HL Deb 02 January 1807 vol 8 cc258-9

Lord Grenville brought in a bill for abolishing the Slave Trade, which was read a first time. His lordship then rose to move, that the bill be printed, and took that opportunity of observing, that no person could be more sensible than he was of the great importance of the measure now submitted to the house, and of the propriety of giving full time for its due consideration. He therefore informed their lordships, that he intended to give about a fortnight's notice before he should move the second reading. When the printed copies of the bill were on the table, he should propose to fix a day for the next motion; in the mean time he moved, that the bill be printed.

Lord Hawkesbury

said, that he thought it necessary to call the attention of the house to the proceedings of the last session of parliament, on the subject now under consideration. It would be recollected that a Resolution was then come to, for an address to his majesty, which was nearly in the same terms as the preamble of the bill the noble lord had introduced. The object of that address was to learn how far other powers were disposed to concur in the abolition of the Slave trade. He thought, therefore, that their lordships ought to be put in possession of any correspondence which might have taken place with other governments in consequence of that address. Whether there had been any communications between his majesty's government and the governments of other countries on this subject or not, parliament ought to be made acquainted with the fact. He should not press any motion on this topic at present, but it was one which ought to be explained when their lordships proceeded to the consideration of the bill.

Lord Eldon

thought that some explanation was necessary respecting the title of the bill. It was called a bill for abolishing the Slave trade. But did the noble lord mean that it should go to the abolition of the Slave Trade in general, both in the West Indies and on the coast of Africa; or was it the African Slave trade only that was meant to be abolished? It was his firm opinion, that even the African Slave Trade could not be abolished, unless the measures taken by this government were concurred in by other powers. This appeared to have been the opinion of parliament in the last session, when the address alluded to by his noble friend was voted.

Lord Grenville

repeated, that he was sensible of the high importance of the subject to be discussed, but he was also, in his own mind, convinced that the time was now arrived when no solid objection could be offered to the abolition of the traffic in slaves on the coast of Africa. On this question he believed there was, generally speaking, but very little difference of opinion in this country; but this was not the day on which it was to be discussed. Before the day for the second reading should be fixed, he intended not only to give such notice as the other orders of the house required, but such as the peculiar importance of the subject itself demanded. Whether we were to continue the African Slave trade, because there were difficulties in the way of abolishing it in the West Indies, or whether we were to practise a great enormity, because other persons in other countries might not choose to abandon it, the house was not then called upon to decide. The only question at present before their lordships was, whether this bill should be printed. He did not therefore think it necessary to enter into the consideration of topics, the discussion of which, at this moment, could serve no purpose but that of delay.

Lord Eldon

remarked, in explanation, that he had intimated no wish for delay. No such sentiment had ever at any time fallen from his lips as a desire to procrastinate the determination of the house on this important subject. He had only called upon the noble lord to state, whether, by the bill for abolishing the Slave trade, he meant the African Slave trade, or the trade in general. The noble lord, he understood, had admitted that the bill was to extend to the African trade only. He thought, however, that their lordships would, upon consideration, find that this mode of proceeding was impracticable, and that, if they consented to put an end to the trade on the coast of Africa, the application of the same principle would necessarily compel them to extend the abolition to the West-India Islands.

Earl Grosvenor

expressed his anxious wish to see the odious traffic in human beings every where abolished.

The Duke of Clarence

observed, that he had not opposed the first reading of the bill, because he always considered that proceeding a matter of form, and wished to reserve what he had to say until the subsequent stages of the bill. For the same reason, he should not oppose the motion for printing the bill. As, however, other noble lords had thought fit to bring the subject of the Slave Trade in some degree into discussion, his royal highness would just take the liberty of observing, that he had frequently given his opinion on that important question since he had had a seat in parliament, and his opinion was well known to the house and to the public. His sentiments, he assured their lordships, still remained unaltered, and it would require very great and very unexpected arguments indeed to induce him to change his mind on a subject which he had so maturely considered.—The bill was then read a first time, and ordered to be printed.