HC Deb 25 July 1833 vol 19 cc1234-42

Mr. Secretary Stanley moved the Order of the Day for the House to resolve itself into a Committee on the Slavery Abolition Bill.

On the Question that the Speaker do leave the Chair,

Mr. Ruthven

declared, that he could not let that opportunity pass of protesting against the further progress of the Bill in its present shape. He did not do so exclusively on his own part, though his feelings were strongly adverse to it; but he did so on the part of multitudes, who had the moral, religious, and physical interests of the negroes at heart. He had intended to move some Amendments, to the effect of providing for the immediate manumission of the negroes, but he hoped the hon. Gentleman below him (Mr. Fowell Buxton) would, by taking it into his own hands, supersede the necessity for his so doing. He trusted that the period of apprenticeship would be limited to one year; and he would most earnestly recommend to the hon. Gentleman to persevere in fixing it at that term. The opinion of the people of England, as expressed by their delegates in London, was adverse to the apprenticeship being continued to so unconscionable a period as twelve years; and he (Mr. Ruthven) therefore hoped the Government would see reason to change their opinions on the subject, and make the Bill more in accordance with the views of the nation. He also trusted that his Majesty's Ministers and that House would pause before they threw away on the body of West-India planters, at the present season of unexampled distress and discontent in these kingdoms, the enormous sum of 20,000,000l. He hoped, also, that due care would be taken for securing the free exercise of whatever religion they chose to adopt, to the slave population of the West-Indies. Hitherto no care had been taken of that matter; but, on the contrary, it was universally known that slaves were punished for attending to the duties of religion at all, and preachers and teachers of certain sects were persecuted with almost unheard-of violence.

Dr. Lushington

said, that, before the House went into Committee, it was his duty to propose an instruction of which he had given notice—namely, "That it be an instruction to the Committee on the Slavery Abolition Bill, to insert in the said Bill a clause for the immediate emancipation, without restriction, of all slaves who may, at any time previous to the passing of this Bill, have been brought, with the consent of their possessors, or may, at any time after the passing of this Bill, with like consent, be brought into any part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland." He was the more urged to propose this Resolution by a case which had occurred relative to the delivery of a female slave in this country, and the subsequent enthralment of the child, as a slave, on arrival in the West-Indies. It was Lord Stowell who had decided the legality of such a procedure. He was compelled to admit, on the authority of Lord Stowell, that such was the state of the law, that if a slave, or the offspring of a slave, after enjoying the pride of freedom in Great Britain, should return to the colonies, he or she would again be thrown into slavery. Although, on such high authority, he was obliged to admit that such was the law, he could not but reprobate its abominable injustice. That was the last judgment of any public importance given by that learned Lord; and if there was anything in it which he (Dr. Lushington) could regret, besides the iniquity of the law which it asserted, it was the levity with which the learned Lord contradicted a decision formerly given, in a similar case, by Lord Mansfield. But, whatever was the state of the law, the learned Lord (Lord Stowell) himself was convinced of its injustice; and in the course of that judgment, he not once, but twice or thrice, expressed his wish that the Colonial Legislatures should apply to Parliament to interfere to prevent those outrages upon humanity; and, attached as the noble Lord was to slavery, he could not help reprobating the iniquity of the law in these cases. But no attention had been paid by the Colonial Legislatures to that humane, and, coming from such high legal authority, impressive recommendation, although it was made as long ago as November, 1827. He now held in his hand that which would prove that the very contrary effect to that intended had been produced upon these Legislatures. It was a copy of the Grenada Free Press of the 8th day of May, in the present year, which detailed, as if from authority, a case in which the best feelings of humanity had been grossly outraged, and the victim of violence incarcerated in a gaol. The person who was so suffering was called John Lawes, and he had emancipated himself in the year 1810, by escaping, as by the laws of God, setting those of man out of the question, he was justly entitled to do. It was by the exercise of an everlasting right, of which no Statute could deprive him. The man had rendered himself free by coming over to this country in the year mentioned. Ten years that person served his Majesty in the navy—he then settled in this country. He had an English wife and two children alive, and resident in England. At the expiration of twenty-two years, impelled by that natural desire implanted in us by Providence for the best of purposes, he returned to Grenada, to visit his aged parents; he was their seized by his former owner, and tried for having run away. The circumstances were fully detailed on his trial, but he was convicted, and the Chief Justice, in passing sentence, said, "That he had no option but to carry the colonial law into effect, and that the prisoner must be remanded to gaol, and undergo the punishment appointed by the Statute, unless, in consideration of the worthy motives which induced his return, and of the number of years which he had spent in the service of his King, and in consideration of his wife and children, his owner would consent to pardon him, which would be a termination of the cause (said the learned Chief Justice) worthy of humanity, and of the liberal opinions of the times in which we live." When such was the state of the law in the colonies, had not he a right to call on the British Parliament no longer to allow such transactions to desecrate a Court of Justice in any part of the earth, under the sway of the British Crown. There was another case even more painful than the one he had just related. A gentleman of property in the West-Indies had two female natural children, born of one of his slaves, and he sent them to England, where they received an excellent education, after which they returned back to their native island, by which time, owing to circumstances, the estate on which they were born had changed hands, and, unfortunately, they were subject to the laws of the island; consequently those two young women, who had been liberally educated in England, were again consigned to slavery, and they were immediately put to work as common field slaves. He regretted to say, that so far from this being a solitary instance of the kind, he knew of several—but it was unnecessary for him to advert to them all. He would relate another circumstance in which the wife was in England and the husband in Antigua; she was afraid to go to her husband, from the fear of being-put into slavery again as her husband had been. He (Dr. Lushington) when the owner was in England, had offered to pay the price of the slave, in order that the wife might return to her husband, but the owner refused it, and thereby effected the separation of the husband and wife, his excuse being, that if she returned to Antigua she would disturb and annoy him. Those acts were violations of humanity and of the best, feelings of our nature, and he prayed the House to afford a remedy for such evils. It was his purpose to suggest, that it be an instruction to the Committee, that all slaves who had once, by the consent of their owners, come to England, or who might hereafter come to England, by which they obtained their freedom, should never be compelled to return to a state of slavery. The justice of that proposition was evident; because, if the slave owner once temporarily broke the chain of bondage, he had no right again to enforce it.

