HC Deb 13 May 1858 vol 150 cc525-9

said, he rose to put a question to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Northampton, which he hoped the House would permit him to preface with a few explanatory observations. ["Order, order!"]


said, that the hon. Member must confine himself to putting the question.


He rested his question on the facts that had been elicited in debate elsewhere—["Order, order!"]—and he thought the House would need no further reason for his putting the question. [Cries of "Question."] His question stood in these terms:—To ask the right hon. Member for Northampton, whether the late Government received any intimation of Lord Canning's intention to issue such a Proclamation as that addressed to the chiefs and inhabitants of Oude, which is now before Parliament, or that Proclamation? Whether the late Govern ment were consulted by Lord Canning as to the policy of issuing such a Proclamation, or of any measure for the same purpose? And, if the late Government were thus informed or consulted, at what period their attention was first called to the subject, and what the dates and nature of the communications between the late Government and the Government of India thereon?


I shall be very happy, Sir, to answer the questions of the hon. Gentleman if the House will indulge me in making an explanation of the circumstances to which the hon. Gentleman has alluded; but if that be contrary to the regular proceedings of the House, I will postpone giving an answer until the Motion for adjournment. [Cries of" Go on, go on!"] Well, then, with the permission of the House, I will give give an explanation of all the facts. The question of the hon. Gentleman, so far as it relates to myself, I can answer, but as to the late Government I cannot answer for what information any of my colleagues may have received upon this subject. My answer is this—that I received a private letter, dated the 6th of March, from Lord Canning, the nature of which I will communicate to the House presently. There arc three modes of communication between the Governor General and the Board of Control—through the Court of Directors, which is public and official; through the Secret Committee; or by private letter, which is, of course, the most confidential manner. Now, Sir, I am perfectly prepared to admit, in its fullest sense, that every ex-Minister, and indeed, every man who hears anything either advantageous or detrimental to the public service, is bound to communicate that information to the Minister of the day; but With this reservation, that in doing so lie ought not to say anything which may betray unnecessarily the confidence of private communications. That is the limit which I set between communications of ex-Ministers and their successors. My first act, after leaving office, was to communicate to Lord Ellenborough a private letter from Lord Elphinstone, which the noble Earl returned to me, without inviting any further communication. With regard to Lord Canning, the case is somewhat different. Lord Canning was my public colleague and my private friend, and his letters were mere familiar. more confidential and intimate, than those of other Governors. I therefore did not send Lord Canning's private letters to Lord Ellenborough; but in perusing them I watched carefully to see if they contained anything that could possibly make them of such a nature as to require me to communicate it to the existing Government. Now, the particular communication which has been alluded to in "another place," and to which, I think, undue importance has been attached, as I shall show presently, was dated March 6. It arrived when I was absent in Ireland; but I do not dwell upon that circumstance, because undoubtedly that was not the reason, except as it added to its insignificance, why it was not communicated to the noble Earl at the head of the Board of Control. That private letter, referring to many circumstances, stated— That the Governor General intended to issue a Proclamation to the talookdars and landowners of Oude which would reach me officially by this Mail. He had hoped to have accompanied it with a full explanatory Despatch, but more urgent business has prevented him from doing so from hour to hour and from day to day. That letter did not contain any copy of the Proclamation itself, nor any explanation respecting it, or I would certainly have forwarded the Proclamation or the explanation to the Government; but as it stood, I confess it appeared to me at the time, and still appears to me, that the letter was not of such importance that I should communicate it to the Government. [Laughter.] If any hon. Gentleman thinks it was of such importance, will he tell me what communication I ought to have made to Lord Ellenborough? Was I to tell him I had heard privately that he had received a despatch publicly? I suppose there was no necessity for my doing that. Was I to say that Lord Canning had written to me that he intended to send a despatch which he never had sent, and which, for all I knew, he might never send? That would, also, have been a work of supererogation. I think such a communication to Lord Ellenborough would have been, not only useless, but impertinent, and certainly Lord Ellenborough is the last man to whom I should wish to make an impertinent communication. Why do I say so? Because I could only have said to him, "You have received a public despatch, giving you a Proclamation about to be issued in Oude; but such is my sense of your intemperance and rashness that—("Oh! oh!")—I am stating now what would have been the interpretation put upon such a communication. I should have added, "I conceive you are about to act on that Proclamation without any sort of explanation." I think if I had gone to Lord Ellenborough and made such a statement he would justly have pronounced it an impertinent communication; and so undoubtedly it would have been, because Lord Ellenborough knows as well as I do, and perhaps better than I do, that the constant habit of communication from India is this—to send home narratives, and afterwards—sometimes long afterwards—to forward an explanation of the reasons for such narratives. And why is this? Why, because the Governor General communicates with the Home Government in perfect confidence that his acts will be viewed with judgment, caution, and consideration, and therefore he frequently sends them without any species of explanation about them. This must have been perfectly well known to Lord Ellenborough. It was also known to him that another medium of communication with the Governor General is this—that he communicates to the Chairman of the Court of Directors at the same time that he does to the President of the Board of Control any facts of importance; and therefore I had some right to assume that a similar statement was also communicated by Lord Canning to the Chairman of the East India Company, with whom the noble Lord (the Earl of Ellenborough) was in constant communication. I contend, therefore—looking at this letter, and seeing how little was the importance to be attached to it—that I was perfectly justified in not sending the letter to Lord Ellenborough. I may state, however, that I read it to my noble Friend the Member for Tiverton (Viscount Palmerston), to whom it did not appear, any more than to myself, that it was necessary to communicate it to the Government. I am perfectly prepared to justify my not having made that communication, and I have not the slightest feeling of regret for not having done so. I believe that I was perfectly correct in the course I took—that what was told me in that private letter was of no sort of importance, and I defy any man to show how in any way it could have affected the decision of the Government in any one thing; and, if it could have affected their decision, I can only express my wonder that before acting they did not inquire in every quarter whether any communication had been received.


said, he wished to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether Lord Canning would not write the letter in question under the impression that the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Vernon Smith) was President of the Board of Control, and that, as a matter of course, he would receive the draught of the Proclamation and the letter by the same mail?


Of course.

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