§ MR. SAMUEL SMITH (Flintshire)
I wish to take this opportunity of calling attention to some grievances on the part of the natives of the New Hebrides. I have received, and I daresay other honourable Members have received, representations on behalf of natives of the New Hebrides in regard to the liquor trade and the trade in fire-arms and gunpowder there. This is a matter of great importance—a matter of life and death to the natives. I am sorry that the Colonial Secretary is not here, but I have conferred with him on the subject. My excuse for bringing it before the House in the absence of the right 669 honourable the Colonial Secretary is that I think this is a matter which will not brook delay beyond the adjournment of the House. As honourable Members know, restrictions have been put for a great many years past on the import of strong drink, firearms and gunpowder into the New Hebrides. The French Government are under the same restrictions as the British Government, but French traders have been allowed to engage in the trade owing to the want of vigilant supervision on the part of the French Government. That has caused discontent in the Australian Colonies, and representations were made to the Australian Governments that the restrictions ought to be removed from British traders so as to put these on the same footing as the French traders. It is further stated that the Agent-General for Victoria has appealed to the Colonial Secretary to remove the restrictions from the British traders, and that the Colonial Secretary has expressed himself favourable to this appeal. Now I have the authority of the Colonial Secretary for stating that that is absolutely untrue, that it is an entire misapprehension that this appeal made to him met with any favour at all. I know that he has always been a determined opponent of this traffic, and I hope that his influence will be cast still further in the same direction. My object in bringing the matter before the House is to clear up the subject, and to strengthen the hands of the Government to resist the appeals made by traders to remove the restrictions upon that most detestable traffic. The House will remember that the New Hebrides have been reclaimed from cannibalism and barbarism by the missionaries, and that many of the villages in the islands are models of Christian civilisation. Some of the natives, however, still remain in the state of original barbarism, and indulge in cannibalistic practices. If this liquor trade is allowed to go on there, without let or hindrance, the most dreadful consequences are sure to follow. Let me read an extract from an appeal made to the House by the Venerable Dr. Paton:—Alcoholic drinks, and their inevitable accompanying evils, have swept from the face of the earth the whole of the aboriginal inhabitants of Tasmania, and nearly all the aborigines of Victoria, New South Wales, and South Australia, and are rapidly leading to their graves the few that remain there, as well as those in the other 670 colony. Many of them have been cruelly shot, and some of them have shot white men. I do hope our beloved Queen and her Government will not, by the sanction of British law, let loose this body-and-soul-destroying fiend through her traders on the New Hebrides, because of the pleading and influence of any party at home or abroad. A short time ago on Tauna three white traders were for some days together drinking. They quarrelled over it, and one shot another dead. But the others continued at their drinking. Several natives were also lately shot dead on that island, and every now and then murders by rifles and alcohol take place on the group. The Federal Council are made to say in the 'Herald,' 'the prohibition on Britishers has not conduced to the benefit of the natives.' A Tauna High Chief lately thought differently. He came to the missionary recently placed among some 4,000 cannibals there, and implored him to go with him to an American trader on the island, and help plead to him to stop the sale and importation of rum and brandy, as it was making havoc of his people; and when they were deprived of reason by the white man's tire-water, he had no power to control them. The natives especially fear the cruel conduct of, and keep away from, traders addicted to drinking, but they respect and like to deal with temperate traders. A loaded rifle is at all times a dangerous weapon in the hands of irresponsible savage cannibals, and a thousandfold more so when he is maddened with intoxicating drink. On many of the islands there are no French traders, but English only, and if the prohibition is removed, alcohol will, as in Australia, soon sweep industrious and sober natives into eternity —people who, even as savages, depend on the cultivation and crops of the land for their support. More than half the population of these islands have been destroyed by the Queensland and New Caledonian ' Kanaka Labour Traffic.' Now this inter-island traffic at least is fearful slavery; and alcohol, if sold at all, will soon complete the demoralisation and destruction of the race.Now, that is the condition of things in the New Hebrides, even with the limited trade that goes on; but if the trade is made absolutely free, and the same volume of strong drink is poured into the New Hebrides as into West Africa, we shall see the population extinguished. We are negotiating just now with France about many questions, and I suggest that there is now an opportunity for asking France to unite with us in re-imposing strict rules in regard to the traffic in strong drink, fire-arms and gunpowder. 