HL Deb 08 February 1859 vol 152 cc169-80

, in rising to put a question of which he had given notice said, he understood that not less than seventy of the principal towns had sent memorials to the Colonial Office urging that the Royal Assent might not be given to the Immigration Act passed by the House of Assembly of Jamaica for the encouragement of immigration. He hoped to hear from the noble Earl that that Assent had not been given. He should not enter upon the subject in any detail at present, but, if the Royal Assent had unhappily already been given, the matter must at some time come under the consideration of Parliament. He would remind the House of what he had stated on a former evening respecting the haste—he might say the hurry, with which the Bill had been passed through the local legislature: no time had been allowed for the presentation of petitions against it—indeed but a short time previous it had been ordered that a fee of 10s. should be paid upon the presentation of each petition to the legislature. One of the provisions in the Act was of a most extraordinary character, conferring power—not upon the magistrates—not upon the chief officers—but upon immigration agents and subagents—and upon the deputies men with salaries of £100 a year—to inflict imprisonment with hard labour upon any negro who happened to violate any of the clauses of his contract. Their lord- ships could judge from that provision how necessary it was that the measure should be carefully considered before it was finally sanctioned. He wished to ask whether the Royal Assent had been given to the Jamaica Immigration Act.


said, that perhaps the best mode in which he could answer the question of his noble and learned Friend would be to state very briefly the circumstances under which the subject had come under the consideration of the Colonial Office. Last year the Jamaica Legislature passed an Act for the encouragement of immigration into that colony. That Act was sent home for the Royal sanction; but his noble Friend (Lord Stanley), who at that time filled the office of Colonial Secretary, considered that some of the provisions of the measure were of so questionable a nature that he had no alternative but to disallow it; and it was accordingly sent back to Jamaica disallowed. But his noble Friend, at the same time, expressed to the Legislature at Jamaica his regret at finding himself compelled to pursue that course, and his readiness to advise Her Majesty to sanction any measure calculated to promote a system of immigration into the colony which should be free from the objections which had induced him to disallow that particular Act. At the same time the noble Lord drew the attention of the colonial Legislature to a model Bill that had been sent out to Jamaica during the time that the Duke of Newcastle held the seals of the Colonial Office, and had been adopted by other colonies as a guide for their legislation on this subject. The Jamaica Legislature considered the question, and framed a measure which, although there were certain blemishes in the Bill which required to be carefully weighed, still he (the Earl of Carnarvon) was bound to say was, on the whole, in conformity with the representations of his noble Friend, who was at that time at the head of the Colonial Office; and, he would add, that his right hon. Friend who had succeeded to that department (Sir E. B. Lytton) had, after a full and careful consideration of the various objections which had been made against the Bill, determined to submit it to Her Majesty in Council, for confirmation, upon the first convenient opportunity. He did not wish to go into the general question of Immigration at present, as his noble and learned Friend himself had not done so; but he felt it right to say a word or two upon the objections that had been urged against the Bill. He was well aware that many memorials had been presented against the Bill from various parts of the country, and they had been considered, as they deserved to be, with great deference and respect; but his right hon. Friend had come to the conclusion that the greater part of these objections were urged on a complete misconception of the case. The system of immigration into the West India islands was not new—it had been established for nearly fourteen years; it was adopted by various colonies, and had been sanctioned by a number of successive Administrations; and he was bound to say that it had worked, upon the whole, very successfully and satisfactorily. Jamaica was almost the only colony that had not hitherto availed itself of the advantages in respect of immigration which had been offered by the Government of this country, and now that for the first time it had passed an Act which was in strict conformity with the legislation of all the other West India colonies, his right hon. Friend could not well refuse his sanction to a measure which would give Jamaica the same benefits that were already enjoyed by almost all the other West Indian colonies; its confirmation would, in fact, amount to nothing more than the sanction of a set of regulations which had been adopted over and over again. He was sure, therefore, that his noble and learned Friend would, under these circumstances, admit that it would be unjust and unfair towards Jamaica to withhold from that colony a privilege which had been repeatedly conceded in those other instances with the best and happiest results. The observations which his noble and learned Friend made were entitled to the highest respect and attention, but he thought his noble and learned Friend was misled by the misrepresentations of others. Take, for instance, the objection of his noble and learned Friend had urged, that this measure was passed with precipitation. Now, the facts which he had already stated showed that this was not so; that the measure had, in point of fact, received considerable attention from the colonial Legislature in two consecutive Sessions, and that it was passed at last not in a hurried manner, but in conformity with the recommendations of the Secretary of State for the time being, and in conformity with the principles laid down in the despatches of numerous Secretaries of State; and, still more, in general accordance with the model Bill sent out for their guidance by the Government. Other objections had been urged, to which he believed he could give an equally satisfactory answer; but as they had not been urged by his noble and learned Friend, be would not further allude to them. He would only say further, that though it was the intention of his right hon. Friend to recommend Her Majesty to sanction the Act, there were one or two provisions which the colonial Legislature would be recommended to amend.


