HC Deb 29 April 1842 vol 62 cc1252-4
Mr. Milner Gibson

wished to make an inquiry of the right hon. Baronet at the head of her Majesty's Government, on a question regarding our relations with the Brazils. The right hon. Baronet had given the country to understand that his chief, if not his only objection to a reduction of the duty on sugar, was the fear that he should by so doing encourage the slave-trade in the Brazils, and he had understood the right hon. Baronet to say, that if he had not felt embarrassment by the slave-trade question, he should have felt it his duty to propose a considerable reduction in the duty on sugar immediately; but that he had not done so because he thought it might tend to render abortive the efforts that her Majesty's Government were making to restrain slavery. Now, he wished to ask the right hon. Baronet whether, at the present moment, he was making any decided effort to restrain slavery in the Brazils; and inasmuch as there was at present existing a treaty between this country and the Brazils, making the Slave-trade illegal, and declaring it piracy, and binding the Brazilian government to discourage the importation of slaves into the Brazils, he was desirous of knowing if the right hon. Baronet were prepared to enforce that treaty? He was also desirous of knowing if the British Government and the Brazilian government had come to any understanding respecting the period of the termination of the treaty of commerce now subsisting between the two countries?

Sir R. Peel

replied, that her Majesty's Government were always prepared to fulfil their engagements with foreign nations, and to require that other nations should fulfil their engagements with this country. Her Majesty's Government could not come to any understanding with the Government of the Brazils respecting the period of the expiration of the present treaty. The noble Lord, the late Secretary for the Foreign Department, had always contended, and he thought justly contended, that the treaty would not expire until November, 1844, and that was the view entertained by her Majesty's Government. The government of Brazils were of a different opinion, and contended, that the treaty would expire in November of the present year. Communications had taken place on the subject, but he was not able to say that the government of the Brazils acquiesced in the construction placed by her Majesty's Government on that treaty. With respect to the subject of the restraining more effectually the slave-trade in the Brazils, communications had passed between the two governments, but as yet this had led to no result.

Viscount Palmerston

wished to put a question to the right hon. Baronet, which he hoped it would be in his power to answer. He was well aware, that it was objectionable to ask, and improper to state, the nature or propositions which were in discussion between the Government of Great Britain and a foreign government; and therefore inquiry upon such subject ought, in general, to be met by a refusal. But questions relating to slave-trade treaties were not subject to the general rule in that respect. He had himself never made any difficulty in stating the nature of negotiations entered into from time to time with other countries, with a view to the more effectual suppression of the slave-trade. He did not know whether the right hon. Baronet would feel equally at liberty to give him the information which he was about to ask. He wished to ask the right hon. Baronet what the nature was of those further stipulations which had been proposed to the Government of the Brazils with a view to the suppression of the slave-trade? and whether they would give Great Britain increased powers of action, or whether they were merely engagements to be executed by the Brazilian government? He should be glad to find that increased powers were given to our cruizers engaged in the suppression of the slave-trade; but he was sorry to say that he should not attach much importance to any additional engagements into which the Brazilian government might enter, relative to the question of slavery and the slave-trade.

Sir Robert Peel

very much doubted whether the noble Lord, if in office, would have answered such a question. He had too high an opinion of the noble Lord's discretion and good sense, to believe upon any other authority than his own that he would answer such a question. Her Majesty's Government had made a communication with the Brazilian government generally upon the subject of slavery and the slave-trade, but had not yet had an opportunity of receiving an answer.