HL Deb 19 August 1907 vol 181 cc4-9

My Lords, I rise to ask the Secretary of State for the Colonies whether he is in a position to give further information respecting the operation of the laws affecting the importation and sale of liquor in Southern Nigeria. Your Lordships will remember that this subject has been more than once before the House; and on the last occasion I understood myself from the noble Earl, and I found that many others outside also understood, that the matter was in a somewhat different position from that in which we find it to stand when we look again into the existing facts. What was said to us was in general terms something like this—The sale of liquor is most carefully restricted in Southern Nigeria, and you are mistaken in supposing that a man can sell it without obtaining a licence. Now, my Lords, I find, on looking into the matter, that, although there is a rule existing that licences must be held by the sellers of liquor in Lagos and in certain other parts of that huge territory; yet in the most populous regions of the non-seabord part of the Colony, where it most matters, no licence is at present necessary, the sale of liquor is immense, and difficulties arise practically every day in consequence. I am anxious to ask the noble Earl to tell us how the question of licence legally stands at this moment. The next point is that we have been informed, by an answer given in another place, that a railway is now to be constructed in Northern Nigeria, where the sale of liquor is prohibited; and I want to know whether the introduction of the railway will interfere with the arrangements now made whereby that prohibition is practically in force. Next, I wish to know what the noble Earl can now tell us as to a matter on which he foreshadowed information when he spoke on the last occasion—namely, the possibility of what he called a buffer zone between the region of Northern Nigeria, where no liquor can be sold, and Southern Nigeria, where it can be sold under restrictions.


My Lords, after the debate in February to which the most rev. Primate has alluded I had some correspondence with him, and he was good enough to postpone the Question which he then wished to renew until I had further communicated with the Colony. I will endeavour, in the shortest possible way, to give him that information. The Colony of South Nigeria consists of three provinces, which are called the Western, the Central, and the Eastern. The Western Province consists of the old Colony and Protectorate of Lagos; the Eastern and Central Provinces are the old Protectorate of Southern Nigeria. There is liquor legislation in all three.

In the Western Province the law in force is called the Lagos Ordinance of 1893, and it requires that a licence should be taken out by anyone who wishes to sell liquor. It is, however, quite true, as the most rev. Primate has said, that this law at present is only applied in the Colony as distinguished from the Protectorate of Lagos. I will give the reasons for that in a moment. In the Eastern and Central Provinces the law in force is the Southern Nigeria Proclamation of 1901. The terms of that Proclamation are practically the same as those of the Lagos Ordinance. It is applied in specified towns and districts, and therefore, of course, I am quite prepared to admit that the contention of the most rev. Primate is so far justified in that it would not be correct to say that these laws prevail throughout all the country. But the reason for that is, I think, pretty obvious. It is the principle to bring the law into force wherever there are European settlements and European officers and stations, and, therefore, the possibility of European supervision. It is held very strongly by the officers of the Colony that an inoperative law would be worse than none at all. If it were nominally in force everywhere—and, of course, by a stroke of the pen we could bring that into effect—it could not be enforced everywhere, and the contention is that that would give rise to a great deal of oppression and possibly corruption, and might even sap respect for the law where it is now applied and can be enforced. At the same time the most rev. Primate will, I am sure, believe me when I say that it is the policy of the Government to extend these licence laws so far as it is at all possible, To define a little how far the law applies, I may say that in the Eastern and Central districts it is in force in all the principal trade centres where there are European stations. It is also in force along the course of the Niger for a distance, I think, of a mile in width along the banks, and also along the principal mouths of the river.

