§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Motion made and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer.)
§ MR. LABOUCHERE (Northampton)
I confess I really cannot make out from the data which are given to the public by the Chancellor of the Exchequer what we are to pay to the company, nor do I believe the right hon. Gentleman, able financier as we know him to be, would be able to do so himself simply upon the papers which we have before us. Under ordinary circumstances, if the House is to exercise any control, the matter would be referred to a Select Committee, and that Select Committee would hear evidence on the subject. It is exceedingly difficult for us to form any opinion (and I say it with all respect to the Chancellor of the Exchequer) upon the general speeches made by the right hon. Gentleman, and upon the criticisms thereof which have been advanced. The only fact that is absolutely clear to me is that we have got to pay the sum of £865,000. That is admitted. How, in the name of wonder, is this sum made up? We have first the balance-sheet, and then the administrative expenditure. The first balance-sheet is that of 1884. There we find that the capital of the company 1271 amounted to 195,000 shares, which were given to some old company bought out by this company. A little lower down I see £115,000 expended for the goodwill of this old company in excess of this £195,000 worth of shares. The only shares that I can see sold for cash are I shares on which £2 was paid up, and that amounts to £133,350. Then we get into further difficulties when we come to the loan. The right hon. Gentleman tells us that a portion of the money we have to pay is for a loan of £250,000 which the company was authorised to raise, and which was charged on the customs duties. In 1888 this loan is stated at £133,000 and the interest at £6,050; but the greater part of the loan was actually held by the company, and was unissued. It has been admitted by the Chancellor of the Exchequer that the shareholders were given 30 per cent. on their holdings as a sort of bonus.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER (Sir M. HICKS-BEACH,) Bristol, W.
Not as a bonus.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
Well, 30 per cent. was given to them, whether we call it a bonus or anything else, and, as I understand, that 30 per cent. went into the pockets of the shareholders. In no case was it expended on the service of the company. When you get to the balance sheets you find quite a different story. The loan has sprung up to £250,000, and the interest is put down in the revenue account as £12,500 per annum. I would like to know how much of that loan was really issued to the public, and what was done with it. Was it expended on the company or was it not? Certainly the 30 per cent. could not have been.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
If the right hon. Gentleman wishes to explain now he can, but as I have one or two more points perhaps it would be more convenient that I should finish my speech. So much for the capital of the company. One of the things we buy from this company is an assorted cargo of treaties, which they have made with divers chiefs and others in the interior of Africa. I should like to know what was paid for 1272 these treaties. I presume something was paid, either in the form of cotton goods or gin, but certainly in regard to about fifty of them absolutely nothing; was paid for them. The company have not bought them in any sort of way, but under them they assumed certain responsibilities, and, as I understand, this country has agreed to pay a certain sum of money per annum. The company have bought none of these treaties, and, therefore, they have nothing to sell. Then there is the question of the purchase of land. It appears that certain lands on the Niger are to be bought from the company. Are we to understand that the company has all the lands on the Niger? Are we to suppose that they have acquired a species of commercial monopoly and can prevent others from having landing and trading places on the Niger? That seems to me absolutely impossible. I do not suppose that these chiefs sold the whole of their lands. They gave the company, in all probability, a specific plot of land on which to build their trading station, but it cannot be supposed that the company own these lands in the sense that a person owns property in this country. If they do, how was it acquired? What did they pay for it? There is another point. The Government have agreed to pay to the company 50 per cent. of all the royalties they may exact—and these really are the speculative chances of the whole thing—in addition to the sum they pay down. Having done all this, and having given the company all these things, what do we get for the money we are paying? It appears to me we leave the company all the advantages it has ever possessed. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has stated that others will be able to trade there under the new order of things. But has the right hon. Gentleman himself read the charter? Is he aware that Clause 14 specifically provides that the company shall have no sort of trade monopoly? Anybody may go there and trade with them wider equal conditions. We leave the company the right to trade there, and we do not deprive them of any sort of monopoly. They never had a monopoly, and consequently they cannot sell one. We also give them, so far as I see, the pick of the landing places on the Niger, while we undertake the administration of the country and agree to pay all the administrative expenditure. Why, therefore, 1273 We should be called upon to pay any money at all I confess I do not Know. I find on looking at the balance-sheet for 1898, the company expended in subsidies and on matters of administration £15,993. They will not have to pay that in the future. They paid for the constabulary force £41,137, and for steamers, less the amount charged against the company for freight on their own goods, £29,527. They further paid £21,000 for salaries and £7,000 for home administration. On the other side—the revenue—the imports of the Royal Niger Company were £62,794. What does that mean? Does it mean the duties they collected on these imports? The exports were £48,981. Does that mean duty also?
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
They received then this amount in duties as against their expenditure. I presume we shall have those duties in the future. But is the right hon. Gentleman prepared to say that we shall he able to administer the country and pay all these subsidies and constabulary and other expenses out of the total of £113,000? We know perfectly well that the cost will be greater to the imperial Government than it is to the company, which wants to earn as much dividend as it possibly can, and so "skimps" its administrative expenditure as much as possible. We ought to have some explanation of all these matters, for with the information now before us we are not in a position to say whether the sum proposed to be paid to the company is fair or unfair. It seems to me, on such data as we have, to be an excessive sum. Not only have the shareholders already received an equivalent to a bonus of 30 percent. on their holdings, but they are to receive an extra 20 per cent., as the shares are to be bought at a premium of 20 per cent. I am not going to raise the point for the moment of the expediency of taking over this large territory, with its 30,000,000 of human beings, for whose good government we are making ourselves responsible. We are taking over these responsibilities because a chatter was granted to certain persons to trade in this country, and our Government agreed to treaties which the company made with certain chiefs in the interior of Africa. We have, solely in consequence 1274 of this, to take over as part and parcel of the British Empire a huge district in Western Central Africa coterminous with the French frontier there, and which, in my opinion, we had far better have left alone. I hope that this will be an object-lesson to the House and to all future Governments not to grant these charters. I do not think this particular charter is the sort of speculative, disreputable, gambling affair which is the case with that of the British South Africa Company, but still we are forced into taking all these responsibilities upon ourselves simply because we have granted a commercial charter to certain persons to trade in these districts.
