HC Deb 08 July 1858 vol 151 cc1086-96

Order for Third Reading read.


said, he rose to ask the President of the Board of Control what would be the position of the East India Company as a chartered body after this measure should have passed. He believed the Company would still be possessed of the same charter under which they had always acted, and he understood, also, that in handing over the property of the Company to the Crown the rights of the Proprietors of India Stock had been specially reserved. What he wanted to know was, would the proprietary continue to have the power of electing a Board of Directors as they had hitherto done, and what would be their means of obtaining redress, should they require any, as a chartered body? He would suggest that when the Bill went to the House of Lords a clause should be introduced putting an end entirely to the charter of the Company, and so avoiding all those difficult questions which might otherwise arise in future. It was not desirable that a great association like the East India Company should drag on a nominal existence, without any real power or vitality.


said, that he was unwilling to let the third reading of the Bill pass without saying a few words upon it. The three first clauses contained a principle of such importance, and one pregnant with so much probable future advantage to India, that they had justly received the support of those who sat on his own side of the House. In six of the twelve divisions which had taken place on the Bill in Committee the bulk of the Liberal party had voted with the Government. Such had not been the case, however, with regard to the constitution of the Council. The President of the Board of the Control was entitled to every credit for the candour and ability he had displayed in carrying the Bill through the House, but he could not help regretting that the noble Lord should have foregone the greatest opportunity which had ever occurred to a young statesman since the days of William Pitt of coupling his name with an important and permanent measure of legislation. He thought that the noble Lord had undervalued his own influence in not attempting to carry out what must have been his own deliberate opinions, for he was sure that the noble Lord, who possessed the confidence of the Liberal party, and of the middle and working classes of the country, for the attention which he had paid to social subjects, could have carried any measure which commended itself to his sound judgment. The Council of India should consist of the ablest and most experienced men who could be found, but the provision which had been made for the home government of India was nothing more that a rifacciamento of the Court of Directors, which reappeared almost in a more objectionable form than before. He had always been opposed to the Court of Directors, thinking that persons selected from men of business and men in the ordinary walks of life were not those best fitted to form a consultative Council for India, the necessity for which he quite admitted. Nor did he think that that duty would not be satisfactorily discharged by the Council appointed under the present Bill. For candidly stating his objections to this portion of the Bill he had drawn down upon himself the rebuke of an important Member of the House—a rebuke not only uncalled for, but unjust, because untrue. Still, in his opinion, the government of India was an elaborate question of statesmanship, much more complicated than European government so complicated that lie feared they never would be able to form a good government for India. Moreover, history afforded no instance of a good government being framed for a. distant dependency by a handful of foreigners. At the same time, he admitted that probably India would remain for generations under our rule, and that it was, therefore, our duty to frame the best provisional government we could for her. But instead of obtaining the services of men who were required to devote their whole time and energy to the duty of the Council, it appeared to be the intention of the Government to select the Councillors from the ordinary walks of life; and, instead of calling upon them to devote their whole time to the duties of their office, merely to call upon them to devote so much time as might be necessary. In giving his vote for the third reading of the Bill, he did so under the solemn conviction that it would not last more than four or five years, and that in that time the Council would probably be found unworkable. There was only one other point to which he wished to refer. It was singular that the Bill did not contain a single allusion to the native interests of India, which the thought was an omission greatly to be deplored, as in every previous Act the people of India had been assured that their religion and customs would not be disturbed.


who had previously presented a petition on the subject from Singapore—said, that he had proposed on a former occasion that Singapore and other neighbouring settlements should be placed in immediate connection with the Indian Council. He believed, however, that it would be equally satisfactory to these settlements if they welt placed in immediate connection with the Colonial Office, and he hoped that the noble Lord would give the subject his attention during the recess. It was a source of satisfaction to him that it had fallen to the lot of the noble Lord (Lord Stanley) to legislate for India, for he had visited India, and knew something about the population over which he was called to rule. The three great points to which the attention of the Indian Government should be directed, as the seeds of the future prosperity of that empire, were commerce, civilization, and Christianity. He believed the first two would lead to the third, without any extraordinary pressure or exertion. He had lived amongst the people of India for many years, and believed them to be intelligent, docile, and honest. For many years he had been surrounded by Native servants, and had never lost even so much as a pocket handkerchief.


