HC Deb 10 April 1832 vol 12 cc195-201
Mr. William Brougham

moved for a Select Committee to take into consideration the claim of Mr. Bury Hutchinson on the East-India Company. The hon. Member said, this was one of those cases in which a private individual with the knowledge and concurrence of the Indian Government, made a loan to one of the native princes of that country. The uncle of the petitioner, Mr. John Hutchinson, in 1784, when the Rajah of Travancore was under considerable pecuniary embarrassments, lent him a sum of money, to enable him to fulfil certain engagements into which he had entered with the East-India Company. That loan, however, was made with the concurrence and assent of the then Governor General, and had subsequently, been sanctioned by succeeding Governors General. The loan also was made before the passing of the 37th of George 3rd, which prohibited all private loans to the native princes of India. Therefore, the transaction was entirely free from any imputation of illegality, the loan having been made in 1784, and that Act not having passed till 1797. Up to the year 1795, no portion of the nine lacs of rupees, which was the amount of Mr. Hutchinson's loan, had been repaid. In that year, however, the government of India paid to Mr. Hutchinson, four lacs out of certain balances that were due from them to the Rajah. This was clearly, sufficient to show that Mr. Hutchinson's debt had been recognized by the East India Company. In the year 1797, Mr. Hutchinson died, and shortly after the Rajah died too, being succeeded by his nephew. Under these circumstances, it became necessary, that an inquiry should be made into the conditions of the loan, in order that it might be seen whether it was advisable that the Rajah's territory should be taxed for its payment. For this purpose certain persons were appointed on behalf of the Rajah, and a gentleman was appointed on the part of Mr. Hutchinson's brother, in whom the property of the loan vested on the death of Mr. Hutchinson. These gentlemen reported that there remained due to Mr. Hutchinson 490,000 rupees—another corroboration of the correctness of the original loan of nine lacs. Between the year 1795 and 1800, a part of the debt, to nearly the amount of three lacs, was paid off; so that here was a third acknowledgment of the legality of the debt. In consequence of two lacs still being owing, Mr. Hutchinson sent a remonstrance to the Indian government, which induced the Marquis of Wellesley, then Governor General, to cause an inquiry to be made, the result of which was, that in 1804, the original debt was fully recognized, and it was stated that seven lacs, out of the nine, had been paid. This fully corresponded with Mr. Hutchinson's demand, and the Marquis of Wellesley consequently instructed the Resident at Travancore to assist Mr. Hutchinson in recovering the remainder. After this, no more difficulty was apprehended, but, it appeared, however, that the Company, by its private direction to the Resident, undermined the intentions of the Governor General, and Mr. Hutchinson sought in vain for his money from 1804 to 1806. In that year another inquiry took place, but again the Company interfered to prevent the payment. Lord Minto then took the matter up, but in September 1808, the Directors of the East-India Company wrote a letter, prohibiting the Rajah and and the Resident from recognizing the debt, by which a complete extinguisher was put on Mr. Hutchinson's claim. From the year 1809 to 1824, Mr. Hutchinson wearied the Company with letter on letter, application on application, and remonstrance on remonstrance, entreating them, at least, to explain why they objected to the order of their own Governor General. The Company's only answer, however, was, that they had not obtained a satisfactory account from Travancore; and yet during this very time, the revenues of Travancore were in the hands of the East-India Company, owing to the Rajah's tribute to them being in arrear. The revenue of Travancore amounted to thirty lacs a year; out of this the Company paid themselves, and set apart a portion for the maintenance of the young Rajah; after which there were twenty lacs remaining for the liquidation of the debts of the state; and yet, in spite of this, Mr. Hutchinson's claim still remained unpaid. In 1824 Mr. Hutchinson applied to the Board of Con- trol, which made a report thereon; and the consequence was, that the Company sent a despatch to India, recommending that their own prohibitory edict of 1808 should be repealed, and that Mr. Hutchinson should be allowed to recover. The Company, however, took care to accompany this despatch with such instructions to their resident as rendered it impossible for Mr. Hutchinson to obtain payment; for in that despatch they spoke of his demand as a pretended debt, and forbade their Resident to afford any assistance. It was, therefore, not possible for Mr. Hutchinson to obtain justice on such instructions as those? It very naturally was convenient to the Rajah not to admit the debt; and there was a direct inducement held out to him to say, "I know nothing of it, except that it is a pretended debt, and entirely without foundation." These, were the short circumstances of the case; and, he thought they were fully borne out by the documents he held in his hand, and, he therefore, begged leave to move that they be referred to a Select Committee.

