HC Deb 10 June 1819 vol 40 cc1077-82
Mr. Hume

rose to submit a motion to the House for a variety of returns relative to the newly acquired colonies of Ceylon, the Mauritius, the Cape of Good Hope, Malta, and the Ionian Islands. All the old colonies, he said, were governed by colonial assemblies; but the newly acquired colonies, amounting in value to a very large proportion of our whole colonies, had this peculiarity attending them, that the government was carried on under the secretary for the colonial department, and that all affairs, however important, were carried on by the colonial governor, who was the only individual entitled to interfere under the secretary for the colonies. The House were not, perhaps, fully aware of the importance of these colonies, of the great revenue of each, and of their great expense to this country. Although the island of Ceylon had long been in the possession of this country, yet he was not aware that up to the present moment, any estimate of the revenue or expenditure of that island was yet in the possession of ministers. From the peculiar manner in which the accounts respecting the colonies were kept, it was almost impossible for any individual to know what they cost. Large bills were drawn from the colonies on the government here, and these bills were not submitted to the House till a year or two after they were drawn. One thing was so mixed up with another, that it was impossible to know for what the sums for which those bills were drawn were expended. This state of things ought not to have continued so long. During the war, when we were in a state of uncertainty, whether these colonies would be retained by us, some justification might have been offered for this system; but in the fifth year of peace, surely it was the duty of that House to see what was the real state of the colonies we had acquired, what was the expense incurred for them by this country, and if found too large, to consider in what way it might be reduced. It might be necessary to state to the House, as one cause of the peculiar interest which he took in this question, that he had himself visited each of these colonies, and that he had, both while there and since, obtained such information as warranted the inquiries which he now called for. By the estimates last presented to the House, it appeared that the total number of troops in our colonies amounted to 30,000 and between 3 and 400. The number of regular troops in Ceylon, the Mauritius, the Cape, Malta, and the Ionian Islands, was 10,240, being one-third of the whole of our military establishment out of England. The pay and clothing, alone of this one-third cost 376,100l. without taking into account contingent expenses, the commissariat staff, and other ordinary and extraordinary expenses.. The staff of the whole British army was 79,535l.; the staff of the new colonies was 25,000l., being one-third of the whole British army. This seemed a very large staff indeed, when it was considered, that not a hostile naval flag waved to the east of the Cape of Good Hope; and that in case of hostilities, from the superior naval means at our command, we could always convey relief to our colonies before they could be endangered by any enemy whatever. In time of war he should be the last man to quarrel with an effective staff establishment; but in time of peace, when we could do so without risking the safety of the colonies, we ought to reduce these enormous staff establishments. Though it was impossible to attain perfect accuracy on this subject, he had been enabled to put down upwards of 900,000l., which ought to be placed to the account of these new colonies. When it was considered that the revenue of Ceylon was 640,456l., the Cape 229,494l., the Mauritius 206,860, Malta 114,415l., the Ionian Islands 120,000l.; making on the whole a revenue of 1,311,225l.—when it was considered that this revenue was altogether unknown to this House, though he did not mean to say it was improperly applied, he submitted it as a most important constitutional question for the House, whether the individual who filled the office of colonial secretary, and the individual governors, should continue to have the uncontrolled distribution of upwards of 1,300,000l. a year, and nearly a million more of other expenses connected with it? Whilst in the old colonies there were councils to check and assist the governors, in these new colonies no check whatever existed. It became a question, whether the king in council were to continue to direct, without any local government of a senate, legislature, or council, sums of such an amount? Ceylon, under the Dutch government, paid to Holland a very large surplus income. He had every reason to believe that the Cape paid also a large surplus revenue; and that the Mauritius, after paying its expenses, yielded a surplus revenue. If that was the case under the preceding governments when these colonies were liable to attack from the most powerful naval power, great Britain—if they were still able to protect themselves, to maintain internal tranquillity, and to guard against sudden attack from without— surely it was not too much to expect from his majesty's government, with such superior means always at command, that they should maintain these colonies at least without entailing any charge on this country. He wished to know why the expenses of the war in Ceylon were not laid before the House? On a former occasion, he requested the chancellor of the exchequer to state the nature of the account between the East India company, but he could receive no satisfactory answer. These accounts were balanced generally by two or three millions on each side, but the public ought to be made acquainted with them. It was known that from 3 to 4,000 of the company's troops had been sent from Bengal to Ceylon; those troops must be paid for. In common justice, government ought to relieve the East India company from this expense. Notwithstanding all that had been done at different times, the expenses incurred at Ceylon had been kept from the public eye. Unless a system of government, consistent with the principles of justice, and conciliatory to the inhabitants, was adopted, it would be impossible to keep that colony in our possession, unless at an expense of a most ruinous nature. It would be impossible to derive any benefit from the possession of that island, while an arbitrary system of government was pursued. If this had been done five years ago, an immense expense of blood and treasure would have been saved. If the regular returns were laid on the table, the House would be astonished to see the number of British lives, which had been sacrificed in the course of this war. He did not mean to impute any blame to the governor of that colony, but he condemned the necessity which had given rise to the harsh measures that had been adopted. He was anxious to impress the House with the value of this colony, with the greatness of its produce and the amount of its revenue, if properly directed; and also to point out the saving which by a different policy could be made to this country. A sum of half a million at least could be saved by reducing the military establishments of Ceylon, and those establishments could be reduced without danger to our interests, if the colony were governed on principles of justice and sound policy. He had five motions to make, each of which contained four resolutions. But as the resolutions were the same with respect to each island, he should merely state those which referred to Ceylon. They were for, 1. "A return of the total revenue of Ceylon within the last two years, distinguishing the separate items under each head. 2. A return of the whole expenditure of the island, distinguishing the civil from the military establishment, and the expenses of the island from those incurred by the British troops, and specifying the sums paid by England beyond the revenue of the island. 3. A return of the civil officers who held salaries and emoluments to the amount of 150l. and upwards during the last year; with the names of the parties, specifying those who were natives from British subjects; those who held more than one office; and those who performed the duties of their offices by deputy. 4. An account of the military staff of the island during the last year, specifying the emoluments of the officers, and distinguishing British from native officers." These accounts would enable the House to judge how far the recommendation of the finance committee of 1818, respecting our newly acquired colonies could be carried into effect. The resolutions respecting the Mauritius, the Cape of Good Hope, Malta, and the Ionian Islands, were precisely of the same nature with those he had just mentioned.—On the first resolution respecting Ceylon, being put,

