HC Deb 28 June 1831 vol 4 cc436-40
Mr. C. Grant

moved the re-appointment of the Committee to inquire into the state of Trade, &c. with the East Indies. The right hon. Gentleman observed, that it would be unnecessary for him to enlarge on the necessity that there was for the appointment of that Committee; for he believed, that in making the proposal for its appointment, he was acting in consonance with the general feeling of the country. He therefore trusted, that its appointment, would not occupy much of the time of the House, as, in fact, the debate on it had already taken place, on the petition that had just been presented by the right hon. Baronet. The right hon. Gentleman accordingly moved "that a Select Committee be appointed to inquire into the present state of the affairs of the East-India Company, and to inquire into the state of Trade between Great Britain, the East Indies, and China; and to report their observations thereupon to the House."

Mr. Wolryche Whitmore

expressed a hope, that the powers of this Committee would be greater than the powers of the last—for the last Committee had not gone into the most important consideration connected with the government of India—namely, how far the administration of justice, and the government of the country generally, were suited to the wants and wishes of the in habitants of that great continent. Now that point could only be ascertained by an examination of the illustrious individuals who had been, and might still be, employed in conducting it. They alone could give the House the best information on the point; and without their evidence it would be impossible for any Committee to ascertain what course would be the best for the country to take. He had proposed in the last Committee that they should inquire into this point; but a technical objection had been raised to it by those who had the management of the examination on behalf of the East-India Company. The objection was, that the Company was not then petitioning for the renewal of its charter, and that therefore it was not the duty of its Directors to give to the Committee that information which every Government had a right to ask for. He did not know whether the Company would now be petitioners for the renewal of their charter; but whether they were or not, he hoped that no such objection as that which he had mentioned, would be raised again to the examination which he now proposed.

Mr. Astell

said, that he could not sit quiet under the direct charge which the hon. Member had brought, not only against the Directors of the East-India Company, but also against the late East-India Committee, of which he had been a member. The hon. Member ought to have recollected, that the inquiries of that Committee were limited, by the terms of its appointment, to the state of trade between England and the East Indies and China, and that no Member had a right to extend them to an investigation of the mode in which India was governed. He wholly denied the statement that either the Directors of the East-India Company, or the members of the Committee, had been negligent of their duty to the public when they refused to enter into so wide a subject of inquiry, for which a better opportunity would be afforded when the Company petitioned for a renewal of its charter.

Mr. Stuart Wortley

only wished to express a hope, that the right hon. Gentleman opposite would not appoint so many Members upon this Committee as he had appointed upon the last. The last Committee had been so large, that there had been more of desultory conversation than of regular investigation in its proceedings. He suggested, that it would be better to appoint two or three Committees to examine different blanches of this great question. He was sure that they would find them of sufficient importance to attract their undivided attention.

Mr. Cutlar Ferguson

thought, that in common fairness, the hon. member for Bridgenorth should have given the members of the late East-India Committee some notice of the attack which he was going to make upon them. So far were the Directors of the East-India Company from throwing any obstruction in the way of the hon. Member's inquiries, that they had given him every facility, by allowing him to have access to all their records. Certainly there should be some person to conduct the inquiries, and to preserve method and order in the proceedings of the Committee, for in consequence of the method, or rather the want of method, in which the hon. Member had conducted his inquiries, he had thrown every thing into confusion. If the East-India Company should petition for the renewal of its Charter, as ho had every reason to believe that it would, the time would then arrive for calling upon it to explain the manner in which it conducted the administration of India.

Mr. Wolryche Whitmore

, in explanation, said, that he had a right to complain of the Company as a body, for it was understood last Session that the state of India and the government should be gone into, and the Company had refused the necessary information.

Mr. Courtenay

begged to suggest, that it would be unnecessary to go into aconsideration of the question in the way recommended by the hon. member for Bridgenorth, as it could be more regularly brought under the notice of the House by means of a formal petition from the East-India Company itself. He had stated that in the Committee, and thought that his arguments then had been assented to.

