HC Deb 02 April 1897 vol 48 cc425-50
* SIR CHARLES DILKE (Gloucester, Forest of Dean)

had given notice of the following Amendment, which he was precluded from moving:— That it is the duty of the Foreign Office to consult European Powers having possessions in Africa as to whether they will attend a conference at which the measures agreed to at the Berlin Conference of 1884–5 and the Brussels Conference of 1889–90, with questions appertaining thereto, shall be considered with a view to the adoption and enforcement of further measures for securing equitable treatment of the natives of Africa. He said the Foreign Office in 1882 had a policy with regard to East Africa and West Africa—namely, to keep Portugal on the west and in the whole of the Congo Basin, with stringent treaty obligations for the defence of trade, mission interests, and good government, and to keep Zanzibar on the east, Zanzibar being under the influence of this country. As regarded Portugal, an international Commission had been strongly urged by the Foreign Office for the control of the great river, but had been refused by Portugal, and the result was that the Treaty of 1884, as signed, did not contain the international Commission, and that both the House of Commons and the Great Powers were opposed to it in the form in which it was concluded. It was never ratified, and the Berlin Conference of 1884–85 was the result, At that Conference the Foreign Office desired to promote what they called "the permanent advantage of Africa," by which "the blessings of Christianity and civilisation" were to be brought nearer to the people. It was on these grounds that they recognised the Congo State, and that they provided a large area in which "the trade of all nations would enjoy complete freedom," and in which they prohibited "monopoly or privilege," and declared their intention to be "the preservation of the native populations, improvement of their moral and material conditions, and suppression of slavery and the slave trade." The Powers provided for the free navigation of the Niger, and its affluents, as well as for the free navigation of the Congo and its affluents. The Congo State was recognised as an anti-slave and pronative power, and wishes were expressed by the Powers "for the fulfilment of the noble aspirations of its illustrious founder." The Foreign Office and the plenipotentiaries of the other Powers bound themselves, individually and collectively, to watch over the preservation of the natives; and nothing could be more emphatic than Foreign Office responsibility in that respect. In September 1888 Lord Salisbury pressed Belgium to call a further Conference. On the 26th March 1889 the late Under Secretary of State for the Colonies (Mr. S. Buxton) pressed for a Conference on two matters —the slave trade and the general "responsibilities which European nations have now assumed in respect to Africa." The Government's reply covered also the prohibition of the import of arms into Africa, and the Government promised that there should be a Conference. The result was the Brussels Conference of 1889–90, out of which grew the General Act of the Brussels Conference, dated January 1892. This Act dealt, among other matters, with regulations for restricting the supply of liquor and the supply of arms, and provided arrangements "for securing its execution." There were to be bureaux for the "collection and communication of information as to the working of the General Act," and one such bureau had been set up by our Foreign Office, and was partly paid for in our Estimates, although a little of the cost was got back from some of the other Powers. It was at Zanzibar, and was supposed to collect information, but did not give much, as to the "working of the General Act." His case was, that in spite of these provisions, and in violation of them, there was monopoly on the Niger, monopoly on the Congo, and practice with regard to fugitive slaves in many colonies and protectorates, including some of our own, directly opposed to the protocols of Berlin and to the General Act of Brussels, and that arms were being imported on an immense scale by all the Powers for their barbarous allies. As regarded the Niger, a good deal of secrecy was observed, but a French Government expedition, commanded by Commandant Toutée, had recently visited almost the whole course of the Niger, and had given a considerable amount of information in its report, which might be untrue, but which, if untrue, ought to be contradicted and not met by silence. The expedition was one paid for by the French Government, and carried out under its direct instructions. The Niger agents were bound for 10 years not to communicate any facts with regard to the country in which they had served, under a penalty of £1,000, to be sued for as liquidated damages for each breach of the rule. He had himself investigated a murder case which had been brought to his notice by two officers of the Niger Company, in whose credibility he believed. But the Foreign Office had been unable to investigate the facts, because the officers were afraid of the provision in question. As regarded the Congo, the State, presided over by the King of the Belgians, was violating every clause in the Brussels Act, of which our Foreign Office were bound, individually as well as collectively, with the other Powers, to watch the due execution. The edicts of the Congo State themselves proved the assertion which he had made. One of 1887 confiscated all "'lands in which private property has not been recognised," there being no private property in the greater part of this dominion. An edict of September 1891, which had been marked "secret," but which, had come into his possession, declared that "all products of domain lands" belonged to the State, domain lands apparently being all lands in which there was not that private property which was not known to the aborigines. The same decree declared a monopoly of all rubber and ivory, which was a gross violation of the Berlin protocol of 1885, and of the conditions on which the Congo State had been recognised by the Powers. An attempt had recently been made to whitewash the Congo State in a Report to the King of the Belgians, dated January 7 of the present year. It was a fraudulent Report, stating, for example, that the Congo State had given all flags free navigation of all waters and assured trade freedom … decreed punishment to all who use violence or threats to force natives to give up goods to particular persons, or at a fixed price. Of course the Congo State did not wish that private individuals should rob the natives, because it preferred to rob them itself, and the offences pointed at in the Report were precisely those which had been committed by the Congo State under its own secret edict of September 1891. As regarded the fraudulent character of the statement that trade freedom had been assured, it was not more fraudulent than that of the Niger Company to the same effect, as to which any Liverpool merchant or any Liverpool representative in that House could enlighten them. With regard to fugitive slaves the Brussels Act declared that "any fugitive slave claiming on the Continent the protection of a signatory Power shall obtain it." He would not in this matter detain the House by going into cases which concerned other Powers, but would mention only some which had arisen in territories for which we were ourselves responsible. At Lagos there existed a practice of following fugitive slaves in the Protectorate, and recovering them by means of the Houssa police. In East Africa, the British East Africa, Company, composed of philanthropists, were admitted by the Government to have been in the habit of surrendering fugitive slaves up to the very day of the expiring of the powers of