HC Deb 25 July 1845 vol 82 cc1120-30

On the Question, that the Speaker do now leave the Chair,

Mr. Tufnell

called the attention of the House to the regulations lately issued, with regard to the compulsory disposal of lands held in the Island of Ceylon, and purchased from the Governor of that Colony by the members of the civil service, and the reflections that have been cast upon their character as public servants in the Governor's minute, dated the 14th day of February, 1845. The circumstances of this case peculiarly called for the attention of the House, It was not surprising, when a former Governor of Ceylon, a few years ago, held out great inducement to the cultivation of coffee in that Colony, that the civil servants were induced to invest their savings in the cultivation of land. This, so far from meeting with the censure of that Governor, met with his warmest approbation, as well as that of succeeding Governors, up to nearly the present time. To such an extent had this been carried, that in 1842, the last year he had returns on the subject, the quantity of land under cultivation for coffee, was not less than 48,500 acres; and by far the greater portion of this was held by the civil servants. Those parties were under contract to hold the land for a certain period; and some of them were prevented disposing of it under the stipulations by which they held it. The Colonial Government, under instructions from home, however, had given orders that they should all part with this land within a limited period, or cease to belong to the civil service in the Colony. He might be told, that by holding land for cultivation they had been guilty of a violation of their oaths; but it should be recollected that the Governor and the highest civil servants of the Colony, had long been in the habit of purchasing and taking land for cultivation. These parties, therefore, were not aware that they were doing wrong in following this example. He considered that the Colony of Ceylon was greatly indebted to the civil servants of the Government there; for they had led the way in the cultivation of coffee, and thus held out inducements to others to go out there and invest their capital in land. In 1838, the value of coffee exported from Ceylon was 116,800l.; while the whole value of the exports was 250,000l. In 1842, the coffee exported was of the value of 269,762l., being more than the value of all the rest of the exports. It certainly might be wrong on the part of the civil servants to engage in such pursuits, and it might be proper to prevent the practice for the future; but still ample time ought to be allowed them to dispose of this description of property. This was peculiarly necessary with respect to this description of property; for land taken into cultivation for the production of coffee in 1841 and 1842, would only come into bearing this year. Without any previous notice, an order had been issued by the Governor of the Colony to the effect that he had stated; and in which it was directed, that they should either dispose of this description of property within "a reasonable period," or cease to belong to the civil service. Now, he did not object to this, if due time was given; but the Governor insisted that this should all be done within twelve months; and that that period should be stated in the Gazette. The result was, that no one would purchase land, as so much was suddenly brought into the market; and it therefore became depreciated to an alarming extent. He understood, that the Colonial Office had proposed to extend this period to two years; but this was nearly as bad. The following was the notification in the Order:— His Lordship has directed, that it be distinctly understood that no civil servant will be permitted to engage in any agricultural or commercial pursuits for the sake of profit; and that all who may have done so must, within a reasonable time, dispose of their property, or retire from the public service; and that this rule be fully and promptly earned into effect; the penalty of any evasion of the boná fide compliance with this rule will be immediate dismissal. The order further stated, that each of them should communicate within the period of six months to the proper office whether it was his intention to sell his land; and if he did not do so, he was not to remain longer in the civil service of the Government. There could be no difficulty in obtaining information respecting the land, for in the Ceylon Calender published every year, there was a statement as to the grants of land made, of the land sold, and to whom sold. The Colonial Office, therefore, must have been long aware of the civil servants being extensive cultivators of coffee; but it came down and left it to the discretion of the Governor at once to say, whether these parties should all dispose of their land. He feared, however, that the Governor himself, and other high authorities in the Colony, not coming exactly within the narrow meaning of the lower civil servants, were extensive holders of land. He found that in 1840, a grant of land had been made to the Governor of 2,244 acres, to the Secretary of the Colony of 1,371 acres, and to the Archdeacon of 1,970 acres. Here was another injustice with respect to which they had ground of complaint; for when they asked whether the order extended to the clergy who cultivated coffee plantations, they were told it did not. This, therefore, was a great injustice to them; and it was known, also, that the chief colonial jobber in land in the island was the archdeacon. If the order was to be persisted in, he trusted that it would be extended to all persons in authority, and above all to the clergy, and not be confined to the technical term civil servant. The civil servants had sent to the proper authorities the following remonstrance:— Those among us who are connected with agricultural pursuits, may now be permitted to solicit your Lordship's serious reconsideration of the order given with respect to the disposal of our landed property. We do not presume for one moment to question the absolute right of Her Majesty's Government, to make it a condition of employment, that a civil servant shall not be engaged in agricultural or commercial pursuits; but we venture to urge upon your Lordship the extreme hardship of compelling those who have already embarked in them, to extricate themselves altogether within so very limited a period. We have now to plead that Her Majesty's Government, in the first instance, encouraged agricultural undertakings by the civil servants; that it has been throughout aware that they were so engaged; and that it has never, until now, intimated any sort of disapproval of their so doing: and that the Governors of the Colony have, in more that one instance, been themselves participators in them. Acting under this encouragement, many of us have entered into arrangements either here, or in England, which we could not at once dissolve without great loss and difficulty. The knowledge by the public that civil servants cannot escape the comparatively immediate and unconditional sale of their property, must, without fail, depreciate the value of their estates to a most ruinous extent. Indeed, we are prepared to prove to your Lordship that such an expectation has already induced parties, before fully intent upon purchasing, to hold back in the hope of very great reductions in the prices. Looking, therefore, to the share which Her Majesty's Government has had in encouraging and allowing civil servants to invest their money in this manner, we hope we shall not be deemed unreasonable in asking for a more extended period to enable us to comply with your Lordships' directions; the