HC Deb 31 July 1899 vol 75 cc945-52

3. £367,801 (including a Supplementary sum of £75,000), to complete the sum for Colonial Services.


I should like to ask the Colonial Secretary two questions in regard to the Niger territory. I use the expression in the largest inclusive sense, for we have repeatedly during this session endeavoured to obtain an explicit declaration from the Colonial Secretary upon two points—one is the question of the legal status of slavery, and the other the importation of intoxicating liquors. We have never been able to get a specific declaration from the right hon. Gentleman on these two points. On both these subjects I gather from what has been said on former occasions that there has been a distinct retrogression on the part of Her Majesty's Government, and this has not been denied by the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Colonies, who has assured the House that the Colonial Office are actuated by the best motives. In regard to slavery in the Niger Company's territory, the legal status of slavery was abolished in 1897, but henceforward in that and other portions of the territory there will be no standing abolition of the legal status of slavery. Those people who have lived in that country all hold that great importance should be attached to the abolition of the legal status of slavery. I do not question the motives for this change of policy


What I said was that the legal status of slavery was abolished by proclamation of the company, and we shall continue to observe that proclamation. There has been no change whatever.


I myself and many others interested in this subject have heard and read the replies of the right hon. Gentleman, and we understand that with the company will disappear the decrees of the company, and, unless the Government specifically declare the legal status of slavery to be abolished in these regions, we understand that if this is not done there will be no abolition of slavery. I think we ought to have from the right hon. Gentleman some clear statement as to what the intention of the Government is with regard to this question. I know that the right hon. Gentleman wishes to put down slavery, and he has said that he will do his best to abolish the legal status of slavery in the Niger Company's territory.


I never said anything of the kind. The hon. Member has attributed to me a series of statements not one of which I made. I challenge him to prove any single one of these accusations. What I have said is as clear as language can make it. I have said that the abolition of the status of slavery, as begun by the Niger Company, would be continued by the Government.


The right hon. Gentleman should not regard what I said as an accusation, because I did not accuse him of anything except that he will not give us a clear statement as to the aboli tion of the legal status of slavery. I give the right hon. Gentleman credit, as I have said before, for trying in his administration to do the best he can to minimise and reduce the evils of slavery. It may be due to our want of comprehension, but the right hon. Gentleman has never said that throughout the whole of these territories the legal status of slavery will stand abolished.


Yes, Sir, I have. I have said it again and again in the clearest possible language. With regard to all the territories of the Niger Company, the abolition of the legal status of slavery, declared by the company's proclamation, will continue to exist.


I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that I am not alone in failing to understand what the right hon. Gentleman said. I will pass on to the question of the importation of spirits. In regard to this question, we are told by the right hon. Gentleman that he will do his best to check the importation of spirits, but he said that, in consequence of the amalgamation of these territories, there would be great difficulty in preventing the transportation of spirits.


I beg the hon. Member's pardon; I never said anything of the kind. I wish he would quote the words which he thinks justify him in making these statements. As regards the northern territories of Nigeria, I do not think there will be any difficulty whatever in continuing the prohibition established by the Niger Company, and, undoubtedly, every effort I can bring to bear will be brought to bear to secure the absolute prohibition of the importation of spirits within that area.


In a letter recently written by Bishop Tug well he states that he was disappointed to find that Mr. Chamberlain does not propose to abolish the legal status of slavery, but that the Government were going to reinstate it, and he said he would like to know definitely whether that is the case or not. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will not resent my having brought forward this question, for it is an important subject, and I have failed to understand clearly what difference there will be in the administration of those territories compared with what the administration was before the Government took them over.

MR. BUCHANAN (Aberdeenshire, E.)

I asked the Secretary for the Colonies, the other day how this proposal would affect the rest of what I might call United Nigeria, and his answer was that slavery had never been recognised there, and would not be recognised in the future. That was not quite an answer to my question, and I wish to put one or two further questions to him. Our difficulty is this. The right hon. Gentleman knows that part of the Niger Company's territories now form part of Southern Nigeria. I should like to know what will happen in that part of the Niger Coast Protectorate which was formerly part of the company's territories. What we want is an assurance that for the future in the rest of Nigeria—in. Southern Nigeria and in Lagos—the legal status of slavery will be abolished, so that the administration of the Colonial. Office will not be behind that of the Niger Company. The discussion which took place in 1895 has often been alluded to, and the right hon. Gentleman himself took part in it, and he laid special stress upon the fact that the abolition of the legal status of slavery in the mainland strip opposite Zanzibar was a most important question. The right hon. Gentleman also told us what a disgraceful thing it was that the British flag should fly over any piece of territory where slavery was recognised.