the Company, upon the coast, and, in the Pemba case (within the Zanzibar Protectorate)— known as the "case of the atrocious torture of a slave"—although the slave-owner was ultimately punished for his abominable crimes, it came out in evidence that the slave in question had previously fled, and been restored to his master for torture and for further slavery. He relied, however, mainly upon the carelessness which had been shown in allowing the British East Africa Company's practice to continue unchecked until the extinction of the Company's rule upon the coast. As regarded the watching by our Foreign Office of the general provisions of the Berlin agreement as to the preservation of the native populations and improvement of their condition, and the terms on which the Congo State had been recognised, that State was habitually raiding with cannibal allies, and yet territory over which we claimed rights had been recently handed by the Foreign Office to Congo rule. A distinguished African explorer and public servant, the honour of whose acquaintance he possessed, had once told him that Baron Dhamis was by far the best of the Congo officers, and was a man of the highest character and reputation, but had added, "Yet even he has to ration his men on human flesh." He had himself thought this a ghastly African joke, but the recent appearance of the book of Captain Hinde had shown beyond all conceivable doubt that it was a statement of a literal fact. Baron Dhamis was now engaged in conquering territories which the Foreign Office had handed over to Congo rule by lease, with the statement that they knew that they were giving them to the cause of "civilisation." The last expedition of Baron Dhamis had been led by six white officers, of whom one was Captain Lothaire, and comprised 500 Houssas (mostly recruited by our permission in our territories), and 25,000 cannibal allies. Captain Hinde, who was its historian, was a devoted friend of Baron Dhamis who commanded it, and a friend and admirer (as he stated) of Captain Lothaire. The force was, as he showed, rationed for months upon smoked human flesh; and Captain Hinde went further and gave the reasons why cannibalism "proved a great element in our success." So far from civilisation being on the side of the Congo State, as the Foreign Office alleged, it had been on the side of the Arabs in these wars. The Arabs had had the chivalry to build tombs over the bodies of the only two Belgian officers whose bodies fell into their hands. On the other hand, Captain Hinde told the story of the treatment of the prisoners, and even showed why, to use his words, cannibalism had been on the increase throughout the Congo basin "since the entry of Europeans into the country." The Houssa, troops with whom by the leave of the Foreign Office and Colonial Office, Baron Dhamis was conducting his expedition, had in previous Congo expeditions been treated with shameful cruelty. This was admitted, but it was now said by the Colonial Office that their treatment had improved. That was so, no doubt, upon the coast, but they had not the smallest security as regarded the interior. The Foreign Office had given ii treaty right to the Congo State to recruit in our territories. On the 12th March 1896, the Colonial Office had explained that "British subjects had been employed without their consent as soldiers. … cruelly flogged, and in some cases shot." "Shot," as Captain Hinde explained, also meant eaten. The Colonial Office had in consequence prohibited the recruiting, and on the 17th April last the Foreign Office had confirmed the Colonial Office statement; but he confessed he was amazed that, after such conduct on the part of the Congo State, the Colonial Office should easily be satisfied by evidence from the coast that it was now safe to allow the Belgian officers to recruit Houssas in our colonies to serve in the present expedition, which, in the deepest secrecy the Congo Government was conducting in the name of "civilisation," under treaty with us, in the sphere which we had leased to it. Turning to the liquor question he had to point out that in the Brussels Conference the Belgian delegate had attached the highest importance to this point, in which, as the delegate of the Belgian Government stated, "the welfare of the native race is at stake," while the President of the Conference, also a Belgian, called it "the chief cause of the destruction of the negro race." Our Foreign Office had wisely protested against the low minimum duty fixed, and was, he believed, at the present moment negotiating without much success, for higher duties. But under the Brussels General Act of 1892 the minimum, was to be "submitted to revision at the end of the sixth year;" or else he feared all international obligation might lapse. They were now well in the sixth year, and it was necessary that whatever was to be done should be done at once. No one could doubt the earnestness of the Secretary of State for the Colonies upon this question. The minimum, duty had been raised in the colonies, and although the Foreign Office had not, he feared, made the Niger Company raise its duty, yet it had raised the duty in the Niger Coast Protectorate, as the Colonial Office had raised that in Lagos from 1s. to 2s. He had himself moved for a Return upon this question in 1895, which had been granted, but it had not yet been circulated to Members. As regarded the Congo, gin was the chief article of importation into the country. The new railway carried nothing up but gin, and the exposure of this fact had been the cause of heated debate in the Belgian Chamber, and of the extreme narrowness of the division on which the prolongation of the railway had been voted. Yet the New Year's Report to the King of the Belgians—fraudulent in this respect as in all others—stated that the Congo Government had prohibited the liquor trade in some parts of their territory, but where trade necessities make prohibition impossible, have put on the maximum duty of the Brussels Act, but think the time come to increase the maximum. Advantage should be taken of this statement, fraudulent though it was, to insist on a fresh Conference; a fresh Conference for which he was certain that the Secretary of State must wish. His own suggestions were (and many more would occur to those in the Foreign Office who were skilled upon the question) that a new Conference might not only deal with the question which must immediately be dealt with, of the liquor trade, but might also adopt measures directed against sham treaties with the natives—measures of notification which might follow the analogy of the Berlin measures for the notification of annexations; that the Conference might also resolve that the Central. Bureau should not only receive, tabulate, and circulate information as to the working of the Brussels General Act, but should call attention to abuses with a view to secure its observation. There had been a proposal adopted at Berlin upon this question, and upon the 23rd April 1891, the Foreign Office had been asked why the International Commission had not been appointed. The Foreign Office had made the playful answer that the attention of the Powers had recently been turned to other parts of Africa; but this was no laughing matter, and if we meant that which we had said at Berlin, at Brussels, and in Lord Kimberley's recent treaty (signed under the Rosebery administration) with the Congo State, then it was high time that we should take action to remove from ourselves the disgrace which had fallen upon our declarations. There had, indeed, been a sad falling-off in the attitude of the country upon this question, not in words, but in facts, since the noble stand which had been made with regard to it, in 1837, under the inspiration of Mr. Gladstone.

