HL Deb 05 February 1844 vol 72 cc209-11
Lord Brougham

wished to ask his noble Friend, the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, whether it was in his power, consistently with his public duty, to give him any information on a subject of very great and general interest. A great deal of uneasiness and anxiety had been excited amongst persons who wished for the abolition of the Slave Trade, in consequence of some reports respecting the course taken with reference to negotiations that were now going on relative to the treaties of 1833 and 1838, on the subject of the Right of Search. Pending any negotiations, he certainly did not wish to press for any information that it might be inconvenient to the public service for his noble Friend to communicate. Perhaps, however, his noble Friend would be kind enough to say a few words that might answer the purpose which he had in view, namely, to allay the anxiety which prevailed in the country upon this subject.

The Earl of Aberdeen

No doubt very great interest was felt upon this subject, for it was one of the greatest importance. For the part which his noble and learned Friend had taken, it was perfectly natural for him, and, perhaps, he might say, it was his duty, to put the question which he was now about to answer. It was perfectly true that the French Government had desired that some modification might be introduced into the treaties establishing the Right of Search, which, without impairing their efficiency, might render them more conformable to the views of the French public and of the French naval service. It was not for him to say what might be the result of these propositions, but his noble and learned Friend and the House might be assured that nothing would be done which could in any degree impair or cripple our exertions in the cause of humanity, or interfere with the great effect of those treaties. He must do the French Government the justice to believe that their object was the same as ours. He knew that the French ministers were as desirous of seeing the total abolition of the Slave Trade as my noble and learned Friend himself was; and with this belief and this knowledge, any propositions coming from them were at least entitled to receive the most ample and the most candid consideration. With respect to the question which his noble and learned Friend had asked, he must observe, that he had heard the same report, but at the same time he must add, in a manner tending to confirm and countenance the unfounded and calumnious representations that had been made on the other side of the water. It had been the habit of those persons, as their Lordships knew, to maintain that we cared very little for the abolition of the Slave Trade, and that our real object was the Right of Search, and that, by that right, we wished to disgrace and insult the French marine, and also to acquire certain information respecting French commerce, which would afterwards turn to our own advantage. Incredible as this appeared, it was both asserted and believed in France. Why the fact was, that we submitted five times as many vessels to the Right of Search as the French did, and we should have very useless persons indeed as our consuls abroad if we did not obtain from them better information respecting the commerce of France than we could expect to gain from the exercise of this Right of Search by our cruisers. In this country it certainly seemed that the Right of Search was spoken of as a great good and a great advantage. No doubt it was most valuable as one of the means of promoting the abolition of the Slave Trade; but for himself he must say, that so far from considering it as a good, he must look upon it as an evil—an evil only to be justified by the great object for which it had been established. Nothing else could justify the sacrifice which was made on the part of this country in submitting to the Right of Search—a right to which from the nature of our mercantile marine we submitted in a much greater degree than France or any other country. He was not disposed on the present occasion to say further what might be the result of our communication with France to which his noble and learned Friend had alluded, and, perhaps, the few words which he had now uttered would prove satisfactory both to him and to the House generally.

Lord Brougham

said, he should be very unreasonable, if he did not at once express himself perfectly satisfied with the statement of his noble Friend. He must join with his noble Friend in giving credit to the French ministry for the most anxious desire to put an end to this most detestable and abominable traffic. There had gone an idea abroad among the honest and intelligent people of France (perhaps from some feeling of security of national honour), that this mode of putting down the Slave-trade was inconsistent with their national welfare and interests. His noble Friend had now given the most unanswerable refutation to any such notion; for, if we sought this Right of Search, ——hanc veniam petimusque damusque vicissim, we conceded the right on our part. We have five or six ships searched for every single French vessel that was searched. We, consequently gave up much more than the French did, and yet we did not consider ourselves dishonoured by doing so. He entirely agreed with his noble Friend in thinking, that instead of the Right of Search being a desirable arrangement, or a good per se, some mode should be devised for repressing the Slave-Trade without it. In dealing with this question, one of his propositions was, that when England had entirely abolished her own Slave-trade, she had done nine parts in ten of what was her own duty, and that strictly speaking, whatever she did beyond that was in the nature of a work of supererogation. God forbid, however, that having washed their own hands of the stain, they should not, for the sake of humanity, and of Africa, seek to induce other nations to do the same. They must, however, never forget that; though they were philanthropists and statesmen, legislating for the welfare of Africa, they were also European and English statesmen, and that their primary object must now be the preservation of peace among the nations of Europe. They must not risk that first and greatest blessing for the sake of any work of supererogation. To do so, would be the most preposterous attempt that any great nation could lend itself to.