HC Deb 26 April 1839 vol 47 cc573-6
Lord John Russell

said, that, in moving that the House should, at its rising, adjourn to Monday, he would take the opportunity of making a few observations with regard to the course the Government intended to pursue upon the Jamaica Bill. He understood (for being detained elsewhere, he was not in the House at the time) that the right hon. Gentleman opposite, the Member for Tamworth, had given notice that he should on Monday next oppose the Speaker leaving the chair, with the view of rejecting the bill which had been introduced. Now, although he (Lord John Russell) thought that course the most hostile that could possibly be taken, yet at the same time he certainly was of opinion, that if the Government could find, with respect to a measure of this nature, suspending a legislature, that the grounds on which they had originally come to their determination were in any respect erroneous, it certainly would be their bounden duty to adopt some other course—perhaps a course such as that suggested by the right hon. Baronet. But having again considered that course, and having referred to all the reasons on which the bill was originally founded, the Members of the Government were the more confirmed in their opinion that it was necessary they should press on the House the adoption of that bill, and that they should have the opportunity of stating fully all the reasons on which the bill was grounded. He should likewise state that the Government did not consider (although there might possibly be other courses more advisable than that which they proposed to effect the object) that the course proposed by the right hon. Gentleman would have any chance of procuring efficient legislation in the island of Jamaica. Having come to that opinion, it was certainly their duty to press on the House the necessity of going into Committee on the bill. Neither could he say that, with the exception of one certainly very material point, there was any doubt in the minds of the Government with respect to the different provisions of the bill. The provision he alluded to was, that with respect to the term of years during which the bill should be made to operate. If it could be shown that the continuance for a less term of the extraordinary powers given by the bill would secure the main object, and procure future efficient legislation in Jamaica, on that point there might be some change in the original proposition. Having stated thus much, he thought he should likewise state that the right hon. Gentleman opposite, having given notice of so decided a course before the propositions of the Government had been fully debated, and as he did not think that the Members of that House had had their attention sufficiently called either to the papers or to the measures founded upon the proceedings in the West India islands, and in Jamaica particularly, he did not propose to bring on the bill on Monday, but to move the consideration of it on Friday next.

Sir R. Peel

thought that the noble Lord had pursued rather an unusual course; for, in giving notice of his intention to postpone the bill, he had rather made a speech on the subject of the bill, directed against the amendment which he intended to bring forward. The noble Lord had placed him, therefore, in an embarrassing position, and he hoped he might be enabled to explain his views. It was not his intention to go into the subject at length; but he was particularly anxious to explain himself, as there had been some misconstruction with respect to the positions he had laid down. Some Gentlemen had understood him (he wondered how they could possibly have done so) to propose that the Imperial Parliament should repeal the Prisons Bill, which passed last Session. Now he had distinctly stated, that he thought the Imperial Parliament had a perfect right, and was bound to maintain the Prisons Bill. He certainly did state that, seeing the immense em- barrassment that would arise from an at-tempt to impose taxation in the way proposed in Jamaica for five years or a shorter period, and to suspend a popular government in a country which had had a popular government for two hundred years, he thought it was important to permit another appeal to be made to the Assembly of Jamaica to continue in the execution of their functions. At the same time, if her Majesty's Government were of opinion, that in consequence of the refusal of the Assembly to perform its functions, any practical difficulty had arisen, he was perfectly ready to provide for that practical difficulty, limiting the remedy to the necessity. He had said, also, that if her Majesty's Government should observe that they could not receive an answer from Jamaica during the course of the present Session, and that it might be necessary to provide for some contingencies which might arise in consequence of the Legislative Assembly refusing to perform its functions, he (Sir R. Peel) would be also ready to meet that difficulty, and to provide for continuing bills which might stand repealed in consequence of the discontinuance of the Assembly's proceedings. That declaration he had made, and by that he meant to abide. The noble Lord said, that he (Sir R. Peel) had taken the most hostile course with respect to this bill; but the House would recollect, that he had taken that course with the important qualification, that he was perfectly ready to consider any proposition for meeting pre-sent difficulties and future contingencies. His plan was totally opposed in principle to that of the noble Lord. He wished to give an opportunity to the Legislative Assembly of continuing the performance of their functions—the Imperial Parliament making no concessions or retractations. If the House of Assembly were willing to continue their functions while Parliament adhered to the Prisons' Bill, in his opinion it would be well to give them an opportunity of doing so. But he found it impossible to move his amendment in Committee, and he thought that it was much fairer to take the opinion of the House on the question that the Speaker do leave the chair, rather than on some unimportant point in Committee. If he succeeded on the question, he should be perfectly ready to give her Majesty's Government full powers to meet any necessity that might arise.

Lord John Russel

said, that the proposition of the right hon. Gentleman would not enable the Government to meet any emergency that might arise.

Mr. Hume

was of opinion that the House was exercising its authority in this matter in an unjustifiable manner. He would only at present beg that time should be allowed for the legislature of Jamaica to know the course the Government was pursuing.