HL Deb 27 February 1835 vol 26 cc416-23
The Earl of Mulgrave,

in rising to ask the Question of which he had last night given notice, hoped their Lordships would excuse him if he first explained the object of the Question. It would make the answer more satisfactory to them. It was more necessary for him to go into this explanation, because the question of the Abolition of Negro Slavery was one respecting which, whatever might be their political differences, there was in all classes a most intense interest; and there was among all men, whatever, a strong desire that nothing should be done which, from a want of due caution, might have an injurious effect on the measure. The point on which he asked for an answer was connected with the extent of the power that was to be placed in the hands of the different magistrates of the Colony. Their Lordships were aware, that when the Bill for the Abolition of Slavery was passed, as it was intended that there should be for the negroes an intermediate state between slavery and freedom, it was resolved that there should be power put into the hands of gentlemen not connected by property with the Colony, but sent there from this country as special magistrates. That was, in his opinion, one of the most important principles of the Bill. It was one great point that it took away arbitrary punishments by the masters. Another great point, as there must be in this intermediate state a great degree of discretionary power vested somewhere, was, that it insured the execution of impartial justice; that the parties who had no interest one way or the other were those in whose hands alone the power of punishment was placed; and he might from his own experience tell their Lordships, that when be explained, which he did about this time last year, to about 100,000 negroes their new situation, there was nothing that he observed make such an impression upon them as the statement, that if they misconducted themselves they would be punished—not punished by their masters, but by Gentlemen who would be sent by the King for that purpose, and who neither knew them nor their masters, but would act impartially between both. During the last Session of the Jamaica House of Assembly, a representation was made, that the number of these special Magistrates sent from England was not sufficient, and a call was made on the Government to appoint a certain number of local Magistrates to exercise the duties of special Magistrates in each parish. He could not say how much he approved of the conduct of his noble Friend in refusing to accede to that call. The manner of the refusal was firm and temperate; but his noble friend felt truly, that he had no alternative but to refuse, for the application was at variance with the spirit of the Act which he was sent to administer. The effect of the proposed alteration would have been to restore the arbitrary power of punishment to the masters. When he was Governor of Jamaica, he had been authorized by the noble Lord (Stanley) then at the head of the Colonial Department, to appoint a certain number of gentlemen resident in the island, but unconnected with the slave property there, to be special Magistrates, and that authority was rightly conceded; but to appoint local Magistrates from each parish to such an office, would have been striking at the root of the Bill. He wished to ask the noble Earl opposite, whether the conduct of his noble Friend the present Governor of Jamaica, in refusing his assent to the proposed measure, met with the approbation of the present Government, as it most assuredly would have met with the approbation of the late Administration. It was a matter of necessity to know this, that that important question might be set at rest. He did not wish to assume a feeling of party triumph, or to recur to past debates or dissensions, or doubts as to the success of the measure. He was content with the words of the King's Speech, which, speaking of course under the advice of the Ministers, declared that his Majesty entertained the most confident hopes of its success. There was one other point connected with Jamaica. Their Lordships were aware that there had been (not religious dissensions, for there was probably no place in the world where there was so little of jealousy on that subject) but a great prejudice against those who were called Sectarians, among whom were the dissenting missionaries, and some even of the Church missionaries, who were distinguished by the name of Evangelicals. The letters he had received showed, that all the old animosities against these persons had begun to revive. Even in the House of Assembly, and in the public papers, which were published two days before the sailing of the last packet, and immediately after the change of Administration had become known on the island, it was said, that now that they had got rid of the canting hypocrites, and friends of the Abolition Measure, the colonists were to try what they could do for themselves. On this subject, he must assure the noble Duke, that the noble Duke was wrong when he said, in one of his speeches iii that House, that the planters had much to complain of in the conduct of the Missionaries. He had been two years in Jamaica, and he must say, that in all that he had seen, the discretion of the Missionaries was only equalled by their zeal. Under these circumstances, he hoped that the noble Lord opposite would give him the assurance, that it was the intention of the present Government to carry into effect the object of the Legislature with regard to the religious instruction of the negroes, upon an extensive and comprehensive plan. This was the more necessary, because, though some members of the Church of Jamaica were as ready to forward the education of the negroes as were the dissenting Missionaries, and mixed with them as readily and freely, that was not the case with all, and could not be the case, if the violent language he had alluded to seemed to receive a sanction from the present Administration.

