§ Sir James Mackintosh
, in rising to present a petition from "the Inhabitants of Calcutta against the Imposition of a Stamp Tax," said, that whether he considered the place from which the petition came, or the nature of the grievances of which it complained, he felt himself borne out in stating, that the petitioners possessed peculiar claims upon the attention of the House. In the first place, it related to a grievance in regard to the raising of money upon British subjects—a matter which was an 1398 object of the highest importance. In the second place, the petitioners were a large and respectable body of individuals, whose characters stood as high as those of any other class of persons in the British dominions, and who, from their present unrepresented condition, had peculiar claims upon the attention of the House. And, in the third place, it related to, and interested all, the Indian native inhabitants, and all the unplaced and unofficial European inhabitants of Calcutta, the capital of a territory containing eighty millions of inhabitants. The object of the petition was to complain of the Stamp-duty which had been imposed, by the regulations of the government of India, within the last fourteen months. The petitioners complained of this tax, as being illegal, impolitic, and unjust. With respect to the first ground of their complaints, he would say nothing. It had been already determined, by the Superior Court of Justice at Calcutta, that it was legal; and, if the petitioners disputed that judgment, they could appeal against it to the king in Council. With respect to the other objection, it related to the particular operation of the duty. It had been stated, that they did not contribute their full proportion to the public burthens; but the petitioners denied the assertion, and offered to prove, that while the inhabitants of Bengal paid at the rate of 5s. per head, the inhabitants of Calcutta paid at the rate of 10s. per head to the general taxes. The petitioners also complained of the injustice of the tax; and they alleged, that it was peculiarly oppressive, on account of the nature of the dealings amongst the inhabitants of Calcutta. They likewise complained, that this tax was a most expensive one, and that it cost forty-five per cent in its collection. That statement should also be inquired into; and if it appeared that this particular tax was more harassing than productive, the substitution of some other less objectionable tax, merited the serious consideration of the House.—The Stamp-duty was the grievance complained of in this instance: and though it might appear comparatively insignificant, they would find, by a reference to the history of their own country that the maintenance of a similar grievance was often attended with fatal results. He did not mean to impute blame to the authorities in India, or to the government at home; but the question was, whether 1399 the British inhabitants of India should be called upon to bear equal burthens, before they had equal privileges bestowed upon them. It was just matter of complaint, that disabilities were imposed in India upon no man but an Englishman or an European. What was the history of India? For a long time utterly neglected; at length forcing itself upon the attention of parliament; the subject suddenly taken up; debated for a few hours, in a few days, of a session; and in the end a bargain passed for the lease of this great empire for twenty years longer. In the interval, the perpetual appearance of impatience in parliament interdicting the most intrepid member in the House from bringing the subject under its consideration, until perhaps the very day before the settling day between the steward and the tenant; when, perhaps, some increase in the rent, or a new settlement, was agreed to. That was the history of the conduct of parliament towards India in the successive periods of 1773, 1783, 1794, and 1813. What could have been expected from such a system. Slow without deliberation, and sudden without vigour, when the subject came upon them, scarce a moment's time was devoted to it, and consideration, inquiry, and meditation, were left out of the question. In the two first periods which he had mentioned, too much of party and personal feeling had been mixed up with the subject, to allow parliament to come to a calm decision upon it. In 1794 and 1813, they were at the commencement and the termination of the most sanguinary war, in which this country had ever been engaged. Now, for the first time, the opportunity was approaching, when they could give to the subject due and dispassionate deliberation. But three years now remained, ere the period for that discussion would arrive, and when the House would be called upon to determine, whether the government of India should be continued as it at present stood, or whether it should be subjected to any changes or modifications—the defence of the restrictions of which the petitioners complained could only be grounded upon their necessity to the good government of India. And here he was driven to discuss the necessity of those restrictions to the good government of India. No British subject could go out to that vast British territory without a licence. It was the only part of the world from which English- 1400 men were excluded; with the exception of China and Japan. When a British subject arrived in India, he could not quit the capital of the province in which he resided, without a licence; and he was confined to the single spot to which he had obtained leave to go. Should he go to any other place he was liable to be seized, and carried back. Unless he had a licence, he could not leave the district in which he resided; nor could he maintain a civil action in defence of his own rights. He was incapable, too, of farming without a licence; nor could he, unless he possessed a licence, be a party to any publication. The last and most oppressive grievance of all was, that he was liable to be transported nineteen thousand miles from the seat of his fortune and his industry, and to the utter destruction of his worldly prospects. Here was a law imposing the