HL Deb 16 May 1806 vol 7 cc227-36

The order of the day for the third reading of this bill being read,

The Duke of Clarence

rose,and expressed his intention of moving an amendment to the title of the bill, which lie seemed to say would produce the effects intended, with respect to the operation of certain parts of the bill, to which, more than the rest, he strongly objected. He wished that some peer, more competent then himself had come forward; but he felt the importance of the subject so strongly, that hi was induced to offer himself to the attention of their lordships, There were particular parts of the bill, which, more that any other, and in every point of view ii which he considered them, his royal highness seemed to think objectionable. He meant chiefly those which went to prevent the exportation of slaves from British islands, or in British vessels, into foreign colonies. When he considered this prohibition, under whatever motive it was professedly urged, he must deem it part of system for the abolition of the slave trade Were their lordships duly to consider, o bad they an opportunity of considering that great mass of evidence which was adduced on the subject, they would then b fully aware of, and thoroughly impressed with, the importance of the traffic in question. His royal highness entered upon some calculations to evince this proposition, and stated the capital employed in the trade to exceed two millions sterling. He then adverted to the number of seamen employed, and for whom it proved a nursery; and the extensive drawback upon the slave trade itself which the bill would produce, might be conceived, when it was. known, that out of upwards of 38,000. slaves, more than 22,000 were afterwards exported from the British islands to foreign colonies and settlements. When he reflected on the immense capital employed in the trade, the great quantities of British manufactures consumed in consequence of it, and the numbers of seamen employed, how strong must be his reprobation of a measure, which would diminish nearly two-thirds of the whole! His royal. highness adverted to the different sentiments entertained upon this subject by the father of the noble lord, now at the head of administration, and who was fully impressed with the importance of these considerations. He referred to the operation of die three past acts from the first passed in 1766, to the general act of last session and he expatiated upon the advantageous traffic between the British islands, and the Spanish main, which entirely depended upon the transmission of slaves, and which would prospectively be in greater demand, as it was the present policy of the court of Spain to cultivate the extensive island of Cuba. Added to these considerations, the bill was inefficacious as to its avowed object. No regulations of our legislature, I could prevent those foreign colonies being supplied by the ships of other states: it was impossible; the coasts of Africa were open to all nations. To pass such a bill would, therefore, be neither consistent with true policy, as it would throw that into other hands which we might ourselves retain; nor with true humanity, as the t transmission of slaves would be given to those who would not use them with such tenderness and care. His royal highness then adverted to the share the Americana at present enjoyed of this traffic, and the increased proportion they were likely to have, should the bill pass in its present r shape; and he called the attention of their lordships to the circumstance of the cargoes now on their progress to the West Indies, and the calamitous consequences that must ensue, when the farther expectation of these should be stopped. Upon the whole, his view of the measure was such, that he should move, in the way of amendment, to leave out that part of the title of the bill, which went to prevent the exportation of slaves, by any of his majesty's subjects, into any colonies or islands, subject to any foreign state or power.

The Earl of Suffolk

felt himself bound on principles of humanity, as well as of liberty, to support the bill. He adverted to the practicability of cultivating the West-India islands, by other means than those of the importation of African negroes and suggested the possibility of introducing seapoys from the east, or some of the inhabitants of the Cape of Good Hope. He dwelt much on the good effects of a mild and humane treatment of the negroes at present on the soil, which, together with encouraging propagation amongst them, might in a short time preclude the necessity of farther importations for the purposes of cultivation.

The Bishop of London

said, he could Clot satisfy his own mind, if he sat silent upon what he must consider as a question of morality. The objections which had been urged against the present bill, did not Weigh much with him, for they were the Same that had been advanced against the bill for abolishing the slave trade. The continuance of this traffic could not be maintained for an instant upon the score of morality, and here he was glad to find that the objections upon the ground of political consideration, made no less against it. If it contributed to prevent the mortality which was always found to accompany the cultivation and breaking up of new grounds, that would be a great inducement to him to vote in support of it. He had for a whole year constantly attended a committee which sat in that house, to consider of the propriety of abolishing the slave trade, and the result of all he had heard was, that it was possible to keep up the quantity of negroes necessary for cultivating the West Indies, without recurring to importation, or the dreadful practices to which it gave rise. Wherever that unfortunate race of men were treated with common humanity, they increased like other human beings. In Virginia, where the importation of negroes had been prohibited, a census was taken in the year 1786, and it was found that in that province their number had increased upwards of 15,000 in the course of 3 years that the trade was prohibited. He was anxious that his countrymen should be entirely disengaged from all concern in that opprobrious traffic, and therefore he would vote for the bill before their lordships.

