HC Deb 23 April 1858 vol 149 cc1594-601

I cannot doubt that it is the general wish of the House we should now proceed to the Orders of the day; I have, however, a few observations to make in reply to questions which have been addressed to me. Upon the subject to which the hon. Gentleman who spoke last has referred, and also in reply to the question addressed to the Government by the hon. and learned Member for Devonport (Sir E. Perry), I have to state that instructions have been sent out to India, the general tenour of which is that, consistently with a full regard to the claims of justice, there shall be that regard for property, and that full toleration which I am certain it is the wish of this House should exist. With regard to the inquiry of the hon. Member for Tavistock (Sir J. Trelawny) as to my giving him a day for continuing the debate upon church rates, I must say I fully agree with the hon. Baronet, that it is a subject which has great claims upon the attention of the House, and if I thought that by assisting the discussion of it, or by going into Committee upon the particular measure introduced by the hon. Baronet, I should at all facilitate the settlement of the general question, I should not be backward in attempting to meet his convenience. But I cannot bring myself to believe that our going into Committee upon this Bill holds out any hope of that desirable result. It is my belief that the predominant opinion of this House and the country is in favour of a settlement of that question, and there is also a belief that some settlement is practicable. I should have preferred, instead of giving a day for going into Committee upon the Bill of the hon. Baronet, that the Government should attempt itself to introduce a measure upon this subject, and if I do not at this moment pledge myself to take that course immediately, it is only in consequence of the pressure of public business, and my desire not to introduce any Bill of that kind without being able at once to proceed with it. But in the meantime the hon. Member for Hertfordshire (Mr. Puller) has given notice to-night of his intention of bringing forward the Resolution which he nearly succeeded in introducing last Wednesday, and which upon reflection, I cannot help thinking is one well worthy of the consideration of the House. I hope some means may be found, by which the question which has been raised by the hon. Member for Herts, may be brought under the notice of the House. I must next apologize to the noble Lord the Member for the West Riding (Viscount Goderich) for the somewhat abrupt answer I gave to his question; but I was not aware at the time that the India Bill was upon the Orders of the day for this evening. I thought it had been put off, as I intended, for a considerable period, and it certainly was my wish, before any steps were taken to put an end to that Order, that I should have had an opportunity of vindicating the general policy recommended in the Bill, because the House will recollect, that when I had the honour of introducing it, I confined myself strictly to exposition, and offered no arguments whatever in favour of any of the provisions which I attempted then to explain. I thought if the Resolutions of which I have given notice were carried, it was quite within my power to have changed the Bill I had introduced in accordance with the Resolutions which the House had sanctioned; but upon reflection, I feel that that is not a course which, upon the whole, is the most respectful to the House. It appears that the House is in favour of proceeding by Resolution. At all events, there is a possibility of those Resolutions being carried, and in that case I believe it would be more consistent with the forms of the House, and my duty if, after the Resolutions are carried, a new Bill be introduced, embodying the principles contained in them. I therefore shall not insist upon the course which I had wished to adopt—not from a vain desire to keep the Bill before the House, but he-cause I wished to have an opportunity of vindicating its policy, which has really never been defended, although it has often been incidentally attacked. The noble Lord (Lord J. Russell) has attacked one of the provisions of the Bill to-night. It is not my intention now to defend it, but I beg the noble Lord to believe that it is merely in deference to the wish of the House that I abstain from doing so. I do not wish the noble Lord to understand that I at all agree with him in his views that the scheme was one hastily got up by us, or that we are not prepared, by reasons grave and weighty, to vindicate our plan. With these observations, I beg to say, that I shall not insist upon proceeding with the India Bill in the form in which it now appears, but I shall introduce Resolutions upon the day I have mentioned, and, should those Resolutions, or the spirit of them, be adopted by the House, I hope to have afterwards an opportunity of introducing a Bill embodying the principles which the House shall have agreed to.


