HC Deb 27 March 1823 vol 8 cc754-7

A Petition of the Legislative Council and General Assembly of the Island of Tobago, and its dependencies, was presented, and read; setting forth,

"That the island of Tobago (in common with the other British possessions in the West Indies) is now in a situation of such extreme distress as, if not promptly and efficaciously removed, must terminate in absolute rum of its agricultural and mercantile interests; and, deeply impressed with a sense of the danger which impends over that colony, the petitioners venture to approach the House, to state their present situation and their future prospects, trusting that the same fostering protection which reared the colony in its infancy will not be wanting in its support, when assailed by distresses that threaten its very existence; were these distresses, however, peculiar to the colony of Tobago, any claim they might prefer in that case to the House, must have wanted the magnitude of interesest, associated with their present appeal, which affects matters so momentous, and infers consequences of so alarming a nature as to be well worthy the most serious consideration of the British legislature; the pressure which they feel, and the distresses which they complain of, are experienced by them, in common with the whole of the West India colonies, the situation of which is, at this moment, unparalleled since the commencement of their annals; the causes of this overwhelming and universal distress must be sought either in the relative situation of the British West India colonies to those of other nations in the great markets of Europe, or in the enactments of the mother country, affecting the production and sale of their principal staple commodities; and the petitioners have unfortunately to state, that to each of these sources they have in part to attribute their misfortunes; when the humane and just policy of Great Britain put an end to her share of the traffic in slaves, her colonies became unable to increase their means of agricultural labour, And indeed were able to maintain their then establishments solely by means of rigid economy, and the utmost attention to the health and welfare of their slaves; had, however, foreign powers manifested the same sincerity in their repeated promises to abolish the slave trade on their parts as have been evinced by Great Britain, or, had the faith of treaties been observed, the petitioners should not now have had to address the House; pointing out this, not merely as a subject of just animadversion, but as one of those causes which principally affects their prosperity; had the foreign colonies ceased to benefit by the importation of slaves at the same time with the British, or even at the period when they had engaged by treaty to do so, the petitioners should have entered into competition with them upon fair terms, and British capital, and British industry, would still have secured to them the superiority, but the fact has not been so; it is notorious to the world, that the flags of France, Spain, and Portugal, daily cover the importation of thousands Of slaves into their respective colonies, which, thus recruited, are enabled to extend their cultivation to an indefinite extent, while the honourable strictness with which Great Britain and all her colonies have adhered to the spirit of the Abolition act, effectually precludes all hopes of successful competition; the petitioners presume not to question the policy which has given rise to the commercial laws of Great Britain relating to her West India colonies, but the petitioners beg leave humbly to state that their operation is such as to depress them materially; those prohibiting the claying and refilling of their sugars for exportation, the enormous duty (almost amounting to a prohibition) upon many of their productions, and the restrictive policy by which they are compelled to seek for all their supplies in the British market, all press on them with a weight which can be thoroughly appreciated only by those who witness or experience their effects; the petitioners do not here overlook the boon which the British parliament has intended to bestow on the West Indies, by partially renewing the intercourse with the United States of America, in regard to the importation of certain articles of supply, but the petitioners beg leave humbly to state, that the scale of duties attached to the importation of certain articles therein permitted to be Imported is such as to render the act (desirable as it was in point of principle) almost wholly unavailing; in such small colonies in particular as the island of Tobago, where the quantity of circulating coin is so very limited, it must ever be a matter of difficulty to procure sufficient to satisfy the immediate demand of the large duties imposed by that act, the inefficiency of which, as a matter of relief, may be understood from the fact, that though it has now been several months in operation, only one small American cargo has been discharged in the ports of that island; from these and other causes the colony of Tobago has now arrived at a pitch of distress of a deeper nature than they can possibly detail; it is a fact they earnestly submit to the serious consideration of the House, that there are few, if any, estates now in that colony which make any profitable return to their owners; the crops of very many of them, indeed, in spite of the utmost retrenchment possible in their expenditure, and of every effort to increase both the quantity and quality of their produce, have not been sufficient to pay their colonial taxes, and the price of their supplies, leaving the holders of mortgages on them without any payment, even of interest, and their proprietors without any income, while the very cultivation of other estates is only carried on by the continual sacrifice of additional capital; nor is the evil likely to be of local or temporary prevalence; on the contrary, the petitioners fear that, under the present system, it will and must extend tilt it attain its consummation in general ruin; in as far as lies in their own power, they have been exerting themselves to ward off this impending danger, but their means are limited indeed when opposed to such extensive evils; reluctant as the petitioners must have been to diminish the salaries of their public officers, universal distress and, the duty of affording the planter every relief in their power, which they felt to be paramount, prevailed on them to conquer their disinclination to the measure, yet public reduction and private economy have alike failed of affording any adequate relief, and the only course which promises any chance of amending their condition lies in their present appeal to the justice and wisdom of the British legislature; in making such appeal the petitioners need scarcely enumerate their claims to its protection; the vast revenue derived from those colonies, the extensive interests inseparably interwoven with their prosperity and their importance to the British empire, have ever been amply recognized; and as colonies of so much value, so much more closely connected with the interests and fate of the mother-country, and cultivated solely by British capital, the petitioners trust they need not enlarge on their confident expectations that the possessions of the British crown in the East Indies, which are entitled to no portion of their rights, will not be suffered to enter into a competition on such terms as, from the extremely low price of labour and other facilities for productions which they possess, must prove completely ruinous to them; such are a few of the principal details of their present distress, its causes, and probable consequence; the petitioners assure the House that the strongest language they could use would fail to depict its features too strongly; to the wise consideration of the House the petitioners submit their case, trusting that, in some speedy and efficient manner, the House will devise some means for their relief, without which they must soon cease to be a valuable part of the British empire."

Ordered to lie on the table.