HC Deb 16 July 1833 vol 19 cc665-71

The House on the Motion of Lord Althorp went into a Committee on the East India Company's Bill.

On the 55th Clause being read, which enacts, "That the executive Government of each of the several Presidencies of Fort William, in Bengal, Fort St. George, Bombay and Agra, shall be administered by a governor, and that the Governor General of India for the time being shall be the Governor of the Presidency of Fort William in Bengal,"

Sir Harry Verney

objected to the clause, on the ground that it would be attended with great mischief, by enabling the Court of Directors to empower the governors of any of the provinces to carry on their administrations without the aid of a council. He considered it highly injurious to place such extraordinary powers in the hands of any government.

Mr. Cutlar Fergusson

said, it ought undoubtedly to be enacted, that the acts of the Governor should be done with the advice of a council. That was an appropriate check on the Governor, at the same time he should be allowed, in cases of emergency, to act contrary to their advice, on recording his reasons for doing so Unless the Governor were obliged to state his reasons, for acting in opposition to his council, the Government at home and the Court of Directors, would never know upon what ground he proceeded, and must be unable to decide on the real merits of the case. He trusted that the clause would not be maintained; but if it were, it ought to be transposed. The Bill enacted a change, and then it gave liberty to revert to the old system. The enactment ought to be, that the Governor should not act without council, and that the Board of Control or the Court of Directors should have, as the exception, the power of relieving the Governor from the restriction of acting with a council. The council was a part of the old system which had never been called in question. All experience justified it. He trusted, therefore, that his right hon. friend would reconsider the clause, which, in fact, required much deliberation before it was carried into effect. He repeated, that it altered a most wholesome, and perhaps, the most beneficial part of the present system, and it ought not hastily to be carried into effect.

Mr. Hume

thought, his hon. friend's views were supported by the fact, that the Governors of Madras and Bombay were very often persons who had never before been in India; and how could such men act without a council? He was convinced that the House would act most injudiciously, and expose India to much danger, were this clause to be carried. He should certainly oppose it. He knew no good reason for making the change. The Pre- sidencies as now constituted were immense trusts to be placed in the hands of any one man, and he should never consent to placing this power in the hands of a Governor without a council. While the councillors were compelled to record their opinions and the reasons for them, that was an excellent means of enlightening the Directors at home. Moreover, without the council the Governor General would have no other element for judging on any important matters arising in the Presidencies, than the opinion of only one man.

Sir Robert Inglis

concurred in the view of his hon. friend (Mr. Cutlar Fergusson.) If such men as Sir Thomas Munro and Mr. Elphinstone could always he found, one part of the objection would be removed, as these gentlemen had most accurate local knowledge. But as such individuals were not always to be found, and not always appointed, those who had no local knowledge must necessarily rely on the first person possessing local knowledge who could obtain influence over them. He thought that a council might be good in correcting the local prejudices even of those who had local knowledge. He opposed the clause, and concurred with the hon. member for Kirkcudbright, in saying, that at least the clause was misplaced. After the representations which had been made, he trusted that the Government would reconsider this clause.

Mr. Charles Grant

said, the clause was not placed at haphazard, but was duly considered. The real point before the Committee was, not whether or not subordinate Governors should have councils. That was part of the clause, but the exceptions and limitations accompanying it were many. In fact, the question was not decided by the clause, but it was left open to the Board of Control and the Court of Directors to decide whether the subordinate Governors should have councils or not. He did not think that the rule ought to be so inflexible that the Parliament should decide for twenty years that there must be in all cases a council. The Government thought it was better to leave the question to be decided by circumstances. The Government thought also, that where councils existed they should be continued; but in the new Presidency of Agra it was certainly proposed to appoint the Governor without a council. If it were found that the experiment succeeded in this instance, the Court of Directors, by the Bill, might supersede the councils at other Presidencies, It was of no consequence whether the rule or the exception were made the enacting clause. The only question was, whether it was more advisable to tie up the Directors and the Board of Control by a positive enactment, or leave the point open to their discretion? The Government, after much deliberation, had decided in favour of the latter course. The ablest servants of the India Company had proposed the very arrangement which the hon. member for Kirkcudbright so severely censured. It was shown, too, by the evidence of several Gentlemen, that all discussions in the council were conducted by the Secretary to the Presidency. By removing the council they would not get rid of all the discussion, unless they also got rid of the Secretary. He would continue to record his opinions, and nothing could be done without his signature.

Mr. Cutlar Fergusson

wished responsibility with discussion, but the decision or opinion of the Secretary did not involve any responsibility; the opinion given by councillors did. He contended that his opinion was supported by the authority of Mr. Elphinstone, which was as great as that of any man who had ever been in India. He moved, as an Amendment—leaving Agra unconnected, as a part of the Presidency of Bengal—"that the Presidencies of Fort St. George and Bombay should be administered by a Governor and council." To intrust the proposed power to the Board of Control and Court of Directors was what he would not consent to. The object of his Amendment was to keep up the councils at the existing Presidencies.