The Earl of Westmorland

considered that part of the bill which it was the object of the illustrious duke to do away, as tending not only to destroy a large proportion of the trade alluded to by the illustrious duke, but also the trade carried on to the Spanish colonies in America, under the cover of exporting slaves, and which created a market for two million sterling of British manufactures. He did not object to that part of the bill which prohibited supplying with slaves, colonies taken during war, as, in the event of their being surrendered, the British capital employed only went to enrich the enemy. With respect to the abolition of the slave trade, the trade had been carried on for a long series of years under the ablest ministers that this country had seen, and who never thought of abolishing it; the idea of the abolition first originated, within a few years past, among atheists, enthusiasts, jacobins, and such descriptions of persons. If they doubted his statements with respect to the amount of the trade carried on, let evidence be called to the bar to prove or disprove them, but at least the house ought to pause before they consented to destroy a trade of such magnitude, particularly at a time when our commerce had so many difficulties to encounter. The argument, that supplying foreign colonies with slaves enabled them to rival us in the market, was one directly in favour of the slave trade.

The Marquis of Sligo

opposed the bill, as pregnant with infinite danger to the very existence of the West-India islands.

Lord Holland

said, that it was almost unnecessary for him to trouble their lordships. All the objections to the principle of the bill had been urged over and over, upon every discussion which took place on the hills, which had been almost annually submitted to parliament, for abolishing the slave trade. So far from the planters being alarmed by the present bill, all of them he had conversed with, were decidedly in favour of it. So far from its being prejudicial, they were decidedly of opinion, that it would be advantageous to their interests. Were the traffic to cease to-morrow, he was convinced, that not an article less of British manufacture would find its way into the Spanish colonies. Fortunately, British manufactures were become of absolute necessity to the inhabitants of South America, and they would have them, though the slave importation trade, which, according to the statement of a noble lord, was used as a cover for a more important branch of commerce, were annihilated. He declined going over the arguments which had been so often used respecting the slave trade; but if the present bill tended, as had been stated, to contribute to the abolition of that nefarious traffic, it was in his mind a paramount argument in its favour.

The Bishop of St. Asaph

said, that a noble lord had characterised the bill before their lordships as abolition in disguise. He was s no friend to any thing in disguise; but, while he was in that house, he would, by every means in his power, whether fair or foul, whether by open hostility, or secret stratagem, labour to destroy that infamous traffic, which was no less a disgrace to humanity, than it was destructive of the morals of the nation. His lordship urged a variety of arguments against the slave trade, and supported the bill, as the first step towards its abolition.

Lord Eldon,

after glancing at the conduct he formerly held, with respect to the subject so often adverted to, observed, that with a due regard to himself and his fellow-subjects, and a respect for the interests of those who were concerned, he had now to express to their lordships the doubts he entertained upon the present occasion. His lordship wished, that while the reverend prelates were supporting this measure, they would also indemnify the individuals who must stiller by it. There was no man more inclined to the abolition of the slave trade than himself, yet he had his doubts upon the subject, and greatly apprehended it would destroy a large portion of British shipping, British sailors, and British merchants, and would carry an article of trade into a foreign market. His, lordship, therefore, opposed the measure.

Lord Darnley

supported the bill, on the ground of its being merely a regulation of policy, with regard to the colonies of the enemy, which, though now in our possession, might be restored when a peace took place. He likewise observed, that though British capital might be thrown out of this particular branch of commerce, yet it would easily find some other channel, in which it might be employed in a manner equally beneficial.