Mr. Alderman Thompson

said, he had last Session presented a petition from Mr. Hutchinson on the subject of this claim, and, he was, therefore, well able to say that the statement of the hon. and learned Member, was fully borne out by the facts of the case, as founded in documents which had been exhibited to him. It was also most important that the question should be taken into consideration without delay, as it rested in a great degree on the testimony of persons now living, but who were of a very great age, he, therefore, begged leave to second the Motion.

Sir John Malcolm

said, he had no intention to oppose this petition, but he rose to protest against the mode in which it was desired to introduce it. He had little further knowledge of the merits of Mr. Hutchinson's claim, than what had been just now stated by the hon. and learned Member by whom the case was opened, and from that, there certainly appeared grounds for investigation; but the question was, should a claim from India, relative to a large money concern, which took place forty-seven years ago, between a Company's servant and the Rajah of Travancore, be sent to a Committee up stairs, without even the notice of the Indian minister, or any one responsible for the good administration of Indian affairs? A bill, not unlike the present, relative to a concern of more than fifty years' date (he alluded to the loan to the Rajah of Nozeed) was introduced in a similar manner to this House, and was now in progress through the House of Lords. If this course of proceeding was permitted, the House would have five hundred claims, of the same character to investigate, and the result might be as injurious to the finances as to the reputation of the Indian government. On this ground he entreated the attention of Ministers to the subject, and the proceedings were important, because the information in the hands of Government, connected with the Indian records could alone enable the House to judge whether a Committee should be granted or not. Without this, such Committees would be very incompetent to the task assigned them, and they could not have the means of deciding the merits of complicated concerns of such remote dates, and the items of which embraced such a variety of matter; nor, generally speaking, could they have that knowledge which was necessary to decide upon such questions. He did not impugn their desire to do justice; but the mode in which such petitions from a remote country like India, were investigated in a Committee, was not, in his opinion the best, for doing justice to both parties. In presenting such claims to the attention of the House, the person intrusted with them naturally tried to impress the House with a favourable opinion of their merits. In the present instance, it was asserted, by the hon. and learned Member, that Mr. Bury Hutchinson's loan to the Rajah was sanctioned, on its occurrence, by the Governor General, but he had seen no proof of that, and he had some reason to believe, that the first notice taken of it was by Mr. Duncan, the Governor of Bombay, eleven years after the money was said to have been advanced. What other authorities had sanctioned it, he had no means of knowing, but it was assumed that the Court of Directors had acted throughout in an unjust and oppressive manner, and, it was declared, they had carried on a private correspondence with the Resident at Travancore, which, if proved, amounted to a plot against the claimant. He never could believe, they had been guilty of such acts, although, he begged to state, that he was fully convinced the hon. and learned Member, considered himself authorized to make the statement from the documents which had been laid before him. The fact, however, could not be so, for the Residents at native courts, had no means of corresponding directly with the Court of Directors, all their communications went through the Governors of the different presidencies to which they were attached. Again the hon. and learned Member, had laid much stress upon the fact of the money having been lent before the 37th of George the 3rd which prohibited such transactions, but, it must be remembered, that the Company in the exercise of their sovereign authority in India, had directed their servants not to make loans to the native princes long before 1784, when this money was advanced.

