HC Deb 15 August 1838 vol 44 cc1313-6
Sir R. H. Inglis

wished to ask the noble Lord, the Secretary for Foreign Affairs, what steps Government had taken in consequence of the unanimous address of the House of Commons in May last upon the subject of the Slave-trade? That address touched upon three points, and prayed her Ma- jesty to obtain from foreign powers a declaration, that the slave-trade should be treated as piracy; the concession of a mutual right of search in all treaties with foreign states; and, finally, it specifically expressed an expectation, that Portugal would conclude an adequate treaty for the suppression of the Slave-trade.

Viscount Palmerston

assured the right hon. Baronet, that the attention of Government had been earnestly and anxiously given to the important subject to which he had adverted. Respecting the first question, he begged to inform the right hon. Gentleman, that Government hoped to obtain the consent of all the great powers of Europe to a general treaty for the suppression of the slave-trade, and in that treaty they would endeavour to obtain the insertion of a declaration, that the slave-trade should be treated as piracy A negotiation to this effect had only been delayed from a wish, in the first instance, to come to an understanding with France as to the extension of the geographical limits for the right of search contained in the conventions between France and England. Those limits did not include the eastern coast of Africa, from which an extensive slave-trade was carried on; and when they were making a general European treaty, it was clearly desirable, that it should contain the most complete stipulations respecting the extent of the limits. It was unnecessary to say, that the foundation of all treaties upon the slave-trade must be a mutual right of search; and he had no reason to expect any difficulty on that point, except on the part of the United States of America. In that country, unfortunately, that maritime jealousy which this country had overcome in respect to France, still existed; and he had no hope, at present, of obtaining the consent of the United States to a treaty for the mutual right of search. At the same time, it was but justice to say, that no effort had been omitted on their part to carry into execution their own laws for the suppression and prevention of the slave-trade. Respecting the third question, he was sorry to say, that he could not yet announce, that Portugal had agreed to an adequate treaty for the fulfilment of her engagements with this country. The Government, as was well known, had sent out some time ago, the draft of a treaty for this purpose, but the Portuguese administration proposed several modifications, to some of which the British Government acceded, while to others they objected. Subsequently, the Portuguese administration made another reference to the British Government with a view to the alteration of the treaty, and latterly he had sent back to Lisbon a draft with such modifications as he felt it possible to accede to, without defeating the purpose of the treaty. That draft was given to the Portuguese government as our ultimatum, but he had not yet received the final answer to it. He was not without hopes, however, that that answer might be satisfactory to this country, and consistent with the engagements which Portugal had contracted. At the same time, the Portuguese government should not forget, that the British Parliament, the British people, the British Government, were determined to put an end to the slave-trade now carried on under the Portuguese flag, which trade Portugal had bound herself by treaty to abolish, and that, if the Portuguese government should decline signing the treaty which might be necessary for the accomplishment of this great object, Great Britain would be compelled to employ her own means for effecting that purpose. He was sure, however, that the House would feel, that her Majesty's Ministers were right in forbearing from taking such a course, so long as any hope remained of accomplishing the object with the concurrence and co-operation of Portugal. An avowal had recently been made by the governor of a Portuguese settlement on the coast of Africa unexampled in the history of civilized nations. That officer had confessed, that the only revenue of the colony was derived from duties paid on the exportation of slaves, and that the exportation of slaves was the only commerce which the colony carried on; and that while other nations, such as Spain and Brazil, excused their slave-trade on the ground, that it was necessary to the development of the resources of the country to obtain additional labour, the Portuguese, on the contrary, admitted that they by carrying on the same trade, were dispeopling their colonies and depriving them of that labour by which alone their natural resources could be developed. Some allowances, however, were to be made for Portugal. That country had had for a long course of time the misfortune of suf- fering under the worst government, that perhaps ever existed in Europe—a government under which no public opinion, and no public virtue, could be expected, for public opinion, and public virtue, could not arise without a free press, and free, and public, discussion, in popular meetings. Now, however, fortunately, Portugal had obtained the advantage of a constitutional government; and it was to be hoped, that the feelings of her people would change on this, as well as on many other subjects. At present one of the great difficulties which prevented this successful termination of the negotiations with that country arose from the circumstance, that many influential persons in Lisbon had a direct and personal influence in this traffic. With respect to Brazil to which country the right hon. Baronet had adverted, this Government was pressing two matters on the Brazilian administration. The first was, the ratification of the equipment and breaking-up articles. When last he heard from Rio Janeiro the chambers had recently assembled, and our chargé d'affaires had been instructed to urge the Brazilian government to use every effort to obtain the ratification of these articles by the chambers. The second point was, that they should pass a law affixing to the slave-trade the punishment of piracy. Brazil had by treaty declared the slave-trade to be piracy, but had not yet passed a law which should carry that stipulation into effect. The noble Viscount concluded by assuring the right hon. Baronet and the House, that this important subject would occupy the most anxious attention of Government during the recess, and he hoped, that when Parliament re-assembled he should be able to give a more satisfactory statement on this point than it had been in his power to afford on this occasion.

Sir R. H. Inglis

had heard with great pleasure what had fallen from the noble Viscount, and he begged on the part of the House to confirm the assertion which had been made, that Parliament and the country would not permit the continuance of the slave-trade under the Portuguese flag, and, he was sure, that the Government would be fully supported by Parliament in any measure which they might be driven to resort to for its suppression, if Portugal should finally refuse to accede to the treaty which had been proposed to it.