HC Deb 22 August 1831 vol 6 cc415-21

The House resolved itself into a Committee of Supply.

Mr. Spring Rice moved, that the sum of 11,270l. be granted to Lewis Celeste Lescesne, and James Escoffery, to compensate them for their losses in being moved from the island of Jamaica, by order of the Duke of Manchester, in 1823.

Mr. Hume

said, that 5,000l. had already been voted for this purpose, and he protested against anything further being paid out of the pockets of the people of England. If any wrong had been done to these individuals by the Assembly of Jamaica, the people of that island ought to make the compensation. It was not to the principle of just compensation that he objected, but to the House granting it without such necessary previous information as would enable the Members to determine, first, the grounds on which the claimants were entitled to compensation; and next, the proper quarter for defraying the burthen of it. Till, therefore, Ministers furnished the documents with respect to the present case, which he had on a recent occasion unsuccessfully moved for, he must give the vote a decided negative and take the sense of the Committee on it.

Mr. Spring Rice

said, the question lay in a short compass—namely, whether these two gentlemen were entitled to compensation; that is, whether they had been illegally deprived of their situations by the Duke of Manchester, and exposed to consequent unmerited suffering, or otherwise; and who were the parties bound to afford the compensation? The whole point turned on another question—as to whether they were, or were not, aliens? If they were, the Duke of Manchester had not exceeded his functions of governor; if they were not, he had acted illegally, and they were entitled to compensation. The case had been fully inquired into in the years 1824 and 1825 in the island, and the report, and all the documents on which it was founded, referred to Mr. Justice Richardson, in 1826, for his decision. That gentleman having, however, retired from his judicial duties, in consequence of ill health, the whole case was referred to Mr. Serjeant Bosanquet, and that learned lawyer gave it as his opinion, that the Duke of Manchester had acted illegally towards the claimants under the present vote; for that they were not, in the eyes of the law, aliens, but British subjects. Mr. Bosanquet's opinion, and all the documents on which it was founded, were then referred to the then Attorney and Solicitor General, and they decided that that opinion was just and legal. The only question, then, that remained was, the amount of compensation, or damages, for unmerited suffering; and this point was left to the arbitration of Mr. Selwyn, upon whose award a Treasury minute was issued under the administration of the right hon. Baronet (Sir G. Murray) opposite, who then filled the office of Colonial Secretary, under which minute, dated the 30th of July, 1830, a sum was paid to the parties on account, with an explicit promise on the part of the Treasury, that the remainder would be made good by a vote of Parliament. Hence the present vote, to which, as founded, after the fullest inquiry, on the opinion and award of gentlemen eminent in their profession, and free from all personal bias one way or the other, he could not anticipate any opposition.

Sir George Murray

said, he would only trouble the Committee with a very few observations upon this subject, understanding from the right hon. Gentleman, who had stated very accurately the particulars of the case, that no blame whatever was attached to the Government which preceded the present in what had been done. The arbitration, he thought, had taken place when his lamented friend, the late Mr. Huskisson, was in the Colonial Office. He had but few words to say as to the share which he had taken in the transaction. After the report of the arbitrators had been made, there was a supposition that some new facts might be elicited, which would possibly alter it, and he thought it incumbent upon him to send other papers, which had reached the office, to the parties who had the case before them. The result was, that the same decision was pronounced, and it was not till the Law Officers of the Crown had, after due investigation, confirmed the opinion of Mr. Serjeant Bosanquet, that the Committee was called upon to vote the remaining sum, part of which had been already paid, the amount of the compensation given.

Mr. Burge,

having been a member of the Council of Jamaica, which had advised the Duke of Manchester to act as he had done towards the parties interested in the present vote, felt that it would be indecorous in him to offer an opinion on the merits of the case, in the absence of the documents essential to its thorough elucidation. He would therefore leave it in the hands of the Committee—merely observing, that he was confident that the documents, if produced, would show that the Council of Jamaica were warranted to act as they had done.

An Hon. Member

said, that the country relied on the professions of Ministers and their supporters to enforce economy to every possible extent; and therefore would hear with surprise of the present vote. As it was plain, from the statement of the hon. Secretary of the Treasury, that the Duke of Manchester's having acted illegally was the original error, why, he asked, in the name of common-sense and common justice, should not that noble Duke, and not the public, be called upon to defray the expense of compensation?

Mr. Warre

agreed with the hon. Member, but still felt himself compelled to give a reluctant vote in favour of the Motion as it stood. The statement of the hon. Secretary of the Treasury made it evident, that they were committed to the present vote, else he would divide with the hon. member for Middlesex against it.

Lord Howick

had, on a recent occasion, resisted the Motion of the hon. member for Middlesex, for the production of the documents to which the present vote referred, on the ground, that their printing would cost 6,000l., and that the whole legal inquiry would have to be gone over again by that House, and the House had agreed with him, in negativing the hon. Member's motion. The inexpediency, then, of producing these papers having been thus decided, the only question was, whether the Colonial or the Home Government was bound to make good the award made in favour of Messrs. Lecesne and Escoffery. It appeared to him plain, that as Ministers were responsible for the Colonial Governors appointed by their advice, they, and not the Duke of Manchester, were the persons bound to afford compensation to individuals illegally used, like the present claimants.

Sir John Bourke

said, if the hon. member for Middlesex persisted in his motion, he should vote against it; but, if the hon. Member would shape it for a Committee to inquire into the claims of the parties, he would support such a motion.