punishment of banishment and confiscation without any previous trial; and, as a further aggravation of the grievance, no individual belonging to the vilest tribe in India, was liable to such oppressive punishment. He had a few words to say upon the interdiction imposed upon the press in India. In our West-Indian colonies, a free press was permitted to exist. Thus a freedom of discussion was confided to slaves, which was denied to the inhabitants of the East Indies. The freedom of political discussion was more necessary in India than in any other country in the world. It was the only way by which the inhabitants of that vast empire could make known their grievances. Had they a free press, it would waft their complaints "from Indies to the pole;"—it would bring this country nearer to India, and make us cognizant of every variation in the state of feeling in that country. What would the House think of a direct law, which prevented the introduction of skill and capital into this great dependency? By the law as it at present existed in India, manufacturing industry was impeded in every way. Yet the cultivation of indigo, in spite of the discouragement given to it, had added two millions annually to the wealth of this country. Here were ample grounds for investigation. The House should inquire into the system of restrictions and disabilities which he had mentioned, before it determined that the continuance of such a system was necessary for the well-being of things in India. It seemed to him that the system adopted for the government of 1401 so extended an empire was at variance with all the examples hitherto known in the history of nations and of governments. It was so contrary to the dictates of common sense and prudence, that it defied the most acute mind to comprehend it. He knew not that any investigation of the system could induce reasonable men to approve of it; but he was sure that nothing but the most rigid inquiry ought to satisfy any reasonable man in deciding on the fitness of a system which was at variance with the first principles of government. It would, he thought, be discovered, that it had arisen out of the circumstance of our having applied the maxims of factories, to the government of a great empire. It was on this ground that the East-India Company had acted. Interlopers excited the jealousy of a trading company, who feared that they might injure them in their commercial speculations, or hurt their interests with those petty tyrants before whom they trembled. But what were the three thousand persons who had, under the late relaxation, found their way to India, when placed in competition with the good government of an empire containing a population of many millions? Should he be told, that it was necessary to prevent Europeans from proceeding to India, in order that the natives might be protected from oppression? If that were said, he would ask, whether gentlemen had considered what was the situation of the great body of the Indian population? It was a country almost entirely without that middle class of people, which connected together the two extreme classes of society—the poor and the wealthy. Could any man say, that in the absence of such a class, the poor could be protected from oppression? Who was to protect the people, if any of the company's officers abused their power? There were, in India, no such guardians as a middle class—no such guardians as those persons who, embarked in trade and manufactures,—depending for success in business on peace and tranquillity,—looking to the security of personal property for the realization of future fortune; and who, being consequently deeply interested in the maintenance of order, would oppose any act that was likely to disturb it. If the natives wanted any set of men to protect them, let a body of Europeans be invited to that country to strengthen the, connexion; if they 1402 wished to make India invulnerable to the attacks of a foreign enemy, they ought to take the same course; and if they wished to reduce the expense of the government in India, that object would be best attained by peopling it with such persons as he had described. Therefore, he could not see any rational ground of apprehension, in allowing Europeans to proceed to India.—Another circumstance was very conspicuous in our Indian legislation; and it showed that this country felt all those fears which were inspired by the transactions that occurred in the latter part of the American war. The year 1784, when the war terminated, and 1793, when the charter was renewed, were not far distant; and, the legislature being alarmed at what had occurred in America, gave to India an independent community, consisting of men of a purely civil character;—one of the worst anomalies that could be imagined. There was another very striking point; namely, that no person had yet proposed to make the present government of India permanent. It had hitherto been always proposed as a lease for a term of years, and he did not expect, if he lived long enough to witness the discussions on the renewal of the charter, that any man would propose to make the present system permanent in India; neither did he believe that any man would propose to have the expense of one great country defrayed by locking up the commerce of another. These were things that might be proposed as temporary expedients; but which, he was convinced, would never be introduced as parts of a settled and permanent government.—But, let the House well consider what were the dangers of governing India by temporary expedients. Such a system tended to lower India in the estimation of the British public;—it tended to repel the attention of government and of the legislature from a dependency governed by principles different from those recognized in this country.