HL Deb 25 June 1840 vol 55 cc70-3

Viscount Duncannon moved the second reading of the Colonial Passengers' Bill, the object of which was to extend the provisions of the 5th and 6th of William 4th, "for regulating the carriage of passengers in merchant vessels from the United Kingdom to the British possessions on the continent and islands of North America," to British, colonies in the West Indies and South America, and on the Bahama Islands, and Bermuda, with certain exceptions.

Lord Brougham

, said, this bill did, a short time since, contain clauses to which he felt the most decided objection, and to which, from all the attention that he had been able to bestow upon the subject, and from all that had passed in that House and in the other House of Parliament, he had every reason to believe the most decided objections was felt in every quarter. He was convinced that an universal concurrence of opinion prevailed with reference to the subject matter of those obnoxious provisions, and had they been preserved, he entertained a confident hope, that had he called on their Lordships, as he should have done, to reject those provisions, he should not have made that call in vain. The other House had, however, struck them out. He of course alluded to the provisions respecting a traffic that was to be legalised between India and the Mauritius, to which island it was proposed to send the natives of India as labourers. Those clauses had been very properly struck out, and further notice of them was unnecessary. He had moved for certain correspondence on this subject between the governors of the Indian presidencies, the India-house, and the Government at home, and also for the report of the committee appointed in India for the purpose of inquiring what had been done with respect to the Hill Coolies, These papers would, he hoped, be soon forthcoming, because, though not wanting for the purpose of any immediate discussion, they would be exceedingly useful, and would throw additional light on the question.

Lord Ashburton

said, if some measure were not taken to procure labourers for our sugar colonies, they would soon be lost to this country for ever. Ever since he entered Parliament he had constantly voted against the infamous traffic in slaves, and had afforded his utmost support to the efforts that were made in favour of emancipation. But he believed, that many persons who evinced a just hostility to the slave trade, laboured under some degree of misapprehension, and confounded their hostility to the trade with views which would be wholly destructive to the West India proprietor, by endeavouring to prevent him from acquiring labourers. Such a course was not only not in favour of humanity, but, as it appeared to him, was against humanity, for the fewer the labourers, the greater must be the amount of toil. Therefore, as a question of humanity, he conceived that the friends of the West India population were not taking the wisest course. He could assure their Lordships, that though the people of this country would endure to pay high prices for such a necessary as sugar, if the enhanced value were mixed up with the question of humanity; yet, if those prices were driven up too high, in the end sugar would be derived from slave colonies. The question then was, could they procure a sufficient supply of sugar by promoting the cultivation of that article elsewhere? or would they resort for it to slave colonies? As the black population was circumstanced at present, it was in point of substantial comforts far beyond any labourers in any other part of the world. Eighteen pence a day would be sufficient to provide them, in such a climate, with all the necessaries of life. If some step were not taken to secure labour, the exertions of the foreign colonies, which manufactured sugar, would materially clash with the interests of our West India colonies. He hoped, therefore, that some mode would be devised, and that speedily, to insure a proper supply of labour in the colonies.

Lord Brougham

said, as the bill had no provisions with reference to the subject to which his noble Friend had referred, he had abstained from giving any opinion whatever on it. He was rejoiced, however, to find that his noble Friend had applied his mind to the question, and he trusted that some remedy might be devised to prevent the evils which his noble Friend apprehended.

Lord Ellenborough

said, if the present duty on East India sugar was equalised with that on West India sugar, that article would be extensively cultivated in the East Indies. It would be cheap, and there would be sufficient for all the wants of this country. With respect to the supply of labourers for the colonies, his noble and learned Friend would recollect, that two years ago their Lordships passed a bill on this subject, which would have admitted East India labourers to the colonies; and that bill contained restrictions which guarded them against abuse, against fraud, against death, which had too often occurred in consequence of the existing mode of importation. Their Lordships never would consent to the bill without those protective clauses. Neither would they suffer a great colony or association to consist of males only. That was an abomination to which they never would listen. He was confident that that bill would have operated beneficially. It protected the labourer, it provided against every species of fraud and abuse; but the House of Commons would not agree to it. Their Lordships were willing that the natives of of India should be employed in the colonies, but on this express condition—that no abuse should be permitted, that no in. jury should be done to the people of India, whom this Legislature, as the superior power of that country was bound to protect as British subjects. It was provided by that bill, that they should clearly know where they were going, that they should be acquainted with the circumstances under which they were to live, that they should be properly protected on the voyage, and during their residence in the colony; that they should be afforded the means of returning; that while they were in the colony they should be fully protected in the exercise of their religion, and that no improper or unjust terms of engagement should be entered into by them with any contracting parties. Ail these points were specially provided for; but, nevertheless, the House of Commons would not accede to the bill.

Bill read a second time.