HL Deb 23 March 1914 vol 15 cc656-60

My Lords, I beg to ask His Majesty's Government whether a scheme for improving the roads in the island of Dominica has been submitted to the Colonial Office; whether a loan, and if so of what amount, has been promised for the proper construction and maintenance of roads in the island; and whether, having regard to the urgency of the matter in the interests of the island, His Majesty's Government can now complete the arrangements so that the scheme may be proceeded with as soon as possible.


My Lords, the more recent history of the question about which the noble Duke has asked is this. In November, 1912, the Governor of the Leewards wrote a Despatch to His Majesty's Government drawing attention to the question of the roads and asking for a vigorous policy of road construction and improvement. Early in February, 1913, a most sympathetic reply to that Despatch was sent by the Secretary of State. I will quote one passage from it— The question of a programme of construction of roads has been postponed from time to time on various grounds, but now that the Colonial Engineer is available I consider that there is no reason for further delay, and that a definite programme of road construction, to be spread over a period of years, should be drawn up. Major Burdon, the Acting Administrator, worked with great energy. He rode or walked over nearly every road in the island; he also climbed the mountains, descended into the gorges, and forced his way through the forests looking for possible roads; and on December 20 he submitted to the Secretary of State a comprehensive programme calculated on the basis of an expenditure of £28,000 during the next five years, and asking for leave to submit to the Legislative Council a proposal for an expenditure of £5,681 for the financial year 1914–15.

Before the final decision was taken on this proposal a telegram was received from the Governor of the Leewards saying that he heartily agreed with the programme, but that he considered the cost had been under-estimated. The Secretary of State replied by cable expressing his high appreciation of the work done by Major Burdon in preparing this Report, and sanctioning the submission to the Legislative Council of a proposal for spending £5,681 during the forthcoming financial year; but he said he could not sanction the details pending the arrival of the new Administrator, Mr. Drayton. In the Despatch confirming this cable he pointed out that it would be hardly proper to commit the Government to an expenditure of this amount before the arrival of the principal officer who would have to carry out the expenditure. On February 3 a Despatch was received from the Governor confirming his telegram, and throwing considerable doubt on the reliability of the estimates that had been submitted in Major Burdon's Despatch. He thought an insufficient amount was allowed for the maintenance of the roads, and he thought whatever amount was spent on the maintenance of roads should not be put to capital. The Secretary of State replied suggesting that further expert advice should be obtained, and that a competent road engineer should be selected, and he said that he would try to find one on receipt of the Governor's reply. The expert was in the first place to make detailed estimates with regard to the roads suggested, and not to undertake construction until the programme was approved. There has not yet been time to obtain a reply to our last communication.

With regard to the question of the loan which the noble Duke mentions, no proposals for a loan have been put before us. The Secretary of State has expressed,, in the Despatch of February 5, 1913, an opinion adverse to a loan. He said that whatever programme may be adopted it should be financed out of general revenue and accumulated balances without recourse to a loan or entrenching on the reserve. Major Burdon's Report also says that it is not necessary to resort to a loan. The intention is to use a considerable part of the surplus of revenue and some portion of the surplus balances, which amount to about £10,000, the condition of the island having been very prosperous during the last ten years. The roads in Dominica want constant repair because of the exceedingly heavy rainfall, amounting to between 100 and 200 inches in a year, and in some parts greater than that. In fact, there is rather a tragicomic story of a boiler getting away down one of these roads and running over two children. The children were found, when the boiler had passed, to be practically uninjured, because the ruts into which they had fallen were so deep that the boiler did not hurt them. That is the kind of road that prevails here and there in Dominica.

I think it is a much sounder system for Dominica, where the repairs are so heavy, not to use borrowed capital for the purpose of providing roads. The wear and tear of the floods there is so great that the roads require constant heavy repairs. Fortunately the financial position is such that it seems highly probable that an expenditure of £28,000 may be made in the next five years without any recourse to a loan at all. I should like to say, in conclusion, that the Secretary of State is most anxious to see the work proceeded with. The cause of the delay that has occurred has been the necessity for reliable estimates to be prepared, the desirability of waiting for the arrival of the new Administrator, the necessity for the proposal to spend £5,000 odd going before the Legislative Council, and the fact that we are waiting for any local criticism that might be made on the scheme put forward by Major Burdon. I can promise on behalf of the Colonial Office that there will be no delay when we get an agreed programme.


Can the noble Lord tell us how many roads can be made for the sum which he has mentioned?


I am afraid I cannot. The expense of making roads through the forests is, of course, very large. I think it costs £350 a mile to cut a track through the forest, and about £200 to make the road; but I do not give those as reliable figures. The cost of making roads is very heavy; but in the case of the roads to which the programme refers, many of those are roads already existing in some form or other.


May I ask how soon the Administrator will be there, so that he can commence his work?


I do not know exactly, but I think he is due to arrive about this time. No doubt after he does arrive he must make himself master of the situation before he can reply.