Mr. Robert Grant

thought, there was some inconsistency in the hon. Gentleman's argument, who would leave such a dangerous power, as he described it, to the Directors as to Agra, but not as to the other councils. He doubted whether Agra did not more require a council than either of the other Presidencies.

Mr. Cutlar Fergusson

had no objection to insert Agra in his Amendment. He was willing to leave the subject to the Committee, with his hon. friend's second thoughts upon it.

Mr. Wynn

thought, that it was essential to the good government of India, that the subordinate Governors should have the assistance of council. He did not conceive that a Secretary, who was selected and appointed by the Governor, was at all likely to give an independent opinion, or at all capable of acting as a control on the Governor. He objected to giving the power proposed to the Court of Directors, because he thought that Parliament ought itself to determine the form of government. That was a question of such importance, that it ought to be left to no subordinate authority whatever. He would not object to the experiment of dispensing with council being tried at Agra, under the authority of Parliament. In the other cases, they were departing from the established system without any reason whatever. He was decidedly of opinion that Parliament should enact that the Governors of the subordinate Presidencies should have councils. If that were not the case, he should still contend that it ought to be the rule, and the power to dispense with it the exception.

Sir Harry Verney

referred to a sentiment of Mr. Canning, who stated, at Sir John Malcolm's dinner, that he believed that no Monarchy in Europe had in the same time produced so many great men as the Administration of India. Taking that view, he thought it was incumbent on the Government not: to mate this alteration without great consideration. He would not support the clause.

Mr. Charles Buller

recommended the Ministers not to abandon the proposed plan. He was in favour of the clause, and quoted the opinion of Mr. Holt Mackenzie, to justify the leaving the Governors without council, if that were thought desirable by the Court of Directors. The Governors were executive officers, and responsibility was more complete by being vested in one person than in several.

Mr. Charles Marjoribanks

thought the hon. member for Kirkcudbright was perfectly right, and that this was a most dangerous innovation. He hoped that the clause would not receive the sanction of the Committee.

Colonel Evans

had heard no reasons to justify so important an alteration, and unless some proof of evil resulting from the present system were brought before the Committee, he should hope that the Government; would not persevere in the clause, which be thought ought to be reconsidered. It was the practice to send Governors to these Presidencies totally unacquainted with the manners of the people, and to take away the council from such men would be most dangerous. He objected to making Agra an independent Presidency: it ought to remain dependent on Bengal.

Mr. Charles Grant

, repeated, that the Bill would make no change in Bombay and Madras. Those Presidencies would remain as they were. It would certainly be open hereafter to make a change in them if the experiment to be made at Agra was found to answer.

Lord Ashley

thought, that the councils were necessary. They were an efficient control on the Governor, and were persons of responsibility. During the time he was in office, be knew that the interference of the council saved one of the Presidencies from serious mischief.

Mr. Strult

said, the only question was, whether the point should be settled by Parliament or be kept open to be settled by the Directors. It was admitted by those who opposed the clause, that it was wise to make the experiment with Agra, and, therefore, it was absurd to tie up the hands of the Directors as to trying the same experiment with Madras and Bombay. He should support the clause. He would give no opinion, however, as to the propriety of doing away with the councils of the two Presidencies in question.

The Committee divided on the Amendment—Ayes. 32; Noes 41: Majority 9.

Sir Harry Verney moved, as an Amendment to the clause, that the Governor General be the Governor of the whole province of Bengal; and that there be named two Lieutenant Governors, one of the upper and the other of the lower provinces, to carry on the details of the Administration. This alteration was recommended by several men of authority. It would place the Supreme Government in the hands of the Governor General, and exempt him from attending to the details of the Administration.

Mr. Charles Buller

wished to suggest, as an Amendment, that the whole of the clause should be left out, with a view of substituting a different arrangement. The question was put on Sir Harry Verney 's Amendment.

Mr. Hume

could not concur in the proposal.

Amendment negatived without a division.

Mr. Charles Buller moved, to omit a great part of the clause, with a view of proposing that a Supreme Governor of India should he appointed distinct from the governorship of any particular Presidency.

Mr. Strutt

supported the Amendment. He thought that the great fault of the government of India was that of giving to the Governor General a great responsibility with a limited power.

Mr. Hume

asked, if it would not be better to separate the duties of the Governor General from the minor details of any one of the Presidencies? He would support the Amendment.

The Committee divided on the Amendment—Ayes 9; Noes 55: Majority 46.

The Clause agreed to, as were Clauses 56 and 57.

List of the AYES.
Baldwin, H. Sinclair, G.
Ewart, W. Strutt, E.
Gillon,W. D. Wilks, J.
Godson, R. TELLER.
Hawkins, J. H. Buller, C.
Hume, J.

The House resumed. The Committee to sit again.

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