Mr. Goulburn

said, he had already signified his readiness to accede to the motion as it regarded our colonies, but he could not accede to such an inquiry into the financial situation of the Ionian Islands. Those islands had a legislature of their own, totally independent of this country; and the Crown had no more right to call upon the senate to furnish an account of their income and expenditure, than it had to call upon any other state to do so. If the hon. member would refer to the constitution of those islands, he would find, that the senate were vested with the power of appointing their own officers, without reference to this country, and ministers did not conceive that they had a right to enter into any such investigation as that proposed.

The resolutions for the production of the above accounts from Ceylon, the Mauritius, the Cape of Good Hope, and Malta, and Gozo, were then put and carried unanimously.

Mr. Hume

said, he had a resolution in his hand, which ought to be carried, if they wished to ascertain the financial situation of the Ionian islands. The House had as much right to make this inquiry as they had to inquire into the situation of Ceylon, or any of our other colonies. It was urged, that the Ionian Islands were an independent state; but, by the treaty of Paris, these islands were placed under the protection of this country by the 8th article of that treaty. The treasurer of those islands was directed to lay before the British government a monthly account of their income and expenditure. If there were no demands on this country for the military establishments of those islands, he would not propose this inquiry, but surely, when we were supporting 3,000 troops there, it was not too much to examine how the revenue was disposed of, and whether it was not sufficient to meet the expenditure, as was stipulated by the before-mentioned treaty. He would ask, whether the emperors of Russia and Austria, who were parties to this treaty, were inclined to bear any part of the expenses incurred to us from the Ionian Islands? No; the treasury of those islands paid nothing, but this country was obliged to pay in all a sum of near 100,000l. The hon. member then moved, for the production of accounts from the Ionian Islands, similar to those already ordered from Ceylon.

The first resolution was negatived without a division. Mr. Hume then moved for an account of all monies expended by this country on account of the Ionian Islands, during the last two years. —Ordered.