HL Deb 05 March 1888 vol 323 cc148-59

, in rising to ask, Whether Her Majesty's Government can lay upon the Table of the House further Papers and Correspondence relative to the sale of intoxicating spirits to the Native population in British and other Colonies, especially in the Islands of the Western Pacific and in the Congo and Niger countries of Western Africa; also Papers and Correspondence relating to the Berlin Conference in 1884–5, with regard to an International agreement on the question; also whether any information can be given as regards the prospect of effecting an International agreement? said, that, in a large number of instances where there were British and other settlements engaged in trade with Native races, there was a vast amount of traffic in intoxicating spirits, which was working ruin and destruction to the Natives both morally and physically. He was aware that the subject had been for some time past under the consideration of Her Majesty's Government. He was also aware that attempts had been made to remedy, or at least to check, the evil. At the same time, he knew the difficulties which existed. Other countries besides England were concerned in the matter; but he could hardly think it possible that the Government of any civilized country could be so forgetful of the responsibility resting upon it as not to endeavour to repress an evil which was converting commerce into a degrading and demoralizing agent. On referring to Correspondence which was laid upon the Table of the House in September last year he found a despatch, dated April, 1884, from Mr. Thurston, now Sir John Thurston, Assistant High Commissioner in the Western Pacific. Mr. Thurston says— The nationality of the persons found in charge of trading stations in the Western Pacific or trading from vessels is, as a rule, British, German, French, or American, and it is men subjects of these nations principally who, by the sale of arms, ammunition, and alcohol in its most ardent and poisonous forms, are demoralizing the Natives of the Pacific and bringing about their rapid destruction. He goes on to speak of the Natives of Samoa as being an interesting race of people, appreciating the advantages of civilized life. "But," he adds— Notwithstanding these advantages, the history of Samoa is sad in the extreme. The Native inhabitants are decreasing rapidly, and their lands are passing into the hands of Europeans and other foreigners. He further says—" Arms, gunpowder, and alcohol are the solvents under which Native life disappears." In the same year, 1884, when the noble Earl opposite (Earl Granville) was at the Colonial Office, communications were made to other Powers with a view to effect an International agreement for the purpose of putting an end to this nefarious traffic. This course was strongly urged also by Sir W. Des Vœux, the Governor of the Fiji Islands. Further communications seemed to have been carried on in August last, in consequence of some difficulty raised by the Government of the United States with reference to an International agreement. The noble Lord at the head of the Colonial Office would, perhaps, be able to say whether this difficulty had been removed, and whether the result of the negotiations with the European Powers with reference to the Western Pacific was a favourable one? There were not any recent Papers, so far as he knew, before Parliament on the same subject relating to the Congo and Niger countries; and he wished to remind their Lordships that a similar evil existed in those parts of Western Africa, if possible in a greater degree than in the Western Pacific. It appeared by the evidence of travellers and persons who had visited that country that spirits, especially rum and gin, constituted the principal medium of currency in dealing with the Natives. It was related by Mr. J. Thompson, a well-known traveller up the Niger, that— At each port of call, the eye becomes bewildered in watching the discharge of thousands of cases of gin and hundreds of demijohns of rum. Mr. Tisdel, Special Agent of the United States, said, as appeared in the Consular Reports— Of this variegated currency, gin is the most valuable; indeed, it may be said to be worth its weight in gold.… Unfortunately, a few bottles of trade gin will go much further in trade with the Natives than ten times its value in cloth. A well-known Lutheran missionary said— The vilest liquors imaginable are being poured into Africa from almost every quarter of the civilized world. He might also add the forcible words of the Belgian Plenipotentiary, Count Van der Straten, at the Berlin Conference in 1884. He said— The Native races of the free zone will be sober, or will soon cease to exist.…If the Powers do not save him (the negro) from this vice (drunkenness), they will make of him a monster which will swallow up the work of the Conference.… He would wish the Powers to take the moral engagement to continue their work as they took it formerly in the Treaty of Vienna in regard to the suppression of slavery. Statements to the same effect could be given almost without number. He wished now to refer for one moment to the Berlin Conference of 1884. That Conference of all the principal Powers of Europe, including also a Representative of the United States, was assembled with the view of settling trading and commercial questions relative to the Niger and Congo Free State, and at the same time as to furthering the moral and material well-being of the Native populations. Among other matters, the liquor question was introduced; and although opinions were strongly ex-pressed in favour of restrictions upon that traffic, no satisfactory results were arrived at. The evils which were going on were admitted, and the wish was expressed by some members of the