—There were three objections made to the measure of 1813—a measure which was chiefly valuable for the experience it had afforded. In the first place, it was objected that the Company's government was a good government, and therefore that no alteration was necessary. Now, he at once admitted, that a government conducted by men educated as the members of a free state, and placed under the eyes of a metropolitan government like this, must possess a very 1403 great advantage over an Asiatic government. Such a government secured life and liberty—such a government secured peace and tranquillity—such a government was friendly to religious toleration. Indeed, when he left India, every religion was encouraged excepting only the Christian religion. The missionaries were not allowed to promulgate what they conceived to be a good and true doctrine; which, in his opinion, amounted to an infringement of religious liberty. There were two great measures of government which prevented the improvement of India. The first was, heavy and excessive taxation; the second, the shutting the doors of a fair ambition against the natives. Any relaxation of the expense of government—any decrease of taxation—any departure from the system of prohibition—would be attended with beneficial effects. He thought that the refusal of the aid of cheap native officers was impolitic. Those individuals remained in the country, and were more likely to give satisfaction to the inhabitants, than individuals of different habits and manners. Something might, in his opinion, be done to place the natives in inferior offices, with a view to their gradual improvement. He believed that something- had been done, in that respect, by his right hon. friend (Mr. Wynn); but, in effect, the grievance remained.—There were two other objections made in the year 1813 to the measure then proposed. They were told,—and told, by some of the most celebrated men who had been in India, that the Hindoos were a race whose wants never increased, and whose markets would never improve for the consumption of articles of British manufacture. It was likewise asserted, that the introduction of Europeans into India would disturb, if not destroy, the peace and tranquillity of the country. These were the objections stated at the bar of the House by various witnesses, and supported within the House by different members. But what was the fact? The first opinion, as to the Indian market being incapable of improvement, was belied by the most decisive evidence. During the seven last years of the monopoly of the trade of India, the average exports amounted annually to 1,200,000l. and the imports to 4,300,000l.; whereas, in the last seven years, from 1820 to the end of 1826, the average exports amounted to more than 4,000,000l. and the average 1404 imports to 6,800,000l. The House had been informed, that in consequence of the system of partial free trade introduced in 1813, three thousand persons had gone to India, and they had been originally warned, that the influx of that number of individuals would create confusion from one end of India to the other. What was the fact? Was there any instance of disturbance or confusion? None whatever. In reading the travels of Dr. Heber, the late excellent bishop of Calcutta, who had shed such a glorious light on the infant Protestant establishment in India, he found matter that led to a directly different conclusion. He had read that venerable individual's travels to different parts of India with much pleasure. Dr. Heber remarked, that English habits and feelings were making great progress all over India; and that many of the more ingenious articles of English industry were now to be found in countries where twenty years ago, the name of England was not heard or known. Dr. Heber had certainly said a few words against the indigo planters; but in that instance he seemed to rely on information which he had received, rather than to have been guided by his own experience. But he said emphatically, that more English inhabitants were desirable in India. That was Dr. Heber's unprejudiced opinion. So far, one of the objections to which he had alluded was completely contradicted by experience: the other was also contradicted, so far as the experiment which had been made would allow. There were at the time of the renewal of the charter, only two persons who dared to oppose the host of witnesses who predicted so many fatal consequences as the result of a free trade. The one was lord Grenville, to whom he only did bare justice when he said, that he combined the most comprehensive principles with the most minute and accurate knowledge,—a nobleman whose understanding was instructed and disciplined, without being narrowed or contracted, by the proceedings of former times,—a nobleman to whom the maxim of the ancient sage might well be applied, that he continued to learn as he grew old. With respect to the other individual, no tribute need to be paid to him beyond the mention of his name. He alluded to Mr. Rickards, who had been long in India, but who strongly advocated the principles of free trade. With that manliness and 1405 integrity, which belonged to his character, he predicted that the alarms which were spread abroad at the time would be found to be wholly groundless; and that prediction had been verified to the letter, The names of lord Grenville and Mr. Rickards stood alone—the principle which they maintained was adopted; but in a narrow and confined manner.—Now, the only question to which he entreated the attention of the House was this—whether it was not fit to begin, even now, to inquire into this subject,—to begin early, in order that they might proceed slowly,—to begin betimes, in order that they should no more make India a disgraceful prize in a scuffle between contending factions. He thought that if the House took up this petition, and a committee were appointed to inquire into the situation of the English population of India, the subject lay in so narrow a compass, that its consideration would not occupy much time. If they even found it impossible to do any thing in the matter at present, still their having noticed the subject, would be a pledge, that parliament intended to sift this question, in all its views and bearings. Besides, the committee might be usefully employed in drawing up an outline of inquiry, for a future and more extensive examination. He would move, "That this petition be referred to a Select Committee."