§ MR. T. P. O'CONNOR (Liverpool, Scotland)
I must protest against the manner in which this Bill has been brought on. Wednesday is most inconvenient for many hon. Members, and I need only mention the case of the hon. Member for East Mayo, who has taken a very keen interest in this measure, and is opposed to it both in principle and in regard to its details. At this moment he is engaged on a Grand Committee upstairs, and I daresay other hon. Members are in the same position. I came down here at twelve o'clock, but was called out by some of the many visitors with whose presence we are favoured at this time of the year, and when I returned I found that the Chancellor of the Exchequer had moved the Bill simply by raising his hat. If it had not been for the vigilance of the I hon. Member for Northampton it would have gone through its Second Reading without a single word of discussion. I do not think the right hon. Gentleman has. dealt fairly with the House in bringing forward the Bill in that way. The matter is made worse by the circumstance that on the previous occasion when the question was before us stress Was laid upon the fact that that was practically only a formal stage, and as a matter of fact a colleague of the right hon. Gentleman declared that while he would not vote on the subsequent stages of the Bill he felt entitled to do so then as that was a purely formal stage. The result is that this is practically the first opportunity since the formal stage the House has had of discussing this question, and although the Bill involves nearly a million of money, and the acquisition of a large space of territory, and nearly 30,000,000 or 1275 40,000,000 of new subjects of the Crown, it is brought on at twelve o'clock on a Wednesday sitting at the fag end of the session. I agree with the hon. Member for Northampton that this chartered company has some favourable points of contrast with other chartered companies; and I believe it has been free mainly from stock-jobbing operations. At the same time I think I am entitled to make these observations. Some people are noted for their virtues and some attain fame by their vices. I believe that the best argument in favour of this Bill is to be found in some of the acts which can be laid to the charge of the company. I have asked several of my friends to speak in the discussion of the details of this measure, but the invariable answer has been that they are so relieved at the idea of the country being emancipated from the dangers and the practically unlimited responsibilities connected with a chartered company that they are not going to look into the details at all. I interpret that as meaning that the Royal Niger Company has done things which have been so dangerous to the welfare and safety of the country that people are willing to get rid of it at any cost. The right hon. Gentleman in his opening speech gave, as one of the reasons why this company ought to be bought out, that it had brought the country to the brink of war with another nation. A company which brings two great nations to the brink of war is a company which we may very well be glad to be rid of, but that does not afford what I regard as a rational ground for giving one penny more to this company than it is entitled to.
§ SIR M. HICKS-BEACH
The hon. Member is not quoting me fairly. I did not say the company was to blame; in the action which it took the company was only defending its rights against others.
§ MR. T. P. O'CONNOR
Does the right hon. Gentleman think it is a desirable position that a company in defending its rights—I do not think it was defending its rights, as a matter of fact—but does he think it right for a company to be in a position to imperil the peace of two great empires, in defence of its pounds shillings and pence? That seems to me to be a 1276 very extraordinary position to take up. As a matter of fact, was the company defending its rights? I think the company was on many occasions exceeding its rights, and if it were not for the natural inclination of people to back up their own countrymen, this company would have been condemned for many of its proceedings. By the very terms of its charter the company was forbidden to exercise any monopoly. That very monopoly on which it relied, and in consequence of which it got into disputes in many cases, was in direct contradiction of the terms of the charter, because the fourteenth clause of the charter is in these words (the heading is "Prohibition of Monopoly"): "Nothing in this charter shall be deemed to authorise the company to set up or grant any monopoly of trade; and subject only"—and so on—"but foreigners alike with British subjects will be subject to administrative dispositions in the interests of commerce and of order." It clearly shows that this company had no right whatever to a monopoly in these regions. My hon. friend has alluded to the treaties. I would just like the House to look at one or two of those treaties, and see how far they are in conformity with the terms of the charter; but before I come to that point I should like to deal with the relations of this company to the Treaty of Berlin. The heading of the clause is "Conformity to Treaties," and the words are:The company shall be subject to, and shall perform, observe, and undertake all the obligations and stipulations relating to the River Niger, its affluents, branches, and outlets, or the territories neighbouring thereto, or situate in Africa, contained in and undertaken by ourselves under the general Act of the Conference of the Great Powers at Berlin, dated the 26th February, 1885, or in any other treaty, agreement, or arrangement between ourselves and any other State or Power, whether already made or hereafter to be made.So that apart from the fact that this company is directly prohibited from establishing a monopoly, it is also under the Treaty of Berlin, which at least agreed upon the free navigation of the Niger River. Now let us look at the treaties, those treaties for which the company paid very little, if anything at all, and which we are now to acquire from them at a large price. If the House will look at pages 22 and 23 of this White Book they 1277 will find specimens of these treaties. This is Form No. 1:The National African Company, Limited, will reserve to themselves the right of excluding foreign settlers.In Form No. 2 we find these words:The said company reserve to themselves the right of excluding foreign settlers other than those now settled in the country.I ask the right hon. Gentleman, can the proviso in these treaties stand as in accord with the provision of the charter which prevents them having any monopoly, and with the terms of the Treaty of Berlin? You go through all these treaties, and almost the main provision is the exclusion of foreigners from these territories. The consideration, by the way, is almost always carefully left out, so that We do not know what shape it took or to what it amounted. I do not say that the Niger Company, in defending what the Chancellor of the Exchequer is pleased to call its rights against others, was really going beyond the terms of its own charter, and giving just ground for complaint to other countries, but the best commentary on the manner in which it has carried out its work is afforded in these Papers. It would be a mistake to suppose that France is the only country that has had any reason to complain. Englishmen have had nearly as much reason to complain as Frenchmen, because the whole tendency of this company has been to destroy anything like competition with its operations in this district. There are some remarkable figures on the last page of this White Book, in the table of the revenue of the Niger Company, "Imports: Royal Niger Company, £62,794; others, £260." So that of the £63,054, all the rivals together of the Niger Company got exactly £260. "Exports: Royal Niger Company,£48,981"; no other person got any money whatsoever. On licenses, the Royal Niger Company got £480, while all its rivals got, under "Miscellaneous," was £790. It is clear from that that the Niger Company, by, as I hold, an entirely unjust extension of its rights, succeeded in destroying all competition whatsoever, not only of Frenchmen, but of all other nationalities also. That is the reason why I think I am justified in the statement that a great deal of the facility with which this Bill will be 1278 passed through the House without any investigation of its details is due to the sense of relief that the Niger Company is to be deprived of the opportunity of embroiling us with foreign Governments, and of practically killing all trade competition. I must confess that I am quite unable to reconcile the statement of the Government with the figures before me. The Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs was asked the other day whether this £443,000 was all money paid up, or whether, to use a popular term, the stock was in any way "watered," and the answer was that it was all paid up money. I find in one of the financial papers a statement made—I do not know whether correctly or incorrectly—that the whole stun paid up by the shareholders was £168,490. If that is so, I think they are making a very good bargain indeed under the terms of the proposal of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. My hon. friend has pointed out how the £443,000 is made up. I will just call the attention of the House again to these figures, because they are very remarkable. "To capital authorised, 100,000 shares of £10 each equals £1,000,000, of which 66,675 shares have been issued, and £2 per share paid, equals £133,350." I understand there have been some more paid shares, which bring the sum up to that mentioned by the financial paper to which I referred, viz., £168,490. In addition to that, the company, claims 31,000 shares fully paid, making £310,000. As far as can understand the accounts, these shares were given in return for the assets of two companies bought up by the Niger Company. Shares given for assets are very different from shares given for money down, and it is quite an abuse of financial terms to describe shares as money paid when they represent simply paper given to rival companies for their assets. What Was the value of those assets? Everybody knows that. "assets" is a Very loose and elastic term, and I think the matter is one we ought to inquire into. I maintain the opinion I formed with regard to this proposal when it was first presented. I believe the company is being over-paid. I believe you are buying the costly and losing part of the company's concern, leaving to it practically intact the trading part, awl finally I object to this Bill because I believe it to be a most dangerous precedent for this House to adopt.