Mr. Secretary Stanley

had intended to guard against the recurrence of such cases as his hon. and learned friend had related, by some provision in the Bill, but he had not intended to go so far as the proposed Resolution stated. However, seeing the unanimous feeling of the House, he would offer no opposition to the Motion.

Mr. Bernal

also acceded to the Motion, and related, by way of counterpoise to the statements of the hon. and learned Member (Dr. Lushington) the case of a valuable slave belonging to the late Mr. Beckford; who was sent to this country to be cured, at Mr. Beckford's expense of a chronic disease. Of course, on coming here, he became free, but he was restless, and desired to go back to Jamaica. He was sent back, and upon expressing a wish to carry on his own business (a mason) as a freeman, Mr. Beck-ford generously liberated him.

Mr. Warre

expressed his entire satisfaction at the general measure proposed by his Majesty's Ministers in the Bill before the House, and he was of opinion that, despite of some details to which objection might be taken, it would achieve the great object they all had in view, and give general satisfaction to the country. The proposition of his hon. and learned friend was such as ought to be well received by the House and the public; and he hoped there would be no opposition offered to it. With respect to some of the details of the Bill—the apprenticeship period for instance—he should say, that he did not fully concur in every particular; he thought the period of apprenticeship should be very much abridged, though he did not desire it should be confined within such small limits as those proposed by the hon. member for Weymouth. On that part of the Bill he had expected to have been enlightened as to the final views of the Government by the speech of the hon. member for Leeds last night, but he had to confess, now that the speech was made, he was, in point of information on that subject, just where that speech found him. It was agreed on all hands, that an intermediate or preparatory state was necessary previous to the complete manumission of those at present in slavery; the question, therefore, was, what was to be the term of that preparatory period? But supposing the period of preparation satisfactorily fixed, he wished to know what would become of the aged and infirm slaves during the apprenticeship? He wanted to be satisfied as to who was to maintain them, clothe them, lodge them, all that time, &c. This was a question which had not been put before, and which he much wished, for the sake of humanity, to hear answered now.

The Amendment agreed to, and the instruction to the Committee ordered.

The House resolved itself into a Committee.

Mr. Secretary Stanley

hoped the Committee would excuse him for adverting to the position in which, after the discussion last night, the Government stood. It was impossible, to look to the opinion then expressed, not to perceive that there was a strong feeling, not, he believed, against the principle of apprenticeship as an intermediate state of probation between slavery and perfect freedom, but against the period which Government had adopted for that purpose. Undoubtedly it was perfectly competent to the House to limit the twelve years which Government had proposed to a somewhat shorter period; and, looking to the opinion expressed last night, while the Government felt it absolutely essential not only by way of compensation to the master, but also for the welfare of the slave population, that there should be an intermediate state, as a real and effective apprenticeship, he must state, that anxious as he was, consistently with the duties of Government to other parties, to make proper concessions to the wishes of the House, it was deemed expedient, instead of retaining the period for predial apprenticeship twelve years, and non-predial apprenticeship seven years, to confine the former to seven years, and the term of the latter to five years. This substitution he hoped would meet the wishes of the House, while he still thought it would not be inconsistent with the principle of a real and effective intermediate apprenticeship. Indeed, he might say, that the periods would virtually be reduced to six and four years, because, by the new arrangement, the plan would come into operation in 1833 in place of 1834, and the time would end in 1840 in place of 1845.

