HL Deb 08 June 1815 vol 31 cc0-666
Lord Grenville

rose and said:—My Lords; before the commencement of the important discussion in which your lordships are about to engage, I wish to call the attention of your lordships to a subject in which the honour of this country seems to me to be most deeply concerned. By an article of the Treaty of Vienna, Louis 18 is invited to accede to the Treaty. I do not wish to throw any doubts whatever on the propriety of that article, nor do I mean to advert to any of the other circumstances which must of necessity form a part of any concert between the Allied Powers and that Monarch: but your lordships know that both this and the other House of Parliament, previously to the signature of the Treaty of Peace last year, expressed their wish that the restoration of the French colonies should be accompanied by an engagement on the part of France, immediately and totally to abolish the Slave-trade. Such was the wish of Parliament and of the country at that time; and up to this moment all that has been done during the negociations at Vienna and at Paris, whatever that may be, has been done in partial fulfilment of the desire so expressed. Your lordships are also aware, that on the late change of Government in France, the person who is de facto at the head of that Government went beyond the engagements into which France had entered with us on this subject; and, as one of the first acts of his Government, issued a decree for the instant and complete abolition of the Slave-trade. My lords, disapproving, as I do, of the character and of the whole tenour of the life of that person, I should be very sorry to withhold praise from so great an act of humanity; Whether done by him or by any other person, it is entitled to high and unqualified commendation. It forms, in this instance, a striking contrast to the general conduct of the individual in question. The Slave-trade is now altogether abolished in France. If, my lords, the result of the operations which are about to commence should occasion another change in the French Government—if the cause which will have my best wishes should eventually triumph, I do trust that this country will never participate in any contracts by which it may be proposed to revive that atrocious traffic. I trust that it will be clearly seen by those to whom the honour of the British empire is confided, that it is their sacred and imperative duty to refuse any acquiescence in such engagements. I do not ask what are the measures that have been adopted on this subject, nor do I ask what it is likely will be the means resorted to to give effect to our own wishes, and hereafter to establish a community of feeling with respect to it. But I hope it will be thoroughly understood, that this country never can consent to execute a treaty of concert with Louis 18, without distinctly declaring, that in the event of a favourable issue to the contest (if Providence should be so pleased), no measures should be taken to overthrow the great work which has been established in France, and which, by whatever hands accomplished, is pregnant with nothing but good. My lords, in expressing this expectation, I do not conceive that I am doing any thing at all calculated to embarrass his Majesty's Government. It was uniformly declared by Louis 18, and I implicitly subscribe to the sincerity of the declaration, that if he opposed any obstacle to the completion of the wishes of this country for a total and an immediate abolition of the Slave-trade, it was in contradiction to his own feelings and to his own conviction of right and justice, and was only in deference to the sense of the people. This, it now appears, was the case. It seems, that on this, as well as on other subjects, his Majesty's own correct judgment was perverted by the advice of those about him. That measure was represented to him as likely to prejudice his interests in France, which the person who is contending with him for the crown of that kingdom accomplished the very first moment after his assumption of the royal authority, and at a period when as all his other actions unequivocally show, he felt it necessary to conciliate the nation by every means in his power. Under these circumstances, therefore, my lords, his Majesty's Government can have no difficulty in making to Louis 18 the proposition which I have stated; but, let it be difficult or not difficult, it is their duty to make and to abide by that proposition. If they do not, they will cover with stains the character of Great Britain. I have thought it right thus to call your lordships' attention to this interesting, topic; and in the confidence that his Majesty's Government will not fail to adopt the line of proceeding which their duty seems to me to prescribe to them, I abstain from making any further observations upon it.

The Earl of Liverpool

said:—I shall trouble your lordships with only a few words on what has fallen from the noble baron. I entirely concur in the noble lord's general statement, that it is the duty of his Majesty's Government to avail themselves of every means in their power to accomplish that object, which they feel as strongly as the noble baron, or as any other person existing, will be conducive to the universal happiness of the world. Without entering into further particulars, I have no difficulty in saying, that from the first moment at which it could be taken into consideration, this subject has occupied the earnest and anxious attention of the Prince Regent's servants, and that measures have already been adopted with a view to give full effect to the wishes of the noble baron, of Parliament, and of the country. We have the strongest reason to hope that our efforts on this subject will be successful. This, at least, I may say, without committing his Majesty's Government to any declaration which future occurrences might possibly render imprudent, (and I am persuaded that no one can be more desirous than the noble baron that I should not so commit them), that no exertion will be wanting on their part to complete this good work, generally as far as lies in their power, and particularly as it respects its accomplishment in France; and that no treaty will be concluded with the King of France, either by Great Britain singly, or by Great Britain in conjunction with the Allies, without a positive effort to that effect. My lords, when the proper time shall arrive, his Majesty's ministers will be perfectly prepared to render to your lordships the fullest possible explanation of their conduct on this important subject.