observed, that so far as the question of the measure having been passed with undue haste was concerned, he should simply state that it had been brought into the House of Assembly in Jamaica on Wednesday the 17th, and had been passed through all its stages by the Wednesday following; there having been during that interval two days—Saturday and Sunday—upon which no business could be transacted. He might add, that he had received information from the most respectable quarters, that petitions were at the time in progress of preparation, not against immigration in general, but against this particular Bill; but that they were prevented from presenting them by the extreme haste with which the measure passed through the House of Assembly. With respect to what his noble Friend said about the system of immigration adopted in other colonies, he pledged himself on the fitting opportunity to demonstrate to their Lordships that the measures thus taken were hostile to the independence and security of the working classes in the Colonies, and that they tended directly to the encouragement of the slave trade, not only on the coast of Africa, though that was bad enough, but even in the eastern possessions of the Crown. He observed by the powers of the Act that children under the age of twelve years were indentured to the planters. He should like to know who were the parties that signed these indentures on the part of the children. He had lately seen an example of the trustworthiness of the agents of immigration and of the honesty of their undertakings in the East. He had had an opportunity of seeing the indentures of some immigrants who were nominally engaged to go to Demerara, and so the instrument was headed; but on looking into the body of the indenture it turned out that they were to be taken to Bahia, in the Brazils; and others, who were nominally engaged to go to St. Vincent, were in reality taken to Cuba.


said, he should express no opinion upon the merits of the particular measure to which his noble and learned Friend referred, inasmuch as he had not seen it; but he could not, at the same time, refrain from remarking on what had fallen from the noble and learned Lord with respect to the system of immigration. The noble and learned Lord appeared to him to have indulged in a somewhat too unsparing condemnation of the system of immigration into the colonies generally. For his own part lie felt assured that such a system would be found to be, under proper regulations—and great pains had, he was bound to admit, been taken with the question tinder successive Governments—productive of considerable advantage to our West Indian colonies. It would provide the means of raising a formidable competition with slave-grown sugar; it had done much to contribute to the prosperity of the colonies themselves, especially to that of the Mauritius and Trinidad, while it led, he believed, to the happiest results in the case of the immigrants themselves, inasmuch as it was a well-known fact that upon returning to their native country at the expiration of five years many of them were in a position to take back with them large sums of money, and were so well satisfied with the treatment which they had received as to consent to revisit the scenes of their labours, frequently accompanied by their friends, whom they induced to follow their example. Only a few days since he had read an account of a ship which sailed from Guiana, carrying back a large number of coolies to India, who had with them a large sum of money. But while he could not concur with his noble and learned Friend in pronouncing a sweeping condemnation of the system of immigration, he was, at the same time, prepared to admit that the proceedings of the colonial Legislature upon the subject required to be watched with the closest care. For although slavery had long been abolished in the colonies, still more or less of the old spirit of the slave holding class remained behind; and it was, therefore, desirable to scrutinize with the utmost closeness measures which, under the designation of Bills for promoting immigration, might give rise to a system of slavery. It was, therefore, with some sur- prise that he had heard from the noble Earl the Under Secretary for the Colonies the statement that, notwithstanding there were some objectionable clauses in the Act more immediately under discussion, it was the intention of Her Majesty's Government to submit that Act to Her Majesty in Council with a view to its being confirmed. He was not aware of the nature of those objectionable clauses, but if there were anything seriously objectionable in them, the course proposed to be adopted seemed to him to be most injudicious and imprudent. So long as the Act was not submitted to Her Majesty for confirmation, the Government ought make such suggestions to the Legislature for its amendment as they thought proper, and if those suggestions were rejected they might advise the Queen to disallow the law. When, however, that law was once confirmed by Her Majesty in Council the power of the Ministers was at an end. They could no longer enforce any alteration, however important, however indispensable it might be for the safe working of the measure, except by the difficult and objectionable course of an Act of the Imperial Parliament overruling the Act of the colonial Legislature. Upon that ground it had been hitherto the practice of the Home Government—certainly it had been the invariable practice when he was at the Colonial Office—to submit none of these Bills to Her Majesty for confirmation until they had been so amended as to be unobjectionable in the opinion of the advisers of the Crown. He was sorry to find that, according to the statement of the noble Earl, that policy was to be departed from in the present instance, and he could not help thinking that it would be much better to incur any amount of delay in submitting the Act for amendment to the colonial Legislation than that by advising Her Majesty to confirm it the Government should deprive itself of the power of getting the matter rightly settled.