The Earl of Aberdeen

said, that he was not in the least degree desirous of undervaluing the great importance of the subject; and he could assure their Lordships, that he felt as anxious as any one to see carried into full effect, every part of the provisions of the law for the abolition of slavery. The first vote he had ever given in Parliament, had contributed to swell that majority which had decreed that the final abolition of slavery should, at an early period, take place; and though he had not taken an active part in that measure (as, indeed, he did not often take in any measure, when his duty did not call on him to do so), still he had always done every thing to assist in carrying into effect that decision, and in preparing for that consummation to which we had now arrived. Having said thus much of his conduct as an individual, he should now speak of his conduct in a public capacity. He should state what was his first official act on his appointment to his present office. It was to send to the noble Marquess who was now the Governor of Jamaica, having satisfied himself of the general character of his conduct there, and recollecting that the change of Administration frequently produced a change of men in the Colonies in places of trust and confidence, and recollecting, too, that one of the noble Marquess's predecessors had been relieved from the Government of that island without any reason assigned, or disapprobation of his conduct expressed—recollecting these things, he wrote to the noble Marquess, at once, to request him only to consider the advancement of the great cause in which he was engaged, and to retain the office which he filled; and he had promised the noble Marquess the support of the Government in the execution of his duty in everything that could tend to the complete success of the measure which circumstances called on him to administer. He had not yet received an answer to his communication, though he might ex- pect it daily. He knew that the noble Marquess might consider removal from office as a matter of course; but after the request so made, he trusted that the noble Marquess would still give Government the benefit of his services. With respect to the intention of confining the execution of the law between master and apprentice to the special stipendiary Magistrates, to the exclusion of the local Magistrates, he stated without hesitation that he had already conveyed to the noble Marquess his Majesty's approbation of the course which the noble Marquess had followed, in the answer he gave to the Address on that subject, and a statement that there was no intention whatever to change any one of the instructions which he had received. At the same time he must be permitted to say that the situation of the planter was one of extreme hardship, and justified complaint. In the distribution of special Magistrates sent out from this country, thirty were allotted for Jamaica. Those who knew the duties to be performed by these Magistrates, the geographical character of the country, and the impossibility of acting with effect with a small number of Magistrates, must be aware that thirty were not enough. Representations of the most urgent description had been made on this subject, and his right hon. predecessor in office had taken on himself, wisely, justly, and necessarily, to make a considerable addition to the number of stipendiary Magistrates. He, himself, had added a kw more; and he had now the satisfaction to believe that they would, without any great inconvenience, be able effectively to discharge their duties. The thirty had been increased to sixty-one. He should not pledge himself that the Governor might not, in the exercise of his discretion, appoint local Magistrates to the office of stipendiary Magistrates. If he did, they would be under his observation. It was not probable that the Governor would do so; but if he did, they would be rare exceptions; for the Governor's opinion was an opinion in which he (Lord Aberdeen) fully concurred, that the execution of the Act should be left as much as possible in the hands of the stipendiary Magistrates. There was, however, a peculiarity in this case, for which he was not able to account. In Jamaica the rule for their exclusion had been adhered to strictly; but in all the other Colonies local Magistrates had been invested with the powers of the stipendiary Magistrates. He had heard no complaint of the practice. As, however, the Governor of Jamaica was of opinion that that practice could not with advantage be extended to that island, he had not the least intention of altering that which he hoped would be found of benefit to all. The other question, or assurance, which the noble Earl had asked for, was one which he felt no difficulty whatever about. He was aware, that great animosity had prevailed on the subject of Missionaries in the island of Jamaica; and though he would not say with the noble Earl, that their zeal had never outrun their discretion, still he was ready to declare that they should receive all the protection of the law in their good works, which were not only lawful but laudable. With respect to religious instruction, without it the Act would be productive of no blessings. If they did not exert vigorous efforts to give instruction to the negroes, those persons at the end of their apprenticeship would be free in body but slaves in mind, and instead of a blessing their freedom would be a curse. He was ready to admit that a prejudice existed against the Missionaries, but he himself looked for their most useful and active co-operation in effecting that which he considered indispensable, and he should be most happy to give them such an assurance as would tranquillize all doubts on the subject. He hoped that this answer would be deemed satisfactory to the noble Earl; the spirit in which it was given, he surely could not complain of. But he (Lord Aberdeen) must say, on his own behalf, that he was glad he had been enabled to give it, for he had just beau] that he had very recently been held up as an enemy to the unman race, and that it had been said that it was monstrous that to his care should be intrusted the happiness of so many millions of persons. He assured their Lordships that he was no enemy to the human race, nor was he an enemy to the orator of the human race, who had made the accusation.

