HC Deb 19 May 1853 vol 127 cc381-8

On the Order of the Day for going into Committee of Supply,


said, he wished to give notice that on Friday the 3rd of June, his right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Control would state the views of Her Majesty's Government respecting the future government of India.

On the Question, That Mr. Speaker do leave the Chair,


said, notwithstanding the notice which had just been given on the subject of India, he entertained such a strong feeling with regard to the administration of Indian affairs, that he could not forego the present opportunity of pressing the question of which he had given notice, on the Motion for going into Committee of Supply. He thought it was for the interest of the Government, for the interest of this country, and especially for the interest of India, that the question should be maturely considered before they attempted to legislate upon it. He would remind the House that the original appointment of the Select Committee took place at a very late period; the subjects upon which it had to report were very numerous, and the House had as yet received a report on only one of the eight heads of inquiry which had been instituted: and that a vast mass of information still remained behind, which it was almost essential should be in the possession of the House before they attempted to legislate on its subject-matter. There were, he knew, some who were anxious for immediate legislation, because they thought that the public mind was excited against the East India Company, and that such an occasion should be taken by the forelock. On the other hand, others were afraid of the consequences which a prolonged agitation of the question might produce among the inhabitants of India. No doubt the probing of a wound was painful, but it was the wisest method towards healing it. Were there no imputation against the East India Company, its charter ought, of course, to be renewed without question; but no man in that House would get up and say that the administration of Indian affairs for the last twenty years had been satisfactory. As to the danger of Indian agitation, it was not to be supposed that India was to be excited because the public here might feel an increasing interest in its government; and it should be borne in mind that a proper settlement of the question would conduce to the permanent tranquillity of that country. With regard to the Select Committee, though he had no wish to speak of it with disrespect, he must say that it had acted in a manner only to deserve severe animadversion. In its first report it mistook the ship for the cargo—the machinery of government for the Government itself. The aim of the Committee should have been an inquiry into the whole working of government, and not a mere examination into the official relationships of Leadenhall and Downing-street. As he took it, it should be an inquiry into the progressive well-being of the whole people of India, how they were governed, and what had been done to improve their social, physical, moral, political and intellectual condition. As far as these points were concerned, the Committee had not really done anything. They had merely reported—what? Not even their own opinions, but those of the witnesses they had examined, and who most naturally expressed a favourable opinion as to the present system of Indian administration. For who were those witnesses? Eighteen Gentlemen, individually to be spoken of with all respect; but every one of them deeply interested in the past, present, and future of the East India Company. Three had been Governors General of India, six Members of Council and Commissioners of ceded provinces, three East India Directors, a Secretary of the India House, and a Chief Clerk of the Board of Control. Some were still in the receipt of high salaries, others had received high honours, or were enjoying or expecting great emoluments or honours, and all had been or were more or less administrators. It was not his wish to undervalue the information communicated by these gentlemen; but the country wanted also independent opinions, and desired to know how the government of India had really worked. Strong assertions had been made out of that House, and a blue book had been produced within it; but a great deal more remained behind. They had heard nothing, for example, of the naval and military armaments of India; and yet it had been broadly stated that no native Indians, except of the lowest caste, would now enter into a service, where they could not rise, whatever might be their worth or ability, to any rank which exempted them from being commanded by the rawest and most ignorant English ensign. The time had been when the sepoys had crossed bayonets even with the French; but they were then officered and led on by natives, and had a spirit of confidence and self-respect; whereas now both spirit and discipline were relaxed, and everything confided to the English officers, who looked on the native soldiers with contempt. The despatches of Sir Charles Napier abundantly proved this; and the Earl of Ellenborough stated in his evidence that, with few exceptions, the younger officers in the native regiments treated the natives with a want of respect which was highly detrimental to the ser- vice, and that in some instances the adjutants did not even know the names of their own native officers. He added also, that a mutinous spirit had shown itself more than once in the Bengal army. The present plan of officering the army was based upon an unjust system