HC Deb 08 August 1832 vol 14 cc1250-7

The Order of the Day, for receiving the Report of the Committee on the Relief of the Crown Colonies (West India) Bill, was read. The Report was received; and the Resolution, enabling his Majesty to apply 58,000l out of the Consolidated Fund, for the relief of the Crown colonies, was read a first time.

On the question that the Resolution should be read a second time,

Mr. Hume

inquired, whether there was any information before the House which would enable them to ascertain whether any of the Crown colonies had really adopted the Orders in Council?

Lord Howick

said, that there was no information but what was then at the Bar of the House, and which, in the course of the evening, would be laid before it.

Mr. Burge

expressed his regret that the House had not earlier information on this most important subject. He should take a future opportunity of explaining the grounds upon which the legislative colonies refused to adopt the Order in Council.

Mr. Courtenay

said, the King had, by his Royal prerogative, sent forth these Orders in Council for the government of the colonies. That his Majesty had a right to do; but he contended, that it was most unjust to make the people of England pay for carrying those orders into effect. He objected to the haste with which this proceeding was pressed forward. The present Parliament was said not to represent people of intelligence and information; but it was said that a Reformed Parliament, which would soon assemble, would represent all the intelligence and information of the country. Why, then, he would ask, could they not wait for that Reformed Parliament, and leave to them the consideration of this question? He objected to the mode in which, as he had heard, Ministers meant to carry this measure. They intended to tack it to another, which, although it related to the West Indies, had no connexion whatever with the particular subject of the proposed grant; and, by that means, they hoped to prevent the other House of Parliament from exercising that proper interference, which otherwise they would most probably do.

Mr. Irving

said, that as to the Orders in Council, he had well considered them, and he had no hesitation in offering his opinion upon them. To him they appeared exceedingly objectionable, and he entirely condemned them. With respect to the reward to be given to those colonies which obeyed these Orders in Council, he was certain, that while it would entail a large expense on this country, it would not be productive of beneficial consequences. The hon. Member expressed his doubt as to the right of the Crown, by its prerogative, to enforce these orders. He then adverted to the wretched state to which, under regulations formerly agreed to, the island of St. Lucia was reduced; and concluded by observing, that though the measure about to be proposed was conceived in a good spirit, he was far from believing that it would be acceptable to the colonies.

Lord Howick

said, that as the Order in Council had been attacked by the hon. Member, he would trouble the House with a very few observations upon a subject which had been already so fully and completely discussed. Measures of a similar description for the amelioration of the condition of the slaves had been brought into operation in Trinidad and St. Lucia in 1824 and 1825, and they had there produced the most salutary effects towards attaining the object which they had in view. It was upon the satisfactory and successful operation of those measures that the Order in Council of 1831 was founded, and it was in accordance principally with their provisions that that order was framed. Yet, such was the measure which had excited the indignation and provoked the attack of the hon. Member. He was astonished to hear the hon. Member question the prerogative of the Crown in enforcing the Order in Council in the Crown colonies. The hon. Member in doing so, had especially referred to British Guiana. Now it so happened, that since the capitulation of British Guiana, not a year had elapsed in which some Order in Council had not been introduced there, and enforced by the Crown. The hon. Member was misinformed, too, when he stated that the Government were ready to submit the question as to the prerogative of the Crown to the decision of a Court of Law, by having it tried by what was called a feigned issue. It was only a fortnight ago, that he had, by the direction of Lord Goderich, addressed a letter to the persons connected with the Crown colonies, informing them that his Majesty's Government would not submit that question to a feigned issue, as they had no doubt whatever with regard to the prerogative of the Crown on the subject, but that the parties themselves might, of course, if they pleased, appeal to a Court of Law on the subject. As the hon. Member's speech embraced no special details, he was not called upon to give any special answer to it, and he should not at present trouble the House with any further observations.

