HC Deb 22 July 1833 vol 19 cc1056-69

Mr. Secretary Stanley moved the Order of the Day for the second reading of the Abolition of Colonial Slavery Bill.

Mr. Fowell Buxton

wished to have the Order in Council, which was to be made the model of legislation in several colonies, laid upon the Table. It was most important this should be done for the purpose of enabling the House to form some idea of the new system of society which it was proposed to establish in the West Indies. He professed himself unable to understand the system of apprenticeship. It would appear to be a state partly of slavery and partly of freedom; he wished, if possible, to ascertain the proportions. He also urged as another reason for the necessity of producing this order that the provisions of the new Bill were more oppressive upon the negroes than the old Orders in Council. The Bill permitted them to labour ten hours a-day, while the old Orders in Council restricted the time to nine hours a-day, and provided, moreover, that the slaves should have forty days holydays. Thus, by the new measure, the slaves lost one hour per day, and forty days per annum freedom.

Mr. Secretary Stanley

stated, that it was impossible for him to produce an Order in Council, the draft of which could not be yet drawn, inasmuch as the order must necessarily be founded on the Bill, the provisions of which were not yet determined. The Bill was not intended to supersede the existing Orders in Council: it was only intended to provide a maximum beyond which, in dealing with the labour of the slaves, the Colonial Legislatures could not go. It would not interfere with the further arrangements with respect to the government of slaves in those colonies in which they were established. As to the hon. Gentleman's observations with respect to apprenticeship, he had only to remark that apprenticeship, in any state or any part of the world, must necessarily be a state partly of freedom and partly of slavery.

Lord Howick

still hoped, that his right hon. friend would be induced to accede to the request of the hon. Gentleman. The great anxiety of those who, like himself, believed the system of apprenticeship to be impossible, was to know by what means his right hon. friend proposed to carry that system into effect.

Mr. Secretary Stanley

had hoped, that his noble friend knew enough of the difficulty of drawing up Orders in Council, to prevent him from thinking that such order could be drawn up before the provisions of the Bill, upon which it must be necessarily founded, were determined upon. He declared that no Order in Council was intended to be sent forth as a model of legislation for all the colonies.

The Order of the Day read.

Mr. Secretary Stanley

said, that as the Bill was founded upon Resolutions which had received the approbation of both Houses of Parliament, he did not feel it necessary for him to trouble the House with any observations upon it, but should simply move that the Slavery Abolition Bill be now read a second time.

Mr. Fowell Buxton

said, that he was not prepared to oppose the second reading. But he felt it necessary to repeat the objections which he had already stated against certain parts of it. The system of apprenticeships was incomprehensible, and he did not understand how, if compulsion were abandoned, recourse could be had to any other system than that of wages. He should oppose the system of apprenticeships, and also the proposition of giving money to the planters, until it should be seen that slavery was really extinguished; because the money might be paid, and the Colonial Legislatures might never consent to make the laws necessary for carrying the object into effect. The planters would resort to the old system of compulsion, and there would be as much whipping as ever if the work was to be done. If that old system were resorted to, he was convinced that convulsion and insurrection would ensue in the colonies. He had had communications from various quarters in the West India Islands, which assured him that the negroes were in that state that they were determined to have wages for their work. If they were not paid insurrection would be the consequence, and that would be the termination of British authority in those islands. As there was an understanding that the principles of the Bill should not be discussed at this stage, he should content himself with giving notice that it was his intention to move two instructions to the Committee—the first, to limit apprenticeships to the shortest period which could be sufficient for introducing the necessary regulations; and the other that no money should be paid to the planters until slavery should have been extinguished.

Mr. Hume

objected to granting twenty millions without having adequate grounds upon which to form an estimate of the proper amount of remuneration. He was anxious to know what were the intentions of his Majesty's Government with respect to continuing the monopoly of sugar to the West-India Islands, or throwing the trade open. He distrusted the produce of free labour, and feared that the amount would be so much reduced as to raise the price of the article in this country as high again as it was at present. If the price of sugar were to rise 20s. the cwt., this would impose a tax of 4,000,000l. a-year on the consumer in this country, in addition to 1,000,000l. a-year, the interest of the 20,000,000l. proposed to be given as compensation.

