HL Deb 02 August 1839 vol 49 cc1128-38
Lord Brougham

said, he had now to call their Lordships' attention to a subject of the deepest importance to the interests of humanity and justice, but also to their Lordships' character and proceedings; for as their Lordships would be the last persons to regard any expression of animadversion upon a deliberate act, nevertheless they would, like all rational men—men of firm conduct and resolution—be the last to wish to labour under any misapprehension with their fellow-subjects, which any course they might adopt might seem to bring on. Without going further, he should now, after one or two remarks on its nature, move the address which he held in his hand. There might be a difference of opinion with respect to the bill which had last night been discussed on its principle, and rejected. He alluded to the Slave Trade (Portugal) Bill. There might be a difference of opinion on that bill—some might think that it was consistent with principle to reject it; others might think that the preamble of the bill contained statements of a great number of particulars which might not be correct, and which required some proof of their accuracy; others, again, might hold that it was inconvenient to pass such a preamble. All these sentiments might have actuated some of their Lordships, without a shadow of a difference of opinion prevailing in that House respecting the great object which all had in view—namely, by all legitimate means to endeavour to put down the Portuguese slave trade. At the same time, if it went out to Portugal and to the Brazils that so grave and venerable an authority as the House had rejected the bill to which he had adverted, he was extremely apprehensive that the consequence would be to appear to give a sanction, which none of their Lordships intended, to the proceedings in the African slave trade by Portugal and the Brazils, and that encouragement could be given to that infernal crime, as he must call it. He regretted that he, by accident, was absent last night. That being the case, and believing the general desire of their Lordships to be to put an end to the slave trade, he would move, "That an humble address be presented to her Majesty, praying her Majesty, by all the means within her Majesty's power, to negotiate with the Governments of foreign nations, as well in America as in Europe, for their concurrence in effectually putting down the traffic in slaves, and also that her Majesty will be graciously pleased to give such orders to her Majesty's cruisers as may be most efficacious in stopping the said traffic, more especially that carried on under the Portuguese and Brazilian flags, or by the Brazilian and Portuguese ships; assuring her Majesty that this House will cheerfully concur with the other House of Parliament in whatever measure might be rendered necessary, if her Majesty shall be graciously pleased to comply with this prayer." He was morally certain, that if both Houses of Parliament were to carry a joint address to the throne, not only would no harm arise from a misapprehension of what had passed on this subject, but by thus showing there was discrepancy of opinion between the two Houses of Parliament (which he should deeply deplore, as being calculated to weaken the authority of the country in negotiation as well as in action). He hoped the same good and advantage would be gained as could have been hoped for or been expected from the bill which was last night rejected. His object was at once to prevent any misunderstanding of what took place last night. He knew it was no more the intention of their Lordships by their proceedings of last night to give sanction to a Portuguese pirate bringing an action for damages against any officer who might board and capture him in his illegal traffic than they would sanction any felon whom he might seize in the commission of a felony bringing an action of assault and battery. It was to enable their Lordships to give the same answer to the Portuguese felon as would be given to an English felon that he moved this address. Much of the utility of his motion depended on its immediately following the proceedings of last night, for delay would take away from the grace of the explanation it afforded.

The Earl of Wicklow

thought the resolution ought not to have been brought forward without notice. He should, however, offer no opposition to it.

Viscount Melbourne

said, it was with deep concern he had witnessed the decision of the House last night. He feared the consequence of that vote if not counteracted as speedily and effectually as possible. He feared also that the motion of the noble and learned Lord would not have the effect of entirely doing away with the evils of that vote—he feared it would not remove the unfortunate impression which necessarily would be raised. He thought the decision of last night would inflict a severe blow on the foreign policy of the country—would tend to the diminution of the dignity of the country amongst foreign powers, and of the influence of the Crown upon other nations, and would prove most injurious to the great cause of humanity in which hither to this country had had taken so distinguished a part. He quite agreed with the noble Lord opposite (the Earl of Wicklow), that in ordinary cases it would not be according to the usual proceedings and due deliberations of the House to pass a motion of this kind without notice, but it was the urgency of the case which made it fit and proper to be speedy, and if the motion were to be adopted at all it ought to be adopted at once.

Lord Colville

said it was necessary to take some steps for the protection of naval officers engaged in putting down the traffic in negroes.

The Earl of Minto

concurred with the noble Lord. He distinctly stated last night, that although the Government might take upon itself the responsibility of issuing orders, they had not the means of protecting their officers in the execution of those orders, which was the reason why the measure was proposed which their Lordships had so unhappily rejected.