Conference that an International agreement should be arrived at in "such manner as to conciliate the rights of humanity with the interests of commerce." He did not think, however, that he was wrong in saying that the deliberations of the Conference, so far as that question was concerned, resulted in little more than a recognition of the evil and the expression of a wish. He might draw their Lordships' attention to the words of Prince Bismarck, who presided over the Conference. Prince Bismarck said, in his concluding address— In another series of regulations you have shown much careful solicitude for the moral and physical welfare of the Native races, and we may cherish the hope that the principle adopted in a spirit of wise moderation will bear fruit, and will help to introduce these populations to the advantages of civilization. He was sorry to say that he could not see that any course had yet been adopted which was likely to produce those happy results; and if no change was made it was certainly a somewhat novel mode of introducing populations to the advantages of civilization, and it was to be feared that hopes and wishes would avail but little unless something further was done. How, it might well be asked, could civilization or moral progress be promoted while unrestricted traffic in liquor was carried on and gin and rum were the chief medium of currency with the Natives? He believed he was supported in what he had said by the most rev. Prelate in a letter dated August, 1887, addressed to the Bishops of the British Colonies and Dependencies, from which he would ask permission to read a few words— The attention of the Church has been recently drawn to the widespread and still growing evils caused by the introduction of intoxicating liquors among the Native races in the Colonies and Dependencies of the British Empire and in other countries to which British trade has access.… Uncivilized people are weaker to resist, and are utterly unable to control temptations of this kind. The accounts given of the numbers that perish from this cause and of the misery and degradation of those who survive are painful in the extreme, and besides the grievous wrong thus inflicted on the Native races, reproach has been brought on the name of Christ. … It is asserted by travellers of repute that in many parts of the world the moral character of the Native gains more by the preaching of Mahomedanism than by the preaching of the Gospel, for the former tends to make them sober. He would say no more. He appealed to Her Majesty's Government in the hope that they would be able to give such further information as might show how that question stood at the present moment and what progress had been made in the direction of an International agreement. There would doubtless be an increase of commerce, especially in the Niger and Congo countries; but whether that commerce was to be civilizing or debasing would greatly depend upon the future course that might be adopted by the Governments of Europe and of the United States with regard to the traffic in intoxicating spirits; and he did not hesitate to say that unless some restrictions, and those very stringent ones, were put upon the liquor traffic, there might be commerce—there might be an increase of commerce—but that commerce, instead of promoting, would be crushing to civilization, and would make Christianity a byword among the nations of the earth.


said, he had nothing to add to the statement which had just been made to their Lordships on that subject; but as the traffic which had been described was demoralizing in the extreme, he hoped that Her Majesty's Government would not wait for an opportunity, but would renew the attempt to obtain the assent of the United States Government to the International Agreement already assented to by the European Powers. It would seem that the present was a favourite moment for approaching the Government of the United States on the subject. When, two years ago, that Government declined to assent, no reasons were given for that course; but the United States Secretary of State said that "he was not entirely prepared to join in the International Agreement," but at the same time he offered to take measures in the sense of the International Agreement. Now, a man who was not entirely prepared to join in an agreement was more likely to join in one than a person who was asked to do so for the first time, and he hoped Her Majesty's Government would not, by delay, run the risk of having to treat with a successor of Mr. Bayard. Her Majesty's Government must be in possession of new facts since two years ago to place before the United States Government; and he gathered from the Blue Book that the assent of the German Government had been given since that date. There was a subsidiary reason for renewing these negotiations—namely, the maintenance of continuity of action of the Foreign Office, which had been so beneficial, and that the time and trouble taken by the late Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs should not be lost. Her Majesty's Government and Her Majesty's subjects were not alone, nor entirely responsible for what took place in the Pacific Islands; but they were responsible for India, and from the papers circulated by the Committee for the Prevention of the Drink Traffic it appeared that the Excise Duties on spirits had trebled in Assam in the last 10 years, and that they had more than doubled in Bengal since 1868. Her Majesty's Government were probably aware of the correspondence in the papers at the beginning of this year on the failure of Christian missionaries. Various causes might be given for that, but it was certain that the missionaries complained of being handicapped by the Government encouragement of the sale of drink.


