HL Deb 07 May 1806 vol 7 cc32-4

The Duke of Clarence presented a petition from certain merchants and ship-owners of the port of London, against the Slave Importation bill, and moved that the petitioners should. be heard by their counsel against the bill on the 2d reading that day. A long conversation ensued respecting the propriety of hearing counsel, the result of which was that counsel were ordered to be heard, it being understood that, according to the rule of the house, only two counsel were to be heard on all the petitions against the bill.—The earl of Westmoreland presented a petition from certain merchants trading to South Carolina and Georgia against the bill, on which counsel were also ordered to be heard.—Counsel were then called in; Mr. Adam appeared for the Bahama islands, and Mr. Scarlet for the island of Jamaica; petitions from the agents for both which islands were presented on Monday. These gentlemen were heard against the principles and provisions of the bill, the operation of which, they stated, would be injurious both to the Bahamas and Jamaica, particularly so to the former.—Counsel having withdrawn,

Lord Grenville

rose to move the 2d reading of the bill. Nothing he had heard, he said, had tended to convince him that the principle of the bill was erroneous or impolitic; on the contrary, he still believed it to be a measure which was called for by every dictate of sound policy. The islands in the West-Indies were now nearly all of them in the possession of this country, or of our enemies; and, if it was a clear and obvious policy that We should not give advantages to our enemies, it was surely equally clear that we should not supply their colonies with slaves, thereby affording them additional means of cultivation, contributing to increase the produce of their islands, and thus enabling them to meet us in the market upon equal terms of competition, or perhaps to undersell us. This appeared to him so obvious, that he thought it unnecessary to argue it. The first object of the bill, therefore, was to prevent British subjects from supplying foreign colonies with slaves. The same principle was also applicable to the supply of colonies captured from the enemy, and only held until peace. In the islands captured last war, and which were given up at the peace, British capital was employed to so great an extent, that the exports from those islands equalled the exports from Jamaica. All this went to benefit and enrich the enemy, and to encrease their means of rivality. Another object of the bill, therefore, was to enforce the order of council, issued to restrain this species of trade, enacting, at the same time, additional regula- tions, in order to prevent the importation of slaves into the islands thus conquered from the enemy, and the consequent investiture in them of a large portion of British capital. No consideration relative to our commerce or our navigation could induce him to think that the slave trade ought to be continued. He considered it as a cruel and unjust traffic, which ought to be abolished. If, however, it was to be continued, it ought to be carried on under those regulations which might at least render it less revolting, by making it conduce to the benefit of our navigation. The third object of the bill, therefore, was to prevent British subjects from carrying on the slave trade in any other than British vessels. His lordship concluded by moving the second reading of the bill.

The Duke of Clarence

said, he would not divide the house upon the subject, but content himself with briefly stating his objections to the bill. If we were enabled to prevent any supply of slaves from being carried to the enemy's colonies, then he would agree to the policy of preventing British subjects from supplying them; this was not the case: the colonies of the enemy would be supplied with slaves from other sources; and therefore he saw no reason why the profits arising from this trade should be taken out of the hands of British subjects. With respect to the investiture of British capital, in colonies taken from the enemy, he thought that, in the event of a war ensuing after their being given up, and an attack being made upon them, the inhabitants, having experienced the advantages resulting from the employment of British capital, would be the less ready to defend them. The bill, he contended, would, in its operation, greatly injure Jamaica and the Bahama islands; the former island was several hundred leagues to leeward of all our colonies, and, unless the trade with slaves to the Spanish Main was allowed, it would not be worth the while of any trader in slaves to come to Jamaica, as in case, as it probably might happen, he could not find a market for them there, he Would be subjected to enormous expense and loss. He therefore objected to the bill, and should take other opportunities of stating his objections.

The Earl of Westmoreland

approved of some parts of the bill, and therefore should not object to the second reading. To other provisions of the bill, however, he should strongly object in another stage of it, as their operation would shut out a mart for Bri- tish manufactures to the amount of 3 millions sterling.

The Earl of Moira

defended the bill, which he considered as founded in sound policy. If as had been stated by the counsel who had been heard, slaves were to be considered as merchandize, they must be considered as the raw material. It had always been considered as highly impolitic to export to foreign states any raw material from this country, which was afterwards to be worked up into manufactured articles. Upon this Principle, therefore, it was surely extremely impolitic to allow slaves, which were the raw material with respect to the produce of our colonies, to be exported by British subjects to the colonies of the enemy, thereby giving them the means of using this raw material to increase their produce, and enabling them to rival us in the market.—The bill was then read a second time.

Lord Hawkesbury

gave notice, that he should propose several amendments in the committee, and that if the bill came out of the committee in its present state, he should think it his duty to oppose it on a subsequent stage.

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