of applications; and at the end of it all—as I interrupted the noble Earl towards the end of his speech to say—at the end of it all Persia possesses only six miles of railway, which runs to the shrine of a Persian saint. Then came the period from 1888 to 1890. The noble Earl must be fully cognisant of the stream of telegrams and despatches that went on during those two years between the late Lord Salisbury and his Ministers both at, St. Petersburg and Teheran, all going fully into the very kind of arguments—the more important of them, at all events—which the noble Earl has brought forward to-night, and coming to a conclusion. There was a pause from 1890 onwards, and then came the pamphlet of Captain Rettich, referred to by the noble Earl, on which the noble Earl himself wrote a very elaborate antagonistic Memorandum. I submit, therefore, that the noble Earl greatly exaggerated when he suggested that we had sprung something upon Europe or upon this country or upon Parliament.

The question entered a new phase about the end of 1910, and this proposal was submitted for our consideration. I would like to ask the noble Earl what he would have done if this proposal for a Société d'Etudes had been brought before him. Were we to say, "We will not look at it; we have a frontier policy in India consecrated"—as the noble Earl would have put it most eloquently—"by the decisions of great men for many generations; we will not listen to this?" That would have been a very heroic attitude. There is not a man in this House who is not fully conscious of all the arguments that the noble Earl has brought forward to-night about keeping as long as ever we can a frontier on the Persian side of mountain and of desert. The military advantage of preserving that frontier, if we could do it, is quite obvious, and we do not want all this trumpet- blowing—I am not referring for the moment to the noble Earl—all this trumpet-blowing in the newspapers and so forth as to the dangers to which we are exposing India.

Let me go back. What would you have done? There is no doubt that any detriment to that frontier of mountains and desert does expose India to some disadvantages. But suppose we had said, when this proposal was made, "We will turn our backs upon all proposals of this kind; we will not listen." Would that blunt and bluff negative have been an extinguisher to the whole business? The noble Earl is a great deal too well acquainted with the currents and sub-currents, diplomatic, commercial, and political, which are running to suppose for a moment that the business would remain under that extinguisher. It would not be so; and anybody must have a very superficial knowledge of the political and diplomatic conditions and relations of this country in connection with India, among other things, who would dream for a moment that nothing would follow. The question which has been left all these years would undoubtedly remain, but it would have assumed a new aspect; and when the noble Earl says, and says truly enough, that this may involve a change in the conditions of frontier policy, I would point out that you would not have avoided that by simply giving a point-blank refusal to this proposal. A man must have a very superficial knowledge—I am not thinking of the noble Earl—of the diplomatic state of Europe and must have a very narrow power of political imagination if he does not see, after we had declined, gruffly or with polite evasions, to assent to anything involving the principle of the Trans-Persian railway, that a set of arrangements easily and naturally devised, in view of all the political and military consequences involved in them, would or might have led—I think would have led—to a very large extension in other ways from those which now alarm the noble Earl of frontier defence and military expenditure in India. That is a point that. I do urgently press upon your Lordships. The Government of India is just, as sensible as we are that a point-blank refusal to assent, not to the railway, but to an examination of the present proposal, might have led to combinations that would involve disadvantages to our Indian position much more serious in their character than the disadvantages that could arise from this limited co-operation. The noble Earl talked a great deal about fatalism, and of the idea of this Trans-Persian railway being inevitable. I could not but remember that last year the noble Earl himself told us of a "great scheme of inter-continental communication which in the belief of all of us will some day be realised." Is not that fatalism? Why are we to be reproached with a cowardly sort of fatalism when we really do not go far in advance of the line taken by the noble Earl himself only a year ago?


You go about fifty years in advance.


But how does anybody know—I certainly do not—that this railway will be made fifty years hence? We have not committed ourselves to it. We have committed the Government to nothing except to this examination, and we are perfectly free to deal with the results of that examination without any fatalistic intention of precipitating the noble Earl's own expectation that some day or other the Trans-Persian railway will be constructed. I leave this point by repeating the question which I put to the noble Earl, "Would you have had us say when this proposal was brought before us, No, we will have nothing to do with it; we will use all our influence in the way of vetoing, and, so far as may be, prohibiting it'?" If he speaks again I wish he would be kind enough to say whether he would or would not have had us say that.