Sir Adolphus Dalrymple

objected to the late period of the Session at which this important subject had been brought before Parliament. The objections which were raised against the Orders Council did not relate to it, so far as it went to ameliorate the condition of the slaves, but contemplated only those mischievous and obnoxious parts of it, which, while they would not be productive of benefit to the slaves, would be most injurious to the interests and properties of the planters.

Mr. Burge

said, that the noble Lord had betrayed his ignorance of the constitutional law relative to the colonies, when he insisted on the prerogative of the Crown to enforce the Order in Council in the Crown colonies. So far from the power of the Crown being undoubted on that point, some of the first law authorities best acquainted with the subject were at variance with the noble Lord; and it was a fact, that when the Judges in Trinidad were called upon to enforce the Order in Council, the whole of them left the Court, with the exception of the Chief Justice.

Lord Althorp

remarked, that the object of the Orders in Council was, to improve the condition of the slave population of the colonies, without effecting any injury to the interests of the planters. He did not see that any argument had been used on the other side to induce the House to refuse its acquiescence to these Resolutions.

Lord Sandon

said, that as he had already so fully stated to the House his reasons for pursuing the conduct he had followed with reference to this subject, he should not now trouble the House, nor should he further oppose this vote, though the noble Lord opposite had not afforded that information which might have been expected from him.

Mr. Fowell Buxton

observed, that the Orders in Council were intended to benefit the slave population, without having any reference to the planters themselves. He hoped that his Majesty's Ministers would avail themselves of the opportunity afforded them in the approaching recess, in devising some measure for the utter extinction of the abominable system of negro slavery.

Mr. Ewart

supported most cordially the Orders in Council, under the consideration that they were a progressive measure towards a general relief of the slave population of the West-India colonies.

Mr. Fane

condemned the entire policy of his Majesty's Government with regard to the colonies, as absurd and impolitic. It had been justly called a money-scattering Government. First it made the country pay money to Russia, then to Greece, and now to the colonies, for complying with the views of the Ministers. The Orders in Council were impracticable, and had been found to be so, and he could not but think that it was most ridiculous that this House should now be called upon to support and recognize measures which, it was indisputable, were absurd and impracticable.