Mr. Pelham

begged to say a few words upon a subject in which he was personally interested. He observed his name amongst those of other hon. Members of that House, as having attended at a meeting of the Anti-Slavery Society, on Saturday, at which it appeared a Resolution was passed, of which he as a Member of that House could not approve. He certainly had been present at that Meeting, but had left before that Resolution was proposed. If he had been present when it was put, he should certainly have opposed it, as he considered it an unconstitutional one, and such as no Member of that House would be justified in adopting. The Resolution to which he alluded was to the effect, that delegates should be summoned from all parts of Great Britain and Ireland, to watch the conduct of the Representatives of the people, on this question. He should be ashamed to show himself again in that House, if he could have suffered such a Resolution to pass without, protesting against it, and he wished to take this opportunity to guard himself against the imputation of having sanctioned it.

Dr. Lushington

said, that he had also been present during the earlier part of the meeting alluded to, and could assure his hon. friend and the House, that it was not the intention of those who generally take the lead in matters of this nature, that such a resolution should be adopted. He should certainly have felt great difficulty in acceding to such a proposition. The resolution was carried in his absence, but undoubtedly the meeting had a right to express its desire, that those Gentlemen who had been deputed from very respectable bodies in various cities and towns, at a period of great excitement, should attend, if such was their opinion. It was not his intention to enter into the discussion of the question before the House, as there seemed to be a determination that the second reading of the Bill should pass without a very narrow examination of the principle which was founded upon the Resolutions approved of by the House. He should, however, at the proper time move an instruction to the Committee, that all persons who had been slaves in the West-India islands, and who had once landed in Great Britain or Ireland, should if they returned to the West-Indies, be ipso facto free. He hoped and trusted the House would agree to this proposition, when it saw the iniquities which were the consequence of the present system. It sometimes happened that slaves came to this country and contracted marriage here, and left free children here; but if they returned to the West-Indies to see their aged parents, they were replaced in slavery, and condemned to pine in wretchedness. He should also move another instruction that no part of the 20,000,000l. should be given to any slave-owner in the colony of the Mauritius, unless he made out a good title by proving the legal importation of the slave. He was justified in making this proposition, because the Secretary for the Colonies had admitted that 25,000 felonies had been committed in this way since 1810. He agreed entirely with the hon. member for Weymouth in reprobating the system of apprenticeships, and should use his utmost endeavour, to eradicate it from the Bill. He should consent to a restriction for a short period, until wages should have time to find their level. He had also another objection to the measure. He could never intrust the. Colonial Legislatures to legislate upon the freedom of the slave.

Lord Sandon

considered that the principle of apprenticeships and that of compensation were settled by the Resolutions, and the House ought not to revoke its decision.

Mr. Rigby Wason

considered the system of apprenticeships a valuable one, with adequate wages; but he did not approve of the provisions of the Bill in that respect.

Lord Howick

said, it had been expressly declared upon the discussion of the Resolutions, that the House was only pledged to the principle of a preparatory state between slavery and freedom, and not to the precise system contained in the Bill, and still less to the time for which it was to last. He agreed with the hon. and learned member for the Tower Hamlets, that the confidence which his right hon. friend, the Colonial Secretary now placed in the Colonial Legislatures was quite contrary to the sentiments he had avowed when first submitting this scheme to the House. Considering the words which his right hon. friend had quoted from Mr. Canning, he could not trust the masters of slaves to legislate for them. He had requested his right hon. friend to submit the draft of the Order in Council, by which he proposed to carry his plan into effect; but his right hon. friend excused himself upon the ground of the difficulty of framing Orders in Council for such purposes. If his right hon. friend could not show how his principle was to be carried into effect, he was sure that would convince the House that the principle was wrong. Agreeing to the second reading of the Bill, he must at the same time enter his decided protest against sacrificing the welfare of the slave to the pecuniary interests of the master. If the Bill went through the Committee in its present state, it would be impossible for him, on the third reading, to do otherwise than give it his opposition.

