HC Deb 30 May 1839 vol 47 cc1105-32
Mr. Labouclrere

rose, pursuant to notice, to move for leave to bring in a bill to provide for the enactment of certain laws in Jamaica, consequent upon the abolition of slavery in that island. He had already stated to the House that this bill was introduced as a substitute for the other measure relating to the affairs of that colony which he had had the honour to propose at an earlier period of the Session. He wished—he most sincerely wished—he could state, that he entertained any different opinion of the justice, of the expediency, or of the necessity of passing a measure similar to that which he had previously introduced. Unhappily he was bound to state that after greater reflection, more mature consideration, and more abundant information, he did not withdraw the former measure in consequence of any alteration of the opinions he had previously expressed. If he had done so, he hoped he should not be backward in making the admission; but standing in the position he did, however unworthily representing the Colonial Department in that House, he could not but express his deep regret, that the bill he first introduced did not receive such a measure of support, as could leave any chance of its becoming the law of the land, in such a manner as to be brought into operation in Jamaica with any prospect of attaining useful ends. When he saw that the great party which was ranged opposite had made up their minds in one unbroken phalanx to oppose the bill, he confessed that from that moment he lost much of the anxiety he had previously entertained, because he could not but feel that a measure of this kind, suspending the constitution of a British colony, not only could not pass the Legislature and become a law for any good effect; nay, be would go further and say, it could not have any effect at all even if it were to become a law—if it were to go out to the colony only upon the authority of a small majority of that House. He did not say this with any intention of bringing a charge against the hon. Gentlemen opposite for the course they had thought proper to pursue. But at the same time he was bound to men- tion it, because he felt, that in discussing this and other colonial topics, if the House were to be guided merely by party feelings, if it were to decide, not upon the merits of the case, so much as upon the effect which the decision might have upon the relative position of parties in that House, no measure could ever be beneficial. He thought he had acquitted himself of all intention of wishing to implicate hon. Gentlemen opposite, by stating that he did not intend to bring any charge of that kind against them; but he thought it his duty to point out to the House the great misfortune of considering these questions in a party spirit. He felt the evil most deeply, and he thought it the more necessary to press it upon the attention of the House, because the colonial affairs of the country were at the present moment in a state of great difficulty. For that reason, if the House had not enough of real public spirit to free its mind from party bias in approaching the consideration of these questions, he felt bound to say, that in his belief the colonial affairs of the country would be placed in circumstances of the utmost peril, in consequence of the general feeling of disgust which would arise in the minds of the colonists, when they found their dearest interests determined upon, not by their real merits, but by the caprice or obstinacy of this or that party. When he said this, he confessed he had fresh in his recollection the events which took place in Canada last year—events which must also be equally fresh in the recollection of the House. In consequence of the proceedings in the British Parliament, an impression obtained ground in the Canadas that circumstances and events of the greatest importance to the welfare and well-being of those provinces were determined upon only by the influence of party feelings in England. Hence the indignation awakened in that part of our possessions was such as to produce a degree of excitement which became highly dangerous. He stated this, not with the view of introducing party politics, but for the purpose of pointing out to the House the very great importance of divesting its mind of those party contentions and party feelings which too frequently disfigured its debates and marred its legislation. The measure which he should now feel it his duty to propose to the House was, he need hardly say, founded upon a very different principle from that which he had previously introduced; because, after the former decision of the House, the Government could not hope to carry any measure based upon the same principle. The bill he now sought leave to introduce was founded upon the principle of affording means to the Government of calling together again the Legislature of Jamaica—of giving to the House of Assembly of that island that which was called by the right hon. Baronet (Sir Robert Peel) a locus penitentiœ. He could not pretend that he had any very sanguine expectation that the House of Assembly would avail itself of that opportunity; but as a course of this kind was now proposed by the Government, he should certainly take care to use no irritating expressions towards the House of Assembly which might have the effect of marring any disposition they might entertain to alter the course they had previously determined to act upon. And he would also say on the part of the Government, and especially on the part of the Marquess of Normanby, who presided over the Colonial Department; he would pledge himself to the House that if it should accede to the proposal now made—if it should furnish the Government with the means of providing for the good Government of Jamaica, which were contemplated in the bill—in every communication between the Colonial-office and the House of Assembly a most sincere desire would actuate his noble Friend and those who acted with him to give the House of Assembly a fair and bonâ fide trial—to urge upon that body the adoption of those measures only which should be deemed absolutely essential, and to leave to it, if possible, the task of carrying those measures into operation. This was the principle of the scheme he now proposed to introduce—that an opportunity should be given of calling together the House of Assembly of Jamaica, and of asking them to re-consider the determination they had come to of not transacting the business of the colony. It might be said, that the introduction of a bill was not necessary for that purpose. It was, however, very generally allowed by those Gentlemen who most opposed the principle of suspending the constitution, that it was the duty of the Imperial Parliament to provide for the contingency, more or less probable, of the House of Assembly persisting in the resolution it had three times adopted, of abrogating its legislative functions. The bill which he proposed that night to lay upon the table of the House explained the means by which the Government sought to provide for that contingency. He thought he could not do better, in order to state what were the measures of the most pressing necessity, and the greatest importance to the present welfare of the colony, than read an extract from a resolution of the House of Assembly itself, in which it expresses its regret that it felt itself bound to suspend its legislative functions, and describes the measures to which, if the necessity of suspending its legislative functions had not arisen, it should have felt itself bound to direct its earliest attention. The House of Assembly on the 8th of November,1838, in answer to a speech of the Governor, said— 'We feel in common with your Excellency the emergency in which the country may be placed by the expiration of the annual laws; and we are also well aware of the necessity which in our present state of society exists, that laws for the protection of vagrancy, for regulating the relative rights and duties of masters and servants, for determining the qualification of electors, for the regulation of the militia, and for preventing the unauthorised occupation of land, should be enacted. The subsequent House of Assembly, in reply to the speech of the Governor on the 24th of December, 1838, said— We beg sincerely to assure your Excellency that in deciding upon this course, we have done so with extreme reluctance. We are more than sensible of the many existing