HC Deb 14 March 1836 vol 32 cc269-73

Viscount Palmerston moved the third reading of the Slave Trade (Spain) Bill.

Mr. Fowell Buxton

did not rise to enter into a discussion upon the Bill, or the general question to which it referred, though, if the time had served, he would have gladly availed himself of the opportunity which the motion afforded for so doing. He was free to admit that the measure of which the noble Viscount now moved the third reading, was fraught with a great many advantages, and was likely to be of considerable importance in regard to the great question to which it referred, but at the same time it was his firm conviction, that it was wanting in one essential particular absolutely necessary for the complete and effectual achievement of the object in view. Slave trading was not made by it a piratical offence, and until it was it would never be put a stop to. The point, however, to which he particularly wished to direct the attention of the noble Viscount and the House, was the conduct of Portugal in connexion with this subject. It could not but be manifest to all who were in even the least degree conversant with the matter, that without a similar treaty with the Portuguese Government, the one to which the Bill now under consideration referred, would prove to all intents and purposes nugatory. In short, if there was a single flag under which slave vessels might sail, all that the Government would achieve by their treaties would be, the transfer of the trade from others to the one country which still carried it on, and the practice of slave-dealing would go on as briskly as ever. It was well known that nothing was more easy than to obtain letters of naturalization from the Portuguese Government; and to a certainty the owner of every vessel now trading under the Spanish flag, would, from the hour that, in virtue of the present treaty, that Government exerted itself in the suppression of the trade, avail himself of that formality. For this reason, he much wished the noble Viscount and the Government would turn their immediate attention to the point, and endeavour to induce the Portuguese Government to enter into a treaty similar to that just ratified with Spain. Portugal wag bound, not merely by former treaties, but by good faith and good feeling, to subscribe to such an arrangement; and he entertained no doubt would, if properly urged, at once do so. Negotiations upon the subject had been now pending for nearly twenty years, but hitherto without any satisfactory result. If, however, the noble Viscount were to inform the Minister representing the Crown of Portugal here, that Great Britain was determined to wait no longer, but to take the suppression of the trade into her own hands—as she could, if she pleased, very easily—he felt confident some understanding would at length be come to. He was sure the country at large would support the noble Viscount in any attempt to enforce the ratification of treaties for the suppression of the traffic; and the sooner, and the more energetically be set about it, the more satisfied the people would be. Should the Portuguese Government refuse to become a party to such a treaty as that to which he alluded, he trusted the noble Viscount would not hesitate to inform them, that orders would be given to the British cruisers to take the pirates wherever they found them; and he need not add, he hoped such orders would, in such an event, be given and acted upon.

Viscount Palmerston

agreed with the hon. Member in thinking that the most effectual plan that could be adopted for the suppression of the slave-trade, was for all the nations to make it a piratical offence, and punish it accordingly. It was obvious, however, that this could only be done by the consent, and with the good will of all the parties concerned, and not by the mere desire of one or two of them. Other nations, unfortunately, did not view the trafficking in human life with the same feelings of disgust and aversion that England did, and the consequence had been, that as yet it had been found impossible to persuade several of the necessary parties to concur in designating the trade as a piratical affair, and punishable as such. In the case of Spain, the British Government originally proposed to affix to the offence the severest penalty of the law, but it was eventually found impossible to persuade its Government to go to that extent. It agreed to affix to the crime a severe, but not the severest penalty. Not withstanding that, however, he hoped that much more good would result from the treaty than the hon. Gentleman seemed to expect. The Portuguese flag, it was true, might be made use of for the purposes of the trade, but it was undeniable that the power which the treaty went to give Great Britain, of putting down the trade when attempted under the flag of Spain, would be productive of most beneficial results. With regard to Portugal, he had only to observe, that the House must not suppose that there was no treaty upon the subject between Great Britain and its Government. There was a treaty, which, as far as it went, was found tolerably effective, though not entirely so. The defects, were first, that the district of country South of the Line, was not included in the limits to which it extended; and, secondly, that it did not empower the seizure and condemnation of vessels found equipped for the trade, though not in flagranti delictu. Upon these parts a negotiation was now pending with the Portuguese Government; and considering that on every principle of good faith, and regard to honour, Portugal was bound to enter into it, he (Viscount Palmerston) could not believe but that all was desired would be Obtained. The negotiation had been protracted in consequence of the recent change of Government in that country, but he was in daily expectation of receiving the required treaty duly signed. He had only, in conclusion, to assure the House, that no exertion would be spared by the British Government to achieve the total abolition of the slavetrade, and from the communications recently received from Powers not actually engaged in carrying it on, but whose flags might be made available for the purpose, when those countries hitherto most concerned in it discountenanced its continuance, he and the Government had every reason to expect that their efforts would be crowned with complete success.

Colonel Sibthorp

thought it evident that no practical end had been obtained. A little smoke had been raised, just to give rise to the supposition that something was being done; but as far as the suppression of the trade was concerned, it was evident no advance had been made.

Viscount Palmerston

observed, that the smoke to which the hon. and gallant Member alluded must have got into his head, and rendered him unable to read the Bill under discussion. Had he done so he must have perceived that a most important step towards the suppression of the trade had been gained by the treaty to which the measure related.

Mr. Finch

agreed with the hon. Member for Weymouth in thinking, that until the traffic in slaves was made a piratical offence, it would never be entirely suppressed.

Mr. Fowell Buxton

expressed his perfect satisfaction, that the Government were doing, and would continue to do, all in their power to induce other nations to join with them in discountenancing the slave trade. If, in the case of Portugal, nothing was done, he begged to say, that he would be prepared to call upon the House, by a specific motion, to sanction British cruizers in seizing vessels under that flag, in virtue of the existing treaty. He wished, before he sat down, to know from the noble Viscount, if any negotiation was pending to extend the operation of the French treaty, on the same subject, to the limits to be found in the Bill before the House?

Viscount Palmerston

replied, that though the limits were not quite as extensive as was desirable, no inconvenience had as yet resulted from their narrowness. No negotiation upon the subject was pending.

The Bill read a third time and passed.