HC Deb 30 May 1832 vol 13 cc190-3
Mr. Marryat

presented Petitions from the Island of Grenada, from St. Lucia and Trinidad, Crown colonies, praying more extensive Protection to the interests of the West-Indian planters, for a reduction of the Duty on Sugar, and against all further interference with the Slaves. The situation of these Crown colonies formed an anomaly in the history of the British Constitution. That a class of people, whom. the law recognizes as British subjects, should be practically shut out from the pale of the British Constitution; that they should be deprived of the inestimable advantages of British laws and Trial by Jury, taxed without Representation, and governed by foreign laws, which invest the Governor with arbitrary and despotic authority, appeared a case of hardship and injustice which would scarcely be supposed to exist in the British dominions; yet such was the actual state of the Crown colonies. They continued to be governed by the laws of the nations from whom they were conquered, and those laws were modified by Orders in Council, often framed in utter ignorance of the peculiar habits and customs of the people. The Crown, by its representatives, levied taxes at pleasure, and appropriated the revenues of the colonies without any control on the part of the inhabitants. The practical effect of taxation, without representation was exemplified in the enormous amount of taxes which were there levied, in comparison with those colonies which, through their local legislatures, taxed themselves. The colony of Trinidad was taxed treble the amount of Grenada, its equal in resources and population: and a similar comparison existed between St. Lucia and St. Vincent. The greatest absurdity, however was, that these colonies were still governed by the laws of foreign countries. St. Lucia had in no way fared better than the other colonies. Since the conquest, she had been governed by that most obsolete and absurd code of laws such as existed in France previously to the French Revolution—a code which was not in existence in any other part of the world. The administration of the law was no less absurd than the law itself. The present Chief Judge was profoundly ignorant of the French laws, and of the French language; and a Puisne Judge had been appointed to assist him, who neither spoke French, nor knew any thing of the French laws; and, in consequence, no criminal court for the gaol delivery had been held since Mr. Jeremie, the late Chief President, left the colony. The present Government had shown a disposition to redress these grievances, having reduced many expenses, and reformed many abuses; much, however, remained to be done; and he trusted that the settlement of the Reform Question would give them leisure to afford that redress which these colonists had a right to demand. Regarding the Order in Council, he could not go the length of the petitioners in calling for its repeal, but lie concurred in praying for the modification of its provisions. It was a crude and indigested code of legislation, equally unpopular with the slave and the master, and almost impossible to be carried into execution. The colonists justly complained, that in a time of unpa- ralleled distress, they were called upon both to increase the expenses of cultivation, and to diminish production. They were already taxed to the utmost extent they could bear; and they could not, out of their own resources, pay the expense of Protectors, who, being appointed by the Government at home, for public purposes, should be paid out of the public purse. He wished to draw the attention of the House for one moment to a "Statement of the decrease of the slave population in the sugar colonies," signed and circulated by the hon. member for Weymouth. The object of that statement was, to show that a large decrease had annually taken place in the slave-population in a certain number of years, namely; 52,887 in eleven years: and the inference the hon. Member drew was, that the slave-population was annually decreasing at this average ratio, and that in order to prevent their utter extinction, no remedy remained but the immediate abolition of slavery. But the mortality of which the hon. Member complained was decreasing. In Demerara, the decrease in the number of slaves in 1820 was 2,272; in 1829, it had diminished to 1,045, more than one-half; and the Registrar, in his report, stated it to be his opinion, that his next return would show an increase of population in that colony. In Grenada, where the annual decrease, on an average of twelve years, was stated at 216, the return of 1829 shewed a decrease of fifty-nine only, and the births in that year exceeded the deaths, being 736 to 730. In Trinidad, where the average mortality was stated at 400, the decrease by the last returns was only 180. In St. Lucia, where the annual decrease was stated at 150, he had the authority of the noble Lord, the Under Secretary of State for the Colonies, for stating an increase of ten per cent in the population, and moreover, an increase in the production of sugar also, which showed that sugar cultivation had not the devastating effects ascribed to it by the hon. member for Weymouth. He moved that the petition be read.

Lord Howick

observed, that if hon. Gentlemen would take the trouble to look at the papers that had been printed upon the subject, they would there have an opportunity of making themselves acquainted with the reasons which had influenced the conduct of his Majesty's Government. His hon. friend had made a mistake in saying that the Judges could not speak French, and knew nothing of the French laws, for they were both taken, he believed, from the Bar of Guernsey. The salaries, however, were so small that it was difficult to get proper persons to accept the situations. He could also assure the House, that the Government had the greatest desire possible to curtail the expenditure of these colonies, and as his hon. friend said, had already done something to establish economy in the administration.

Mr. Hunt

inquired of the noble Lord opposite, whether it was a fact that the House of Assembly in Jamaica had refused the supplies?

Lord Howick

said, that some despatches had been received, though not precisely to the effect stated. Some clauses had been introduced in the bill relating to the poll-tax, and considerable discussion had taken place; but no step had been definitively taken at the time the last communications were despatched.

Mr. Burge

wished to know if there were not other colonies which bath refused the supplies?

Lord Howick

admitted, that in one or two of the colonies refusals had taken place.

Petition to be printed.

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