in explanation said, his objections were not to all immigration, as he had shown last Session, when with his right reverend Friend (the Bishop of Oxford) he had admitted the good effects of free immigration to the Mauritius; but he objected to the manner of dealing with the subject in the Jamaica Bill, and other Colonial means of a like description.


hoped the House would bear with him while he made a few remarks on this subject, in which, having considerable property in Jamaica, he felt a deep interest. As those who preceded him in this discussion had not gone into the details of this particular measure, he also might be excused from making particular reference to it. The noble and learned Lord said that memorials and petitions had been sent up against the measure from various parts of the country. Nothing was easier than to get up petitions against any measure of this kind. They all knew that there was a society in London, the Anti-Slavery Association, which had a regular organization for the purpose; and if they sent down their agents to Manchester and Birmingham, and the different large towns to agitate against a measure of this kind, they would not have the slightest difficulty in obtaining signatures to their petitions against such a measure, especially if the petitioners had never seen it. If, however, he did not discuss the Act, he might advert to one or two of the arguments which had been used against it. The noble and learned Lord presented a petition against this measure the other night, containing statements which appeared to him not only inconsistent with the facts, but with one another. One of these statements was, that there was no want of labour in Jamaica; and another was, that various efforts had been used to procure labour before, but they all proved fruitless. Now, he should like to know how the one of these statements was to be reconciled with the other. But there was another statement still more extraordinary. It was stated that the free negroes of Jamaica apprehended that the introduction of fresh labour into the colony would lower the rate of the wages they were now receiving, and they prayed therefore that this Bill might not be assented to. Now he should have thought that even the free negroes of Jamaica must have learned by this time that the Government, and the Parliament, and the people of England, had abandoned all idea of fixing by Act of Parliament the price of commodities or the rate of wages. Passing to the general question of the supply of free labour to our West Indian colonies, it was notorious that it was well known that the production of sugar had largely fallen off in our colonies ever since the abolition of slavery, and that in the face of a steadily increasing demand. Many estates had been thrown out of cultivation, and he knew owners who would be very glad to sell their estates in Jamaica for one year's rent of what they formerly used to receive. It was no answer to the owners of property in Jamaica or Trinidad to be told that other West Indian colonies were in a flourishing condition. The conditions were not the same in all these islands. In the larger islands there were vast tracts of waste lands on which the negroes were accustomed to squat, and where they could maintain their families comfortably without the necessity of working on the estates of the planters, and therefore, unless the immigrants were bound by indenture, they too would squat upon this land and refuse to labour. Neither was it any answer to the Jamaica planters to say that there were a few of their own number who were doing well. Why were they flourishing? Because they were few, because the land they had to bring into cultivation was of limited extent, and because from their situation they had the command of the labour market of Jamaica, such as it was; whereas if other planters were in competition with them, and a demand for labour arose in a limited market, the ruin of the whole would follow. It was admitted that in Jamaica and in several of the other islands there were vast tracts of land which were capable of cultivation, but which were now lying idle for want of a supply of labour. It was also admitted that in other countries there was a teeming population which would be benefited by employment. Why then should they not have it? So far was it from being true that the immigrants were subjected to ill-usage in the islands, he was informed that many of them, after returning to their own country, had entered into fresh engagements, and were going out again to Jamaica. The demand for sugar in this country he believed to be practically unlimited, as it kept pace with the increase in the demand for tea and coffee; and if the consumption of tea and sugar was an index of the national prosperity, it might also be looked upon as, in some degree, the cause of that prosperity. Public attention had been directed of late to the spread of intemperance in this country, particularly in the northern part of the island; and statesmen of eminence