Sir Charles Forbes

said, that ever since he had first heard of this case, he had always thought, that, of all the cruel acts of the government of India, this was one of the worst. It so happened, that he had been in India from almost the very commencement of this transaction, or at least as far back as forty-three years; so that he might take it upon himself to say, that he knew something about the matter. It was quite true, that the loan made by Mr. Hutchinson to the Rajah was a benefit to the East-India Company; and the arrear of tribute was entirely owing to the Company's own conduct; for, in the first instance, they agreed to take the Rajah's subsidy in pepper; but when Buonaparte interfered with the trade of all Europe, the Company became frightened, and sent out orders that no more pepper should be taken, but money in its place. The Rajah's answer to this was, "I cannot pay in money, for I have none;" and thus a large arrear of subsidy became due, which ultimately led to the Company taking possession of his territory. With respect to what had fallen from his hon. and gallant friend, he should be extremely glad if Ministers would give themselves the trouble to look into this case; and he could affirm, moreover, that nothing was more desired by Mr. Hutchinson than that its merits should be sifted by competent men of business. His hon. and gallant friend did not make a very handsome argument for the Court of Directors, when he said, that nothing could be more inconvenient than for that House to give its sanction to the admission of such claims as this. Why, such a declaration might be set up by any man who refused to pay his just debts. But with respect to this particular case, he would venture to say, that there never was one which more strongly called for the interference of Parliament; for Mr. Hutchinson now had no other means by which he could obtain justice. It should be remembered also, that this Rajah was once an independent prince, and would still, probably, have continued so, if he had not unfortunately applied to the East-India Company for protection against Tippoo Sahib. The Company prevented that Sultan from devouring the Rajah, in order that they might feast upon him themselves. It was an actual fact, that, though they withdrew the troops granted for his protection, they refused to give up one single farthing of the subsidy. The revenues of Travancore amounted to forty lacs of rupees: the expenses of the State, including the subsidy, to thirty-seven; so that there were three lacs to spare, out of which Mr. Hutchinson might be paid. But, in addition to this, the debt was contracted before the Rajah's debt to the Indian government, and, therefore, it clearly had a claim to prior settlement. No doubt, as his hon. and gallant friend had observed, these claims were very inconvenient; and he remembered that Mr. Canning, when he thought that he was going out as Governor General, wanted to carry an Act in his pocket to bar all claims whatever. He (Sir Charles Forbes), however, would sit down, saying, that when a man could get redress no where else, it was the peculiar business of that House to afford it him.

Mr. William Brougham

said, the hon. and gallant Officer had told the House, that if they entertained the case before them, it would open the door to many other applications of a similar character; he, therefore, wished to remark, that he had no doubt each case would be judged of according to its individual merits; and if another transaction as strong as the present should be introduced to their notice, all he could say was, he should be ready to advocate an inquiry into its circumstances.

Sir John Malcolm

begged, in explanation, to be permitted to say, that he had never made use of the word "inconvenient," nor did at all wish to discourage individuals from prosecuting what they considered fair claims. As for his having not made a very good argument in favour of the Court of Directors, as alluded to by his hon. friend, the member for Malmes- bury, all he meant to convey by his statement was, his anxiety to see justice done them, by having such claims properly investigated; and he must again express his surprise there was no Member connected with the Indian government present to take a part in the proceedings.

Mr. Hume

said, he felt himself compelled to reiterate the complaint of the hon. and gallant Member. It was quite an anomaly in the proceedings of the House, that, when a petition of so much importance as this of Mr. Bury Hutchinson was brought forward, there should be no one on the part of Government competent to give any explanation. It certainly plainly showed, that one-half, at least, of the Members of the India Board might be dispensed with. He did not know whether there could be any objection to the present appointment of a Committee, and he should wish to be informed what was the intention of Government with respect to other petitioners who had similar claims to the one in question to bring forward?

Lord Althorp

observed, that he was not aware that there could be any objection to the present Motion being agreed to. As to the question of his hon. friend, he could, at present, give no answer to it.

The Motion agreed to, and Committee appointed.