HC Deb 25 February 1823 vol 8 cc248-54
Mr. Hume

rose for the purpose of calling the attention of the House to the situation of the colonies belonging to Great Britain, and the expense of their government. He understood that the opposition which had been offered to his motion for returns connected with this subject had been withdrawn, and that ministers had agreed to grant them, as far as was practicable. After strong re- monstrances, he had, last year, succeeded in obtaining such an account as could be rendered of the expenditure, in respect of the military establishment in those colonies. By an abstract of the actual disbursements of the several commissaries upon foreign stations, for the year ending 25th Dec. 1820, and paid by Great Britain, exclusive of the revenues collected in the several colonies, it appeared, that the following charges were incurred, viz.:—

£. s. d.
Canada 354,721 12 9
Nova Scotia and New Brunswick 125,353 5 11
Newfoundland 9,921 7 2
Bermuda 28,269 13 10
Bahama Islands 7,904 18 0
Windward and Leeward Island and Colonies 346,108 9 0
Jamaica 115,691 9 0
Cape of Good Hope 177,043 13 0
Mauritius 57,274 13 1
Mediterranean 201,247 4 3
Gibraltar 140,092 8 4
Sierra Leone and Gambia 62,298 4 1
Heligoland 6,371 2 6
1,629,298 1 6
The revenue collected in these colonies amounted to 1,926,850 0 0
Making the total expense £.3,556,148 1 6
In some of these colonies, a large revenue was collected by the local government, under an authority directly contrary to the spirit of the British constitution, which said, that no subject should be taxed but by an act of the legislature. They ought, therefore, either to be permitted to have a voice in the making laws for the government of their own affairs, or the amount of the revenue ought to be sanctioned by the House. By the accounts which the government had obtained within the last two years, it appeared, that the sum collected by the local government was so far from being equal to the expenses of the colonies, that, after nearly the whole of it had been laid out there, they required large remittances from this country. Upon reference to an abstract of the revenue and expenditure of Ceylon, the Mauritius, Malta and Gozo, and the Cape of Good Hope, it would be seen, that the amounts of their revenue and expenditure were as follows, during the years specified, viz:—
Revenue. Expenditure.
Ceylon, 1817 £.378,812 £.450,816
Mauritius, 1817 164,441 251,186
Malta and Gozo, 1818. 108,336 105,761
Cape of Good Hope, 1819 116,115 119,087
It appeared from the report of the finance committee in 1817, that they had been aware of the mismanagement of this branch of the national interests, and had called upon ministers for an account of the expenditure of each of the colonies. They then learnt, that the government was not in possession of full accounts; and in this respect, therefore, their report was imperfect. They, however, inserted in it a recommendation, that steps should be taken in order to render the foreign possessions of the country more efficient towards defraying the charge of their own military expenditure. It was obvious, that the colonies, instead of being an addition to the strength of the country, increased its weakness; and he believed it would be better able to cope with any contingency which might arise, if those colonies were freed from their allegiance, and became their own masters. The commercial advantages to England would be still the same; for we should continue to be the principal suppliers. In the event of a war with America, we should have to defend Canada, and the distance to which we should have to send supplies, would give fearful odds against us in such a contest; while the expense would be five-fold more than the colony was worth. Ought we not, then, to be relieved from the drain which was caused by the colonies? The Cape of Good Hope had been now for seventeen years in the possession of the British government; and he was utterly surprised that it had been suffered to continue so long in its present state. It was under arbitrary laws, ruled by a military governor, and subject to the orders of the colonial secretary. The only code which they had was in the Dutch language, and was that commonly called the Statutes of India. They had been framed at Batavia in 1715, and having been agreed upon there, their operation was transferred to the Cape of Good Hope. The revenue and expenditure of this colony were extremely large, and called for the especial notice of parliament. Amongst the items from which revenue was raised, he observed some that were highly productive. It appeared, that the sale of wine-licences produced no less than 165,000 rix-dollars. There was one point, with respect to which government were bound to interfere. He alluded to the mismanagement of the currency at the Cape. By the immense issue of paper money, the currency was greatly deteriorated. Instead of the pound sterling being at five rix-dollars, so much was the currency depreciated at one period, that it was at 15; and, according to the last return, it was 12½ being 180 per cent in addition to the exchange. The governor was paid 10,000l. per annum by this country; so that he derived a very great advantage from the depreciation of the colonial currency. Several other officers received their salaries in the regular currency of Great Britain. The greater, therefore, the depreciation of the colonial currency, the more extensive was the advantage derived by them. This was a system which was evidently at variance with the principles of good government. The hon. gentleman then alluded to a proclamation which had been issued by the governor, forbidding the people to assemble at public meetings without his authority, under pain of imprisonment. The meeting which occasioned this proclamation had been convened, for the purpose of drawing up a petition to the English government, relative to the lands which had been allotted to certain individuals, and complaining of different acts of oppression. The people were not, however, allowed to meet. And, when they were not suffered to represent their grievances and demand redress, was it to be expected that they would remain quiet and contented?—He next adverted to the colony of Ceylon, which had a revenue of between 300,000l. and 400,000l., but which revenue was Considerably less than the expenditure. In the observations he had made, he meant not to give offence to any individual; but he thought he had made out a case which called for the prompt and serious consideration of the house. His object was, to have an account of the revenue of all colonies which were managed by the king in council, separately made out, and laid on the table every year, in the same manner as was done with other branches of revenue and expenditure. He concluded by moving, "That an humble Address be presented to his Majesty, that he will be graciously pleased to give directions that there be laid before this House, separate Accounts of the Revenue and Expenditure, Civil and Military, of the Island of Ceylon, of the Mauritius, of Trinidad, of Malta, and of the Cape of Good Hope, for the latest year the accounts can be made up for; together with an Estimate of the amount to be paid by Great Britain for the civil or military expenses of these colonies for the current year, so as to exhibit an Account of the total Expenditure for each colony, and of the whole in the year; and also, separate Estimates of the Civil and Military Expenses of every kind to be incurred by Great Britain for Upper and Lower Canada, Nova Scotia, and every colony in the West Indies or elsewhere, India excepted, not included in the preceding return, every year, along with the other estimates of the year, so as to exhibit the total Expenditure of the British Colonies."