had lectured at public meetings during the recess, and endeavoured to prescribe a remedy. There had been legislation with a view to check the evil, and now he understood the Government were about to grant an inquiry into the results of that legislation, as there were reports that it had proved a failure, as all attempts must fail which attempted to make men virtuous by Act of Parliament. But there was one effectual mode of arresting the progress of this great evil, by substituting for those intoxicating drinks others of a more harmless nature. If, by any well-devised system of immigration, they could increase the production of sugar, and lower the price of tea and coffee, which must always depend greatly upon the price of sugar, he thought they would do more to suppress intemperance than by all the "liquor laws" that could be devised. There could be no question that the repeal of the discriminatory duties on sugar had given a great impulse to slavery. He did not call in question the policy of repealing those duties, for he did not think that the people of this country, after having made such great sacrifices in abolishing slavery could be called upon to add to those sacrifices; but it seemed to him to be a most inconsistent policy, on the one hand, to say that we would admit slave-grown sugar into this country, and on the other to fetter, in every possible way, the efforts of the colonists to procure free labour, lest by chance some of the immigrants might experience inconvenience. He believed that free immigration, if properly conducted, would be of great and material benefit to our Colonies, and at the same time of equal advantage to the people of this country. That was the material aspect of the question: how did its moral aspect stand? The noble Earl who last spoke observed that the best mode of arresting the slave trade was the encouragement of immigration, and the consequent reduction of the value of slave-labour produce. What was the position in which we now stood with regard to slavery and the slave trade? No doubt the people of this country had set a noble example to others by the course it had taken in respect to the slave trade, and had shown that they cared not what sacrifices they incurred provided they could only free themselves from the reproach of permitting slavery in their dominions; but so long as other nations could point to the present condition of the West India islands, we could hardly expect them to follow our example. He believed, however, that by promoting free immigration those islands might yet be restored to that flourishing condition which they had certainly not enjoyed since the great work of negro emancipation was accomplished. With regard to the slave trade, remember the position in which we were now placed. If there were any reliance to be placed on the accounts which had appeared of the communications that had passed between the noble Earl the Foreign Secretary, and Mr. Dallas, the American Minister in this country, it would seem that our ships of war had no power whatever of stopping a slaver on the high seas, in case she chose to hoist the American flag. We had even been obliged to abandon the blockade of the island of Cuba; and the operations of our squadron were now literally confined to watching the African coast, preventing the shipment of negroes from that quarter, entering into treaties with the native chiefs, and encouraging them to cultivate the arts of peace. It was, however, quite clear that every cargo of free immigrants would reduce the demand for slaves, and so become an assistance in putting an end to the slave trade: and this mode of proceeding had the advantage of being unattended with expense to this country, while the maintenance of our squadrons for suppressing the slave trade was attended with a vast expenditure. He did not wish, however, to substitute the one plan for the other, for the slave squadrons might be maintained at the same time that endeavours were made to foster tropical produce by the aid of free labour. He was glad to say that better prospects were opening for the West India islands, and several immigrants, after having returned to their native land, had gone back again to labour in the islands. One serious obstacle in the way of immigration had been the want of women; but that was in a fair way of being supplied, and women were beginning to immigrate. He was satisfied that the colonists would do their part, and he hoped that Her Majesty's Government would do theirs and strengthen the colonists' hands; for whether we considered the interests of the people of England, or those of the immigrants themselves, or the interests of the colonies, it was evidently the duty of the Imperial Government to aid the latter, as far as possible, in obtaining an adequate supply of free labour. He was, therefore, glad that the Government had intimated their intention of agreeing to the Bill with Amendments, and he hoped that it would be printed and placed in the hands of Members of Parliament.