CAPTAIN BETHELL (York, E. R., Holderness)

said that the method of dividing up the continent of Africa was undoubtedly different from that which had been pursued elsewhere in former years, especially in connection with the continent of America. Attempts had been made to lessen the miseries and the misfortunes which had been brought on the aborigines by the modern methods, and at least the idea pursued had been a noble one. The Act of Berlin and the Brussels Conference embodied a noble idea, because their object was to avert the old plan of irresponsible persons settling here and there in smaller or larger numbers and making their sweet will the law. Something like a Government was proclaimed, and individuals were not at liberty to slaughter, rob, and steal at their own will. That in itself was a great advance; but so far the Brussels Conference and the Berlin Act had undoubtedly not been very successful. The operations of the Belgians in the Congo Free State had at any rate been unsuccessful, to some extent they had been unfortunate. That was, he thought, largely due to the fact that the Congo Free State was so enormous in size. It was impossible that the officials of that State could deal with it to the same degree as the Niger Company could deal with the territories under its command. Although the Congo Free State had failed to carry out the main objects of the Brussels Conference in preventing the importation of liquor, it had overthrown the power of the Arab which was chiefly used to carry the natives into slavery. So far as the Congo Free State was concerned he thought it was open to question whether a further conference would be able to strengthen the hands of that Government so as to make any material difference in their operations: and he did not think that any conference likely to be assembled, so far as this question was concerned, would be disposed to carve out, at present at any rate, the enormous territories of that State. As to the liquor traffic, he said that officials familiar with the West Coast of Africa and its natives declared that the evil effects of that traffic had been over-estimated. [Cries of "No!"] The money derived from the sale of liquor was used to aid in rooting out more frightful abuses connected with human sacrifice. There was, therefore, something to be said that something had been done to carry out the views of the Brussels Conference. He agreed that the introduction of gin among the natives was to be deprecated; still if there was a choice between the two things he would gladly see the revenue derived from its sale in order to put an end to these other terrible customs. There were great difficulties in the way of putting an end to the traffic in gin. It was a very old traffic on the West Coast of Africa. It was more than a hundred years old, and they could not put a stop to the traffic at once; they must have patience. A good beginning had been made especially in the territory under our sway. The right hon. Gentleman advocated a conference, and it was possible that some good might be done by such an assembly. He agreed that they might settle the imposition of duties on liquor by raising the minimum. He doubted whether they could do anything else beyond that which was of value. Officials of a company or of a Government having made treaties in regard to certain territory in a great hurry, went home with the agreements, and presently, when other officials of other Powers came back with their agreements, diplomatic difficulties arose. A great feature of the history of Africa in the last 15 years had been the wise attempts that had been made to avoid future conflict of interests by the parcelling out of that enormous continent among the Great Powers. At least two great wars had arisen in the past out of difficulties of the kind in other parts of the world. It was wise and statesmanlike to endeavour to avoid such causes for misunderstanding by this parcelling, and unwise to allow the agent of any Government or company to make agreements that might bring Governments into conflict and provoke the dangers of war. The House, he thought, would feel that the right hon. Baronet had done good service in bringing this matter forward, and although he did not anticipate any great result if such a Conference assembled, the discussion and expression of views would have a good effect.


