HL Deb 03 August 1875 vol 226 cc436-8

rose to call the attention of the House to the position of certain parts of Her Majesty's Possessions on the West Coast of Africa. The noble Earl said: I had intended, considering the interest which has been felt for some time in the affairs of the Gold Coast, to have made a full statement to the House before the close of the Session with regard to the general progress of the West African Settlements; but, looking to the period of the Session at which we have now arrived and to one or two other circumstances, I do not think this would be necessary at the present moment. At the same time, I may go so far as to say that affairs on the Gold Coast are in a very satisfactory state. Notwithstanding the fact that the climate has always been, and always will be, a permanent cause of difficulty, the political and financial condition of those Settlements has certainly not stood still. The trade has increased—increased, I may say, beyond my expectations. The revenue has greatly enlarged itself. When Sir Garnet Wolseley was there he estimated the revenue of the Gold Coast at £50,000 a-year. In 1873 it was £65,000, and last year—1874—it had reached £74,000. The revenue of Lagos, in 1873, amounted to £30,000; last year it amounted to £39,300. So flourishing, in a financial sense, has that Colony become, that it has been in my power to repay the Treasury a loan of £10,000, which had been advanced at a time of greater difficulty than the present. Besides that, in the country itself the process of pacification has gone on steadily. The Ordinances for the abolition of the slave trade work smoothly and well. Advantage has been taken of them in various parts of the country; and the opportunity of emancipation, if desired, is within the knowledge and reach of every slave throughout the country. The main difficulty which does exist is one which has existed for some time past—the conflict of jurisdictions, so to speak, along the West Coast of Africa. As the House is well aware, the French have stations along that coast, and these stations are intermixed with ours. The result of this, very often, is considerable difficulty in the political administration, and very great loss in all our fiscal arrangements. I frankly say that I hope the time may come, and come before long, when this anomalous state of things may be removed, and some arrangement may be come to with the French Government, by which, on fair and even terms, an interchange may be made which will enable us to carry out that process of development and improvement which has already been so largely effected. I am not sorry to have this opportunity of saying two words on a matter which has created some interest. I allude to the excitement in "another place" arising from the telegram in a French paper to the effect that negotiations for an exchange of territory not only had been on foot, but were concluded. The telegram was wholly inaccurate. Negotiations have been and are on foot; but these negotiations are very far from having come to a conclusion. I will frankly say it is my wish, and my hope, that before any definite conclusion is arrived at. Parliament may have a full and ample opportunity of expressing its opinion on the subject. If there be any apprehension on this subject, I can readily give an assurance to your Lordships that nothing final or conclusive shall be done in the matter till the meeting of Parliament next year. I can only add further that it must not be supposed that the proposal which is now before the two Governments for negotiations is a proposal identical with that which formed the subject of negotiations in former years. In most of its leading features it is distinct, and it rests upon new and wholly different grounds. As regards the interests of a mere handful—for a mere handful it is—of British subjects in the colony of Gambia, I can only hope, whenever the time comes, that those interests will receive every consideration which Her Majesty's Government can possibly give to them. They are, strictly speaking, a mere handful, for I believe the English population there does not amount to more than 20 souls; but, at the same time, whether they be many or few, it is the duty of Her Majesty's Government to see that they are protected. In saying these few words my desire has been to remove any misapprehension, if such there should be, on the subject which, I think, is one of considerable importance.