rose to move that an Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying for the appointment of a Commission to proceed to India to inquire into the 44 tenure of land in the Presidency of Madras. The hon. Member said that the subject of the tenure of land was of great importance in British India and its dependencies, and he believed he could show on official authority that the present system adopted with regard to the tenure of land tended to prevent the accumulation of property, to precipitate the decline of the Indian population, and to render it difficult to establish anything like a healthy and stable civilisation in British India. He must, in the first place, refer to a point which had been much discussed in relation to this subject. The House was aware that the land revenue formed the main basis of Indian finance—in fact, that not less than 15,000,000l. out of the 26,000,000l. of the Indian revenue was derived from the land revenue—and therefore it was not surprising that the tax should have been the subject of much investigation, and that it should have been hotly disputed whether the land-tax in India was a tax in the ordinary sense of the word, or whether it was merely the legitimate rent of the land. Whatever might be their opinion on that question, he thought the House would agree with him that, whatever its origin, the smaller that tax could be made, consistently with the interests of the State, the better it would be for all classes, for the wealth of an empire depended on what was left in the pockets of the people, and not on what was taken out; and be this impost a tax or rent, it ought to be levied in such a manner as would be least onerous to the cultivator, most productive to the revenue, and, above all, most favourable to the operations of private industry. That, however, he believed, had not been attained under our present administration. They were aware that the tenure of land was different in different portions of India. According to the settlement made many years ago in Bengal, zemindars paid a fixed sum into the Treasury; in the North Western Provinces the village system was in operation; in the larger portion of Bombay and Madras the ryotwarry. He believed it was always injudicious in the State to undertake the duties of landlord; but it must be remembered that the founders of our Indian empire were placed in a difficult position with regard to the land revenues, and the policy it was expedient to pursue with respect to the tenure of land—and he admitted that the East India Company, stepping into the shoes of the 45 Native princes, found themselves necessarily burdened with many duties which, under other circumstances, they would never have attempted to discharge. But he thought that the Company ought to have remembered that the discharge of these duties was only a disagreeable necessity, and that, having undertaken them, they were bound to endeavour to discharge them in a manner which would promote the welfare and prosperity of the Natives, and should have looked forward to a period when they might terminate this vicious characteristic of Asiatic society. This, in fact, was the policy of the founders of our Indian empire. He would, however, ask the House whether it was possible to detect any vestige of this sagacious policy in the manner in which the ryotwarry system was now administered? The system was directly opposed to every policy the British Government ought to have pursued; and instead of tending to stimulate private enterprise, it introduced the agency of the State to an extent that had no parallel in the history of the world. The Indian Government, by the ryotwarry system, attempted a task which would be difficult to the most favourably situated Government in the world—namely, that of acting, not nominally, but in deed, as landlords of their whole territory, and of placing a money rent upon every field within their vast dominions. How difficult was the task of the collectors to whom this duty was intrusted might be easily seen when they considered the immense extent of their districts. In the Madras Presidency, districts, extending, on the average, over an area of 7,000 square miles, and in some instances, as at Bellary and Cuddapah, over an area of 13,000 square miles, were placed under the superintendence of one collector, with a few English assistants, who made their tours through the districts, ascertaining, or attempting to ascertain, how much land each individual cultivator intended to bring into cultivation, and watching and checking the produce of the soil under every variety of season and of climate. The effect of this system, undertaken under great disadvantages, and charging the Government with immense responsibilities, was to break down the cultivators of the soil so completely that such a thing as private property in land, in any appreciable sense of the word, was altogether unknown. No doubt the tenant kept his holding so long as he paid the land-tax, but that tax pressed so severely 46 upon his means of subsistence as to leave him at the mercy of the Government. In this case, too, the word "Government" was synonymous with swarms of corrupt Native functionaries, under whose administration it was impossible that the tenant could accumulate capital from the produce of the soil, which was consequently without a marketable value—the sure sign of agricultural depression and distress. He (Mr. Blackett) did not think that Colonel Read or Lord W. Bentinck or Sir T. Munro ever contemplated such consequences as likely to result from the ryotwarry system. Sir T. Munro's idea seemed to have been to give the tenant of the soil permanence and fixity of tenure, to make the land-tax approximate as nearly as possible to a permanent quit-rent, and to provide that the exactions of the State should cease to keep pace with the profits of industry. It was obvious that for a fixed settlement of the tax to be beneficial to the people, it must be at a moderate rate. Now, what was the state of things in this respect in the Presidency of Madras? It had been said by the right hon. Baronet near him (Sir C. Wood) that the question at what were called the annual settlements in that Presidency seemed only to be a settlement of how much of the stipulated rent should be remitted to the ryots each year in consequence of adverse seasons, which rendered them unable to pay their full rent. He (Mr. Blackett) thought, then, that the House ought to consider whether the land-tax in Madras was so moderate in amount that the tenants might have a reasonable prospect of being able to pay it, or whether the tenants were liable to vicissitudes, depending in no degree on their own care and foresight, and leaving them a mere equitable title to the consideration of their landlords. The President of the Board of Control had admitted, on a former occasion, that the amount of rent originally imposed was now too high in consequence of the general fall in the value of produce in Madras. The assessment, which pressed with peculiar severity upon the cultivators of the soil, was originally fixed under a survey made some fifty years ago, confessedly under circumstances of great disadvantage and imperfection, and in some instances without the aid of maps. The principle upon which the rent was then fixed was this—the quality of the ground was estimated, and the probable percentage of profit on the gross produce of the soil was commuted into a money rent, 47 at the market prices of the day, and such rent was then saddled on the land for ever. He thought this was a great misfortune, for at the time to which he referred, many circumstances combined to render the market prices of Indian produce unusually high. Ever since that period prices had been steadily falling, while the ryots were still called upon to pay an assessment calculated upon the high rate of prices which prevailed sixty years ago. In regard to the survey, however, he believed that, notwithstanding its imperfection, it gave a fair average estimate of the value of the land at the time it was made. But what would the House say, when he told them that the assessment was so high upon the best land as actually to drive the laud-holders to cultivate poor lands at a moderate assessment rather than face the difficulty of extracting from good soil crops sufficient to enable them to bear up against the enormous taxation with which it was burdened? They had the testimony of Mr. Dykes and Mr. Bourdillon that there were many villages in various parts of the country in which large portions of culturable land were permanently waste, because the assessment was so excessive that the crops would not cover it, and that a large extent of the most productive soil in the country was permanently kept out of cultivation by the excessive demands of the Government. Sir Thomas Munro rightly understood that the State must necessarily be the worst landlord in the world, chiefly because it acted at a distance, and through the instrumentality of innumerable agents; he was determined to prevent the State, as effectually as possible, from all opportunity of interfering between the tenant and his profits, and, therefore, he laid down the rule that no tax should be increased or imposed in consequence of any improvement of the land made by the tenant. Of course, if the State effected any improvements, by irrigation or otherwise, which increased the value of the property, the State would derive the advantage of an additional rent; but it was intended that the tenant should reap the benefit of any improvements effected by himself. He (Mr. Blackett) thought, however, that in this respect the policy of Sir Thomas Munro had been abandoned, for it was stated by Mr. Dykes, the collector at Salem, that when the ryots attempted to improve the cultivation of the soil by planting orchards, by sinking wells, or by other means, in recent days, they had been sub- 48 jected to an additional assessment. Sir C. Trevelyan, in his evidence, alluded as a notorious fact to the very objectionable principle imported into the ryotwarry system since the time of Sir T. Munro, of imposing a tax upon the improvement of land, and stated that, in the Madras Presidency, that tax operated far more effectually in discouraging the improvement of land, than the old tithe system did in England. Mr. Peacock was called on the part of the East India Company, but he did not contradict the evidence of Sir C. Trevelyan upon any single point of importance. He (Mr. Blackett) considered that the evidence threw a great deal of light upon the necessary opposition which existed between the interests of the responsible Government of India and those of their local agents, whose main anxiety must be to make up a good revenue for the year. He complained, not that the East India Company acted under disadvantages, but that they adopted and perpetuated a system of taxation which greatly aggravated the disadvantages under which the best and wisest Government in the world must labour. The general result was that the native population of India had been reduced almost to a state of beggary under this state of things. He thought another objection to the ryotwarry system was the immense power which it placed in a swarm of Government functionaries, consisting of native agents; no one was more anxious than he was to see the native Indians raised by official employment; but when he contemplated the characteristic defects of the Indian character, and when he thought of the long-continued system of injustice which had stimulated their vices, the last thing in the world he should wish to see was their ingratiating themselves with their English masters at the expense of their poor fellow-countrymen. He had before mentioned the enormous extent of land placed under the control of a single collector; and the House could conceive the pressure which might be exercised by the native assistants of such an individual upon a population of 80,000, 100,000, or even 150,000 persons, a vast proportion of whom were trembling on the verge which separated indigence from absolute starvation. Sir G. Clerk, the late Governor of Bombay, spoke of this as one of the drawbacks of the ryotwarry system. The evidence of Mr. Dyke was to the same purpose, and that of Mr. Bourdillon, whose peculiar authority on the question could 49 not be doubted, graphically described the manner in which the unhappy ryots were ground down beneath the monstrous exactions of the collectors' servants, whose cruelty towards the persons subjected to their power was only equalled by their servility towards their employers. Mr. Bourdillon said—The enormous amount of constant and inquisitorial interference was an evil of immense magnitude, but that was greatly aggravated by the power which was lodged in the hands of subordinate and ill-paid revenue officers. The number of convictions for peculation bore no proportion to that of the instances of its commission, and peculation was by no means the only or the chief corruption of that class of the population; and if that was the state of matters with the chief class of subordinates, it was hardly necessary to say that the same vices obtained among the whole race of subordinates down to the very lowest.He (Mr.Blackett) fully admitted the difficulties with which that system was surrounded; but it was the gravest condemnation of that system that it could not be carried out without the employment of means that converted it into an engine of the most intolerable oppression. The evils of the existing state of things were so great, so antagonistic alike to the prosperity and happiness of the Indian population and to the real interests of the Indian Government and of this country, that, whatever the difficulties might be, it was the duty of the House to take measures for overcoming them, and for placing the tenure of land in India—and especially in Madras—upon a sound and just basis. The returns showed in the most startling light the depressing effect which the system had upon the land revenue of India, and it was, indeed, impossible but that such a system must operate as an insuperable bar to agricultural improvement. The revenue was annually declining, as was shown clearly by the accounts for 1852 and 1853 as compared with those for 1848–49 and 1850–51. With regard to the value of the land, he found in the Appendix to the Report of the Committee of last year a return of the prices produced by land at the last revenue sale; and it appeared that in the eleven years ended 1852 the annual rental of the property put up for sale was 115,486l., and the price it fetched was only 160,000l. Again, with regard to the population, the House could hardly conceive the frightful speed with which the multiplication of small holdings had proceeded, creating a larger and larger body of wretched 50 serfs, without capital, without credit, without any means of duly cultivating the soil, and themselves scarcely able to keep soul and body together. In the district of Coimbatore alone, the number of these pauper cultivators, holding from one to thirty-five rupees in land per annum—or from 2s. to 70s.