HL Deb 07 July 1845 vol 82 cc59-64
The Earl of Aberdeen

said, that in moving the Second Reading of the Brazil Slave Trade Bill, he would endeavour to explain as briefly as possible, the reasons why Her Majesty's Government had thought it necessary to introduce that measure to their Lordships. Their Lordships were aware that a Treaty was concluded between this country and Brazil, in the year 1826, for the abolition of the Slave Trade. By the First Article of that Treaty, the contracting parties stipulated that— At the expiration of three years, to be reckoned from the exchange of the ratifications of the present Treaty, it shall not be lawful for the subjects of the Emperor of Brazil to be concerned in the carrying on of the African Slave Trade, under any pretext or in any manner whatever; and the carrying on of such trade after that period by any person, subject of his Imperial Majesty, shall be deemed and treated as piracy. By the Second and Third Articles of the Treaty, the contracting parties mutually agreed, with a view to provide for the regulation of the said trade, till the time of its final abolition— To adopt and renew, as effectually as if the same were inserted, the several Articles and provisions of the Treaties concluded between His Britannic Majesty and the King of Portugal on this subject, on the 22nd of January, 1815, and on the 28th of July, 1817, and the several explanatory Articles which had been added thereto. The last Treaty with Portugal, in the year 1817, contained a provision from which it appeared that the contracting parties contemplated the possible termination of that Convention. By a separate Article, it was agreed that as soon as the total abolition of the Slave Trade on the part of the subjects of the Crown of Portugal should have taken place, the two parties would adapt themselves to the state of circumstances contemplated by the stipulations of the Convention concluded on the 28th July, 1817; but in default of any such regulation, then the conditions of the said Convention should continue in force for fifteen years from the day when the ratifications of the Treaty should take place. The ratifications were exchanged between Brazil and this country on the 13th March, 1827; consequently in three years after that period, the Slave Trade was finally abolished in the Empire of Brazil. Fifteen years from that period had now elapsed; and the Government of Brazil, on the 12th of March last, gave notice to Her Majesty's Minister at Brazil, that on the following day, the Treaty between this country and Brazil would expire, and that the Mixed Commission, and all the instructions connected with it, would be at an end. It might admit of some doubt how far the contingency contemplated by the separate Article had ar- rived, to entitle the Brazilian Government to put an end to the Treaty. But in a correspondence between Her Majesty's late Government and the Government of Brazil, it appeared that there had been an anticipation of the probability of terminating the provisions within the time specified; and the present Government were, on the whole, disposed to acquiesce in the interpretation put upon the Convention by the Brazilian Government. This country was therefore reduced to the First Article of the Treaty, by which the contracting parties declared that slave trading by any subject of the Brazils should be deemed piracy. That declaration could not, of course, render the Slave Trade piracy by the law of nations; but as between Great Britain and Brazil it became illegal by virtue of that compact. If any State constituted an act illegal or criminal by its own municipal laws, other States were undoubtedly not accustomed to take notice of such act, nor would their tribunals enforce their municipal law; but an act made illegal by virtue of a mutual compact, gave a right to the State entering into such compact to consider the act illegal, and, in consequence, Her Majesty had, by the stipulation in question, acquired the right to order the seizure of all Brazilian subjects found on the high seas engaged in the Slave Trade, of punishing the parties so engaged, and of disposing of their vessels and the goods therein as bona piratorum. When the Act 7th and 8th George IV. was passed, carrying into execution this Convention, care was taken to restrict the power of the Courts of Admiralty and other courts, except the Courts of Mixed Commission appointed for the purpose of carrying the Treaty into effect. Those Mixed Courts had ceased, in consequence of the decision of the Brazilian Government, and it had now become necessary to renew the provisions of the Act of George IV., giving power of exercising jurisdiction in cases of capture. It had been, in effect, necessary to exclude the Courts of Admiralty, because otherwise they might have been called upon, and indeed it would have been necessary for them to exercise jurisdiction under the Convention; but by repealing that part of the Act which prohibited the Courts of Admiralty from taking cognizance of such matters, they would be enabled to exercise this jurisdiction as before. It appeared that the Brazilian