HC Deb 29 February 1832 vol 10 cc971-5

The House in Committee of Supply.

Lord Althorp

said, he need not remind the Committee, that, in the course of the last autumn, a very severe calamity befel some of the West-Indian islands—more particularly Barbadoes, St. Vincent's, and St. Lucia, in the shape of a hurricane, which occasioned an immense destruction of property. On this calamitous event occurring, the agents for those islands applied to the Government, to know whether it would not afford some relief to the sufferers? Upon looking at what had been done on former similar occasions, he found that calamities of a similar description, but less in the extent of their disastrous results, had before occurred, and particularly one in 1780; on which occasion, Parliament thought it incumbent on the mother country to give assistance to the distressed Colonists. Soon after the recent calamity, very urgent solicitations had been made to his Majesty's Government for relief, and the application had been enforced by a reference to what had formerly been done. It was strongly urged that, if it was then thought necessary and expedient, there was no good reason for refusing relief now. Upon a consideration of all the circumstances, his Majesty's Government felt itself bound to accede to the application, so far at least, as to show some sympathy felt for the colonists, who suffered on this occasion by a calamity inflicted by the hand of Providence, and which had come on them by no fault of their own. The first step taken by Government was, to ascertain the amount of the loss; and he regretted to state, that the inquiries made on that point, under the direction of his noble friend at the head of the Colonial Department afforded reason to suppose, that the amount of the loss was nearly 1,700,000l. That was a sum which, in the present state of the finances of the country, it was impossible to think of granting to the colonists, and it seemed as if relief could not be afforded. Upon looking back to the year 1780, it was found, however, that the estimated loss at that period was above 1,000,000l., and that the sum voted by Parliament for relief was 80,000l. His Majesty's Government, after some consideration, finding that there was a class of sufferers to whom no relief could be afforded, except by means of an actual grant, and thinking that to make up even a small proportion of the loss sustained might be of some service, and knowing that, at least, it would show that the country felt sympathy amidst its own difficulties for their situation, it had come to the resolution of proposing to grant them 100,000l. Under these circumstances he felt that he was not extravagant, and he hoped it would not be supposed that the Government was acting in an improvident manner in proposing this vote. He did not think it necessary to trouble the Committee with a long statement in favour of the grant. He would, therefore, content himself by moving, as a resolution, "That a sum not exceeding 100,000l. be granted to his Majesty, for the relief of certain of his subjects, whose property had been destroyed by a hurricane in the islands of Barbadoes, St. Vincent, and St. Lucia.

Mr. Burge

merely rose to express his gratitude to Government, and his approbation of the principle on which they proceeded in proposing this vote. He was not connected with either of the islands which had suffered so severely, but he most cordially approved of the resolution, because it proceeded upon the principle that it was a national duty to relieve our fellow subjects in the West-India islands in their distresses. Acting upon such feelings of Colonial policy, they would do much to bind the Colonies to the mother country by the strongest of all possible ties, by generating in them a similar good spirit, which he doubted not would bear fruit in due season.

Mr. Hume

said, he was reluctant to oppose this grant, either as a matter of sympathy or as a matter of policy. He could not, however, agree with the hon. Member who had spoken last, in approving the principle on which it was granted. It was a bad principle, and one which he could not recognize. There were numbers of our fellow subjects on every side of us suffering grievous distress—not owing to any fault of their own, but owing to the visitation of Providence; and he could not see why, if losses sustained by a stroke of Providence in the West Indies were to be made good out of the public purse, losses sustained in the same manner in our own country should not be made good from exactly the same resources. Still he would not oppose the grant.

Lord Althorp

said, that he did not bring forward the vote as a matter of principle, but if ever there was a case deserving the consideration of the House it was the present. The vote could scarcely be said to establish a precedent, for, as he had already stated, the precedent had been set in 1780. Every application of the sort must depend upon its own merits.

Mr. Goulburn

was of opinion that there never was a vote founded on a more just principle than that now before the Committee. No duty could be more imperative on Parliament, and no vote more obligatory, than one evincing the sympathy of the Parliament of the mother country with their fellow subjects, who were suffering under an infliction of Providence, which no efforts of their own could avert. If they were to hesitate or decline to assist our dependent possessions under such circumstances, and let it go forth that this was the only European state which had no sympathy for the sufferings of its Colonies, they would go far to sever the bond of allegiance which united those island's to the parent country, and to deprive themselves of those advantages which were incidental to the possession of colonies.

