HC Deb 10 July 1823 vol 9 cc1526-9
Mr. Hume

, in bringing forward his motion with respect, to the Quarantine Laws of Malta, felt it necessary to explain shortly the nature of the grievance complained of, and the remedy which the aggrieved parties were, anxious to obtain. He had mentioned this subject early in the session, and he understood that it was to be inquired into; but he had four days ago received a letter from the Committee of Merchants at Malta, in which was an extract of a letter from lord Bathurst, stating, that after a full inquiry into all the circumstances of the case, he saw no good ground for altering the Quarantine laws with respect to that island. This answer of the noble lord had put the whole commercial interest of the island into a state of alarm. Therefore it was that, even at that late period of the session, he felt it necessary to make this motion. It was well known that Europe had for a long time, and as it were by a family compact, excluded the states of Barbary and the other Turkish states and dependencies, from that free intercourse which took place between the other ports of the Mediterranean, with the express view of preserving themselves as much as possible from the plague which raged in those countries. But while this law existed in the Mediterranean, as well as in all other European ports, the island of Malta was in free pratique with those ports. In 1813 the plague reached Malta, and was not removed until 1814. After this, the ports of Genoa and Leghorn notified that the ships of Malta (if no recurrence of the evil took place) were to be allowed free pratique as before. In 1814, circumstances arose which created a want of confidence in, Genoa and Leghorn, in consequence of which Malta was placed, with respect to her ships, upon the same footing with the Barbary or any other Turkish states. What he wished was, that Malta should be placed upon the same footing with other Mediterranean ports; that there should be established at Malta a Board of Health, instead of at allowing the power to rest with Dr. Greaves, who was under the control of sir T. Maitland, and who allowed persons from any part of Turkey, to land by his directions, without undergoing the usual quarantine. This it was that caused such a jealousy in the other Mediterranean ports, and induced them to place vessels from the island of Malta under the same qualantine restrictions which were imposed upon vessels from the Turkish coast. So long as the irregularity existed, so long would the other Mediterranean ports keep Maltese ships on a footing with Turkish ships. In 1815, sir T. Maitland went to Tunis. He remained there two days, and on his return to Malta he was allowed to land immediately, without performing any quarantine. True it was, that the plague did not then rage at Tunis; but this was no answer, the omission of the usual cautionary measure was a good ground of jealousy on the part of the other ports, and it consequently subjected the Maltese merchants and traders to all the losses and disabilities which a quarantine must necessarily bring upon them. The hon. member went on to state various cases in which the quarantine system had been observed by other powers, while it had been totally neglected in Malta. The return of sir T. Maitland to Malta was notorious. It was a singular fact, that while we were so regardless of the quarantine laws, they were so strictly observed by other powers, that even on the arrival of the consort of the duke de Berry from Sicily at Marseilles, she was obliged to perform quarantine. After some remarks upon the farce of fumigating letters from Malta, while woollens were allowed to pass unnoticed, he proceeded to state, that it appeared from a calculation, upon which he could rely, that from February, 1816, to April, 1823, a period of more than seven years, sir T. Maitland had not resided more than 309 days in Malta. Let the House consider the important duties which sir T. Maitland had to perform. Let it be remembered, too, that the courts of justice had been several times at a stand, in consequence of the absence of that gentleman; who, in the mean time, issued the most important orders from the island of Corfu. Let the House but take this for a moment into their serious consideration, and they must at once perceive the necessity of a change of system. He would cite one, amongst many instances, of the exercise of the governor's power in this way. On the 18th of March, 1819, sir T. Maitland proclaimed, from Corfu, that from and after that date, there should be imposed upon each quarter of corn imported into the island of Malta a duty of three scudi, or about 5s. English. In the following August, this duty was raised, by proclamation of the lieutenant-governor, from 5s. to 8s. 4d., and on the 5th of the following November, the then lieutenant-governor, (colonel James Maitland) issued a proclamation, stating that, from the date thereof and until further orders, the duty on barley or Indian corn should be raised from three to five scudi, or, in English, from 8s. 4d. to 13s. 4d.—These orders were to be enforced on the instant, without entering into any consideration of the interests of the parties concerned. The hon. member then moved, "That there be laid before this House copies of all Correspondence between the Committee of British Merchants at Malta and the Government at Malta, and the Colonial Office in England, since 1814, respecting the Quarantine Regulations at Malta."

Mr. Wilmot Horton

did not rise to oppose the motion, to which he would have agreed without observation, did he not feel it to be an act of justice towards sir T. Maitland to make a few remarks on what had fallen from the hon. gentleman. With respect to the alteration in the duty on grain, if it could be regulated by any fixed principle, as might be the case under ordinary circumstances, the observations of the hon. member would be just; but, when it was recollected that the island depended upon a foreign supply, he could not assume, because a change was made in the rate of duty, that the system was bad, or that there did not exist some sufficient reason for the change. The hon. member had argued, that there ought to be an independent board of health at Malta, the same as at other ports, instead of the system of regulation which now prevailed there. But he could not have read the correspondence for which he now called, or he would have found, that the merchants admitted the theory of the quarantine system to be more perfect at Malta than any where else. Vessels carrying susceptible goods were formerly placed in quarantine for forty days. That period was now lessened one-half; others carrying goods less susceptible were detained for a shorter; time; and a third class, not likely to have any thing infectious on board, were placed under what was called the quarantine of observation. There was not, as the hon. member had asserted, any favouritism, in the invidious sense of the word, manifested towards men of war. If more indulgence was shown to them than mer- chantmen, the reason was obvious. The cleanliness and the discipline of men of war rendered the chance of their crews being afflicted with contagious distempers much less likely than those on board merchantmen. The fumigation, the expurgation to which the latter was subjected during quarantine, were going on in the men of war all the while they were at sea. The hon. member had observed, that sir T. Maitland went on shore at Tunis, and returned to Malta without undergoing any quarantine. It was true he went to Tunis in 1815, passed two days there, and then came back to Malta; but it was a remarkable fact that, at the time sir T. Maitland paid his visit, no person had had the plague at Tunis for the space of years. But the practical charge was, that the quarantine at the other ports in the Mediterranean was rendered more severe, in consequence of the laxity of the regulations at Malta. In proof of this, the hon. member had alluded to Marseilles. But the board of health at Marseilles were perfectly satisfied with the regulations at Malta. The hon. gentleman concluded, by saying, that he could have no objection to furnish the hon. member for Aberdeen with such copies or extracts of the correspondence as he might wish.

Mr. Hume

, upon that undertaking, consented to withdraw his motion.