There can be no doubt that the right hon. Baronet has raised a most important subject, and in the course of his speech has covered a very wide field, with a knowledge of his case and a lucid explanation of details such as we are accustomed to from him. I will endeavour to deal with the various points he has raised in the order in which he mentioned them. First he referred to the Congo State, with reference to which he said that all the stipulations of the Brussels Act have by edicts and Acts and monopolies been violated. The right hon. Baronet will, I think, acknowledge that it is no part of my duty to defend the Congo State, nor of the duty of Her Majesty's Government to act as guardians of the public trust imposed on the Congo State by the Acts of Brussels and Berlin, though his words seemed to imply that some special respousibilty rests upon the British Government.


As regards one part of the Congo State very special responsibility by treaty with and lease to the State of territory.


That is a smaller point to which I will come in a minute. Our general responsibility is only our share of the collective responsibility attaching to the signatories of the Acts, and to call upon me to enter into any general defence of the acts of the Congo State would be unreasonable. There can be no doubt that great mistakes have been made in the administration and work of the Congo State, and its agents may, from time to time, have taken steps and adopted methods which are repugnant to the feelings of all Christian men; and, indeed, it does seem that in the heart of Africa passions are roused and deeds are done such as are dissimilar from what we find in other parts of the world, and in those remote and wild territories, far away from any contact with civilisation or with the humanising influences of ordinary social life men are converted into other than the human beings we know. But, on the other hand, it is only fair to remember that the Congo State has done a great work, and that by their administration the cruel raids of Arab slave dealers have ceased to exist over many thousands of square miles. Then I come to the particular point raised when the right hon. Gentleman emphasised the special responsibility resting upon the British, Government from the fact that we have leased a certain portion of the Upper Nile basin to the Congo State, and that under that treaty an expedition has been made. What guarantee have we, the right hon. Baronet asked, that things similar to those complained of in the past will not be repeated there? Well, we have no positive guarantee except such as we may find in the character of the commanding officer, of which the right hon. Gentleman has himself spoken favourably; in the publicity that has attached to previous scandals, and in the authority of the King.

And I think I may also add that whatever responsibility does arise for the particular agreement alluded to does not fall upon us, for it was by our predecessors that it was concluded. Passing from the Congo State, I come to a point where our own responsibility is more directly and immediately concerned. I speak of the Niger Company. Here the right hon. Gentleman reiterated a charge which I have continually heard and frequently seen in the newspapers, that the Niger Company are the possessors of an illegal monopoly which constitutes a violation more particularly of the Act of Berlin. I have heard that charge so often made that I have looked into the question, and have referred to the Act, and I am bound to say that I cannot find that the charge is sustained. The international position of the Niger Company is fixed by Articles 26 and 27 of the Berlin Act, under which it is declared that the navigation of the Niger river shall be free to the merchant ships of all nations, and that the subjects and flags of all nations shall be treated equally for boat-trade on the course of the river. So they are, subject to the regulations of the company, which are issued under the authority of the Government, and have been made known to foreign Powers, and not objected to by them. On this point, therefore, no charge of illegal monopoly can be sustained. Then I look at the charter of the company, and I find in the 14th clause the prohibition of all monopolies, and I find this explained as meaning that there shall be no differential treatment of the subjects of other Powers; and I find that there is not, but that they pay exactly the same duties as British merchants and traders. It may be said that the heavy licence duty imposed by the Niger Company constitutes a practical monopoly, and I do not deny that; my point is, there is no violation of the international law of Europe. It cannot be denied that the Niger Company, by virtue of its superior wealth and organisation, by its tactics in buying up its adversaries, and by the length of time it has been in the field, has acquired for itself a position almost impossible for any private agency to compete with, and has secured practically a trade monopoly of the Lower Niger. That I admit, and I am not here to criticise or defend it; but I say, so far as my judgment is worth anything, that it does not seem to me to be a violation, as the right hon. Baronet appeared to consider it, of the Act of Berlin.


asked as to the limit of duties.


I am not aware.


Has the right hon. Gentleman looked into the charge that they will not allow any ship to go up the river at all?