§ Mr. Wynn
said, he could not help doubting whether his right hon. friend, if a select committee were appointed, would be able, in the slightest degree, to obtain the objects enumerated in his speech. The petition simply pointed out the objections which the petitioners entertained, with respect to the stamp regulations of Calcutta; and it called on the House to pass a declaratory act, denying the right of the government of India to frame such a regulation. That being the scope of the petition, he doubted whether a committee appointed to consider its prayer, could inquire into the various objects mentioned by his right hon. friend. He admitted, however, that the subjects introduced by his right hon. friend were well worthy the attentive consideration of the House; and he trusted that, at a proper time, due attention would be paid to them. He now wished to call the attention of the House to a particular point, which his right hon. friend seemed to think of no importance whatever. Now, he contended that, by a clause of the 53rd of George 3rd, the go- 1406 vernment had a right to impose this tax. The Supreme Court had decided, that the regulation was perfectly legal; and he was informed by his hon. friend, who was, when the act was drawn up, Secretary to the Board of Control, that this particular clause was introduced for the purpose of sanctioning duties of this very kind. The act was to be explained by its words; and, looking at them fairly, as well as considering the acknowledgment of his hon. friend, he thought that the construction which had been put upon those words in India was right. This tax was certainly less detrimental than many others; and, he must observe, that the East-India government had said, that from the pressure of the late wars upon their resources, they were unable to spare any portion of their revenue, and that, consequently, they were unable to remove this tax. He could not conceive on what principle it was said, that it was unjust that the inhabitants of Calcutta should be called upon to pay any portion of this tax, when it was recollected, that they went out well knowing that they were subject to the provisions of this act. But he would go into a more general consideration of the question. Most certainly he did not concur in the act of the 53rd of the late king. On the contrary, he was one of the few who were anxious that it should be limited to a shorter time, in order that a less remote opportunity might be given to the parliament of taking the state of India under their consideration, and of turning their attention to that most important topic, how extensive, or in how limited a degree, the trade of India should be thrown open. He heartily wished that the House had concurred with this view; but it had not: it had granted these powers to the East-India Company for twenty-one years, by an act which would not expire till 1834. Until that time, therefore, they were precluded from legislating on this subject.—What his right hon. friend had touched upon was, the absence of power of transmission to India, without previous application and licence; but this was one of the provisions of the act, which they could not fairly touch, until the charter had expired. It was one of the conditions on which the East India Company had made the bargain which existed between them and the public. At the same time, however, he could state, that since this act had passed, these permissions had become 1407 gradually extended. In 1825, the number of applications of persons wishing to go to India was nine hundred and forty-three. Of this number, the directors had complied with seven hundred and forty-three. Forty-one cases had come before the Board of Control, in which applications which had been refused by the directors were granted. There remained, therefore, one hundred and fifty-nine to whom permission had been refused. Now, great part of those who had experienced refusals had met with them because they were unable to show that they had any reasonable chance of obtaining a livelihood when they reached India, and who might, consequently, put the Company to the expense of supporting them. In many cases, too, it was wished to carry out European servants, and persons who were intended as clerks in mercantile houses. The principle on which many such applications were refused was this—that those situations were occupied by half castes, whom a system of policy, which he must call an unjust and mistaken one, had for a long time subjected to rigorous exclusions. From this fact, he thought it hard, that the Europeans should infringe this employment also, and establish a monopoly of this means of gaining an honest livelihood. Latterly, however, these restrictions had been departed from, and permission had been granted, on the application of any respectable house. In every instance in which it could be shown that there was a power of furnishing employment, licences had been given. But this was not all. Persons had gone out there in merchant vessels, who had not wished to return; and he might say, that there were full as many residing in India under the permission of the local government, as had gone from England under licences from the Directors and from the Board of Control. Such was the course which had been pursued.