§ MR. WILLIAM ALLAN (Gateshead)
I had occasion to put a question to the Chancellor of the Exchequer with reference to the, steamers that are to be taken over by the Government, and he referred me to the schedules. I would now like to ask the right hon. Gentleman a few questions with reference to the huge amount which is to be paid for the vessels named in the schedules. In the first schedule there is a hulk at £1,100, another at £1,915, a steam launch at £800, another at £550, and boats at £100, making a total of £4,495 in the first schedule. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman are these old hulks of wood or iron? If they are of wood they are pretty well rotten, and if of iron pretty well rusted. In the second schedule I find £6,900 for two hulks, which are vessels without rigging or engines, and have to be towed about. The only vessel which is being taken over is the "Liberty," valued at £9,500. Then there are five launches for which the large sum of £3,150 is to be paid, and two little pinnaces at £350 making a total of £24,395 in the two schedules to be given for four old hulks, seven steam launches, two pinnaces, and one steamer. I should like also to know whether the Government is taking over the boats that stand on Lloyd's list in the name of the Royal Niger Company. I find in Lloyd's, seven or eight steamers, all a pretty large size, owned by the company. Are these steamers being taken over? If not, the company has retained all its good steamers and handed over the old hulks. I think the Chancellor of the Exchequer should give us a complete explanation regarding this matter. Are the company's steamers standing in Lloyd's list to be taken over?
§ MR.WILLIAM ALLAN
Then we are practically paying £24,395 for one steamer. The rest are hulks and pinnaces. If we are not taking over the other steamers in Lloyd's list, the company is going to continue its business with the assistance of its most valuable steamers. I think we ought to have an explanation of the payment of £24,395 for these old hulks.
§ MR BUCHANAN (Aberdeenshire, E.)
I should like to ask a few questions re- 1280 garding this Bill as it affects the British Exchequer itself. The upshot of the matter as far as we are concerned is that we are adding to the debt of this country the sum of £820,000, which is to be paid off by terminable annuities in thirty years. It may be paid off in a different Way to that in which the National Debt is paid off, but it is an additional burden on the country all the same. It is another instance of the manner in which the present Government is adding to the debt of the country. In addition to the £820,000 there is a further sum of £45,000, and I should like to know whether a Supplementary Estimate is to be passed for that amount during the present session.
§ MR. BUCHANAN
Then that means that we are to have an addition of £45,000 to the Estimate. The Chancellor of the Exchequer told us in his speech that this amount would be debited against these territories, and he added that he believed that before many years it would he paid off I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman how far Clause 3 in any way makes this sum a charge upon the revenue of these territories. I do not know what the precedent for that clause may be, but, as I read it, it does not make it clear at all that this sum will he a debit on these territories. What it comes to is that when the territories are amalgamated and the Budget is made up, the Treasury is to examine the accounts presented by the Colonial Office, and in so far as the receipts from the territories administered by the company at the passing of this Act are in excess of the necessary expenses of the administration of those territories, that excess shall be paid into the Exchequer, but with this exception, that the Colonial Office may say "Oh, no. We want this money for the improvement of those territories," and the Treasury is to be empowered to agree. There may therefore be an administrative profit in a portion of this United Nigeria now administered by the Niger Company, and the Treasury may say "It ought to be paid into the British Exchequer in payment of the debt," but the Colonial Office may step in and say, "No; we want this money for the development of these territories."
§ MR. BUCHANAN
Certainly. But is that placing a charge on the revenue of these territories? This clause gives no security to the British taxpayer that this money is to be made a real charge on the revenue of these territories. I think if it were meant to he a reality the profits should extend over the whole of United Nigeria. I hardly think the clause as it stands carries out the intention of the Government, because it only applies to the territories administered by the company "at the passing of this Act." That would not include Lagos and other territories. I should also wish for some information with regard to the future administration of these territories. Really, when we are asked to consent to pay £800,000 to buy up the Niger Company, I think we ought to have some kind of assurance from the Government not only that we are getting our money's worth, but that we are to have some substantial improvement in the administration and government of the colony. We have only got some very meagre information from the Chancellor of the Exchequer with regard to the future administration of these territories.
§ SIR M. HICKS-BEACH
As I stated the other day, the future administration of these territories will be with the Colonial Office. I merely stated generally the lines upon which the administration would be conducted, and I referred hon. Members to my right hon. friend the Colonial Secretary for further details on the matter.
§ MR. BUCHANAN
We hope we may get them. As this is a very substantial and important part of the considerations on which we reject or accept the Bill, we have a right to obtain from the Chancellor of the Exchequer some fuller statement than we already possess. The Colonial Secretary stated that he would not take part in any further Divisions on this Bill owing to the fact that he was a shareholder in the company, but that does not get rid of his responsibility. As Colonial Secretary it is his duty to come forward and state to the House the mode in which these territories are to be administered in the future, in order that we may be able to judge whether, if we do pay this large sum of money to buy out the company, 1282 we are going to get value for it—if not in money, then in the shape of better administration and better government. That has a practical bearing on some of the details in the proposals of the Niger Company. When the Chancellor of the Exchequer interrupted me, I was going to quote what he told us some time ago. He said that,Throughout these territories, all inland customs frontiers will be abolished, and there will be perfect freedom of trade to all alike. There will be a common arms law throughout the whole region, and a common tariff, except that the importation of trade spirits into Northern Nigeria will be prohibited, as now. For the present, and until a healthy site for a capital can be selected and better means of communication provided, the territories will be divided for administrative purposes into three divisions, all under the control of the Colonial Office. One division will be Lagos, with its present area; the next will be Southern Nigeria, composed of the Niger Coast Protectorate and part of the Niger Company's territories, nearly half as large again as now; and the third, Northern Nigeria, composed of the rest of the company's territories.Then the Chancellor of the Exchequer told us, as he has already said, thatfor any detailed statement of future arrangements for the government of our territories in this part of the world, I think I ought to refer hon. Members to my right hon. friend the Colonial Secretary.The Chancellor of the Exchequer admitted, therefore, that it was right and proper for Members to ask that some information should be given as to what was to be the future government and administration of these territories. I take it that they have to be amalgamated into one large territory, under one responsible Government, which is to consist of three divisions. We have been told by the Chancellor of the Exchequer that in Northern Nigeria the prohibition of the importation of spirits which at present exists will still be continued. I ask him how that is to be done in the future, for he has told us that the part of the Niger Territory along the coast adjoining the Niger Coast Protectorate is to be amalgamated with the third division, and there is to be one tariff law, and all customs limitations are to be broken down. If you break down all customs regulations between Northern Nigeria and the rest of the Niger Territory, how are you going to continue the prohibition of the importation of alcoholic spirits into Northern Nigeria? If you break down the cus- 1283 toms boundary, how on earth will it be possible to keep spirits out of Northern Nigeria? That shows how necessary it is that we should know something of the details of the regulations for the government and administration of these territories. How was it done in the past? It was done in this way: the Niger Company had control over a certain part of the Guiana from the mouth of the Niger River, which is the chief entrance into this vast tract of territory, and they therefore could and did enforce the prohibition of the importation of spirits into Northern Nigeria. It is to the credit of the company, and it distinguishes them from any other trading enterprises in Africa, that all through their career they have taken a very strong and honest line about the importation of spirits. We hear very much about the complaints of other traders, but we must remember that that trade jealousy was largely due to the Niger Company preventing these traders pouring spirits into that part of Africa. The White Paper in the hands of hon. Members tells us the imports and the amount of revenue which the company derived from these imports, but it does not tell us the rates of duty