HC Deb 08 June 1819 vol 40 cc976-9
Mr. Goulburn

in a committee of the whole House, rose to state the object of the bill which he proposed to introduce, to be the prevention of illicit slave trading by means of a Register of the Slaves in the West Indies.

So far as the sense of the House had been ascertained on this subject when the bill of his hon. friend (Mr. Wilber force) was under discussion, no objection had been made to the principles of the measure; all the objections offered had been against the details. One great argument urged in favour of the measure was, the extent to which illicit commerce in slaves had been carried. He did not place it upon that ground. He did not believe that the laws respecting the slave trade were generally transgressed. Some instances of violation undoubtedly occurred, but the practice did not generally prevail. The proof adduced to show the extent of illicit trade was, the number of slaves found at one period in some of the islands above the number at a former period. The difference, he was of opinion, had arisen from the superior accuracy of the latter enumeration. A similar increase of numbers, beyond any actual increase of population, was observable in our own census. It had been stated, that 5,700 slaves had been imported into Trinidad in the course of two years. If so many slaves had really been imported, it was impossible but some captures should have been made. He was confirmed in his opinion on this point by the state of others of our colonies. There was the greatest difficulty of introducing slaves into Barbadoes, as it was the great naval station for the West Indies; the island was besides so fully supplied, that there was no inducement for introducing slaves; yet, it was said to have had 9,836 more slaves at one period than it had had two years before. The number, too, of African slaves in the island of Barbadoes, at the latter period, was 5,496; so that, if a real increase of 9,336 had taken place, slaves born in the island must have been imported. Still, he considered it of importance to the character of the West Indies, and to our own character, that there should be a registration of the slaves. Our purity and innocence ought to be placed on record. Viewing the trade in slaves as a blot upon the national character, he could not think that any obstruction should be thrown in the way of the proposed measure. If the House could not annihilate the trade, they ought at least to do all in their power. The plan to be proposed was, that there should be an office in this country, in which duplicates should be lodged of the number of slaves in each colony; that an individual should be appointed for its superintendence; and that power of reference to the duplicates in this office should be given to all parties. On the removal of slaves from one colony to another, certificates were to be given to that effect, and precautions adopted to prevent abuses of the permission given by the act 46th of the king to slaves to accompany their masters from one colony to another. His bill would be more restricted than the bill of his hon. friend, but the cause was, that the colonial legislatures had made it unnecessary to pass a more extended law. He concluded by moving, That the chairman do ask leave to bring in the bill.

Mr. Wilberforce

said, that it could not be supposed that he rose to object to the motion. One material part of the bill which he had himself proposed was comprehended in this measure. He could better judge of the details when he should see the bill. One thing he was ready to contend, and he believed it would be conceded to him, that registration was necessary to afford assurance that there was no illicit trade carried on. In vain had we passed the acts against the slave trade, unless we followed it up by measures like the present. He trusted that the French would follow our example. That great and generous nation would not, he trusted, suffer their banners to be polluted by this foul traffic. We were looking forward with earnest expectation to the time when no nation on the face of the earth would afford protection or encouragement to the trade in human beings. But far short of this were we at present. Not less than 50,000 slaves were stated to have been imported to the Havannah in the course of the last two years. The bill which he had introduced made the slave illegally imported free, because he was considered as involuntarily a slave. The hon. gentleman was mistaken if he supposed that the intention had been to give them nominal freedom without providing for their future protection. But whatever delay might be interposed in giving them freedom, he hoped those emancipated would be really taken care of. He trusted, that every island would either have a register, or not be allowed to carry any slave into it. If this measure should be carried into effect, and be accompanied with the good-will of the colonies, he should rejoice.

Mr. R. Gordon

warmly remonstrated against the establishment of a new office for carrying the object of the bill into effect. An additional clerk to that third secretary of state's office, which already cost the public 29,000l. a year, would be quite sufficient for the purposes of the measure. Instead of which, it was proposed to create a number of fees, upon each registry, and that the overplus, after paying the new officers, should be carried to the credit of the civil list. Now, after what had recently transpired in the House, he thought that it was too much to establish a new and expensive office, with fresh patronage to the Crown.

Mr. Marryat

did not mean to oppose the bill, because he thought the registry of slaves would be attended with beneficial results; but he agreed with the hon. member, that there was he necessity for the introduction of a large and expensive establishment in this country to produce those good effects. That it was intended to be an expensive one would be seen from the clause which provides that the principal officer in it should not have a seat in the House. The very introduction of the clause showed, that the person to be chosen must be highly respectable. As to the trouble which the establishment of the registry might give in this country, he conceived that if any gentleman in the colonial office, would devote two hours of two days in the week, he would do all that was necessary.

Lord Milton

agreed, that some decisive step should be taken for the effectual abolition of the slave trade; and if a registry in this country could tend to that great object, it ought to be adopted. This duty was the more imperative upon England, as by many nations on the continent her motives were suspected in this business.

Leave was given to bring in the bill.