The Duke of Gloucester

made his maiden speech, to the following effect: My lords; on a subject of such importance as this, involving it the feelings of humanity and the principles of justice, it is impossible for me to give a silent vote. I will not now enter into any discussion on the general subject of the slave trade, but I hope and trust that the time is not far removed when we shall all witness the abolition of that trade, which is a disgrace to the country that encourages it; which violates all the principles of justice, humanity, and religion, and which is directly contrary to the tree constitution of this country. I trust, whenever the great question of abolition conies to be considered, and when the measure itself shall be proposed, that the merits of the trade itself, and every thins, connected with it, will be fully enquired into; that the interests of the merchants concerned in this trade will he duly weighed and considered, and that nothing may be done to the prejudice of the country. I hope it will be judged how far the system is injurious to our interests; how far it is repugnant to the feelings of the British people, and the freedom of the happy constitution, under which they live. I give my warmest support to the measure now before the house, because I think it will tend to diminish that shocking traffic in human blood which has lasted for so many ages, and which has spread misery and desolation in every place where it has been carried on.

Lord Grenville

began by answering the arguments of those who objected to the bill on the ground of its injuring our export trade; and said that when the advantages of traffic and commerce were opposed to the horrors of peculation and murder, he had no hesitation in deciding his judgment. His lordship said that this bill had been represented as abolition in disguise. Were tins true, he should be glad indeed, not of the disguise, but of the abolition. It would be an event most grateful to his feelings to witness the abolition of a traffic that was s an outrage to humanity, and that trampled on the rights of mankind. But he could see no reason for disguise, on such a subject. He had heard of fraud in disguise, of injustice and oppression in disguise; but justice and humanity required no disguise. Those who felt those virtues, would be also proud to acknowledge them. It had been argued, that if we laid down the trade, others were ready to take it up. This, however, was a mode of reasoning that would not stand the test of examination. Were we to act unjustly in order to prevent others from doing so? Let us clear ourselves of the guilt, and if they thought proper to take it up, let the guilt be upon their heads. To the cause of humanity let. them be answerable for the consequences. But this reasoning was unjust in another respect. Did not the noble and learned lord (Eldon) see, that if we gave up the trade, it was not possible for any other state. without our permission to take it up? Did we not ride every where unrivalled on the ocean? Could any power pretend to engross this trade, while we commanded from the shores of Africa to the western extremities of the Atlantic? America had been represented as likely to succeed us in the trade; but were not noble lords aware, that there was a majority of the united states decidedly hostile to this traffic? The whole of the states, indeed, were professedly more or less, against the trade, except Carolina; and in such circumstances little vigour was to be expected in a trade so contrary to the principles and feelings of the majority of that people. The noble lord then adverted to the arguments that had been employed, derived from our contraband trade With the Spanish Continent, which was not covered or protected, as bad been pretended, by the importation of slaves. Our supply of the enemy's colonies would only enable theta the more to rival us in colonial produce. The narrowing of this trade, or even its abolition, would not shut us out of Africa. We might visit there in another shape, and not as robbers and pirates, carrying off the helpless inhabitants. If they were so rude and savage as represented, let us rather endeavour to civilize them, and by a. just and equitable traffic form their minds to the pursuits of civilized life. In respect to the clause prohibiting and restricting to neutrals the use of British commodities in the conduct of this trade, he thought it was perfectly fair that what was prevented from being done in British bottoms, should also be prevented in the case of other vessels trading with Great Britain. If the law was not to be evaded by our own subjects, neither should it be permitted to vessels sailing from our ports. Time was asked for enquiry, but that request had been made for these 18 years; and if that was not enough, he was afraid a period would be necessary, no way proportionate to the duration of human life.

Lord Hawkesbury

said, he had never objected to the abolition of the slave trade in any shape in which interest was to be viewed on the one side, and humanity on the other. He had always admitted, that if interest and humanity, really so called, were to be opposed, there could be no difference of opinion. But on this subject there was another question, Who were the persons to be injured, and to what amount? He was prepared to meet any noble lord whenever the question should come regularly before the house on its general merits, but at present it was necessary to confine himself to the objects of the bill. He made some observations on the order of council, and as a means of setting some bounds to the trade and the consumption of capital, he thought it fairly justifiable. Most of the enemy's settlements, he said, were cultivated by British capital, which would defeat, he thought, the object of the bill. Most 6f the enemy's islands we had taken possession of were in a great measure occupied by British. There was a great deal of British property invested in Cuba. The noble lord explained the causes of these facts, and argued that in this case we should be injuring British property by passing the bill. The capital we now employed in this trade, would be transferred to other places where the trade would be carried on. In point of humanity, he insisted we ought to prevent this necessary consequence of the measure, as it could be no-where carried on with a greater regard to the rights of humanity than under the regulations already established by parliament. The noble lord then adverted to most of the arguments that had been employed in the course of the evening, and concluded by stating, that the doubts he had altogether, respecting the operation of the bill, induced hint to give it his opposition.