Lord Howick

was pleased by the concession which Government had made, but at the same time he was not quite satisfied. He wished the right hon. Gentleman to push his concession a little further; and although there were a variety of provisions in the Bill which he decidedly objected to, he would in that case decline entering his opposition. He was anxious that the grant, whatever its amount might be, which the country was to give to the West-India proprietors by way of compensation, should not, as to one-half, become payable in any colony, until complete personal freedom had been obtained by all the slaves—in short, that one-half of the sum should be reserved till the period of apprenticeship had been fulfilled.

Lord Althorp

said, the sense of the House had already been taken upon that point, when the principle had been rejected. Undoubtedly, although Government were anxious to disarm the opposition and gain the assent of the noble Lord to other parts of the Bill, they could not for that purpose abandon what they considered the only just and right course which the House had already determined on.

Lord Sandon

complained, that a direct violation had been committed of the contract which had been made by Government with the West-India body, for the purpose of gaining their co-operation, and without the least communication having been made on the subject. He considered the modification in itself a direct departure from a specific contract; and he thought he had good reason for charging on Government a direct breach of good faith in regard to the West-Indian body.

Mr. Secretary Stanley

said, the negotiation into which the Government had entered with that body, as to the precise period of twelve and seven years' apprenticeship, was undoubtedly binding on them as members of that House; but it only bound them as Ministers to propose that term to Parliament. It was quite competent for the House to accede to or reject it. He called on his noble friend to say, whether there had not been on the part of the Government every endeavour to maintain their part of the agreement; but, surrounded as they were with difficulties on all sides, notwithstanding their utmost exertions to keep inviolable their portion of the contract, there were circumstances, as was evident from the close division of last night—a division (he did not deny it) in spite of every effort of the Government to secure a large majority—which might render it impossible for them to carry the term of twelve years to its full extent. Certainly, if the noble Lord insisted on it, he felt himself bound to give him his vote; individually, he must personally redeem his pledge as a man, but he should then feel it to be his duty to look to his character as a Minister.

Lord Sandon

wished to give his right hon. Friend every assistance in carrying this measure to a safe issue; but complained, that Ministers had yielded to popular clamour, and not to the opinion of the House; for he did not think the division of last night compelled them to make this alteration. He would not hold his right hon. friend bound in the manner stated; but was sorry for the alteration he proposed.

Mr. Patrick Stewart

protested against the alterations which were proposed. He could not but express his regret at those which had already taken place. At the same time he would do his best to help the Ministers out of their difficulties, and get the Bill through the House.

Lord Althorp

said, the noble Lord seemed to think, that Ministers ought to have waited for a division against them; but it should be remembered, that Ministers had the means of ascertaining pretty nearly how the question would be decided. And it was more respectful to the House to adopt the course that had been adopted. If Ministers had been moved by any force, it was by the force of opinion in that House.

Mr. Ewart Gladstone

thought it hard, that the West-India body should be thrown overboard by a mere inference upon the division of last night. He did not consider, that the Resolutions of last night involved any necessity for the coming to such a conclusion as that adopted by the Government. It was hard to overthrow a definite contract upon an indefinite supposition.

Mr. Secretary Stanley

said, if it should ever occur to the hon. Member to have a place in the Government, he would come to different conclusions upon such divisions. He believed the Ministers had pursued the soundest and best course for all parties.

Mr. Briscoe

, as an independent Member, referred to the Resolutions which had been sent out by the Government to the Colonies. These, he contended, were a matter between the Government and the Colonies. But still they referred to a time to be fixed by Parliament; and it was not fair to charge Government with running from their agreement under such circumstances.

Mr. O'Connell

said, that the contract insisted on was a left-handed document, for a large party of the West-Indians themselves did not agree to it, and had exerted themselves to set it aside. He approved of the Ministers conforming to the views of the House of Commons.

Mr. Buxton

was quite convinced, that the present period, even after the modification which had just been announced, was too long. There was a strong apprehension that they would not have the cordial co-operation of the West-India body, and that was a strong argument against the granting of the whole Compensation Fund before the apprenticeship had terminated.

Lord Sandon

reminded the hon. Member, that the sum was only to be granted when the measure became law. If the plan did not take effect, the sum would not be granted.

Lord Althorp

said, the utmost limit he could go to as a Minister, in limiting the term of apprenticeship, was that then stated by his right hon. friend.

Mr. Poulter

was glad to find, that some concession had been made to public feeling; and he hoped the right hon. Gentleman would not attempt, by merely nominal alterations, to— Cloy the hungry edge of appetite, By bare imagination of a feast.

The Amendment was agreed to. The Chairman reported progress, and obtained leave to sit again.

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