HC Deb 10 May 1837 vol 38 cc783-8
Mr. Robinson

moved the second reading of the East India Maritime Officers' Bill. When it was determined that the East India Company should cease to trade, it was resolved that compensation should be given to the maritime officers whose interests would be thereby affected. In 1834 the East India Company adopted a certain rule, by which those who had been in service during the five years preceding that time should receive compensation, but all others should be refused it. Under these circumstances he felt it his duty to apply to the House for a Committee to inquire into the cases of certain officers whose interests had been injured by the adoption of that rule. The Committee had reported that certain officers had been improperly deprived of compensation by the operation of the rule. Lord Glenelg said, that he never would have consented to the rule if he had thought that those who might be excluded would not have their cases specially entered on. This Bill merely gave the officers the right of having their cases adjudicated on the special merits of each. These gentlemen had now been applying for two years; and he was glad to have an opportunity of making an appeal on their behalf to the justice and liberality of Parliament.

Sir John Hobhouse

thought that those officers could not complain of not being heard, as the hon. Gentleman had made an eloquent speech on the occasion when the subject was last before the House; he had made a speech that evening, and he would probably make a third by availing himself of his right to reply. He hoped that the House, considering that this was not a question relating to the taxation of the people of England, but to the revenues of India, whose native inhabitants had not many advocates in that House, would bear with him while he, as guardian of the revenues of India, endeavoured to make out a case on their behalf. The question was decided when the Charter Act of the East India Company was passed in 1833, by which it was declared that compensation should be granted to a certain number of the civil, military, and maritime officers of the company. The clause on which these claims were founded was the 7th clause of the charter, which required that no compensations, superannuations, or allowances, shall be granted until the expiration of two calendar months after particulars of the compensation, superannuation, or allowance proposed to be so granted shall have been laid before both Houses of Parliament." Now, what was the reason for requiring that these particulars should be laid before Parliament? Simply, that if any improvident grants were proposed, Parliament might interfere. The House of Commons gave the East India Company the power of considering the claims of all parties, and if the claims were allowed, they should then have the power of charging the revenues of India with the amount necessary for compensation. The line drawn by the company was this—that none of their maritime officers except those who had been in commission of the company's ships within five years of the date of the charter, should be entitled to compensation. This rule was assented to by the Court of Directors, by the Board of Control, and by the Court of Proprietors, and also by the maritime officers themselves, and he regretted to say, that when this scheme was fully worked out, very nearly 700,000l. would be paid out of the revenues of India for compensation. With regard to the present claims, the hon. Member for Yarmouth had stated that out of the fifty-five officers who had signed the petition on which this Bill was founded, no fewer than twenty-seven had not been employed by the company for the last twenty years, and yet these gentlemen had put down their names as suffering by the discontinuance of the company's trade. The Court of Directors, however, had made exceptions to their rule in extreme cases, and be thought the House ought not to interfere with the exercise of their discretion. He should therefore move, that the Bill be read a second time that day six months.

Mr. Praed

was understood to ask the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Control, whether there was a readiness on the part of the board to investigate special cases, without calling upon the applicants to give a certificate of sickness, or of being in distressed circumstances? That admission that there was not, overset the whole of the right hon. Gentleman's case. When Lord Ellen-borough came to the Board of Control, he found the question in this state. There was an Act of Parliament enabling the court to give compensation to persons whose interests were affected by the discontinuance of the company's trade, and this compensation was to come out of the revenues of India. The right hon. Gentleman had pressed this latter point on the attention of the House; but when the charter was granted to the company, their commercial revenues were made over in aid of the territorial revenues of India, and therefore any charge on the commercial revenue was fairly transferred to the territorial income. The clause empowered the company to grant compensation, and was therefore directory, and every individual case ought consequently to be decided upon its own merits. The Select Committee appointed by the House to inquire into this subject was unanimous in its report, and they stated that grievances existed in particular cases, and recommended that the rule laid down by the Court of Directors should be relaxed, and that those officers who could make out a ease of prospective loss by the discontinuance of the company's trade, although they might not be in a state of abject poverty, should receive compensation. He thought, however, that the Court of Directors were the sole judges of the merits of each particular case, and of the amount of compensation, but he certainly understood that both the company and the board were bound to consider whether any individual bad suffered loss by the cessation of the trade, and then, even if that individual were worth ten millions of money, he would be defrauded if, a loss having been proved, he did not receive compensation. It would be mere satisfactory to him, as there were difficulties in dealing with the Bill itself, if he could receive an assurance from the right hon. Gentleman that the board would intimate to the Court of Directors their wish that this condition of a declaration of poverty, before the claims were considered, should be dispensed with. However, if he did not receive that assurance, he should do what he could with the Bill in Committee.