Government itself had contemplated this act on the part of the British Government. Shortly after the conclusion of the Treaty, and when he (Lord Aberdeen) held the same office he had now the honour to fill, the Brazilian Minister made application to him that vessels should be permitted to come from the coast of Africa, having sailed before the 13th of March, 1830, without being liable to be detained and treated as pirates, notwithstanding they were met with on the high seas after the 13th of March. In that request Her Majesty's Government acquiesced, and vessels which had sailed from the African coast before that date were not detained. Again, the Brazilian Minister, after three years had elapsed from the signature of the Treaty, and the trade had been finally abolished, maintained that the Courts of Mixed Commission ought to cease, as they only provided for acts done in that trade during the time of its continuance. The Brazilian Government accordingly remonstrated against these courts, and desired that they should cease on the 13th of March, 1830. This application was made to him (the Earl of Aberdeen), but was answered by the noble Lord who succeeded him in office; and he demurred to the abolition of the Courts of Mixed Commission, giving as a reason, that some considerable time must elapse before tribunals could be constituted for exercising jurisdiction in cases of piracy; and therefore he recommended that the Courts of Mixed Commission should continue. The Brazilian Government still seriously remonstrated against the continuance of these courts, declaring that they were of only a temporary character, instituted with a view of judging of the legality of the detention of vessels engaged in the Slave Trade; but that then (in 1830), as all traffic in slaves had ceased, the tribunals for taking cognizance of acts done in that trade, could not possibly be required for an object which was no longer in existence. The Brazilian Government, therefore, urged that these courts should cease. The British Government of that day, however, remarked that these courts might still have duties to perform, notwithstanding that the Slave Trade had become illegal, and had been declared piracy, and maintained the point that the courts should be allowed to continue. It appeared, then, that the abolition of the Mixed Commission Courts was looked upon as possible in a period of fifteen years, according to the terms specified in the Treaty with Portugal. The object of the present Bill was to remove from the Courts of Admiralty the restrictions thrown upon them by the 7th and 8th George IV. passed for carrying into execution the Treaty with Brazil. It was only recently that he (the Earl of Aberdeen) had himself called the attention of the Brazilian Government to the necessity under which Her Majesty's Government might find themselves of appealing to the First Article of the Treaty as he had described it. Their Lordships were aware that the Brazilian Government had always declined to fulfil their general engagements to co-operate with the British Government for the effectual abolition of the Slave Trade. In a note which he addressed to that Government in July, 1843, after strongly remonstrating with them, he declared that the time had arrived when it became Her Majesty's Government distinctly to declare that if the abolition which had been contracted for by the Convention should fail for want of that co-operation so continually asked for by the British at the hands of the Brazilian Government, and if the latter still declined to enter into arrangements to give effect to that Convention, it would remain for Her Majesty alone, and by Her own means, to carry into full effect the abolition imposed upon Her by the First Article of the Treaty. It had, therefore, in consequence of the Courts of Mixed Commission being put an end to, been found necessary to repeal that part of the Act which prohibited the Courts of Admiralty from taking cognizance of these cases. He did not know that it was necessary for him to allude to the course pursued since the conclusion of the Treaty by the Brazilian Government generally. With rare and short exceptions the Treaty had been by them systematically violated from the period of its conclusion to the present time. Cargoes of slaves had been landed in open day in the streets of the capita], and bought and sold like cattle, without any obstacle whatsoever being imposed upon the traffic. Our officers had been waylaid, maltreated, and even assassinated while in the execution of their duty; and justice, in such cases, if not actually denied, had never been fairly granted. No doubt much had happened in the course of the last ten or twelve years, which would have justified, and almost called for, an expression of national resentment; but Her Majesty's Government had no wish save to provide for the effectual execution of the Treaty as stipulated for by the First Article; and with that view he had brought forward the present Bill, which had been approved of by the highest authorities in such matters, and he now moved their Lordships to give it a second reading.

Bill read 2a.