The Duke of Wellington

said, that having proposed to their Lordships on the previous night that they should reject the bill which was proposed by the noble Earl who had just sat down, it was necessary that he should address a few words to them on the present occasion. The noble and learned Lord had been engaged for several years in promoting means for the suppression of the slave trade; but no person, not even the noble and learned Lord, could denounce in stronger terms than he had done the continuance of that frightful traffic, or more strenuously insist upon the fulfilment of those engagements which foreign powers, and Portugal in particular, had made with this country in reference to this subject. But in order to accomplish those objects a proper course should be taken. First of all, it should be attempted by negotiation; and next by stronger means, if necessary, by the Crown, and by the Ministers of the Crown on their own responsibility. Parliament should not be called on in the first instance, and without any knowledge or communication on the subject, to legislate in the manner and according to the terms of that bill. When he came to look at the preamble of the bill, it appeared to be not of that nature which he considered it ought to have been, and that the case was not so made out as to call upon Parliament to vote for that bill. The noble and learned Lord himself was not far from being of the same opinion with regard to that part of the bill. He had no objection to the first part of the resolutions for an address to the Crown; he was willing to to concur in any measure that Parliament might think proper to proclaim and insist upon a general discontinuance of the slave trade by all the powers, and particularly the Portuguese and Brazilian Governments, for the suppression of that part of the slave trade carried on under the flags of Portugal and the Brazils. With respect to the latter part of the resolutions, if her Majesty's Government thought proper to give any orders, or carry any measures into execution, for the suppression of the slave trade, they would be responsible to the country and to all Europe for them; and he should have no objection, when those measures were brought forward, and he saw grounds upon which they should be adopted, to give his consent to them, if her Majesty's Government thought proper on their own responsibility to adopt them. But he must confess that he did not like this mode of proceeding. He did not like to propose to their Lordships to do a thing one day, and then to have the noble and learned Lord pursuing a course which he did not think quite fair, he being absent from the debate last night, by coming down that day and proposing that their Lordships should agree to the address he had moved upon the principle of doing the very thing which the House before refused to do. If it were the last act he performed in that House, he would not vote for the address upon that principle. No man was more desirous than he to put a stop to the slave trade, although the noble Viscount was pleased to say that he had deserted the government, and turned his back on them and on the Crown. He begged to tell the noble Viscount that he believed he would find him sticking to the Government and to the Crown a great deal longer than he himself. The noble Lord would find him always performing his duty according to the best of his judgment, and according to his conscience, upon all occasions. If the latter part of the resolution were to be taken in the sense in which the bill had been proposed, he should earnestly recommend and entreat their Lordships not to vote for it. He was perfectly ready to vote for any motion pledging the House to support the Crown in any measures the Crown might think proper to adopt in order to put down the slave trade, and to enforce the execution of the treaties made by other powers with this country for that purpose. But he could not pledge himself to say that he would vote for a resolution in such a shape as that the sense should be, that their Lordships should agree to that which on the previous night he had called upon them to reject.

Lord Brougham

intended the resolution to be taken in the plain and obvious meaning of the words which composed it, and there was nothing in it which could possibly prevent the noble Duke from agreeing to it, for there was nothing that would imply that in doing so he could be chargeable with the slightest shadow of a shade of an inconsistency in his course. All sides of the House were agreed upon the necessity of taking measures to put down the slave trade, and the only difficulty was upon a point of form, a mere technical difficulty, which he had endeavoured to meet by putting his resolutions into its present shape.