I have not seen that charge, but if the right hon. Baronet will give me any information he has I will look into it. Then I come to the next topic touched upon by the right hon. Baronet—the liquor question—and I thank him for the frank and well-deserved words of praise he has used towards the British Government—not this Government particularly, but British Governments generally. There is no doubt that, just as public opinion in this country is ahead of that in other countries, so the British Government has taken, and is prepare to take, the lead in this matter. The right hon. Gentleman points out that the time for the revision of the Brussels Act is drawing near, and he says, "What are you doing with a view to revision in the course of next year.?" Before I answer that question I will just refer him to the words of Article 92 of the Brussels Act: — At the end of the sixth year— that is, in 1898 —the duties shall be submitted to revision for the purpose of fixing, if possible, a minimum duty throughout the whole extent of the zone referred to. Therefore, it is a permissive, not a compulsory, revision; and, whatever the views of the Government may be, and whatever our interests, it may not be in our power to give effect to them. The House will gather from what I have said that, so far from having any objection to a conference, we should be only too glad to enter into it, and we are in communication with foreign Governments on the matter. It is due to that fact that the Blue-book promised long ago by the Secretary for the Colonies has not been presented. Then I come to what I may describe as the novel suggestions, but, if novel, also of great importance, which have fallen from the right hon. Baronet— namely, as to the enlargement of the functions and powers of the International Bureau: and the first of the suggestions which he makes is that the International Bureau should have the power of taking charge of the various treaties that are made in the interior of Africa. Under the Berlin Act the notification of occupation is limited to the coast. The right hon. Gentleman says, "Why can't you extend this to the interior?" I think a moment's observation will show the House that the circumstances are not at all analogous. Occupation on the coast is patent to the eyes of all men. There are, therefore, special reasons for enforcing just as there are easy means for executing that provision. But when you come to the interior, what is the case? The right hon. Baronet spoke about sham treaties. How is the International Bureau or any authority to distinguish between what is a, sham treaty and what is a real treaty? In those regions you have travellers, official and unofficial, some of them responsible, perhaps a majority of them irresponsible; some of them traders on their own account, but not objecting to do a little political business as well; others, the leaders of organised expeditions. All these people act, more or less, as treaty-makers and political agents on a small scale. Then take the nature of the documents themselves. Who is to determine and on what principles it is to be laid down that one document is to be accepted and that another is fallacious? The way the thing works in practice is as follows:—Foreign Powers make agreements with each other; agreements not necessarily binding on any but those who make them, and often not accepted by other Powers. They make these agreements as to spheres of influence, and within these spheres of influence they consider that their agents are at liberty to go about and make treaties. But if every sort of treaty that is made has to be reported to an International Bureau at Brussels or elsewhere there would arise not merely the difficulties I have mentioned, there would also come the question of the time within which the announcement has to be made and the consequences that would ensue if the Bureau declined to accept it or regarded it as faulty; and I think it is easy to imagine that any such process might produce an amount of bickering and international friction, incomparably greater than even the great drawbacks that ensue from the present system. That is the view we entertain, and I believe it will be shared in perhaps an aggravated degree by foreign Powers. The next suggestion, made by the right hon. Baronet was that the Central Bureau should have power to report to all the signatory Governments any infractions of the Act. Here, again, it is not the British Government that would stand in the way. If the right hon. Gentleman will refer to the conference at Brussels and will read the protocols he will see that it was the contention of our representatives at the conference that the powers and functions of the Bureau should be extended. But the other Powers were indisposed to agree to this. They preferred to draw their own conclusions from the facts circulated to them by the Bureau rather than to concede any initiative in the matter to the latter. Therefore, here again if we were to approach Foreign Powers I am afraid the hopes of the hon. Member would be doomed to disappointment. In conclusion I would like to say that I entirely endorse one remark that fell from my hon. and gallant Friend behind me, and that is that on the whole, not merely in the inception of these acts, but in their execution, the ideas for which all civilised nations are striving, of justice, civilisation, and freedom, have made, and are continuing to make, great progress, and that in the history of their application it can without undue self-satisfaction, be shown that this country has not been their least jealous or their least vigilant guardian. [Cheers.]

MR. SYDNEY BUXTON (Tower Hamlets, Poplar)

, referring to the position of the Congo State, admitted that it might be difficult at the present juncture to raise internationally the whole question of the position of the Congo State again. But nobody who had followed African politics could fail to think that the Congo State, which it was hoped was going to be a great moral agent for the improvement of Central Africa, had very largely failed in the mission for which it was founded. It was a matter to which the attention of the Government ought to be carefully directed, and if opportunity should occur that some steps might be taken to bring further international control over that part of Central Africa. With regard to the Niger Company, the real ground for complaint was not so much that the company had broken any particular provision of the Brussels or Berlin treaties. The real difficulty was to get any information with regard to them. The control of the Foreign Office over the Niger Company was confessed to be almost nil, whereas if it were placed under the Colonial Office we should then be able to bring to bear on its administration that public opinion and public control which at present were entirely lacking. The really important point in the discussion, however, was the question of having a fresh conference to consider the question of the liquor traffic on the West Coast of Africa. Since the Brussels Conference, seven years ago, greater strides had been made in the acquisition of Africa by France, Germany, and England than had been made probably in any other period of history; and these questions of dealing with the natives had taken a different complexion. The limit of six years fixed at Brussels would shortly expire; and then there would be no power of compulsion on the part of the Powers to compel any of the other Powers to agree to the minimum taxation. He did not, therefore, think it was premature to ask that an international congress should be summoned. The right hon. Gentleman said the matter was not of very great moment, because there was no power of fixing a minimum in regard to the taxation of liquor. But it was because they believed that public opinion in France, Germany, and England was in favour of this minimum that they urged that the present moment was opportune for calling these three Powers and the Congo Free State together to consider the question. He did not wish to exaggerate the nature of the evil, but anyone who would look into the figures would see that the consumption of liquor had enormously increased during the last five or six years in the British, French, and German West African colonies. And it must be remembered that this increase did not coincide with an increase in ordinary trade. Where the natives spent their money on liquor they did not spend it on cotton find other goods, and, practically, by allowing these spirits to be introduced, we were very largely diminishing our own trade. There had been two great difficulties in dealing with this matter. In the first place, in considering the question of raising the spirit duties, they had to look to the position of each individual colony. All their colonies on the West Coast were self-supporting colonies, and it would not be fair for the Home Government to come upon them suddenly and, by raising the duties unduly or too rapidly, sweep away their principal sources of revenue. But, admitting that, he thought they had moral obligations in regard to the matter. The Home Government, in conjunction with these colonies, had set a very good example to Germany and France, and the real reason— and this was the second difficulty—why successive Governments had not been able to do more in the matter, was that already their duties on their West African colonies were very considerably higher than they were in the neighbouring German and French colonies. If they were to unduly raise the duties they would find, he was afraid, that the spirits would come in all the same from the neighbouring colonies, and that they would lose the revenue on the imported spirits, and the trade which, in the ordinary way, would come to the English colony. To his mind the Niger Company had, in the matter of the import of spirits, set a very good example indeed, because in the very large proportion of their territories the sale of, and trade in, spirits was entirely and absolutely prohibited. ["Hear, hear!"] He was afraid that, unless they could come to some international agreement, all their professions and all their desires would necessarily be frustrated, and he hoped the negotiations to which the Under Secretary referred would bear proper fruit. He was quite sure that that Debate would do something to show that they in England anxiously desired to alleviate and improve the lot of the native tribes on the West African Coast.