—He hoped there would be a much more extensive communication between Europeans and India; but he regretted to say, there must be a continuance of the same strict regulations. He held it absolutely necessary that the inhabitants of India should be protected. India must not be held solely as a means of wealth to England. They had a higher duty to perform, in providing for the security and happiness of the inhabitants. He wished that he could agree with his right hon. friend in what had fallen from him on the subject 1408 of the intercourse between the inhabitants of India and the Europeans. He was sorry to say, if he looked back to all history—if he investigated the character and conduct of his own countrymen—that he was obliged to come to this conclusion, that the more free the government was at home, the more persons who had been used to such a government held others who had not the happiness of enjoying the same privileges in contempt—the more they abused their feelings, and despised a condition which they ought rather to commiserate. Though this might not be a commonly-received doctrine, yet certainly he held it. He believed that if India were subject to persons who had been under a despotic government at home, they would be treated much better than by those who had enjoyed the blessings of a free government. In the minds of the latter, the condition of the people of India would be sure to generate contempt. Look at Sparta. Was there ever a more free government? Were there ever more severe masters than the Spartans? Look at Rome, and they would find the same thing to have been the case there. He perfectly concurred with his right hon. friend, that it was wise to blend the conquered and the conquerors; but the system which had been hitherto pursued would render the course pointed out by his right hon. friend extremely unsafe, until years of experience and preparation had undone the mischiefs that had already been effected. There existed strong prejudices—prejudices of colour, of religion, and of habits. He did not mean to argue, that habits of whatever kind must last for ever. Habits were the offspring of civilization and legislation; but what his right hon. friend wished to do must be effected gradually? It could not be done precipitately.—His right hon. friend had stated two great inconveniences which prevailed in India. The one was great taxation; the other, shutting the door to ambition. His right hon. friend appeared to think, that much might be done by employing a cheaper description of officers; but this he should be sorry to do; for, habituated as these persons had been for centuries to habits of corruption, he was convinced that the experiment would be dangerous. Much, however, might be done by the admission of natives, and thereby offering objects for their ambition. He differed altogether from those who thought that they could, never hops 1409 for impartial justice at the hands of the natives of India. It ought to be recollected, that no temptations to honest ambition and to the exercise of just impartiality had ever been held out to the natives. He hoped that the remissions in those restrictions and exclusions upon the native inhabitants of India, which had taken place within the last few years, would become more extensive; that the natives would receive employment in a greater degree; and that they would at length arrive at situations of trust and emolument. He believed that much had been effected by the government of sir T. Monro, and that other presidencies also had not been without improvements. He was certain, too, that there was no object nearer the heart of his noble friend who had lately been invested with the government of India, than the amelioration of the condition of the natives of India. He must submit to his right hon. friend if it be possible, on so limited a question as this of stamp regulations, to ingraft the general extensive question, of what restrictions were advisable on the commercial and other intercourse between this country and India. He had no wish that there should be any unnecessary postponement; but, by commencing the inquiry now, would they not be likely to fatigue the attention of the House and of the country, and thereby to injure the question? His idea was this—the charter would expire in 1834; and the year 1830 suggested itself to him as the time at which the inquiry should be instituted. This would give three years for inquiry and legislation, and one year for carrying into effect whatever regulations the parliament might think proper to impose. He could not agree, that any inquiry into the subject of this petition was necessary. If it were illegal, the petitioners might appeal to the Privy Council; where the highest legal authorities of the land would decide what the real construction of the act was. As to the policy of the measure, he thought the duty by no means unfair. It was a duty on commercial stamps imposed upon a rich society of merchants, and he knew of no fairer object of taxation.