The Marquess of Lansdowne

agreed with the noble and learned Lord that it would be a misfortune to this country, and to all Europe, that the vote of last night should go out to Portugal and to the world unexplained or unaccompanied by the resolutions for the address just moved by the noble and learned Lord. But the noble Duke had declared that he would not vote for that address in a sense which would pledge the House to the support of any measure similar to that proposed last night and rejected. He must say, however, that unless that address were followed up by measures consistent with the spirit and meaning of the resolution, none of her Majesty's servants who were engaged abroad in efforts to suppress the slave trade would be safe. With regard to the preamble of the bill to which the noble Duke bad objected, he must remind their Lordships that papers had been lying on the table for months which justified that preamble. He asserted, also, that there was nothing in the case of Portugal, which the noble Duke seemed to think was stated nowhere, which had not been stated again and again, not by one minister, but by every minister of Portugal, and which had not been refuted by the Queen's Ministers; which statements and refutations were before their Lordships when they were pleased to reject the bill. If their Lordships had read those papers, they must have found the alternative stated, after exhausting every argument, and hearing every statement, and refuting every statement of the Portuguese government—that driven by the necessity of the case, Lord Palmerston announced the Government must apply for means to coerce the Portuguese government into the performance of the engagement to which it had pledged itself—namely, the effectual abolition of the slave trade. Would it not be considered a libel on that House, if Lord Palmerston had said that it was necessary to take measures to that effect, to say that the House of Lords would not grant the necessary powers? The papers on their Lordships' table contained every thing that every statesman of Portugal had advanced upon this question, and every answer of the Ministers of this country to their communications, and upon those papers the preamble of the bill, although it was said not to contain the case of Portugal, was based. He would do justice to the noble Duke and the noble Lords opposite; they condemned the horrors of this traffic. But the question was not as to moral feelings, but as to the means to be taken for putting it down. In all the discussions which had taken place on the abolition of the slave trade, nobody ever failed to express his horror at the slave trade; but while persons did that, they were not slow to find reasons for with drawing their countenance from all the measures which were brought forward to put it down. He must declare to their Lordships, that short of that bill which they had rejected, and short of those measures which in furtherance of those orders which the Government would be called on to make, they would have no means of proceeding with Portugal, which had not already been exhausted, but the last resort of going to war. There he joined issue with the noble Duke; and he said that with Portugal we ought not to go to war, until we had called upon Portugal to fulfil her treaty, and until the Government was armed with powers by Parliament, and by the consent of the subjects of the Crown, to enforce that treaty by proper and legalized means. We ought not to resort at once to the last alternative with an old ally, as the noble Duke was always pleased to call Portugal; we ought not to proceed thus far, without attempting first to produce the desired effect by every other means. An opportunity should be afforded to Portugal to acquiesce in the provisions and propositions of the bill which had been before their Lordships. He should say, that the Government of this country would neglect its duty and regard to an old ally, by plunging into a war, without first allowing Portugal a locus pœnitentiœ. The means which it was proposed under the bill to adopt, and which it would be necessary to propose under the address now moved for, unless their Lordships intended that the resolutions should be mere waste paper, were to enable the Queen's subjects and servants legally and honestly to execute the Queen's commands for scouring the seas and purging the world of that nefarious traffic, which it was now seen, year after year, in contempt of the faith and obligation of treaties, had been carried on by parties connected with, or protected by, the Portuguese government. He did not mean to say, that their Lordships, by adopting the resolutions of the noble and learned Lord, would pledge themselves to any particular measure, but they would pledge themselves to any measure, whatever that measure might be, which would be necessary for the purpose of giving effect to that which, notwithstanding the vote of last night, he still believed their Lordships were most anxious to effect—namely, the exercise, and the lawful exercise, of the whole power of this country to perform one of the greatest acts of moral justice which any country was ever called upon to perform.

The Duke of Wellington,

in explanation said, that what he had said in reference to the preamble of the bill which was thrown out last night, was, that the provisions of the treaty of 1837 were not therein inserted. He also clearly stated that there was a distinction between going to war with the Crown and by Act of Parliament. He had said, that some measures were necessary to enforce the treaties into which they had entered, and to put an end to the slave traffic; but those measures ought to have been taken in the old and constitutional mode, by a message from the Crown. If that plan had been adopted, the whole case would have been brought before Parliament, before the public of England, before Portugal, and before the world, in a manner conformably with the law of nations, and it would then also be brought before the world in a much more creditable manner for this country than it could be by an Act of Parliament directed against the subjects of Portugal. Such an Act of Parliament as that which had been proposed was a complete novelty, and he could not see how it could be adopted by their Lordships without occasioning such a sensation throughout Portugal and throughout the world as could not fail to place in danger some of the most important interests of England, and to be productive of the most serious inconvenience. And if the address which had been proposed by the noble and learned Lord meant that they should proceed to enforce the slave-trade treaties with Portugal in any other than the usual methods—viz. by the adoption of those measures which might be considered necessary, on the Crown, then he for one, felt that he could not, as a Peer of Parliament, consent to that address. The first step in cases like the present ought to be made by the Crown, and if the Crown adopted that course, and if Ministers called for the assistance of Parliament in order to carry the measures which they might deem necessary into execution, then when Parliament saw those measures it would be for their Lordships to decide upon their merits.

Lord Brougham

said, there could not be a doubt that the address only called on the Crown and on the Government to take the most efficacious measures for enforcing the treaties with Portugal, and terminating the slave-trade. But the address did not proposes that Parliament should share the responsibility of those measures with the Government. The whole responsibility rested with the Government, and it was not proposed to divide that responsibility. No such pledge was given, and the only pledge which the address contained was, that Parliament would give assistance to the Crown, and an indemnity against the consequences of all constitutional and proper measures, which the Government might adopt in order to carry into effect the wishes of Parliament for the termination of the slave-trade.