Mr. Hume

could not hesitate in thinking that the conduct of the Government of this country, with reference to the colonies, had been, and was, most absurd. Indeed, it appeared that, according to the system which had been pursued, scarcely one Order in Council had been issued, and had arrived in the colony to which it was directed, when, without time being allowed to that colony to adopt it, however willing it might be to do so, another Order in Council followed, which went to mitigate or modify its predecessor. He maintained, that the prerogative of the Crown should only be exercised for the benefit of the public, and he was prepared to contend, that it was not in the power of the Crown to interfere with those rights which England possessed by any Order in Council; and, on the same principle, he was of opinion, that it was improper in such a way to interfere with the colonies. He held it to be a great thwarting of the Crown colonies so to interfere, or that they should not be maintained in that system or constitution which had been established in the year 1763 by the Orders in Council of that date, and by which it had been ordained, that every colony subject to the Crown of England should not only govern themselves, but have also the power of taxing themselves. These rights ought to have been preserved, instead of the colonies being made subject to the arbitrary issuing of Orders in Council. The suspension of these rights of taxing themselves for their own purposes was, in his judgment, a direct infringement on the rights of the subject, and to such an infringement he was, of course, decidedly opposed. He did not doubt but that his Majesty's Government meant and intended that the colonies should be properly governed, but, at the same time, he did not hesitate to say, that their efforts towards this object had failed of success. In the Mauritius, the refusal to receive a certain individual sent out as judge in that colony, and even the Orders in Council themselves had almost occasioned an insurrection in that colony. In short, the system which had been pursued could only tend to the weakening, and not to the improvement, of either this country or her colonies. He was prepared to question whether this country was pursuing a right course, in now, at the eleventh hour, sanctioning that which most certainly was a doubtful line of policy, and one, also, which it was proper, nay, incumbent upon that House to view and examine with a scrutinizing eye. He more particularly objected to the period when the subject had been brought forward—a measure, fraught as it was with importance—at a time, and with an assemblage of Members in the House, when the progress of pressing public business might be interfered with in a manner extremely unpleasant. He, therefore, would anxiously suggest the postponement of the consideration of the present subject, until it was satisfactorily known in what manner the Orders in Council had been received in the colonies. Such information was not now before the House—nay, he held in his hand the protest of the residents in Trinidad, and also of the colonists in Demerara, declaring that they could not and would not concur in the carrying those Orders into effect. He should also be glad to know from the noble Lord, who had attempted to answer the questions which had arisen in this respect, whether the accounts from St. Lucia or the Mauritius tended to show that they would support this project. The Government had not as yet been able to produce one tittle of evidence to show that these Orders in Council had been carried into effect in any one of the colonies, and therefore they were now asking from the House that money which they could not apply. On the whole, it appeared to him that the measure was premature in the extreme, and he therefore hoped the noble Lord opposite would wait until he had information of the practical results arising from the receipt by the colonies of these Orders in Council. When this information had been received, he should be ready to assist the noble Lord in carrying those Orders into effect, or to accomplish an amelioration of the condition of the slave population. With respect to that subject, he hesitated not to call upon the hon. member for Weymouth (Mr. Powell Buxton) to come forward with some measure, and suggest to the Government some plan, which would accomplish that object. How- ever, the planters had as much right to complain of the loss of property which was as much their own as the property of any individual in this portion of his Majesty's dominions. When any plan to accomplish the abolition of slavery was brought forward, then, he would say, let the Government take 57,000l. a-year, or thrice that sum, for the purposes of compensation. He could not but think the present was an ill-timed proposition, which, under the popular cry, tended rather to stop than to forward the object which every man in the country had in view, and therefore it was, that he hoped the noble Lord opposite would suspend his proceedings, until the House was in possession of that information which alone could enable it to legislate with satisfaction on this important subject.

Mr. Sadler

was ready to applaud his Majesty's Government for the line of conduct which they had in this instance pursued with reference to the slave population of the colonies; at the same time he regretted that they had not directed their attention to another system of slavery which prevailed. However great the sufferings of the slaves in the colonies might be, admitting all the statements which had been made upon the subject to be true, yet he would submit to the Government, and the noble Lord opposite, that the condition of the children labouring in factories in this country was one equally deserving of attention. He thought he was justified in embracing the present fitting opportunity of bringing before the Government of the country the condition of the white, the infant slaves of this country, who laboured fifteen hours a day, and that, too, in a manner which had excited the sympathies of the people of this country. The only apology which he could offer for bringing this subject forward on the present occasion, was the very argument which had been used with reference to the defence of the West-Indian policy—namely, that competition was to account for all the atrocities of the system. He entertained a hope that, while the Government were about to confer liberty on slaves, they would confer an equal boon upon the labourers of the mother country.

Mr. Weyland thought the

Session should not be allowed to pass without making some provision as to infant labour. He was convinced, that if the money now proposed to be granted would tend to ameliorate the condition of the slaves, the people of England would not regret it. He was quite ready, from the disposition which had been manifested on this subject by his Majesty's Ministers, to place implicit confidence in them, for he saw that they were determined to accomplish an amelioration of the condition of the slave population, and to effect the eventual abolition of slavery.

Resolution read a second time and agreed to; and the question having been put, that it be an instruction to the Committee to provide for carrying the Resolution into effect,

Mr. Courtenay

wished to know whether the conduct of the colonies was or was not a general combination against the law? If it were, they were paying some of the colonists merely for not entering into an illegal act. He knew that an attempt had been made to put this grant of money on the ground of a compensation for injuries sustained. All he could say on that head was, that if the Order in Council was justifiable, it should be proceeded upon without any compensation at all; and if it was not justifiable, it ought never to have been enforced. His voice should be given against the instruction.

The Instruction agreed to.

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