said, that he had received a visit lately from a leading member of the Representative Council of one of the Crown Colonies of Africa, who informed him that some of the oldest Christian families in Sierra Leone had subscribed recently to the building of a mosque. The reason they gave for doing so was that they knew no better means of putting a stop to the spread of intoxication, which was destroying their own race, while their own Government gave them no aid or support, and Mahomedanism forbade the use of intoxicating drink by positive precept. Wrong inferences had hence been drawn, as if Christianity were less able to grapple with the vices of Native races than Mahomedanism; and Mr. Bosworth Smith, the very authority relied on for proofs of this, had himself come forward and very fully exposed the misconstructions and misrepresentations on that head. Christianity was the better able to deal with the temptations of those races, because it taught the principle of temperance and self-control, which did far more than positive precept to elevate mankind. But these Christians felt that Christianity had not fair play while it was not backed by the Christian Government which represented it and rested on it. The facts had been placed before us by our own agents, and appeared in our own Blue Books. Such a pamphlet as that of Mr. Weller, and the facts observed by Mr. Thomson, placed all in possession of the true state of the case. Mr. Weller had seen hundreds of Native girls lying in a state of deathly intoxication round the waggons of spirit sellers. There were districts in which payment of wages was made only in rum, until at length such a state of degradation was reached that many refused to receive payment in any other form. Ships put into harbour freighted with the goods of civilization, but were obliged to sail away undischarged because the people were so drunken, or so anxious to be drunken, that they had no taste or care for articles of commerce. We knew the agonizing efforts which had been made by the Queen of Amatongaland and by many Chiefs to save their people. By the course we were now pursuing we were not only injuring our commerce, to take a material view, but we were ruining the very tribes and nations who in that climate were absolutely essential to that commerce. Their Lordships must not suppose that the kind of liquor sold in London was sold to those people. There was a "trade rum" and a "trade gin," which were neither more nor less than liquid fire, mere poison, which absolutely destroyed in a very short time the men and women who consumed it. They consumed it and were consumed without stint. This liquor went among the people themselves by the ordinary name of "Death Itself." For his own part, he declined to believe a sentence which had fallen from one of the noble Lords who had spoken on the subject that evening; he declined to believe in the correctness of the information, which, however, was spread very widely, that our Government would in the slightest degree, for the sake of increased revenue, promote or encourage a practice so destructive to humanity. But he must say that we had been waiting for a long time for our Government to take firm steps in the right direction. We were proud to hear of the action of our Representatives at the Berlin Conference, and of what the Congo Company itself desired. This nation had been celebrated in past times for the self-sacrifice of its great efforts for the suppression of the Slave Trade, efforts which had raised the tone of all nations. But at no time was the Slave Trade so destructive in its effects as this vice, fatal alike to the prospects of Christianity and to the future prosperity of the commerce of England. He would ask why, if nothing could be done elsewhere without the co-operation of other Governments, should not a beginning be made at least in our own Crown Colonies on the West African Coast? We had these entirely in our own hands. If it were not possible at present to effect an International arrangement, we would wait patiently, believing that our Government, with that continuity of action abroad which was so beneficial, would do what could be done in time. But why wait for ourselves? We could prevent the sale of this fire poison. We could put upon wholesome liquor such duties as would make it undesirable to pay or to receive wages in that shape, and check many other evils. He joined the noble Lord, therefore, in asking what progress had been made, and in pressing for Papers which might throw some light upon the subject. The Bishop of London who, as their Lordships knew, had done so much for the cause of temperance in this country, had asked him to explain how deeply he was interested in the question, and to state that nothing but an official engagement would have caused him to leave the House that evening.


said, that Her Majesty's Government were fully alive to the terrible mischiefs created by the importation and sale to the Natives of spirituous liquors, and he must state that it was only within the last few weeks that he had addressed a Circular to all the Crown Colonies, asking for full information as to any laws or ordinances existing on the subject and for any reports on this important question. He had also sent a Circular to all the responsible-government Colonies, asking them for any information to supplement that which bad already been presented to Parlia- ment in 1872, 1882 and 1883. When the answers to those Circulars had been sent in they would be laid upon the Table, and then there would be a full opportunity for discussing the action of the Government in the Crown Colonies and elsewhere. He would, before he sat down, point out very briefly what restrictions had been placed in Crown Colonies upon the sale of spirituous liquors to the Natives, but he must remind their Lordships that though Her Majesty's Government could, as a general rule, secure the passing of the laws or regulations required to prohibit such sale, they were not and could not be held directly responsible for any failure to give effect to those laws and regulations. In the meantime he could assure the House that Her Majesty's Government were bestowing their best attention on the subject. As regards the Western Pacific, there were no Papers at present to be presented other than those presented in September, 1887. Her Majesty's late Government invited the nations interested in the Western Pacific to