HC Deb 27 July 1849 vol 107 cc1030-9

Order for Third Reading, read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the Third Time."


stated it to have been his intention to have offered some opposition to the principle of this Bill on the second reading; but in consequence of the absence of the noble Lord the Secretary for Foreign Affairs, he had postponed doing so. He believed Bills of this description were productive of a great deal of mischief. He had various and well-grounded objections to treaties of this kind, as he felt they had been productive of injury to the cause of humanity, and the slave trade had increased in consequence of them, and in spite of them. He contended, moreover, that this was not a time to increase the naval expenditure of the country, unless in cases in which the honour and dignity of the country were materially concerned, but certainly not for the purpose of carrying out treaties of this kind, if treaties they were. He understood that the annual expense of the vessels upon the coast of Africa was 400,000l, and that since the period when the bounty system began, no less a sum than 161,861l. had been expended. The Bill of the Government would increase this expenditure, for it would be necessary to have a squadron in the Persian Gulf as we had on the coast of Africa, and there would be a further charge upon the Consolidated Fund for the bounty on captures. In that point of view, therefore, he considered the Bill of the noble Lord very objectionable. Another objection was this. The Bill recited certain agreements or engagements entered into by a gentleman residing by the Persian Gulf, and who was said to be accredited to the Schah of Persia, with chiefs whose territories bordered on those seas, and which agreements were similar to that which existed between this country and the Schah. He was sorry that any such agreement existed, for it would be better for both Persia and England if there were none. However, if the Bill passed, our courts of justice would have the power of dealing with the vessels and with the liberties of the subjects of those chiefs mentioned in the preamble of the Bill, whose territories lay upon the Persian Gulf, and who were in close connexion with the Schah, and probably owed him allegiance. The operation of the Bill would, therefore, lead to difficulties with the Schah, and would revive much of the ill blood which existed a few years ago. Moreover, it would cause the withdrawal of our vessels of war from the protection of our commerce and the prevention of piracy, for which purposes they were already insufficient in force. He could not conceive what benefit was to result from our ships being empowered to search and make prizes of these wretched Arab vessels. The noble Lord proposed by his Bill, and by the instructions in his despatch to Colonel Shell, to make these engagements or agreements entered into with these petty chiefs applicable to all vessels bonâ fide Persian; and he asked the House to extend all the provisions of the Slave Trade Act to the seas of the Persian Gulf, and to bring" the Arab tribes and their provinces there within the operation of that law. He considered that this would be productive of the worst consequences, by embittering the feelings of all those tribes against us, and by inflicting an injury on our commerce, which was now on the increase on the shores of the Persian Gulf. Upon these grounds he objected to the Bill, and therefore moved that it be read a third time that day three months.

Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day three months."


seconded the Amendment. He viewed this measure simply as an attempt to continue and extend those attempts to suppress the slave trade by force which a long experience had now proved to be abortive and futile. They were now about to apply a system which had already signally failed on the coast of Africa to Mussulman tribes, without the least reflection as to its total inapplicability to them, and the manifest difference in all their habits, customs, and feelings. This was the most idle and useless of all the attempts which had yet been made to suppress the slave traffic; and the only effect of it would be to imperil our commercial relations in the East. But besides the general objections on principle, there were particular objections applicable to that particular case. The reasons for putting down the slave trade had always been regarded as of an exceptional nature—we interfered only on account of the magnitude of the evil; and it had always been held that we should not interfere with a nation on this account except upon the strongest grounds of humanity. There were no such reasons in the case of the eastern nations, for slavery with them was a very different institution to the slavery in other nations, and had not those repulsive features. Would the right hon. Baronet the President of the Board of Control say that the East India Company were in such a state that for a speculative object they were prepared to embark in increased expenditure? Or were the vessels now devoted to the suppression of piracy, and the protection of commerce, to be taken away for this new object? Considering that the whole question of the slave trade must come under the consideration of the House early next Session, upon the report of the Committee which had sat upon that subject, he protested against embarking upon this vain and idle attempt.


