HC Deb 10 March 1826 vol 14 cc1284-92

The House having resolved itself into a Committee of Supply, Mr. Herries moved, "That 376,769l. be granted for the Commissariat Department for the year 1826,"

Mr. Hume

complained, that this charge was annually increasing. In 1822 it had been lowered, but since that, the House had retrograded; and they had now absolutely come back to a charge as great as that of 1821. But this applied equally to every branch connected with the army. In consequence of reductions that were made in the army in 1821 and 1822, the House had allowed the pension-list to be increased to the amount of at least 500,000l. They thought the reduction would be a permanent one. But they now found out their error. The country was worse off at present than it was at the time when the pension-list was augmented, because other persons were appointed in the room, of those who were pensioned off. The country had, therefore, double the num- ber of individuals to provide for. The persons employed in Canada, at the Cape of Good Hope, and in various other settlements, as commissariat officers, were unnecessarily numerous. And he would repeat, that such a military establishment as was now kept up, tracing it through ail its ramifications, was sufficient to ruin any country, however wealthy. In Ireland there was, he observed, a corps of wag-goners, or a waggon department, which cost a large sum annually. It appeared to him to be a most useless establishment; and before he went further, he should like to have some information relative to it.

Mr. Herries

said, that the difference of the expenditure in the commissariat department, between the present and the preceding year, arose almost entirely from the increased price of provisions; bread, meat, and forage, had all advanced in price during the last two years. The expenditure in this department for 1825 was considerably beyond that of the three preceding years. The sum voted for that year did not cover the expense; and the estimate of the present year was formed on the actual expense incurred in 1825. As to the commissariat staff on foreign stations, particularly at Canada and the Cape, the number was not greater than the business required. By reducing the number, they would incur an additional expense, instead of effecting a saving, Every reduction that could possibly be made in this department had been made. But it should be observed, that various duties connected with the disbursement of money for the service of government were performed by the officers of this department; which, if not executed by them, must be performed by others; and this circumstance, he conceived, would satisfactorily account for the increase to which the hon. member had adverted. The number had, at one time, been considerably reduced: but in consequence of a representation from the commander of the forces, backed by many individuals perfectly qualified to give advice on this subject, it was thought proper to increase this useful body. It was not, however, brought back to its former amount, but was so far enlarged as to make it sufficient for the performance of all its duties. Those duties were various and important. In Canada a larger number were necessary than elsewhere, on account of the out-stations; and at times they had the charge of considerable sums of the pub- lic money. The number required at Sierra Leone was owing to a most melancholy cause. Two months after an officer arrived there, his death was almost certain; so that it was necessary to despatch double numbers, in order to supply inevitable vacancies.

Mr. Hutchinson

begged to call the serious attention of ministers to this subject. The declaration of the Secretary to the Treasury was, that in consequence of the certain mortality at Sierra Leone, it was necessary to send out two officers to each appointment. He was quite aware of the value of colonies to a great empire; but surely Great Britain had foreign possessions enough, without clinging with such pertinacity to a settlement which was the destruction of all the British subjects sent out to it. It seemed to him quite abominable, that an hon. gentleman, himself high in office, and surrounded by the king's ministers, should venture to make a statement, which only showed that government was actuated by little less than infatuation, in thus despatching men to their graves on the coast of Africa. He spoke from no impulse of opposition, but from a strong feeling of humanity, and a desire to save the valuable lives of the king's subjects. Ministers would have to account to God and their country, for this wanton waste of human existence. If Sierra Leone could not be abandoned without serious detriment, there might be some excuse for keeping it. He called upon ministers to give some hope that this fatal colony would be relinquished, and left to the possession of the deadly maladies by which it was infested.

Mr. Wilmot Horton

said, that any person who believed the colony in question to be preserved in consequence of an abstract love of colonization, took a very narrow view of the question. It should be recollected, that the possession of this colony was connected with one of the most solemn acts ever agreed to by parliament. It ought to be recollected that the possession of this colony was considered essential to the carrying into effect that great and most humane object, the abolition of negro slavery. If they gave up that place to-morrow, they would undo much of what they had previously done for the purpose of destroying the traffic in slaves. Let it not be forgotten, that there were at the present moment 18,000 liberated Africans in Sierra Leone. He regretted as much as any man the loss of lives in that colony; but surely it would require the full consideration of that House before they agreed to its utter abandonment. A commission had been sent out there; and when the report of that commission was made, it would be time enough to decide on the course which ought to be pursued with respect to this colony. Certainly, a committee of supply was not the place in which this question could be fairly discussed. Before a few months had elapsed, full information would be received relative to Sierra Leone, and until that period arrived, he thought the question of its abandonment ought not to be discussed.