SIR GEORGE BADEN-POWELL (Liverpool, Kirkdale)

said it was his firm conviction that not only was it high time, but that the time had almost passed, for having a further conference with the Powers interested in Africa. He wished in what he was going to say to stiffen the Government in the direction of doing what was necessary in Africa. He was sorry to hear the Under Secretary speak in such disparaging terms of the conduct of white men in the interior of Africa. He thought his remark was based upon, the single and signal instance in the Congo Stale. He was confident the right hon. Gentleman would agree with him that in the Niger, Uganda, the Shiré Bills, and wherever Englishmen had to do with establishing the security and peace of the natives, there had been nothing of the villainy which they knew had occurred in the Congo State. A point which he would press upon the House, for he did not think it had been sufficiently regarded in the country, was the enormous commercial importance to this country of a proper treatment of the natives of Africa. ["Hear, hear!"] In 1865 a Resolution was passed by the House to the effect that all further extension of territory or the assumption of government, or new Treaties conferring any protection on native tribes, would be inexpedient, and that the object of the policy of this country should be to encourage the natives with a view to the ultimate withdrawal from all parts of tropical Africa, except perhaps Sierra Leone. Since 1865 British trade with tropical Africa had risen from three millions to nine millions. In 1884 the European Powers held their first conference; in 1889 their second; and it was high time we should have another consultation with the Powers. There were questions pending which were seriously hampering and delaying the carrying out of that advantage to the natives which was really the only motive and the only reason for Britain being in Africa at all. A conference could settle the great questions which had been already mentioned, especially that dealing with the liquor question. Anybody who had followed what we had done and were endeavouring to do in Africa must feel that although under the previous conference spheres of influence were declared, the boundaries of these spheres and of our own possessions, and of those of other countries were in many instances in such a state of chaos as to be an extreme danger to the peace of Africa. If a conference did nothing else but to finally settle the boundaries of these spheres of influence and of the various States, it would have accomplished one great purpose. A conference might do something, too, in another respect. European Powers had not acted upon the principle that when they acquired a part of Africa upon which they put their national colour, they should recognise their responsibility to secure an effective administration for that area. They ought to be made responsible in that matter. He did not say that annexation was necessary, but certainly a further step ought to be taken in the direction he had indicated, and another conference might take that step. Another point which was of the utmost importance at present, in which they saw promise of trouble, most lately in Madagascar, was that the private rights acquired either before or after occupation by any foreign Power in any area, should be recognised in some definite form. They knew very well that in recent instances missionaries who had preceded the conqueror were being treated in a way which he did not think this country would approve of, and in such a matter he thought the conference might do great good by a further and more exact definition of private rights. There was also a great question to be dealt with and which was closely connected with the liquor traffic, namely, that of raising revenue. He thought the Powers in Africa might very easily come to an agreement now, considering the force of public opinion in all foreign countries on one question, that of Customs tariffs on spirits. He believed himself from what he had gathered, that they should have common agreement now, that at all events the duty on spirits should be on some definite and similar level. He knew himself from personal observations on the coast of Africa, that it was no use their trying to raise their import duty on spirits or to prohibit the introduction of arms and ammunition when other Powers occupying neighbouring strips of territory permitted the free importation of these articles. It was one of the most important points in the future administration of Africa that a common Customs tariff on these articles should be determined upon by the Powers. He did not despair of a conference of the kind proposed arranging some exchanges of territory so as to consolidate the various areas under certain flags. He had seen a great many troubles arise from these haphazard, small strips of coast line which had been pounced on by various Powers, and he was convinced that if the Powers saw their true interests, they would agree by peaceful methods of exchange to organise the coast line, at all events, under one administration and one flag, to extend without any break. This would greatly simplify that very difficult question, the control of the Hinterland. He believed that after all the expenditure of blood and money in the late Ashantee expedition there were already foreign Powers endeavouring to intervene and reap the harvest of our work in our Hinterland. He thought for that reason alone the conference might do great good in Africa. But he hoped this country would remember that we were responsible for the lives and liberties and for the peace and prosperity of an enormous number of natives. ["Hear, hear!"] He took the trouble some time ago to work out the number, and he did not scruple to say that they were roughly accurate. It might surprise hon. Members to know that in East, West and Central Africa we were responsible for no less than 50 millions of natives. If he might appeal to a somewhat low motive, to have as a market for our manufactures an area peopled by 50 millions was no inconsiderable consideration. He hoped, what he had said would convince the Government that it was high time for us to approach any foreign Powers who had any concern in African affairs.