Mr. Denison

contended, that the House was pledged by their Resolution to the principle of the Bill; and he strongly protested against their being called upon to retrace their steps. If that were attempted, it would have been infinitely better for all parties, had the measure never been broached at all.

Mr. William Evans

denied that he was pledged by the Resolutions. Surely those who voted for the grant of 20,000,000l. could not be considered as bound to vote for the Bill, let it assume what shape it might. He did hope that the right hon. Gentleman would have been induced greatly to shorten the terms of the apprenticeships.

Mr. Baring

wished to know whether the right hon. Gentleman had formally communicated the Resolutions of the House to the Governors of the Colonies, and to the Colonial Legislatures? Much depended upon that. To have passed Resolutions in a Committee, by no means precluded a subsequent discussion of those Resolutions. But there were Resolutions involving a bargain, such as a loan, &c. the adoption of which by a Committee rendered a subsequent discussion of the question a matter of considerable difficulty. He wished, therefore, to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether the Resolutions had been formally sent out to the Governors of the Colonies, and to the Colonial Assemblies, with an invitation to the latter to act on them as the Resolutions of Parliament; and the answer to that question would very much influence him as to the question of honour in the future discussion of the subject.

Mr. Secretary Stanley

stated, in answer to the hon. Gentleman, that as the Colonial Assemblies did not meet until November, there was at present no opportunity of laying the Resolutions before them; but he had thought it right formally to communicate them to the Governors of the Colonies, with instructions to submit them to the Legislatures, at the earliest possible period. It had been notified, also, not only that the Resolutions had passed both Houses of Parliament, but that the House of Commons was employed in considering the details of a Bill, the object of which was to carry those Resolutions into effect.

Mr. Baring

proceeded. He collected from the answer of the right hon. Gentleman, that the Resolutions were not absolutely binding on Parliament, as no correspondent measure had hitherto been formally required from the Colonial Legislatures. If, on the contrary, those Legislatures had been convened, and the Resolutions had been formally communicated to them, that circumstance ought, in his mind, to have had considerable weight with the House. On the whole, he was certainly disposed to vote against a Bill which did not seem to give satisfaction to any of the parties interested in it. Not being satisfactory, he really could not consent to so enormous a sacrifice of public money as the Bill involved. If the Bill should go into a Committee, and he were able to attend that Committee, he would state the particular objections which he entertained to the provision by which the Chancellor of the Exchequer was empowered to raise the 20,000,000l. at any time he pleased; as such a step was calculated to bring down the credit of the country, in a manner unheard of, unnecessary, and most destructive.

Mr. O'Connell

agreed in a great deal of what had fallen from the hon. member for Essex, as to the unsatisfactory character of the measure. He especially objected to the large compensation. It had been asserted, that the West-India proprietors had been harshly treated. Harshly treated! Instead of a loan of 15,000,000l., to obtain a gift of twenty! It was the people of England who ought to complain of being harshly treated. He denied that the House was bound by the Resolutions. No bargain had been made. He objected strongly to the apprenticeships. They were slavery under another name, and he trusted the clause respecting them would be completely changed in the Committee, and he should vote in every stage against the Bill while it comprehended the compensation to the planters of 20,000,000l.; a sum which would be actually thrown away, as slavery would still continue to exist. If any hon. Member called for a division on this second reading, he should have his support.