arrive, if possible, at some International arrangement for prohibiting the liquor traffic in the Islands. That proposition was received favourably by all but one country—namely, the United States. It had been urged that the United States Government had given no reasons for their refusal to join in the arrangement, and had probably formed no decided opinion; but on that point he would read an extract from a letter from Mr. Bayard to Sir L. Sackville West, dated the 11th of April, 1885. Mr. Bayard said— While recognizing and highly approving the moral force and general propriety of the proposed regulations, and the responsibility of conducting such traffic under proper and careful restrictions, the Government of the United States does not feel entirely prepared to join in the International understanding proposed, and will, therefore, for the present restrain its action to the employment in the direction outlined by the suggested arrangement of a sound discretion in permitting traffic between its own citizens in the articles referred to and the Natives of the Western Pacific Islands. It was perfectly clear, therefore, that the United States Government were not inclined to modify their decision. He was, however, authorized to state that Her Majesty's Government, being fully alive to the importance of the question, would not allow any favourable opportunity to pass of bringing this matter again under the consideration of foreign nations, including the United States. Beyond that it was impossible for him to give any undertaking. As regards South Africa, there were strong restrictions in force in the Cape against the supply of liquor to the Natives. He was quite aware that there was a large importation of a very harmful liquor called "Cape smoke" into the parts of the country beyond the English Protectorate, but Her Majesty's Government could in no way check that, though they had pointed out to the Native Chiefs the necessity of exercising all the power they had to prevent that importation; and they hoped that their advice might effect some good. There was no question that there was legislation in Natal by which very stringent restrictions against the supply of spirituous liquors to the Natives could be enforced, especially in the case of repeated offences. In 1886 some correspondence, originating in suggestions by the London Chamber of Commerce, took place as to the desirability of regulating the importation of alcohol into South Africa by means of a uniform and high duty, but on consideration the late Government thought it better to wait until the result of the Western Pacific negotiations was known. In April, 1887, the attention of Her Majesty's present Government was again directed to this question, and Circulars were sent to all the Colonies in South and West Africa. Unfortunately, the replies received from the Cape and Natal were not very favourable; and it should be remembered that the Imperial Government had no power to interfere with the acts of the Cape Legislature. The Cape Ministers pointed out that an Excise duty being placed on corn-made brandy, and not on spirits produced from grapes, a higher import duty would only increase local manufacture. They were of opinion "that the traffic should be regulated rather by internal regulations than by import duties," and they finally "declined to take part in the proposed International agreement." As regards the words "local manufacture," it was only fair to state that we were not responsible for all the drinking that went on among the Natives, for they had extraordinary and carefully composed drinks of their own, which were very intoxicating. The Natal Government stated that if the Cape and Portuguese Governments discontinued the facilities they now gave for passing spirits beyond their frontiers, they would impose higher transit duties and raise the import duties to the rate agreed upon by the others. But they pointed to the stringency of the law in Natal for preventing the sale of liquor to the Natives, and they considered that the question would best be solved by adopting similar arrangements elsewhere. So much for the Cape and Natal. He would now turn to those territories immediately under British rule—namely, Zululand, Bechuanaland, and Basutoland. In all these territories there were very stringent regulations against supplying any kind of spirituous liquors to the Natives; and, as far as he knew, those regulations were bonâ fide observed. As far as the Imperial officers in those territories could do so, they had enforced those regulations, and in the case of Basutoland he was gratified to note that in the report ending the 30th of June, 1887, there was the following statement—"Drink traffic has ceased to exist." He thought, therefore, that it might fairly be pointed out that in those territories great efforts had certainly been made to restrict this traffic. Turning then to West Africa; in 1887 the Royal Niger Company pressed on the noble Marquess at the head of Her Majesty's Government the importance of checking the supply in West and Central Africa, and suggested an arrangement with France and Germany to levy a uniform rate of duty from Senegal to Cameroons. The noble Marquess at once expressed his willingness to negotiate, but suggested, he thought with good reason, that the views of the Colonies interested should first be ascertained. A circular was accordingly sent round, but only one Colony, Lagos, had replied, and the Government would press for answers from the other Colonies. The proposal was thought impracticable by the Governor of Lagos, as the coast line was not at present completely under the control of civilized Governments, especially at the mouths of rivers. And both with reference to this case of West Africa, and the case of the West Pacific, he must point out that very partial, if any, good could be expected by the agreement of two or even three countries to prohibit the importation and sale of spirituous liqueurs to Natives, so long as other countries could supply them, and he was afraid that as long as there was a demand the supply would come from those countries which declined or did not care to be parties to such agreement. He regretted that he was unable to give more information to their Lordships on this subject, but he would conclude by assuring noble Lords that Her Majesty's Government were fully alive to the importance of the subject, and were most anxious to deal with it.