evils which loudly call for laws to remedy them. He could multiply such proofs of the necessity which existed for immediate legislature upon the internal affairs of the colony. He could prove it in a thousand ways from the admissions of the colonists themselves; but the necessity was, in fact, so fully explained and so fully admitted in the former debate upon this question, that he did not feel it necessary again to trouble the House by going into detail upon that point. The first part of the bill he now proposed, referred to those annual laws in Jamaica which had expired in consequence of the House of Assembly refusing to transact business. These were seventeen in number. It was not very easy to judge of the relative importance of each one of them. But at the same time it was only necessary to pass the eye over the list to see that the House of Assembly was perfectly justified in saying that the suspension or expiration of those laws must necessarily be attended with great inconvenience, great mischief, and, he might add, great danger to the colony. He found amongst them the Commissioners of Public Buildings Act, the Insolvent Debtors Relief Act, the expiration of which would consign many persons to prison, without the possibility of relief; the Process Act, and several others, the expiration of which would retard the course of justice, and be productive of much hardship to individuals. Money bills excepted, perhaps the most important and necessary act for the welfare of the colony was the Police Act. Without that act the authority of the magistrates would be paralyzed, and the security of the laws be taken away. It was true, that in the particular case of the Police Act, the Governor, under an authority which had been given him, had been enabled to take some temporary measure partially to alleviate the evils which must otherwise have arisen. But he thought every one must allow, that it was not a fit state of things in the present state of Jamaica, that the ancient constitutional mode of maintaining the peace of the colony should be abandoned, and a system wholly unconstitutional be introduced instead. It was natural to suppose that such a state of things would produce in the minds of the colonists, and of the negro population especially, a very unfortunate effect. He would select one letter from amongst many which had been placed in his hands, to show how prejudicially the unfortunate suspension of local legislation, and especially the suspension of the Police Act, had operated upon the negro population. Reluctant as he was to trouble the House by a reference to documents, the evils he was anxious to explain were so forcibly pointed out in this letter, that be could not abstain from reading one short extract. It was an extract of a letter from Mr. John Oldham, dated St. Mary's, Jamaica, March 23, 1839, and addressed to Charles Long, Esq. During the three weeks I have been in this island (Mr. Oldham had been absent on a visit to this country), I have been endeavouring to gain all the information I can from the several parishes as to the state of things, and I do assure you it is truly deplorable, and will continue so until the business is settled, as to whether we are to have a House of Assembly to make laws, or have them made for us by the Imperial Parliament. Our annual law expired on the 31st of December last; consequently the police are discharged. The negroes are under the impression that the Queen dispensed with their services to prevent the proprietors calling in their assistance to compel them to pay rent for their houses and provision grounds. He stated this to show what must be the effect upon a population recently emancipated of exhibiting to them the whole structure of society suddenly altered and disordered, and the authorities at the same time stripped of all the support and assistance which they were usually accustomed to receive. He stated it also to prove how little warrantable it was, to argue that these laws were of little importance, and that it would be safe to leave them to take their chance. Another of these expired laws involved a matter of great importance; but, as he had already observed, it was extremely difficult in this country to know what was the importance of each law in the colony. One thing at least was certain, that both the House of Assembly itself and the Governor completely concurred in saying, that a state of the greatest mischief and confusion to the public would ensue, if these laws were not renewed. Now, the course which it was intended by the present bill to pursue with regard to these expired laws was this—to give in the first place ample time to the House of Assembly to make up their minds whether they would or would not renew these laws; but in case of their refusal, after the lapse of sufficient time, then to authorise the Governor in council to revise such of those expired laws, as to the Governor in council might appear essential to the welfare and good government of the colony. But he confessed he thought the Imperial Parliament would hardly discharge its duty if it stopped there. He thought it must be obvious to every one who had paid any attention to the papers which had been laid upon the table, or who was in any way acquainted with the affairs of Jamaica, that there were some points of legislation of such importance at the present moment—some local measures, so essential to the success of the great experiment in which the nation was now engaged—some new enactments, so absolutely necessary to protect the various interests of the colony during the transition of the negro population from slavery to a state of free labour—some laws, so necessary to secure the complete success of that great experiment, which, he mightsay, was now trembling in the balance —that the Imperial Parliament would hardly discharge its duty either to the people of Great Britain, who had made so generous a sacrifice, or to the colony itself, if it were not to provide for the contingency of the House of Assembly still refusing to transact business, and to leave the whole of this very important subject entirely undisposed of for the period of another year. For the House must recollect, that unless Parliament should be expressly called together for the purpose in the autumn, the colony, in case of the continued obstinacy of the House of Assembly, would be left entirely without those necessary laws for the space of full twelve months. It had been the object of the Government, in considering this part of the question, to interpose the authority of the Imperial Parliament upon as few points as possible. Upon this branch of the subject, or upon the former, the most ample opportunity would be afforded to the House of Assembly to pass new laws where they were required, and to renew old ones when the circumstances of the case rendered a renewal necessary. And Government would heartily rejoice if the House of Assembly should legislate upon all these topics in such a manner as to relieve the Imperial Parliament from the painful necessity of interfering upon subjects which, in all ordinary times, and under all ordinary circumstances, belonged entirely to the local legislature of the colony. The whole principle of the bill went upon the foundation—that upon this branch of the subject, as upon the other, the whole of the legislation proposed to the Imperial Parliament should be nothing more than contingent legislation. Every opportunity would be given to the House of Assembly to enact all the necessary laws before the present bill came into operation, and he for one should most heartily rejoice if the proceedings of the House of Assembly should prevent its ever coming into operation at all. He thought this perfectly consistent with the language he used, and the course of argument he pursued on the former occasion, when this subject was under the consideration of the House. He then stated that the Imperial Legislature must take one of two courses. It must either express the total distrust (which he had felt it his duty to express) that the House of Assembly would resume its legislative functions, or else it must treat with that body as with persons who were willing to deal fairly and candidly. He, for one, was disposed to give the House of Assembly fair play; but in his desire to give them fair play, he was anxious to take care that the Imperial Parliament should not abandon its paramount duty, namely, of affording protection to that great