HC Deb 15 May 1833 vol 17 cc1263-6
Sir Richard Vyvyan

took the opportunity, upon the presentation of some Petitions against negro slavery, of giving a positive contradiction to some of the statements made by the right hon. Secretary for the Colonies, in the course of his speech to the House last night. That right hon. Gentleman had stated, that the recommendations of Government had been totally disregarded by the slave-owners in the West Indies, and the colonial legislatures, and applied the observation more particularly to the island of Jamaica. This statement was incorrect, for the legislature there had passed an Act in the year 1832, whereby the evidence of the slave was not only admitted against his master, but also against the overseer. Another of the allegations made by the right hon. Gentleman was, that the evidence of the slave could only be received clogged with the recommendation of his master. But this allegation had reference to one part of the colonies only, the island of Antigua. It was also most erroneously stated that a slave could receive thirty-nine lashes for only looking his master in the face.

Mr. Hume

rose to order. That was not the proper period to answer a debate which took place on a former occasion.

The Speaker

was of opinion, that the hon. Baronet was not strictly out of order. It was for him to consider how far the course he was pursuing promoted the convenience of the House.

Sir Richard Vyvyan

was merely anxious to negative allegations which had been brought against a most respectable body of men by the Secretary and Under-Secretary for the Colonies, and which ought not to be suffered to go forth to the public without a contradiction on the earliest opportunity. The right hon. Secretary was misinformed with regard to the corporal punishment of the negroes. He knew many instances in which a much heavier punishment than the infliction of thirty-nine stripes had been visited upon those who had inflicted a very small corporal punishment upon an offending slave. Instances had occurred in the colonies of 100l. having been handed over to the overseer for the manumission of a slave who had been ill-treated. If these facts had not been brought forward at the present moment, it would operate very much to the injury of justice. Justice he wished to be done to all parties, and surely justice was due to those individuals whose property must greatly suffer by the ministerial propositions.

Lord Morpeth

was not prepared to answer the observations of the hon. Baronet, but he was well satisfied that his right hon. friend would have no difficulty on the subject; if he were present. The allegation made by his right hon. friend with respect to the power of a master to inflict thirty-nine stripes on his slave, was, in fact, the statement of a West-India proprietor.

Mr. O'Connell

said, that the knowledge of which he was possessed on the subject came from the evidence laid before both Houses of Parliament. The question in dispute seemed to be whether a West-Indian slave master could inflict thirty-nine lashes on a negro for a certain offence, and the evidence of a West-India proprietor, and of other men, stated clearly that he could. An overseer could not only administer thirty-nine lashes for looking him in the face, he could do so without assigning any reason. That he could inflict corporal punishment either with or without assigning any reason had been proved upon authority which did not admit of a doubt. The fact was so revolting to every feeling of humanity, that the House would not be imbued with a particle of sympathy if a law were not immediately passed to render it impossible for one human being to strike another with impunity.

Colonel Leith Hay

was enabled to corroborate the assertions of the hon. Baronet by his own personal observation. The statements of the right hon. Secretary, he did not hesitate to say, were greatly exaggerated. The allegations were made upon evidence which the right hon. Gentleman believed to be true, but that evidence was of a most exaggerated description. He thought an ex parte statement, armed with the powerful eloquence of the right hon. Secretary, and the feeling that existed out of doors at the present moment on the subject of slavery, without any expression of the sentiments of the House upon the subject, ought not to be permitted to reach the public ear without the earliest contradiction.

Mr. Harvey

said, that this meeting, for the purpose of presenting the petitions of the people, was worth nothing if a responsible Minister was not present to hear the complaints of the country. He very much regretted the absence of every Minister on the present occasion. It was disgraceful to any Ministry that the petitions should thus, day after day, be ludicrously consigned to the bag. He very much approved of conversational debates of this description. It gave every individual an opportunity of expressing an opinion, and asking any question he might think necessary, and which he must be prevented from doing on the occasion of a set debate, when the whole time was consumed by a few prepared speeches each three or four hours' long. The question he was anxious to put to the Government was, whether the scheme of emancipation was to go hand-in-hand with compensation; or whether emancipation was to be carried without compensation? And if it was not, he wished to know from what quarter compensation was to come? He understood from the speech of a noble Lord, who had filled the office of Under-Secretary, until within a very short period, that he had spent two years in maturing a plan for the emancipation of the slaves, which differed in many important particulars from the scheme produced by the right hon. Secretary in a very short space of time; and he wished to know why the plans of that noble Lord were not submitted to the House as well as the Resolutions of the right hon. Secretary?' Conversations of this description tended to elucidate facts much better than luminous and elaborate speeches, and he, therefore, regretted that no Minister was present to answer the inquiries of hon. Members; it was certainly a part of the original agreement between Ministers and the House.

Mr. Petre

said, that the statements which had gone forth were not in any degree exaggerated. The House and the country had heard repeatedly of worse instances than any which were last night mentioned by the right hon. Secretary, who had, indeed, shown great forbearance in not alluding to individual cases.

The Conversation dropped.

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