§ Upon the Motion of Lord Althorp, that the Chairman leave the Chair for the purpose of going into a Committee of Supply.
Mr. Keith Douglas
took that opportunity of putting a question to the noble Lord, as to what were the intentions of Government, with respect to the measure of relief contemplated to be submitted to the Committee on the state and condition of the West-Indian interests. It was very desirable to obtain some more specific explanation, how far it was the intention of Government to attempt an improvement of the condition of that important interest in the State. If Government had, as he hoped, made up its mind as to the kind of relief it should afford, and only wished, through the Committee, to have its hand 894 strengthened, and its judgment directed and informed by practical men, he believed considerable benefit would result from the meditated inquiry.
§ Lord Althorp
remarked, that the course pursued by the hon. Member, in putting a question to a Minister, as to what was the intention of Government in instituting an inquiry of which it had only given notice in the House, was, to say the least of it, very unusual, if not inconvenient. More particularly was it unusual to do so on a Motion for the House going into a Committee of Supply All this, however, he should waive, and so far give the explanation sought, as to say, that it was the intention of Government to institute an inquiry into the causes of the present difficulties and distress experienced by the West-Indian interest, and the next object was, to devise the measures of relief which might safely be applied to relieve those distresses and embarrassments. But it was not intended by Government to enter at all into the question of slavery as between master and slave. As to the remedy, it was, as far as respected Ministers, a subject of inquiry; and they naturally wished, through the Committee, to obtain from the representations of well qualified, and even personally interested persons in that class of society, every possible information on a subject, which must be to them of the last importance.
§ Mr. Burge
objected to an inquiry of so wide and general a nature. In his opinion, such an inquiry was instituted for the purpose of protracting the period of relief. Such an inquiry was not necessary; the distress was known, the causes of the distress were known; and the remedy had already been pointed out to the Government. Now that he had the opportunity, he wished to ask the noble Lord, whether the Government had received any information of the misfortune that had befallen Barbadoes; and whether the noble Lord had any reason to doubt the extent of the visitation to which that island had been subjected? When a similar misfortune happened to one of the West-India Islands in 1780, the Government of that day thought it expedient and just to take some measures for the relief of the sufferers: he wished to know whether the Government of this day intended to follow the same course, and what measures they proposed to adopt.
§ Lord Althorp
said, that the Govern- 895 ment had received no information relative to the misfortune alluded to, direct from the colony itself. There had been a correspondence, which tended to confirm the statements already published, and to show that the accounts in the papers were correct; but there had been no information received by the Government, which they could properly call official. Until that arrived, it was, of course, impossible for him to answer the second part of the hon. Member's question.