mass of the colonial population which was at present totally unrepresented in the House of Assembly. He would now proceed to state to the House the course he proposed to pursue with regard to two or three topics of pressing importance. There were doubtless several others which urgently demanded legislation in Jamaica; but he would confine his observations for the present to those only which were of the most immediate importance. It stood to reason that the laws which applied to the former state of society in the colony could not be made applicable to the altered state of society without a most thorough and searching revision. But he by no means proposed to the House to embark in so great a scheme as that of revising the whole of these laws. He for one had always a great distrust in distant legislation. He had always felt, that although undertaken with the best motives, it was more likely to frustrate the views of those who were really acquainted with the wants of a colony than to effect any permanent good. He was, therefore, anxious to limit the experiment in the present instance to the smallest possible extent, and to apply it only to certain cases in which they had some partial experience. But there were three great subjects which he thought every Gentleman who had paid any attention to West-Indian affairs would allow to be of paramount importance in the present condition of Jamaica. He meant, first, the law relating to vagrancy; secondly, the law relating to contracts for labour; and, thirdly, the law relating to the unauthorised occupation of land. Upon these three subjects orders in council were sent out to the West-India colonies some time ago. Those orders had been in operation in the Crown Colonies for at least five months, and from no one of those colonies had the slightest complaint been received as to the manner in which the orders had worked, nor was there the least reason to believe that they had not been found thoroughly to answer the purposes for which they were intended, If, therefore, it were safe to pass laws for colonies at a distance from the mother country, he thought that these orders appeared to afford safe and secure grounds for such legislation. At any rate, of this he was quite sure, that laws founded upon those orders would be infinitely better adapted to the altered state of things in the island of Jamaica than were those intolerant statutes that existed there at the present moment. It would be his duty to read portions of those statutes to the House, and he doubted not, that when hon. Members heard that any of her Majesty's subjects were living under laws of such a description, they would agree with him in opinion, that the British House of Commons would be indeed wanting in its duty, and failing in the pledge they had given to the people of England, if they did not immediately take effectual means that such a state of things should no longer continue in Jamaica. The first subject to which he would call the attention of the House was that of vagrancy. This was the manner in which Sir Lionel Smith spoke of the present Jamaica law, in his despatch, dated the 10th September, 1838:— I quite dread the consequences. From the attachment of the people to their old locations, they must be reduced to the employer's own terms of wages, or be driven off the properties as vagrants. Then, I beseech your Lordship to look to the provisions of the Local Vagrant Act, unrepealed, 35 Car. 2nd, c. 2. This Act was introduced against the lawless soldiery of Governor D'Oyley; and many violent planters are now rejoicing in the power it gives of flogging free men from parish to parish; and there is an improvement in its penal powers by the 32 Geo. 3rd. c. 11, still unrepealed, which adds six months' hard labour in the House of Correction. Your Lordship may bid me apply to the Legislature to repeal these frightful laws; but I should apply in vain: and in the midst of freedom we have still terrific engines of oppression and tyranny preparing for the emancipated population. He would now read an extract or two from the law itself, to which he hoped the House would have the goodness to listen, as being now in actual operation in the British Colonies:— And be it further enacted, that all rogues, vagabonds, or other idle persons that shall be found wandering from place to place, or otherwise mis-ordering themselves, shall be apprehended by the constables or tythingmen of each respective parish within this island, and to carry him or her so apprehended, before some one justice of the peace of that precinct; and if, upon examination, it appear that the apprehended be persons fit and able to work, and do refuse so to do, but wander about as aforesaid, then the said justice shall order him or her to be whipped on the naked back, not exceeding thirty-nine lashes in the whole, by the said constable or tythingman, and shall be forthwith sent from parish to parish by the constables or tythingmen of the same, the next straight way to the parish where he or she dwelt for one whole year then last past. He would also read another clause:— Be it enacted, that all white persons and free negroes and mulattoes, able in body, who, not having wherewith otherwise to maintain themselves, use loitering, and refuse to work for the usual and common wages, and all other idle white persons, free negroes, and free mulattoes wandering abroad and begging, (except soldiers, &c. &c.), shall be deemed rogues and vagabonds. And be it further enacted, that if any person, by this act declared to be a rogue and vagabond, shall be found in any parish or place to be wandering or begging, or mis-ordering him or herself, it shall and may be lawful for the constable of such parish, or any other person there dwelling, to apprehend the person so deemed a rogue or vagabond, and to convey, or cause to be conveyed, him or them to some justice of the peace in the parish, or in the neighbourhood of such parish or place. The fifth clause says:— It may and shall be lawful for such justice, and he is hereby required to inform himself, as well by the oath and examination of the person or persons apprehended as of any other persons (which oath or oaths the said justice is hereby authorised to administer), or by any other ways or means he shall think proper, of condition, circumstances, and way of life of the person or persons so apprehended. And if the person comes within the description in this act of a rogue or vagabond, the justice shall send him, her or them, to the parish workhouse, there to be set to work, for any time not exceeding six months for any one offence. Then came a clause to which he wished to call the particular attention of the House. It was the sixth. And be it further enacted, that all white persons committed or sent to the said public workhouse, shall be fed, lodged, and worked separate and apart from the free negroes, mulattoes, and slaves in the said workhouse. He was quite sure that it would be felt by hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House that it was utterly unfit and unwise that a law of this kind should remain in existence in the island of Jamaica. He would now proceed to the second subject to which he had referred—a subject of the utmost importance to the success of the great measure of emancipation which was now going on in the colonies—he meant the law with regard to "contracts for labour." It must be obvious to every Gentleman, that the successful cultivation of the sugar plantations mainly depended on the negro labourer being induced to enter into a contract on such fair terms as should secure to the planter the continuance of his services. If that were not done, every man who understood the nature of the negro character, would at once perceive that sugar cultivation could not, in the long run, be rendered a productive or profitable speculation, and that that great source of employment for British capital would be ultimately dried up, equally to the disadvantage of the planter and to the negro population. There was not, therefore, in his opinion, an object of more pressing importance than that of obtaining for the planters of Jamaica a good and efficient law of contract for labour. He would read a few extracts in order to show what was the present law upon the subject; and when he had done so, the House would not be surprised that there should at this moment exist a very general indisposition on the part of the negro population to engage in any