I really have found the greatest difficulty in understanding the object of these repeated inquiries, which I have answered again and again in the clearest possible manner. It is difficult for me to suppose that hon. Members opposite are unable to comprehend these answers, and I find the greatest difficulty in understanding why it is that they bring these questions up again and again. The hon. Member who has just sat down suggests an answer. He said that in 1895 I expressed myself strongly against the continuance of the legal status of slavery in Pemba and Zanzibar; at that time I suppose he was supporting the then Government in resisting any change of that sort. As I happened to differ from him then he wants to turn the tables upon me now. Whatever I said then I adhere to now, and I am just as ready to see that the legal status of slavery is not continued in the territories over which the Colonial Office will shortly have control as I was then anxious to urge the Government to abolish the legal status in Pemba and Zanzibar. The hon. Member for Forfar-shire hopes that I will not resent his interference in this matter, and I may say that I do not do so in the slightest degree. I do, however, resent the statement that he made that I have been evading this question. If the hon. Member for Forfarshire would only have taken the trouble to read my answers to the Committee he would have found how entirely erroneous his view is. I was asked, in the first place, whether it was true that the Niger Company had by proclamation abolished the legal status of slavery. I answered "Yes." I also said, what is the fact, that by this proclamation they abolished the legal status of slavery in countries, a large portion of which had not been trodden by white men, where the Niger Company itself had no posts or authority, and where, therefore, the proclamation was in the nature of a pious opinion. I entirely approved of it, but at the same time it was hardly to be considered as an operative document in regard to those districts. I added, also in answer to a question, that the Government had no intention whatever of altering the status which had been created by the Niger Company. So far as the Niger Company's proclamation was operative, I think it will be operative with us; and in no court established by us, and in no part of the territory over which we have any authority, will the legal status of slavery be recognised. Now, is that made clear to hon. Members? I really am anxious that they should understand the position, and I assure them there is nothing whatever held back. The statement I made to them is an absolute statement; there is no change whatever in the condition of things which was established by the Niger Company. Then the hon. Member went off again on the question of the importation of spirits. He challenges me—who have done at all events a great deal more than anybody has ever done in my place to increase the duties upon spirits and lessen the consumption of spirits in these West African colonies—and he seems to suspect me of a desire to re-introduce or introduce the traffic in spirits in districts in which it has never hitherto existed. He is utterly mistaken if that is really his opinion. I intend to maintain in all their strictness, and even to increase the stringency of, the regulations which have been made by the Niger Company. The Niger Company prohibited the sale of liquor beyond a certain zone. Prohibiting is another thing to carrying out the prohibition. Of course, I shall continue the prohibition, but I am more anxious to see that the prohibition is effective. I have explained to the Committee on a previous occasion that it is my intention, following out the suggestion by Colonel Lugard, to see whether I cannot establish a neutral zone, and by that means prevent the transportation of spirits and the smuggling of spirits into the northern part of: the territory. As I said before, I have every reason to believe that these regulations will be effective. I beg hon. Members to take this for granted—that however stringent the Niger Company may have been both with regard to the status of slavery and with regard to the importations of spirits, they will find me at least as stringent, and I think more stringent.

MR. LABOUCHERE (Northampton)

The right hon. Gentleman says he is doing his best to prevent the sale of spirits, but in the Debate on the Niger Bill, he said that, apart from the question of smuggling, it was necessary to allow spirits to be imported because it was required for trading purposes. That seems to me to introduce a new element into the matter. We were under the impression that only a small quantity of spirits would be allowed into the country in order to prevent it being brought over the frontier, but the right hon. Gentleman now says that spirits are necessary for the purposes of trade. There is another question I should like to ask. We are asked for a Supplementary Vote for £75,000 for what is now, I suppose, a protectorate or a colony. We know that the expense of administration has exceeded the customs duties by more than £22,000, and I think we ought to have an explanation from the right hon. Gentleman on the matter.


I do not think the hon. Gentleman is quite correct. What I said was, that if foreign countries were able to import spirits into our territory we should not only lose the trade in spirits, but the trade in other goods. That is not a new argument, because it has been the argument of traders from the first moment this question was raised. Since I have been in office the duties on spirits in every one of these West African colonies have been considerably raised, and we have not yet arrived at the end of what we intend to do in that direction. I think it is rather hard, because I have gone further than anyone else, that I should be pressed to go further than I think it prudent to go at the present moment. We have already gone further than our foreign competitors have gone. Of course, it would be possible to prohibit the importation of spirits into those districts, but if we were to do that, let us, at all events, look at the responsibility we should undertake. Immediately trade would be absolutely disorganised, the revenue would be also entirely disorganised, and the whole burden of these colonies would be thrown upon this country. I think that by proceeding gradually, but still with reasonable rapidity, we may immensely reduce the sale of spirits in the country without injuring our trade. The particular Vote before the Committee is required for new buildings and general arrangements for starting the new administration. It is in view of that we have to ask for £75,000, but it will not be a periodical demand, and I have every reason to hope that the amount will be sufficient.


It seems to me extraordinary how the status of slavery and the sale of spirits have been mixed up in this Debate. I cannot understand why the principle of free trade should be taken away from the Niger territory. The Secretary of State for the Colonies leads us to infer that there is to be an extra tax on spirits, and if that is so, surely this £75,000 will note be required.

Vote agreed to.

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