§ Mr. Hume
said, he would make a few observations upon the concluding part of the right hon. gentleman's speech. The right hon. gentleman said, he thought the period too early for inquiry; but, if evidence was to be the rule on which that House was to proceed, the inquiry ought 1410 to be instituted at a time which would give opportunities of communication with India, and afterwards of candidly and dispassionately discussing that evidence. As to the argument which the right hon. gentleman had founded on equality, he surely could not have forgotten how different the rights of Englishmen were who lived beyond the ditch of Calcutta. However, he was free to confess that he did not think the legality of the tax worth talking about. He took the condition of the Indian community to be so important, that all technicalities ought to be waved when they came to investigate the complaints of that community. It had been said, that this was a narrow petition; but did it not complain that they were debarred from meeting together to petition against taxes, which they had no representatives to object to for them? Calcutta might be looked upon as the centre of a population of seventy or eighty millions. Its population was greater than that of Paris, and almost as great as that of London. Ought not the complaints of such an extensive community of natives and Europeans to be listened to with attention? The refusal of the government at Calcutta to allow the petitioners to assemble for the purpose of applying to that House, was the greatest instance of oppression he ever heard of. They did, however, meet in defiance of the threats which had been held out. All that the inhabitants of Calcutta asked was, not to be taxed without having an opportunity of being heard. The people of England had at least the semblance of this privilege, and why were not those of her colonies to be held entitled to it? In 1813, on the renewal of the Company's charter, one distinct provision had been, that the people of Calcutta should not be taxed unless with the approbation of the Board of Control and Board of Directors. If that provision had any meaning at all, it meant that the people of Calcutta should not have taxes imposed upon them without the right of appeal: and, on the part of the people of Calcutta, he claimed its fulfilment. The system pursued in India was a wrong one:—wrong, both as regarded ourselves at home, and the people abroad whom we governed. He happened to have in his possession a curious document, which contained the opinions expressed by our great enemy Buonaparte, upon the subject of colonial government. The words had been used by the empe- 1411 ror, in the course of a discussion upon French colonial affairs; and their tenor was as follows:—"With respect to foreign colonies, it is fit to govern them with energy; but there can be no energy where there is not justice. To this end it is necessary that the government at home should be informed of every thing that passes, and hear the statements of all parties aggrieved or concerned; for it is not sufficient merely to do that which is right; men must know that their claims are heard and their interests attended to; and this cannot be the case unless they feel that they have the power of making themselves heard. If the councils of a state were composed of angels or gods, who had the power of intuitively comprehending and deciding all questions rightly, it would signify nothing, unless the colonists were assured that their own statements and representations were heard and taken into consideration." He wished that the late right hon. Secretary for the Colonies had been still in his place, and in a condition to carry those golden principles into execution. But, what was the system now acted upon? It proceeded upon the very reverse of them, in all its bearings. The press was stifled; every means of communication were checked; and upon every question that arose in India, the rulers obstinately rejected all information, but that which reached them through their own official channels. The people of this country were no less interested than those of India in a reform of this state of affairs; and he fully agreed that it was not an hour too early to come even now to a consideration of the East-India Company's charter.