said, he could throw light on some of the points brought forward by the Mover of the Amendment. There was nothing of novelty about the engagements alluded to in the present Bill; for the Treaty by which the slave trade in the Persian Gulf was declared piracy was made by the present General Sir W. Keir Grant on the 8th of January, 1820, and had the further peculiarity of being the first Public Act in which the slave trade was denominated piracy, as he knew from communication with the late Minister of the United States, Mr. Rush, who told him the American Act containing the same declaration, was dated in the May after, though from circumstances it was known in England first. The hon. and learned Mover of the Amendment might set his mind at rest on the subject of cruelty having been exercised towards the chiefs who were parties to the engagements named. He was personally acquainted with them all, except where a chief was dead, "and Esarhaddon his son reigned in his stead." He would relate the circumstances attending the signing of the treaty of 1820. As he was directed, he collected on the floor of a tent the representatives of the tribes concerned in the treaty which was to put an end to the war. After discussing the other subjects satisfactorily, he represented to them, with some caution and circumlocution, that there was another point which the Government and people of England had greatly at heart; and, if the English had not shown themselves disposed to make a harsh use of such fortunes of war as had gone in their favour, he hoped they would have credit for not wishing to make any improper interference with the customs of the tribes, but merely to urge a point in which their own feelings were deeply concerned. The collected plenipotentiaries evinced great interest to know what was coming. When he announced the question, "Would they admit such an Article as one declaring the slave trade piracy?" a ghastly laugh ran round the circle of diplomatists, and they exclaimed with one voice, "Taïb, taïb kathîr!" " Good, very good! "A light opened upon the negotiator. There was a potentate, who had been the ally of the British against these tribes during the war, and the subjects of this potentate, and not the tribes, were the great carriers of slaves by sea. It was therefore matter of high mirth, to accede to a treaty which cut, not against themselves, but against their enemies. [Mr. ANSTEY: Who was the potentate?] The Imaum of Mascat. He hoped the hon. and learned Mover was relieved from anxiety on the point of cruelty. On the subject of expense, he saw no reason to suppose that the expense of anything was to be increased by the contents of the Bill. The whole affair had been going on successfully and quietly for twenty-seven years, and because it was found desirable to have further regulations laid down by law, this Bill appeared to have been introduced.


was not going to discuss with the hon. and learned Gentleman who made this Amendment, or with the hon. Baronet who seconded it, the abstract love of slavery which was too evident in the course of their speeches. He would not, moreover, discuss with the seconder of the proposition the amiable character of slavery in Mahomedan countries; but it must be borne in mind that a great part of the slaves who were the subjects of slave States on the eastern coast of Africa, were Christians, natives of Abyssinia, and therefore had, in a greater degree, the sympathy of the British public than the negroes on the west coast. But the practice of slavery, both on the west and east coast of Africa, was to this country matter of great interest, because that great continent, that might naturally offer an amazing field for European commerce, never could be opened to the commercial intercourse of this country so long as that abominable slave trade was carried on. It was doubted whether those chiefs were independent; but no doubt whatever could exist on the subject. They were perfectly independent—as much so as the Imaum of Mascat, or the Schah of Persia. The hon. and learned Gentleman wished that it should be set forth in the treaty with each, that he was independent; but such a thing was never found in any treaty whatever. Su far as the argument of the hon. and learned Gentleman went, as to our getting into angry discussion with the Schah of Persia on this question, the answer was a plain one—that in the month of June last year the Schah issued a firman prohibiting the slave trade in the Persian Gulf, and, in the formality of the East declared that firman to be equal to a decree of fate. [Mr. ANSTEY: Why was a Bill not brought in upon that point?] It was not necessary in order to carry into effect the decree of the Schah of Persia, as it was in the case of the other chiefs. The chiefs bad granted the right of search; the Schah of Persia had not. But it was said they were engaged in a wild goose chase in endeavouring to persuade Mahomedan Powers to enter into Christian views of this subject, and that they were forgetting that the system of abolishing the slave trade was incompatible with all their feelings and prejudices. He would shortly state to the House what they had done in that respect. They had had the Imaum of Muscat, the Schah of Persia, and the Sultan, all yielding to their wishes by prohibiting the slave trade in the Persian Gulf; and last year they had the Sultan putting down the slave-market of Constantinople, and prohibiting his officers on the coast of Barbary from engaging in the slave trade. But the other day a British subject, a Maltese, was seized as a person employed in the slave trade, and taken to Tripoli, whence he was sent for trial to Malta, and the Sultan ordered a certain number of officers to go to Malta to be examined as witnesses, in order that the British Government might be able to convict the prisoner. So far, therefore, from their being hostility or persevering resistance on the part of these Mahomedan Powers, they had made great progress in bringing them to a proper state of feeling on this subject. It was said this measure was to be attended with great expense; but, in point of fact, it would cause no expense whatever—not an additional cockboat would be required for the duty. All that was asked was, that they should give power to those vessels that were there for the protection of trade and the prevention of piracy to execute the agreement that had been entered into with the Imaum of Muscat. This Act was establishing no new principle. It was simply carrying into effect previous agreements with independent chiefs. It would lead them into no conflict with those chiefs nor with any other Power in the Persian Gulf; and he thought no argument had been adduced to show that it should not be agreed to by that House.