Mr. V. Smith

said, that the condition required was nothing new in the history of the East India Company. He maintained that these officers had received no injury, because the company had for some time before the charter been contracting their service, and for the last two or three years had chartered ships from voyage to voyage, and therefore ample notice to quit had been given to the officers. He should certainly vote against the second reading of the Bill, for he saw no chance or prospect of effecting such alterations in the measure, when passing through Committee, as could render it acceptable to the country, or fair towards the parties principally concerned. He hoped the House, then, would save the company and the people of England from these additional claims. It was most especially to be recollected, that the persons on whose behalf these claims were made, would not be left destitute, for the East India Company were authorised to relieve any case of extreme distress.

Mr. Hawes

observed, that every speaker who addressed the House admitted the justice of the claims, but for some reason or other, which he could not understand, refused to consider them in the proper quarter; for his part, he should support the Bill.

Mr. Robinson

observed, that the right hon. Baronet (Sir J. Hobhouse) had assented to the appointment of a Committee, taking the chance of their report being favourable to his views; but now, finding that report opposed to his wishes, he declared his intention to do as he had done before.

The House divided:—Ayes 47; Noes 31: Majority 16.

List of the AYES.
Angerstein, J. Fector, J. M.
Attwood, T. Fielden, J.
Baines, E. Fox, C.
Barnard, Edward G. Freshfield, J. W.
Bridgeman, H. Gaskell, J. Milnes.
Brodie, W. B. Hamilton, G. A.
Chapman, A. Hardy, J.
Clay, W. Hawes, B.
Crawford, W. S. Hawkes, T.
D'Eyncourt, T. Herbert, Hon. S.
Dugdale, W. S. Hindley, C.
Dundas, J. D. Hoy, J. B.
Humphrey, J. Thompson, Colonel.
Jervis, J. Trevor, Hon. A.
Jones, T. Tulk, C. A.
Lennox, Lord G. Vere, Sir C. B.
Lennox, Lord A. Wakley, T.
Lowther, J. H. Wason, R.
Mackinnon, W. Weymis, Capt.
Palmer, G. Whalley, Sir S.
Parry, Sir L. P. Williams, W.
Pattison, J. Wood, Ald.
Pease, J. TELLERS.
Rushbrooke, R. Robinson, G.
Ruthven, E. Praed, B.
List of the NOES.
Adams, Sir G. Lynch, A. H.
Aglionby, H. A. Musgrave, Sir R.
Baring, F. T. O'Ferrall, R. M.
Brotherton, J. Parker, J.
Collins, W. Poulter, J. S.
Dundas, Hon. J. Rickford, W.
Forster, C. S. Rolfe, Sir R. M.
French, F. Russell, Lord J.
Gordon, R. Smith, V.
Halse, J. Thornley, T.
Hastie, A. Troubridge, E.
Hawkins, J. H. Vivian, J. E.
Hector, C. J. Warburton, H.
Hobhouse, Sir J. Worsley, Lord.
Howard, P. H. TELLERS.
Hume, J. Maule, F.
Johnstone, H. Steuart, R.