Lord Ellenborough

supported the bill in a variety of arguments, and adverting to the speech of a noble and learned lord (Eldon), expressed his astonishment, that any noble lord who had supported and approved of the same measure in the shape of an order of council, should oppose this bill, unless it was that they' proceeded front different men.

Lord Eldon

explained, and was referring particularly to what had fallen from the learned lord who had just spoken; when

Lord Lauderdale ,

on the authority of a standing order of the house, called the learned lord to order.

Lord Sidmouth

expressed the greatest abhorrence of the infamous and disgraceful traffic, and approved of the bill, as, independently of the policy of the ease, it operated as a considerable means of its gradual and progressive abolition.

The Duke of Sussex

spoke at considerable length against the bill; and, among a variety of other arguments, urged that the more wealthy those islands were which we had conquered from the enemy, they would be the better calculated to become the purchasers of our manufactures. The slaves in the West Indies were well treated in general, and formed to habits of industry.

The Earl of Buckinghamshire

assured their lordships, that it appeared manifest to him, that the interest of our West-India colonies would be considerably advanced by this measure.

Lord Auckland

informed their lordships that he, in conjunction with others; endeavoured,.in the year 1788, to bring the different commercial nations to a general agreement to discontinue this trade. The French revolution, however, broke out, and prevented this general extensive regulation or understanding, which appeared to him to be far more beneficial to the cause of justice and humanity than any local prohibition.

Lord Sheffield

considered the bill before their lordships as another instance of the infatuated disposition to sacrifice the navigation and commerce of the empire; the object of those who looked to abolition of the slave trade would not be in the least degree answered. The measure, however, seems a curious mixture of the sentimental in respect to the trade in slaves, and of a job in favour of our old West-India settlements, for the ruin of our new acquisitions in those parts. He would not then enter into the policy of conquering, retaining, and improving, at a great expence, acquisitions which there was every reason to believe, we must relinquish on a peace; but he must say that it is oppressive, it is faithless, after the terms we had granted, and the advantage of becoming British subjects, that we should now tell the inhabitants they should not have the means of cultivating their soil, nor of carrying on their usual commerce. In addition to the strong objections which had been urged by the noble lords who opposed the bill, he must observe, that we had little or no direct carrying-trade left, except to Africa and the East and West Indies; and surely at the period when Americans or neutrals participate so very largely in the East and West India trade; when we are shut out from so great a proportion of the world, we should not relinquish that trade which holds out the best prospects to us. The trade to Africa is rendered odious by the insinuation of its being merely a slave trade. In the present question, the trade in slaves is perhaps the part of the least consideration; the circuitous trade to Africa, and thence to the West Indies, is that which, of all others, we stand in most need; it is a trade of barter which, in one voyage, gives three or four profits; we acquire in exchange for our manufactures and other commodities, all the valuable and necessary raw materials from South Africa which we used to receive through Old Spain, paying very heavy duties; most of which, if we could get them at all at this time, must be at exorbitant prices. He said, no human expectation earl be more vain than that a simple act of parliament could prevent the introduction of slaves into the numerous creeks of the West Indies, where every inhabitant is in favour of that introduction. But the attempt at prohibition would render the trade extremely severe and cruel in respect to the poor negro; because, instead of a well-regulated trade, as at present, it would become a smuggling trade, subjecting them to the greatest hardships. He said, he must not go farther into the subject at that late hour. The papers on the table prove the extreme mischief that will arise to our carrying-trade and commerce, that we are daily becoming more dependent on the American states for the important article, cotton; and that soon we should not have shipping for our carrying-trade, or for bringing borne the produce of our colonies. He said, he had lately stated to their lordships, that there is nearly an end to ship-building, except for the navy, in the several ports of England; that the discouragement is so great, that very few indeed are building for the merchants' service, only two at this time in the river Thames; that the ships we have, are wearing out very fast; that we shall have none to replace them, and consequently shall be obliged to give up the most beneficial and important trade to the British empire, viz. the carrying-trade—After a short reply from the duke of Clarence, the question was loudly called for, and the house divided; when there appeared, contents 43;—non-contents 18;— majority 25. The bill was then read a third time and passed.