Sir Charles Wetherell

said, that the formation of a Committee would be of no benefit; the case had already been fully investigated. With respect to the act of the Duke of Manchester, it must be taken as the act of the Government. He did not say, that the Duke of Manchester was bound to follow the recommendation of the Assembly for the removal of the individuals, but, had he not, he would have been placed in a disagreeable position. It would be a gross act of injustice to require the noble Duke to pay the compensation awarded.

Mr. Fyshe Palmer

cared not much who made good the award, so as Messrs. Lecesne and Escoffery received the compensation to which their most unmerited treatment fully entitled them. He considered these individuals to have been most cruelly used, and he thought that they ought to have compensation, no matter whether it came from the Colonial Assembly, or from the Duke of Manchester, or from any other quarter. This country was only called upon to give 16,000l. as a compensation for the grossest act of perfidy and injustice ever committed. He said this knowingly, because he had given some attention to this matter. He was not connected with either party in this case; but if he had any connexion with it, his connexions and his relationship lay rather on the other side than on that which he was then advocating. He left it to the feeling and to the justice of the Committee to do what was right on this occasion; but when he considered the whole series of oppression which these individuals had endured—when he recollected that it was such as no English Legislature had ever sanctioned before—he thought that it was incumbent upon the House to make them ample compensation for the indignities and injuries which they had suffered. Indeed, he would put it to the Committee whether 16,000l. could be a sufficient compensation to individuals, who, independently of their pecuniary loss, had been manacled, tied neck and heels, and carried out of the island like slaves? In conclusion, he maintained that the Committee was bound to make to these individuals the most ample compensation within its power.

Mr. Serjeant Wilde

contended, that the Committee should give these individuals, not only ample, but also immediate compensation, inasmuch as a delay of all justice for seven years was something very like a denial of justice. It had been admitted on all hands that these individuals had been injured by the conduct of a representative of the British Government; he therefore insisted that the British Government ought to be responsible for the injury which its representative had inflicted. He thought that it would be hard upon the Duke of Manchester to make him personally responsible, as he had acted upon the advice of the Saw-officers with which the Government had provided him. He was of opinion that the case ought not to be re-opened, as it had been submitted to the arbitration of a most upright, learned, and pains-taking Judge, Mr. Justice Bosanquet, who had decided it in favour of Messrs. Lecesne and Escoffery.

Mr. Burge

could not refrain from observing, that the hon. member for Reading had been wanting in common justice towards him (Mr. Burge) when he (Mr. Palmer) gave so strong an opinion upon this case, without knowing any thing of the evidence by which it was supported. He denied that these individuals had been either manacled or tied neck and heels, He would not enter into the defence of the authorities of Jamacia upon this occasion, however he might be provoked by unjust accusations to do so. He would only implode the Committee to suspend its judgment with regard to this transaction, until the Members were made acquainted with all the circumstances connected with it.

Mr. O'Connell

contended, that these individuals had been most unjustly and oppressively treated, and he cared not by whom. They had sought a trial—they had been refused a trial—and yet, after all, they had been convicted without a trial.

Mr. Burge

denied the truth of this statement.

Mr. O'Connell

persisted in declaring, that they had been convicted on the green-bag evidence of the Colonial Assembly of Jamaica; and then, because that evidence would not satisfy a Court of Justice, had been deported as aliens. Now they claimed to be, and had since proved themselves to be, British-born subjects; and the establishment of that fact rendered the use of the Alien Act against them still more oppressive. The hon. and learned Gentleman, after entering into the facts of the case, which have been repeatedly published, proceeded to enforce their claims to compensation, on the ground that though economy was a good thing, justice was a better. He was also of opinion, that the Duke of Manchester ought not to be made pecuniarily responsible for the injury which these individuals suffered, as he had merely acted in conformity with the advice given him by the Assembly and the Council. He believed that, if he had refused to act according to their advice, he would have been liable to an impeachment.

Mr. Hunt

said, that if these persons were to be indemnified, so ought every man who had been imprisoned under the suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act. If the hon. member for Middlesex did not persist in dividing the Committee upon this clause, he should.

Mr. Fyshe Palmer

was surprised at the accusation of injustice which the hon. member for Eye had brought against him, for the speech which he had made upon this subject. Though he had not examined all the papers connected with it, he knew that they had been referred to the decision of a most learned and upright Judge, and that that Judge had declared, that these two individuals had been harshly and unjustly treated, and ought to be recompensed. He should have felt the rebuke of the hon. member for Eye more deeply, had he not recollected, that that hon. Member was, to a certain degree, mixed up with this transaction, and that he was now bound to confirm in the House of Commons the judgment which had been given by his advice in the Island of Jamaica.

Mr. Burge

said, that the advice which he, as Attorney-general of Jamaica, had given to the Duke of Manchester on this transaction, had met with the approbation both of the Council and of the Assembly of that Island. He did not wish to shrink from any of the measures which he had then advised.

Mr. Keith Douglas

thought the present discussion altogether unnecessary, as the whole question had been previously settled by the House. The Government was bound, he thought, to grant the compensation awarded.

Mr. Hume

was of opinion, that the present Government was not bound to carry into effect the award made during the late Government. He admitted, that injustice had been done to the two individuals but he must contend, that the people of this country were not bound to provide the compensation. He would not consent to vote the money unless some further in formation were supplied on the subject.

The Committee divided on the original question, Ayes 117; Noes 12; Majority 105.

List of the NOES.
Blamire, W. Guise, Sir William
Burke, Sir John Hodgson, J.
Dick, Quintin Hunt, H.
Dixon, J. James, W.
Gillon, W. D. Williams, Sir James
Gordon, R. TELLER.
Godson, R. Hume, J.