—had increased from 971 to 3,607, while the number of the comparatively wealthy tenants, holding from fifty to 500 rupees in land, had decreased from seventy-eight to twenty-eight. He knew it was said that the Hindoo law of inheritance was at the bottom of this state of things; but was that any reason for our persisting in a system of taxation which seemed to have been contrived and established to strengthen a Government by the suicidal experiment of weakening society? Never had such a scene been presented by any land that had been held for so many years by a civilised Government. The picture which Mr. Bourdillon—one of the most experienced persons concerned in administering the ryotwarry system—drew of the condition of the population under this system, and not merely that of the very wretchedest, but of what were deemed the favourably situated among them, was perfectly appalling—prostrate physically and mentally, pressed down by debt, by destitution—exhibiting a dead level of squalid pauperism, misery, and starvation. The President of the Board of Control had expressed the opinion that the matter might be safely left in the hands of the Indian Government; but the conduct of the Indian Government on the subject, and especially that of the Madras Government, as particularly illustrated by their unworthy treatment of the Commission appointed to inquire into public works in that Presidency, clearly proved that the matter could not, with any expectation of beneficial results, be intrusted to that Government. It was essential that the Government of India should be brought to recognise the principle of property in behalf of the cultivators of the soil, and should discontinue that barbarous system of serfdom, which, however it might appear to Indian officials a perfectly legitimate situation in which to continue the unhappy ryots, was a principle from which the founders of the Indian Government would have shrunk with horror. The claim of the State to the land in property was the prime vice which it behoved the Imperial Parliament to extirpate—it was no more than the delusion which had 51 induced ignorant and barbarous rulers to grasp at the riches of their subjects, instead of waiting patiently until capital produced its inevitable results; it was exactly analogous with the ignorant blindness of the savage, who, as Montesquieu expressed it, cut down the tree to get at the fruit. To obtain anything like a satisfactory result two or three healthy English minds must be applied to the inquiry, aided, of course, by the best assistance that could be obtained from competent Indian information. All he desired at present was, that a beginning should be made. He was now only asking the House to do what the Government had already done in the cognate case of Ceylon. The Ceylon Commission was expressly authorised to inquire into the state of the tenure of land, and what they recommended was, that the tenant cultivator should be allowed to redeem his land tax, and so get an inalienable possession of the soil. If that principle were recognised in India, they would soon see the immense impulse it would give to the industry of the country and its social progress. It was in no spirit of hostility to the East India Company that he had brought this subject under the consideration of the House; and he would now only express his belief that by adopting the Motion which he had placed on the notice-book, the House of Commons would immensely facilitate the task of developing the resources of British India.
Motion made, and Question proposed—That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, that She will be graciously pleased to appoint a Commission to proceed to India to inquire into the Tenure of Land in the Presidency of Madras.
§ MR. LOWE
said, his hon. and learned Friend seemed to think that he had nothing to do but to state a case against the present way in which the land revenue was collected in Madras in order to entitle him to ask the House to take the strong and unusual course of addressing Her Majesty to send out a Commission composed of Englishmen to India to inquire into the matter. It appeared to him that the hon. and learned Gentleman had by no means made out so strong a case as to justify any such course; indeed it would require a very strong case to induce the House to take such a step as that. The theory of the Indian Government was, that on that side of the ocean there should be despotic rule, checked, on this side only, by the control of the Home Government and of 52 Parliament, so as to secure at the same time, the power, the influence, the terror which arose from a despotic Government, silently modified by the responsibility which here awaited those who exercised that sway. Such being the essential theory of our Indian rule, nothing but the strongest and clearest necessity should induce the House to sanction any course by which the authority of the, Indian Government should appear, in the eyes of its subjects, to be superseded by an authority checking and controlling it from without; by which an authority delegated from the English Parliament should be paraded in the eyes of the natives, as checking and controlling the local Government. He did not say that a case of necessity might not present itself so strong, so overwhelming, as to countervail such considerations; but no such necessity had been made out by his hon. and learned Friend, and he, therefore, trusted that the House would permit no step to be taken of this nature, calculated, as it was, to bring the Indian Government, and especially the Madras Government, into contempt in the eyes of the Native population. Asiatics could not understand the theory of governing powers, limited and controlled by what were well understood here as constitutional checks; and, consequently, to set before them the Government under which they lived as itself a subsidiary Government, subject to be directed and governed by powers elsewhere, would be to expose that Government to the utmost risk. His hon. and learned Friend talked of applying healthy English minds to the inquiry he proposed; but the extreme probabilities were, that the persons whom he might theoretically select for the inquiry might, whatever their other qualities, labour under the fatal defect of ignorance of the practical state and working of Indian affairs. No one attended to Indian matters in this country except persons who had political, commercial, or official reasons for studying them systematically; and the healthy English minds contemplated by his hon. and learned Friend would, therefore, though filled with the best intentions, run the risk of falling unconsciously into the hands of persons who would be anything but sound and sure guides for them. Another objection which he entertained to the Motion arose out of what his hon. and learned Friend said about the Government of Madras. He would remind the House, 53 however, that since last year the Government of Madras had been changed. The new Governor who had gone out (Lord Harris) was a nobleman of great ability and experience in the government of tropical countries, and he anticipated the greatest benefits would arise from his administration. Certainly he (Mr. Lowe) would be sorry to inaugurate the government of this nobleman by what might be regarded as a mark of want of confidence in his administration. These, then, were reasons which seemed to him to show that his hon. and learned Friend had more to do than to make complaints against the revenue system of Madras in order to make out his case for sending out a Commission of Inquiry. But he would go further. He would say that, in order to make out his case, the hon. and learned Gentleman ought to have been able to show one at least of three things. He ought either to have shown that there were grievances in Madras which were not recognised and admitted by the Home Government, or he ought to have shown that, admitting these grievances, the Government were not preparing, and had no notion of preparing, remedies to meet them; or again, if he could not prove this, the hon. and learned Gentleman ought to have been prepared to show that the Government of India was doggedly set against redressing these grievances, and that nothing except the stimulus of a Commission inquiring upon the spot would induce them to do justice to the population of the Presidency. His hon. and learned Friend however, had shown none of these things; and it was upon this ground, waiving the objections which might be urged to the appointment of a purely English Commission to proceed from this country to India for the purposes of inquiry, that he grounded his opposition to this Motion. The Resolution purported to refer to the appointment of a Commission of Inquiry into the tenure of land in Madras. Although, however, he had listened with great attention to the speech of his hon. and learned Friend, he had heard nothing which he could fix upon with regard to the tenure of land at all. The hon. and learned Gentleman had said a great deal about the collection of revenue; but as to the tenure of land he had said nothing which he (Mr. Lowe) could hear except in almost the last sentence of his speech, in which he spoke of allowing the ryots to redeem their rents and thus become pre- 54 prietors of the land. Now, if this were the object of his hon. and learned Friend, he confessed he did not think it would be worth while to send out a Commission merely to inquire whether or not the ryots ought to be allowed to redeem their rents, because he had only to refer to the speech of the hon. and learned Member himself to ask the House whether to give such a permission would not be (in the situation in which the hon. and learned Gentleman described the Madras ryots to be) merely a cruel mockery? These persons were described by his hon. and learned Friend as being in the lowest state of want and misery, as trembling on the line which separated indigence and starvation, and at the same time, in order to give the Commission a subject on which to report, they were to suppose these miserable creatures to be in a condition to redeem their rents, and to become owners and proprietors of the soil. Now, he thought this was far too visionary an idea upon which to ask this House to send out a Commission to India? But he would go further, and, putting aside that which his hon. and learned Friend admitted was not a very probable or a very near contingency, he would ask the House what result was expected from the Report of such a Commission as was suggested? His hon. and learned Friend had spoken not merely against the abuses of the ryotwarry system, but against the ryotwarry system itself, and was of opinion that that system ought to be put an end to. But what would his hon. and learned Friend substitute for it? If the Commission were to go and inquire on the spot, of course they must inquire about something. It would be of no use denouncing the ryotwarry system if something were not substituted in its place. If all that could be gained from the Report of such a Commission was simply the declaration that the system was a very bad one, but that it was desirable to abide by it in the main, it would scarcely be worth while to issue a Commission for such a result. But probably his hon. and learned Friend might say, "There are other systems—other land systems—in India, as, for example, the village system and the zemindarry system; and a Commission might very properly inquire whether one or other of these might not be more suitable to the Presidency of Madras than the ryotwarry system." Now, he (Mr. Lowe) contended that such an inquiry would be utterly nugatory, because 55 we knew beforehand, having ample means of forming an opinion on the subject, that such a change could only aggravate and increase the very evils of which his hon. and learned Friend complained. If the Government abolished the ryotwarry and substituted the zemindarry system in Madras, they would be only setting up Native instead of Government landlords, and he declared without fear of contradiction, that they would not in any way ameliorate the condition of the ryots by doing so. The experience of Bengal, where the zemindarry system had been introduced and where the ryots had unhappily been abandoned to harsh and cruel Native landlords, was most unfavourable; for here the population were as miserable as any in India. He need go no further for testimony to the truth of what he alleged than the speech of his hon. and learned Friend, who had drawn a most melancholy picture of the Hindoo character, and had described the Natives as characterised alike by servility and cruelty. Now, what greater iniquity could be perpetrated by a Government, which was in itself and in its own tendencies neither servile nor cruel, than by being accessory to any measure which should hand over the cultivators of the soil in India to a set of men who were so described? It could not be right to hand over a race who were notoriously unable to help themselves and to resist oppression to persons who were stigmatised as servile and cruel. This, at any rate, would not be the way to remedy the evil complained of, and he supposed it would be generally acknowledged that it would be better for the native Hindoos to fall into the hands of the Government of India, with all its faults, than to hand them over to a body of men so described, and who were quite unable to discharge their duties as landlords. Then, should they take the village system? Should they say, "We will form these people into communities with reference to each village, and the whole village should be bound to pay to the Government a particular rent?" Should they adopt such a system? He admitted that it had been found to work well in the North West Provinces—but why? Because the villages there formed communities and brotherhoods of their own; because among them there was a community of feeling; because everybody was a clansman and a friend, and they had no separate or divided interest. Was this the state of society in Madras? No. The village system in Ma- 56 dras was broken up, the villages were inhabited by persons of different castes and of very hostile feelings, and there could be no greater cruelty and extortion than that which you would authorise and sanction, if you were to form these Madras villages into communities for the purpose of paying the rent to the Government, and thus place the weak inhabitants of a village in the power of the strong. You would then see cruelty and servility working their natural results, and he could not look without a shudder to the effect of such a system. Yet these were the only alternative land tenures; you must choose between the ryotwarry, the zemindarry, and the village systems. You could not wait until the ryot grew rich and could buy his land; you had no choice between handing him over to another Hindoo far more cruel than the Government of India in its worst times had ever been, or of binding him up with others in a small community where every man would prey upon his neighbour, and where the poor would be trampled down and almost annihilated and destroyed. His hon. and learned Friend had then, he thought, shown no ground for inquiry into the tenures of land, because the evils attending every tenure which could be suggested as a substitute were each of them far more objectionable than that which at present existed. But there were other grounds for opposing this Motion. The grievances connected with the ryotwarry system, as described by his hon. and learned Friend, and as recounted in any works of authority upon India, were thoroughly well known and understood. Further than this, the remedies for these grievances were also perfectly well known and understood, and it was the wish of the Government to put an end to those grievances as soon as possible. Nothing, in his opinion, could be more objectionable than to send persons to India on a crusade against the ryotwarry system, because he was prepared to prove that they must continue this system in Madras, without denying one single objection which had been urged against it by his hon. and learned Friend. The abuses which had been pointed out were no part of the system itself; they were only evils and excrescences which grew out of it. Remedies for those evils could be substituted and might be applied, and when in operation he contended that the ryotwarry was the best system of land tenure which could be applied to Madras in the present 57 condition of the Presidency. He would take the objections urged by the hon. and learned Gentleman to the ryotwarry system, and on the strength of which he wished to destroy it. His hon. and learned Friend declared the assessment to be too high. Well, this was a conclusive objection to any system. The best system in the world must necessarily fail if the assessment were too high. If you asked a man more than he could afford to pay for his land, you must inevitably be working out his ruin and destruction; and this objection would apply to every system of tenure in the world. The next objection entertained by his hon. and learned Friend was to the excessive amount of Native superintendence, and upon this point he (Mr. Lowe) so thoroughly agreed with him that he did not think the hon. and learned Gentleman went even quite far enough. The ryotwarry system presupposed an accurate survey of the land, and such a survey, as far as he could find, in Madras had never been made. As the necessary information was therefore wanting, a large degree of inaccuracy was the result. In like manner, the classification of the land had been attended to by untrustworthy persons, and required much revision and care. Upon this foundation was built a system of great minuteness, and involving much inspection. The ryot must settle with the Government authorities how much land he had to cultivate and pay for in the year, and must receive a ticket or certificate recording these facts, which was given to him by the collector. These things had to be gone through every year, and it would therefore be seen that the system was one involving minute superintendence, in which the Government appeared not so much the landlord as the partner of the cultivator of the soil, and which was most injurious to the welfare of the population. Besides this, he was quite prepared to say that, notwithstanding the subject had been frequently pressed upon the Indian Government, there had been a tendency to tax improvements, which, of course, ought not to be taxed, and which it was quite unnecessary to argue ought not to be taxed. He allowed, too, that persons were now required to retain in cultivation larger portions of land than they required at the mere whim of the tax collector; and that the system, as at present administered, was vexatious, and afforded constant opportunities of bribery and extortion. All this might be admitted, but did 58 it furnish any objection to the ryotwarry system in itself? It was a strong objection to the practice of annual settlements and to the interference of the Government every year, but it was no objection to the system adopted in Bombay, where they gave leases of thirty years, and made settlements once for all during that period, so that for thirty years the ryot was free to do what he pleased, and was free from the superintendence of the Government officer. If such a principle as that were adopted in Madras—and he knew of no reason why it should not be—the objections of his hon. and learned Friend would vanish at once. It did appear to him, therefore, that the objections of his hon. and learned Friend were not objections to the ryotwarry system in itself, but objections to the abuses which had crept into that system. The want of proper assessment, and the high rate of assessment, could be cured by law; the immense quantity of Native interference and the vexations arising out of it could be cured by giving leases; and in like manner a remedy could be afforded to cases where taxes were levied on improvements, and where Natives were compelled to cultivate a larger portion of land than they wanted. The evils complained of were patent and notorious, and when the remedies proposed were applied—when an accurate survey had been made of the land—when the number of settlements was reduced, and the ryots were placed in possession of the securities asked for on their behalf—what possible tenure of land could his hon. and learned Friend imagine which could be more suited to develope the resources of the country, and to advance the civilisation of such a people than the ryotwarry system? These things being perfectly understood, he asked why they should send out a Commission of Inquiry? Here were evils patent, and remedies, which nobody cared to deny, ought to be applied. But the Government, in his view, ought to build upon the base of existing institutions, instead of going on a wild-goose chase after new systems, which might or might not be applicable in the course of some hundred years—though this point he did not mean to argue—but which, at any rate, were inapplicable now. Whatever might be the faults of the Indian Government, the ryot would gain nothing by having any middleman placed between him and the Government. The only other use of the Commission of Inquiry, if it did 59 not lead to the adoption of a new system of land tenure, would be to stimulate the Indian Government in remedying the faults of the system now in operation. His hon. and learned Friend was afraid that without such stimulus nothing would be done by the Government. Now, he entreated him to believe that the Government did feel the grave responsibility which pressed upon them in this matter, and he did trust that the result of a few years would be—if the House would have patience to allow the proposed reforms to be worked out—to show that the Government were able to redress all the practical grievances complained of, without interference with the system which formed the basis upon which the tenure of land rested in Madras, and upon which he believed it must continue to rest; and that they required no Commission to be sent out to India, either to bring to their minds those grievances, and to suggest remedies, or to stimulate their diligence in redressing them.
MR. DANBY SEYMOUR
said, he must remind the House that the evils which attended the tenure of land in the Madras Presidency had been admitted for many years; and so long since as 1840, the answer to a memorial on the subject was, that not a year should elapse before a remedy was applied. Yet, in spite of this promise, not the slightest attempt had been made to meet the complaints of the inhabitants of the Presidency, and the hon. Member for Kidderminster now held out the same delusive hope. He did not believe, with the hon. Member, that the sending of this Commission to India would weaken the authority of the Government there. The people of India were not such fools as they were represented to be, and knew well enough that the real strength of their Government did not lie in India; and therefore the sending this Commission would show the inhabitants of the Presidency that the Government at home had a paternal feeling for the welfare of the people, and were not afraid to acknowledge that those whom they had deputed to take charge of the people had not properly fulfilled their duties, and that as soon as that fact had come to their knowledge they had sent out men to find out what remedy should be applied, and how they could best ameliorate their condition for the future. The condition of the people of India was a perfect disgrace to this country, and to every party who had ever had anything to do with India; and 60 it was the duty of the House of Commons to enforce upon the Government the necessity of applying remedies to the grievances under which any portion of Her Majesty's subjects were suffering. The inquiry into the internal condition of any people would always be productive of good in bringing to light facts which the Government would otherwise never know; and the result of such an inquiry could but tend to strengthen the hands of the Government in carrying out the remedies required;—and for these reasons he considered the appointment of this Commission most desirable. With respect to Southern India, the statistics of the East India Company showed that the land was of no value. Why was it that no Governor General of India, since Lord W. Bentinck, had visited that part of the empire? and why was it that he had never been directed to inquire into the causes which led to this disgraceful state of things? The Governor General could find time to go to the newly-acquired Burmah, or to the pet Punjaub; but why had no visit ever been paid to Madras? He did not think that the Native servants of India deserved all the blame which was always so freely cast upon them, in connection with the existing state of things in India. No doubt they were not all of them of that high character they would desire to see; but there were "black sheep" among the Company's European servants, and their delinquencies were not unfrequently screened by the Government at home. The Native officials were very much underpaid, and it seemed, therefore, to be acknowledged by the Government of India, like that of Russia, that a little peculation was allowable. Another great error in the existing system was, that, in reality, no one knew to whom the land really belonged. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Control stated, on a previous occasion, that the land belonged to the Government; but it had been stated on authority as high that the land really belonged to the occupier; so that, in reality, it appeared that no two persons were agreed as to whom the land actually belonged. He himself thought that the right hon. Gentleman was correct, and that the land belonged to the Government. But what was the condition of the holder of that land? If a person held land, he had to pay as much as two-thirds of the gross produce annually to the Government, and, indeed, in some places 61 more than the gross produce; so that it was impossible that land could be of any value to the holder, and the consequence was, that one-third of the best land was lying waste and untilled, and the persons who, under a different system, would be encouraged to cultivate that land emigrated in large numbers to Ceylon, or to the Mauritius, and other places. In Ceylon they found it possible to buy land, and the result was, that the greater portion of the land in that island was cultivated by those Tamuls who had been compelled to emigrate from their own country. The system of forcing the revenue was also kept up to a great extent. Persons might not wish to take land, but the subordinates of the collectors would say, "We must make up the revenue," and they would actually compel them to take land. With regard to the tenure of land in the Madras Presidency, he had been much astonished, upon speaking to the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Control on the subject of moving for copies of the list of rules regulating the holding of land, to hear that it would be impossible to produce them, and that no copies of them had ever been sent to this country. These were rules which affected the happiness of a large class of British subjects, and they ought, he thought, to be made public, instead of being kept scret, not only from the public generally, but from those persons whose interests were most deeply affected by them. He believed that there was no farmer in England who did not care more for his stock than the East India Company did for those human beings intrusted to their charge, and that these rules were kept secret was an instance of that fact. He had himself tried to obtain a copy of them, and could not, until at last he had succeeded in obtaining a copy—he was not ashamed to say it—surreptitiously. It appeared to him that the great object of the Madras Government was to get 10s. a year out of a man who had only 8s. This was not always an easy task, and tortures, similar in their character to those which were applied in the beginning of the last century, were resorted to for the purpose of extorting the required amount. In certain districts this torture goes on every year; and although the civil servants may deny the fact, it is proved by the testimony of many English merchants. Every statement he had made could be proved by the evidence of the collectors them- 62 selves, if the East India Company would produce their Reports. He had applied for them to the President of the Board of Control; but that right hon. Gentleman, not of his own motion, but prompted by Sir James Melvill, would not produce them; if he had, this would not have taken place. It was impossible to obtain any useful information about India, for the Reports and documents laid on the table were always prepared in a most slovenly manner, and were either so meagre as to be of no use, or so voluminous that no one could wade through them;—it was impossible, too, to gather from them information on any particular point, because indexes were carefully omitted. The condition of the country was now very different from what it was twenty years ago. The Presidency of Madras contained 700,000 inhabitants; yet a man, if worth 10,000l., was considered a rich man; a few years ago it contained many rich Armenians; they had all disappeared, the native merchants were bankrupt, and the whole trade had passed into the hands of a few English houses connected with the civil service. All persons engaged in commerce were entirely dependent on the good offices of the Government; an official had only to show indirectly that he did not like a person, and the Natives would take care not to supply him with anything. Mr. Bowman, the manager of the Porto Nuovo Iron Company, had stated to him that they found it impossible to carry on their business in those districts where the collectors were hostile to them. He had himself visited South Arcot and other districts, and the authorities stated that of these about one-fifth was cultivated; but the Natives assured him that one-fiftieth was nearer the proportion. He had travelled for miles through a desert country; the population was in a most miserable condition, and they formed a striking contrast to the Native officials. If there had been greater communication with India some years ago, the bad management would not have been allowed to go on, and things would never have come to their present state. The district through which the Madras Railway passed was a complete desert; the engineer had stated to him that not one-tenth of the ancient waterworks were kept in repair; the Government would neither mend the tanks themselves nor allow the people to do so. The policy adopted presented a striking contrast to that pursued by Mr. Thomason in the 63 North West Provinces, which had been attended with such good results. The Madras officials admitted the wisdom of that gentleman's proceedings, and only regretted that there was not some person in their district of sufficient authority to introduce the same practices, which would be a blessing to the people and produce an enormous revenue to the Government. It might be said that a step had been taken in the right direction, as an order had been sent out not to tax improvements; but why had the execution of that order been delayed for six months after it reached Madras? The people had actually been taxed, although the order of the Directors had arrived out and was known to every servant of the Company. One of the great evils of India was, that the laws were not attended to. The House might pass good laws, but the officials knew the Treasury must be filled; if they disobeyed orders, their conduct might be overlooked; but if the Treasury were not filled, if they did not get the last rupee, they knew that they would lose their places, and that others would get them, and the unfortunate Natives would not be better off. But what was the result of the order he had referred to? At Coimbatore he found that new wells had been dug alongside the old ones. The Government said, "We will not tax the new wells, but the old ones must still be subject to it." The result was, all the old wells were abandoned, and in that district alone 3,000 new wells had been dug at an enormous waste of human labour, caused by that short-sighted policy—that desire to grasp money which defeated its own ends. When he was at the foot of the Neilgherry Hills, he saw at each side of his route the most magnificent vegetation. On inquiry, he found that the collector had with difficulty obtained permission to let about a hundred yards at each side of the road at a rent of 10s. This strip was highly cultivated, but beyond that, land of the same quality lay waste, because the Government demanded 20s., which nobody could afford to pay. The Natives say they cannot touch the land, because if they did they would bring down a host of officials upon them. The labour is there, and the land is there, and both together ought to make capital, yet the Natives were forced to remain idle at home, or emigrate if they wished to do anything. This neglect of the interests of the country and this utter want of common sense appeared incomprehensible; but they proved how just were 64 the general complaints contained in the Native petition presented last year. Every day facts were coming to light that condemned the East India Company. 150,000,000 of people ought not to be handed over to a bastard Company, a Company only in name, who could not choose their own Directors. They had no interest in the country; their mortgage. on the revenue was a mere nothing—it was only an annual charge of 640,000l. on a revenue of 27,000,000l. No matter how much the country improved, they could not get more than 10½ per cent on their original stock, and it was impossible ever for them to so mismanage the revenue as that it should not meet this charge. Some great alteration must take place, and the country no longer present a spectacle that was a disgrace to human nature. The country on the opposite side of the Neilgherry Hills was in a very different state. The people of the Malabar Coast were opulent and prosperous, because they were not a race to play tricks with; but the Natives of the Coromandel were brokenhearted and dispirited by centuries of oppression. On the Malabar Coast the Moplas were an enterprising and industrious race; they were called the "Yankees" of India. This was the only spot in India where private property in land was recognised; and it was impossible to find a more happy, active, or opulent race than its inhabitants, every man living on his own plot of ground, like a yeoman in England. Surely it would be worth while to try the experiment in other parts of the Presidency, and, if it succeeded, to extend it throughout. When private property in land existed all over the world, why should it not be tried in India? He was glad to think that the Governor General had something of the kind in contemplation, as he saw that a portion of land near Calcutta was to be sold out and out. Perhaps the noble Lord would next turn his attention to the neglected Presidency of Madras. Mr. Norton some time since built a house near the city, where he (Mr. Seymour) had the pleasure of dining with him, and he was astonished to find that his host had not the slightest idea of the position in which he stood towards the Government. The house was built on their land, and he could not tell but that next year the assessment would be raised to the full value of the building, without regard to the money that had been expended on it. It was impossible to expect that English capital could 65 be embarked in the country under such circumstances. The Rev. Mr. Blenkinsopp, one of the Company's chaplains, was anxious, not long ago, to establish his son as a coffee planter, and applied for a lease of a quantity of land. He was informed that he might have a lease for twenty-one years, subject to any conditions, as to rent or otherwise, that the Government might think fit to impose during the interval. The rev. Gentleman very properly refused to embark his money on such terms. The collector finally offered to let him have the ground for twenty-one years, at 2s. an acre, and an undertaking that at the end of the term the rent would not be raised beyond that of the adjoining land. It could not be expected that money would be invested in land on such terms. The Natives were all emigrating to Ceylon, which was becoming a flourishing colony, but India would remain in the neglected and forlorn condition in which it was at present. This question well deserved serious consideration, such as it could not receive from the servants of the Company. The Directors said their officials in India were already too hard worked. This matter required special officials, and if they were not to be found there, they should be sent from this country. It would be no insult to the Government there, and the House would have the whole thing clearly before it, and India would not much longer be left in its present degradation. It was stated that in the south one-half of the gross produce of the wet land and 35 per cent of the dry land was taken by Government; but in the North Western Provinces only one-tenth. Such a difference ought not to exist. 22,000,000 of people were not to be treated in such a way. It was the duty of Government immediately to take some active steps. It would not be sufficient to transfer a Governor from a West Indian colony to the East. However earnest, however clever he might be, it would take years to become acquainted with the nature and wants of the country, and he must almost of necessity fall into the hands of interested parties. The persons best acquainted with Madras admitted that an instant remedy was required. He trusted that the right hon. Gentleman, even if he did not accede to the Motion, would, in concert with the Directors, take into consideration the best mode of redressing these grievances, and would avail himself of the services of the old servants of the Company now in England, who 66 were well acquainted with the Presidency of Madras, and consult with them as to the best means of restoring peace and happiness to the suffering people.