said, that it had fallen to his lot to object to many parts of the Bill, particularly in connection with the constitution of the Council. He thought it, therefore, only right to say, that, retaining his objections to that particular part of the Bill, yet, as the measure embodied principles of infinite value and importance, he gave to its third reading not a grudging, but a cordial and hearty assent.


said, that in reply to the question asked by the hon. Member for Peterborough (Mr. Hankey) he had to state that the East India Company had hitherto filled two different capacities, which were perfectly distinct in their characters. In one view the East India Company was a company possessing a joint-stock, entitled to a dividend guaranteed to them, and also in a certain degree to require a redemption of that dividend, and having also a security fund for the payment of the guaranteed dividend; in the other character the Company was the governing body of India, subject, of course, to the control of the Indian Commissioners. This Bill proposed to deal with the East India Company only in the second of its characters. It took from it its governing powers over India, and vested them in Her Majesty, but left untouched their whole rights as to stock, dividends, the power of requiring redemption of the dividend, and the security fund for the payment of the dividend. And as the stock must be protected, as the rights for the security of the stock must be protected, as the dividend must be paid, and as the dividend must be paid by somebody, the scheme of the Bill had been to preserve the East India Company in its legitimate functions of a body with a capital stock, and for the payment of a dividend. The money would be put into the hands of the Company for the payment of that dividend, and the Company would be preserved for the protection of the rights of the proprietors with respect to stock and dividend.


said, that as they now had a specimen of the united ingenuity of the noble Lord (Lord Stanley) and of that House in the matter of legislation for India, he thought it but fair to himself to record his opinion of this great effort of legislation. He agreed with his hon. Friend the Member for Devonport (Sir E. Perry) that a greater opportunity was never offered to any man upon any occasion than that which had just been offered to the noble Lord, but he must be permitted to add that his power, united with that of the House, had produced a scheme of Government which to hint appeared wholly insufficient, and which he believed future experience would prove to have been totally unequal to the circumstances; indeed, he felt satisfied that in a few years they would be called upon to patch up this rickety progeny of the noble Lord's. The task which England had to perform in respect to India was one such as no country ever had imposed upon it before: at a distance of many thousand miles a small body of enlightened men were called upon to govern a people wholly different from themselves in religion, in manners in customs, even in thought and in feeling, and if ever that House was tasked to furnish a good instrument of legislation it was on that occasion. And what had they done? After something more than a century's experience, after trying many schemes of Government, we had come to legislate for India. The great objection which had been taken to the existing Government was its double character. It had been said that that Government was not broad and plain and open in its working, but that so far as the Minister was concerned it was hidden and controlled; that we had besides a Board of Directors of the East India Company, who were in a position of no responsibility as they should be that they were an obstruction rather than an advantage, and that by this double Government delay and every possible mischief were introduced into the Government of India. Well, they had done away with that Government, and what had they put in its place? In a few words he would institute a comparison between the Government provided by the Bill now about to be read a third time and the existing Indian Government. The first part of the existing Government of India was the President of the Board of Control, who by Mr. Pitt's Bill was constituted the really paramount authority in the Government of India, for he had the power of doing anything and everything, subject to the subsequent sanction of that House. What had the Bill done as regarded that functionary? It had changed his name, and proposed to call him a Secretary of State for India; and that was the only change it effected so far. What had it next done with regard to the Council who surrounded him? In the place of the Court of Directors the Bill appointed a Council; but it should be recollected that the Court of Directors were to a certain degree responsible; they were chosen by a body, not well selected, certainly, but still a popular body. What had the House done with regard to them? They had put in their place a body called the Council for India, eight of the Members of which were to be chosen by the Minister amongst persons who had been in India, and the remaining seven were to choose themselves. They were all to be chosen for life, so that in place of the Court of Directors, who were now responsible to the proprietors of the East India Company, there would in future be a body of fifteen persons responsible to nobody. Such was the great alteration which the ingenuity of the noble Lord and that House produced. He would defy the ingenuity of man to compose a plan for the Government of a distant dependency worse than this. It had not one quality which a Government of India ought to have. With respect to the Councillors the choice was circumscribed, and instead of looking round to find the cleverest men in the community, the selecting parties were bound to choose the best they could out of a small number. He believed that the very fact of being in India for ten years unfitted men to govern India. That statement might appear paradoxical, but he thought a moment's reflection would show that it was not so, for he felt convinced that a man might learn in England more of India than he could acquire by travelling in India. What struck the eye affected the imagination, and the attention of a man who went to India must necessarily be confined to a small part of the country, and he would not learn one-half as much as the man who studied it in this country. He would remind the House that the historian of British India, James Mill, was never in India, and that the most remarkable man now in the India House, and he might add in England, John Mill, never was in India. It might be that those two persons might be selected, but it would be very remarkable if the Government of this country selected the two best men for the Government of India. He believed, as he stated the other night, that the only clause in the Bill which would enable it to work was the one giving to the Secretary of State the power to do away entirely with the Council. They would eventually be obliged to make the Secretary of State for India the sole governing power of India, and they would have then what they might have had long ago, an efficient Government for India. He felt convinced that the Council would be a stumbling-block in their way, and that five years would not pass over the head of the noble Lord opposite (Lord Stanley) without a necessity arising for the Amendment of this Bill, and he hoped the noble Lord would live for those five years to experience the truth of his prophecy, and to amend a measure upon the preparation of which he had bestowed so much trouble and attention.


