HC Deb 23 November 1830 vol 1 cc649-52
Lord Morpeth

presented a Petition from the town of Leeds, praying for the Abolition of Negro Slavery. The Petition was signed by the Mayor, the Vicar, and upwards of 15,000 of the principal inhabitants in every branch of business, and of every denomination, in that populous and wealthy town. The noble Lord trusted that we had now a Government which would look this important question in the face. He (Lord Mor- peth) was determined to give his support —a cordial though a constitutional support —to the present Government, because he hoped that it would be distinguished at home for measures of sound, salutary, and useful reform, and retrenchment; and that abroad its conduct would be described by the single word "peace." He also confidently hoped, that the present Government would exercise a proper vigilance, and adopt efficient measures for putting down the disturbances in the country: at the same time he thought the local gentry and yeomanry in those districts had a duty to discharge, and a part to perform, as well as Government.

Mr. Labouchere

concurred with the noble Lord in thinking that it was the duty of his Majesty's Government to look this important question in the face—a question which involved the happiness and well-being of 800,000 of our fellow-creatures.

Mr. Keith Douglas

supported the prayer of the petition. He had that day attended a large meeting of West-India proprietors, and the general sense of the persons present was, that the whole subject should be brought fairly before the country in all its relations.

Mr. Bethell

thought, that few petitions ever presented to that House were more deserving of the fullest consideration, with respect to the subject of it, and to those from whom it emanated. He trusted, that the whole state of the colonies would be fully gone into. Justice as well as humanity demanded and he was sure that he spoke the sense of all the petitioners when he said, that the inquiry ought to be conducted with calmness, and a firm determination to injure no one.

Mr. A. Trevor

condemned the wild and visionary philanthropy which would emancipate the slaves before they were fit for freedom. He wanted to know what indemnity was to be granted to the West India proprietors; and maintained, that the condition of negro slaves was preferable to that of the peasantry of the United Kingdom. He should oppose any measure for emancipation which did not give compensation to the West-India proprietors.

General Gascoyne

said, that the noble Lord who had presented the Petition had not confined himself to the condition of the slaves, but had alluded to the whole policy of the Government. There was one subject upon which he (General Gascoyne) would take the present opportunity of expressing himself. He alluded to reform, and he would now say, that to any system of moderate reform he should not make any objection. He wished to know from the noble Lord whether or not he had taken up the question since it had been abandoned by the learned and noble Lord who was the noble Lord's colleague.

Mr. Evans

thought, that it would be a miserable expedient to postpone a settlement of the subject. Sufficient dependence had already been placed upon the professions of the colonial legislatures with respect to preparing the slave-population for free labour. He wished the question not to be decided on any abstract principles, but by a determination to do justice to all the parties interested. He did not believe slavery was so delightful as some hon. Members represented it; and it was nothing but cruel bondage. He wished by no means to do any injury to the West India proprietors; but he must protest against the question being indefinitely postponed in deference to their fears.

Mr. Bernal

deeply regretted that a question of such magnitude should be discussed at all, especially so warmly, upon the mere incidental point whether a petition should be laid upon the Table. The subject ought to be looked at with the eyes of statesmen, and not with those of factious partisans. His being a West Indian land-owner himself should never deter him from speaking his sentiments on the subject, though he had never, and he never would countenance abuses of any kind. Affected religion and bastard morality had been called in to aid the cause of the antagonists of slavery, and to destroy the sacred and recognised rights of property in the West-Indies. He only wished to add, that the West-India interests, tired of having the question so long hanging over their heads, were now anxious that it should be brought forward in some shape or other. All they asked was an honest, impartial, and liberal inquiry into the actual condition of the slaves and of the colonies.

Mr. Briscoe, although he admitted that he was not a statesman, felt competent to decide in the abstract, that slavery was a crime, and a foul stain on the character and honour of Great Britain. He had little expected, when he took his seat in the House of Commons, that he should see the day when such an assertion was made, as that the condition of the slave in the West Indies was preferable to that of the English peasant. He challenged the hon. Gentleman who made that statement to submit the proposal to the most wretched and hopeless of the peasantry, and to be governed by the answer he should receive. As to the rights of the West-India proprietors, he was ready to give compensation whenever a case of loss could be established.

Mr. O'Connell

denied, that pretended religion or illegitimate humanity had produced the strong feeling prevailing in the three kingdoms against slavery; he denied also, that even an Irish peasant, wretched as he was, would consent for a moment to change places with a negro, who might receive thirty-nine lashes at the will of a man, woman, or child, and who might be torn from his wife and family, that he might be sold to pay his master's debts.

Mr. Ruthven

said, that if the condition of the peasantry of Great Britain were worse than that of slaves in the West Indies, it was indeed high time for the House to inquire into the sufferings of the labouring poor.

Mr. Briscoe

wished to understand from the hon. Member who had attended the meeting of West-India Proprietors this day (Mr. K. Douglas), whether they were ready to enter fairly and honestly upon the whole question of the abolition of Slavery?

No answer was given to the question. The Petition to be printed.

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