Sir, I think the course which the right hon. Gentleman has now intimated to the House that it is his intention to pursue is the only course which, in consistency with the practice and usual forms of the House, was really open to him. I will not now enter upon a consideration whether it is better to introduce the Indian Government question by Resolutions preparatory to any Bill, or to proceed by Bill at once. The Government, after, we must suppose, full deliberation, preferred the latter course of bringing in a Bill without any preliminary Resolutions. They have seen reasons since then to change their original views, and now prefer to proceed by Resolutions. But those two courses appear to me—and I believe I am speaking in full accordance with the practice of the House—to be utterly incompatible, and therefore I think the right hon. Gentleman, when he states that he takes the course he has now announced in deference to the wishes of the House, might have put it upon a very different ground, and have told us that he took that course in deference to what, upon further information, he found to be the real practice of the House. I apprehend the course which must be followed in the event of the Resolutions being agreed to would be this—the House will instruct the Chairman of the Committee and other persons to bring in a Bill founded upon those Resolutions. It must be remembered the Resolutions of a Committee must be the foundation of a Bill, but Resolutions of the whole House need not have that necessary consequence, and therefore I apprehend the right hon. Gentleman has taken the only course that was open to the Government to follow in accordance with the usual practice and rules of the House. Of course, the right hon. Gentleman will discharge the Order for the second reading when it comes on this evening, and we shall then be prepared, when the time comes for considering the Resolution, to deal with them as we may think best.


The course which the right hon. Gentleman has agreed to take is clearly the most convenient one in the rather awkward position in which we are placed upon this question; because I understand when a Minister places Resolutions before this House he does so saying, in effect, "The subject is one about which a strange and inconvenient variety of opinions prevails, and we would rather, therefore, take the judgment of the House before proceeding to bring in a Bill than attempt to pass, by the influence of the Government, a measure completely framed in all its clauses." Having taken that course which, with a view to the production of a good measure for the future government of India, I believe to be the best, it appears to me we have a clearer track before us, and we shall avoid some of those unpleasant contests which might have arisen if any other course had been pursued. The Government is in this position upon this matter. They arc in a minority, as we know, and do not like to take a course upon which the majority of the House would be disposed to differ with them. Now, I want the Government to learn a lesson from the manner in which they had placed themselves in a difficulty on the India Bill, and apply that lesson to the question we were discussing on Wednesday last. It is not to be disputed that if we had divided on Wednesday upon the main question, notwithstanding that the noble Lord the Member for Tiverton (Viscount Palmerston) and the noble Lord for the City of London (Lord John Russell) with all their forces had supported the Government, they would have been defeated by a majority of upwards of seventy. The Government say they are in favour of a settlement of the chinch rate question; so has been every Government during the time I have sat in this House, but all of them have proposed settlements of a nature which it is impossible for the opponents of church rates to accept. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Disraeli) gives us no expectation of doing better—for we are not children, to be deluded by his shadowy Church Rate Bill, to be introduced, no doubt, at the same time as the Government Reform Bill; but he invites us to consider the proposition of an hon. Member (Mr. Pullen) who seeks to establish a firm and permanent church rate upon a new basis. I merely rise to tell the right hon. Gentleman he is making another pitfall for himself by treating the question in that way. He has a right to oppose the abolition of church rates. I don't complain of that, But this is a measure which is of great importance to the public, as any one may know who sees the number of hon. Members who come down upon inconvenient days to support it, and it is a measure which the House has made up its mind to pass. Why, the whole reliance of the opponents of the Bill, as stated by the head of the Government, is not upon this House but upon "another place." If the Government had such a majority upon any Bill of their own they would pass it in a week, but because the forms of the House put us off from Wednesday to Wednesday, we may not have another opportunity of discussing the Bill for some weeks. If, however, the right hon. Gentleman thinks that by pushing us off in this manner he will weaken our strength or change our determination, he is mistaken. I do not make these remarks in a spirit hostile to the ministry. I and those about me don't want to see a change of Government; but we arc determined to have this Church Hate Bill passed. A very large majority of the House is in favour of the measure, and at this time, when there is not much business before the House, I don't see why we should not have an opportunity of proceeding with the Bill, and then, having passed it, to commit it to its fate "else- where." There are persons who believe it will be thrown out in "another place." I don't care about that; a great question like this may be stopped for awhile. We have heard that some people have been mad enough to fancy they could dam back the ocean; but the ocean still rolls on; and this question will still roll on, and gather strength as it advances from day to day, for it is not in the power of any Government to prevent its passing into a law. I think, therefore, the Chancellor of the Exchequer may with a very good grace give us a day in order that we may advance it through Committee. I have no hostility to the Government of which the right hon. Gentleman (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) is a Member; but I have a much greater friendship for the Bill for the abolition of church rates than I have for any Government. We did not show any consideration for the Whig Government when this question was before the House in their time; the question was then carried; and it is not likely now that we shall let it re- main in abeyance. I hope, therefore, the Chancellor of the Exchequer will "reconsider" this subject:—I find "reconsideration" one of the best things in the world; and if he will only think again on this question, I am persuaded he will see the fairness and justice of affording us all proper opportunities of proceeding with, the Bill.