said he did not rise for the purpose of opposing the Bill, which was not before the House, but to impress on his noble Friend (the Earl of Carnarvon) the great importance of the suggestion which had been made by the noble Earl opposite (Earl Grey). His noble Friend had used the words, that there were parts of the Bill which Her Majesty's Government would require the local Legislature to alter. From this it was to be inferred, that in the judgment of the Government the alterations to be required were important. Now, he wished his noble Friend to weigh well the exceeding disadvantage to which the Government would be put in enforcing what they believed to be necessary for the great end they had in view, if they let this power pass out of their own hands; for in the local Assembly there might be persons who would endeavour to outvote those who had given the pledge that the alteration should be made; and then, in what position would the Government be, if, having understood that the alterations would be made which they deemed to be important, they were defeated in the House of Assembly of Jamaica, and the Bill became law with those defects which they themselves thought should first be struck out of the measure? The more important that it was both for the native races, and for our West India Islands, that properly conducted immigration should be encouraged and fostered, the more anxious was he that no such mistake should be committed; because, if the Bill worked badly for the immigrant when it thus became law, and there were to be admitted cases of abuse in the West India Islands, and a cry arose in this country against the principle of free immigration itself, grounded upon the evils which had been allowed to creep in, it would be far more difficult afterwards, when the jealousy of the people had been excited concerning it, to establish and foster a proper system of immigration than to prevent the evils attaching to the subject at the outset. He would suggest to his noble Friend, therefore, whether Her Majesty's Government should adopt an intermediate course, and say—not that they would not present the Bill for Her Majesty's sanction—but that they would not present it with those blemishes; and in the meanwhile have it printed with the correspondence, and laid upon the table of the House, so that it might be possible for their Lordships to form their own judgment with regard to the importance of those matters, before it was presented to Her Majesty for her approbation.


was afraid that he had led the House into some mis- take upon the subject; because, whilst desiring to be accurate, and to omit no point in the sequence of events which bore upon this question, he had stated that there were blots and blemishes in the Bill, which the colonial Legislature would be required to alter; but in doing so, he had not laid sufficient stress upon the fact, that every one of those blots and blemishes was really, in itself, unimportant, when considered with regard to the general operation of the Bill. It would, no doubt, be advantageous to the completeness and entirety of the measure, that those blots should be amended; but he did not foresee the possibility of any practical evil resulting from them, though they might be left as they now were. More than that, the noble Earl must be well aware that, even supposing—which he himself had no reason to suppose—the colonial Legislature did refuse to make the alterations that were desirable, there were powers in the hands of the Colonial Minister for bringing them to reason, if he might use the words, should that become necessary. But he must say, that the colonial Legislature, throughout the whole of these transactions, had shown an honourable desire to meet the Government with the most perfect good faith. No doubt it was a disappointment to them to hear of the disallowance of an Act in reference to which they had erred, as he believed, unintentionally. But they at once addressed themselves to the task of remedying the error with good faith, and had honestly endeavoured to carry out the principle laid down in the despatch of his noble Friend, the then Colonial Secretary.

House adjourned at a quarter-past Six o'clock, to Thursday next, half-past Ten o'clock.