definite contract at all, or that they should be encouraged in this feeling by those who were usually called the friends of the negroes—namely, the religious missionaries—a class of men, who, in his (Mr. Labouchere's) opinion, had on many occasions exercised a very salutary influence over the negro population. He felt it due to that much calumniated body of men to say, that he believed it was mainly owing to their exertions, notwithstanding the unexampled state of things that existed in Jamaica, in consequence of the suspension of the functions of the colonial legislature, that there had been no serious disturbance of the public peace in that island. Considering how often the conduct of those men had been made the subject-matter of blame in that House, he thought that this great fact, which could not be controverted or concealed, ought not to be overlooked. The right hon. Gentleman then read the following copy of a dispatch from Lieutenant-general Sir Lionel Smith, Bart., K.C.B., to Lord Glenelg:— King's House, August 14,1838. My Lord—I am very anxious to draw your Lordship's attention to the act of the island, 5 William 4th, c. 2, for enlarging the powers of justices in determining complaints between masters and servants, &c. This act has already been found to operate with great severity against the European emigrants; and the friends of the negro are naturally apprehensive that it may be converted into a powerful engine of oppression against the labourers, as it gives authority to a single justice to apprehend, under his warrant, servants in husbandry,' who absent themselves or neglect to fulfil their contract, and punish them by hard labour, not exceeding three months, or by forfeiture of wages. I hope your Lordship will be enabled to rid us of this act, either by a formal disallowance, or by the authority of the Imperial Parliament. He would next read the following extract from the Act referred to in the above despatch:— And be it further enacted, that if any servant in husbandry, or any mechanic, artificer, handicraftsman, labourer, person employed in droggers, body or house servant, or other person, shall contract with any person or persons whomsoever, to serve him, her, or them, for any time or times whatsoever, or in any other manner, and shall not enter into or commence his or her service, according to his or her contract, or, having entered into such service, shall absent himself or herself from his or her service before the term of his or her contract (whether such contract shall be in writing or not in writing) shall be completed, or neglect to fulfil the same, or be guilty of any other misconduct or misdemeanor in the execution thereof, or otherwise respecting the same, then and in every such case, it shall and may be lawful for any justice of the peace of the parish where such servant in husbandry, mechanic, artificer, handicraftsman, labourer, person employed in droggers, body or house servant, or other person, shall have so contracted, or be employed, or be found; and such justice is hereby authorized and empowered, upon complaint thereof made upon oath to him by the person or persons, with whom such servant in husbandry, mechanic, artificer, handicraftsman, person employed in droggers, labourer, body or house servant, or other person, shall have so contracted, or by his, her, or their attorney, manager, or agent, which oath such justice is hereby empowered to administer, to issue his warrant for the apprehending every such servant in husbandry, mechanic, artificer, handicraftsman, person employed in droggers, labourer, body or house servant, or other person, and to examine into the nature of the complaint; and if it shall appear to such justice, that any servant in husbandry, mechanic, artificer, handicraftsman, persons employed in droggers, labourer, body or house servant, or other person, shall not have fulfilled such contract, or bath been guilty of any other misconduct or misdemeanor, as aforesaid, it shall and may he lawful for such justice to commit every such person to the house of correction, there to remain and be held to hard labour for a reasonable time, not exceeding three months, and to abate a proportionable part of his or her wages for and during such period as he or she shall be so confined in the house of correction; or, in lieu thereof, to punish the offender by abating the whole, or any part of Ids or her wages. Now, when hon. Gentlemen recollected the peculiar relation in which the magistrates of the island of Jamaica, who were in fact the master-planters themselves, stood in regard to the labouring population there, he would ask, whether this was a fit law—and it was the only law—to regulate contracts for labour in that colony; or whether it was possible the House could blame those who professed to watch over the interests of the negroes for cautioning them to beware how they subjected themselves to such a law, and made themselves liable to the most arbitrary and severe punishment, under the authority of a single justice of the peace? He might multiply quotations to prove the absolute want of a new contract law in Jamaica. In truth, the books which had been laid on the table of the House absolutely teemed with information to that effect—information coming not from one quarter only, but from every quarter. The House of Assembly themselves acknowledged that a new law was absolutely necessary; the Governor of Jamaica repeated the necessity that existed very frequently; and, if it were necessary, he could quote extracts from the reports of the stipendiary magistrates, in which the greatest stress was laid by them upon this point. But he might, perhaps, be told, that if this was really the case, then, as the planters were fully represented in the House of Assembly, it was manifestly the interest of that Assembly to pass a law of contract. It might be so; and he should be sorry to think that the true interests of the planter and of the negro were distinct. But it did so happen, that the feelings of prejudice and of irritation on both sides were so strong in that island, that the Government could not rely on any prudent law being passed by the House of Assembly upon the subject, notwithstanding it might be to the interest of that Assembly to enact such a law. Therefore, he should say, that both in the case of vagrancy and of contract for labour, the Imperial Parliament would especially desert its duty and violate the solemn pledge which it gave last Session of watching over, with peculiar care, the interests of the negro population after the passing of the Emancipation Act, if it did not take some measure to secure good laws upon those two subjects. The third topic to which he had alluded, related to unauthorised occupation of land. The state of Jamaica in this respect at this moment was, not that there existed a had law on the subject, but that there was no law at all. The eleventh question put by Lord Glenelg to Sir Lionel Smith, in his Lordship's dispatch of the 15th September, 1838, was, By what rules has provision been made for preventing the unauthorised occupation of lands belonging either to the Crown or to private persons? The answer was, It appears that the law of the island is silent on this subject. This is one of the topics embraced in the series of orders of the Queen in council, which are about to be extended to the colonies, subject to her Majesty's legislative authority. I postpone this question, therefore, until that order shall have been completed. If he were disposed to consider the separate interests of the planters, it might be clearly said that a law upon this subject would be one rather favourable to the planter than to the negro. He thought it a most unfortunate state of things, among a negro population, that instead of becoming industrious labourers they should take possession of the waste lands; and that there should exist no law by which they might be prevented from doing so. He thought, therefore, that a law upon this subject was especially desirable to be introduced. Perhaps it was not of the same pressing importance with the others, but as it was one of the subjects embraced in the orders of council sent out to the Crown colonies, he thought there would be no objection to its being added to those measures. He had now explained to the House the main provisions as well as the principle of the measure he proposed to introduce. The House would perceive that, in the first place, it gave to the