Mr. Bernal

said, as there was a general understanding that no discussion should take place on the second reading of the Bill, he would not trouble the House with any reply to the observations which had been made. He might tell the hon. and learned member, however, that the mandate of emancipation had gone forth, the Resolutions of both Houses had been sent out to the West-Indies, and the work of negro emancipation in the colonies was already effected. It only therefore remained for the Houses of Parliament, and those possessing property in those islands, to devise the best means of carrying these Resolutions into effect. He trusted that no personal feeling, or political feeling, would be allowed to stand in the way of so salutary a measure. He had always been of opinion, that the prosperity of Great Britain was bound up with the prosperrity of the colonies, and he thought it was the duty of Parliament and of the people of this country to see that no steps should be taken which would tend to diminish their prosperity. When the time came he should be ready to express his opinion on some of the clauses which had excited some opposition, and in the mean time would call on hon. Members not to show any unnecessary opposition to a Bill which must necessarily pass. With regard to the sum of 20,000,000l. he would only say, that it was proposed rather for the purpose of conciliating the colonists, in order to induce them to act cordially with Government, than as a compensation for the loss that might be sustained.

Sir Robert Peel

said, that the position in which the House stood that day, as to the question of slavery, was very different from that in which it stood, when it first entered upon the consideration of it some few days ago. When they then went into Committee to consider the Resolutions of the right hon. Secretary, there had been no pledge respecting the immediate abolition of slavery. The question was then res integra, and it was open for any member to deliver his opinions upon it as he deemed fitting. But in the interim both Houses of Parliament had affirmed those Resolutions, and had declared that measures must be forthwith taken for the entire and immediate abolition of slavery. He thought those Resolutions unwise, and had in consequence tried to modify them. He had proposed to substitute the word "ultimate" for "immediate;" because knowing, as he did, that the Imperial Legislature had power to terminate that state of slavery whenever it thought fit, he still deemed it wise, as the House had resolved to give a certain amount of compensation to the West-India proprietors, to take time to deliberate upon the regulations under which the extinction of slavery was to take place. His opinion, however, had been overruled, and that House, and the House of Lords, had determined to pass immediate measures for the abolition of slavery. It was necessary, therefore, to consider what construction the slaves would put upon those Resolutions. He, who differed from the propriety of these Resolutions, saw the difficulty which they created; and yet he was not prepared to defeat the hopes which had been excited by Parliament. He could not assent to the proposition of the noble Lord (Lord Howick). He thought, that to declare emancipation should be immediate, and that to trust in the present state of the West-Indies, that the inducement of wages would be of itself sufficient to insure from the slave industrious occupation, was an experiment too hazardous to be made. He had stated that opinion on a former occasion to the House, and he had referred to the relaxing nature of the climate, to the facility of raising the necessary articles of life, and to the circumstance that in those tropical regions the chief luxury was repose and the absence of labour, as proofs that the abolition of the present system, under the notion that wages would induce labour, would be a most dangerous experiment. He also thought that the experiment about to be tried was equally hazardous. He could not believe, that the power of the Magistrate would be sufficient to enforce the performance of labour. He was afraid that there was some hazard lest the punishment inflicted by the Magistrate, if it were sufficient to insure labour, would be much severer than that which was inflicted even by the most arbitrary and despotic masters. He thought it possible that, by adopting the principle of the Spanish law—namely, by holding out to the slave as a stimulus to labour, the prospect of emancipating himself gradually by the produce of it, and by having that produce, when it reached a certain amount, aided by a grant out of the public Treasury, they might promote a measure which would be most for the advantage of the, mother country, of the colonies, of the slaves in those colonies, and also of those millions of slaves now in bondage in other colonies over which we had no control. He had thought that, if we had laid down the principle of aiding the slaves by a grant a long way short of 20,000,000l. to purchase their freedom by their own labour, it would have been more for the interest of the slave than the Resolutions were, which they were now pursuing. If this experiment were not successful, we should injure instead of benefiting the slaves. The Resolutions, however, having been carried, he felt it to be his duty to insure, as far as he could, the success of them; and if the House were determined to emancipate the slave, there would never be a heavier imputation upon its good faith than by determining, after making the determination to emancipate the slave known to him, to get rid of the pecuniary compensation to the master. He felt confident that the first Resolution was entire and immediate emancipation, or, in other words, the depriving the planters of a certain portion of their property; and should the House turn round upon them with a view to defeating their claim to compensation, it might, indeed, be empowered to do so, but we should incur an imputation upon our good faith, such as had never been previously equalled. Parliament was, in his opinion, bound to make the planters full compensation; but even that compensation would not render the experiment less hazardous. He thought that it was impossible, with the law of apprenticeship as it then stood, the magistrate residing at a distance from the place where the offence was committed could enforce the performance of labour; and what was to be done in that case was a question, on which he entertained an opinion so strong that he would not at that moment venture to express it.