limit to which, we would submit, should not be announced to the public. He did not object to the condition for the future, that the civil servants in Ceylon should not be engaged in agricultural pursuits; but after they had been so long allowed to do so, and after they had been encouraged by former Governors to embark in such pursuits, and of which the Government at home was aware all along, and never interfered by a single objection, it was only common justice that they should have ample time to dispose of their plantations; for a sudden sale must depreciate the value of land to a most ruinous extent, as it induced persons otherwise anxious to purchase to hold back till the expiration of the period. He had been informed that the Colonial Office offered to extend the period from one to two years; but he hoped that the noble Lord the Colonial Secretary would listen to the urgent representations of those parties, and would not object to an extension of the period, and that this limit should not be published. He thought that nothing could be more reasonable than this request, and he trusted that the Secretary of the Colonies would agree to this proposed alteration. He now came to a more serious charge. The former proceeding was an act of injustice, as it involved a sacrifice of property; but this was still more, for it involved an attack upon character. He would refer, on this point, to the minute published by the Governor of the Colony, which contained the accusation to which he referred. The minute was as follows:— His Lordship has observed that, in all the accounts which have reached him, he finds a most unhappy unanimity as to the low state of feeling which has of late years crept into the civil service, particularly among the junior members, and it has been in general characterized by want of that zeal, ability, and exclusive devotion to the public interests, without which it is impossible that the public service can be conducted in a manner advantageous to the people or acceptable to the Government, Supposing these parties to have been deserving of censure, was it just to publish such an accusation in the newspapers and the Gazette? This censure on the civil servants was regarded by them as a most decided and uncalled-for insult. But how was this low state of feeling to be accounted for? The noble Secretary himself, in the subsequent paragraph, said— His Lordship is disposed to attribute this unsatisfactory condition of the service principally to the paralysing effect of a constant attention to seniority in promotions, the consequent absence of any hope of advancement by reason of superior merit, and to the smallness of the salaries (in the absence of any provision for pension), which has induced a great proportion of the civil servants to look to agricultural pursuits as a means of improving their income. If this was the case, all the fault rested with the Colonial Office in allowing such a state of things to exist. He would proceed to refer to the remonstrance of the civil servants, drawn up after this minute of Lord Stanley had been issued. They stated— The minutes in question have already been republished by the local newspapers, they have been transferred to the papers of India, will be generally canvassed on the Continent, and can only be productive of a very low opinion of the civil servants here. We beg most respectfully, but most distinctly, to impress upon your Lordship, that at this peculiar juncture in the condition of the Colony, nothing is more essential to its ultimate welfare than that those public servants who really endeavour to do their duty should meet with firm and steady support from the Government. It is impossible for any person not thoroughly conversant with local affairs justly to estimate the increasing difficulties and pressure to which those public servants who hold important and responsible office are subjected. At such a time as this the service had no reason to expect, but laments to find, the Government joining in the imputations that have from time to time been cast upon it. Unmerited abuse from interested and frequently misinformed parties we have hitherto borne with indifference; but how far different is the case, when to that is added the authoritative censure of the Government itself! We have already observed that these documents have been published in the Government Gazette, the ordinary channel through which the local Government communicates official intelligence of a public nature; and thus we find it announced to the world at large, without any previous intimation of such an opinion being entertained, and without any opportunity being afforded us of attempting a justification, that your Lordship considers the civil service of Ceylon, without any exception implied or expressed, lamentably deficient in that proper spirit and feeling which are essential to the reputation and utility of a body of public servants. We much lament that your Lordship should have come to such a conclusion, and we beg most respectfully, but at the same time most firmly, to deny our having deserved such a stigma. Admitting for a moment that there might have been some members of the civil service to whom the censure conveyed by the minute of the 14th of February might be justly applied, will your Lordship only permit us to ask whether, even under such circumstances, it were expedient to give publicity to so universal a condemnation of the whole body of civil servants, and thus to degrade them in the eyes of the community, as well as of the whole world? He would say that these terms were fully justified by the document which had called them forth. He could not conceive, until he should hear the defence of the hon. Member (Mr. Hope), what possible justification could be made for the course that had been taken by the Colonial Office in this matter. It was impossible that the officers of the civil service could be more than six weeks absent from their duties without the connivance and sanction of the Government; and he would therefore wish to know what right the Government had afterwards to come forward to censure them? The document went on to say— Whatever course expediency might have dictated, we would beg to be allowed to submit to your Lordship whether, as we have no opportunity of defending ourselves, the publication of this censure might not well have been spared us, until, at least, other attempts had been made to work out that reform in the service which the Government required. Even were we to concede the existence of the evils to the extent implied, we might be permitted to refer to the minute itself for the causes of them. The 3rd Clause attributes them distinctly to the injudicious distribution of its patronage by the local Government; and to the parsimonious scale of remuneration allowed to the civil servants by Her Majesty's Government in England. A consciousness of such facts might have induced the Government to pause before pursuing the course it has adopted. He considered that the noble Lord in sending out that despatch added his own condemnation to it, as the cause which produced it must have arisen solely from the negligence of the Government itself. The first notice which they received of the altered opinion of the Government respecting them, was a public censure on their conduct. He did not know what excuse would be offered for this mode of proceeding; but of this he was certain, that the despatch must have been issued without a due consideration of the consequences that would result from it. It would require a great deal of good management and discretion before the Ceylon civil service could be brought back to its former harmonious and efficient condition.