§ SIR JAMES HOGG
said, he must say he had seldom heard in that House a speech wherein any hon. Member had dealt so largely in assertion and so little in proof as that of the hon. Member who had just sat down. ["No, no!"] Although that assertion might not meet with the approbation of some hon. Members, he was compelled to say that the statement of his hon. Friend—who had proceeded to India immediately after the House rose last Session for the purpose of collecting information—and he gave him credit for the sincerity of his intentions and his anxious desire to obtain that information—was unsupported by proof. What was the Motion before the House? He (Sir J. W. Hogg) had listened with great attention to the temperate speech made by the hon. Gentleman who introduced the Motion, and who confined himself to the subject-matter, deprecating a general discussion on Indian Government, which question he observed had been fully discussed last Session, and ought not now to be reopened; but what course had the hon. Member for Poole taken? He opened his carpet-bag, produced his memoranda, and dealt out every possible charge on every possible subject from the statements of every person be met with in the course of his tour. The hon. Member had made his speech in support of a Motion for a Commission to proceed from this country to inquire into the affairs of India; but let him beg the House to bear in mind the observations with which he had concluded his speech—that there was no use in referring complaints to the Governor of Madras, because he had been only recently appointed, and that it would require several years before he could become acquainted with the habits and usages of the inhabitants; and further, that persons who went out from this country were very apt to fall into the hands of interested and designing persons, who, with the very best intentions on their part, might lead them wrong. He apprehended that his hon. Friend was a living illustration of the truth of his own remark, for, acting with the best intentions, he had fallen into the hands of interested and designing persons who were in connection with an association at Madras from which had emanated a petition of a more extravagant and unfounded character than any document he 67 ever remembered to have seen laid on the table of the House or adduced before a Committee; a document which well merited the observation of the right hon. Baronet the President of the Board of Control, that it was a tissue of the grossest mis-statements, the grossest perversions, and the grossest exaggerations. Moreover, when he proceeded on his tour through the country, his hon. Friend, instead of using his own excellent sense and discretion, allowed himself to be attended by two of the emissaries of that very association. Now, he asked the House what was the description of information that could be expected to be gathered by his hon. Friend in a hurried tour, he never having been before in India, and conveyed to him through the medium of two emissaries from such an association? Would it not be of the most exaggerated character? No doubt, his hon. Friend had stated to the House what had been told him and what he believed to be true; but was it a statement upon which the House would like to legislate? But his hon. Friend was betrayed into errors which he had himself adverted to in order to anticipate any remarks he (Sir J. W. Hogg) might make—errors, he considered, which destroyed the utility of the whole inquiry. He admitted that he called the parties before him and made inquiries of them as to the treatment which they had received from the authorities, as if he were deputed by Government. [Mr. DANBY SEYMOUR: I beg the hon. Baronet's pardon. I never said anything of the kind.] At all events, wherever he went that impression was spread by the two emissaries, and the people everywhere assembled around him in multitudes, and were addressed by the emissaries to that effect. His hon. Friend was as incapable as any man in that House of stating that which was not strictly accurate, and he was quite sure his hon. Friend did all he could to remove the misconception spread by the interested persons to whom he had alluded among the ignorant population of the districts they visited; but there could be no doubt that the impression in their minds was that he was proceeding through the south of India as a Royal Commissioner, to whom the people were to come and make their complaints in order that they might be laid at the foot of the Throne and before Parliament. ["No, no!"] That impression was spread abroad and encouraged, he knew, without his hon. 68 Friend's knowledge, and he knew further that his hon. Friend took every means to reprobate it, and to state that such an impression was altogether devoid of truth. But he must add that he had also heard—his hon. Friend would correct him if he were present—that attempts were made to levy contributions from the people on the ground that he was a Royal Commissioner, and in order to meet the necessary expenses. His hon. Friend shook his head in dissent—if the charge were incorrect, he would at once withdraw it; but as the justification for having made such a statement, he would read the published report from the two emissaries, made after his hon. Friend's departure from the country. Speaking of a certain place, they said—Here the ill-will of the Government was first made manifest to our design; Mr. Seymour was spoken of as a humbug and an agitator, and the people were told that it was of no use their giving money; but this did not prevent the people from coming to Mr. Seymour, nor did it prevent the subscriptions from proceeding.So that it appears that the hon. Member's tour was made use of by those interested persons as a means of levying subscriptions for the purposes of that association, and that he had been made a dupe of. But the House could easily understand the sensation which the presence of his hon. Friend would excite in districts where, except the judge and the collector, the face of a European was seldom seen. In such a district the hon. Gentleman, he understood, was in the practice of taking out a sheet of paper covered with pictures of various kinds of torture, and asking the people, as he pointed to one or other of the representations, "is that the kind of torture to which you were subjected?" He must think that was an act of grave indiscretion. His hon. Friend had referred, apparently as the strongest case of abuse which he could produce, to the coffee plantation of Mr. Blenkinsopp. Now, what were the facts of the case, even upon his hon. Friend's own showing? Here was a lease of twenty-one years given for the land, together with an obligation that after that period the land should not be more highly taxed than similar land in the district. That was called an absurd and preposterous and an uncertain tenure. But he must beg to tell the House that the rent of all the land in Madras was fixed, and could not be exceeded. That was to say, the best land; 69 the land that was subject to irrigation was subject to a certain rent, which was the maximum rate through the Presidency; inferior land was let according to its presumed lower value, at a lower rate; but every tenant knew at once by looking at the rent of the best land what was the very highest sum which he could possibly be charged. In place of such an arrangement being unreasonable, he contended that it was fair, right, reasonable, and just. Now, if this was—and by the selection it appeared it was—the very worst case of abuse which his hon. Friend could meet with in the whole of his peregrinations through the south of India, then he (Sir J. W. Hogg) did not think that a handsomer compliment could be paid to the Madras Government. As to the other statement his hon. Friend had made respecting Mr. Norton not knowing what he would have to pay for his house, the statement was altogether incomprehensible. The fact was, there was no tax on houses in India. In the three Presidency towns, indeed, there was a house tax to defray the expenses of the police, but in all the rest of India the tax was laid wholly on the land; and if a tenant paid the assessment on the land, he might build upon it or do whatever he pleased without any additional tax. Another of the objections was, that there some change in the title to the land had been introduced, which was represented as a great hardship, when it turned out that the Governor had given to the people of Calcutta the power of redeeming the land. His hon. Friend had also spoken of the energy and industry of the Moplas on the coast of Malabar. He (Sir J. W. Hogg) was sorry to say that official information of a very sad and melancholy character enabled him to bear full testimony to their energy, but it was not the energy of industrious enterprise. They were, in fact, a parcel of ruffians who infested the country, and murdered men for the sake of religious bigotry. These were the men who had been selected for the eulogy and panegyric of his hon. Friend; for his part, he wondered that his hon. Friend did not shudder at the very mention of the Moplas. Then his hon. Friend had introduced a charge against the Government in the case of the Porto Nuovo iron mines. He (Sir J. W. Hogg) did think that these statements, which of course his hon. Friend had received from the Porto Nuovo Company, betrayed the very extreme of audacity. What were the facts of the case? So anxious were 70 the Indian Government to encourage the iron mines of Porto Nuovo that they advanced one sum of money to the Company after another till they had paid the sum of 100,000l., which they might as well have thrown into the sea. A new Company was started, and this new Company was patronised by his right hon. Friend the President of the India Board and by the majority of the Court of Directors, who gave the new Company an assignment of the 100,000l. advanced to the old Company for 10,000l. paid down. He was happy and proud to say that, though he was in a minority, he resisted this arrangement, for he did not see why the money of the people of India should be taken to encourage a scheme, which, however beneficial it might ultimately prove, was only a private speculation. Now, was not his hon. Friend astounded at the audacity of the parties who had so misled him? [Mr. SEYMOUR: Not at all.] Then his hon. Friend would make a very bad Commissioner, and if his right hon. Friend should think of sending out a Commissioner to India, he hoped the hon. Member for Poole would not be appointed. Complaints had also been made with respect to the want of encouragement of mercantile firms at Calcutta, but no complaint had been made to the Government of India about it, and it was a little suspicious to find persons coming to the House of Commons for a remedy which they could have obtained from the local Government. Returns, it was said, had been refused, but those returns were private and confidential returns from the revenue officers to the Government, and it would be highly detrimental to produce such returns unless there were circumstances which rendered it absolutely necessary to do so. The complaint, therefore, on that head, he considered not well founded. His hon. Friend had also sneered at the Governor General, and talked of his arrangement of the Punjaub as his "pet Punjaub scheme." Now, he would ask those hon. Members who had read Lord Dalhousie's Report upon the affairs of the Punjaub, whether it was a fit subject for sneers? To his mind, it would ever remain the most enduring monument of the energy, the ability, the wisdom, and the administrative skill of the Governor General. The annals of the world could not show another such instance of a country in a state of anarchy and confusion, being, as if by magic, transformed into a land of order, and peace, 71 and industry, yielding a large revenue to the conquerors. His hon. Friend sneered at Lord Dalhousie's frequent absences from Calcutta. It was true that, soon after returning from the Punjaub, he again left Calcutta; but he left it to proceed to Pegu, the seat of war, in order that by his presence he might expedite operations, and bring hostilities to a speedy close. He believed they never had a Governor General who at greater personal sacrifice had seen more of the country than Lord Dalhousie; and yet, apparently because the Governor General did not come to meet his hon. Friend in his peregrinations, he thought fit to sneer at him for visiting every part of India except Madras. He (Sir J. W. Hogg) was sorry that his hon. Friend (Mr. Danby Seymour) should have thought it necessary to refer to past times in order to endeavour to throw imputations upon those who had ruled India. The hon. Gentleman had alluded to the peculation of the Company's servants; but if solitary instances of the kind had occurred a hundred years ago, he (Sir J. W. Hogg) thought the integrity which had distinguished the civil service of India during the last sixty years might have prevented the hon. Gentleman from raking up such charges from the ashes of the past. The hon. Gentleman, however, went on to say that such cases might occur now, and he had the hardihood to assert that the East India Company screened the defaulters, and gave them pensions derived from the revenues of India. Now, the only case to which the hon. Gentleman could have referred was that of an officer in the civil service. In that case the defaulter was tried and convicted; he was entitled to a pension of 1,000l. a year, for which he had paid month by month from his salary, and in that sense had fully earned it: when he came home he found that the Directors had deprived him of the full amount. Was that screening an offender? The defaulter applied to the Court of Queen's Bench, who said the "screening" East India Directors had pressed too heavily upon him, that as he had paid towards his pension he was entitled to it, and they ordered that it should be restored to him. He must apologise to the House for having detained them so long on these questions, and he turned with pleasure to the speech of the hon. and learned Gentleman who made this Motion (Mr. Blackett), in whose statements there was much that met his concurrence. Had the debate been allow- 72 ed to rest upon that able and pertinent speech, it need not have lasted an hour. That there were evils connected with the land tenure all were ready to admit, and the only question was, how they were to be remedied; he could assure the hon. Gentleman that it was his own wish, and the desire of all who had an interest or a part in the administration of India, to ascertain the best remedy for those evils, but he could also assure the hon. and learned Member that it was no easy matter to discover