HL Deb 05 June 1815 vol 31 cc0-608

On the motion of the marquis of Lansdowne, the House resolved itself into a Committee on the Foreign Slave-Trade Bill. The Marquis having moved that their lordships should agree to the first clause,

The Earl of Westmoreland

said, it was with regret that he stated any objection to this Bill, as he coincided in the principle of patting an end to the Slave-trade carried on by foreign Powers; but he could not help repeating his objections to the provisions of this Bill, on account of the risk to which the innocent were exposed by them. He again stated, that by the provisions of this Bill, it appeared to him that any person in this country, by his agent lending money which might be applied to the Slave-traffic, though entirely without his knowledge, would be liable to be tried where the act was committed, which might be in any part of the West Indies, or on the coast of Africa: so that a friend of the noble marquis now at Madrid, might be hurried away from that place to be tried before the West India tribunals, or before the learned surgeon of Sierra Leone. It was well known that the trials in these places were not conducted with the same order and regularity as here; and, therefore, this was a grievous hardship. With respect to the clause against lending money on the security of property in the foreign islands, any person here or in the West Indies might be subjected to a trial in these tribunals, because be might have a debt due to him for goods consigned there for sale; and this was the more dangerous, because any person to whom the money was lent which was employed in this traffic, was not only to be pardoned, bat to get free of the whole debt: there was, therefore, the strongest temptation to bring innocent persons to trial, if any colour of criminality could be set up so as to afford a chance for conviction. It was also to be observed, that the late act had never been enforced m this respect so as to attempt the suppression of the offence by the pecuniary penalty. The only prosecutions were against persons directly concerned in the traffic, and they knew the issue of those at Sierra Leone, where the learned surgeon presided.

The Marquis of Lansdowne

said, that the clause as to the lending money on security in the foreign islands extended only to mortgages of the land, and not to security on the produce—and without such a clause, the whole provisions of the Act would be nugatory. With respect to innocent persons, the Act extended only to those who knowingly and wilfully lent their money for this particular purpose. There were, however, a few amendments which he wished to propose. As to the tribunals, they were such as existed for the punishment of piracy, which this offence very much resembled.

Lord Ellenborough

strongly argued against the adoption of a measure by which a crime, very loosely described, was to be considered as felony. He conceived that for the punishment of usury, a heavy mulct would be sufficient on the present occasion; or, at most, that the crime should be declared a misdemeanor, liable to the punishment of transportation. No one wished more ardently than himself that the Slave-trade were abolished all over the world, but he could not give his consent to such crude acts of legislation as that before their lordships. He warmly recommended a postponement of the consideration of the measure, instancing several cases, in which, as it at present stood, unoffending individuals might be entangled in its provisions.

The Earl of Westmoreland

, in reply to what had been slated by the noble marquis, said, that he had not alluded to the danger that innocent persons might be punished, but to the danger of their being brought to trial at such distant places and before such tribunals. And he was still of opinion, that according to the words of the Act, providing that the trial should take place where the offence was committed, persons might be taken from this country to be tried before those colonial tribunals.

Lord Grenville

said, that the principle of the measure was to have it declared, that persons guilty of this atrocious crime were to be regarded as criminals, and to be punished as such, and by the same tribunals which were appointed for the punishment of piracy. As for the pecuniary penalty, it had been found that the profits of this abominable traffic were such as to overbalance it. The only way to check the offence, was to degrade those persons engaged in it from that rank in society which the crime rendered them unfit to hold. But he admitted that the severity of the punishment rendered it the more necessary that the law should be clear and precise in its enactments; and he hoped his noble and learned friend, whose powerful assistance in the business of the abolition he well remembered, and would always remember with gratitude, would lend his aid in giving the Act all the precision of which it was susceptible.

The Earl of Liverpool

suggested, that the most proper plan would be to agree to the amendments of the noble marquis, and then to have the Bill printed, that the House might see it in its most perfect state, and then decide whether it might not be necessary to have it recommitted.

This was agreed to. The amendments were introduced, and the Bill ordered to be printed as amended.