House of Assembly of Jamaica the most ample opportunity of relieving the Imperial Parliament from the necessity of interfering at all by direct legislation in any of their internal concerns, provided they would undertake the task of legislation themselves on those points which he had mentioned, and which were of pressing necessity to the well-being of that colony. He could assure the House that, although the Government had no idea of holding out the language of cajolery or deceit when speaking to the House of Assembly—on the contrary, he would repeat that it was their intention to call upon Parliament not to abandon their right of interference, but to exercise that right, whenever occasion should require it, for the protection of the negro population—yet they might also be assured that there did exist a sincere desire on the part of the Government that Parliament should proceed as sparingly as possible, and that they hoped all their predictions might be falsified by the House of Assembly themselves legislating in a way which might fairly be considered satisfactory to all parties and interests. But in the event of the House of Assembly either refusing to legislate at all, or legislating in so delusive a manner that their laws should prove completely objectionable and unsatisfactory, he then should deem it the duty of the House to interfere. He had already stated in what manner the Governor in Council would be empowered to revive those expiring laws which were necessary for the welfare of the colony. The House of Assembly would in the first instance be invited to legislate upon the subject. They would not be asked to conform strictly and literally with the orders in council. It would be quite sufficient that they should pass acts on those great subjects he had mentioned, which should contain in them provisions efficient for the purposes intended. If that should be done, then there would be no reason to carry the present measure into effect. But if no Act should be passed in the colony upon those three subjects to which the Government could give its consent, then, after a certain time should have elapsed, the Governor in Council would be authorised to make laws upon the model of those orders which had been sent out to the Crown colonies, leaving them the power to make such alterations as circumstances might require, but at the same time to adhere to the principle, and as near as might be to the terms of the orders themselves. He trusted the House would consider that this was carrying the principle of interfer- ence to the very narrowest limit to which it could be carried, unless they really meant to retrace their steps, and to abandon that which they stood pledged to maintain, namely, the Emancipation Act, and that which they also stood pledged to do, namely, to keep a constant watch over the interests of the negro population in the British colonies, to both which the dignity and the honour of this country were plighted. Consistently with these objects, they could not hesitate to sanction the measure which he had now the honour to propose to them. He would not detain the House any longer by going into details of the measure, but would at once move for leave to bring in a bill to provide for the enactment of certain laws in the island of Jamaica, consequent upon the abolition of slavery in the said island.

Sir R. Peel

was sure that it was unnecessary for him to say that it was not his intention to offer any opposition to the present motion. He went further; he should not offer a single word which would have the effect of prejudicing or prejudging the due consideration of the general principles of the measure which the right hon. Gentleman proposed to introduce. Reserving his opinion upon the particular provisions by which the right hon. Gentleman proposed to carry his bill into effect, and speaking of the general principles themselves, he concurred in the principles which the right hon. Gentleman had laid down—that was to say, that the moment the Government had agreed to abandon their intention of suspending the constitution of Jamaica, the House of Assembly was called to return to the exercise of their legislative capacity; and this he must say, that after the opportunity thus afforded to the House of Assembly by Parliament to resume its functions, it was the manifest duty of the House of Assembly so to conduct itself, as to show that they were disposed to legislate for the colony in a right spirit. He thought that it would be a most unworthy course in the House of Assembly if they steered too close to the wind, and that it would be their true policy, as it was their manifest duty, fairly to carry into effect the views entertained by Parliament in passing the Emancipation Act. He must repeat the declaration which he had made, that he thought, after the magnificent pecuniary grant made by the people of this country, we had a right to insist that the negro population should receive not a mere nominal freedom, but the practical advantages of free British subjects. The moment he was convinced that the colonial legislature would refuse to grant, not a mere nominal freedom, but the practical advantages of free British subjects, then he maintained that the people of England had a right to insist that they should receive that equivalent for their munificence which was to be derived from placing the negro in a position which would enable him to taste the solid advantages of freedom. He had doubted whether the course which the Government formerly proposed to pursue of suspending the constitution of Jamaica was in accordance with constitutional principles. It would be with extreme reluctance, after the great experiment to which the Legislature had consented, that he should adopt another experiment, and abolish the ancient form of government which Jamaica had enjoyed for more than 200 years. He would confess, also, that it had appeared to him a matter entitled to the most serious consideration, whether with respect to the relations existing between the black and white population, and with respect to the powers which the negroes would afterwards have to exercise, it was wise or politic to represent the whites as incapable of fair and impartial legislation. These were the grounds on which he had doubted the wisdom and policy of the measure introduced by the Government for suspending the functions of the Jamaica Legislature. However, the Government had now abandoned that course, and he inferred from what had fallen from the right hon. Gentleman that they had resolved to adopt another line of policy, and to leave an option to the House of Assembly. He trusted the new course of policy would prove beneficial. He hoped that it was calculated to secure the best interests of all parties, and until they had evidence to the contrary they were bound to presume that the House of Assembly would prove itself worthy of the confidence of the Imperial Parliament. But in regard to one part of the statement which had been made by the right hon. Gentleman he wished most particularly to reserve himself. He reserved himself on those points having reference to the particular acts to which the right hon. Gentleman had alluded, as he was not aware whether those acts were in accordance with his opinions or with the principles on which he should act in regard to the bill which it was proposed to introduce. He would examine those acts, however, and compare them with this and then, when he had fully considered the subject, he should state to the House the results of his examination. When he had made that examination, and fully informed himself upon the subject, then, viewing the measure as a permanent one, he should inquire, in the first place, whether he had sufficient information to qualify him to legislate on affairs so complicated, and of such grave and serious importance; and, in the second place, and he would not then give an opinion on the point, he would consider whether, by passing acts of permanent endurance, he should not be raising obstacles to the great object which Parliament and this country had in view. Such was the course which he should feel it his duty to pursue, with respect to the measure which the right hon. Gentleman had asked leave to introduce. He should not have said another word at that time upon the subject, if the right hon. Gentleman had not thought it proper to refer to party proceedings, in reference to the bill which he had proposed to withdraw, and to