what the best remedy was. The hon. and learned Mover knew very well, from the researches which it was plain he had made, that this subject had engaged the attention of the greatest, the wisest, and the best informed men that had been connected with India. There were differences of opinion, not only as to principle, but even with regard to facts. With regard, now, to this very ryotwarry system, that was now held to be so execrable, perhaps the House was not aware that its author was no less a person than Sir Thomas Munro, who was at first opposed to it; but after communicating with its first advocate (Colonel Reid) he became a convert to it, and the ryotwarry system, wherever it now prevailed, was introduced by the Court of Directors on the representations and advice of Sir Thomas Munro. Now, Sir T. Munro was not led to that conclusion by any views of political economy, but his main argument in favour of the ryotwarry system was, that it did away with middlemen, and that the same man was landlord, tenant, and labourer, deriving, from the union of the three characters, the benefits accruing from each. Not only so, but Sir Charles Metcalfe, when he introduced the system of what was called the North Western Settlement, said, he gave up the riotwarry system with reluctance, but be found he could not introduce it without giving up the system of village tenure—that system of little village republics which had preserved the population of India unchangeable amidst the fall of so many dynasties. As between the ryotwarry system and the zemindarry system, the preference was not so apparent as his hon. Friend seemed to suppose. The Government must in every case be a better landlord than the zemindar, and if the zemindar were to come in the place of the Government, he would have the same difficulty to deal with. Was the zemindar a more considerate landlord than the Government, where he had the power in his own 73 hands? Was he so in Bengal? The very reverse was the case. And yet the zemindarry system was introduced by Lord Cornwallis, another benefactor of India; and that system was then as much lauded as the North Western system was now. The hon. and learned Member had told them that a system was now tried in the neighbourhood of Bombay—which he (Sir J. W. Hogg) hoped would be successful. It was a maintenance of the ryotwarry system thus far—that the land was divided into fields, each of which was held by one individual; the quality of the land was ascertained by an accurate survey, and a particular price was put upon it which was admitted on all hands to be moderate. It was provided that the bargain should be binding upon the Government for thirty years; for that term the ryot might, if he pleased, retain possession, and his rent could not be raised a single farthing. But the tenant had this advantage—that at the end of a year he had the option of giving up the whole of his holding, or as much of it as he thought fit, and at any time during the term of thirty years he might relinquish his tenancy by giving a year's notice. He (Sir J. W. Hogg) must confess that he thought this was going rather too far, and that such a regulation might tend to destroy that feeling of responsibility which would induce a tenant to endeavour to fulfil his contract and to pay the stipulated rent. The hon. Member for Newcastle (Mr. Blackett) had truly said, that a great deal of ground in Madras was too highly taxed, because the price of grain had fallen so considerably that rates of assessment which were perfectly fair in Sir T. Munro's days were exorbitant now. This circumstance showed the necessity of improving the means of communication and public works in India, for, if the production of grain was increased beyond the amount required for consumption in a particular district, means ought to be provided for conveying the surplus elsewhere. He (Sir J. W. Hogg) hoped and believed that the system of communication which had been established in the southern districts of Bombay, and which was nearly completed in the northern districts, would be extended to Madras, for the subject was now prominently engaging the attention of the Indian Government. If this system should be found to succeed in Bombay, it might be applied to Madras; he used the word "might," because the more a man read and investigated, the more cautious he 74 would become in deciding summarily upon the affairs of India. The hon. and learned Member had talked of sending Commissioners in India; but if they searched the whole of Her Majesty's dominions, they would not find such a Commissioner as they had now in India in the person of Lord Dalhousie. That noble Lord was the Queen's Commissioner; it was his duty to superintend matters of this kind; and the subject was now engaging his most anxious attention. To show what differences of opinion might occur, even among men of great talent and information, upon questions of this kind, he (Sir J. W. Hogg) might mention that Sir T. Munro had argued that the ryotwarry system was the original system which prevailed throughout India, while Colonel Wilks and others contended that the village system was, if not the universal, at all events the general system of India. In the course of this discussion the characters of the Natives had been stigmatised by some hon. Gentlemen; but he might remind the House of the obloquy which was last year heaped upon the Court of Directors, because they did not employ in offices of importance those very Natives who were now the objects of attack, and who, it was contended, ought to be eligible to become members of the Council. He hoped and believed that the native officers in India would become honest in time, when they were better paid, and he did not think, considering their station in life, and the rule under which their forefathers had lived, that it was fair to stigmatise their conduct so strongly. He had been astonished to hear it said that British rule would deteriorate the Hindoo race. ["Hear, hear!"] That might be a very sentimental and patriotic cheer, but for his own part he believed that the British rule was regenerative, and he knew that under that rule the blessings of education were being diffused throughout India. It must be remembered, however, that the regeneration of a people was not the work of a year, or of twenty years, or of fifty years, or even of a century; but if, at the expiration of a century, a visible and marked progress was apparent among the people of India, the British nation would have reason to be thankful for the good they had effected. He considered that the greatest evils to which India had been subjected had arisen from attempts to force upon the people of that country English notions and habits; and he believed that 75 the wisest course would have been, instead of attempting to apply any particular system of tenure to the whole of India, or to any of the Presidencies, to have studied the feelings and habits peculiar to the different districts, to have adopted and protected the tenure found to be existing, and to have removed as far as possible all possibility of peculation. That had been the plan adopted so successfully in the North West Provinces by Mr. Thomason, who took things as he found them, protected the weak against the strong, and ascertained by careful survey the quality of the soil in every field, however small, and the extent to which various parties were interested in the property. He (Sir J.W. Hogg) admitted that there were evils attaching to the present system of tenure which ought to be remedied; and he had no doubt that Lord Dalhousie, if he found it necessary, would send persons thoroughly acquainted with the subject to institute an inquiry in the Presidency of Madras. He hoped it would not be thought advisable to send out from this country Commissioners whose knowledge of the matters to be investigated must necessarily be limited, and thus to supersede the Governor General in the main points of his government—the care of the people committed to his charge, and the raising of a revenue in the manner most profitable to the State and least oppressive to the people.
§ MR. BRIGHT
said, that he was sorry that the hon. Baronet the Member for Honiton (Sir J. W. Hogg) had left his place, for, had he been there, he (Mr. Bright) intended to remark that he could not help thinking that the hon. Member for Poole (Mr. D. Seymour) would have felt that his speech had not been entirely without effect from the apparent indignation with which the hon. Baronet had risen to answer him, and had, after all, succeeded very poorly in the answer which he had attempted. It had struck him (Mr. Bright), as it must have done every Member, that the speech of the hon. Member for Poole was one of those speeches which it was impossible to answer, unless parties chose to say they did not believe a single word which the hon. Member had stated, he only having told of things which he had seen. The hon. Member for Poole had gone to India on an occasion and for a purpose which did him great credit, and he (Mr. Bright) could not conceive anything which would prove more advantageous than if hon. Members, instead of visiting the 76 Rhine, Switzerland, or the Highlands of Scotland, should, in the ensuing autumn, betake themselves to India for the purpose of investigating the state of the country, and especially of the Presidency of Madras, as was done by the hon. Member for Poole. The hon. Member for Honiton had taken greater latitude on this question than he was willing to allow to any one else. He said that the hon. Member for Poole had come down to the House with his carpet-bag, opened it, and brought forward all that he had gathered during his journey in India, and the hon. Baronet had given them a great many facts—or, rather, what he called facts—but he (Mr. Bright) had heard the speech of to-night made by the hon. Baronet at least four times before, and knew precisely what he was going to say every successive Session when he rose for the purpose of refuting, or of attempting to refute, the views advanced by a certain party in this House who were called Indian reformers. The hon. Baronet had charged the Member for Poole with going to Madras and allying himself with a Native association. He (Mr. Bright) would like to know with what party in Madras it would have been more proper for the hon. Member to have allied himself than with an association formed of intelligent Natives, anxious to communicate to Parliament such information as might advance the interests of their country? The information received by the hon. Member for Poole was nothing more than had been confirmed by every work recently written on the Presidency of Madras, and he (Mr. Bright) knew, from conversations that he had had with his hon. Friend, that he had not made any statements with reference to the Presidency of Madras, or of what he had heard from parties connected with the association, that had not been confirmed by information derived from English military and civil servants of the Indian Government. It could not be attributed as a matter of blame to the hon. Member for Poole that, as he went through the country, crowds of people came round him, and certainly if, as had been said, they never saw an Englishman but a tax collector, it must have been a refreshing sight to have found out an Englishman in India who was not a tax collector. They had the fact of an Englishman and a Member of Parliament travelling through the Presidency of Madras, met by large numbers of Natives, who came to take encouragement from him, to tell him their grievances, 77 and to ask him to be their messenger to this House of Commons. This could not be taken as a condemnation of the hon. Member or the Natives of India; but it was a most conclusive condemnation of that Government which had left the people of India with grievances, not only unredressed, but unheard and uninquired into for upwards of 100 years, during which India had been in the possession of this country. The hon. Baronet had said that somebody had made subscriptions when the hon. Member for Poole had gone through the country, and had insinuated that this was for the purpose of defraying the expenses of the hon. Member's journey, and had let this assertion down by saying that the funds were collected ostensibly for the purposes of the association; and what could be more legitimate than that funds should have been collected for the association? Even if this were true, what could be more natural than that the Natives of India should subscribe for the purpose of sending written or published evidence, or special messengers, if they thought right, in order to lay their grievances before Parliament? They were aware that before the Committee evidence had been taken from the servants of the Company, as many as chose to come, and the more welcome they were if their evidence was found to be favourable to the Company. Surely the hon. Baronet would not assert that the Natives of India under his rule and that of his compeers were not to subscribe for the purpose of laying their grievances before Parliament, and of claiming redress? The hon. Baronet was very much surprised at the story of the clergyman who would not invest his capital under the admirable terms offered by the Government, and said that he was only charged the same as his neighbours, and had no reason to find fault; but the charge was, that the neighbours had been charged too much, plundered, and ruined, and the English clergyman was rather more awake and less dependent than his neighbours, and refused to invest his capital on the terms offered by the hon. Baronet. This was generally the case as regarded the settlement of Englishmen, and Mr. Melville, in his evidence, had stated that there were no more Englishmen engaged in manufactures or the cultivation of the soil in India at the passing of the Act of last Session than there were at the passing of the Act of 1834. This was explained by the jealousy with which any- 78 thing like independent opinion was regarded in India, and any Englishman who settled there, if he did not make a friend of the collector and the Government, could not hope for considerable or permanent success. He should say that, of all the charges and articles of impeachment and condemnation brought against the Indian Government, this was the most conclusive—that, though it had possessed the country for periods varying from twenty to 100 years, yet there were not at this moment as many Englishmen engaged in the interior of the country in agriculture and manufacturing operations as would make one side of the House in a fair division on an important party question. If India had been in the hands of any other country in the world, or under any other