HC Deb 28 April 1826 vol 15 cc740-2

On the order of the day for the second reading of this bill,

Mr. Bright

said, that notwithstanding the thin state of the House, he would take that opportunity of making a few observations on this bill. He knew and lamented the indifference with which all subjects connected with India were treated by the people of England; but, involving as it did, the question of the government over a hundred millions of people, it was entitled to the most serious consideration. One reason of that indifference was, that the Commons of England had no opportunity of examining very minutely into the matter, for want of the information necessary to enable them to understand it. An immense quantity of papers lately published by the East-India Company did, it was true, contain that information; but they were not before the House. He had, with great labour, waded through the whole of the mass to which he alluded, for the purpose of enabling him to form his own opinion on the subject; and he wished that it was placed in the hands of all the members of the House. He believed that the result would be extremely beneficial to the country, and useful to the interests of India. At present, the generality of the people of England knew nothing of the affairs of India, but what they learned from the gazettes. It was a fact, that the very last papers respecting the progress of the Burmese campaign, which were published in the London Gazette, were not official papers, but copies, or extracts taken from copies, of private letters [hear, from Mr. Wynn]. He would take upon himself to say, that such was the fact; and, if there were any doubts entertained upon the subject, he would forthwith produce the newspaper which he had in his pocket, and which contained the publications in question. It had long been the case, that one of the very few means which the country had of knowing the real condition of things in our Asiatic possessions, was the periodical application officially made in parliament for the supplies necessary for the expenses of the naval and military services of the British government in India. But here was a bill, which, inasmuch as it went to vest the cognizance of the former of these matters solely in the East-India Company itself, would in future prevent the parliament from knowing any thing at all about the affair. True, it might be said, that the people of England were poor, and the East-India Company rich; and that the former ought to be glad of having the burthens of this particular naval service removed to the shoulders of the latter. He hoped it was true that the Company were rich. He hoped that parliament would not hear of any loans, either voluntary or forced, granted to them by the native princes of India, in order to enable them to prosecute the war in which they were now engaged. As to the relief from the burthen in question, which it was intended that the English people should experience, he could only say, that, although there was a general cry throughout the nation for economy in all the departments of the public service, he was still convinced that, if parliament consented to abolish the usual course of holding the Company to these wholesome applications, from time to time, of which he had already spoken, it would, by the same proceeding, most effectually deprive itself of all superintendence or control over the affairs of India. It really appeared to him, that the House ought to call upon the right hon. gentleman to produce those papers which had been recently published by the East-India Company; papers which contained more valuable information on the subject of Indian affairs, than any which had been lately promulgated, and which, although not printed by order of that House, could scarcely be said to be not official. On these grounds, he did consider that this bill ought not to pass the House; or, at all events, before any such bill passed, that the finances of the East-India Company should be submitted to parliamentary examination.

Mr. Wynn

observed, that the expenses of the war in India were paid out of the funds arising from the Company's territorial possessions in that country. By the Company's charter, the Indian government were bound to support 20,000 troops in India; and, if a war with any of the native powers should render an addition to that force necessary, then the expenses of that additional force were also to be defrayed by the Company. But a naval force, for the purpose of aiding the military operations in that country, being a new feature in their mode of warfare, had not been contemplated in the charter, and therefore the present bill had been introduced, for the purpose of regulating the method in which the expenses of that service were to be defrayed.

The bill was read a second time.