complain of the course which those in opposition to the Government, had felt it their duty to follow. Nothing could be more specious and plausible, nothing more easy, than to declaim against party feelings and party proceedings; and it was not difficult, by such denunciations, to create a sympathy in the public mind, in favour of those who had suffered a defeat. He perfectly agreed with the right hon. Gentleman, that to seek unfairly, and for party purposes to thwart and harass a Government, in regard to the measures which it proposed, and more particularly in regard to colonial measures, and measures having reference to slavery, or the interests of the emancipated negroes, was most uncandid, ungenerous, and unjust. For those in opposition to pursue such a course, and to seek to embarrass the Government, solely with a view to party triumph, and without any regard to the welfare of the people, or the merits or demerits of the questions under consideration, would, in his opinion, be a most unworthy proceeding, and a most improper exercise of power. He thought such a proceeding would fully justify the condemnation of the right hon. Gentleman, and afford ample grounds for denuncia- tions of party. But suppose this case should arise—suppose that a bonâ fide difference of opinion should exist between the Government, and those who were in opposition—suppose that hon. Gentlemen on his side of the House should think that the Government had not sufficient grounds for suspending the constitution of Jamaica—for abolishing the legislative functions of the House of Assembly—surely the right hon. Gentleman would not deny, that those in Opposition had as good a right to claim credit for sincerity, and the absence of party views, as those who supported the Government. Suppose that the party in opposition thought that there was not sufficient grounds for suspending the constitution of Jamaica, while the Government, and those who usually supported the Government, asserted the contrary, if the Opposition candidly and sincerely entertained their opinions, were they to acquiesce in the opinions of their opponents, and to take no steps to carry their own views into effect? He presumed that no one would advocate such a tame submission to the views of others, or contend that a great party acting honestly upon principle, should abandon their opinions or their principles without a struggle. Then what was the course for those in Opposition to pursue? Were they not to intimate the difference of opinion which existed, to state the grounds of their opposition to the measures of the Government, and to give notice that they would take the sense of the House upon the points at issue? No one would contend that the Opposition had not a perfect right to do so, or that there was anything unfair in such a course of proceeding. They were, then, to be governed by the ordinary rules in the course of the proceedings which they might feel it to be their duty to adopt. Suppose that, differing honestly from the Government in regard to the Jamaica Bill, and entertaining opinions at variance with those of hon. Gentlemen opposite, he were to give notice of his intention to resist the suspension of the functions of the House of Assembly, and to take the sense of the House upon the wisdom and policy of such a measure, would he act consistently with his duty, if he were not to take every precaution to ensure the success of his own views, and by securing a large attendance of Members, to enforce his own opinions? Such would be the course pursued by hon. Gentlemen opposite, and when those on his side of the House differed from the Government, they were necessarily obliged to follow the example. It was the only way in which they could perform their duty, and enforce the principles and views which they honestly entertained. But because they adopted such a course, did it follow that they were actuated by no higher considerations than those of party? No; both parties followed the same course, and the presumption, in fairness and candour, ought to be, that both honestly held their opinions, and that they were equally fair in the mode of asserting them. The Government might honestly think, and he was far from questioning their sincerity, that to suspend the constitution of Jamaica was just, and fair, and expedient; while those who were in opposition might, with equal honesty hold a different opinion; but surely they were not to be blamed, if, when there was a bonâ fide difference of opinions, the Opposition took every step within their power to secure the success of their own views. But although the Opposition had differed with the Government in regard to the Jamaica Bill, they had taken no unfair advantage by the course which had been pursued. Nay, they had not left the Government entirely without support. They had given the right hon. Gentleman an option as to the course which they wished to be pursued, and they had made no imputation upon the motives of the Government; but' when they saw the Government, after they had stated their hostility to the bill, resolved to persevere with the measure which they condemned, what course, he would ask, was there open to them, but honestly to oppose the bill, and to take the sense of the House upon the subject? Were they to have nothing more than a mock Opposition; and were they, whenever there was any difference of opinion, to give way at once to the wishes of the Government? Was it not the positive fact, that on all important questions, the Government took every precaution to secure as large an attendance of their friends as possible, and were those who opposed the Government, when they honestly differed in opinion, to be precluded from resorting to the same means for ensuring success? And let him remind the Government, that on the division on the Jamaica Bill, it was not alone those on his side of the House, which composed the "phalanx" which the right hon. Gentleman had charged with acting from party motives. That "phalanx" was swelled by some of those who sat on the same side with the right hon. Gentleman, and he would ask whether they also had acted from party views. The noble Lord might, perhaps, sneer at his own friends, and treat with indifference those who usually supported him, but he would ask again, whether those who joined the usual Opposition on the division on the Jamaica Bill, and who were favourable to the general policy of the Government, were also influenced by party feelings? The right hon. Gentleman was perfectly at liberty to speak for his own friends, but were the ten men who joined the Opposition, actuated also by the motives of party? In regard to the 320 Gentlemen who voted against the bill, he begged, on their part, to deny that their conduct upon that occasion, afforded any testimony to the existence of party feeling. But, after all, it was to the general principle of opposition to which he wished to allude. To endeavour to embarrass the Government, from party motives, and on questions of colonial policy, and more particularly on questions relating to the condition of the negroes, was unfair and unwise; but when a bona fide difference of opinion existed, then each party, honestly entertaining their own views, might surely, without any imputation of unfairness, resort to every means within their power to secure as large an attendance of Members as possible. And such, however much they might talk about the matter, would always be the case. Mr. Pitt might have said to Mr. Fox, that he embarrassed the Government by his opposition to the war; but would any one deny that Mr. Fox was bound, if he held his opinions honestly, to oppose the war, and to take every measure to secure the success of his opposition, consistent with fairness? From the first, he had intimated to the Government, that in his opinion, there was not sufficient constitutional grounds for suspending the constitution of Jamaica; and that opinion had been confirmed during the debate, and still more had it been confirmed by the course which hon. Gentlemen opposite, and who usually supported the Government, had felt compelled to adopt. He had therefore determined to enforce the opinions which he entertained, and to take the sense of the House upon the point at issue; and having formed that determination, he had resolved that his should not be a specious and hollow opposition, but that it should have the full weight of the great and important party which agreed with him in opinion.

