HC Deb 17 February 1860 vol 156 cc1241-4

said, he rose to ask the Secretary of State for India what foundation there is for a report that the business of the India Office is to be transferred to apartments in the Victoria Hotel, Westminster; that a portion of the manuscript Records at the India Office are to be destroyed; and that the Museum and Library are to be dispersed; and in case of their being any truth in the above report, to ask what arrangements are contemplated to enable the East India Company to conduct their affairs. It had been rumoured that apartments had been taken at the Victoria Hotel, Westminster, for the purpose of transferring the business of the India Office there for a term of three years, at a rental of £6,000 per annum. The idea of the Government of India being transferred to lodgings at an hotel seemed hardly consistent with its dignity, and that £6,000 a year was to be paid for these lodgings seemed odder still. But that was not all. Under the roof of the present India House were arranged a vast number of manuscript records, comprising 200,000 folio volumes, which had with great labour and pains been racked, indexed, and classified in so methodical a manner that any paper that was required might be obtained in less than five minutes. These documents had to be referred to every hour by the different departments, and the greatest inconvenience and confusion must obviously re- sult if they were transferred to the temporary lodgings of the Government. At the India House there was also a museum, comprising an epitome of India in all its phases of climate, soil, minerals, raw materials, arts, manufactures, social characteristics and races; and there was not a manufacturing town in the kingdom which did not take an interest in that collection. This museum had been open to the public twice a week for only two years, and yet it had been visited by 150,000 persons. It was, therefore, most important that the collection should be kept together as a whole, and not broken up and dispersed in a variety of places. The British Museum could not exhibit one-half of its present treasures; and there could, therefore, be no use in sending the contents of this Indian Museum to be deposited in the underground store-rooms of that overstocked institution. Besides this museum there was a library of Oriental manuscripts at the India House, which were consulted by learned men from all parts of Europe. No greater act of Vandalism could be conceived than the breaking up of such a collection. The legal question might also be raised whether all these treasures were not the property of the East India Company, as they had been acquired, not from territorial revenue, but from the Company's commercial assets. Moreover, the cost of their removal to the temporal accommodation to be obtained by the Government, pending the controversy as to the best style of architecture for our public offices, would be enormous as well as destructive, and though the prospects of Indian finance had decidedly brightened, there was not any margin for unnecessary outlay. The Secretary for India was solely responsible to the House for the good Government of India in every department of the State except in that of finance; but in that his authority only ran concurrently with his Council; he trusted, therefore, that the right hon. Baronet would be able to assure the House that the proposed outlay had been carefully considered. The hon. and gallant Member concluded by putting his question.


said, he rose to express a hope that the rumour referred to by the hon. and gallant Member was without foundation. In any new arrangements the Government ought to pay some regard to the convenience of those persons carrying on business in the City who had fre- quent transactions to conduct with the Indian Department. It would be a great impediment to the operations of bankers, stockbrokers, and East India agents if they had to go to and from the West-end to manage their affairs.


said, he was not surprised that his hon. and gallant Friend who had long taken so great an interest in Indian matters had put this question to him. The House would, however, remember that the removal of the Indian Department to the West-end of the town was not now an open question. That removal had been decided upon long ago, and the only question at present was as to the time at which it should be carried into effect. The present arrangement led to great public inconvenience, on account of the time wasted in moving backwards and forwards, a distance of more than three miles, between Westminster and the India House. It was not a mere matter of personal but of public convenience, that the offices of the India Department should be near Downing Street; and he was sure the noble Lord who preceded him in office would confirm that statement. The benefit of the Indian Council would be entirely lost unless the Secretary of State was in constant communication with the members of it; and that could only be effected, during the sitting of Parliament, by removing it to the West-end. As it might be some time before the vexed question of style in regard to the new offices was settled and the buildings erected, a portion of the new Hotel in Victoria Street had been hired for the temporary accommodation of the Indian Department, which would probably be removed there in June. There was no intention, so far as he was aware, of dispersing the library. As to the East India Company, by June adequate accommodation would be provided for the discharge of the not very onerous duties they had to perform. The removal of the India Office might possibly cause some slight inconvenience to mercantile men at the east end of the town, but everything would be done to lessen that inconvenience as much as possible. A portion of the business of the Company, such as the transfer of India stock, might, he thought, be transferred to the Bank of England. With regard to the records, there was a very considerable number of them; in many instances there being not only duplicates and triplicates, but quadruplicates and quintriplicates of the same documents. Acting on the Report of a Committee he had appointed to examine them, he intended to destroy a large quantity of them having reference to ships of the East India Company, which were not of the slightest use. Those of any value the hon. and gallant Member might depend upon it would be preserved.