HL Deb 28 July 1840 vol 55 cc1067-8
Lord Brougham

presented a petition from the emancipated slaves of the island of Barbadoes, complaining of the present constitution of that island. Their chief objection was precisely the same as that which was made by some of their white brethren in this country, and related to the qualification that was required to entitle an individual to vote for members of the House of Assembly. The qualification was a freehold house of 30l. a year, colonial currency, or four or five acres of land, probably worth 1,200l. a year, colonial currency. Both these qualifications were so high, that, as the petitioner stated, the right of voting for members of the House of Assembly was restricted to a very small number of persons; insomuch, that out of 130,000 persons, of all colours and descriptions, who constituted the population of the island, only 1,200 enjoyed the elective franchise, and of those not more than about 200 were persons of colour. The petitioners further complained, that they were not allowed to carry their labour to Guiana, where they could earn four bits a day, instead of two or two and a half, which they received in Barbadoes. They were, it appeared, prevented under the risk of incurring severe penalties, from emigrating, unless duly authorized by specific licence from the governor. The real object of this provision, the petitioners observed, was to prevent the rise of wages from two or two and a half bits to four. Now, he was not friendly to any check being placed on the free circulation of labour, if it were conducted on just principles; but here he conceived that some superintending control was necessary to prevent the labourer from falling a victim to the crimping system. If that control were placed in the hands of persons responsible to such a Parliament as that which existed in this country, he should not have the least objection to grant the necessary authority, and permitting those people, their interests being thus guarded, from employing their labour where they could do so most advantageously. But he confessed, that he had not the same confidence in the colonial authorities. The proper course therefore would be, with respect to this matter, that persons properly responsible should be appointed to see, that justice was done to the labourer who was about to emigrate.

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