imposed, and particularly the rate of duty on spirits. My recollection is that when some Papers were presented to Parliament two years ago the rate of duties on spirits imposed by the Niger Company was three or four times as great as that imposed by the Territory of Lagos and by the Niger Coast Protectorate. Under this Bill you are going to equalise the tariff all over these territories, and to have the comparatively low rate of 3s. per gallon on spirits. Now, what will infallibly ensue will be an immediate rush of the importation of spirits into the mouth of the Niger River, from which traders would get an entry into the interior of Africa, which has been hitherto practically closed, and you will be unable to maintain that prohibition of the importation of spirits into Northern Nigeria which has been so profitable and commendable a feature in the policy of the company in the past. The Government ought to realise the fact that the Niger Company has been a great agency in keeping out the importation of spirits from that part of Africa. It was only yesterday that the Colonial Secretary in answer to the hon. Member for Flintshire stated that in 1898 the number of gallons 1284 of spirits imported was—into Lagos, 1,366,794 gallons; into the Niger Coast Protectorate, 1,164,108 gallons; and into the Niger Company's territories at the mouth of the Niger, 176,068 gallons. Therefore you have imported into the Niger Company's territories only about a tenth of the amount of spirits imported into Central Africa through Lagos, or through the Niger Coast Protectorate; or one twentieth of the amount that goes through the ports of both these territories combined. If you are going to abolish all customs restrictions, I cannot see how it is possible that we shall not have a largely increased amount of importation of spirits into that part of Africa, and how it will be possible for the Government to maintain the prohibition of the importation of spirits, which is one of the inducements held out to us to pass this Bill.
§ GENERAL LAURIE (Pembroke)
There is one provision in the Bill that does not appear to me to be very well advised, and that is that the amount to be paid to the Niger Company is to come out of the Consolidated Fund, and to be made a charge against the territory. I have lived in many colonies in various stages of development, and I hold that this proposal contains the seed of future trouble, and for this reason, that when Local Government is established, as no doubt it will be in time, a ready grievance will be furnished to agitators, who will say, "We are asked to pay tribute to the mother country." The reason for the advance of this money will be forgotten; all that will be remembered will be that so much money is to come out of the revenues of the country, and to be paid over to the Imperial Treasury. It would be very much better if the colony were at once to create a debt of its own, due to private individuals, and not to the Imperial Exchequer. If that were done, no complaint could be made against the mother country appearing as a creditor. I cannot imagine anything worse than the mother country being a creditor of any of our dependencies. Of course, I quite understand that the colony of Nigeria could not borrow at the rate that the mother country can borrow, but with a guarantee given by the mother country, I can see no difficulty in the debt charge being made no greater than if the mother country 1285 raised the money; and there would in future be no occasion for charges of oppression from Downing Street, or from the Government at home.
§ MR. SYDNEY BUXTON (Tower Hamlets, Poplar)
There is general agreement, I think, with the principle contained in the Bill, namely, that it is an advantage to the country that this Chartered Company should cease to act as an administrative body, and that the Crown should take control over Nigeria. That is perfectly clear; for we have the responsibility of the international relations with France and Germany, and we ought to have the power to enforce our government completely in regard to that district. Then, the case for many years against the Niger Company was that it had a monopoly of trade, and it is about time that that was brought to an end. On the general political principle, therefore, and on the general commercial principle, I am bound to say that there is no possible objection to the Second Reading of the Bill, and I, for one, will give it my support. But I think that there seems to be a good deal of force in some of the criticisms on points of detail. The hon. Member for East Aberdeenshire pointed out that the validity and goodness of the bargain with the Niger Company depends largely on what we propose to do with the country when we have obtained it. He has pointed out that under the very unfortunate circumstance of the Secretary of State, who is chiefly responsible for this arrangement, being hampered in taking any part in regard to these matters, we are left in total ignorance as to what is proposed. I think the point raised by my hon. friend is a very good one indeed, and one on which we are entitled to information—I allude especially to what he said about the liquor traffic. As things stand, we are actually placing ourselves in this position—that we shall have a greater trade in spirits throughout Nigeria under the Imperial Government than we had under the auspices of the Chattered Company. There is also another point. The Chartered Company, greatly to their credit, have entirely abolished and prohibited the status of slavery. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs will inform the House whether the other parts of Nigeria will be brought up to the standard of the 1286 Chartered Company in that respect Though I am not opposing the Second Reading, I think we are entitled to thoroughly scrutinise the financial proposals of the Government, and to ask for further information than that contained in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and the Papers before us. I have studied these Papers as carefully as I can, and I am bound to say that they throw very little further light on the explanation given by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I have no doubt that there is a complete explanation on the part of the Treasury as to the terms on which they propose to purchase this company. The Treasury can very seldom be accused of excess of generosity, but as far as the Papers go, I am bound to say that the sum proposed for the purchase of the company appears to me somewhat excessive. What, practically, is that sum? The company are going to have their debt paid, and in addition they are to get a bonus of £50,000; and they are going to have the whole of their capital re-paid, and in addition £70,000. You are going to relieve them of their administrative expenditure, which has landed them into a deficit during the last twelve years of £24,000 a year, and they are going to retain the whole of their trade profits, and we are to take over from them that part of their business which has involved them in a loss. I do not say that these terms may not be proper terms, but I think they require some justification before we commit ourselves to them. I entirely agree that we ought to treat the Chartered Company with liberality and even generosity, because it has, on the whole, dealt properly with such important questions as slavery and the liquor traffic, and really deserves generous consideration on the part of this country when we come to buy it over. But that does not in any way justify us in abstaining from scrutinising the terms proposed by the Government, so that we may not buy a pig in a poke. The proposal of the Government is, as I understand it, substantially this: the total capital assets of the company amount to £750,000, and they are to receive the sum of £860,000, so that they practically get a bonus of £100,000. The assets are divided into four items. The first item is £115,000 for certain boats, stores, etc., which the Government are taking over. I think it is quite right 1287 that when the Government take over the administration of the company they should buy from the company that stock which has to do with the administration of the company. I am quite incapable of saying whether £115,000 is or is not a fair sum. My hon. friend the member for Gateshead pointed out one or two items, which may or may not be excessive; but this is a matter for examination on the part of the Treasury. For my part, I think the sum of £115,000 is, on the whole, a fair sum. The next item is a debt of £250,000, for which the holders are going to receive £300,000. This requires some explanation. According to the balance-sheet, £133,000 is in the hands of private holders, while the other £117,000 is in the hands of the company. I can understand the proposal as regards the£133,000 in the hands of private holders, but I think we are entitled to some explanation as to why we should, upon the £117,000, which is in the coffers of the company itself, pay this bonus of 20 per cent. Then there remain the other two items—namely, £300,000 for unexhausted improvements, and £150,000 for the purchase of land and minerals. As regards the last item, I think there is a great deal of force in what fell from my hon. friend the member for Northampton, that there is absolutely no attempt to give us the basis on which the land and the minerals are valued, in order to show us whether they are worth £150,000 or £10,000. The Chancellor of the Exchequor himself said that as regards minerals none had yet been discovered, but that it was possible they might be discovered. Still, he practically said it was a prospective matter altogether, and I do not think therefore we can put their value very high. In addition to that—and this is really the point on which I trust the Government will see their way to make some alteration when we come to the Committee stage—the company are to retain 50 per cent. of any royalty charged by the Crown in respect of minerals for 99 years. I think that will hamper very considerably the action of the Government with regard to