HC Deb 29 June 1848 vol 99 cc1308-14

Sir, I will take this opportunity of putting a question to the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade, to the noble Lord at the head of the Government, and to the hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary for the Colonies, to all of whom I have given notice that it was my intention to put that question, unless some one of those three Gentlemen was prepared to get up and give an explanation to the House. I have to ask those Gentlemen to answer the challenge I threw out to them respectively; and I now call upon the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade, in particular, to reconcile the fact of the existence of a number of despatches from Jamaica, and their concealment from this House, with the statement made by the right hon. Gentleman on the 8th of February? I will take leave to call the attention of the right hon. Gentleman and the House to a question that was asked, and to the answer that was given to it on the 8th of February last, and I will quote from Hansard. On that day Mr. Goulburn put the following question:— He wished to know why Jamaica had been omitted in the statement of the affairs of the several West Indian colonies laid before the House; and also if there would be any objection on the part of the Government to lay the last intelligence from Jamaica on the table? The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade made answer— That, as the right hon. Gentleman had had the kindness to give him notice of his intention to ask the question, he had applied to the Colonial Office on the subject, and was enabled to state, that the reason no blue book had been laid on the table respecting Jamaica was, that it had not been received. To that part of the answer there was no objection; but the following I call upon him to explain:— Owing to the ample information which had been forwarded by Lord Elgin, Earl Grey [he believed this should be Sir Charles Grey, not Earl Grey] had stated he could add nothing to the sources of intelligence already opened by the noble Lord. With respect to the latter part of the right hon. Gentleman's question, he had to say, that no despatch had been received giving any general account of the state of Jamaica; but, as soon as such a document should be received, it was the intention of the Secretary of State for the Colonies to communicate it without delay to the House. Now, at the time that statement was made, there were in the possession of the Colonial Office no less than five despatches, which, if not of great importance in themselves, were of the greatest importance on account of the memorials and statements on the subject of the general condition of Jamaica which they covered and transmitted to Earl Grey. The first of these despatches I will only slightly allude to—


said, the noble Lord must confine himself to the question he had to put, and to such statements only as were necessary to make the question intelligible.


Perhaps I may be permitted here to observe, that the statement which the noble Lord has made as that delivered by my right hon. Friend, is not a correct statement of what my right hon. Friend said.


The right hon. Gentleman will have an opportunity of explaining to the House what he did say. My question goes to this—I ask the right hon. Gentleman how he reconciles the answer I have read with the fact that the Colonial Office was then in possession of despatches which had subsequently come before this House? The first of these despatches is dated the 25th of March, 1847, and the second the 21st of September, 1847, and which states— That the low price of sugar in the London market threatens many of the planters with ruin, and that there are indications of a movement in favour of a return to the principle of protection. The third and most important despatch is dated the 6th of November, 1847, and was received in December, transmitting a copy of the Governor's own speech, and containing the following passage:— A merely formal address, consisting only of empty civilities, of commonplace recommendations, would have been received with disgust and impatience, and would have been a vacuum into which all the better feeling of the moment would have outpoured itself in reply. Deeming it right, therefore, to speak to the purpose, the only safe course was to speak plainly, and with the most perfect truth and entire sincerity, for the accomplishment of which I require to be allowed a certain degree of fulness, and perhaps prolixity. There is not a word of what I said which was not meant to express my real sentiment. Then, in the fourth place, there was another despatch, received 28th of December, 1847, in which Sir C. Grey encloses a memorial from the planters, merchants, labourers, and other inhabitants of Hanover, in Jamaica, stating that— Your memorialists are reduced to the greatest distress, and pray your Majesty's interference in their behalf, to prevent the utter annihilation of their property, and their being driven forth from the colony they inhabit, penniless, and without a home. And going on to say— Your memorialists most respectfully submit, that should this ruinous state of affairs continue a few months longer, the whole of these properties (once giving a large income) must be thrown up, and your memorialists reduced to beggary and ruin. * * * Your memorialists, with all deference, submit, that a reduction of duty on British colonial sugar, so as to afford them a protection against the slavegrower, would neither tend to limit the consumption or diminish the revenue, while it would prevent the abandonment of the British sugar colonies. I come now to the last despatch, which is a most important one, with reference to the answer given by the right hon. Gentleman opposite on the 8th of February—the despatch, I mean, from Governor Grey, which enclosed that remarkable document, that remarkable memorial, to which public attention has been so painfully drawn of late, and which on the day previous to the answer of the right hon. Gentleman had been quoted in another place; and I have to ask the right hon. Gentleman how he accounts for his coming down to this House and stating on the 8th of February that no despatch had been received giving any general account of the state of Jamaica, but that as soon as such a document should be received it was the intention of the Secretary of State for the Colonies to communicate it without delay to the House? I therefore ask the right hon Gentleman how he justifies his statement made to the House on the authority of the Colonial Office—which he distinctly intimated he had had an opportunity of consulting, having had due notice of the question, that no such despatch had been received, and how he reconciles the promise that such despatch should be communicated without delay to the House, with the fact that those despatches were never communicated to the House till a month after, that is to say, till the 8th of March, when the subject had become almost forgotten, and when they were not laid on the table of the House itself, but were sent to a Committee, there to be buried in the midst of 488 pages of evidence and documents contained in the report of that Committee, which was published on the 14th of March?