of private patronage, and it might be a question for consideration whether one-half of the native army should be officered by native Indians. But the evil did not stop here. At present every officer of ability, or who had interest, managed to escape from his regiment as soon as he could, by obtaining either a staff or a civil appointment. He found, from an official return, that the Indian army recently included 4,716 officers, of whom 948 were absent on leave, and 1,040 were employed in the civil service, or held staff appointments, leaving only 2,728 for regimental duty. By analysing the return still further, he found that while Her Majesty's troops had for every twenty-five soldiers one officer present at head-quarters, the East India Company had in its European regiments only one officer for every fifty men, and in the native regiments not quite so much as one officer for every hundred men. Looking to these facts, he would ask whether they did not throw much light upon the terrible, sanguinary, and almost doubtful contests of the Punjaub, and the calamities of Cabool; and whether, at the same time, they did not disclose a state of things which, threatening the stability of our power, called loudly for inquiry and redress? But if such was the state of the Indian army, what was the state of Indian finance? In this country one year's deficit would alarm a Ministry; but in India during the last thirteen years, twelve had been years of deficiency. One year there had been a surplus to the amount of 300,000l.; but the deficits on the other twelve years averaged above 1,000,000l. annually. In 1833, when the Charter was renewed, the debt amounted to 33,000,000l.; but, deducting the commercial assets of the Company, then giving up trade, it was really only 29,000,000l., whereas at the present moment it exceeded 50,000,000l. Here was an accumulation of 21,000,000l. in less than as many years. True the revenue had increased, but in no proportion to the rate at which the debt had increased. In 1782, when the Charter was granted, the debt and revenue were nearly equal, about 8,000,000l.; in 1833 the debt was 29,000,000l., the revenue 14,000,000l.; and at present therevenue was 20,000,000l. and the debt above 50,000,000l., one having increased two-and-a-half fold, while the other (the debt) increased sevenfold. It might be said that with an improved Charter this state of things would improve; but that story was as old as the Charter itself. Lord Melville, in 1793, had foretold a near and certain surplus; so had the Duke I of Wellington ten years later; and when the Marquess of Hastings had effected what was called the pacification of India by the termination of the Mahratta war, he not only repeated the prophecy, but went so far as to declare that its probable amount would be 4,000,000l. annually. Even so late as the time of the Marquess of Dalhousie, the Saturnian reign was again promised, but it had never come. What was the inference from these miscalculations and failures of these resolute and eminent men? Why, that the present system was radically bad—that its tendencies to war and extravagance were too strong for even those strong men—and that no change for the better could be expected from mere modifications. The next point upon which he would touch was the judicial department, which certainly required to be thoroughly investigated. There was no provision whatever for the special education of those gentlemen who were called upon to administer the law in India. Mr. Campbell, a distinguished civilian in Bengal, showed the sad revealed mysteries of the judicial system. He stated, that when a man was fit for nothing else, he was considered good enough to be a Judge; that many civilians were made Judges, in order that they might be got rid of; that when any collector mismanaged his district, he was therefore often proposed to be a Judge against his will; that, in short, the judicial bench was a refuge for the destitute. Mr. Norton, a Madras barrister, declared that those who occupied the judicial bench were totally incompetent for the decent fulfilment of their duties. The justice of these gentlemen's animadversions was supported by a Bengal return showing, that out of 567 criminal trials there had been 338 appeals, and in 131 cases the decisions of the inferior courts had been reversed, that is to say, little more than two chances to one in favour of a just decision. Education, also, was a subject of vast importance, and on which the information was most meagre and unsatisfactory; and closely connected with this was, the elevating the Indians by a right distribution of the Company's patronage. It was alleged that if we gave a share of that patronage to natives, our rule would not be worth a year's purchase. It was said that India, having been won by the sword, must be hold by the sword; but he thought that was a sentiment which would find little re-echo in that House. There might be some, however, who believed that India required what was called a paternal Government, which would do everything for the natives, but not by the natives. In that opinion he did not concur, for he considered it to be the duty of every governing body to instil manly, noble, and generous sentiments into its subjects by employing them in the administration of their own affairs; and in his view no stronger stigma could be cast upon the Government of any country than that which had been thrown upon the East India Company by its own Secretary, when he said, that the people of India were unfit to be entrusted