HL Deb 21 March 1879 vol 244 cc1405-6

My Lords, I am desirous of putting a Question to the noble Marquess opposite (the Marquess of Salisbury) on a subject which occupied my attention while I was in Office, and which I have no doubt is now occupying his—I mean the subject of slavery in Cuba. As I understand the matter, the Spanish Government gave this Government the assurance that it was only the existence of the insurrection in that island that prevented them from taking steps to put an end to slavery in that territory. That assurance, I believe, was of the most specific character. I am quite aware that great consideration is required in approaching this subject, and I do not desire to press the noble Marquess to enter into details as to any steps he may have taken in the matter — I shall be perfectly satisfied to know that the question has not been overlooked by Her Majesty's Government, and that they have taken some steps to appeal to the Spanish Government to do that which not only their obligations require them to do, but which is called for in the interests of humanity.


I believe that what the noble Earl has said in the latter portion of his observations is perfectly true—that great consideration must be given to the manner in which this question is approached. We have not, as in some other parts of the world, to deal with a people who are theoretically and practically in favour of slavery, but with a people who are in principle as much opposed to it as ourselves; but they have a heritage of difficulties. We must remember that it is a matter entirely of internal regulation, and that, but for the promises they have volunteered, we should have no right to mention the subject. We must, therefore, approach them with every consideration due to the feelings of a people yielding to none in their sensitiveness to national honour. We are as anxious as any of our predecessors that this great object should be achieved. We have very recently been in communication with Her Majesty's Representative at Madrid upon the subject; but the ordinary difficulty of giving information with respect to the intentions of a foreign Government, where that foreign Government has not officially declared them, is aggravated in the present case by the fact that there has been a change of Government in Spain which is not yet completed, and that the Prime Minister is, I believe, at this moment, on his way from Paris to Madrid. It is, therefore, naturally impossible for me to give any intelligence to the House upon this most important question. I can only say that it has reached me that the present Prime Minister is more anxious even than any of his predecessors to adopt a course of conduct in conformity with the belief of all civilized nations on this matter; and I hope that when the present difficulties attending the change of Government have passed by, he will call to mind the assurances that have been given in the past by Spanish Governments, and bring Spain into a line with all other European countries upon this most important subject.

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