The Earl of Haddington

entirely concurred in what had just fallen from the noble and learned Lord, and he was sorry to interpose, but for a few moments, to prevent the vote upon this address, which he trusted would be unanimous, after the explanation of its objects which had been given. But after the tone which had been adopted by noble Lords on the other side of the House, and after the extraordinary language which they had thought fit to use as to the conduct of some of their Lordships relative to their Slave Trade Bill last night, it was impossible for him to allow the debate to terminate without attempting to vindicate the vote which he and other noble Lords on the same side of the House had given. But, although noble Lords opposite had condemned in no measured terms the vote which had last night been come to, they had not been pleased to enter into the merits of the question at issue, or to consider the reasons for the course which their Lordships had pursued, and which had been stated with so much ability by the noble Duke. They had not attempted to answer the arguments used by the noble Duke, nor had they referred to the real motives which had induced their Lordships reject the bill. But, although they had not entered upon the merits of the point at issue, they had thrown out insinuations as if noble Lords on the Opposition side of the House were unwilling to interfere very strongly to put an end to the abominable traffic in slaves. He could say, with all sincerity, that he entertained as great a horror of the slave trade as it was possible for the noble Earl to do; and if the measure which had been proposed with the view of putting an end to that trade had been constitutional, and consistent with precedent—if it had been the only measure which it was possible to adopt, he should have supported it. But what noble Lords on his side of the House contended was, that the measure which had been brought forward, while unconstitutional, was not the only one which might have been adopted. By the measure which had been proposed, Parliament was placed in the position of the Crown, while it was for the Crown to act, and for Ministers to come to Parliament to ask for its assistance in carrying out the measures for which they alone ought to be responsible. Ministers proposed in fact, to declare war against Portugal by an Act of Parliament, and he thought such a course most objectionable, and as regarded Portugal, most unfair. If the usual and constitutional course had been adopted, Portugal might without loss of honour, have yielded to strong representations: but by the measure which had been proposed, Portugal was denied the power of complying with the wishes of this country. It was too much, in such a case, for the Minister to come down to Parliament and to tell their Lordships that they were responsible for rejecting a measure unconstitutional in its character, and most unjust towards Portugal. Those who proposed new modes of proceeding, and who departed from the usual and constitutional course, were alone answerable for the consequences, and not the Parliament, which was willing to consent to measures introduced in the regular mode, and to support the Government in such a course as was consistent with the law of nations. The noble Earl (Minto), and the noble Marquess opposite (Lansdowne), had appeared to wish to throw the torch of discord amongst their Lordships, and as if their object bad really been to create a difference of opinion where unanimity was so desirable. He trusted the address would be voted unanimously, but on the clear understanding that Parliament, by adopting that address, was not taking upon itself the responsibility which ought to rest wholly with Ministers, nor pledging itself to measures of which it knew nothing.

Lord Wharncliffe

observed that it was most extraordinary for Ministers to say, that if their Lordships agreed to this address, they must also, in consequence of voting it, agree to some such measure as they had last night rejected. Their Lordships were not responsible for the measures of the Government, and all they did by agreeing to the address was to assure her Majesty of the support of Parliament in the efforts which her Majesty might make for the suppression of the slave trade. It was the duty of the Ministers to take the initiative, and on them the responsibility for the course which they might adopt ought alone to rest.

The Earl of Ripon

said, that if he un- nderstood the address, it referred to Portugal alone, and to the violation of certain treaties by that country. Now, it was perfectly right for England to enforce the due execution of those treaties, and it was clear from the preamble that such was the main ground on which their Lordships were called upon to support the measure brought forward by the Government. But, in the first clause, other powers than those necessary for enforcing those treaties were to be granted, and which did not refer to Portugal alone. A power, in fact, was given to capture vessels of any nation, for it was said that it shall be lawful for any person, by an order from the Commissioners of Admiralty to seize any vessels engaged in the slave trade, and the slaves found therein, and to bring the same to adjudication in the High Court of Admiralty of England, and indemnity was granted to all persons acting on the authority of those orders. That was a most extensive power, and one to which other nations could not consent.

The Earl of Minto

undoubtedly apprehended that the power to which the noble Earl had referred was indispensably necessary, and he would tell the noble Earl why. The clause was directed against those ships only which could establish no legal national character. It was perfectly easy, when he had brought one of the slavers before a mixed Commission Court, for her to produce papers which would show that she was not legally navigating under the flag of Portugal, and, in truth, not legally navigating under any flag whatever, and that she was, in fact, a pirate. The consequence was, that this was a bar to proceedings under the mixed commission. The clause was necessary, in order to meet such cases, as it was enacted that a Court of Admiralty should have cognizance in all cases in which a ship could not prove any legal national character. He was bound in candour to tell their Lordships, that if it should be apparent that they were still determined to withhold the power which the Act would give, they might have spared themselves the trouble of voting for the resolution, because it would be impossible for the Government to act upon it.

Resolution agreed to, and ordered to be communicated to the other House of Parliament.

Back to