In the Western Province the law applies, as I have said, chiefly to the district of Lagos near the coast, including the large town of Lagos itself. With regard to the large towns of Ibadan and Abeokuta, it has not been enforced there for the reason that these districts claim a certain amount of independence by the treaties which we have made with them. I do not know the details. but it strikes me that they are somewhat in the position of Indian Native States; and we should certainly not, in that case, have introduced into a Native State the liquor laws of British India. I believe that it might be possible to carry out arrangements with the Governments of these districts to introduce these laws, but I should not like to pledge myself to that without consideration, and without knowing that proper supervision could be introduced. The most rev. Primate may, perhaps, like to know that it has been possible to go so far in the direction which he advocates that there is a tax of 9d. a gallon on all spirits which are brought into these towns and districts, in addition to the heavy import licence duty which is imposed at the coast. I must admit that in the course of my inquiries into the matter I have come across another Proclamation—the Proclamation of Southern Nigeria of 1902, which does throw a little more light upon what possibly gave rise to the most rev. Primate's difficulty. I find that this Proclamation exempted from the provisions of the Licence Ordinance what are called native export produce markets. I understand that those are places when the cultivator hands over his produce to the native middlemen or native agents of the European merchants, and he receives in return from them goods imported and carried to these markets from the stores of the European merchants. I have no doubt at all that spirits are included. It must be remembered, of course, that on these spirits the European importer has had to take out a licence, but I admit that the native agent who sells them to the cultivator has no licence. I will say, frankly, that I am not quite satisfied that this is right, but the difficulties are considerable, and, if the most rev. Primate will allow me, I should like to consult further with the Governor, who is now home on leave, before I commit myself as to what ought to be done on that point.

The most rev. Primate also drew attention, not only on the last occasion but also on a previous one, to some reports which he had received of the erection of iron sheds in connection with the railway stations for the reception of liquor. I have made some inquiries into that matter. I find that at these two towns, Abeokuta and Ibadan, there are two firms who have erected large iron sheds. These sheds are not only for liquor, though, no doubt, liquor is included among the stores; they are for the general stores in which these firms deal, and I do not quite see how we can prevent traders from having places of this kind in connection with the railways. But it may be a satisfaction to the most rev. Primate if I mention that the importation of spirits by the railway was no fewer than 200,000 gallons less in 1906 than it was in 1904, although the importation into the Colony as a whole had not decreased. I think that goes to some extent to show that the railway is not so prolific an agent in spreading the trade in spirits as has been alleged.

Passing to the question of Northern Nigeria, of which the most rev. Primate has spoken, I have to assure him, as I did before, that we are entirely resolved to maintain the zone of prohibition; that is to say, that imported spirits are forbidden for natives. Even the gift of spirits to natives is subject to a considerable penalty. It must, of course, be remembered that the sale to Europeans is legal, but it must be under licence; and it must also be remembered that we have never interfered—and I do not see how we could interfere—with the sale of native liquor made by the natives, though even in that case there are provisions regulating its sale in cantonments and stations. With regard to the railways, I have to make this explanation. As now arranged, two railways are contemplated in Nigeria. One of them is a railway in Northern Nigeria alone, and therefore entirely within the zone of prohibition. It ends at Baro on the Niger, a distance of some eighty miles from the frontier of Southern Nigeria. In Northern Nigeria I understand that the Niger is, already patrolled to prevent the importation of spirits, and it has been suggested that the river should be patrolled in Southern Nigeria for, say, a distance of twenty-five miles inside the frontier as an assistance to the efforts of Northern Nigeria. But I think it would be taken that that railway, at any rate, cannot in any sense be of much assistance in the introduction of spirits.

The other railway is an extension of the line from Lagos. It is at this moment just entering that part of Northern Nigeria which lies south of the Niger. It will, of course, eventually cross the Niger itself. The suggestion with regard to that railway would, I think, carry out completely the idea of the buffer zone to which the most rev. Primate has alluded. It is suggested that the rates should be raised from Ibadan to Oshogbo and that from Oshogbo onwards—that is to say, for twenty-five miles south of the frontier—the prohibition should be absolute. I do not wish to pledge myself literally to the adoption of these particular recommendations, but I may say frankly that I think they deserve every consideration. If possible, I should hope to see them in operation, and I think if they were put in operation they would meet the object of the most rev. Primate.

I hope the most rev. Primate will see that we have a policy for the restriction of this traffic, and that he will not refuse to admit its merits even if we appear to proceed with what he may think undue caution in enforcing the restrictions. After all, the regions which we have to administer are very large and the force at our disposal is very small, and I venture to put it that it would be suicidal to be in a hurry. But at any rate I can assure the most rev. Primate that we are sincere in desiring to do all we can to keep within full restriction the traffic to which he has referred.