The Duke of Wellington

begged to say that he had opposed the Abolition Bill most sincerely; but that, with respect to that Bill, he could assure their Lordships that when it became the law of the land, there was no one who wished success to it more cordially than he did. It was the same with regard to other Bills which he might oppose in their passage through Parliament; but when once passed, there was no one who was more willing to execute their enactments, according to the intentions of Parliament, and of those who had proposed them.

The Earl of Ripon

was happy to be able to state from all he could learn on the subject, that the success of the Abolition Act was likely to be as complete as its most sanguine friends could desire. He took that opportunity of saying, that considering the nature of the duties of the stipendiary Magistrates, and the qualifications required for their office, their remuneration was not sufficient. He thought, too, that the number of the Church clergy provided for the religious education of the people, was not sufficient.

Lord Brougham

agreed with his noble Friend, that the numbers of the special Magistrates and the clergy were not sufficient. He had himself brought the matter of the insufficiency of the numbers of the special Magistrates, under the notice of the noble Lord (Lord Stanley), formerly at the head of the Colonial Department, and afterwards under that of his right hon. Friend; and by his right hon. Friend the remedy for the evil had been begun, and it now appeared to have been completed by the noble Earl opposite.

Lord Seaford

said, that he deemed this to be a most important question, and he assured the House that he was not influenced by any spirit of distrust towards his Majesty's Ministers. He sympathised in the hope that those Ministers had expressed, of confidence in the ultimate success of the great experiment that had been made upon the Colonies, and as an individual he should lose no opportunity of forwarding the objects of the Act of last Session. He was willing to offer his testimony, the testimony of an eye-witness, to the impartial, able, and beneficial conduct of his noble Friend near him (Lord Mulgrave in the execution of his duties as Governor of the Island of Jamaica. The great difficulty that now prevailed in the Colonies was to adopt the long existing system of slave cultivation, to the provisions of the new law. On this subject much would depend on the co-operation of the inhabitants of the Colonies; but still they had not the power of enforcing obedience on the part of the negroes. He fully admitted the propriety of placing this power of coercion in the hands of impartial persons, for it would have been inconsistent with the spirit of the Bill to place that power in the hands of any one of those classes over whom, or in whose favour it was to be exercised. It was not only necessary that those gentlemen, in whose hands the power was lodged, should be well qualified for their duties, but that they should be sufficiently numerous to perform that duty with effect. He trusted that Ministers would not, on account of a small saving, risk the chance of incalculable mischief, which might ensue, if this part of the machinery of the Bill were to fail. With respect to the Missionaries, he believed that the hostility against them in the Colonies had subsided, and be believed that it had always been more of a political, than a religious character.

The Earl of Aberdeen

said, that since he had been in office he had already been actively engaged in devising a general scheme of education throughout the Colonies; but before any general plan could be adopted, much information was indispensable, which had not yet been procured. The system would necessarily require a very considerable expenditure, and before coming down for any Parliamentary grant, it would be necessary to ascertain what sums could be derived from the Colonies, and what might be contributed from the benevolent associations. It was his wish that the number of stipendiary Magistrates in Jamaica should be eighty; but the House must be aware that all appointments above thirty were contrary to Jaw, and that the government of the island of Jamaica had declared that sixty would be a sufficient number.

The Earl of Mulgrave

said, that the original number of Magistrates in his opinion, had been insufficient, their salaries were inadequate; but he was rather inclined to believe that sixty would be a sufficient number.

The conversation was dropped.