Mr. Wilmot

rose, not with any intention of opposing the motion, but for the purpose of giving an explanation on one or two points. Government had pledged themselves in the course of last session, to give the fullest information with reference to the expense of the colonies. That information was to be obtained through the agency of commissioners, whose reports would be laid before the House. It was intended by his majesty's government to lay on the table, with reference to the year 1824, an account of the revenue raised in those colonies, and the manner in which it had been appropriated. With respect to the sum expended by Great Britain in aid of the colonies, when the sum raised on the spot was not sufficient to meet the necessary charges, the hon. gentleman could see the amount in the estimates that were annually produced. He must, however, perceive, that it would be impossible to give him the information which he required, with respect to the exact portion of military force that it would be necessary to keep in each of the colonies every year. Government could not state the precise number of troops that would be requisite in every year. In fact, even if it could be ascertained, it would not be safe nor prudent to make the disclosure. Again, to say that every colony should be bound to answer for its military expenditure, and that a fixed number of troops should be maintained, would be to take out of the hands of government the discretion which it ought to possess, with respect to the disposal of the military force of the empire. There were many considerations, both of economy and policy, which forbad the adoption of such a principle. The subject could not be considered on such narrow grounds as those which had been stated by the hon. gentleman. With respect to the income of the colonies, he should receive information on that head, and would then have it in his power to make such observations on its application as he thought proper. There was no portion of the administration of those colonies that would not hereafter come under the consideration of the House. When the proper time arrived, he would show how fallacious the reasoning of the hon. gentleman was, when he stated, that these colonies were rather a burthen than a benefit to the country.

Mr. Bright

said, it was, in his opinion, high time to take into consideration the state of the colonies, for the purpose of forming wise and wholesome constitutions for them, or, in default of so doing, to make application to the throne that such charters should be granted to them as were suited to their peculiar interests and habits. Canada had been for a long time in the same state as some of the colonies which had that night been mentioned, until, at length, hasty and inefficient charters were drawn up. This, he hoped, would be avoided with respect to the new colonies; and that, in legislating for them, due regard would be had to their immediate wants and their original habits. The hon. mover had complained, that the Dutch law still prevailed at the Cape of Good Hope, and he had expressed his regret, that the British constitution had not been extended to that colony. But, was the British constitution fit for every soil? Were its principles in unison with the long-established manners and customs of every people? Could the laws of one country be transplanted to another, to the advantage of a people who had been accustomed to a very different system? Certainly not. The best system of law was that which agreed best with the habits and manners of a people; and therefore it was impossible to transplant an entire code of laws from one part of the world to another, so as to produce a beneficial effect. In forming laws, attention should be paid to the circumstances, feelings, wants, and habits of a community; and it was by pursuing that plan alone, that the Cape of Good Hope, or any other colony, could be effectively governed. Some of the doctrines laid down by the hon. member were at variance with the sound maxims of our forefathers; and the broaching such doctrines in that House, if they were suffered to pass unnoticed, would produce the most mischievous effects in the colonies. It was by considering their wants, by adding to their comforts, by treating them with kindness, and not by laying down sweeping propositions as to the way in which they ought to be governed, that we should conciliate their love, esteem, and respect. Doctrines like those laid down by the hon. member, if frequently introduced into the debates of that House, would be canvassed in the colonies, and must lead to feelings of a very dangerous description. They would extend slowly, but they would extend, and the consequences must be dangerous to the colonies. If the latter were attempted, this country would infallibly lose them.

Mr. Maberly

could see no reason why the House should not have regular accounts of the income and expenditure of the colonies, in the same way as they had returns of every other part of the expenditure of the empire.

Mr. Wilmot

said, that so far as it was possible, regular returns should be laid before the House. It was distinctly imposed on governors of colonies, as a duty, to semi over such returns.

Mr. Hume

consented to withdraw his motion, with the understanding, that the information required should be granted as soon as possible.