HC Deb 23 February 1809 vol 12 cc1034-44
Mr. R. Dundus

rose to move for a renewal of the Committee which had sat last session on the East India Company's Affairs. The house Would recollect that last session a Petition had been presented from the East India Company, praying for a settlement of Accounts with the public, and also for aid. On this a Committee had been appointed, and though it had performed the duty to a considerable extent, yet there were various points which still remained to be considered. The finances, the trade, and several other matters had not been so thoroughly inspected as they ought to be. He stated last year, that it would be most proper to appoint such persons as were most conversant with East India Affairs; he would now move for the re-appointment of the same persons, with the exception of two, who said that it would be very inconvenient for them to attend. The exceptions were Mr. T. Grenville and Mr. Hobhouse; and in their places, he would propose lord Temple and Mr. Addington.

Mr. Creevey

observed, that he had several objections to the plan of constituting the Committee, as it had been before constituted, and he conceived this to be a proper time for briefly stating those objections. For the purpose of placing those objections in a just light, he adverted to the Committee, that had been appointed on the motions of Mr. Burke and lord Melville. On the Report of the Committee appointed by lord Melville, had been formed the Board of Controul, and members would, no doubt, recollect how his lordship had come down, session after session, with congratulations to himself and to the country, upon the prosperous state of our empire in the East, owing to his system. The noble lord opposite (lord Castlereagh), who had been educated in his school, followed his steps exactly, and repeated his congratulations. In 1806, however, when another noble lord (Morpeth), a friend of his, held a situation in the Board of Controul, a very different statement was produced. In 1807, the Company had come to the house with a Petition, that they might be allowed to borrow money upon their bonds, lie resisted that, unless they would consent to make a complete disclosure of their affairs. This they promised in the following sessiton, and a Committee was accordingly appointed. The house was aware of the importance and extent of the matters to be inquired into. The house had passed a Resolution disapproving of further conquests; but instead of adhering to the plan recommended in this Resolution, the Indian politicians persevered in their destructive schemes, till a great number of the native princes were destroyed, and the greater part of their dominions added to the territories of the Company. All the predictions with respect to their finances had failed, except that in one instance they had performed part of their engagements to the public, by paying 500,000l. The debt, which was to have been liquidated long before the time at which he was speaking, had constantly increased. It was impossible there could be a grosser case. In addition to this, the Committee had to consider the declaration of all the Directors, excepting one, that the wars of the marquis Wellesley were the cause of their embarrassments—that he had acted in violation of their laws, and had introduced into India a system of complete des- potism. What subject could be more grave and urgent than this? The whole causes of the disappointments experienced for such a long series of years; even the utility of the system of controul, might be called in question, as well as the conduct of all those connected with it. There might also appear some reason to conclude that the conduct of the Directors themselves ought to be arraigned; and yet the Committee selected to inquire into all these transactions were the very persons whose conduct might be called in question, as connected with these transactions; and they were thus to sit in judgment upon themselves and their system. There never was such a mockery of inquiry before. The person who proposed the Committee, and those of whom it was to be composed, was himself at the head of the Board of Controul, and nearly connected with its founder; and, therefore, it was to be presumed, that none of the Committee could be so uncivil as to open the lip against that system, or deny its utility. And though the marquis could not be on that Committee, yet care was taken to place his connections there; and the right hon. baronet (sir John Anstruther), who was the friend of the marquis Wellesley, and had been intimately connected with his system in his capacity of Chief Judge of Bengal, was to be the Chairman of this Committee! Would the hon. and learned baronet say a word upon the despotic system of the marquis Wellesley? But then it might be said, that two of the Directors were there. These Directors were, however, suing the Committee for money, something in the manner of paupers, and they were, out of doors, suing the right hon. gent. (Mr. Dundas) for a renewal of their charter. It was not probable, under these circumstances, that they would be very obstinate in their objections to whatever policy the right hon. gent. should approve. But it might be said again, how could we get information on these subjects, unless the Committee was composed of such as were most conversant with these matters? The best way to come at information was by the examination of records and of witnesses. Those persons most capable of giving information, might be examined by impartial though unlearned persons, and much more good would result. As a confirmation of this he mentioned the result of the labours of the unlearned Committee of Mr. Burke, which by the examination of witnesses and records, had produced a Re- port abounding in information. The information given in by lord Melville's Committee was not so profound and ample; but the Reports of both were admirable, when compared with the miserable production of last year by these knowing gentlemen, He blamed the Committee also for not producing the document for which he had moved last year. It was the very worst Committee that could be appointed, if the object was to give accurate information to the public. The great object of Buonaparte was to get to India; and he had already attempted to pave the way to that object. He had been successful at the court of Persia; and if he could reach our Indian possessions, he could not have two better allies than the embarrassment of the finances and the alienation of the natives. A Committee of this kind was calculated to preclude, and not to elicit information, and therefore he protested against it.