Mr. C. Grant

said, he owed it to the Directors of the Company to state, that they invariably avoided throwing the slightest obstruction in the way of any inquiry which the Committee had hitherto considered it their duty to institute. He thought any further discussion of the subject on that occasion unnecessary, but trusted that the Committee would resume their labours with the candour and impartiality which they had heretofore so scrupulously observed. It had been attempted to reduce the numbers of the Committee within the smallest possible limits, because many hon. Members last Session had urged, that it was too numerous; and for that reason he had felt himself compelled to forego the assistance of several gentlemen, whose services it would have been otherwise desirable to secure. He found, however, that looking to all considerations, they would not be justified in diminishing the Committee beyond thirty-six, and of that number it was accordingly proposed that it should consist.

Mr. Hume

said, that he felt bound to support the statement which had been made by the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Astell) who had clearly stated in the Committee, that till the Company petitioned, the matter was in the hands of the Govern- ment; and he (Mr. Hume) would take the liberty, in furtherance of this idea, to suggest, that till that petition was presented, the Government should prepare a form of business for the use of the Committee, by which means much desultory matter would be got rid of, and the Committee would proceed at once to the business which really ought to occupy its attention.

Sir John Malcolm

wished that the inquiries should be conducted so as to throw light on each other, and he entreated the House always to recollect, that the government of India must be looked on as a whole. If all its parts were separately considered by different branches of the Committee, the House never would come to a right decision on the subject, unless they considered all those parts in their relation to each other.

Sir Charles Forbes

hoped, that the Committee would be assiduously attended. He had attended the former Committee every day it sat, but that was not the case with other Members, who sometimes took part in its discussions. It happened that Members dropped in occasionally, and put questions without being fully aware of what had previously been done. He remembered one question had been put, about the training of elephants, that only excited a smile. He hoped some other system would be adopted; and he would recommend that the name of every Member who asked a question, should be pre-fixed to that question. He hoped, too, that in the inquiries and discussions, the interest of the East-India Company would be attended to, for the country in general, and he, in particular, owed that Company a debt of gratitude.

Sir James Macdonald

recommended the gallant Officer (Sir John Malcolm) to read the evidence which had been given before the Committee, as he could assure him, well acquainted as he was with India, he would find it worth his attention. He believed that the discussion arose from the mode in which the inquiries in the Committee were conducted; the two parties having fenced a good deal. There was, on the one hand, the free-trade party, and on the other, the East-India Company; and as the East-India Company were not called upon, as they thought, to establish a case, they had not called any evidence. To avoid the desultory inquiries which had formerly been carried on, his hon. friend (the member for Middlesex) recommended that his right hon. friend should chalk out the course of the Committee; but the observation of the hon. and learned Member (Mr. Cutlar Ferguson), which be believed expressed the intention of the Directors, would prevent the necessity of acting on this recommendation. If the Company petitioned for the renewal of the Charter, they would lead evidence, and all doubt as to the order of the proceedings of the Committee would be at an end.

Sir John Malcolm

explained, that he had carefully read the evidence, but that had not altered his opinion, though he admitted that it contained much valuable information.

Mr. George Robinson

thought, the whole difficulty arose from the members of the Committee going into the inquiry with their opinions previously formed, he might even say, having previously taken up very strong prejudices on the subject, which they had promulgated and published to the world. He doubted if such persons were the best qualified to come to a sound conclusion. There was one class of Members decidedly friends to a free trade with India and China; and there was another class, closely connected with the East-India Company, and who fancied themselves bound to support that Company. Let any man read the evidence given before the Committee as to the China trade, and he might form an opinion either way. He had read that evidence, being previously unacquainted with the subject, and he found it so contradictory, the inquiries and the evidence were all of such a nature, that with very little care, they might be made to tell equally on either side. He was sure that any ingenious man in that House would make that evidence support his opinions whatever they might be. He must, therefore, deprecate going into the Committee with opinions previously formed, as only likely to obscure, rather than elucidate, the truth.

Mr. Cutlar Ferguson

said, that if the East-India Company came before the Committee as a petitioner, as he believed it would, it must be treated by the Committee like any other petitioner who came before it, and must make out its own case.

Committee appointed. On the motion that five of this Committee be a quorum.