thought that a more remarkable speech than that of the right hon. Baronet the Member for the Forest of Dean had not been delivered in the British House of Commons for many a long day, and he confessed he was astonished at the answer the right hon. Gentleman received from the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs. It had been assumed by various speakers that the chief object of European Powers in interfering in African affairs was to carry to those remote regions the blessings of Christianity and civilisation, and yet the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Forest of Dean had stated in the House to-night, and no one had challenged his statement, that the representative of one of the greatest of those Powers—one of the greatest in so far as its extent of territory in Africa was concerned—marched to the conquest of a great territory in command of 25,000 savage auxiliaries who were fed on human flesh, that every prisoner taken on that expedition was speedily eaten by the soldiers of the civilised Power, that the dead were taken up from their graves, without restraint from the representative of this Christian Power, and eaten; and that one of the main causes of the success of the expedition was that in consequence of these practices there was no necessity to provide an ordinary commissariat for the troops. He believed the country would be astonished when they read this Debate to-morrow. Was it not twaddle to say that such interference had a civilising effect? He was surprised to hear the hon. and gallant Member for Holderness, whom he knew to have a, most humane disposition, to say that the balance between evil and good was in favour of good since European influences were introduced into Africa. They rejoiced when European influences in that country had been influences for good, but his reading led him to believe that, except in certain favoured spots, European Powers went to Africa, not for civilising purposes, but for trading and selfish purposes, because they regarded the millions of Africa as a good raw material for trade. He believed firmly that the Mahomedans had been more successful in civilising those parts of Africa where they had gone than the Christians. Why? Because the Mahomedans, who, although they had a lower form of morality and religion than the Christians, practised their religion and acted up to their morality, which, he was sorry to say, most Christians who went to Africa did not. If European Christian Powers encouraged cannibalism and slavery, traded in gin, and put arms of precision in the hands of savages so that they could slaughter the neighbouring tribes, they destroyed all the attempts of missionaries and others to preach the Christian religion. He rose particularly, however, to say a few words about the Matabele and the Mashonas, because the hon. Member for Liverpool and the hon. and gallant Member for Holderness looked forward with some gratification to a European conference. He would like a European conference, but at the same time he would like to see this country go into that conference with clean hands; if we were going to claim from other Powers good Christian treatment for the natives of Africa we must commence by setting our house in order. When the East Africa Company were deprived of their Charter they admitted that they were doing their work by slave labour. That was at the time that the building of a railroad into the interior was advocated. What were the arguments in favour of the construction of that railroad? That it would enable the directors to dispense with slave labour. He did not know whether slave labour was still employed, but it was undoubtedly employed by the British Chartered Company. It was not so much what was being done in the Congo region as in other parts of Africa—in Mashonaland and Matabeleland. No doubt hon. Members had read a very remarkable article in The Contemporary Review by the Rev. John Mackenzie. No one could read that article without the blush of shame rising to his cheek. He was a man, he understood, of the highest authority in these matters, and he said that the system of forced labour under the Chartered Company was worse than the old system of domestic slavery. Apparently this system was going to be a permanent institution. The natives complained that their country was gone, their cattle were gone, their people were scattered, their women had deserted them, and the white men did what they liked with them. This was the state of affairs in Matabeleland which they had attacked, ruined, and robbed. Every woman was taken away from them by the white man! They had brought neither peace, civilisation, nor Christainity to this unhappy people. Except in a few favoured spots they had taken horrors into the land worse than had been experienced under their own tribal wars. In his judgment it was impossible to say that they were there for the purpose of civilising these people. They had heard reference to human sacrifice, and the efforts made to put it down; but would the attempt to put it down ever have been made if the tyrant of Benin had not interfered with trade. Everyone knew that the object of that expedition was not to put a stop to these cruelties but to open up trade.

* MR. REGINALD MCKENNA (Monmouthshire, N.)

said that, although he was entirely at one with the sentiments of the hon. Member, he could not agree with him in many of his observations. He listened with unusual pleasure to the able and conciliatory remarks which the right hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs had made. The real fact was that the only hope for reform in Africa was through publicity. The first step which should be taken was to restore some sense of humanity to those who were sent out. There was no public tribunal before which they could be arraigned. He could not approve of the introduction of the treatment of the Matabeles into this discussion; that would be the subject of inquiry by the Committee now sitting. The evils complained of could only be remedied by a public inquiry.