Now with a great deal of what the noble Earl has said about trade and the effects of this railway, if it be made, upon trade, I am bound to say I entirely agree. I have had occasion to think a good deal about the scheme, and I agree that the prospects of its financial success would not strike most of us as satisfactory. The noble Earl is perfectly right when he says that, according to the best opinions that can be got, the estimated profits, if they are measured by Indian standards, are put four-fifths too high; they will be only one-fifth of the estimated amount. And the noble Earl is not far wrong, according to Indian precedents, in what he says of the cost of the railway. He puts it at £30,000,000 instead of £20,000,000—some people say it will he £40,000,000. We are quite alive to all those considerations. The point has been taken—and I confess I do not see any answer to it when I consider the authorities who make it—that Russian trade is very likely to get more profit out of this line than we are likely to do. That may be. That is an argument which the Government of the day will have to consider when they have the report forwarded to them. No doubt the cost of construction through a mountainous country where labour is scarce, where communications are very difficult, and where I suppose contracts will not be prepared on purely abstract benevolent principles will be very formidable. But i however that may be, the working of the line and the earning of profits will be a slow and gradual process. All the noble Earl's arguments about the immense difficulty of land transport competing with the cheapness and facility and accustomedness of the sea route will operate.

I was rather surprised to hear the noble Earl, after he had very carefully analysed all those elements, then say that the Government were favouring a line which would perhaps carry the mails or not carry the mails, which might or might not carry an increased number of passengers, and so forth. But does he not perceive that when the construction of this line and any support of it by His Majesty's Government is under consideration all those elements will be deciding elements? To suppose that we have already made up our minds to cast them all aside and to neglect these points is really to make us out more rash and heedless than the noble Earl had any right to do. As to this line not benefiting our trade but Russian trade, I would like to observe, in passing, that that very important set of people the Moscow merchants do not think so; they think the exact opposite, and they are now loud in their complaints that this line would lead to a great improvement of British and other foreign trade at their expense. The noble Earl must bear that in mind. Nobody pretends that Great Britain, and India, and the whole general trade of the world will not benefit from the creation of a better state of things in Persia. It is clear that wherever you get a better state of social well-being you get a greater demand for goods. Where you have roads and communications markets are improved. I wish some of my friends—the noble Earl referred to them—in the Press would realise what the difficulties now are, and how far those difficulties would be affected by railways whether a trunk line, or branch lines from the ports which in many ways we should be inclined to prefer. I wish they would realise the difficulties of trade in Persia—insecurity, inefficient and corrupt administration, maladministration of justice, the great distance between giving an order and its execution, the long delay of exchange remittances, the impossibility of supervising and controlling mercantile transactions—all these difficulties will be lessened by improved communications. They will yield to improved communications, and they are very little likely to yield to anything else. If I may venture upon a private observation I am not at all sure that those are not right who, instead of railways, recommend, not caravan roads, but cart roads, as they would be less expensive, and so forth. But that is a question that I have no right to go into to-night. Supposing circumstances compelled the Government of the day, whoever they may be, to adopt the railway policy the precedents are not quite encouraging. Though the overland route from London to Constantinople competes with the sea route, the latter suffers no disadvantage at all in consequence of this competing land route. Then we have been told a great deal during the discussions about the Siberian Railway. I rather think that some of the Russian advocates of this line have pointed to the Siberian railway. There is no real parallel at all.


Hear, hear.


I am glad the noble Earl agrees, because there is no real parallel at all between the Siberian railway and this Trans-Persian railway. The Siberian railway shortens the distance from the centre of Europe to the Far East by one-half. Then it gives a direct railway route much shorter than the sea route, not merely to India but to an area infinitely larger in size than India, comprising as well the important seaports of China and of Japan. The only other observation I make about the Siberian railroad is that on that there is an immense emigration traffic. On the Trans-Persian line there is no reason to suppose that there will be any emigration traffic at all.

I was disappointed, I admit, at what the noble Earl said about the effect of this line upon Persia. I do not suppose for a moment that this line or any other line or any number of them would bring the millennium to Persia. The confusion in Persia along with the advent of the Baghdad railway and the Anglo-Russian Convention are the elements that have made this proposal actual. As to the effect upon the confusion of Persia one thing is certain, and will not be denied by anybody who has any idea of government in any part of the world and who is at all acquainted with—shall I cad it—the chaos that exists in many parts of Persia—namely, that railways would immensely increase the power of the Persian Government in dealing with disorder and maintaining something a little more like security. I saw the other day some emphatic language of a very competent observer who knows Persia well. He says that to introduce railways, including this trunk line, would be to put the most powerful weapon into the hands of the Central Government in Persia, which is to-day a mere shadow and can be derided with impunity. I was surprised that some political friends of mine who are so anxious that we should be more active on the popular side of affairs in Persia should be the most indignant of all at the idea of a measure which would do more than any other, if it were financially workable and so forth, to put into the hands of the Persian Government the power of managing their own affairs and holding up their heads, in the language of my friends, against both Russia and England.