wished to ask the noble Lord whether a better understanding was likely to be arrived at with the Emperor of Brazil on the subject of our attempts to suppress the slave trade. He was told that very great uneasiness existed as to the state of relations between England and Brazil, and that these relations had been disturbed by our slave-trade policy; but he must say that it appeared to him very strange that it should have been thought necessary at all to have entered into any treaties whatever with these different chiefs, if we had a right to seize ships carrying on the slave trade without treaty. He was told that we had that right with Brazil; without any treaty with the Brazils entitling us to capture their ships. Having assumed the right to capture and search their ships without treaty, it appeared questionable to have entered into these treaties with these chiefs, if the noble Lord had the power of doing all in the way of capture without any engagement. He had doubts whether the attempt to put down the slave trade by force of arms would ever succeed. He believed that the only way was enlisting opinion in those countries which carried on the slave trade. At all events to interfere with the independence of foreign nations would only have the effect of enlisting public opinion in those countries in a state of hostility, and would defeat the object which they had in view. He thought it was not right to throw out any kind of insinuation that a gentleman who differed on the policy of armed interference in putting down the slave trade, was favourable to carrying on the infamous taffic. The hon. Baronet who seconded the Motion was as much opposed to the slave trade, and thought it as abominable a traffic, as the noble Lord. All that he questioned was the policy of attempting to put down the slave trade without reference to the opinion of the countries which were carrying on the slave trade. We could not expect other countries to arrive at our opinions at any moment we might point out. Opinion was of slow growth. The anti-slave-trade party in Brazil had not been at work so long in that country as they had been in this to abolish the slave trade. They were longer in this country agitating against the slave trade than they had been in Brazil. Why should we expect the Brazilians to be faster than we were? Give these different nations every time for the formation of an opinion, and carry on a conciliatory and rational course of policy. He should support the Motion of the hon. and learned Gentleman.


was sorry to differ from his right hon. Friend who had just spoken; but in all transactions connected with the suppression of the slave trade, he pinned his faith to the noble Lord the Secretary for Foreign Affairs, whose conduct during the last fifteen years had been most straightforward and consistent in that matter. In his opinion a squadron would always be necessary for the suppression of the slave trade.


agreed with the right hon. Member for Manchester that all attempts hitherto made for the suppression of the slave trade had, to a great extent, failed; but he attributed that failure to certain concessions which had been made by the Government to hon. Members opposite. It would hardly mend the matter to make further concessions in the same direction, He greatly doubted whether the hon. and learned Member for Youghal truly represented the feeling of his constituents in opposing this Bill.