said, that no man could be more alive than he was to the propriety of doing every thing for our fellow-subjects in India which could be done for the people of this country, but complaints had been brought forward on the other side, which were void of reasonable foundation. It was difficult to make taxation palatable; and to the stamp duty considerable dislike appeared to be entertained. But many circumstances had been dwelt upon as grievances, which, in point of fact, could not be considered as taxes at all. For instance, lotteries could not be called a direct tax. But all that was gained by them the government laid out in cleansing and beautifying the city of Calcutta. The portage and harbourage dues also did not defray the expenses attendant upon the 1412 maintenance of the ports and harbours. Again, canal-tolls could not properly be considered as levies amounting to taxation; but the fact was, that these tolls did not pay the expense of keeping the canals in repair. It was said, that the tax thus levied was a poor pitiful tax, not producing more than 100,000l. per annum. Now, the less the contribution by these individuals, the less reason had they to complain; especially when it was recollected how extremely wealthy this capital of central India was. Yet, as it was said that the debt, contracted by reason of the Burmese war, was in amount 340,000l., the contribution of the inhabitants of Calcutta, forming nearly one third of that debt, could not be; considered unimportant. It was argued by the people of Calcutta, that they enjoyed nothing in right of their contribution in this instance. What! was it nothing that they were protected in peace and quietness, and in the enjoyment of unrestricted commerce with the natives and the other presidencies throughout that vast country? Such was the wealth that the parties now complaining had acquired under the present system, that about three years ago, six opulent mercantile houses united together, and invested not less than six millions of rupees in a speculation, connected with the Burmese war, from which they derived proportionate profits. To prove that what had been alleged as to the scale of duties being unfair, he would remind the House, that there was scarcely any duties imposed on imports higher than 5l. per cent, whilst in this country they; were frequently from 15l. to 33l. per cent. The article of spirits, on which a considerable profit accrued, was charged moderately; and even French brandy, on which here we paid 19s. per gallon, was subject only to a duty of 6d. Upon the whole, he would contend, that the people of Calcutta enjoyed under their present form of government such peace and protection, and so many inestimable advantages, that they had no reason to complain; and, as far as respected taxation, he saw so little reason to think that they ought not to be put on a footing with the natives, that he felt the right hon. gentleman had made out no case whatever.
§ Mr. Trant
said, he had long been resident amongst the British merchants in Calcutta, and was satisfied that no class of men possessed greater advantages, or had less to complain of, than those per- 1413 sons who were so loud in their complaints. With respect to the inconveniences, also, felt by others residing in the presidencies at a distance, the hon. member for Montrose had been misinformed. He had reason to believe that there was not an indigo planter, who was not possessed, in his own right, of land. They had heard allusions made to the supposed apprehension entertained by the directors, of the consequences of colonization. No such dread was entertained. Persons who were so disposed, and had capital, were allowed to go out with their families. The fact was, that India was fast becoming a colony.
§ Mr. Astell
said, that this was the case of petitioners who were merchants of Calcutta, complaining of certain duties imposed upon stamps, which they denounced as illegal and impolitic. As to the impolicy of those duties, he would remind the House, that the governor and council had actually, of late years, remitted several duties and taxes. The happiness of the people of Calcutta had gone hand in hand with their commercial wealth and prosperity. The complaints put forth by those who styled themselves the advocates of India, were extremely ill-founded. He contended for the legality of the impost which had been petitioned against, and vindicated generally the government of the East-India Company. There was no real impediment, he observed, to British settlers going out to India; for none able and willing to be of use there were refused the facilities of going out. The hon. member then proceeded to notice the demand for a free press, which he strenuously combatted, and concluded by expressing his determination to resist the motion before the House.
said, that rather than that nothing should be done, in consequence of the representations contained in the present petition, he would consent to the referring the whole matter to a committee; for if that reference were attended with no other good effect, it would at least let in light upon the affairs of India. It was therefore that he would, if his right hon. friend pressed the question to a division, certainly vote with him; at the same time, he fully agreed with those who thought that that was not the most convenient period of the session to enter upon questions of such magnitude. He differed altogether with those who 1414 thought that the legislature ought to postpone to an indefinite period the consideration of that most important question which arose out of the circumstances of the new settlers in India—their trade, laws, and general polity. At what particular time that inquiry should be commenced, he was not prepared to say; but the earliest time was unquestionably the best. Possibly the next session, or the one immediately after that, might be the most remote period to which such an inquiry could be postponed. That would bring them not far from the year 1833—a period likely to prove of the highest moment to the interests and happiness of the inhabitants of British India. As to the immediate question before the House, he