I will not detain your Lordships longer. The whole question of the alignment and the terms on which the railroad is to be administered and controlled, the question of whether the profits made on the northern lines ought to be pooled with the profits made in the south, a much more dubious quantity—all these are matters which this House and the other House and the country can consider much more effectively when they have a definite scheme presented to them. It is said, "You have never consulted Persia." It will be quite time enough to consult Persia as to a concession when we and the other Powers concerned have made up our minds as to what is the concession we ought to ask for. Let us then make up our minds what is the best alignment and what all these other subsidiary arrangements ought to be. The noble Earl, I hope, will not think that I have at all shirked the important discussion that he raised about the alignment of the route. He will understand that some of those projected routes involve considerations of extreme danger, and therefore I have not thought it worth while to detain your Lordships with a long investigation into the competing routes. It is an extraordinarily intricate and complex subject. It is barely intelligible without one of those maps which the noble Earl reproached me for producing last year, and therefore I will not attempt to follow him over that area.

I only say that in keeping open to ourselves the option of asking for railway concessions when the proper time comes we have not designed and do not design to shut out all foreign enterprise from Persia. That would be a great disadvantage to Persia, and not any advantage to ourselves. It must be clearly stated that we have no desire to make this railway ourselves in Persia at this moment, but we may well wish to guard against the possibility of waking up some morning and finding that the Persians have placed some important concessions elsewhere involving foreign control which would be detrimental to our political interests and strategically menacing to our frontier. We therefore desire to have the option of making railways of that sort ourselves in case Persia favours foreign enterprise. I hope the House, in considering the noble Earl's speech and in reading the arguments, of which we shall have, perhaps, a plethora in the next few months, will remember the strictly conditional situation in which the Government stands in respect of all these proposals, and will not forget, although there may be drawbacks, which we do not deny, to the Trans-Persian railway, that any Government that might succeed us would think, not twice but a hundred times, before they repudiated and turned their backs upon our action.


My Lords, I do not know whether the noble Earl will think the reply of the noble Viscount opposite has been a satisfactory one. I confess that I am still considerably dismayed with regard to it. It has, however, thrown some light on what has led up to the establishment of this Société d'Etudes. It is interesting to see that the Government have from time to time desired apparently to thwart this railway project, and equally interesting to see that whenever they have put some obstacle in the way of the project the Russian Government have been quite agreeable, so desirous have they been to see some scheme adopted, to accept whatever this Government have proposed. The noble Viscount opposite referred to the many railway projects in Persia which have been put before the public for a number of years past. He did not say why not one of them has ever come to fruition. And do not the same reasons that prevented those lines from being constructed equally hold good to-day as to why this line should not be constructed? The light which the noble Viscount has thrown upon the present proposal seems to show that the line is not desired by His Majesty's Government, that they have not done what they have done willingly, that they have not done it because they considered it good to Persia or to India but because of some other alternative—because some rebuff that they would have had to administer would have led to serious and disastrous consequences.

The noble Viscount speaks of the sub-currents of diplomacy that are going on. I do not know of them, being a man in the street, and I do not know what disastrous consequences would have ensued from a polite disclaimer. But I do not see how it is going to improve the position when a few months hence this Société d'Etudes may possibly furnish a satisfactory report. What then will be the duty of His Majesty's Government? Will they be in a better position to refuse then than they are now? The objections to the line as put forward by the noble Earl and also as stated by The Times Military Correspondent—all so powerful and forcible—would remain just as great eighteen months hence as they are to-day. How will the Government then be in a better position to reject the scheme? It seems to me only to intensify the evil, and if the line does involve a certain amount of risk to India that risk will be just as great then as now. I share, like the noble Earl, a belief in universal peace between the great nations of the earth and that India will be linked up by railway communication with the rest of the world. But there is no need to anticipate that day. The conditions that have rendered it undesirable in the past are just as strong to-day, and until you change the environment of affairs you are merely putting new wine into old bottles by allowing this line to be constructed.

I know of no single commercial body in India or in this country that desires to see this line built—with one exception only, the Chamber of Commerce at Karachi. The chairman, Mr. Webb, is a great believer, as I am also, in the future of Karachi as one of the principal Indian ports, and he is naturally keen to see his hopes realised at once. And in Karachi being made the terminus of the Trans-Persian railway no doubt Karachi would be very much uplifted. But even the Chamber of Commerce realise that there is a risk, and the Government recognise the risk, because, as we understand from the papers, there has been an obligation imposed by the Government and admitted by the noble Viscount that the alignment should, if required, be brought down within reach of the coast with the idea that our naval forces would be able to command that line in case of any emergency. I think that is a sufficient argument without waiting for the utterances of the military experts and others to show what a danger lies in this line when you propose to divert it in order to bring it within command of your sea forces so as to prevent its being used as a hostile instrument in the event of invasion. First of all, it is very obvious you would have to have a much stronger force than you have at the present time in Indian waters if you wish to secure the line by such means. But I am quite content merely to take that argument to show what a great danger there is in having a line to India linked up with the outside world by railway communication, and, as I say, the conditions that rendered it undesirable in the past still obtain at the present moment.