minerals, and I would suggest that it would be very much better to buy out the interest of the company altogether. The Chancellor of the Exchequer said that these lands and minerals have been bought out of the trading profits of the 1288 company. I find that during the twelve years of its existence the trading profits of the company have amounted to £70,000, so that it is clear that if the lands and minerals were bought out of trade profits, a very excessive sum is being paid for them on this part of the account. I think the House ought, to remember that the finance of this company is divided into two parts. There is the trading concern and there is the administrative concern. On the trading concern there is a very fair profit, but on the administrative concern there is an annual loss of £24,000. Why should we pay £300,000 to this company for relieving them of that which at the present moment entails upon them an annual loss of £24,000? I think the company ought to have paid something to the Government for relieving them of this particular item. I do not think the company should receive any compensation for the loss of the monopoly, because in the first place they were prohibited from obtaining it; and in the second place, having obtained it, they have enjoyed the benefit of it for twelve years. I quite agree that we ought to give a fair price for the purchase of the company, but I do not think we should give an exceptional one, and upon that point I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman on what basis does he fix the value of the lands and minerals, and on what grounds is be going to pay the company £300,000 for an annual loss of £24,000. Upon the point as to whether the Government, are paying a fair price, the market price of the shares of the company is a very good test of a bargain of this description. I went to the trouble of looking up the prices, and I found that while, in July two years ago, a £10 share was worth between £10 arid £11, at the present time it is worth just double. Therefore, I do not think the terms are excessive, but I think the House is entitled to some further explanation from the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I think he should supplement the statement which he made the other day, and give us something more than the confusing and limited accounts which he put before us. I trust he will be able to prove to us that the country is not paying too high a price for this Niger Company.
§ * MR. HEDDERWICK (Wick Burghs)
When the subject matter of this discussion was before the house in the form of a Resolution I voted against it. I took that course not from any hostility to the object of the Resolution, but because I thought it was not a proper thing for this House to bind itself to a large expenditure without having the information before us upon which we could arrive at a just judgment. We have now the substance of the resolution before us, and I am not inclined to oppose the Bill. The considerations before the House are twofold. Ought we to take over the administration of the territories hitherto administered by the Royal Niger Company, and, if so, are we getting value for the price we are asked to pay? Now, in the first place, it certainly seems to me that sooner or later it was inevitable that the Government should take over the administrative functions of the Company. No one who has followed intelligently the course events during the last two years can have failed to be struck by the great danger with which this country has been threatened by the incursions and alarms of the French in those territories which were known to be tinder British protection. Nowhere in the world since the accession to power of the present Government have we been as near to war, I venture to assert, as we were over territorial questions in the vicinity of the Niger bend. I apprehend that I should be out of order if I were to try to trace these troubles to the graceful concessions that opened the door of Africa to the French as far inland as to Lake Chad, or to ask how the trench came to be there. There they were, find, through their presence in those regions, they undoubtedly for a time became a great menace to the peace of the world. This great danger was due not, as has been contended, to imprudences or to action on the part of the Niger Company, but to the hostility of the French who in 1895 were formally advised of our Protectorate in the regions affected. But had we had Imperial representatives there instead of a mere company of traders, it is hardly conceivable that the French would have pushed their pretensions or their troops so far. But if the transfer of the administration of those territories was urgent before, it became, in my pinion, imperative when the Anglo- 1290 French Convention was signed last year. If I recollect rightly, under that convention it was agreed to give to France two enclaves——
§ * MR. SPEAKER
Order, order! The hon. Member must not go into details. He can refer generally to the risk of disputes but must not review the history and effect of the convention.
§ * MR. HEDDERWICK
I was merely going to say that under those circumstances and upon other grounds which might be named, such as the creation of Imperial force upon the West African Frontier, it became essential on the part of the Government to take over these territories. That being so, the only question that remains is the price which the country is asked to pay the company for the consideration with which they part. Is the Government asking the country to pay too much? I should approach a question of that kind in no niggling spirit. We are taking over territory which has been administered by the company for some fifteen years. They have had all the difficulties to encounter. It is not the case of a company who have done nothing; their trade for the last seven years has averaged something like a million sterling. The Niger bend, as it is called, is one of the richest districts in the whole of Africa. Bearing these things in mind, I do not think that, the sum named is exorbitant. If the Government had gone into the country fifteen years ago, and had endeavoured to obtain and administer the extensive territories question, it would have cost the country a vastly greater sum than it will now have to expend. I will not further detain the House upon the merits of the matter, hut I desire to point out that there is no schedule to the Bill. I think this is an omission of which we have reason to complain. Without a schedule it will be impossible for any hon. Member who thinks that any item should he reduced or deleted to move a reduction. I shall only add that if my honourable friends should press the question to a division I shall certainly support the Government upon the general policy.
MR. GLBSON BOWLES (Lynn Regis)
It seems to me that this is either a large political question or it is nothing at all. If it is a large political question we 1291 Cannot be too nice in the actual sum which we arc to pay for taking over the government of this new province. We are buying the new province, and therefore you cannot haggle over small sums of money. I think, however, something can fairly be said about the terms on which we are to buy it. I do respectfully submit that the cost of the administration which we are going to substitute for the present administration ought to be a part of the bargain, and it cannot be kept out of that bargain. I think it is the business of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to say what he is going to do with the horse when he has bought it. In the Treasury Minute which sanctions this bargain it is stated that the Government will receive a royalty on the minerals. It may be said that, financially, this is a bad bargain, although the financial ground is not the one on which the question can be adequately dealt with. I notice that the cost will be something like £24,000 a year, and therefore we are going to pay the company £865,000 for the right of permanently paving £24,000 a year. That is practically what we are doing, and it may be a very good bargain. We paid millions under similar circumstances at the beginning of this century to the Russians, the Prussians, and the Austrians, and I do not think anyone will question that the money was well spent. In regard to Clause 3, it is provided that a certain shadow of a shade of a sum shall, under certain undefined Circumstances, come back to us in alleviation of this sum which we are going to raise. 1 wish the House to understand that by this measure it is adding £850,000 to the National Debt. It is suggested that we shall get something from these territories, but what are we to get? It is something which entirely depends upon the mind of the Treasury which has the power of determining whether the receipts are in excess of the necessary expenditure, and the Treasury itself determines what the necessary expenses are to be. It is also provided that a certain sum shall be applied to the improvement of the Colony, and what sort of sum does the House imagine will be left when all these reservations have been met? Hitherto the cost of governing the place has been £24,000 a year, and do the Government suppose that it is going to cost them any less? In all probability it will be more, for possibly every 1292 servant who was employed by the Niger Company, and who will become a servant of the Crown, will want an increase in wages, and I do not see how Her Majesty's Government are going to govern the territory cheaper than the company did. Consequently, I cannot imagine that there will be a farthing left to come back to the Exchequer, and my belief is that this sum of £865,000 will have to be made up by the British taxpayers, in addition to which you will have to find a permanent and increasing charge for the government of this new province which we have bought. That is undoubtedly what we must expect, and nothing else. My belief is that without haggling over the details of the bargain, and without going into the cost and value of so many pinnaces or so many steamers, the case has been very much overstated.