Mr. Godson

said, that in the essence of this Bill a most important principle was involved, which was, whether the Imperial Legislature had a right to take away at one fell swoop, all the Local Legislatures of the Colonies. Not one legal officer of the Crown had ventured to avow that the Imperial Legislature had any such right; and if it were avowed, it was not likely that the Colonial Legislatures would submit to it. This Bill limited the labour of a free man of full age and in full health to ten hours per diem, even though his extra labour were paid for, The 20,000,000l. that was to be given was not, a sufficient compensation to the West-India proprietors for this, especially as it was proposed to distribute it, on the mode of doing which, the planters had formed very different opinions. He was sorry that the discussion on this Bill was not taken now; but as there had been an arrangement to postpone the discussion till the Committee, he would reserve his objections to it till it arrived at that stage. This, however, he would say, that in his opinion it would save much discussion upon several of the clauses in the Committee, to take the discussion of the principle of the Bill now. So little did he think the Bill calculated to carry into effect the object, of any party, that if a motion were made to reject it now, he would certainly support it. One objection to it was, that the Commissioners who had to superintend the distribution of the compensation would not be able to perform their duty in the different colonies in less than ten years. He proposed to get rid of this plan, and to substitute in its stead another, by which 20,000,000l. should be advanced as a gift, and 10,000,000l. as a loan to the colonists, to be divided per capita. This would guarantee the planters from much loss, and would leave the slaves a happy and contented population. The present plan would not produce this effect; it would not effect the object of the anti-slavery societies, and it would place in jeopardy all the property in the West-Indies. He could assure the House that hon. Members would have more to do in the Committee than at this moment they expected.