I am not one of those who wish to represent that the utterances of the Press are to be taken as indicating the views of the whole of the nation. I would not for a moment think that the carping criticisms which are sometimes uttered in the Press of this country against Germany indicate the feelings of the people of this country against the people of that nation. But there is one very notable Russian journal, the Novoe Vreinya, and that paper recently, just previous to the interview at the Baltic port, published a very lengthy article with reference to the relations of Germany and Great Britain. Let me read two quotations. One is— On the other hand, only the loss of India by England, from whatever cause, would establish permanent peace between us and her. Then it goes on— Russia ought to rejoice that somebody has arisen to fight the enemy who for a hundred years stood in her way everywhere. Is it not England's hegemony at sea which has compelled us to stop dead, as before a stone wall, in all the Easts—the Near, the Middle, and the Far East? Is it not this hegemony which will keep us back in our natural evolution on two continents in the future? I associate myself entirely with the word: spoken by the noble Earl as to the value of the friendly relations subsisting between us and Russia, but we only have to look back to our foreign relations (luring the last twenty years with the different Powers of the world to see how shifting and how variable these relations are; and really the sole excuse for the putting forward of this scheme at the present time is our Entente with Russia. All the other objections remain exactly as they have been for the last fifty or a hundred years, and whilst we earnestly hope that the Entente may be continued for many long years to come we ought not to consent to the construction of a permanent work of such a character as a railway line on such a very shifting foundation or base as that which I have described. I do not think the noble Viscount vouchsafed any reply as to our having the opinion of the military experts and as to putting ourselves into the position that this country was in when a Committee reported on the project of the proposed Channel Tunnel. Surely we ought to have the views of the Council of Defence on this matter. We ought also to know whether the Board of Trade have considered the commercial advantages of this line. I think we are entitled to have put before Parliament the views of these different bodies. I think it is admitted that there is practically no commercial advantage in this line to India—nothing that will pay a half per cent. on capital; and you have this very great risk and also the great expenditure the Government would have to incur by giving a guarantee.

I am surprised to find that the noble Viscount has been bold enough to stand up and make an apology for this project. He has refused on two or three occasions to consider a poor little railway in the Aden Hinterland, a railway which would open up the fertile country around and give relief to your sun-baked garrison at Aden by letting them get to a hill station, and which would not cost your Government a single rupee. Lord Morley when the autocratic Secretary of State for India would have nothing to do with that small project; yet here the noble Viscount ventures to defend a project of great risk without any possible advantage to India and with only a minimum of advantage to Persia. The noble Viscount, in his reply, dilated upon the benefit to Persia of improved com- munications. Every one admits that. But what the noble Earl and others who share my view object to is the extension of any railway communication to a line east of Bandar Abbas to the Indian frontier. The country that wants bringing into order is essentially Laristan and the adjacent districts on the western side of Persia. That is the country where railways are most earnestly desired, and railways, too, by which we could co-operate heartily with Russia if the Persian Government thinks fit—a system which would be really to the commercial and political benefit of Persia. This line, if it ever became realised, would in my view only create mistrust between ourselves and Russia. It would not be to the improvement of our relations, and I think on that score alone it is sufficient to inquire whether it ought to go any further.

There is another point. If you have a line inter-connected by this railway you will not increase that confidence that is so very necessary for our good and firm government of India you will at once render India more liable to scares. I asked two prominent Indians who were over here lately what they thought of this scheme. One said that he did not know very much about it, but that it certainly should not be done until we have compulsory service in England. The other said that it might lie a nice thing for India because then the Indians would be able to go into Persia and establish themselves there. That gentleman spoke with a great lack of knowledge of the conditions that prevail in Persia if he thinks that Indian labour, which is so scarce at the present time, will find any pleasant outlet into Persia, that dry and and country where in most places they do not find enough water to perform their daily ablutions. There is, to my mind, no advantage to be gained by this line, and, on the ether hand, there is every possible risk. It could be said in favour of the Channel Tunnel—it was admitted by the Committee—that it would lead to a great improvement in commerce and to a much greater passenger traffic; but neither of those conditions would prevail were this line built. I therefore hope that the Government will not be too benevolently disposed towards the inquiry that is being held, and I think they will only put themselves into a much weaker position if they have to reject the proposal hereafter. There are plenty of other lines that can be constructed-in Persia with the greatest advantage to that country and that can be reasonably undertaken on a friendly basis between ourselves and Russia. Those could be made without violating any portion of those great natural defences with which Providence has favoured India.


