HL Deb 01 August 1899 vol 75 cc1002-4

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, this Bill merely recites the price to be given for certain articles the Niger Company are to sell. I should not have entered on that question unless anybody had challenged it, but I must say a word in response to a note I have received from Sir George Goldie, who thinks the representations in the Minute of the Foreign Office do not entirely do justice to the company over which he presides. He thinks that the effect was to give an impression that the Niger Company was much more a commercial company and much less a political company than it really was, and he claims that the main object of the founding of the National African Company, which was the original form of it, was political, but for which, Sir George Goldie says, he would have had no connection with it. He recites the preliminary steps which were necessary before the Niger Company was able to enter upon the duties which it had marked out for itself. It was necessary to dispose of previous occupants of the same territory who had derived their capital and their authority from France. The first was the taking over of the French Equatorial Company, which was arranged before the National Company was founded, in July, 1882, and a still more important purchase in the same year was the Niger business of the Compagnie de Sénégal. At the request of Sir George Goldie I thought it necessary to mention those circumstances, but I think no one doubts for an instant that the main object of the Niger Company was philanthropic and political, and that it was not a mere monetary speculation. They risked their money enormously, a mere accident might have destroyed it, and it was only fair that they should receive a handsome and sufficient price such as Parliament has given them. But I think we cannot part with them without recognising the enormous benefit which the civilising of those countries has received from their exertions, exertions which did a work that no mere political reform could have done. They succeeded in reserving for England influence over the vast territory which represents the Niger Company—a territory mainly on the left side of the Niger, but also a considerable portion of it on the right—an enormous territory which we believe is full of wealth, and full of inhabitants, which is being gradually brought under the civilising influence of English government, and which I have no doubt there is every prospect in the future will yield a rich harvest to the British Empire. But for the Niger Company, much, if not all, of this territory would have passed under another flag, and certainly, even if that had not taken place, the advance that we have made in stopping inter-tribal wars, in arresting the slave-raiding, which is such a fearful curse in that country, and in diminishing the liquor traffic from which so many evils are derived—all those things, I believe, we owe to the efforts of the Niger Company. Though it is necessary for obvious reasons, since our agreement, that these territories should pass under the direct control of the Crown, we cannot sanction that great step without expressing our deep gratitude and high esteem for the adventurers and patriots to whose efforts the preparation of this territory is due.

"Moved that the Bill be now read 2a."—(The Marquess of Salisbury.)


My Lords, I should not like to let the Bill pass without expressing my strong agreement with all that has been said by the noble Marquess. There cannot be a doubt that the Empire owes a great debt of gratitude to those who directed the affairs of the Niger Company. Their enterprise was one of great difficulty, involving great dangers, requiring great prudence and tact in dealing not only with the mere savage tribes on the coast, but also with organised and powerful Empires further north. They had also to deal with companies which had previously established themselves on the Niger—foreign companies, the presence of which might have made it impossible for that whole huge territory to have passed exclusively, as it now will do, under the control of the British Crown. In all these matters the Niger Company deserve our gratitude, and I entirely agree with Sir George Goldie in his claim that they were not a mere commercial company. I am sure my lamented friend Lord Aberdare, who took a large share in the proceedings of the company, would not have thought of associating himself with it if he had not looked upon it as a political enterprise. There is no doubt that it was also a commercial enterprise, but the result has been to establish our authority there, and, as. the noble Marquess has truly said, to open, out possibilities of great trade hereafter, and to exercise a most salutary influence over some of the most important and interesting races throughout that particular part of Africa.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read 2a (according to Order); and committed to a Committee of the Whole House on Thursday next.