Mr. Buckingham

said, that though he regretted exceedingly to see a Bill of this nature pass through a second reading without a discussion of its principle, he would at least be no assenting party to such a step; and lest his silence should be misconstrued into an acquiescence with the principle, and an objection only to the details, he felt it his duty to protest against the whole principle of the Bill, as at variance with all those interests which it professed to promote. The only grounds on which such a measure could be undertaken, or defended, appeared to him to be these. It must be either, first, to satisfy the claims of abstract, right and justice, without referring to any other consideration; or, secondly, to meet the almost universal wishes of the people of England; or, thirdly, to effect the freedom and improvement of the slave population; or, fourthly, to benefit the West-India proprietors. He could not conceive any other motives than these for making any alteration in the existing state of things. He was prepared then to contend, that it would entirely fail of effecting any one of these objects; and that on these grounds the Bill should be rejected entirely, and a new one, founded on very different principles, be substituted in its stead. First—As to the right and justice of the case:—No one ever pretended to deny that slavery was an oppression and a wrong, unjust in its origin, and cruel in its prolongation. It must be clear, then, that to satisfy the claims of right and justice, the Bill should have declared the entire abolition of slavery, at the earliest practicable moment, with no further delay than might be required for merely organizing a competent magistracy and police. A Bill to prolong slavery for twelve years to come, under the specious title of apprenticeships, where nothing was to be learnt, and no wages to be paid, was a mockery and an insult to those who demanded its abolition on the grounds of justice or religion; and in this point of view, the Bill deserved condemnation at its earliest stage. Secondly,—As to its compliance with the almost universal wishes of the English people; scarcely anything could be more remote from it than this Bill. The people of England demanded immediate emancipation for the slave, as his undoubted right, to be given to him without delay and without price; yet, by this Bill, the delay was to be twelve years, and, in many instances, much more: and the price was to be 20,000,000l. sterling, as a grant from the nation; 14,000,000l. of interest for being paid twelve years in advance; 21,000,000l. as the appraised value to the owners of the labour of 800,000 slaves for the master's benefit for twelve years, at seven-and-a-half hours per day. As a still further cost to the nation, the protecting duties, bounties, and other privileges of the West-India planters, were to be continued during these twelve years, making, at least, 24,000,000l. more;—forming altogether the enormous sum of 75,000,000l. sterling, for the purchase of that freedom which ought to be given at once to the slave, without a single shilling of purchase-money, or a single hour of unnecessary delay. He had no objection to the principle of compensation; but the very term implied a previous loss; and the only reasonable footing on which the question of compensation could be put, was, not as a purchase-money for a property in the persons of the slaves to be liberated (the legality of which property he wholly denied), but as a remuneration for loss sustained by the adoption of one mode of culture for another. When loss should be proved to result from such a change, it would be time enough to compensate it; but compensation without data, and without loss proved, he held to be in violation of every principle of justice; and to that, this Bill pledged the House and the country, and should, therefore, be rejected. Thirdly,—As to its granting freedom and improvement to the slaves,—it did neither; but, on the contrary, it placed them under a system, which, though called freedom, they would soon discover not to be so; and becoming irritated by the mockery of all their hopes, and the breaking of all the promises held out to them, they would be even more dissatisfied than before. That dissatisfaction would be resented by the master,—punished by the magistracy,—denounced by the Colonial governments,—and, as sure as cause ever produced effect, would bring about a servile insurrection; which, though it might secure their freedom, would throw back their improvement, by the devastations of life and property which such insurrections would occasion, and by keeping the whole population in a state of irritating warfare, instead of calmly pursuing the arts of instruction and peace. Fourthly,—As to the benefit of the West-India proprietors;—nothing could so effectually do this as a Bill which should guarantee to them, on the faith of the nation, the full enjoyment of the actual annual profits now derived from their estates; and the putting by a fund, say 20,000,000l. or more, from which any actual loss proved to arise from the cultivation of their estates by free labour instead of by slave labour, should be repaid; for then, freedom being granted to the slave, all parties would be satisfied, and the experiment might be cordially and safely made; but by the present Bill no such freedom was to be given, no such experiment was to take place; and as the disappointment of the slave population, if this Bill should pass into a law, would of necessity beget an insurrection, they would obtain their freedom by their own hands,—the purchase-money to be paid by the nation would be refused—the whole system of protecting duties and bounties would be overturned—the very colonies themselves might be lost both to the nation and to individuals, as America was severed from England, and Hayti from France; and the ruin of all the proprietors would be complete. He contended, therefore, that the Bill being defective in principle, ought to be opposed in its present stage; and he only regretted that those who considered themselves the leaders on this great question, should not have so opposed it. He had, however, discharged his duty in thus entering his solemn protest against the whole measure; and if he had succeeded in convincing the House that it would fail to effect any one of the objects it proposed to accomplish, he trusted that it would be so purged of its defects in its passage through the Committee, as to come out of their hands in as different a shape as possible from that which it now bore,—where evil so preponderated, as to make the good (if, indeed, it contained any whatever) wholly inoperative and impracticable.

Mr. Andrew Johnston

said, that as emancipation formed the great feature of the Bill, he had no doubt that it would meet with the concurrence of the House. He was opposed to the long period of the apprenticeships, and had hoped, when the right hon. Gentleman changed the loan of fifteen millions to the proprietors, into a gift of twenty millions, that he would have taken the opportunity of curtailing the terms of the apprenticeship. He hoped, that this part of the Bill would be re-considered. As to the money, he was the last man in the world who would quarrel with a liberal expenditure for such a purpose; but he hoped that the liberality of the House would be met by a correspondent liberality on the part of the proprietors. It ought to be remembered, that if the proprietors had vested rights, the slaves had vested wrongs.

Bill read a second time.