Mr. G. W. Hope

said, it was not his intention to justify the publication of that minute; it was not published by Lord Stanley's directions, and the terms of the minute did not agree with the terms of the despatch, the terms of which were not so general as those of the minute. The Papers would be produced, and it would be at once seen that this was the case. The despatch, indeed, alluded to the reports of the listlessness with which the civil servants discharged their functions, and that they were contented with the bare performance of the duties exacted of them, and of their want of zeal; but it was expressly said that these observations applied to the junior members of the civil service, and not to the whole civil service; and the causes were set out much in the same words as in the minute. Though he was far from pressing hardly against the servants, reports had been received from Sir Colin Campbell and from his predecessors which contained frequent complaints against the junior servants and the way they discharged their duties. It would be difficult to produce those reports; they were given in confidence, and mentioned the names of individuals, which, if given, would increase rather than allay any irritation; but they mentioned individuals and parties going through their services and showing their negligence, especially in the acquisition of the native language. Hon. Gentlemen connected with India would scarcely believe that so many had gone on without having acquired what was an indispensable preliminary to the due discharge of their duties. Therefore, he could not consent to the general denial of the inefficiency of the public service. It was no new charge of the desertion of public duty for the sake of their private property; and since the coffee plantations, there was a great complaint. Coffee planting required constant attention, and the cultivators were subject to the bankrupt laws. The prohibition commenced as early as the year 1813, and the civil officers were required to take an oath not to engage in any trade as principal or partner unless licensed by the Government. In 1834, a question arose as to the cultivation of cinnamon, which was not more of a trade than the cultivation of coffee, and so far from there being a relaxation there was a minute published by the Governor, stating that he had received authority to explain that there would not be in any respect a relaxation of the restrictions against trading. In 1835, the coffee planting began, and in 1836 the former minute was republished. With regard to the put-chase of cinnamon, but not with reference to the growing, the complaint was, that remittances could not be made home except in cinnamon, and it was allowed to save Bills; and the prohibition was continued against growing, and had never been relaxed by any Secretary of State from that time to this. Sir R. W. Horton was most distinctly opposed to the practice of allowing coffee growing; and great evils resulted from it. But he need not argue the impolicy, as the hon. Gentleman assented to the propriety of the prohibition, and only objected to the manner in which it was enforced. The manner in which it was done was this:—The despatch was sent in confidence to the Governor, and referred very much to individuals, and it ended with giving a summary to the Governor, not with the view of publication; and he was as much astonished as the hon. Gentleman when he saw the publication of the minute. The main cause of the evil was a very unwise reduction made in 1833 by the Commissioners, who seemed to consider that the whole object was a reduction of expenditure. The abolition of the pension fund, and other causes, materially affected the condition of the service. That cause had, however, been for years in operation, and did not apply to the senior civil servants, who were still entitled to the pension fund, though the juniors were not. The Secretary of State's observations, therefore, were directed to the junior officers only. Upon the whole, it did appear obvious that it was impossible for persons having these private interests fully to discharge their public functions consistently with the engagements into which they had entered on being appointed to their offices.

