HC Deb 29 July 1833 vol 20 cc60-7

On the Order of the Day being moved for the House to go into Committee on the Abolition of Slavery Bill,

Mr. Wilks

rose to inquire of the right hon. the Secretary for the Colonies what provision was intended to be made by the Government for the moral and religious instruction of the enfranchised negroes? It was fully understood that the provisions of the Bill were to be founded upon the Resolution which had been agreed to by both Houses of Parliament. The last of these Resolutions determined that such instruction should be provided for the liberated slaves; but, on looking over the Bill, he had not been able to discover the slightest indication of any means of carrying that intention into effect. Within the last two months, religious persecutions had been renewed in the island of Jamaica, and the properly of unoffending individuals had been confiscated to pay penalties inflicted for attending religious worship. His conduct, and that of many other Members, he believed, would be regulated in a great measure by the answer which he received.

Mr. Secretary Stanley

said, he did not precisely know the meaning of the hon. Member. If it was to ask whether the Government intended to give full effect to the establishment of civil and religious liberty, he would answer, yes, such were the intentions of Government; and he believed that one clause in the Bill established the same law in the colonies as in England. When that clause was under consideration would be the proper time for introducing any Amendment.

Mr. Andrew Johnstone

did not think the right hon. Secretary had fully answered the question of the hon. Member, and trusted that that hon. Member would take another opportunity of pressing his views, by proposing an additional clause. He could not agree with that part of the Bill which put education under the care of the Colonial Legislatures. He would as soon have left the legislation upon the Irish Coercion Bill to the Whitefeet, as agree to leave the Local Assemblies to regulate the religious education of the slaves.

The House in Committee.

On the 10th clause being read—

Mr. Patrick Stewart

said, he would not raise an objection to any part of the Bill except for the advantage of the larger communities, the welfare of which would I be affected by it. Now, in some of the in larger islands, the population of the negroes was so great, that they could hardly find unappropriated ground to stand upon; and there was, consequently, very little employment for them. Of what use was it to give them time, if they could get no employment, and therefore no wages? He thought it would be the best way to allow them to be transferred with their own consent, from the too populous to the thinly-peopled islands, where there would be a demand for their labour, and where they would receive good wages. He knew that the hon. member for Weymouth would object and would refer to the transfers that had heretofore been made of slaves from the Bahamas to Trinidad and Demerara. But the hon. Member should recollect that those transfers were made without the consent of the slaves; and every man, who knew anything of the negroes, was aware, that there was no race of men more attached to localities and inanimate things than they were. If the clause were passed in its present shape, it would inflict idleness and poverty on a large number of slaves in several islands.

Dr. Lushington

opposed any such alteration as that suggested by his hon. friend, on the ground that, if it were permitted, it would be subjected to much abuse. If the slave were worth little, for that little the master would give him his freedom, and then he might go where he pleased. He was afraid, if the proposition were agreed to, it would expose the slaves to much imposition.

Mr. Fowell Buxton

said, there was no part of the slavery question in which he felt more interest than that which was now before the House. His hon. friend had referred to the removals to Trinidad, but his hon. friend was wrong in supposing that they were not effected by the consent of the negro. The Act provided that it should not be done, except with the consent of the negro. It was known in that case, that the negroes were removed, and that they died like rotten sheep. His firm conviction was, that if they were to proceed in the way proposed, in the course of the next six or seven years there would be a transfer of 20,000 slaves from island to island, and not a thousand of that number would be alive at the end of their apprenticeship.

Mr. Robert Gordon

concurred in the opinion of the hon. member for Weymouth. He considered there was no proposition that would be attended with more difficulty between the planters and their apprentices than that which was made by his hon. friend opposite (Mr. Stewart); and while his hon. friend sup-posed it would be an advantage to the people of Barbadoes, they were protesting strongly against it, because it would expose their negroes to the influence of speculators from Demerara.

Mr. Fowell Buxton

moved as an Amendment to the clause, "that no apprentice should be removed from one colony to another after the passing of this Act, without the consent of the said apprentice given and recorded in writing-signed by the said two Justices of the Peace." He could produce a great number of authorities equally conclusive on this point, but he felt satisfied the House would fully concur with him in thinking that these apprentices ought not to be considered as slaves, and that they should not be removed from place to place without their own consent and authority. If any objection was made to this, he should certainly feel it his duly to press it to a division.

Amendment agreed to.

The clause to stand part of the Bill.