So many exciting topics have been introduced into this discussion that I am afraid an observation made by the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer has for the moment been forgotten. He stated that instructions have been sent out to India to Viscount Canning to pursue a system of toleration towards the natives. It might be supposed from that expression that the Governor General of India had hitherto acted on a different policy. The very contrary, however, is the fact, for that has always been the spirit in which he has acted. Under difficulties, perhaps, the most unexampled, he has never lost his head; and never for a single instant has he forgotten that it will be our duty hereafter to govern 150,000,000 of the Natives of India. He has kept that always in view, in spite of all the remonstrances of others; and I hope Her Majesty's Government will consent to lay on the table the instructions which have been sent out to India, and that they will be found to contain an expression of their approbation of the conduct and policy of my noble Friend the Governor General. I am the more anxious that this should be done, because, in my opinion, there can be nothing more discreditable to this country than the manner in which it dealt with Viscount Canning for some time. He was sent out in a time of peace to govern India, and to carry out a policy of peaceful progress; on a sudden there broke out the must marvellous revolt that ever afflicted a country; but, placed in the midst of an emergency the greatest and most trying, perhaps, in which any man was ever before called to act, he showed himself equal to the occasion. Instead, however, of being backed by the people of this country, he was assailed by every species of abuse, which was not confined to newspapers, but was indulged in by public men of rank and station in the kingdom. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Droitwich (Sir J. Pakington) spoke of my noble Friend the Governor General as having shown nothing but vacillation during that trying crisis; and the Earl of Derby spoke of him in much the same tone in "another place." But since they have come into office they have found reason to alter their opinion of my noble Friend; and to the eternal honour of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of Cambridge (Mr. Walpole) and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Oxford shire (Mr. Henley), they both declared that in their belief Viscount Canning had acted with the greatest amount of courage that could have been expected from any public man in such an emergency and in a distant and isolated position. There is not a more isolated position in the world as regards social sympathy than that of the Governor General of India; and, therefore, it is that I think it the duty of every public individual to stand by such a man. I am sure the more the conduct of Viscount Canning is known the more it will be admired by his grateful fellow-countrymen, and the more it will be felt that under the difficult and trying circumstances in which he was situated he acted in a way hardly to be expected of any public man.


Sir, I hope the House will permit me to refer for a moment to the reference which the right hon. Gentleman who has just spoken made to certain expressions relative to Viscount Canning, which fell from me during the debate in this House on the Motion for a Vote of Thanks to the Indian Army. I did, on that occasion, express myself strongly with respect to Viscount Canning's conduct; but if the right hon. Gentleman will refer to what fell from me on that occasion he will find that I condemned the conduct of Viscount Canning hypothetically. [A laugh.] I think the House will find there is no ground for ridicule in what I have stated, if they will bear in mind that at that time there were certain serious allegations brought against Viscount Canning in a petition which had been sent homo from Calcutta. That petition had been sent back to Viscount Canning for his answer, and, if I remember right, what I said on that occasion was that great allowance was undoubtedly to be made for Viscount Canning in the difficult position in which he was placed; but, I added, if the allegations in that petition were well-founded, his conduct was greatly to be condemned, and that there were marks of vacillation in his policy and conduct which exposed him to grave censure. I also condemned the Government for calling on the House of Commons to pa3s a Vote of Thanks to Viscount Canning pending his answer to the petition to which I have adverted. Since then we have received the reply of Viscount Canning to that petition, and I am bound to say that his answer to the greater part of the allegations contained in it, if not to all of them, has been satisfactory, and I have not now to com- ment on his conduct with that severity and that censure which I should have done if the allegation? in that petition had all been substantiated.


said, there were two Bills before the House relating to the Government of India, and suggested that it would be the best, most straightforward, and convenient course that they should both be withdrawn previous to the discussion on the Resolutions which the Chancellor of the Exchequer had proposed to submit to the House on Monday. He also thought it fairly open for consideration, whether further legislation on that subject ought to take place at the present moment.

Motion agreed to.

House at rising to adjourn till Monday next,