My Lords. I associate myself with what has fallen from the noble Earl, and I would venture to ask your Lordships to consider for a moment the financial and practical side of this proposed railway through Persia. The British section, or it may be the Indian section, will start from Karachi and run through 920 miles of unpopulated, unfertile, and waterless country, and, as Lord Lamington said, those who promote the line admit that it must be close to the shore through the Makran district in order that it may be shelled by our ships in the event of its being used in a hostile manner against India. The traffic that the line would create would probably be about sufficient to fill a single truck in a fortnightly train. I submit that the Government of India have quite enough on their hands for many years to come in developing their own railway system.

With your Lordships' permission I desire to dwell for a moment on the position of Indian railways. Some five or six years ago I was appointed by the noble Viscount who was then Secretary of State for India to be Chairman of a Committee to inquire into and report upon the development of the Indian railway system. One member of that Committee was the Financial Secretary at the India Office, Mr. Lionel Abrahams. Another member was an ex-Financial Member of the Council of the Governor-General of India, Sir David Barbour, a gentleman who was closely associated with Lord Lansdowne, when Viceroy of India, in his great work of putting the currency of the country on a stable basis. Another member was Sir Felix Schuster, an eminent financial authority in the City of London. The unanimous conclusion of that Committee was that India should spend not less than £12,500.000 upon the development of her railway system, and that the expenditure of that sum would be a profitable proposition. A further recommendation was that the money in the first place should be devoted to the equipment of the lines then opened, which were lamentably short of rolling-stock. Since that time there has been devoted to the railways of India every penny which the Government of India could spare from its surplus balances, and every penny which could be borrowed in England and in India on the security of the revenues of India, and every penny which the railway Companies could borrow in this country, but the twelve and a-half millions have never been reached.

I spent last winter in India, and having been appointed President of a Conference between the Government of India and the railway companies to try and settle some long out-standing differences, I had occasion during the course of my investigations to travel sonic 12,000 miles over the railway systems of India. And, my Lords, what did I see? From Bombay in the west to Calcutta and Madras in the east, from the Himalayas in the north to Cape Comorian in the south, practically every large railway station was congested with goods for which there were no means of transport to be found. The mills in Calcutta, Bombay, and Madras were dangerously near the end of their coal supplies, ships were hung up in the Hugh for' want of coal, which had gone to famine prices, although at the mouths of the pits in the Bengal coalfields not 150 miles away from Calcutta I saw tens of thousands of tons of coal piled up, which reminded me of that old song "Wait for the Wagon." There were no means of getting the coal down to the seaboard. It was anticipated when I was there in March that things would mend by May, but only the other day an influential deputation waited upon the Secretary of State for India and represented to him that, the state of affairs was still as bad as ever. I impute no blame to the India Office, to the Government of India, to the Railway Board, or to the directors and managers of the great railway companies in India who manage the railways so admirably for the Government.

When I went to India about forty years ago there was a cry for more permanent way and more rolling-stock. That cry has gone on every year since then, and the cry exists to-day. The fact is it is difficult to get sufficient money in this country, where the capital alone can be found, to meet the railway requirements of India, and it has been more difficult than ever in the past five years through young countries being opened up and trade being so active all the world over. The Three-and- a-Half per cent. Loans of the Government of India, which used to stand well over par, are now under 92, and so long as trade continues active, and so long as India continues to be a borrowing Government, we cannot expect to see her annual issues absorbed except at constantly dwindling prices. The outlook at the moment for getting more money for Indian railways is by no means bright. The opium revenue is being relinquished, as the noble Earl said, for the supposed moral and material benefit of the blue-robed nation, although, if recent reports are correct, as the poppy cultivation diminishes in Hindustan it increases in the Celestial Empire.