671 And we should invite other nations also to join us. We must remember we have some reparation to make to the natives of the New Hebrides. We allowed a traffic in labour which was very little different from slavery, and which resulted almost in the depopulation of the South Sea Islands. The same barbarities, it is true, do not now take place as before; but even now many of the young men were taken from the islands. We are under a kind of moral obligation, therefore, to do what we can to protect the remainder of the inhabitants of these islands, and we can only do so if these restrictions on the sale of alcohol and fire-arms are maintained. I would just ask permission to say a few words in regard to the drink traffic in West Africa. A most painful account is given in the "Times" on Monday by Bishop Tug well, Bishop in Western Equatorial Africa, of the present state of things in that colony. I have seldom read anything sadder or more lamentable than this account. The Bishop speaks of the enormous increase which has taken place in the imports into British West Africa of rum, brandy, whiskey and spirits of all kinds, but particularly of Hamburg gin— a horrible compound of the most poisonous kind, and which is sold at 1d. and 2d. per bottle, with the most disastrous and horrible results. I ask the House to allow me to quote a few sentences from the letter of Bishop Tugwell—Habits of drinking spirits and drunkenness are greatly on the increase amongst the young men of our town. On all festive occasions brandy and whiskey, and what are known as ' better class spirits,' are largely consumed. In these days it is useless to call your friends, provide what delicacies you may, if you do not freely supply whiskey, &c.; without these things your entertainment is pronounced a failure. Indeed, nowadays you cannot call upon a friend or entertain a visitor without taking or offering a drink. Whiskey is quoted at 27s. 6d. per case of 12 bottles, and brandy at 18s. 6d. per case of 12 bottles.Now, this state of things is not confined to native Africans alone, as anyone knows who is connected with Africa. White men 672 in West Africa do not live more than three years on the average. It is the result of this abominable use of liquor.Of the deaths which occur amongst Europeans on the coast probably 75 per cent. are to be attributed to habits of drinking at all hours of the day, and drunkenness, these habits being directly fostered and encouraged by the cheap rate at which spirits can be purchased"—which is a mere bagatelle.An agent to a firm can obtain wines and spirits for his own consumption at cost price; thus an agent can procure wines and spirits at 1s. 6d. per bottle. Many of those who come out are mere boys. They quickly contract habits of drinking, and are either invalided and sent home, or die. English traders seldom, if ever, meet at any hour in the day without indulging in spiritsA Convention exists with the view of limiting, as far as possible, the trade in strong drink amongst the negroes in West Africa, or at least a large section of West Africa. The upper part of the Niger is under what is called the Prohibition zone; the nations of Europe regard it as a close country to spirits. Bishop Tugwell points out that unless we take care, the regulations under that Convention will be broken through, and drink carried up into the Upper Niger region, which is inhabited by 40 or 50 millions of people. Here is what the Bishop says—On the Upper reaches of the Niger, where hitherto spirits have been excluded, Imperial officers tell me that they have considerable difficulty in excluding spirits from the forts. Further, pure alcohol, in tins the size of a kero-sine tin, is being imported in increasingly large quantities. This is a frightful evil. When Sir Henry McCullum, lately Governor of the Colony, discovered this, he undertook to take steps to check this import, but nothing has been done, nor am I aware that any action is proposed on the part of the Government.Now, one effect of this state of things is that it has half destroyed the legitimate trade of West Africa. The natives are so demoralised by the trade that practically they care for nothing but drink. They have no wants that can be supplied by English traders except the drink, for 673 all their means have been expended in the drink. Here is what the Bishop says, quoting from the "Lagos Weekly Record" of Feb. 4—The gin traffic is gradually yet surely sapping the energy and industry of the native, and making him less inclined to new wants, and less capable of supplying such new wants, and in this wise British industries are being undermined, and the demoralisation of: the native wrought. Such a policy is suicidal in the extreme.I believe, Mr. Speaker, that if we could restrict this trade in alcohol, we would gain very much more than what we should apparently lose, because we would open the way to a much larger trade in Man Chester goods. The fact is, that a great portion of what is called the expansion of our trade in Africa simply means the poisoning of natives with rum, and providing them with the means of slaughtering one another with firearms and gunpowder. We are simply adding to the ruin of these poor people. Now that this country is getting possession of such a vast amount of African territory, and that tens of millions of people have come under our control within a few years—France and England have divided between them two-thirds of Africa with 150 millions of a population—if our rule is to be a blessing and not a curse, it is most important that we should try to stop this traffic in poisonous drink. These people cannot resist temptation. It is too strong for them. When a negro takes to drink he drinks incessantly, and he drinks for the sake of drunkenness; and it seems to me that in place of opening up Africa to British civilisation, if this drink trade is permitted to go on, it will open Africa only to demoralisation and to absolute ruin. It is for that reason that I have brought this question before the House. I know that the Colonial Secretary sympathises with the view I have taken. I wish to bring the question before the country, and to make the country realise its great importance, and I do hope that the Government will do all it can, by 674 every means in its power, to check this poisonous traffic.