I do not wish this Bill to go through its last stage charged with the malediction which has been launched against it by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sheffield. There are some redeeming features in the Bill to which the hon. and learned Gentleman has not referred, and which I will venture to point out. My hon. and learned Friend has very truly said that under the last of Pitt's Bills the President of the Board of Control became, in fact, the supreme Governor of India; but the original intention was that the Board of Control, as its name implies, should control the Directors and Proprietors of the East India Company, who it was supposed—and upon very just grounds—were at that time inclined to carry on aggressive wars in India, with little regard to justice or true policy. The Board of Control, however, became in fact the supreme government of India. Now we take away that mask, and give to a Secretary of State for India the power of directing and controlling the affairs of that portion of the empire. I say, then, that if we have merely removed what was a delusion, and substituted that which is real for a thing of no reality, we have made an advance by exchanging the government of the Board of Control for that of a Secretary of State. My hon. and learned Friend has said that the Directors were chosen by a body of Proprietors, to whom they were responsible; and, undoubtedly, the Directors were appointed by the Proprietors, after a canvass which was not very seemly, and by means which would be very distasteful to men of high character and honour. I believe, however, that after the Directors were once chosen, nobody ever heard of their being called to account by the Proprietors for their proceedings, or of their being removed by the Proprietors on the ground that their constituents were dissatisfied with the course they had pursued. In the place of the Court of Directors we are now to have a Council composed of men well acquainted with Indian affairs, who will afford information to the Secretary of State with reference to any questions upon which he may require assistance or advice. I think this is a great improvement in the government of India, I can imagine that a Secretary of State might be so unwise as to transfer to the members of the Council mere routine duties, burying them beneath the load of papers that arrived from India; setting them to work which could be as well performed by under secretaries or clerks, and not consulting them on the main points of Indian policy; but I should conceive that any Secretary of State, who acted in such a manner, would ill discharge his duties. I think the Secretary of State may derive most valuable assistance from the Council with regard to important questions of policy, revenue, the administration of justice and war. In the next place the Council ought, in my opinion, to be independent, and my belief is that that object will be attained as the tenure of their office is during good behaviour. The Bill, then, contains these two elements of a good measure—a Secretary of State, who is supreme when he chooses to be so; an independent Council who can give him advice. With regard to the numbers of the Council, their exclusion from seats in this House, and the maintenance of the Secret Committee, I differ from the views which are embodied in the Bill; and I have no doubt that with respect to these and other questions we shall, before the lapse of five years, or of three years, or even, perhaps, of two years, have the Secretary of State coming down to this House and informing us that there are portions of the measure which have not answered the intentions of its framers, and which require alteration. There are other questions which are not touched by the Bill, and which if they do not require legislation on the part of this House will undoubtedly require the earnest attention of the Government. By this measure we merely regulate the home government of India, but the great questions of the tenure of land, of revenue, of the government of the army, of the services of the army, and of the administration of justice, will require careful and anxious attention, and I think that in the course of a year or two the Secretary of State and the Council will probably be prepared to introduce great measures of reform with reference to these subjects, although it may not be necessary to submit them to this House. Hon. Gentlemen are aware of the settlement of the land question in India which was effected by Lord Cornwallis, and which was at the time, and long aferwards, regarded as a measure of great wisdom and prudence. Lord Grenville declared in Parliament that he regarded that settlement as one of the most important and beneficial measures that could have been adopted by the most benevolent Government. Some time afterwards, however, public opinion veered round, strong opposition was manifested to the arrangement, and the Government sought to substitute everywhere but in the Presidency of Bengal—where they could not touch the existing settlement—a system which would destroy the power of the Zemindars, and establish an immediate connection between the Government and the peasantry. Another change of opinion has since taken place, and many persons now state that observation and experience have convinced them that unless there are considerable landowners between the rulers and the people it will be impossible to secure the welfare of the population, and to provide for their good government. These circumstances show that questions of this nature require the most careful consideration. The mode in which the revenue is at present collected in India is most unsatisfactory. No one can be satisfied with the excessive amount of land tax in some districts, or with the nature and character of the salt tax, or the opium tax. Nor is the administration of justice satisfactory. These are questions which require minute and careful investigation; but we have not attempted to deal with them in this Bill. I think we have acted judiciously in abstaining from any such attempt, for they are subjects which require much closer examination than we could devote to them; but, after establishing a Council in which such questions can be considered, and en- abling the Minister of the Crown to obtain information and advice from persons of Indian experience, we may expect a solution of these difficult questions. In referring to this subject, I cannot abstain from adverting to the remarkable speech which was made the other evening by the hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. Bright), and which did not at the time attract much observation. I think the speech of that hon. Gentleman was one of the most remarkable ever delivered in this House. I do not concur in some of the opinions which he expressed. I do not agree with him that it will be possible—at least for a long time to come, perhaps never—to abolish the important office of Governor General of India, but I do agree with him that we ought to endeavour to give large powers to the Governors of the different Presidencies in India, and that it is only by entrusting great powers to them, and enabling them to govern their Presidencies with vigour and efficiency, that we are likely to improve the government of India. I agree, generally, in the principles laid down by the hon. Gentleman, although they may not be immediately applicable. I think they are the true principles upon which the Government of India ought in future to be conducted. Whether our decisions may have been wise or not, we have, at all events, gone through this Bill with an absence of party spirit which, I believe, evinced on the part of the House a desire to come to a right determination upon the various important questions which have been brought under our consideration, and I am sure that, having framed the Bill in such a spirit, it will be most satisfactory to the House if its operation should prove beneficial to the people of India, and honourable to the Parliament of this country.