Lord J. Russell

could not object to the mode in which the right hon. Gentleman had expressed his opinions, and he willingly allowed that the right hon. Gentleman had said as much on the principle of the bill, and that he had acquiesced as far in that principle as, under the whole circumstances, could have been expected. The right hon. Gentleman had a perfect right to reserve Iris opinions in regard to any of the details of the measure, or in regard to the wisdom of the policy which the Government might pursue in regard to Jamaica. He could only say that, while he agreed with the principles which his right hon. Friend had laid down, and while they had abandoned the course proposed by the former bill, of suspending the functions of the House of Assembly, the Government, although they had resolved to try a different course, were prepared to maintain the absolute necessity of providing, in the present session, that there should be the means of preventing those who might be so inclined from oppressing the now free population of the colony. The House was bound to take care, after having passed the great measure of negro emancipation, that under no power which previously existed, or which since that time had been acquired, oppression should be carried into operation by persons who might resent the passing of that measure. He owned, if he felt any regret in regard to that great and benevolent measure, it was, that, having agreed to abolish slavery, and to provide ample compensation to the slave-owners, the Legislature had not manifested somewhat less of prodigality, and that they had provided for the immediate payment of the compensation, instead of waiting till they had seen whether freedom was practically and in reality established. For while at the first, and on the immediate abolition of slavery, the liberal and ample compensation which was provided reconciled most of those who had property in the slaves, yet, after the various sums had been apportioned and paid, and when the next step was to be taken, there arose a great deal of discontent—a great deal of dissatisfaction on the part of those slave-owners with the measures which it was necessary to adopt to carry the Emancipation Act into effect, and to secure the welfare of the colony, and the freedom of the population. But, in expressing those opinions, he begged distinctly to be understood as imputing no blame to any one. He himself had agreed to the Act, and was, therefore, as liable to blame as any other Member of that House. He did not think it was necessary for him to say more at that time in reference to the bill which his right hon. Friend proposed to introduce, but the right hon. Baronet opposite (Sir R. Peel) had made some remarks in reference to the proceedings which had taken place on the last bill, which he could not allow to pass altogether without notice. He was perfectly ready to admit that, if the bill which had been brought forward by the Government was of such a nature as to render it impossible for the right hon. Gentleman to agree to its principle, and that if, on examination, he found its details such as he could not honestly sanction, it was, in such a case, perfectly competent for the right hon. Gentleman, and for those who acted on the authority of his opinion, to proclaim their opposition, and to take the sense of the House upon the points at issue. So far he perfectly agreed with what had fallen from the right hon. Gentleman; but when the right hon. Gentleman did not confine himself to that course, but when, on the contrary, he pursued a course materially different, he must own, that it appeared to him that it would have been more fair, more open and candid, if the right hon. Gentleman had stated his objections to the bill in the course of the discussion, and given notice of another day for taking the sense of the House upon the points in dispute. Such, in his opinion, would have been the candid course to have pursued, and thus to have afforded an opportunity to the Government of making a full statement of their reasons for pursuing the course which they had followed, which, by the line of policy adopted by the Opposition, they had been prevented from doing. But there was another question with regard to the proceedings of the party of the right hon. Gentleman. It was natural that those who had not looked particularly into the merits of the bill, that such of the right hon. Gentleman's party as supported the general line of policy which he pursued, and who were at little pains to inquire for themselves, should agree with him in his opposition to the Government measure relative to Jamaica, and that they should follow the course which the right hon. Gentleman had prescribed. But there were others of the right hon. Gentleman's party who were not in that situation. There were those on the other side of the House who had examined for themselves, who had formed their own opinions, who were intimately connected with Jamaica, who, from the extent of their property, had a deep interest in the welfare of the colony, and therefore he must say, that when the right hon. Gentleman expressed his intention to oppose the bill, and when he called on those who approved of his general policy to follow the course which he had pointed out, and to reject the bill, he must say, in such a case, that those ought to have been exempted who had a deep interest in Jamaica, who had formerly expressed a favourable opinion of the measures of the Government, and who had communicated that opinion to various Members of the Administration. He thought that such persons should have been allowed to act upon their own views, and with reference to their own interests, and that they should not have been forced to sacrifice their opinions and their interests on the question of Jamaica to gratify English party. In asking, that there should be free permission for the expression of opinion, and that no force should be applied by those in opposition to such of their body as were owners of property in Jamaica, he thought he was not asking any very extravagant concession. But, in the late division, that concession had not been made, and every means had been used to induce those on the opposite side of the House, whose interests were at variance with the course of proceeding adopted by the right hon. Gentleman, to refrain from voting with the Government, and those means had been successful. [Name.] He believed the fact was notorious on the other side of the House. He had asserted what he believed to be correct. There was another question with regard to those who did not generally support the right hon. Gentleman, and who, on most occasions, voted with the Government, but who were considered by hon. Gentlemen opposite removed in their political views still farther from the principles of the right hon. Gentleman than were the Members of the Government. Now, he owned that it did appear to him that, in the debate on the Jamaica Bill, the right hon. Gentleman had taken a different course with respect to those hon. Members from that which he had pursued last year. It was stated by an hon. Member opposite, last year, during the discussions on the affairs of Canada, that while his party were determined to maintain their own principles, even when opposed to the Government, they would not attempt to court those who differed still more widely from the principles which they advocated than the Government itself. But he must say, that, in his opinion, the right hon. Gentleman did not act upon that principle on a late occasion, but on a principle which neither he nor his party had ever professed before, and that, in order to obtain the votes of some of those sitting on his side of the House, who had expressed extreme opinions on the subject of reform, he had courted a union with those from whom he differed more widely than from the Government. Such, at least, was his persuasion from the arguments which had been used by hon. Gentlemen opposite, and from the constant appeals which were made to those constitutional doctrines which some of those who generally supported the Government were known to entertain strongly. From these facts, he was persuaded that the party opposite was not content to rest on its own strength, and upon the line of policy which hon. Gentlemen opposite had so honourably and so beneficially pursued last year, and that they were to adopt a new line, and to seek to strengthen themselves by adding those to their ranks who were offended with the Government for not going farther and faster on the road of reform. Such was his conviction, and that conviction, strong on his mind, had most materially influenced him in the course which he had felt it his duty to adopt subsequent to the division on the Jamaica Bill. He felt convinced that hon. Gentlemen opposite had determined to adopt a new line of policy, and to court the favour of those from whom, in their political principles, they differed more than from the Government. He had thought it necessary to state this much, because the right hon. Gentleman had seen proper to state the reasons which induced him to adopt the course which he had pursued. The right hon. Gentleman had stated his reasons for the course which he had adopted, and had contended that he had acted only in the ordinary way. He, however, must say, that the right hon. Gentleman did act in a manner at variance with that course of conduct which he had adopted on various other occasions.