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE COLONIES (Mr. J. CHAMBERLAIN,) Birmingham W
I understand that a question has been asked by the hon. Member for Poplar as to the future administration of the territories that we are about to take over. Perhaps with the permission of the House I may be permitted to say a few words upon that subject. It is intended, after all the negotiations are completed, that three Governments shall be formed—the Government of Lagos, the Government of Southern Nigeria, which will include the lower portion of the Niger Company's territories and the whole 44 the Coast Protectorate, and the third Government is that of Northern Nigeria. With regard to Lagos and Southern Nigeria, the present Governors will remain to administer the territories, and it is proposed to appoint Colonel Lugard Governor of Northern Nigeria, but at the same time the whole of the Customs duties of the three districts Will be identical. There will be two coast districts, and no Customs barrier will exist between the coast districts and Northern Nigeria. The receipts of the Customs will he "pooled" and divided from time to time in proper proportions between the three administrations. We hope by making changes in the character and nature of the Customs, especially in regard to certain details, to remove obstacles which have hitherto stood in the way of trade, and we think that can be done without any additional expense. It is true that there 1293 will be a deficit in the first instance upon the total revenue and expenditure of the three Governments, but I do not think it will he a large one, even at first, and we have every reason to hope that with the increase of trade that deficit will disappear. At the present moment the returns from Lagos and the Niger Coast Protectorate are very satisfactory. The trade there is rapidly increasing, and we have no reason to doubt that when the monopoly of the Niger Company is abolished trade will very largely increase in their territory also. Of course, an immense deal will depend upon the extent to which we are able to improve communications. We are doing that already to a very considerable extent in Lagos, where a railway is making its way gradually from the Niger to the coast, and already that is having a very marked effect upon the course of trade. For myself, I believe that the whole of the trade which for centuries almost has come down from the north of Africa to Sokoto, Bornu, and to the other great markets, will ultimately come the shorter and more convenient way from the coast of Nigeria, and will therefore come largely into our hands; and although I do not want to be too sanguine in a matter of this kind, which is largely a subject of speculation, I do not think that even as a pecuniary bargain the country will have any reason to regret the change they are asked to assent to. I am asked how this will affect the regulations with regard to spirits. It is intended that the duty which has been recently raised shall be identical for the coast districts, and that so far as the northern district is concerned the sale of spirits shall be absolutely prohibited, and I have under consideration a series of Ordinances which will be passed for the coast districts and Northern Nigeria in order to secure the execution of that arrangement. Colonel Lugard has made a further proposal which I am inclined to regard very favourably. It is to make between Northern Nigeria and Southern Nigeria what I may call a neutral zone, in which, while spirits would be allowed to be sold, they would not be allowed to be stocked, and the effect of that would be that it would be almost impossible to carry spirits up into the northern district. If we can make that arrangement it will very materially assist our control of the trade, and, having regard to the very great 1294 difficulty which exists in carrying what after all is rather a bulky product, we shall have no real difficulty in preventing spirits ascending beyond the point we desire. At the present moment, as the House is aware, we have just raised the duty on spirits by 50 per cent., and the duty on spirits in the territories of the Crown, including those of the Royal Niger Company, is now higher than in the adjoining territories of Dahomey and the German province. The duty is now uniform in the three territories. I do not, however, look upon the point at which it stands as necessarily the limit. I hope that from time to time it will be still further raised, but, of course, we have to be careful in raising it that we do not encourage smuggling from the adjoining provinces. We might perhaps reconcile ourselves to a very considerable reduction of the trade in spirits, but unfortunately that trade in spirits goes with trade in cottons and other manufactures, and if our traders were unable to supply the spirits to which the natives were accustomed they would lose their trade in other goods as well. Therefore, it is a matter which we have very carefully to consider, but as to which I think the House will agree that it would be unwise to proceed too rapidly in the direction in which we are going. I may say that, although the consumption of spirits is large—too large, I think, in this district—yet still it is very much less than it has been in past years. Considerable steps have been taken to reduce the consumption, although the territories themselves have greatly increased. I think the hon. Gentleman also raised a question with regard to slavery, and he pointed out that in the Niger Company's territories the legal status of slavery has been abolished. No doubt that was a most excellent arrangement, but at the same time I must point out that it is to a large extent a paper arrangement, because in a very large portion of this gigantic country of Sokoto and Bornu no white man has ever been, and nothing like the control has been established which would enable us to interfere in any way with such a matter, for instance, as domestic slavery. We cannot shut our eyes to the fact that what is called domestic slavery exists, and has existed for many years, not only in such places as Sokoto and Bornu, but also in parts of India and in the hinter- 1295 lands of all African colonies, and I think it would be absurd to give the House any impression that that can be totally or immediately changed. What we shall do, of course is to influence the customs of the country as far as that is possible, and, as our effective control extends, so also will extend our laws and arrangements with regard to slavery. In the meantime, what we arc doing is something the effect of which can hardly be over estimated. We are destroying everywhere in our protectorates and in our spheres of influence, as well as in our territories, slave raiding, and it is slave raiding which has been the great curse of Africa. If at the present moment Africa is one of the least populated of continents, it is entirely because of the perpetual destruction of life and the insecurity both of life and property which have resulted from the process of slave raiding, which at one time was universal throughout the whole country. We have put a stop to that in many of our colonies; we are continually proceeding in that direction, and it will be one of our first duties to absolutely prohibit and prevent it in the lands of the Royal Niger Company, and in all territories over which we exercise control. I think that is all I have to say in answer to the hon. Gentleman.
