HL Deb 11 July 1859 vol 154 cc950-1

presented numerous Petitions from places in Jamaica, British Guiana, and England, praying for Inquiry into the System of Immigration. The petitioners complained of the] mode in which the coolies were engaged, the bad treatment to which they were subjected on their arrival, and the want of due precautions to send them home at the expiration of their engagement; and prayed for an immediate and searching inquiry into the subject. The petitioners objected to the system of immigration altogether, and stated that the planters had the means of obtaining a sufficient supply of labour without having recourse to immigration. This, however, was a difficult and doubtful question, which he would not take upon him to decide. The petitioners asked for a searching inquiry by means of a Committee of their Lordships' House. Perhaps some amelioration might be given to the condition of the planters, who had suffered, and were still suffering, by encouraging the introduction of machinery, by giving facilities for drainage, or by some grant which would enable them to carry on their cultivation in a more effectual manner than they were able to do at the present time.


said, that the whole question of the supply of labour to the sugar-growing colonies of England, and the immigration of coolies, was one of great importance, and was too complicated to allow their Lordships to enter into the discussion of it upon the presentation of a petition. His noble and learned Friend did not agree with the petitioners that the introduction of labour was not required, and that there was ample labour already in the colonies. [Lord BROUGHAM: I do not decide one way or the other.] Without entering into a long discussion, he might put it to his noble and learned Friend whether sufficient proof of the necessity of an introduction of labour was not given by the single fact, that in all cases in which additional labour had been introduced the colonies, who were the best judges of their own interests, had taxed themselves to obtain that supply of labour. His noble and learned Friend had expressed a desire that a Committee should be appointed this Session to inquire into this most important subject. He (the Duke of Newcastle) should be most unwilling to resist the appointment of such a Committee if the Session were not so far advanced. He would put it to his noble and learned Friend whether any great object could be obtained by the appointment of a Committee this Session? No doubt, on a future occasion, the evidence of persons in the colonies, who were desirous to represent their own wishes and interests, might be obtained, and it would be unfair to the inhabitants of those colonies, who had suffered so much, and some of whom had had their estates ruined by the want of labour, to appoint a Committee this Session, and let its Report be circulated, before they could be heard in answer. He did not feel certain that the law was in fault in those cases of hardship to the immigrants which were stated to have occurred. He was rather inclined to believe that where a coolie had been unjustly dealt with, it was the fault of individuals and not of the law, which, if properly applied, would, perhaps, be found sufficient to prevent such cases. If, however, his noble and learned Friend thought that he could suggest an improvement of the law, he should be happy to support any measure he might introduce for its improvement.

After a few words from the Karl of AIRLIE,


remarked, that the taxation levied for immigration purposes did not fall upon the planters alone, but also upon the poor negroes; and they complained of having to pay for bringing in persons who were to compete with them in the labour market, and lower their rate of wages. He had no desire that the Committee should hear only one-sided evidence. If it were too late to appoint a Committee this Session, why should not a Commission be appointed?