HC Deb 20 February 1807 vol 8 cc940-3
Lord Howick

moved the order of the day for the second reading of the Slave Trade Abolition Bill.

General Gascoyne

suggested the propriety of deferring the hearing of counsel till Monday, on the ground that on the first reading of the bill, it was understood that the whole of this day was to be occupied with this most important question, and that at that hour of the evening it was not likely there would be such an attendance to hear the arguments of counsel with patience and decorum, as the magnitude of the measure required.

Lord Howick

was as much disposed as any man to consider this as a question of great importance: perhaps it was the most important that had ever been submitted to a legislative body; but when the louse was told that this was an inconvenient hour to hear counsel, and to hear counsel alone, for it was understood that no debate was to follow, he did not see how such an assertion could be supported. He certainly regretted that such a delay had occurred, which was to be attributed to the unexpected time that had been occupied by the public business that had been brought forward on that evening. It was not a very late hour, and he was of opinion, that there was a fuller attendance at that time than could be expected at the hour proposed by the hon. gent. opposite.—Gen. Gascoyne declaring that he did not mean to persevere in his recommendation of postponement, counsel were then called in, in the following order: Mr. Dallas, for the merchants and planters of Jamaica; Mr. Alexander, for the merchants of London trading to Africa; Mr. Scarlett, for the merchants and planters of Trinidad; Mr. Clarke, for the mayor, corporation, and merchants of Liverpool. After Mr. Dallas had pleaded at considerable length, he prayed, that evidence might be called in to prove the truth of his assertions. He was then ordered to withdraw, and gen. Gascoyne moved, that evidence should be called to the bar. Mr. Fuller seconded the motion.

Lord Howick

was persuaded, that the hon. gent. could not believe that the motion would be acceded to. Not any thing that the counsel had stated was new to the house, except one point, the relative situation of St. Domingo and Jamaica, and this was a mere matter of opinion. If after so many years of enquiry, the house still went on to investigate this subject, they would never come to a decision.

Mr. Fuller

deemed it extremely unfair to prevent evidence from being heard in support of the opinions of the learned counsel. As to what the noble lord said about opinion, what was the state of this country? Was it not governed by opinion? Was not the admiralty influenced by the opinion of a noble earl, a near connection of the noble lord's (earl St. Vincent), who had the other evening made a speech on this subject in the house of lords? He was desirous of hearing the evidence of those who were acquainted with the subject; and, when such an immense property was at stake, if there was any fairness, propriety, or decorum in the house, they would agree to the motion.

General Gascoyne

expressed himself surprised at the opposition of the noble lord. If any evidence could illustrate this momentous subject, it was the evidence of the two respectable persons whom the learned counsel wished to call to the bar. Did the noble lord mean to say, that all that had been urged by the learned counsel was matter of opinion, and that nothing new had been stated by him? The mere hearing of counsel, without allowing evidence to be called to support their statements, was a mockery.

Mr. Hibbert

recommended that evidence should be called in.

Sir C. Pole

urged the production of evidence, and declared that he could prove that the immediate abolition of the slave trade would be the most barbarous proceeding, even to the negro himself.

Mr. Wilberforce

had not heard in the whole of the pleadings of the learned counsel a single new point, except that which had been justly termed by the noble lord matter of opinion. Evidence was therefore unnecessary. It was still less so in the present case, because one of the witnesses alluded to was a member of that house who would be heard in his place with that deference to which he was so justly entitled. Nor did he think the governor of a West-India island the most proper person to examine as to the state of a negro slave. If any one wished to enquire into the condition of a peasant in this country, would he ask persons of rank and consequence? Would he not rather apply to those who were of an humbler class, who were more intimately acquainted with the subject? With regard to any further evidence, he was convinced that the house would see no reason for it, when they considered that for the last three years, both down stairs and in committees, every species of evidence that could possibly elucidate the question, had been gone into.—The question was put, "That the counsel be again called in, and directed to proceed with his evidence," and negatived without a division. Mr. Alexander then proceeded with his pleadings, and afterwards Mr. Clarke. At the close of the speeches of each of the learned counsel, he requested that evidence might be called in; and general Gascoyne made successive motions to that effect, which were negatived without a division. Mr. Scarlett was then heard for the island of Trinidad; he also concluded by requesting that evidence should be adduced; and after having retired, was again called in, on the motion of lord Howick, to state the points on which he wished that evidence should be examined. They were in substance, the loss that would be sustained by certain persons who had been induced by the British government to become settlers. After the learned gent. had again withdrawn,

Mr. Wilberforce

remarked, that this was not the proper time for hearing such evidence. If the question of compensation should, at a subsequent period, be brought before the house, that would be the opportunity for receiving it.

Mr. Howarth

warmly urged the propriety of hearing evidence. He trusted justice would be done to the white, as well as the black, and moved that the counsel be called in, and directed to proceed with his evidence.

Lord Howick

opposed the motion. The learned counsel had stated two points which he wished to establish by evidence. The first was, that no more ground could be cleared in the island of Trinidad without fresh importation of slaves; the second' that great loss would be sustained by the settlers by the abolition of the trade. The first was a self-evident proposition, and, would lead merely to a question of policy: the second would be a question of future consideration. Those who demanded compensation, might hereafter submit their case to the house, who were never backward in listening to the claims of justice.

General Gascoyne

could not forbear expressing his satisfaction that the principle of indemnity seemed to be acknowledged by the noble lord.

Lord Howick

in explanation said, that he had only stated a general principle.

Sir P. Francis ,

was not willing to allow the possibility of a case in which the public ought to compensate an individual for any losses which might arise from the abolition of such iniquitous practices.

Mr. Roscoe

declared, that, after having performed the great duty of abolishing the Slave Trade, which had so disgraced the land, he thought the house bound to consider the situation of those who should suffer from the annihilation of a system so long sanctioned by the Legislature.

Mr. R. Thornton

thought that there would be few cases entitled to compensation. Those engaged in commercial concerns were necessarily exposed to risks, and sufficient warning had long been given to those engaged in this abominable traffic.

Mr. S. Stanhope

conceived that it would be convenient if the principle on which compensation would be allowed was stated Before the passing of the present bill.—The motion was then negatived without a division. After which, lord Howick moved that the bill be committed, and the debate motion on that was adjourned till Monday.