HL Deb 01 June 1815 vol 31 cc557-8
The Marquis of Lansdowne

moved the second reading of the Foreign Slave-trade Bill. He did not anticipate any opposition to the motion; but conceiving it to be the duty of those who moved the second reading of a bill to state its general nature and object, he should do so in the present instance, as shortly as he could. It had unfortunately happened that since the abolition of the Slave-trade in this country, the Slave-trade of foreign nations had been carried on in a great measure by means of British capital, and the penalties imposed by the act of 1806 had been found insufficient to check that practice. By this advance of capital, a slave might be purchased in Africa, carried to the West Indies, and landed in the islands, where the importation of slaves was permitted, for about 25l. In the British West India islands, where no such importation was permitted, the price of a slave was 100l. The profits of capital employed in the cultivation of the islands was about 10l. per cent., and there was a temptation to employ it in this prohibited slave traffic of about 40l. per cent. The consequence was, that a great deal of British capital was so employed; and the object of this Bill was to check that practice, which contributed so materially to the preservation and extent of that nefarious commerce. Unless a measure of this kind were adopted, the former provisions of the Legislature would be rendered in a great degree nugatory, as a person who still wished to carry on the Slave-trade might do so under another name. If he were to go into minor considerations on a subject of this magnitude, he might say, that it was certainly the interest of this country, and especially of the West India proprietors, that this Bill should pass; for the facility of introducing slaves into the foreign islands, and the procuring at a rate so comparatively cheap, would enable them to enter into a ruinous competition with our own West India islands. Such was the object of the Bill, and these were the grounds on which he moved the second reading. If any amendments in the detail should appear necessary, they might be suggested in the committee.

The Earl of Westmoreland

had no objection to the principle of the Bill, but he was alarmed at the extent to which it would go. An innocent West India merchant lending his money to one who, without his knowledge or participation, might employ it in this traffic, might be subjected to punishment, and therefore some caution ought to be used in that respect. Then, again, a person might be tried at any of the colonies by a commission, and found guilty of felony, without the verdict of a jury. The noble marquis, who was so much a friend to the liberty of the subject, ought hardly to support such a proposition. For his own part, he was alarmed that British subjects should in this way be made liable to such a severe punishment. They might be tried at Sierra Leone, where an unfortunate case of this kind had lately occurred.

The Marquis of Lansdowne

said, that the object was to render the persons employing their capital, or consenting to have it employed in this traffic, guilty of felony; but he was not aware that the provisions of the Bill would at all compromise innocent persons, and, as the West India interest was much more fully represented in the other House, he had no doubt their case had been attended to. As to the trials in the colonies, the object was to place this on the footing of piracy, which certainly might be tried in all the jurisdictions of the country; and as to what the noble earl called the unfortunate case at Sierra Leone, there was no doubt that the persons to whom he alluded were really guilty; but the sentence against them had been reversed from the want of a formal document, or an irregularity in point of form of some description. The execution of the law and the appointment of the officers rested with the ministers; and if they appointed ignorant persons to those situations, the blame rested with them. If any objection in the detail occurred to the noble earl, the best time to state and amend it would be in the committee.

The Bill was then read a second time, and committed for Monday.