§ MR. THOMAS BAYLEY (Derbyshire, Chesterfield)
A statement has been made to-day, and has not been contradicted, that two years ago the shares of this company were worth only £10 in the market, but that in consequence of the knowledge of the exceedingly liberal arrangements come to with the Government the price has now risen to £20. We are now asked to sanction the payment of £850,000 to this company, but we have had no evidence during the ten or twelve years that the company has existed as to the income the expenditure of this £850,000 will bring to us as a trading concern. We are leaving them the most profitable part of their business. I wish to know what are the responsibilities of the company to the French Government, and whether the British Government will take over the responsibilities. I should also like to ask whether in all parts of the territory that is to be taken over absolute free trade will be given to the Liverpool merchants, and whether anything will be done to prevent the use of spirits as a 1296 medium of exchange. While I am in favour of doing away with this and all other chartered companies, I think that as honest, straightforward business men we should only pay a reasonable price. I congratulate the Colonial Secretary on the measures he has taken in regard to the slave trade. He has very properly endeavoured to put down slave raiding, and I hope he will continue his efforts I hope we are not going to hand this territory over to the control of the Foreign Office, which has acknowledged the legal status of slavery in East Africa. The Colonial Office in this matter has always exhibited a very much higher moral code than the Foreign Office.
§ * SIR M. HICKS-BEACH
This Debate has continued for a considerable time, and many hon. Members have addressed the House, but I think their agreement about the principle of this Bill has been practically unanimous. I do not understand that even the hon. Member for Northampton considers that things should be left as they are, and that the Niger Company should be allowed to retain its charter. I think we are agreed that the charter must be revoked, that the company must be deprived of its administrative rights, and the full control of the government of this country set up in these territories in its place. And therefore the only question before the House as to which I need say anything is the price which is to be paid for the revocation of the charter. Now I think hon. Members are a little hard on me in that matter. If must be remembered that this, as has been stated in the course of the Debate, is an act of high policy. In 1886 this charter was granted, and, so far as I am able to judge, I think it was rightly granted at that time. It is now considered necessary, in the interests of the territories and of this country, that it should be revoked, and it is impossible that it can be revoked without considerable payments to the company that possesses it. By universal consent they have deserved well of their country. There can be no reasonable doubt whatever that, but for the work that they have done, the great artery of the Niger and the territories adjoining it would now not be in our hands, but in tire hands either of Germany or of France. Therefore, in dealing with them, I entirely deprecate what I must refer to as the "higgling" 1297 policy of the hon. Member for Poplar, who desires to go into all the minutiae of the payments which we are to make to the company, instead of dealing with them in that generous spirit which I think the House and the public desire.
§ MR. SYDNEV BUXTON
I particularly said that I thought they deserved generous treatment; but I think the House is entitled to have an explanation in regard to certain sums proposed to be paid.
§ * SIR M. HICKS-BEACH
I am about to give that explanation, but I must say that the criticisms of the hon. Gentleman were not in accordance with his general statement. It must be remembered, also that the company are by no means anxious that any change should be made. They have never asked for any change, and they would be better off from their point of view if they were allowed to continue in their present position. And therefore it is solely on the ground of public policy that I make the proposal to revoke this charter. The hon. Member for Northampton distrusts this company as well as any other company.
§ * SIR M. HICKS-BEACH
I am very glad he draws some distinction, but he went through the financial history of the company and asked me questions—which I do not complain of—on several points with regard to it. I must repudiate any responsibility for the balance-sheets of the company; it is not my duty to explain them, and I do not propose to attempt to do so. I have placed them before the House for consideration in common with the other papers. But when the hon. Member suggests that the capital of the company is watered capital I must say that in my judgment he is entirely wrong. No doubt the Royal Niger Company has amalgamated with it other companies and traders on the Niger, and it has paid them for their assets in shares of the company, as it naturally world have done. But I am informal that those assets were valuable assets, and in many cases cash assets. Then of course traders established on the river had a good will which was valuable, and for which it was right that they should be paid. The company must have profited largely by amalgamating with it these other traders. Then the hon. Member refers to the debt of the 1298 Royal Niger territory. Now the history of that debt is shortly this—the National African Company prior to the issue of the charter paid very considerably more than £250,000 for acquiring political rights for this country in getting rid of the French interests pushed into the lower Niger at various times, and in maintaining order on the Niger during the interval between the Conference of Berlin and the issue of the charter in 1886—that is, before any Customs duties could be levied in order to pay the expenses of administration. Well, of the amount so spent the National African Company found £117,000 out of its capital, and the remainder out of the accumulated profits, the reserve fund, and the revenue account generally, including private loans from individuals. Before the charter was granted it was arranged that the amount so spent should be repaid provided the annual charge should not exceed £12,500 a year on the revenue of the Niger territory, and it was subsequently arranged that this should be capitalised as £250,000 at 5 per cent. per annum. The Crown Agents for the Colonies at the time were directed by the Government of the day carefully to investigate the accounts of the company, and after the expenditure of £250,000 had been proved they stopped, although the company protested that they had spent a great deal more than that sum. Therefore this debt on the Niger territory of £12,500 a year, or £250,000, was really paid over to individuals and to the National African Company to recompense them for expenditure incurred for the purposes 1 have described before the issue of the charter, and, in fact, it is so alluded to in the charter itself. I hope that the hon. Member will see that this is really payment made after full investigation by the Government of the day for actual cash expended, and that in taking over the administration of the territory it was practically impossible that the Government should do anything else than take over the debt charged, according to the charter, on the revenue of those territories.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
But there is the 30 per cent. bonus, or whatever you choose to call it. There is a Member of this House who took a small number of shares in the Niger Company and who received, without having made any payment in respect of it, 30 per cent. on the value of 1299 his shares. I cannot understand that, and I should like an explanation.
§ * SIR M. HICKS-BEACH
I assume that the individual in question must have purchased those shares from some previous holder. That previous holder had unquestionably expended, out of capital previously raised, whatever the amount may have been in respect of this grant, and therefore the holder who purchased these shares was entitled to be recouped for that expenditure. Then the hon. Member for the Scotland Division of Liverpool, I think, commented unfavourably on the treaties made by the company excluding foreigners from the territories made over to them. Well, I am informed that those treaties were made by the National African Company before the grant of the charter, and obviously any provision contrary to the terms of the charter in those treaties could not have been acted upon by the Company. Then the price of £150,000 proposed to be paid for the land and mineral rights of the company has been referred to. On that I would say that these land rights are an essential part of the bargain we are making with the company; they extend over something like 320,000 acres, or 500 square miles, in a narrow strip of land, nowhere, I think, exceeding 2,000 yards wide, along the banks of the Niger for very many miles. It is, as I believe, the only land suitable at the present moment, and until the country is very much further developed, for utilisation for trading stations or plantations by any person desiring to settle in the country. By acquiring those land rights the company, of course, was able, practically, largely to shut out any other traders or competitors from coming on the Niger, except on such terms as they were disposed to make. When we obtain possession of those land rights, with which it will be open to the Government of the country to deal, I expect a very considerable profit from persons desiring to settle along the Niger for purposes of trade or plantation. Then in this item is included to some extent the purchase of mineral rights acquired by the company under treaty, most of which were acquired before the grant of the charter. It has been questioned whether we have been right in proposing to allow the company not merely a certain portion of this £150,000 as the price of these mineral 1300 rights, but also half the royalties which may be levied in a certain portion of these territories in future. I must ask the House to remember that this whole matter has been the result of long negotiations between myself, aided by Sir Francis Mowatt, who has done excellent work for the country in this connection, and by Colonel Lugard, and by officials of the Foreign Office on one side, and Sir George Goldie on the other. Sir George Goldie's opinion of the value of the mineral rights was, when we began those negotiations, something immense; he put them down at a million, if I remember, on one occasion. I demurred altogether to that view, for I considered that as very little was known about the minerals in these regions at the present time it was absolutely impossible for anyone to say what they might be really worth. The proper way to deal with them, at any rate to a considerable extent, was that they should be tested by future results, and that a royalty should therefore be paid. That was the reason for that proposal, because it was absolutely impossible to arrive at any fair settlement in any other way. I want the House to consider my position in this matter. We have done what we believe to be a great act of public policy in buying up this company against their will, and it would have been wrong for us to deal with them as if they had committed some crime, which they seem to have done in the eyes of the hon. Member for Northampton, or to have dealt with them in any way but by means of a friendly bargain. That is the only way in which the matter could be fairly approached.