Mr. Labouchere

was unconnected with the West-India Colonies, but he felt himself called upon to return his hearty thanks to the noble Lord for the proposition he had brought forward. He could not conceive a case which more demanded the sympathy of the House, and the assistance of the country. The distance of the suffering Colonies from any immediate relief aggravated their distresses very much. Had a similar calamity affected any part of the United Kingdom, friends and assistance were at hand, but in an insulated colony the whole of the community, when it was visited by such a stroke of Providence, was generally involved. Such being the peculiar circumstances of this case, he trusted this vote would be unanimously agreed to, although be was very ready to acknowledge that, in common cases of difficulty and distress, applications to the Legislature for relief ought not to be granted. It was important that the public should see that the House did not lend its sanction to the principle of relieving ordinary distress, but that the House, knowing of such a wide spread calamity, and representing the whole empire, including the colonies, was anxious to shew its kind feeling to the suffering parties.

Mr. Robinson

said, no doubt it was only upon extraordinary occasions, like the present, when an overwhelming calamity had visited a whole community in a manner which rendered it impossible to obtain relief from any other quarter than Parliament, that assistance should be given by the House. It must be remembered, that the sum of 100,000l. was but a very small part of the loss which bad been sustained; and he very much regretted that the difficulties which pressed upon the country prevented a larger amount being given. He was, however, very thankful for the sum that had been proposed. After those remarks, he need hardly say, that he cordially concurred in the policy and propriety of the grant. He begged to ask, merely for information, under what control the sum about to be voted would be appropriated, for he did hope the utmost care would be taken that the money went into the hands of those for whose use it was intended.

Lord Althorp

replied, that Government would be responsible for the mode in which the grant would be appropriated. They intended to take into consideration, not only the amount of property destroyed, but also the several classes of persons who had suffered. Such checks would be placed upon the distribution of the money as would prevent any abuse of the bounty.

Mr. Cressett Pelham

was happy to think the vote would be unanimous. He considered the Colonists was as completely identified with this country as the inhabitants of any one of its counties. He had understood that, in the event of the calamity reaching Government, they had immediately removed the restriction upon the importation of foreign stores. This was a wise and prudent measure, and he hoped the arrangement would be permanent, instead of temporary, so as to enable those Colonies to procure the necessaries of provision and lumber on cheap and reasonable terms.

Mr. Hunt

said, he held it to be a good and proper principle for Government to relieve the distresses of their subjects whenever and wherever they needed it; and as so much had been said of the distresses of the West-Indian Islands, he wished Government to look also at home. He begged to call the attention of the House to the situation of the paupers in Bethnal-green workhouse, as described in a petition now before the House. He was sure their case as much deserved the sympathy of Parliament as the sufferers in the West Indies. He should propose, therefore, that the vote should be increased to 101,000l. and that the odd thousand should be applied to the sufferers at Bethnal-green.

Lord Althorp

did not think the hon. member for Preston need persist in his Motion, as the case of Bethnal-green had been already under the consideration of Government, and he might add that temporary relief had been granted to a larger amount than the hon. Member had proposed. In consequence of the assistance afforded, 500 paupers had been withdrawn from the workhouse.

Mr. Hunt

expressed his very great satisfaction at the statement the Committee had just heard from the noble Lord, for which he begged to express his sincere and cordial thanks. He withdrew his Motion with great pleasure, being happy to find there was no occasion for it.

Mr. Marryatt

fully concurred with those hon. Members who had expressed their satisfaction at the Resolution proposed by the noble Lord, and he was, moreover, happy in being the organ of conveying to him the gratitude and unfeigned acknowledgements of the suffering Colonies. This he did, not in consequence of the amount of the grant, although he was ready to acknowledge that it was as liberal as could be expected, but because the tone of his speech, and the manner in which the House had received it, evinced a feeling of sympathy for the distresses of the Colonists. They would no doubt appreciate this, and he trusted it would tend, in a great degree, if followed up by a plan of general relief, to soften those feelings of irritation and distrust which were unfortunately now too prevalent. To get rid of those feelings by removing the causes was a task worthy of engaging the attention of the most paternal Government.

Resolution agreed to.