Government than that of which the hon. Baronet had formed a part, he (Mr. Bright) believed that this state of things would not have arisen. Had it been in the possession of a despotic prince, he would certainly have had a direct interest in its success and improvement;—had it been under the rule of a democratic Government, it would have stimulated progress and civilisation by the force of its energy. The present state of things could not have arisen, excepting under a corporation by which it was governed, of which it was said—he quoted the words of a distinguished historian— "It was deaf to mercy, and insensible to shame." Unless it had been so, the population of Madras would not have been as they are;—and the hon. Baronet had not attempted to prove that the population of Madras were not in the abject and miserable condition described by the hon. and learned Member who had introduced this Motion—he had, on the contrary, attempted to justify the acts of that shameless corporation. The real question before the House was as to whether the Government should appoint a Commission to proceed to the Presidency of Madras to gather evidence on the spot as to the condition of the people, as connected with the tenure of land, and the taxation on that land. He was not going to contend that it was of much importance as to whether this Commission should go out; something might be said in its favour, and something might be urged against it, and, no doubt, they might choose two or three men in India as honest on this question as any who could be chosen in England, and who, doubtless, from their position, would 79 more easy access to information, and who would probably draw up as satisfactory a Report as any other gentlemen. He would not quarrel with the President of the Board of Control if he did not send out this Commission; but he thought the right hon. Gentleman would fail in his duty if he did not, as a result of this discussion, promote the inquiry recommended, with a view of bringing about the improvements which even the hon. Member for Honiton had admitted to be necessary. He (Mr. Bright) had not done that hon. Baronet justice in saying that his speech of to-night was similar to those formerly made, for he had not made precisely the same speech—he had improved a little, as his admissions were more than on former occasions, and his assertions had been a little less courageous. What was in truth the condition of Madras? It was generally admitted that large tracts of land were lying waste, while great numbers of the population were scarcely employed—were almost absolutely naked, and in a state of physical weakness, arising from the want of the common necessaries of life. This was proved by books, papers, Parliamentary Reports, and a number of witnesses. All the evidence that had been adduced tended to prove this fact. And what was the conclusion? That the land was not unfertile, but so heavily taxed that there was scarcely any profit from working it; and between the miserable pittance derived from it and the large revenue drawn from it by the State, the whole of the annual produce of the land was absorbed, so that the land had no saleable value. This was a state of things which could not always prove advantageous to the Government, and must always prove pernicious and destructive to the people. In this district, notwithstanding the large resumptions of land by the Government, many of which were, in his opinion, unjust and disgraceful, the land revenue had not only not increased, but had declined; and this was a state of things in the continuance of which neither the Government nor the people could long be interested. The hon. Baronet the Member for Honiton had charged the hon. Member for Poole with retailing the stories heard in the country about torture, and wished the House to suppose that he referred to the practice of torture in the collection of the revenue; but would the hon. Baronet deny that the practice of torture was not an unfrequent 80 occurrence? Evidence of this the hon. Member for Poole had gathered from the evidence of Englishmen—collectors and officials—and he had also gathered evidence of that which was yet more horrible than anything which he durst state to this House. The evidence of Mr. Fisher, a most highly respectable merchant in India, given in Mr. Norton's book, clearly showed what could be done. He stated that—If the ryot cannot pay his rent, little consideration is paid to him. Every species of severity is tried to enforce payment—the thumbscrew, bending his head to his feet and tying him in that position, and making him stand in the sun, sometimes with a large stone on his back—all which failing, his property is sequestered and sold, and he is ruined and let loose on society to live by begging, borrowing, or stealing. Thousands are ruined in this way.One of the Natives, a tutor of the young Travancore Princes, said—When a ryot is unable to meet the demands upon him his person is subjected to torture.The fact was quite clear that the taxation was so unjust and onerous that it was impossible to pay it; and then cruelties were resorted to unknown to civilised countries, and scarcely fit for the barbarous Governments which the British Government in India had supplanted. The collector's subordinates had the excuse, so far as they were concerned, that if they did not, somehow or other, extort the rent from the wretched ryot, they were themselves dismissed as negligent in their duty. The hon. Baronet had favoured the House with a dissertation on ryotwarry to very little purpose, for any system, by whatever name known, whether zemindarry or ryotwarry, which tore from the cultivator three-fourths of the produce of the soil, was a system which impoverished the tiller of the soil and crushed improvement. It was perfectly natural that the hon. Baronet should censure the hon. Member for Poole for stating unpalatable truths. It was part of the system of the Government to which the hon. Baronet belonged to suppress all such impertinent exposures by dogmatic assertion and arrogant abuse. The Government of Madras had given a flagrant illustration of this principle of action in the outrageous conduct they had pursued towards their own Commissioners, whom they had pursued with insult and contumely for stating how matters really stood as to the question of public works into which they had been directed to inquire. It was expedient that care should be taken that, 81 if the Commissioners suggested were appointed, they should be protected from insults such as these on the part of any antiquated provincial or presidential Governor, whose narrow prejudices they might happen to wound. It was deeply gratifying to turn from such officials and contemplate officers like Colonel Cotton, whose exertions in the promotion of drainage and irrigation in India had done immortal honour to himself, and had conferred a lasting benefit to the country to which his eminent services were applied. Let not the hon. Member for Honiton suppose that hon. Members were actuated by motives inferior to his own. What was sought in such Motions as that before the House was simply that India should be governed in the manner most consistent with the true dignity of this country and with the true interests of India herself; and having been the means of subjugating 100,000,000 or 150,000,000 of people to the rule of the Sovereign of this country, what was so befitting the consideration of Parliament as the grave question now under consideration? It was perfectly competent in us to do far more for India than had been done for her by her ancient rulers; and he trusted that, so far as these discussions should be permitted to reach the natives of India, they would convince them that it was the desire of that House to apply sound principles to the government of India, and to confer upon that country all the civilisation and all the accompaniments of civilisation which it was possible to confer upon a country so differing in its conditions from our own
§ SIR CHARLES WOOD
said, he would not, in the brief observations he should make, follow hon. Gentlemen in the discursive discussion they had entered upon, but confine himself altogether to the point which the hon. and learned Gentleman, in his temperate speech, had propounded—namely, the tenure of land in India. To a considerable extent he concurred with his hon. Friend the Member for Honiton, that it was of little use for Members to come there and detail specific instances of alleged abuses which it was not possible for the House to inquire into or to remedy, while absolute silence as to those alleged abuses was observed towards the authorities on the spot, who could inquire into the truth of the story and apply a remedy. It seemed to him, for example, quite unintelligible how the respectable merchant of Calcutta, who was said to have sustained such injuries near Madras, had not sought 82 redress from the authorities at Madras. [Mr. DANBY SEYMOUR said, the gentleman had applied for redress, and had got it.] He was very glad to hear that; but then there was no imputation whatever on the Government. As to the existence of many evils in India, no one denied that such evils existed; what he denied now, as on former occasions, was, that the tenure of land had occasioned those evils. The hon. Member for Poole himself admitted that the cause of these evils was to be found in the over-assessment of land, and had given an example where the assessment, having been reduced, land had been brought into a state of the highest and most advantageous cultivation. The Motion of the hon. and learned Member was not for an inquiry into the assessment of land, but into the tenure by which it was held. Now, that tenure could have nothing to do with the condition of the peasantry; for if the assessment were not altered, it would make no difference whether the ryotwarry or the zemindarry tenure prevailed. He was surprised that his hon. Friend had not referred to modern as well as to ancient authorities upon the subject of the tenure of land, as not only Sir T. Munro, but almost all the authorities to which the hon. Member for Manchester had referred as impartial and trustworthy, had given the most decisive testimony in favour of the ryotwarry tenure in India. Throughout the greater part of the Madras Presidency that was the native tenure, and the greatest evil with regard to the tenure of land which had ever been inflicted upon India had been inflicted by the attempts which had been made to introduce English tenures, which were utterly contrary to the habits and customs of the country. No greater example than that of Madras could be adduced to prove the folly of sending out English gentlemen to carry out English notions with respect to the tenure of land in India, and in that Presidency the attempt was a most signal failure. In some cases they found that a village tenure, and in others that a ryotwarry tenure existed; but they chose to introduce a zemindarry tenure, and sold up the whole district in order to do so. But in the course of twenty years the whole of the zemindars were sold up, and they were forced back to the ryotwarry tenure, finding it impossible, after causing the greatest misery, to carry out the system they had endeavoured to introduce. With regard to the hon. Gentleman's argument 83 about employing Native officers for the purpose of collecting the revenue, he would ask what would be the case if the ryots were handed over to the tender mercies of the zemindars? Were the ryots in Bengal, who were under the zemindars, in better position than the ryots who were under the Government of Madras? He would appeal to the books to which reference had been made, in proof of the lenient treatment of the ryots by the Government of Madras, in comparison with their treatment by the zemindars. It was obvious that this must be the case, for the zemindar was a middleman between the Government and the ryot, and would, therefore, make a profit out of the ryot in addition to the rent he paid. His hon. and learned Friend said, it was absolutely necessary to have certainty of tenure, and that, therefore, they must do away with the ryotwarry system; but that was a system which in India gave the greatest certainty of tenure, because under it the ryot held the land for ever, so long as he paid the rent; while, under the system of the North West Provinces and Bombay, he had only a lease for thirty years, and under the zemindarry system he was always at the mercy of his landlord. Why, then, should they substitute for the indefeasible right to land which existed under the ryotwarry system, the thirty years' lease of it which existed in the North West Provinces, or the tenure, nearly at the will of the zemindars, under the zemindarry tenure? The hon. Member for Newcastle had quoted the evidence of Mr. Bourdillon, a most able and intelligent man, with regard to the Presidency of Madras. Mr. Bourdillon said, that nowhere was land clung to with greater affection than in India; it descended from father to son, and could be claimed notwithstanding its having been allowed to go out of cultivation. Mr. Fisher, another authority which the hon. Member for Manchester had quoted, said, the ryots could not have a more permanent interest in the soil than they at present possessed, for if a ryot had fifty acres, and only cultivated ten, he only paid for those ten, and no one dare interfere with the remainder. This, no doubt, accounted to a considerable degree for the quantity of land that appeared to have gone out of cultivation, for the ryot cultivated no more than suited him, and only paid for what he cultivated. Then, with regard to the point of the greater certainty of the ryotwarry than of 84 any other system, he would quote, not any servant of, or any one who might be supposed to be friendly to the East India Company, but Mr. Mackay, who had been sent out by the Manchester Chamber of Commerce to inquire, among other things, into the tenure of laud in India. Mr. Mackay was of opinion that the ryotwarry tenure was the only one upon which the solid foundation of a land tenure could be raised. Mr. Norton, who would not be very favourable to the Company, was also of opinion, after having resided for some time in the country, that the ryotwarry system was the best that could exist. Mr. Fisher also expressed a similar opinion; he said they knew what the ryotwarry system was—as long as a man paid a certain assessment he had his land. He admitted that, generally speaking, the assessment was too high, but that did not alter the tenure of the land, to which, as long as a man paid his assessment, he knew that he had an indefeasible right. Mr. Bourdillon said the defects of the system were not