with appointments of high trust and emolument. That, however, was found not to be the true reason for their exclusion; for a still harsher tone was subsequently taken by Mr. Melvill, declaring that the present system was one of native agency and European supervision; and that it was necessary to keep up the distinction in order to retain that salutary deference which had hitherto been paid to Europeans by the people of India. Now, he was at a loss to imagine what "salutary deference," to use the phrase of Mr. Melvill, could arise from the practice of injustice, or from excluding a whole people from the administration of their own affairs. But, after all, perhaps the truer reason peeped out when Mr. Melvill affirmed, that it was necessary the patronage should be entirely in the hands of the Company, in order to sustain its position at homo, and maintain a useful sympathy, not with the natives of India, but with its servants there. In plain English, it was necessary the whole of the patronage of India should be vested in the Company, in order that they might bestow it upon their own friends and relations. He contended that this was no reason at all why the natives of India should be excluded from the administration of their own affairs; and the objections thus raised were an aggravation of the original injustice. But a paper had been brought forward to prove that there were 2,800 native Indians employed under the Company. What were their employments? Why, 1,100 of them were paid at the rate of from 1s. 6d. to 6s.8d. a day—mere labourers' wages; about the same number were paid at the rate of from 6s. 8d. to 13s. 4d.—mere artisans' wages; 277 enjoyed salaries of between 2001. and 3001. a year—mere clerks' wages; and the rest had between 400l. and 500l. per annum. That is to say, some 300 natives out of a population of 150,000,000 gain, at the close of a long servitude, places and salaries which the youngest and most ignorant civilian would scorn on the day he left college. With respect to the question of works, he would only say that the Company had been most negligent even as regarded their own interests. Amongst many instances, it appeared that rather than spend a few thousand pounds, the Company had allowed a large tract of country to be swept by an inundation, which destroyed about 100,000 people, a large amount of property, and land yielding about 1,000,000l. of revenue. He likewise complained of the conduct pursued by the Company towards neighbouring States, and of the dangerous results of our treatment of the subsidised and protected States, concerning which we were furnished with no information whatever. He condemned the system by which the greater number of the Directors were kept in total ignorance of the most important political proceedings respecting India; while their Secret Committees were compelled to sign orders and despatches of which they entirely disapproved, and against which they could neither protest nor even remonstrate. The whole system now in operation was cumbrous and extravagant in its machinery, was based upon an unsound and injurious plan of private interest and favouritism, was attended by the maladministration of justice and other crying evils, and had, as its final result, bankruptcy looming in the distance. He did not mean to say that all these charges could be proved, but he did say that they were supported by statistics, and bore an appearance of truth. At all events there was a sufficient case made out for inquiry. The government of India by the East India Company was asserted to be so ill managed, that that House was called upon to interfere and to protect the natives of India from its evil fruits. It was incumbent on the East India Company to stand up and to refute the charges that were made against them, not by mere assertion, but by means of examination and cross-examination before the Committee of that House; and when that course should have been taken, Government might proceed to legislate with dignity and ad- vantage. He believed that Her Majesty's Government were well disposed to do their duty towards India; but that House was also bound to consider what was its duty; and as an individual Member he, for one, must deprecate any hasty legislation. One or two years' delay would, after all, be no great inconvenience, and was really as nothing compared with the importance of giving an opportunity to the great mind of England of being brought fully and strongly to bear upon the noble object of constituting a broad, honourable, industrious, and peaceable form of government for India.


said, he fully concurred in the statement of the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Rich), that he was actuated alone by a desire for the welfare of that extended Empire in bringing forward his present Motion. But he could not agree with the hon. Gentleman that the course he had taken was the one best calculated at the present moment to accomplish the desired object. The subject was to be legislated upon in the course of the present Session, and it was most desirable it should be so. He therefore hoped the hon. Gentleman would not consider it discourteous of him that he did not then enter on the question. His noble Friend (Lord J. Russell) had already fixed a day on which the subject would be taken, and on that day it would be his (Sir C. Wood's) duty to explain the views of Her Majesty's Ministers on the subject. It would clearly be of disadvantage to press on the question sooner, and he therefore abstained from saying more on the subject.