HC Deb 13 May 1847 vol 92 cc784-8

wished to call the attention of the House to the petition from Jamaica, signed by 4,000 persons, praying for free trade for that colony, and for an additional supply of labour, as requisite for the prosperity of that island. Since the petition had been presented some parts of the prayer had been granted, and he hoped that the Government would soon comply with the rest. The great object which the petitioners sought was, that the colonies should be supplied with abundance of labour; and he conceived that there was no more effectual mode of putting an end to the slave trade than by removing those temptations which induced men to carry on that traffic. The slave trade was like smuggling. Let the temptation to introduce contraband goods be once taken away, and the necessity for maintaining a preventive service would altogether cease. To restrain smuggling upon the coasts of England we kept a force of sixty or seventy cruisers, and we incurred an expense of 800,000l. a year; yet tons of tobacco were unlawfully imported. The only way to put down smuggling was to reduce import duties; the only mode of abolishing the slave trade would be to supply our colonies with abundance of free labour. It cost the country 1,000,000l. sterling per annum to repress the slave trade, and after all the object was not accomplished. From a return laid before Parliament, it appeared that the number of ships of war of all classes employed for the suppression of the slave trade was fifty-six, mounting 886 guns, and manned by 9,289 men. In that force the mortality and casualties were well known to be great. It was stated, and he believed that the statement rested upon very just grounds, that the colonists could not much longer continue the cultivation of sugar if restriction were continued upon their obtaining labour from Africa and elsewhere, as, while labour from its scarcity was becoming dear in the colonies, the slave population of the countries with which those colonies were called on to compete was daily increasing by means of the slave trade. The views of this important subject which he was thus endeavouring to press upon the House were entertained, not only by the colonists, but he was enabled to state that the Anti-Slavery Society had addressed a letter to the noble Lord at the head of the Government, entreating the adoption of new measures. If the million now expended in attempting to repress the slave trade could be saved, the advantage was too obvious to be overlooked; he sincerely hoped that the Government and the country would see the necessity of losing no more time, and that they would at once agree in adopting the only measures calculated to put clown the slave trade. The redemption of slaves was a practice which had received the sanction of the most eminent philanthropists, and he thought there could be no possible objection to allowing colonists to proceed to the coasts of Africa, there to procure slaves, and the moment they reached the shores of a British colony, set them free, and employ them as free labourers. The petitioners prayed, and he hoped the House would favourably consider their prayer, that all restrictions upon the transit and use of British produce should be removed, and that all restrictions upon the free introduction of labour should also be removed. The grievance which formed the subject of this complaint was a great grievance, and one in the removal of which the mother country and the colonies were deeply interested. All the colonies joined in praying for its removal. The hon. Gentleman concluded by moving— That it is the opinion of this House, that all restrictions in the use and transit of the produce of the British West India Possessions should be removed, and all impediments to the free introduction of labourers into those Possessions, should also be discontined.


believed every one in the colonies was agreed on the question of free trade, that if it were applied in the relations between the mother country and the colonies, it ought to be fairly applied, and all the productions of the colonies ought to be freely received. That, hitherto, had not been the case, as evidenced more especially in the articles of rum and molasses. He was also of opinion that the second prayer of the petition—relative to the employment of tree labour in the colonies—should be complied with. Long as this question had been talked of, he was surprised that it had not before this been carried into effect. Before he sat down, he wished to inquire of the Under Secretary for the Colonies, what had become of the vessel, the Growler, which it was proposed should be employed in conveying labourers to the West Indies?.


said, that the petition in question had been agreed to in Jamaica before the measure introduced by Her Majesty's Government for the relief of the colonies had arrived there, and consequently much of its prayer had been already accomplished. With regard to the encouragement of emigration, there was no power which the Government possessed which had not been exerted for that purpose; and, in fact, a large importation of labour had taken place. The subject was one of great difficulty and expense, and therefore what had been done must be treated as an experiment only; but a large supply of labour had been given by the measures of Lord Stanley when at the head of the Colonial Office; and altogether from the time of the abolition of slavery there had been imported into Jamaica 8,000 labourers, into British Guiana 33,000, and into Trinidad 17,000 odd; the total number imported being upwards of 60,000 labourers. With regard to the vessels between the Kroo coast and that of Africa, alluded to by the hon. Member opposite, some delay had occurred; but he had the satisfaction of informing him that a vessel would soon be ready to proceed to that destination. He was not sanguine in expecting much good from that expedition, nor did he believe that by the importation of labour at all they could do anything but improve the condition of the colonies by lowering the rate of wages there. He did not entertain the least idea that any amount of labour which could possibly be procured, would in the least degree lead to a termination of the slave trade. With regard to sugar, the petition prayed that it might be admitted into distilleries and breweries—a prayer which had been already granted under some restrictions, rendered necessary by the state of the revenue; and with regard to duties, though they might be higher than was pleasing to the hon. Member, it could not be denied that considerable benefit to the producers of sugar and molasses in the colonies, must result from the measures which had been adopted. He would give no opinion at all upon the question of the Navigation Laws, because that subject was before a Committee of that House at the present time. He perhaps felt disposed to agree with the hon. Member opposite, that the principles of free trade had not been sufficiently carried out; but powers had been given last Session to the colonies to act upon those principles; and whilst they had continued to the grower of sugar in the colonies a certain amount of protection, it had been considerably reduced, and other restrictions upon the trade had been removed. The prayer of the petitioners, therefore, upon all its points had already been anticipated to a very great extent; and he was happy to say that, judging by the recent accounts, the general trade of our colonies was materially extending and improving, and that great amelioration was taking place, in their social and domestic condition. He was therefore not without hope that the severe struggles of our colonies, through a fierce competition, would, by the increased application of science and the improvement of agriculture, which it must occasion, result in the advantage of the colonies themselves. He hoped, therefore, that his hon. Friend would not press his Motion.


said, that he would not divide the House upon his Motion; but he considered that he had received no satisfactory answer as to the redemption and importation of African slaves.


said, that the difficulty of the exportation of slaves on the coast of Africa was so great, that he had been credibly informed that a legitimate trade was superseding the unlawful traffic in slaves.

Motion negatived.