Then, my Lords, the Government of India is faced with an expenditure in the immediate future of several millions sterling, it may lie four, it may be six, it may be eight, I think it will probably be ten millions, for the new capital at Delhi. All this means that there will be less money available for irrigation, for railways, and for other reproductive works in India. I have heard it stated—although I felt somewhat reassured by the statement of the noble Viscount that nothing was being done in connection with this railway— that the survey has either been begun or is about to be undertaken from Karachi to Charbar. It would be a distinct misfortune if the resources of the North-western State railway were to be squandered on a project of this kind instead of being laid out in providing that rolling-stock which is so necessary to enable it to handle the goods which it is now unable to carry. I submit that the time is inopportune for the Government to think of building a line from Karachi either to the centre or to the confines of Persia—a line which will never pay its working expenses, far less interest upon the cost of its construction. I submit that the funds at the disposal of the Government of India should be employed in the development of the railway system of that country and not wasted on a silly project of this description. Even if the money is found by outside financiers the effect will be the same. If the interest is guaranteed on the cost of construction and if the guarantee conies from the revenues of India it will be a dissipation of the credit of the Secretary of State and a charge upon the revenues of the country. I strongly urge, therefore, that neither His Majesty's Government nor the Government of India should have anything to do with the building of this line. I further urge that they should not guarantee a sixpence of interest on the cost of the construction of a railway from which we have nothing to gain either from a political, a military, or a commercial point of view. For, after all is said and done, the first line of a country's defence is solvency; and I think we should refrain from embarking on an enterprise, however attractive the name may be, which is calculated to hang a financial burden round our necks for years to come.


My Lords, I had no intention of intervening in this debate, but perhaps I might say a word upon one or two of the points which have been raised by noble Lords opposite. I think that my noble friend Lord Morley showed that the picture which the noble Earl opposite drew in his opening speech, a somewhat alarming picture, as to the extent to which His Majesty's Government were implicated in the proposition of a Trans-Persian railway, was not entirely accurate. But, in spite of that fact, I noticed that when Lord Lamington pursued his share in the debate he again accused us in no measured terms of being completely committed to this project, and he seemed to regard the railway as being as good as made and the frontier of India in almost immediate danger. I am bound to say that my noble friend behind me who has just sat down and whose intervention in the debate I am sure we all welcomed, speaking as he does with great authority, also went further than the facts altogether justify in appearing to assume that the Government of India was on the point of undertaking, if it had not already undertaken, serious financial responsibilities in connection with this project.

On the question of defence, we should all, I suppose, agree that as a purely abstract proposition, India being what it is and governed as it is, it is a thorough convenience to ourselves and no real disadvantage to the people of India that it should be isolated from direct communication by land with the outer world. The great mountain ranges, the inviolable desert frontiers, the impenetrable stretches of jungle, all have had much to do in making the history of India what it is to-day, and we should all admit, as I say, as an abstract proposition, that a continuance of that state of things could not be altogether distasteful to us. I do not mind admitting a personal view which is of no particular interest to anybody but myself, that I have more than a sneaking sympathy with the objections which Lord Palmerston took to the making of the Suez Canal from the point of view of our Indian Empire. I am quite prepared to admit that if we had had the great sea route to India as our main route and the overland route for those who were in a hurry, crossing the Isthmus at Suez, we in India should not have been greatly the worse. At the same time we have to admit—the noble Earl has explicitly admitted it himself—that even if we do not like to call a particular railway inevitable, yet the tendency of railway construction, of increased trade, and also of international relations, points in the direction of railway construction in Persia, and that construction, whether it involves or not—as to which I will say a word in a moment—the construction of a Trans-Persian railway as such, undoubtedly awakes new questions of frontier defence.

I might say, for the information of the noble Earl and of the House, that this particular matter of a possible Trans-Persian railway has not been formally considered by the Committee of Defence because it is not in any sense yet a live project. The subject has been considered by the General Staff in India, and in considering it they, of course, expressed marked preferences for certain schemes of alignment in comparison with others. Some they thought far more disadvantageous and even dangerous than others from the Indian point of view. But on the whole subject they took the view that it might be a disadvantageous and even a dangerous thing to pronounce an absolute veto on the proposal when it was made in this quite tentative form, on the ground that if you were prepared not to dismiss the principle altogether, and if—which is a very large "if"— the money was forthcoming for the making of the railway and preparations proceeded for its construction, then you would be able to secure that it should be made in the way least detrimental to your interests; whereas if you attempted to interpose a veto, and nevertheless the railway was made, it would very probably then be made in the manner least advantageous to Indian interests. From that point of view the General Staff in India did not consider themselves debarred, but quite the contrary, from examining the project from the defence point of view and expressing a preference for certain alignments and their conviction of the necessity for certain safeguards; because they recognised that it was impossible not to realise, bearing in mind what the noble Earl and other noble Lords have said, the possible destructibility of any existing arrangement as between European Powers, awl that it was impossible to shut your eyes to the possibility of certain other combinations through which or by means of which, the line might be made in spite of our declared intention to have nothing to do with it so far as the Indian frontier part of it was concerned.