The noble Lord has thought fit to inquire what were my reasons for not having taken part in the discussion which occurred on Monday night? I did not understand him to make any attack upon me on that occasion. With respect to my statement of the 8th of February, in making that communication I was only acting as the organ of the Colonial Office when I responded to the question of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of Cambridge (Mr. Goulburn); and when the hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary for the Colonies, who is necessarily cognisant of the circumstances of the case, was present in the House to make the explanations which were required the other day, I did not feel that it was incumbent upon me to take part in the discussion. As the noble Lord, however, has given me notice of his intention to put the question he has now put, I have made inquiry as to what has been done by the Colonial Office in the matter; and I am prepared to say that I am perfectly satisfied the engagement which I made in the name of that department, and to which the noble Lord has adverted, has been literally and exactly executed—has been executed to the letter as well as in the spirit. What was that engagement? The question and answer have been read from Hansard; and the noble Lord has founded his statement on that version of what passed on the 8th of February, when the right hon. Member for the University of Cambridge made his inquiry. But the question and answer are more fully reported in the Times newspaper of the following day. I, therefore, take the liberty of reading the report of that question and answer as given in the Times newspaper of the 9th of February. The extract is rather long, but the words are remarkable:— Mr. Goulburn remarked, that reports had just been presented to the House from all the colonies except Jamaica; he wished to know the reason for this omission, and whether a report was intended to be presented from that colony; and also whether there would be any objection to lay on the table the latest intelligence from Jamaica?—Mr. Labouchere had made inquiry at the Colonial Office, and found that the reason why no blue book from Jamaica had been laid on the table was that no such document had been received thence. Owing, he believed, to Lord Elgin having sent very ample information while he was Governor, and Sir C. Grey having only very recently arrived there, it was probable that there was no further information to be supplied at present. With regard to the question, whether any further despatches from Jamaica would be laid on the table, he had to state, that though there was no despatch from Jamaica with any general account of the island, there were some despatches from that and some other West Indian islands which it was the intention of the Secretary of State for the Colonies to lay on the table without delay. With respect to the blue book, I pass it over, because I have no controversy with the noble Lord. The noble Lord is aware that there is no blue book from Jamaica, that it has not arrived, and, à fortiori, therefore, it was not possible to produce it to the House in February. But I wish briefly to touch upon two points in which the noble Lord says my statement then is at variance with the conduct of the Colonial Office. He says, first, that I stated there were no despatches from Jamaica with any general account of the island. The noble Lord thinks there are despatches which do contain a general account; but the Colonial Office, in instructing me, showed that there was no despatch which could be supposed to give a general account of the island. There were despatches which contained information of importance with respect to the island, but none which could be considered as giving a general account of the island. That was the statement made to me by the Colonial Office, which I made on their authority, and which I believe to be strictly correct. I now pass to another point, namely, that with respect to the statement that there were other despatches from that and the other islands which it was the intention of the Secretary of State to lay on the table of the House without delay. That statement was made on the 8th of February. On the 9th of February the Committee over which the noble Lord presided made an order for the production of papers relating to the West Indies. The only charge made in regard to the production of those papers was, that instead of having those papers prepared for the table of the House, it was thought better to have them prepared for the Committee; and directions were accordingly given that all papers with respect to Jamaica and the other sugar-growing colonies which were of the slightest importance, should be prepared for the Committee. It is true, as stated by the noble Lord, that it was not until the 8th of March, a month afterwards, that all these papers, which were very voluminous, and which required to be sorted and printed, were communicated to the Committee; but it was not then denied that all these despatches, including that particular one which enclosed the memorial from the western part of Jamaica, on which there has been so much said—all these despatches had been communicated and printed for the Committee. The only pretext which the noble Lord has for making this a subject of remark is, that there did elapse this period of a month after the papers were required. But I repeat that the order was given next day, that the papers should be prepared with all due diligence; and I put it to the noble Lord and to the House, whether there is anything in his statement to entitle him to say that the conduct of the Colonial Office has been in any degree inconsistent with the pledge which I gave in their name on the 8th of February? This matter does not properly be within my province; but the letter which the noble Lord wrote to me this morning having stated that he intended to call attention to the subject this evening, I went to the Colonial Office and made the necessary inquiries. The result is, to confirm the impression which existed in my own mind—to confirm that of which I never had the slightest doubt—that the noble Lord the Secretary for the Colonies, in this as in all matters, whether public or private, has acted with unquestionable honour, with invariable sincerity, and entirely in accordance with his duty to the House and the country.

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