Sir, I cannot refrain from congratulating the House upon having, by the combined exertions of hon. Gentlemen on both sides, brought this Bill to its present stage, and from offering them, on the part of Her Majesty's Government, our sincere thanks for the candour and patience with which they have assisted us in the progress of the measure. There is, I believe, no one in this House who recognizes or appreciates more completely than I do the necessity and importance of party organization. Indeed, I do not know how a popular assembly so numerous as the existing House of Commons could be defended from the influence of the Crown without an organization of that nature. There are, however, occasions on which there is an universal agreement that that political discipline may most advantageously be modified or suspended, and I cannot but feel that when we are called upon to consider a question relating to the better government of India—especially under the existing circumstances of that country—the occasion is one on which we should combine our common efforts for the common good. I think that on the whole the country has every right to be satisfied with the result of our labours. I think this measure is a very great improvement upon the state of affairs it is intended to supersede, and, although it pretends to be no more than an effort to institute in this country a vigorous home government for India, it is impossible not to believe that it will have a very beneficial effect upon the government of India in India itself. That is the point to which the feelings of all England must now be directed. Having by the cordial assistance of all parties in the House of Commons succeeded in framing a measure which I trust will institute a vigorous government of India in England, let us now hope that by the wisdom of our statesmen, by the skill of our commanders, and the bravery of our troops, we may soon put an end to the great rebellion which has so long raged in that important part of Her Majesty's dominions, and that we may be able to re-establish her empire in that part of the world on those principles of truth and justice without which no empire in this or any other age can be established or permanently maintained.

Bill read 3o, and passed.