§ LORD LAMINGTON rose to ask the Secretary of State for India whether he could give any information about the railway to be constructed by a French syndicate, from Hodeida to Sana'a, and whether all idea of railway extension in the Aden Hinterland had been abandoned; also whether he could state what progress had been made in the dredging of Aden Harbour.
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I regret that slight indisposition prevents the noble Viscount, Lord Morley, being present this afternoon to answer these Questions. It was his policy when Secretary of State for India which had some bearing on one of the Questions I have put down. Some eight or nine years ago, after the conclusion of certain operations in the Aden Hinterland, the Government had under consideration a project for the construction of a railway from Aden to the high ground in the Hinterland to a place called Dthala. This was under consideration with the object 1004 of helping to pacify and bring into good order the Aden Hinterland, and also as affording a place where a sanatorium could be formed at which the troops in Aden could find refuge from its scorching rocks. But the policy of the noble Viscount was to withdraw altogether from the Hinterland and to have as little interference as possible on our part with anything that went on in that country. Therefore any consideration of a railway lapsed. At the same time the Chief of Lahej had granted one or more concessions for a railway to a company who wished to construct what would have been a portion of the bigger scheme—from our Aden frontier at Shaikh Othman to his capital—but even this railway was prohibited as coming under the grounds for withdrawal which the noble Viscount considered expedient to adopt. This always seemed rather a selfish policy on our part, that because it did not happen to suit our policy we should prevent one of the Chiefs under our suzerainty opening up his country. But it was obvious that if the railway was not carried on to Aden it would be of no value at all.
§ A few days ago I saw in the Press a statement that a railway syndicate was beginning to construct a line from Hodeida to Sana'a, which is 140 miles inland and is the capital of Yemen. If it is the fact that there is now going to be a development of the southern portion of Arabia, I would ask whether it would not be advisable to reconsider the policy which was adopted by the noble Viscount and allow the development of the Aden Hinterland by the great civilising agency of a railway. Probably there is more reason for doing so because of the scheme for deepening and improving the inner and outer harbours of Aden itself. This is with the idea of attracting trade particularly from East Africa, but there has always been a strong desire on the part of the inhabitants of Aden to promote the trade of the place by having better intercourse with the Hinterland. I am well aware that our first consideration is of Aden as a strategical position, and that from time to time the view of the Admiralty has altered as regards its value in this respect. That being so, it was not unnatural if the Government have been reluctant to encourage Aden to become a commercial entrepot and so increase their responsibilities for defence. On the other hand, if in response to local demands an improvement in the port is being carried out it is inconsistent 1005 and unfair should we disallow what is the counterpart of harbour accommodation—namely, the opening up of the country by a railway if there is any private agency anxious to undertake the project, as certainly there was in the past. This is my excuse for asking for information as to what is our position at the present time, and what is the attitude of the Government towards the whole question of the development of the Hinterland and of Aden becoming an important trading centre.
§ EARL BEAUCHAMP
My Lords, in the absence of my noble friend the Leader of the House I have been asked to reply to the noble Lord's Questions. In regard to the first, the answer is that a concession to survey a projected line from Hodeida to Sana'a was obtained in 1909 by M. David Leon, of Paris, from the Ottoman Minister of Public Works, and the survey was completed in April, 1910, by French and Italian engineers. The scheme included the construction of a harbour at Ras-el-Ketib and a railway line from Ras-el-Ketib via Hodeida to Mefak (186 kilometres) and thence to Sana'a (85 kilometres), a branch to be added proceeding north-west to Amran (57 kilometres from Sana'a). The total cost of the scheme was estimated at £1,772,000. It is understood that the Ottoman Government has decided not to grant a concession to any foreign company for the proposed line for a limited number of years, but M. David Leon's syndicate has taken in hand on behalf of the Ottoman Government the construction of the harbour at Ras-el-Ketib and the section of the railway from that place to Hujjula which it has been decided to construct. The line will run via Hodeida (about 116 kilometres). No decision has yet been taken at Constantinople with regard to the continuation of the line to Sana'a. M. David Leon has also obtained the concession to make a survey of the country between Hodeida and Taiz and between Taiz and Sana'a, with a view to ascertaining the practicability of a line traversing these parts to Sana'a.
1006 As to the second Question in regard to railway extension in the Aden Hinterland, it is the settled policy of His Majesty's Government to abstain from any extension of their responsibilities in the Aden Hinterland so long as the status quo is strictly observed by the Turkish Government. Any scheme for railway construction would be narrowly scrutinised by them in the light of this policy. The reply to the third Question is that the dredging of Aden Harbour, which early last year was reported to be nearing completion, has been somewhat prolonged owing to physical obstacles necessitating a modification of the scheme. It may interest the noble Lord to know what those obstacles are. The latest information we have is a report made by the Port Trust to the Bombay Government in 1910, in which they state that difficulties had been experienced in attempting to remove the rock in the valley mouth on the south side of the channel, and that the dredger had broken down. It was therefore decided to abandon dredging in this particular spot, and to widen the other part of the channel. This alteration in the scheme was approved by the port engineer and the Port Trust, and was sanctioned by the Bombay Government.
§ LORD LAMINGTON
I am much obliged to the noble Earl for his answer. At the same time I would ask His Majesty's Government whether it is right, not that they as a Government should embark in any enterprise, but that they should prohibit private agencies from developing a country for which, after all, we are responsible. It certainly seems to me rather a dog-in-the-manger policy that we should undertake more or less to supervise and see that good order is maintained in a certain area, and at the same time not allow the Chief to contract an obligation with private parties for a project which would have a beneficial effect upon the whole of that country.
§ House adjourned at a quarter before Seven o'clock, till To-morrow a quarter past Four o'clock.