Viscount Ebrington

understood that there was a toll levied on the passage of Coolies from India to Ceylon. Some of the planters had presented a memorial on the subject to the Governor, representing this tax as a most impolitic measure. It besides acted as a great hardship on the Coolies themselves, as these poor people were often reduced to the greatest suffering in their efforts to evade it.

Dr. Bowring

said, that every encouragement had been held out by the Government to parties to make purchases of land in Ceylon. There had been no voluntary emigration to that island until it was encouraged by the Government. Considerable sums of money were then invested in land, and when these speculations were entered upon by the civil service there had not been a single word of disapprobation uttered. In fact, the language of the Government all through was the language of encouragement. But, suddenly, these Gentlemen had incurred the displeasure of the Colonial Office, and not only were they divested of their lands, but a sort of opprobrium was attached to them. It appeared that instead of one year, as at first announced, they were now to have two years to dispose of their property; but that would, after all, make very little difference in their case, as they could have no chance of obtaining the full value of it as long as the purchaser knew that the sale was compulsory. The lands might, in a word, be considered as being in the hands of a bailiff, to be sold by a certain time, no matter at what terms. He thought the Government ought to prevent the evil for the time to come, but not to do wrong in correcting that which arose in the time past.

Mr. Aglionby

said, he thought the hardship of the case had been aggravated by the speech of the hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary for the Colonies. These gentlemen ought not to be under the imputation of having broken their oaths, for having merely cultivated their private estates, under the sanction of the Government. He hoped in future, when instructions were sent forth from the Colonial Office, they would be in some way intelligible.

Mr. Hope

said, he would be sorry to charge these gentlemen with any intentional departure from their oaths, and he did not think his words would bear that construction.

Mr. C. Buller

said, he understood the hon. Gentleman to have quoted the words of the oath as a justification of the course taken by the Government. It was quite clear that a number of gentlemen connected with the civil service in Ceylon had been in the habit of investing money in estates. He would not go the length of saying that no public officer in a Colony like Ceylon should hold land, though he thought that in a new Colony, where the Government possessed all the unsold property, it would open the way to jobbing if they were allowed to make investments in landed property. In an old Colony, however, the case was different, as, if public officers were induced to invest their savings in land, they would acquire an increased interest in the prosperity of the Colony. There was, however, a difficulty in deciding where the line between the two classes should be drawn. But it was clear that in Ceylon all the civil officers had, with the sanction of the Government, been engaged in investing any money they might have in the purchase of land; and he much questioned the justice of the peremptory order which was issued, compelling those men, who were to be regarded as innocent, to sell their property within a given time, and whether that time was fixed at two years or at six months, he thought in either case it was a great hardship to men who for the last ten or twenty years embarked their fortunes in this kind of property with the connivance and countenance of the Government. He had the pleasure of knowing for many years the present Governor of Ceylon — Sir Colin Campbell, and a more amiable and kind-hearted man did not exist, and he was sure he would be quite incapable of using any hardship or severity towards the civil officers of his own accord. The remedy might, he was sure, have been applied without the use of the strong terms that had been applied in this case. The hon. Gentleman seemed inclined to repair the mischief by showing that the application of censure was of a very partial nature. He trusted, however, that a more salutary and judicious plan would be taken for removing the dissatisfaction produced by increasing the salaries of these officers on a fair and equitable system. He would remind the Government that the greatest Governor of any province that England ever had—namely, Lord Cornwallis—on finding a corrupt civil service in India, adopted a concilatory tone towards them, and his first act was to raise them over all ordinary temptations to corruption, by raising their salaries to sufficient amount.

Mr. Tufnell

replied, and remarked that the clergy of the Established Church, and the bishop who had just gone out there, were allowed to purchase property to any extent.

Mr. Hope

said, it should be borne in mind that the clergy of the Established Church were not so much under the power of the Government as might be supposed.

Subject dropped.

House went into Committee of Supply pro formâ.

House to sit again on Monday.

Mr. Bouverie

moved, that the Report of the Committee on the Death by Accidents Compensation Bill be brought up.

The Attorney General

opposed the Motion.

The House divided: — Ayes 7; Noes 39: Majority 32.

Bill accordingly lost.

House adjourned at a quarter to two o'clock.