practically felt, as land was bought and sold, and capital invested in it, without the least hesitation, on account of the certainty of the tenure. He thought it would not be necessary to add more upon the subject, although there were several authorities which he might quote to the same effect; and it might be fairly assumed that this ryotwarry system was the most certain tenure we could have in India. He believed that great ruin and misery had been entailed upon India by the attempts of benevolent gentlemen to force English notions of tenure upon an Oriental people, accustomed to widely different notions, to which they were deeply attached. No doubt those who engaged hi this attempt had done so with the most benevolent motives, but the effect of these measures had been wide-spread ruin and misery. It was to one of those Anglo-Indians, who had been so slightingly referred to in the course of the debate, that we owed the sytem now in operation in the North West Provinces, which had answered so well, being simply adopting and improving the system already known to the Natives. Where the village system prevailed the inhabitants were dealt with on that footing; if there was a landlord, that agreement was recognised; and in like manner if the ryotwarry system existed that was assumed as the basis of operations. Now, in the greater part of Madras the Natives were accustomed to the ryotwarry system in 85 the times of their Native princes, and that system was, therefore, on the recommendation of Sir Thomas Munro, continued in the districts where it had formerly prevailed. Sir George Clerk, in his evidence before the Committee of last year, distinctly stated that it was impossible to re-establish the village system when once it had broken down; and Mr. Norton's book contained a most forcible argument against this system as not so well calculated as the ryotwarry system to promote the welfare of the people. He believed nothing could be more fatal than any attempt to subvert the present system and to replace it by one founded on European notions, and he therefore believed that nothing could be more useless, or, if it produced any effect at all, more pernicious, than to send out a Commission from this country. But although he thought it would be impolitic and unwise to attempt to interfere with the tenure of land, he was far from thinking that there were not many evils in the present system which it would be advisable to attempt to remedy, and among them, no doubt, was the assessment of the land. He had always felt that the executive Government ought to take such measures as would put that assessment upon a reasonable and proper footing. With a view to attain that object, when a new Governor of the Presidency of Madras was to be appointed, a gentleman had been nominated whose name was never mentioned without honour (Mr. Thomason), because, of all men who had ever lived, he had shown himself possessed of a peculiar faculty of discovering what was suited to the peculiar condition of every part of the country, and of selecting the instruments for carrying out his designs with the greatest possible ability. But this gentleman had been unfortunately cut off in the midst of his most useful and benevolent career, even before the news of his appointment reached him. The Governor General had proposed to him to send out a Commission to inquire, not into the tenure of land, but into the assessment upon the laud; but he considered that the Government of Madras, without losing time in inquiries, might in many cases at once apply an adequate remedy, and he had pressed that opinion upon Lord Harris, not only before he went to his Government, but in every letter he had since written to him, as he had no doubt that one of the first steps towards putting the revenue upon a satisfactory footing 86 would be the reduction of the assessment in many cases. He believed that it would be necessary to reduce the assessment, and that, although the first result of such a step might be to decrease the revenue, its ultimate effect would be to increase it, by stimulating cultivation. The hon. Member for Poole had been kind enough to give him some credit for having paid attention to this subject. He could only say that, from the time he had been appointed to fill the situation he had now the honour to hold, he had felt that it was one of awful responsibility, and he had laid these matters to his heart, and had done his best to introduce every possible improvement into the administration of that country. It was, however, impossible, when old habits and feelings had to be rooted out, that improvements could be effected in two or three months. He believed that if there was an improvement in the system of collecting the land revenue, and if, by means of a large expenditure on public works, the people were placed in possession both of greater facilities for internal communication and better means of cultivating the soil by irrigation, Madras would not long continue the benighted land that it was said now to be, but that we should see a great improvement in that Presidency, which he was aware stood more in need of it, and was at the same time more susceptible of it, than any other part of India. He hoped, therefore, that his hon. Friend would not think it necessary to take the sense of the House upon his proposition, which, even if it were carried, would lead to no good result.
§ MR. J. G. PHILLIMORE
said, he thought the President of the Board of Control had put the question upon a totally fallacious foundation. They were not discussing the relative merits of the zemindarry and ryotwarry systems, but simply whether—as administered in the Presidency of Madras—the working of the ryotwarry system was not disgraceful to a Christian Government. The fact was that, under the system of land tenure at present existing in Madras, not one-fifth of the soil was under cultivation; and that, to extort the enormous rents now wrung from the miserable cultivators of the soil, torture was not unfrequently employed. Such a state of things as that he thought certainly demanded inquiry from an English House of Commons. It was stated, too, in a Report emanating from the servants of the 87 East India Company, that farming in India was at present a wild speculation, which no reasonable man would undertake; and that land was quite unsaleable in the market. Was that a state of things which should be permitted to continue? The ryots were not allowed to cultivate as much or as little as they pleased; and the fact was that the country was reduced to the lowest state of degradation, and that the whole state of things was so flagrant and disgraceful that any means by which so foul a blot could be wiped from the British name ought to be adopted.
§ MR. MANGLES
said, the whole question lay in a very small compass. It was as his right hon. Friend the President of the Board of control had said, not a question of tenure, it was a question of assessment; and the proof that it was not a question of tenure was to be found in the flourishing condition of the Canara district, where the ryotwarry system had been long established.
§ MR. HENLEY
said, he thought the hon. Gentleman who had brought forward this Motion must be quite satisfied with what had taken place, and with what had been said by the President of the Board of Control and by the other Gentlemen who had taken part in the discussion, and who, although they did not agree that the question had been properly introduced to the House as a question of tenure, had admitted the misery of the people, had admitted that excessive rents were exacted, and had not denied that those rents were extorted by torture. He confessed that he had been astonished that neither the hon. Baronet the Member for Honiton, nor the right hon. Baronet the President of the Board of Control, had said a single word in contradiction of the fact, which the hon. Member for Manchester had broadly stated, that torture had been resorted to for the purpose of obtaining payments of rents which were avowedly excessive. He thought that it would strike the British public with surprise, that no Member of the Government had denied what was, at all events, a most appalling statement. People might naturally think that this was a question of tenure when, the excessive amount of the rents being admitted, instead of the rents being reduced, the first step was the appointment of a Commission to inquire into the mode of collecting them. It showed how these questions were dodged about. The right hon. Gentleman, however, had given them a starting point—he 88 said that the people would not cultivate the land because they were required to pay more rent than they could afford to pay; and he said, also, that the time for consideration was past, and that the time had come to act. The latter admission, taken in connection with the first, could only mean that the Government had resolved that the excess of rent should be reduced. Whenever that should take place a larger quantity of land would be brought under cultivation, and the revenue, instead of diminishing, would increase. The Motion had been of service, if only for extracting these declarations from the President of the Board of Control; but it was desirable that before the discussion closed the House should hear something from the Government upon the subject of the alleged application of torture.
§ SIR CHARLES WOOD
said, that having been pointedly referred to, he could only say that he did not believe the statement; but having heard the allegation for the first time that evening, it was wholly impossible that he could give it an authoritative contradiction without reference to Madras. It was impossible to prove a negative, but the statement having been now made, he would undertake that inquiry should be made.
§ MR. MANGLES
said, it was impossible to prove a negative; but he could solemnly declare that he had never, during the many years he was in India, heard of a single case of torture having been resorted to in Madras for the purpose of collecting the revenue.
§ MR. V. SCULLY
said, instances of it were recorded in the evidence. In one of the works quoted by the President of the Board of Control, it was positively stated that pressure upon the head in the heat of the sun had been inflicted until money was extorted. This was a most terrible state of things, which he could not believe would be allowed to continue. The question, however, had nothing to do with the Motion, which was for an inquiry into the tenure of land in India. This had been met by the right hon. Gentleman with a mere quibble that the question was one of assessment. But this was a mere play on terms—tenure included assessment. India, like Ireland, was rated at rack-rents, and that was its tenure. The tenure of land was at the basis of the prosperity of a country. The case of Ireland was an illustration of the system. By looking at the face of a country you could see what 89 the tenure of its land was. In Belgium, for instance, the tenure was far better than in this country, as the agriculture was superior; while, on the other hand, in Syria it was abominable. This applied remarkably to India, where the ryotwarry system was ruinous. He could not collect from the speech of the right hon. Baronet (Sir C. Wood) why the inquiry should be resisted; but the right hon. Gentleman certainly was very warm against the proposition. He thought a strong case had been made out for inquiry, and he should support the Motion.
§ MR. OTWAY
said, he was astonished to hear from the hon. Member for Guildford (Mr. Mangles) that he had never heard of the infliction of torture in India, when he must know that a Motion for inquiry into the subject had recently been made at one of the meetings of the Court of Proprietors, but had been stifled in the way in which inconvenient motions generally were at the India House. But he (Mr. Otway) knew that the practice of torture did prevail in India, and to put the matter beyond doubt he would read part of a letter addressed by a gentleman (Mr. Theobald), a member of the Calcutta bar, to the hon. Member for Poole, in which he showed beyond doubt that the practice did prevail. It was as follows—We have had news of the course of your inquiries, and of some of their results. Almost every vice and abuse flourishes in India. Your discovery of the practice of torture is no news to me. I believe it is practised in every lock-up house in Calcutta. In the Mofussil I had personal proof of it not long ago. Two ladies, a gentleman and myself, went up to Burrackpore, in a palkeegharre, having a coarse bag containing 400 rupees, which was certainly in the gharry just before our arrival, but was missed on arrival. After fruitless inquiry it was proposed to use the thumbscrew, and we were assured by that means the thief could be discovered; we refused permission, but were assured it was a common practice.It was high time to depart from a system in which such practices are common. The root of the evil, in my opinion, lies in the civil service; one man is placed officially over a million of people, scattered over some thousands of square miles, and everything depends on his virtue and ability. It is absurd to make such distinctions between him and all the uncovenanted; he is the tyrant over all and is too apt to be hoodwinked by the clever but low class of Natives. Really the civilian governs only in name, the real governors are the knavish Natives. The support, also, which civilians 90 uniformly receive at head quarters makes them virtually irresponsible. There is a mutual compact among the members of this class which defeats all complaints against them, though complaints often are made, and are well founded.
§ MR. MANGLES
explained that what he had said was, that he had never heard of torture being applied for the purpose of the collection of the revenue; though he had heard of torture being inflicted by police officers, who exceeded their authority, for the purpose of extorting confessions from criminals.
§ MR. ELLIOT
said, that during a service of thirty years in India, and in connection with its administration, he had never heard of torture having been used for the purpose of collecting rent. He had not heard of such a thing until it was mentioned in that night's debate. He did not believe such a practice existed at Bengal or Madras. There might have been individual instances of misconduct on the part of Natives of India in authority; but he was perfectly satisfied that torture had never been resorted to as a system for the purpose of collecting revenue in any part of India. He might add that he had never heard of such a thing as a thumbscrew being used in India.
The House divided:—Ayes 59; Noes 64: Majority 5.