Sir Arthur Wellesley

thought it rather an odd way of selecting a Committee, to fix upon those persons who were ignorant of the business to come before that Committee, to the. exclusion of those who were informed upon the subject. The hon. gent. had objected to him (sir A. Wellesley) in a pointed, he might almost say in a personal manner, but he appealed to that hon. gent. as to the line of conduct pursued by him in the course of the proceedings of the late Committee. He begged leave to observe, that it could not be owing to any material difference as to the sincerity of his views with respect to East India politics, for he (sir Arthur) had divided with that hon. gent. on a question of no trifling importance, that had been before that Committee, and he did assure that hon. gent., that of this he might be sure, that whenever the conduct of his noble relation came before that Committee, the fullest and the most rigid inquiry into that conduct should at all times have his most cordial support. Indeed, he never should shrink from not only inquiry into that, but into all that either his noble relation, himself, or the marquis of Cornwallis, had done, even from the time of the year 1782. That our East India settlements had been most considerably extended, he did not think to constitute in itself a serious accusation, but he was fully prepared to prove to the Committee, whenever they would go into it, that the extension of our dominions had not been owing, as it had been presumed, to any aggression on our part; neither had they been undertaken with any view of ambitious aggrandizement. Whether and how far they were to be followed up, would be a question of a very different nature. It was certain, that war was in no country so expensive as in the East Indies. Since the peace of Deccan, concluded by him in 1803, there had not been in that province the slightest symptom of a tendency to hostilities. With respect to the Exposition, he thought that every paper relating to it ought to be produced. He wished the Exposition to have fair play, and it should be the intention of the Committee to give the details of all matters of Exposition. He could only say, with respect to the propriety of his own appointment, that if the house should think proper to add his name to that Committee, he never would oppose any question with respect to India, and he would; in every respect, discharge his duty with impartiality, and to the best of his abilities.

Mr. Creevey,

in explanation, denied that he had made any personal objections whatever to the gallant general, his objection was generally to those filling official situations.

Lord Archibald Hamilton

regretted that it was so often his misfortune to differ from gentlemen in that house upon the subject of East India affairs. He did think that the oppressions arising from the abuses of power by Buonaparte, were not greater nor more unjustifiable than those practised by the British government in India, and there had been a time when those opinions were more generally maintained, and more openly avowed, than they now certainly were. He was therefore at all times anxious for inquiry the most strict, which to he so ought to be the most impartial. He had no personal objection to any hon. member of that. Committee, but he was sure that any member being personally unobjectionable, was not therefore a sufficient reason why he might not be objectionable on the score of partiality.

Mr. W. Smith

was satisfied that there was nothing personal meant in the objection taken by his hon. friend, to the propriety of admitting the hon. general to a place in the Committee. The objection referred to official capacity only, and he did think the objection in this point well grounded. With respect to precedent, as alluded to by the hon. general, he was one of those who thought that forty precedents together could never sanction error. So far was he from thinking that the precedent of appointing informed per- sons should only be adhered to, that he thought that the house in nominating persons to this Committee, should rather look for impartiality with the means of obtaining information, than partiality, however fully possessed of that information, for in his experience he never met with many free from bias. He did not mean improper or corrupt bias, but that tendency to decide according to one's wishes; in the case of a common jury it was surely a matter of recommendation, that they were wholly ignorant of the merits of any case they were called upon to try. But if the persons to try in the present instance were not only acquainted with the circumstances of the question, but were parties in it, it was vain to say, that such persons could be competent judges. Here, then, the objection of his lion, friend lay; it was not to the individual, but to the situation which that individual had been in; and so far had he thought this principle objectionable, that it had always been his opinion, an opinion from the open avowal of which he had never shrunk, that the great mixture of the officers of the crown with the members of that house, had a tendency to prejudice the character, by improperly influencing the decisions, of parliament. This had been at all times his opinion; at the same time, he was aware of the suggestion, that it was perfectly possible to let the officers of the crown have seats without votes.