My noble friend behind me drew attention to the fact that some of those who ordinarily support His Majesty's Government in domestic politics and to some extent also in foreign politics have uttered somewhat severe strictures on the assumed action of His Majesty's Government in this matter of a Trans-Persian railway. One might ask them, as my noble friend asked the noble Earl, What is the precise step which in the circumstances they would have taken? What do they consider to lie the error that we have so far committed—I will not say in not vetoing the institution of this Société d'Etudes, because I do not see how we could have prevented its inception although we might possibly have prevented certain persons from joining it—but in somehow not placing a veto on the project in a manner the precise form of which I confess I am unable to conceive? It is one of the curious ironies of history that brings some of those pacific friends of ours into the precise position which thirty and more years ago those very different people enjoyed who delighted in the doggerel song of which the word "Jingo" is, I suppose, the only survival at this moment. I hope they will see that we have not committed His Majesty's Government, not merely to any participation in this proposed line if it be made, but to any definite approval of the line. We are not prepared on principle—as the noble Earl reminded us my right hon. friend used the words "the principle of the undertaking" in another place—we are not prepared on principle to say that this line shall not be made. But that is a very different story from the kind of participation in the project of which in some quarters we are accused.

And on that I should like so far as possible to reassure my noble friend behind me, Lord Inchcape, as to the attitude of the Government of India and the policy of His Majesty's Government in the matter of finance. He said with great truth that all the money that is available for Indian railways is required for those railways. It is required to a very large extent for the improvement of rolling-stock and for the improvement of lines in all manner of ways by widening and the provision of marshalling sidings and a number of other improvements. If money were forthcoming there are also new branch lines in many directions which we should be glad to make. We are entirely alive to the importance of not squandering Indian money which might be devoted to our own railways upon a project of this kind. I certainly have no desire to expend a single rupee of Indian money on such a project as this. And as to the question of guaranteeing a return for the lines, if and when they are opened, altogether apart from the question of assisting in any way in the construction, we have entered into no engagement of the kind. We are under no engagement to the promoters of this line to assist this railway should it be made.

To continue the question of the construction of the main line, there is this other point of view which arises out of what fell from the noble Earl when he drew attention to the possible advantage to Persia, in the construction of various railways through districts which, as he stated, needed the service of a railway more than those districts through which a perfectly direct Trans-Persian line would pass. It is certainly not for me to prophesy, but it is, of course, quite possible that the immediate future of Persian railway construction may be brought about in that form. I, for one, certainly should not complain if it were, but would welcome it. It; may come about that railways may be made in Persia piecemeal, and that one day we may wake up and find that a Trans-Persian railway thereby exists just as the London and North Western Railway, to name only one instance, was composed of four or five different lines before you were able to travel by it through to Manchester or through to Carlisle. That is, of course, a possible outcome. But I hope that if the noble Earl proposes to say anything more in replying on the debate he will absolve us from having unduly complicated our position in Persia or of having implicated His Majesty's Government in this particular project. We recognise as fully as he could the various objections which may be raised on different grounds to the construction of this particular line. But we do await from him any statement that lie may wish to make of what alternative action he would have taken, what policy he would have pursued in the circumstances differently from our own; and I trust that he will be willing to admit that we have done nothing which ought to be treated as detrimental to the interests either of India or of this country in the steps which we have taken so far, or in not vetoing the constitution of this Société d'Etudes.


My Lords, I will, with the greatest pleasure, answer the challenge which has been directed to me both by the noble Viscount and by the noble Marquess. Both noble Lords said to me, "Had the proposals made by the Société d'Etudes come before you, what would you have done in the circumstances? Would you have met them with a point-blank refusal? "It is almost impossible for me to give a direct answer to the question, because, of course, I do not know the form in which the proposal first came before His Majesty's Government. I have no idea who started it. It has been assumed more than once that the influence of the Russian Government is behind it. Whether the first proposal came to His Majesty's Government through a group of independent financiers or through the Russian Government I do not know. The noble Viscount, Lord Morley, more than once hinted, although in somewhat obscure terms that serious consequences might have ensued if the British Government had taken any other line. He hinted at pressure, diplomatic or otherwise, that might have been put on, either in this country or in Persia or in India.


I never used any word that carried pressure with it. I said that combinations might naturally and easily develop—arrangements which would be more disadvantageous than any that are now proposed.