said, that a Committee had been sitting for two years to consider the best means of putting an end to the slave trade; and the Committee had reported "That the suppression of the slave trade by naval force was, in their opinion, impracticable." It was painful, no doubt, to confess failure in an object which the country had so much at heart; but that was the conclusion to which the Committee had arrived. On account of the lateness of the Session and other causes, the report of the Committee had not yet been brought officially under the notice of the House. He (Mr. E. Denison) had come to the same conclusion which had been arrived at by the majority of that Committee. It was a painful position to be placed in at the end of a Session of Parliament, to be asked to vote for a Bill to enable Her Majesty to carry into effect certain engagements or treaties in the Persian Gulf for the more effectual suppression, of the slave trade—the means to be taken for that purpose being the employment of a naval force—means which the Committee had come to the conclusion were entirely ineffectual. The noble Lord said that there would be no expense incurred; but he must doubt the correctness of that view, when he saw the provision made in Clauses 8 and 9 for bounty on captures and for indemnification. He had no alternative if there were a division than to vote against the Bill.


said, that as his hon. Friend who had just spoken had touched upon the general question of the suppression of the slave trade, he would address a very few words in answer to the objections he had urged. He (Lord J. Russell) did not consider that the passing of this Bill would at all commit the House in regard to any future conclusion to which they might arrive on the general question of the means to be adopted for the suppression of the slave trade. The conclusions in the report of the Committee, which had not yet been considered by the House, did not appear to him a good reason for the rejection of this Bill. He agreed with his hon. Friend that the evidence taken before the Committee, and the re-port of that Committee, must form the matter for the most serious consideration, both of the Government and of Parliament, in the course of the next Session; but when his hon. Friend referred to that report as being the opinion of the Committee, he must say that there were circumstances which appeared to add to the difficulty which the Government and Parliament would have to encounter in considering the subject. If the report had expressed the unanimous opinion of the Committee, or the opinion of the great majority of the Committee, the case would have been different. But it appeared that there had been a majority of one vote only, that of a Member who had taken the greatest possible interest in this question, but whose opinions upon it were known to be so decided that no one believed that any evidence that could be brought forward would have power to alter his conviction, that the present means taken for the suppression of the slave trade were inefficient and injurious. Therefore, that view being unsupported by the opinion of a majority of the Committee, it only amounted to an acknowledgment that the opinion of his hon. Friend, the Chairman, was as strong now as it had ever been. Another circumstance which increased the difficulty experienced on this subject, was the object for which the Committee was appointed, that being to consider the present means used for the suppression of the slave trade; and if they were deemed to be insufficient, to see whether means could be found better calculated to effect the object in view. Now, when he looked to the report of that Committee, he found opinions very positive with respect to the means at present in use, and very full on the point of their inefficiency; but when he looked further, expecting some consolation for the failure of the present means, in the suggestion of other means to be substituted, he found only a frequent repetition of opinion on a well-admitted fact, that the slave trade was a very bad thing, and ought to be put an end to. The question, therefore, really remained to be considered by Parliament in the course of another Session. It might be that the present means in use were inefficient, and did not answer their object; but it was for Parliament, before giving up these means, to discover others by which they might hope to succeed in utterly suppressing the slave trade.


said, he wished to call the attention of the House to the fact, that the Committee, where these differences, it was true, existed, had yet decided by a majority against the policy pursued by the Government. But Government always took care, in the appointment of every Committee, to have a majority of the Members in favour of their own views, and hence the result at which this particular Committee arrived showed that the Government had been beaten. The Committee decided on two allegations—first, that our policy in regard to the slave trade, instead of doing good, aggravated its horrors; and, secondly, that it was a source of great expense to this country. Our exertions in those seas had increased the atrocities perpetrated on the slaves. They found now such cases occurring as 500 human beings crowded into a vessel of 100 tons; and as no such cases used to occur in former years, he thought they might fairly be attributed to our cruisers on the coast of Africa.


wished to distinguish between the general question affecting the slave trade, and the question now before the House as regarded the slave trade in the Persian Gulf. The one stood on a very different basis from the other. He thought it would be very easy for us to close up the Persian Gulf with our marine, and so effectually put a stop to the slave trade; and therefore he considered the Bill, taken on its own merits, deserving of support. At the same time he did not feel himself precluded thereby from taking any course he thought proper on the general question when it came before them.

Question, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question," put and agreed to.

Main Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read 3° and passed.

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