Mr. Wilberforce

said, he was not present at the commencement of the debate, but as he had a personal interest in the question, (he being one of the members proposed for that Committee,) he did wish to say one or two words. He dissented altogether from his hon. friend who had just sat down, as to the principle that would, in its application, tend to the exclusion of the servants of the crown from a share in the debates and decisions of that house; in every tribunal it was not to be doubted that impartiality was not only a desirable, but an indispensible qualification; but he could not go so far as to assent, that due information upon any question to be tried was inconsistent with impartiality. How would such a principle, carried to such an extent, apply to the officers who conducted in that house the business of the country? Were they to be driven from the privilege of defending in public whatever measures for the general good they had devised in private? Were they to be forced to leave to others to explain what they themselves best understood? and was it the most gracious way to encourage and assist their exertions to exclude them from the common privileges of the government, because they had taken upon themselves the arduous responsibility of governing? He could not pass over the observations of his hon. friend in silence; but with respect to the Committee, he thought it an advantage that it should not be deprived of those gentlemen, whose information must be of such service in the course of its inquiries: as far as respected himself, he unaffectedly assured the house, that he did wish to decline being a member of that Committee. He was afraid he could not possibly devote to it as much attention as he wished, and he should be glad that the name of some other gentleman was substituted in place of his own.

Mr. Whitbread

said, that the hon. gent. had begun by informing the house that he had not been present at the beginning of the debate: That he had not, was pretty manifest from the tenor of his speech: there was in that speech internal evidence that the hon. gent. did not hear what had gone before him. But with respect to the principle laid down by the hon. gent., in reference to public men, he had the misfortune widely to differ from that hon. gent. He protested against the principle of confidence in public men, and contended for it, that the constitutional principle was distrust—distrust in all public men, be they whom they might. He differed farther from the hon. gent. as to the importance of information on the part of those who were to inquire: information was seldom unaccompanied with bias either to the one side or the other, and even if it were not, he doubted the great advantages imputed to it. They had in their recollection three Committees: two of them, with respect to their previous ignorance of the matter into which they were to examine, might be denominated the unlearned Committees. The unlearned Committees had done their duty, while they had had as yet but one Report from the learned Committee. He had heard the speech of the gallant general, but he had heard nothing to do away the objection that officially existed against his appointment. The gallant general had told the house that he could prove such and such matters in the Committee—that he could prove the justice of his noble relative's administration in the East—that he could prove also the justification of the measures of the marquis Cornwallis—why, this was all very well in any other character, but not for the man who was to commence an unbiassed inquiry. Let the hon. general go before the Committee, and give in his depositions as a witness, but let him not assume to himself the character of an unprejudiced judge in matters in which he has prejudged already; in short, he was of opinion that the hon. general had disqualified himself by his own speech. But the hon. general was not the only person objectionable. Was the situation of War-Secretary such a sinecure, as that the noble lord could be spared from that department to attend to the business of this Committee? Could the right hon. the Chancellor of the Exchequer quit his official situation, as the hon. general had quited the Chief Secretaryship for Ireland, to discharge the very important duties of a member of this Committee? And as for the Directors, and the members of the Board of Controul, he rather thought that they should be examined against each other as witnesses, than be suffered to preside as judges. The prophecies of sir Philip Francis were fully verified, a man who not only possessed information and integrity, but what was equally important, was independent of office. He did not think that the son of a noble lord who had established the Board of Controul, and who was in other respects so interested in India affairs, or that the brother of a noble marquis, whose administration was thought by some to be so hostile to the interests of Great Britain in India, were the fittest persons to be appointed members of this Committee, He disapproved also of sir John Anstruther being a member of it, upon no other ground than that the mind of that gentleman was already made up upon the subject, and this, he thought, in itself amounted to a disqualification.