§ MR. COLVILLE (Lanark, North East)
At the risk of dwelling at what may seem too great length on this rather unpleasant subject, I beg to emphasise the remarks of my honourable Friend the Member for Flintshire. It has become generally known that the trade in intoxicants in West Africa has assumed very large proportions. The letter of Bishop Tugwell in the "Times" indeed shows that the increase has been enormous, for he has proved that imports of gin and brandy into Lagos last January were something like 50 per cent. greater than in the corresponding month of last year, notwithstanding the prohibitory zones in the country. When some African chiefs visited this country some time ago our Sovereign Lady the Queen gave them great encouragement by the assurance that there would be no relaxation of the law discouraging the drink traffic. It is rather lamentable to reflect that the Government which maintains a State connection with the Christian religion should be sending out to Africa along with her missionaries large quantities of that which is doing more harm than anything else to demoralise the natives of Africa, and unfit them for accepting our most holy faith. It has become pretty well known among those who have sons and relatives in commercial circles in West Africa that very great evils and temptations are put in their way through the cheap and abominable liquor which is so freely imported there. I cannot too strongly urge upon the Government to take steps in order to still further extend the prohibition of the import of these very cheap and very dangerous intoxicants into Africa. We all know the susceptibility of the African people to intemperance. They do not seem to have the moral power that our fellow subjects have in the other parts of the Empire to restrain themselves in the use of intoxicants. They have no moderation, and no ability to restrain them- 675 selves, and consequently they fall victims to the vile habit. It is the duty of the Government, having regard to the increased interest we have obtained in that great continent, to see that any action that can be taken will be promptly taken to limit the effect of this traffic in spirits, and to support our missionaries and all those who desire the welfare of our fellow subjects in West Africa.
§ * MR. J. GALLOWAY WEIR (Ross and Cromarty)
I regret the Colonial Secretary is not represented on this occasion in the House, although I was pleased to hear that my honourable Friend the Member for Flint had approached him, and that the right honourable Gentleman had shown his sympathy with him in the desire that this abominable traffic should be diminished if not entirely abolished. A short time ago £95,000 was voted for the Gold Coast, and the Colonial Secretary said that a portion of that money was required for a West African regiment. Now the officers in that part of the world say that they have considerable difficulty in excluding spirits from the forts. I object absolutely to the provision of large sums of money by the taxpayers of this country for the West African Colonies while the sale of drink of the vilest character prevails, and while the officers in command of the native regiments are unable to cope with the drink traffic. Whiskey is found there at 27s. 6d. the dozen bottles, and brandy at 18s. 6d. per dozen, and you can buy gin and rum at l½d. or 2d. per bottle. If the Colonial Government were to raise the duty to 10s. 6d. per gallon, which is charged on spirits in this country, I am sure a better article would be sold. Not that I am in favour of strong drink of any kind. But I say some effort should be made by the Government to put a stop to the traffic in these vile spirits in West Africa. Bishop Tugwell stated that he had travelled 1,000 miles in West Africa, and that he saw in every centre that there was an increase of drink consumption. It is a shame that we, the Imperial guardians of these countries, 676 should suffer such growths to go on unchecked. I think the duty on the spirits should be increased, and that our Government should approach the French Government and other Governments interested and endeavour to bring about some revised tariff as was suggested at the Brussels Conference. The increase in the import of spirits is something enormous. The amount in January, 1898, was 29,387 gallons of gin alone; and in January of this year it was 52,753 gallons, or an increase for the month of 23,000 odd gallons. Now, I would urge on the Foreign Office and on the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, if he will give me his attention for one moment, to try and get the tariff arranged at the Brussels Conference altered, so that the duty may be higher on spirits, and that the quality of the spirits imported may be of a better and purer quality.