Mr. Secretary Stanley

said, that it was intended to amend clause 12, by adding, that the slave should not be employed more than forty-live hours each week, and that the time for cultivating his provision ground should not be deducted from his weekly but annual time.

Lord Howick

concurred in the Amendment, but with it he still thought the clause tended to great objections. For many years, it would be in the recollection of the House, endeavours had been made to prevail on the colonists to make more liberal allowances to the slaves. The clause, as it now stood, would give advantage to those colonies that had been most obstinate in preventing the execution of the orders of Government. He should therefore suggest that they should give small sums to the slave for his labour—say even the sum of 6d. for seven hours and a-half—that would reconcile him to the apprenticeship imposed upon him. It was very well known that the slaves were very fond of having money given to them. The adoption of the proposition which he had brought forward would, in his opinion, meet the wishes of both parties. Although the Amendment would not remove all the objections he had to the Bill, it would remove many of them.

Mr. Secretary Stanley

thought, by carrying into effect the Amendment of the noble Lord, a gross breach of justice would be committed, and Parliament would be taking to itself a power which it never ought to exercise.

Mr. Fowell Buxton

was convinced, that nothing would induce negroes to work so well or so readily as holding out an inducement of wages; the evidence given before the Committee proved that fact; but the House had already decided against the system of wages. He hoped that the right hon. Secretary (Mr. Stanley) would consent to the introduction of a clause that should approximate towards wages, by allowing the negroes a small sum, say a half-penny per hour, for their labour. The planters complained of the expensive and tiresome mode of laying in stores of provisions for the negroes, and therefore it would be better to allow a small sum for wages, that the negro might know he was working for wages. The prospect of emancipation through an apprenticeship, would be no inducement equivalent to wages. At all events, the slaves should have the option of having allowances and provision grounds, or of having wages.

Mr. O'Reilly

said, he hoped the right hon. Secretary would, instead of allowing the negro so many hours on an annual average, make it so many hours per week, so that he might cultivate his own grounds. It was true that the crop season was a busy one for the planter, but it was also an important one for the negro in the cultivation of his garden; but if at that period the master chose to call on his negro for extra labour, he should pay for it.

Mr. Secretary Stanley

said, that was precisely what the clause would effect If the negro worked for his master more than the 45 hours in crop time, the latter would be bound to pay for the extra labour.

Mr. James

said, he was the proprietor of one estate in the island of Jamaica, and he had several slaves, who contrived, despite of their labour for their master, to amass considerable sums of money from their savings, when not engaged at their daily employment. One slave of his alone at that moment had upwards of 200l., the amount of savings from the produce of a bit of land; and that very slave, although possessed of so much money, would not consent to receive his emancipation, if he thought it was to be at the loss of his trifling allotment of ground. The slaves were now to be paid money for their hours of employment. Now, he would ask, what were they to receive money for? Was it for eating, drinking, lodging—all of which they at present had, free of expense, and an allotment of ground besides? Hon. Gentlemen considered they were entitled to money payments, at the rate of one half-penny an hour, in place of allowances. That they were slaves it was true; but were there, he would ask, no such slaves in England—men who laboured and toiled to earn a subsistence? And it would be for any hon. Member to come forward and adduce a single instance where a labourer by his exertions was enabled to amass such a sum as the slave whom he (Mr. James) had instanced. The slaves were to be emancipated, and he rejoiced at it. But hon. Members, he conceived, had exaggerated when they thought slaves should have money wages. The hon. Member concluded by condemning the publication got up under the sanction of the Anti-Slavery Society, as being full of exaggerations and falsehoods.

Mr. Fowell Buxton

conceived the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down could not have possibly adduced stronger arguments in favour of the payment of money for labour than those he was pleased to utter, evidently intended to have an opposite tendency. The hon. Member was pleased to allude to a publication got up under the auspices of the Anti-Slavery Society, as if he (Mr. Fowell Buxton) was the author of it. Now, in denying such to be the fact, he assured hon. Members he did so with regret. He could not acknowledge that he was, but for the satisfaction of the hon. Member, he could acquaint him not only with the name of that gentleman, whom he was proud to acknowledge as his friend, but also that that gentleman had done more by his exertions to promote the great cause of anti-slavery, than any other man in existence—and that was Mr. Macaulay.

Mr. Patrick Stewart

said, the Amendments of the noble Lord and the hon. member for Weymouth would be unnecessary interpolations of the principle of the Bill, They would be unjust to the planter, and injurious to the slaves, who would be apprehensive of losing their provision-ground. The House could not in justice listen to the proposition.