Mr. Fuller

entered into a comparison between the East and West Indies; the former he viewed as represented by Boards of Controul, Courts of Directors, and he knew not what, while the latter was denied justice, and oppressed.

Mr. W. Smith

rose to order. It was rather out of order to accuse the house of commons of injustice and oppression towards the West Indies; and, besides, it had nothing to do with the present question.

Mr. Fuller

resumed, and made a few further remarks approbatory of any reform that could be effected.

Mr. C. Grant

said, if the Committee was such as he supposed it to be, viz. to inquire into the present state of the Company's Affairs, and the causes which brought them into such a situation, it appeared to him to be fairly constituted.

Mr. P. Moore

said he thought the Committee a perfect farce and mockery of the public, for it will consist of two parties who ought to be in permanent hostility against each other. The gallant general had said the last war in India had produced the longest peace that had ever been known there; whereas the peace of 1781, made in a few hours, continued for a period of 19 years, till the gallant general was sent out to India with a discretionary power of peace or war in his pocket. The whole system of India had been wrong ever since the minister of the crown had interfered to set it right. The India Company were sufficient to do every thing that could be wished, but the Board of Controul would not permit it. Print the journals of the Board of Controul, and there would appear a system of the greatest fraud and peculation that was ever heard of. When the house came to the consideration of the finances of this country, which he hoped would soon be the case, it would be found that here, as in India, the shameful profligacy and lavish expenditure which had for so many years existed in full blossom, had wasted all the resources of the country in undue patronage, and influence of one kind or other. As to the Exposition, it ought to be produced, that those in the house who wished not to be on any Committee, might see how the resources of the country had been managed. Whilst the whole play of dethroning princes and rajahs was carrying on, not a word of information was sent to their masters the Directors: but they continued in full correspondence with the Board of Controul, and now they were going to club their efforts as a cover to blind the public, and keep them in ignorance of what is going on. He would advise the Chancellor of the Exchequer to take care how he parted with the public money, for he would shew soon, that the looseness and profligacy which had been used in lavishing it away, had drawn the country into all the difficulties under which it now laboured; and to give us a system which, had annihilated all the resources of the India Company, was absurd and preposterous. He had thought it necessary to trouble the house thus much on the business of this Committee, but his chief aim was to caution the Chancellor of the Exchequer how he parted with the public money.

Mr. G. Jolmstone

spoke in favour of this Committee, which, if it had any fault, it was that of leaning too much towards the East India Company. He coincided with Mr. Whitbread, in his panegyric on sir P. Francis, whose name, if he had been in the house, would have been one of the first proposed by his hon. friend to be upon the Committee.

The question was then put, and carried.

Mr. Creevey,

in consequence of his notice, rose to move for the production of the Exposition, which had been laid before the last Committee, which he considered as calculated to give more information than the Report of the Committee. In order to shew the grounds for this impression on his mind, he would read certain passages from the paper.

Mr. Wallace

spoke to order, he considered it irregular to read from a paper, of which it was the object of the motion to obtain the production.

The Speaker

observed that it was perfectly in order for a gentleman to state the grounds for his motion.

Mr. Creevey

proceeded to read from the Exposition, when,

The Speaker

informed him that it was not regular to read to the house that which he was asking the house to order to be produced. It was the same as with a petition, of which a member might state generally what was the scope and nature, but it was not allowed to be read, even at the table, till the permission of the house was received.

Mr. Creevey,

desisting from reading the passages, took a general view of the motives which induced him to offer this motion to the house.

Mr. Dundas

said, it was very unusual, when a Committee was appointed, to anticipate the report of that Committee, by calling for any particular document before the time when the others were to be produced. He doubted not but the Committee would produce that and every other paper relating to the affairs of the Company in due time.

Mr. Whitbread

compared the conduct of those interested in keeping back the paper called for, to that of a schoolboy he had read of, who would not say A lest he should be compelled to say B. The Exposition called for was of great importance. It could do no harm, it might be productive of much good; he therefore trusted it would be brought forward.

After some further observations, the motion was negatived without a division.