did not feel disposed to deliver any opinion upon the legality of the impost of which the petitioners complained. If the authorities in India had acted illegally, the parties aggrieved had their remedy in a Court of Law. If the case were in some degree doubtful, a remedy by means of Courts of Law, was still within the reach of the suffering parties; and, finally, by means of the Courts of Appeal in this country, with a view to the settlement of the question. It was only in case it appeared to be so doubtful, that the Courts of Law could not decide it, that parliament should be moved to pass a declaratory act, for the purpose of putting an end to all uncertainty. The late President of the Board of Control had called the attention of the House to what he conceived to have been the intention of the legislature in passing the act under which these Stamp duties had been levied. If it were the intention of the framers of that act to authorise the several presidencies to impose taxes of that nature, an instance never came under his observation of a more unsuccessful attempt to convey in language the views or intentions of any legislative body. He would not say that the Court of Calcutta had come to an erroneous decision, but he did hope that, in the event of any future legislation upon that subject, an attempt would hi made to adopt language more clearly expressive of the intention of the legislature. The question which his right hon. friend had brought under the consideration of the House was nothing less than whether half a million of the inhabitants of India had or had not great reason to complain, and whether or not 1415 parliament would turn a deaf ear to their representations. He could not but express the satisfaction conveyed to his mind by the course which the present discussion had taken: and he looked with hope to the results of those deliberations which he anticipated when the House should grapple with that extensive subject. He did not conceive that a free press would be a panacea for the evils which afflicted India; but he did conceive that a free press existing in connexion with the privilege of public meetings and a free exercise of the right of petitioning, would tend greatly to alleviate no inconsiderable portion of those evils. It was extremely gratifying, in the present discussion, to observe that there were no extravagant prejudices to combat. It was gratifying likewise to observe the prevalence of those liberal and enlightened opinions, which left no apprehensions of danger, whenever the question came in a more ample form before the House. It was upon that account, that he thought there would be no risk in leaving the matter in the hands of his majesty's government until the ensuing session. At the same time, if his right hon. friend was determined to press the question to a division, he would not refuse his vote.
§ Mr. Courtenay
could not positively speak as to what he might have said sixteen years before, but he conscientiously believed that it was intended by the clause in question to give to the presidencies the power of taxation to as great an extent as possible, subject to the control of the directors. The right hon. gentleman had said, that not only the directors, but the government, had led them to believe, that an open trade was to be established with India. He could take on himself to say, having then filled the situation he had lately held, that this was not the opinion of either the directors or the government. It was not the opinion of lord Buckingham or Mr. Sullivan, or any of the members of the Board of Control: it was not the opinion of the humble individual who was then addressing them, nor was it the tendency of any advice he had ever given; and he might say, it would not be the tendency of any advice he might give in future, though the measures he should recommend, and hope to see carried into execution, would be to give liberal facilities to trade.
§ Mr. Robert Grant
said, that of the policy of this tax, and of its justice he 1416 meant to say nothing. He had never read a petition more distinct in its objects, more clear in its premises, and more decisive in its prayer. The premises were, that this tax, and all this class of taxes were not legally imposed, and that the local government had no power to impose them. On these grounds, the petitioners prayed, that the House would pass a declaratory law, stating, that to impose them was illegal. This was the substance of the petition which his right hon. friend proposed to refer to a select committee; but, if the petitioners were right in their premises, this was not granting, but evading the prayer of their petition. He would say further, that if it were as clearly illegal to impose these taxes as the petitioners stated, there was no occasion to pass a declaratory law. If it were legal to impose this, or even if the legality were doubtful, it was not customary to refer questions of doubtful law to the decision of a committee. If, however, the tax was strictly legal, as in his opinion it was, there was no pretence for granting the prayer of the petition; and still less was there any ground for founding on that prayer any subsequent measure.
§ Sir J. Mackintosh
said, he was sure that every member had listened with satisfaction to the speech of the noble lord, who had, he believed, for the first time, at any considerable length, addressed the House. That noble lord had evinced a knowledge of his subject that did him the greatest honour; and he had also evinced an extent of information which might prove highly serviceable to his country. He hailed the expression of liberal sentiments which had that night been elicited, as an auspicious commencement of a series of discussions which, he trusted, would terminate in the adoption of a wise and beneficial system of government in India, in the hope that measures of relief, of wisdom, of sound policy, would not be hereafter resisted, he consented to withdraw his motion, and would content himself for the present with intimating an intention of bringing the situation of India before parliament in the course of next session.
§ The petition was ordered to be printed.