§ MR. THOMAS BAYLEY
Did the right hon. Gentleman take the opinion of any mining experts before settling the price?
§ * SIR M. HICKS-BEACH
No mining experts can test the value of mineral rights in a country which is largely unexplored. The hon. Member for Poplar and other hon. Members have laid great stress on the proposal to pay the company £300,000 for expenditure for various objects beyond ordinary administrative work. I would ask the House to remember with regard to that that the company had to do a very considerable amount of extra work in maintaining against French and German explorers, backed by their 1301 own countries, rights for Great Britain in these regions, and with that object it was compelled to maintain a force of police, a large number of officials, more steamers to patrol the waters of the Niger, and matters of that kind, which would not have been in any degree necessary if it had merely to do with the natives in the territories entrusted to its care, or with the levying of the Customs duties. But it has been said that we are paying the company a considerable sum for which we get nothing; indeed, less than nothing, because we are really relieving them of what has been a burden. I do not think hon. Members who say that have fairly considered the position which the company has acquired under its charter. It is not my duty to defend those who drew up that charter; neither side of the House can claim a special responsibility for it; it was the work, in fact, of both political parties. But it is a simple fact that the powers granted by the charter were so extensive, and its language so wide, that under it the company have been able to acquire the practical monopoly of trade, although in one clause of the charter a monopoly of trade was absolutely forbidden, and although freedom of trade on the Niger was established by the Treaty of Berlin. When the Foreign Office endeavoured to bring the regulations of the company into more harmony with the freedom of trade under the Treaty of Berlin, and consulted the law officers as to whether the acts of the company were within the charter or not, the answer they got was that the charter allowed the company to do everything that it had done. Therefore I think the House will see that we have been placed in this position. It is necessary that trade should be free on the Niger. By the powers of administration, as well as of trading, which the charter gave to the company in the region entrusted to it, it has been able to carry out certain bargains with regard to the acquirement of land rights, to make certain regulations with regard to licences to trade, and the places at which vessels might land along the course of the Niger, which have practically given it this trade monopoly, and if the charter is to be revoked under which this monopoly has been acquired it is impossible but that the company must be paid for losing advantages which, in my opinion, are due to a mistake in the original wording of the charter.
1302 It must be remembered that the position of the company will be totally changed after the revocation of the charter. The hon. Member who spoke last seemed to assume that the company would still be in a position to enjoy a practical monopoly of trade, that this, in fact, would not be diminished, but that is far from being the case. No doubt the company will hold a strong position as already occupying the ground, but they will in future be entitled to no advantage beyond that which their position, their trading stations, and their existing wharves on the Niger give them, and we shall hope to introduce other traders into their territory in competition with the company, and I can assure the House that, by the arrangements we now ask Parliament to sanction, real freedom of trade will be introduced into the territory. The hon. Member for Gateshead has criticised some of the prices which appear in the schedule for some of the plant of the company which we proposed to acquire. I should say that the company were by no means desirous to part with this, but I think the House will agree, and the hon. Member for Poplar has admitted, it is absolutely necessary to take over as much of the administrative plant as is required. The plant is on the spot, it has been used for administrative purposes, and it will be infinitely cheaper to buy it from the company than to purchase it here and send it out from England. The hon. Member for Gateshead has criticised the price proposed to be given for certain boats and hulks in connection with administrative work, and though I do not pretend to set myself against the hon. Member as an authority on the value of these things, I can assure him that the schedule has been most carefully gone into by gentlemen who know these particular boats and hulks—for instance, by Colonel Lugard—who have had experience of administration in these regions, and know the cost of purchasing similar plant and sending it out from England. The hulks are not the rotten old steamers to which the hon. Member contemptuously refers. They are sailing vessels built for the purpose for which they were used on the Niger, when it was necessary to have administrative stations in unhealthy places, as residences for the staff instead of houses. For a like purpose they will be used in the 1303 future, and they will, I believe, last for many years. I am quite sure we should have to pay a much larger sum if we replaced these vessels instead of purchasing them from the Royal Niger Company. My hon. friend the Member for Pembroke found fault with the proposal to make a charge on the revenue of the future in regard to the sum we now propose to raise, and said we ought not to charge this as a debt on the revenue of the colony, but should allow the colony to raise it with a Government guarantee. Well, that is a financial matter upon which I do not now want to dwell, but in my opinion it is infinitely better and more economical to advance the sum in the manner proposed by the Bill than to allow the amount to be raised by the territory under Government guarantee. Though I quite admit the provisions in the Bill as to the repayment of the money are somewhat vague, and necessarily must be so, yet in my judgment it would be a grave mistake to advance the money without indicating in the Act of Parliament the intention that the territory should repay the advance when in a position to do so. I believe—and it is the belief of the Government, as it is of many Members who have spoken—that trade will so largely increase in the future that it will not be many years before the territory will be in a position to find from its own revenue not only its own administrative expenses, like Lagos and the Niger Coast Protectorate, but also be in a position to repay by instalments the money now advanced for buying out the company. I think I have alluded to all the points raised, and I hope that, seeing that the criticisms have been on points of detail which may if necessary be raised again, the House will now give a Second Reading to the Bill, upon the principle of which we are all agreed.
§ CAPTAIN SINCLAIR (Forfar)
May I ask one question? It is in relation to the statement made by the Colonial Secretary. In the first place, with regard to the importation of liquor, I understand the importation of liquor will in future only be stopped by the delimitation of the neutral zone, and the importation would not be illegal.
§ CAPTAIN SINCLAIR
Then in regard to the status of slavery. I understood the Colonial Secretary to say that whereas in the Niger Company's territory the status of slavery has been abolished, now that that territory will become a portion of the larger territory the abolition of the legal status will not be extended, and that we should have to trust to more gradual methods of reducing the amount of slavery in the larger territory. This seems to be a retrogressive policy.
§ * SIR M. HICKS-BEACH
I can hardly answer a question as to the future policy of the Colonial Office with regard to slavery. My right hon. friend has already made a statement on the subject, and if the hon. Member will look at the report of my right hon. friend's speech to-morrow, and finds anything requiring elucidation, perhaps he will put a question to the Colonial Secretary.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill read a second time and committed for to-morrow.