Mr. Bernal

said, that there were two questions connected with Sierra Leone; first, as to the trade that could be carried on there; and next, whether, if that place were abandoned, another situation could be found equally well calculated for checking the slave trade; Fernando Po, for instance. At present, an enormous expense was incurred by this country in its endeavours to put an end to that traffic; and he was sorry to say, that though this government was actuated by a sincere feeling to do away with the slave-trade, it was carried on by foreign powers, under circumstances of accumulated horror and oppression. If he were rightly informed, the representations made to the French government by the British ambassador at Paris on this subject, did not meet with that attention which they deserved. Here they were, year after year, expending large sums of money, and devising what appeared to be the best means for suppressing the slave-trade; and what happened after all their exertions? Why, they found that trade carried on, without regulation and without mitigation, by those very powers who had been paid to give it up. In fact, all their efforts appeared to have given silent encouragement to this shameful trade.

Mr. Secretary Canning

assured the House, that there had appeared, on the part of the French government, a sincere desire to carry into effect the provisions which had been entered into, and the assurances which had been given, relative to the abolition of the slave trade. He begged leave to state one fact, as a proof of the sincerity of the French government. About a fortnight ago information had been received that slave-ships were then fitting out at Nantes. The fact was brought home decidedly, and the conse- quence was, that one of the ships was seized. Now, if the French government permitted the seizure of one of the vessels of that country under such circumstances, he thought little doubt could be entertained of their sincerity. They would not, he was sure, hereafter, abet other nations in carrying on this traffic. He had further to state, that this government, after considerable importunity, and after encountering and overcoming no little difficulty, had procured an order from the Spanish government, addressed to the governor of Cuba, which, if properly executed, would leave nothing to be desired, with respect to the slave-trade so far as Spain was concerned.

Mr. Evans

said, that they heard much of the loss and waste of human life at Sierra Leone in preventing slavery; but there was no mention at all of the excessive waste of life incurred in supporting slavery in the West Indies.

Mr. Hume

said, that they had the evidence of sir G. Collier, and all the practical men who had been there, to show that the situation of Sierra Leone was one which was not at all adapted to the humane purpose of the abolitionists. Messrs. Macaulay and Co. had made a bad choice of their head-quarters. It would turn out that they had effected the reverse of their intentions. There was no hope of improving, much less of civilizing Africa by that settlement. They had the evidence of major Laing, who had gone fifty miles into the interior only two years ago; he asserted that he was the first European ever seen so far in the country. The uselessness of a colony which had cost 1,800,000l. and could not yet grow enough produce to support its inhabitants, must be plain to every body. The black settlers were almost as ignorant as ever. The difficulty of getting up to the place was so great, as to preclude any hope of lasting usefulness. Ships took six weeks in working up to Sierra Leone.

Mr. Wilmot Horton

believed that no measure—not even a blockade through the whole line of coast—could effect the abolition of the trade, so long as slavery existed. He did not think that the hon. member for Aberdeen stated the subject fairly by putting it in comparative views of expense. It might be unprofitable to keep an establishment at Sierra Leone, but the question was as to its usefulness. In this view there could be no doubt in any mind after duly considering the cir- cumstances. The government were in possession of many interesting particulars, which threw still clearer light on the subject. For instance, an expedition had been planned and put in motion for penetrating to the centre of Africa. It would proceed by the route along which the chief part of all the captives to be sold were driven to the coast. The House would see, in this one circumstance, the grounds of considerable hopes as to the civilization of Africa, though the expectation of any very great success was still very far remote.

Mr. Sykes

could not say whether his hon. friend included him in the firm of Macauley and Co. but he could assure him, that he agreed with them as to the necessity of putting an end to slavery. It was on the recommendation of Mr. Wilber-force that this colony was first established, and such a measure could only have been suggested by the most praiseworthy motives. In exclaiming against the expense and loss of lives in this colony, it was singular that no allusion was made to other colonies liable to the same objection, established to continue the slave trade. What had been the state of our own colonies in the West Indies I In 1796, when a large force was sent to the West Indies, almost one half of the soldiers, at least of the officers, had died. He certainly lamented that mortality, as well as that of Sierra Leone; but, considering the latter station as settled for purposes of the highest benevolence, he could not refuse to vote for this item of expenditure.

Mr. Carus Wilson

would not say whether Sierra Leone was the best situation that could have been chosen; but the experiment had at least proved, that persons of the African race and colour might be brought into a state of social and civilized life. This, under all the circumstances, was an important fact established; and he had no hesitation in voting for the grant.