MR. JOHN BURNS (Battersea)

said there were only four or five men who had been bold enough to go to Africa to find out for themselves the facts on, this matter, and the hon. Baronet the Member for the Kirkdale Division was one of them. He regretted that the, Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs had not traversed the regions which the hon. Baronet had traversed. He thought that, if he had the knowledge which some of them had, he would not take so optimistic a, view as he had taken, and unjustifiably taken, in face of the damaging and serious speech of the right hon. Baronet. [Sir C. DILKE: "What did the Under Secretary do?"] He refused co-operation to bring about an International Conference, by means of which England's position would not be damaged. Honesty and kindness was the best policy in Africa, as elsewhere. He believed that if there were a Conference, they could maintain their worthy position in Africa, and act up to the best level that England had taken as the pioneer for the abolition of slavery.


I think the hon. Member cannot have heard what I said. So far from opposing it, I said we were in communication with other Governments on the point.


said he would have liked the Under Secretary to say more than that. There was the question of the competition between the Niger Company and Lagos, which was a Crown colony. From his knowledge of the Gold Cost and West Africa generally, he believed that a consolidation of the spheres of influence, giving a continuity of coast line and consolidating tracts of territory now owned by different nations, might be brought about by a friendly interchange of negotiations between the various Powers. He trusted that, whatever might be the result of the Conference, the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs would see whether it was not possible to give the naval officers in charge of the vessels along the coast a freer hand than they had at present, to teach the officials and agents of chartered companies better behaviour. He did not agree in the criticism the Under Secretary passed on the right hon. Baronet's suggestion, that an international bureau should deal with the supervision of treaties. He had had the misfortune of conveying treaty makers up from the mouth of the Niger, and he knew how these treaties were made, and he ventured to say that they were secured in circumstances that were not creditable to the chiefs who made them, or to the company which asked for them. If a Conference were held it was sure to exercise the right spirit in controlling the irresponsible action of minor officials and agents. It was a curious fact that in old days, when the missionary or Scotch factor or agent went to the West Coast of Africa, their isolation made them behave themselves, and the missionaries, agents, and officials of 50 and 100 years ago were more kindly in their behaviour than they had been within the last 10 or 15 years. As an old servant of the old Niger Company, he believed that the Government ought to insist on less secrecy on the part of the chartered companies. He disagreed entirely with the hon. Member for the Holderness Division in his view of the effect of liquor on the native. The hon. Gentleman's view was that, bad though it was, it was not so, bad as it had been depicted. He gathered that the hon. Gentleman would rather see 100 natives killed by drink than five or ten killed in battle or eaten by cannibal neighbours; but he would point out that the connection between drink and cannibalism was closer than many people thought. He had ventured to support the right hon. Baronet in his demand for a Conference, and in so doing he endorsed the view expressed on one point by the hon. Member for Mayo, and that was, that, speaking broadly and generally, the natives of Africa, from North to South and from East to West, had not gained the balance of advantage by the introduction of European customs, habits, and methods, or by the introduction of Christianity and civilisation so called. It was because the black record of modern European encroachment in Africa had one bright spot—and that this country possessed—that he wanted England to be the first and foremost nation in the councils of the world, and to stand by her past traditions, and do everything in her power to save the natives from the baneful influence of drink. ["Hear, hear!"]

MR. THOMAS BAYLEY (Derbyshire, Chesterfield)

said that the right hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs expressed the opinion not only of the House of Commons, but of the country, when he said that all were united in their ideas with regard to the natives of South Africa. The first idea was to do away with human sacrifice in Africa, and it was clearly in the interests of Africa that the small wars which had lately taken place were undertaken. What were the means by which the end aimed at was to be accomplished? We must have the right men to do the right kind of work, and the control of the House of Commons must be efficient and thorough over everything going on in Africa. The hon. Member for Mayo had read a passage from a document written by a Dr. Mackenzie, a gentleman who was very well thought of in South Africa. That gentleman made serious charges, not only against the Chartered Company but also against the House of Commons, for allowing these proceedings. Dr. Mackenzie said that the Chartered Company had conquered Matabeleland and now stood in the place of Lobengula. Every man was now at the disposal of the Company. A charge like that made by Dr. Mackenzie against the Government of the day was one which they ought to investigate, to see if it were correct or not. One of the first clauses of the charter of the British South Africa Company stated that it was given on the terms and conditions that equal rights and privileges should be given to the natives. It was a very serious question whether, by taking the cattle which, was the private property of the Matabele, the Charter had not been broken from beginning to end. If so, that was a serious thing for the honour and good name of this country. But a more serious charge than that had been made, and that was that the company had provided the natives with arms, which might be used against a European State with which we were in friendly relations at the present time. That charge ought to he thoroughly investigated by the Colonial Office, and if true the practice ought to be stopped at once. By joining in any conference at Brussels or Berlin this country would not be relieved of any personal responsibility in regard to any part of its territory in South Africa. What they wanted in regard to things that were going on in South Africa was the light of public opinion. There were things going on in the name of this country, and to its dishonour and discredit, which, if known to the people of this country, would be put a stop to at once. The feeling aganst slavery and what was going on in South Africa was not dead in this country, but many people would not believe that the statements made by the right hon. Baronet the Member for the Forest of Dean (Sir C. DILKE) that night could be true, and, therefore, the only safety we would have in South Africa was the safety of public opinion as expressed in the House of Commons. ["Hear, hear!"]