Sir Charles Grey

said, that it would be beyond the powers of any party to stipulate that the Government should not legislate, if necessary, for Jamaica. There was no person in that House, no lawyer, no man of research, who could point out any general principle which forbade legislation by the Imperial Parliament as to the internal concerns of the colonies, save only, as to imposing new taxes, except for the purposes of commerce, affecting the property of the inhabitants of the colonies. Indeed, it was necessary that the Imperial Parliament should possess this power of legislation, if they meant to preserve in the colonies principles consistent with the principles of the English Constitution. It was idle to talk, with reference to Jamaica especially, of the want of this power of legislation; for the whole of the present difficulty arose from an Act of the Imperial Parliament, which operated over the whole internal affairs of the island when it liberated the slaves, and he thought that those who were sharers in the great glory of that measure would shrink from their duty if they were not prepared to carry it out into full effect as originally intended. Although he had no wish to throw any obstacles in the way of the measure brought forward by the Government, yet he regretted that they had been compelled, by the hon. Gentleman opposite to abandon a measure which gave a power for suspending the sittings of the House of Assembly, for that was all the former bill would have done. It was all that he thought really desirable, and he believed that it was all that the Government were anxious to obtain. All they wished was, to be absolved from the embarrassment, and, as he believed, from the overwhelming difficulty of calling together the Assembly year by year, and to place the power of legislation elsewhere than in the Parliament, but still under its regulation and control. He thought that the Gentlemen opposite would bitterly repent having compelled the Government to abandon the measure, which would have prevented the necessity of calling the local Assembly together; for those who looked to the Legislature of Jamaica would find little probability that any beneficial change in the laws would be carried into effect. The recently emancipated people of Jamaica were as much a new people as if they had been recently conquered, and required as much care in the legislation, and out of what materials was it to be obtained? The labourers had been the slaves of the Assembly. The Baptist clergy, in consequence of the oppression of the slaves, had obtained much influence over them, and the Assembly was at war with these clergy. Of the magistracy there were two orders, the local and the stipendiary, and they were told that the stipendiary magistrates were at variance with the local magistrates, and that the latter were supported by the Assembly. Above these, they had the Assembly representing only about 2,000 persons out of 350,000, and there were but seven or eight votes which were supposed to represent the sentiments of the coloured population. Then they had the Governor, and what had been the feelings subsisting between the two last Governors and the Assembly, they all knew. There had been nothing but flagrant and constant discord. But the Government of the island did not rest there; they had next the Colonial-office, and he would ask what hope there was of agreement between the Colonial-office and the Assembly? Neither could he stop there. He came next to that House, and he found a bill, the Prisons Bill, passed without opposition, and to which the hon. Member for Kilkenny and others had given, at least, their silent approval. They were all parties to that bill, and they were now told, that before the Assembly could be expected to legislate for Jamaica, they were to obtain an answer from the Government acting for all parties in the House, either that they would retract that bill, or cease to legislate for the future. Such were the elements they had to deal with, and such the materials which they found for legislation, to secure to the people they had brought into political existence, their due share of freedom. For himself, he despaired of making the legislature of Jamaica an effectual instrument for the purpose, and he therefore thought that it would have been better to have relieved the Government from the necessity of calling this Assembly together year by year.

Sir E. Sugden

said, that on a former occasion he had acted as the great majority of the House had done, and it was ungenerous on the part of the other side to taunt them (the Opposition) with being willing to suspend a constitution. The conclusion he had come to with respect to Canada had been after due inquiry, and after reading all the papers, which had induced him to think that a case had arisen when it was proper to interfere with the constitution of Canada. His deliberate opinion he had supported, though an unpalatable one. But was it to be supposed, because they had agreed to suspend the constitution of Canada, because the general good would be promoted thereby, that they ought to agree to suspend the constitution of other colonies? This was a mistake of the other side. Before he had voted on the Canada question, he had read every paper on the question. Illness had prevented him from attending the discussion of this question, but not from reading the papers, and he had read all the papers on the Jamaica question, and he had not had the slightest communication with any gentleman of the party to which he belonged during the time he was reading them or after he had read them. Before he read the papers he had a strong prepossession against the Jamaica planters, but the more he read them, and pondered them, the more satisfied he was, that no case had arisen which justified the measure; and if the party to which he belonged had taken up the question as a party question, and had voted the other way, he should have opposed them. Those hon. Gentlemen who had taken up the reins of Government with so much alacrity after having laid them down with such a determined air, had treated the question as a party question. The Government had taken it up as a party question. He thought it necessary to state these facts because he wished the right hon. Gentleman to understand, that it was not true that everybody in that House followed a particular course, not from conviction, not from inquiry, but simply from party feeling.

Leave given to bring in the bill.