The resolution was agreed to. On the resolution, that 72,680l. be granted for the contingent expenses of the Offices of the Secretaries of State,

Mr. Hume

wished to know why there was an increase in these estimates for the present year.

Mr. Wilmot Horton

said, it was owing to various expenses necessarily incurred by the increase of business in the foreign and colonial offices particularly. The salary of the colonial counsel was in- creased from 600l. to 1,500l. because; from the increased business, his whole time was occupied. Besides, there was a considerable expense incurred by the preparation of documents ordered by parliament.

Mr. Hume

took that opportunity of denying that the increased expense was incurred in preparing returns by order of this House; but the fact was, that the government kept governors at the Cape of Good Hope and other colonies, against whom so many complaints were made, that nearly the whole time of the persons engaged in the colonial departments was occupied in examining those complaints. The only way to save that expense would be, to call home every governor, whatever might be his rank or family, against whom complaints had been frequently made.

Mr. Wilmot Horton

said, that nothing could be more easy for the hon. gentleman than to make such declarations, and nothing more easy for himself than to say, that there was not in that declaration a word of truth. He could not concur in the opinion of the hon. member, that every governor against whom complaint might be made, ought to be turned off at once. He thought the proper course would be, when a complaint was made, to institute inquiry; and such inquiries had, upon many occasions, been instituted. Was it likely that any member of his majesty's government, liable as they were to public opinion, and the opinion of parliament, would wish to support a governor, who had by misconduct forfeited the confidence of the country? He did not stand up to justify the conduct of governors, or to say that no governor had done any thing which would justify inquiry, or perhaps removal, but he thought no government would be justified in removing a governor, in consequence of complaints which might be made against him, without having previously instituted an inquiry; and he was ready to admit that the inquiry ought to take place as soon as the nature of the circumstances would admit. Were there not proceedings now pending of that very nature f He denied that any unnecessary expense had been incurred in the government of the colonies. When the committee considered that we had no less than thirty-four scattered up and down in different parts of the world, they would be convinced that no small expense must be in- curred in transacting the multifarious business connected with them. If the hon. member would make any specific charge, or point out any abuse in a tangible shape, he was ready to meet him. The hon. member never made his charges in a statesman-like manner, but was constantly finding fault with this item, and that item, without giving any one good reason for making it less. If he would pay the least attention to the subject, he must be convinced that the expense was not greater than it ought to be. Besides the increased business in the colonial department connected with slavery, there had been an increase in many other departments. He would state one fact. In 1806, when the last under secretary was appointed, fourteen folio pages of papers relating to the colonies were laid on the table; whereas last year there had been no less than 2,007, and the expense alone of printing, cost 4,000l. He was always disposed to furnish any information required by any hon. member; but then he thought it unfair to impute extravagance to the department, in consequence of expenses incurred in obedience to the vote of parliament. When he was upon this point on a former night, he might have alluded rather too personally to the hon. member; but he thought himself bound to vindicate the conduct of the department with which he had the honour of being connected; and he could now assure the House, that in consequence of the great extent of our colonies, the duty of the department had so increased that every individual employed in it was constantly occupied.

Mr. Hume

replied, that he was unjustly accused of indulging in sweeping charges. How often had he called for inquiry respecting the Ionian Islands? And, for the last five years, had he not pressed on the government the necessity of instituting investigations respecting the Cape of Good Hope? But, what did the government do? Instead of taking the part of the colonists, and listening to their complaints, they always took part with the governors against the colonists. He was not for the dismission of any man from office without inquiry; but when complaints were made, and in a manner that merited attention, he would have the government institute inquiry, and act decidedly on the result of such inquiry.

Mr. Secretary Canning

admitted that every well-founded complaint ought to be entertained by the government. But he expected the hon. gentleman no less to agree with him in the general principle, that they ought not to hold out invitations, as it were, to all discontented colonists to come home and exhibit charges against their governors. This would be a system of action which would discourage all honourable men from accepting such situations. The mean between the two extremes of apathy and rashness was to be attended to by government; and the hon. gentleman did not much clear himself from the accusation of bringing sweeping charges, when he intimated, that ministers were always disposed to support the governors against the colonists. In the particular instance to which allusions had been made, inquiries had been for some time in progress; and he trusted that the House would be ready to attend to the results of such investigations with impartiality. He hoped it was not to be assumed, because an individual was under accusation, that such fact was to be deemed proof of the accusation being just, and the party necessarily guilty.

The resolution was agreed to.