Exactly; but I am no wiser than I was before. The noble Viscount indulged in language of obscurity in his first speech Which I am bound to say he has not in the least degree removed by his subsequent explanation. I cannot say, therefore, what I would have done in the circum- stances. But I think I may say what I would not have done. The noble Marquess seemed to think just now that the action of His Majesty's Government had been confined to not placing a veto—I think those were his words—upon the scheme. Surely they have gone a great deal further than that. What I would not have done would have been to say what the Secretary of State said in the House of Commons. He distinctly stated that, given the satisfactory conditions required by the Government, the Government were "in principle" favourable to the scheme. That has never been said before by a British Government. It was not the view of the Government of my day, either in England or in India. They were in principle unfavourable to the scheme. Really if you have a Secretary of State making this pronouncement deliberately on behalf of his Government in the House of Commons you cannot be surprised if the result is what it has been—namely, that your friends think that you have given to the proposal a support perhaps in excess of that which you have actually done. Certainly that impression exists, as you have admitted, in your own newspapers. It exists in both Houses of Parliament, and I am not certain that a lingering element of it does not exist in my own mind still. To give a concrete example. I think the noble Marquess somewhat dissented from the idea that any active steps had been taken in pursuance of these plans by the Government of India. I would point out that it is notorious that an engineer has been sent out—I know his name and all about him—by the Government of India from Karachi to investigate the country lying between Karachi and the Persian border. If the Government are merely not imposing a veto on the scheme, why should they take this active step and associate themselves with it? I am bound to say for my own part that if there has been any misinterpretation of the Government's attitude they have only themselves to thank.

The noble Marquess was kind enough to give us some information with regard to the opinions that have reached him from the authorities, military and otherwise. He told us that the Committee of Imperial Defence have not yet been consulted. If these plans take a shape later on that will require them to be placed before that Committee I do most earnestly hope that we shall be favoured with their opinion. As regards the Military Staff in India, it is difficult for me to speak with exactitude about that, because in my day there was no Military Staff that gave an opinion as distinct from the Government of India. The military opinions of the Government of India were given by the Governor-General in Council. There appears to be a difference now. Here, again, it transpires from what the noble Marquess said that the Military Staff were never consulted upon the policy of the line. All that happened was that they were asked to give an opinion as to this or that alignment. They were told that unless the line were made some ulterior consequences of a formidable kind would ensue, and therefore their advice was offered on the scheme on the lines of what would be the least unfavourable to the Government of India. That carries an implication which I would like to dispose of. It seems to lie in the background of the thoughts of the noble Marquess and the noble Viscount that if His Majesty's Government had not signified in some degree their sympathy with these proposals they would have been carried out without them. That has lain behind both their speeches to-night. May I venture, although I have no official sources of information, to state my opinion that it is absolutely impossible that this line could ever be made without the consent of the British Government. It could not be made because the money is not forthcoming; it could not be made because under existing political conditions a railway cannot be made through the British sphere in Persia without the consent of the British Government. How, then, is a railway ever to reach the Indian border? I think that the idea that this railway must in any case be made, that we are, so to speak, on our knees and have to accept what is dictated to us by our rivals, is a mare's nest for which there is not the slightest foundation.

I would like to say this in conclusion. There have been two debates upon this matter, one in the House of Commons last week and this debate in the House of Lords. As I remarked in my former speech, not a single Member rose in the House of Commons to support the policy or the attitude of the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, and not a single noble Lord has risen in this House to-night to support the views or the policy of His Majesty's Government. Perhaps that is not putting it quite fairly. Not a single Member has risen to express any opinion in favour of the construction of the line. I must distinguish between the two, because His Majesty's Government apparently repudiate any responsibility, though after listening carefully for an hour and more to the two speakers opposite I have not at this moment the ghost of an idea what their real attitude towards the railway is. There were moments in the speech of the noble Viscount when he alluded to the cost of the railway, the profits, and so on, when he seemed to me to be, if I may say so deferentially, a disciple in my own school; and yet when he talked of the future of the railway he seemed to contemplate its coming into being. The same mystery ran through the speech of the noble Marquess. He said it was not the intention to place any charge on Indian finances, that he was rather disposed to the old views as to Indian frontier policy; but, at the same time, he asked what more could they have done in the circumstances than what they did do. Whether that will relieve or confirm our apprehensions I cannot say, but this debate has left one very distinct impression on my mind, and that is that should the proceedings of this Sociétté d'Etudes take a concrete form, and should a scheme be brought before the British Parliament, such a scheme will have very little chance indeed of ever being carried out. I believe you will find, as Lord Incheape said, that India will be against it; I believe the bulk of public opinion in this country will be against it; and this debate to-night will not have been without its value if, whether His Majesty's Government agree with us or not, it has indicated to them the very- strong feelings that are entertained upon the matter by some of us who have served in the East. I beg to withdraw my Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.