Mr. O'Connell

supported the Amendment. He was glad to find, that the House had thrown off the hypocrisy of apprenticeships, when speaking of the negroes under the changed circumstances which this Bill proposed to create. They now talked of slaves, when speaking of the blacks in their new condition, and not as they had hypocritically done for some days, of apprentices. The truth was, that they would still be slaves, and he was, therefore, glad that the House had thrown off its hypocrisy, and called them by their right name. As to what the hon. member for Carlisle had said of The Anti-Slavery Reporter, nothing could be more unfounded. He (Mr. O'Connell) was a member of the Anti-Slavery Society, and he would consent to give up that publication, if the hon. Member could support his allegation. Let the hon. Member take four volumes of that work already published, let him compare the statements in that work with the parliamentary documents on which they purported to be founded, and then let him point out a single case which would sustain his charge of exaggeration or misrepresentation, and he would at once give up the work. He challenged him to do this; he defied him to this; and if he could not, he trusted that the House would hear no more of the exaggerations or misrepresentations of The Anti-Slavery Reporter. As to the Amendment, he believed it to be of the utmost importance. It proposed to introduce a new and efficient stimulant to labour. It substituted wages for coercion, and was, therefore, the best calculated to ensure the industry of the emancipated slaves. The only impediment that had hitherto been found in the way of emancipating the slaves, was their indolence, or indisposition to labour. It had, however, always been said: "Oh, emancipate the slave, leave him at liberty to labour or not to labour, as he pleases, and there will be an end to the cultivation of the West-Indian colonies." But, what said the hon. member for Carlisle? He said, that the slaves were in the enjoyment of a very large amount of comfort, provided for them by their owners; that they were sleek, well fed, and fat; that they possessed, in fact, and as slaves, every- thing they could desire; and yet, so fond were they of work—so desirous of labour—that even in these circumstances of comfort and plenty, they absolutely deprived themselves of rest, and by continuous and persevering labour accumulated 100l. or 200l. Why, could anything stronger in favour of emancipation be urged by its most zealous advocates? Here were the slaves so industrious, so desirous of labour, as to give themselves to it without any compulsion; and when they were not at all dependent upon it for their comfort or enjoyment! Now, as to the nature of the Amendment, what was it? What was there in it so unreasonable and unjust as it had been represented to be? It had been stated in the evidence laid before the House most distinctly, that the earnings of a slave were about 3s. 4d. a-day (that was in the island of Jamaica; in some other colonies it was not so much),—but in the island of Jamaica the slave earned for his master about 3s. 4d. a-day. Well, the Amendment of the hon. member for Weymouth proposed, that of this 3s. 4d.—that was about 2s. currency—the slave should receive 6d. a day, or one-fourth of the amount, in the shape of wages, of course subject to such regulations as the nature and justice of the case might require. He did not see how this could be reasonably objected to; but he saw, on the other hand, that it would furnish the most powerful incentive to labour that could be furnished to the slave. The hon. and learned Member concluded by expressing his determination to support the Amendment.

Mr. Secretary Stanley

said, that giving the apprentices 6d. a-day by law, would be no temptation or inducement to them to labour. If the master were obliged to pay them 6d. every day, no matter whether they worked well or ill, then there was no stimulant to labour at all. Under the regulations proposed by the present Bill, the master could pay his apprentice what he contracted for; and he had no doubt at all, that such contracts would be entered into. But if the master were compelled to pay his apprentices, whether they worked well or ill, or not at all, it would be introducing a regulation to encourage not labour but idleness.

Lord Hawick

suggested, that the allowances to slaves should be equalised in all the colonies. There at present existed nothing like equality in that respect; for some masters only gave their slaves two herrings and a pint of rice a day, while others gave them a very liberal allowance; in different islands of course. The great fault of the Bill was, that his right hon. friend, its framer, had adopted as its basis the colonial legislative regulations with all their imperfections.

Mr. Gordon

would ask his noble friend where he was to find the circulating medium in the colonies to pay the sums proposed by him as wages to the negroes?

Mr. Ewart Gladstone

said, the proposition of the noble Lord would subject the planters to an additional charge "of 3,000,000l. a-year, and make the slaves idle.

Lord Howick

said, that the prescribed time would only amount to four days and a-half a-week, and the wages would be only 5l. or 6l. a-year.

Mr. Secretary Stanley's Amendment agreed to.

The House resumed; the Committee to sit again.

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