HC Deb 19 May 1865 vol 179 cc582-7

I had originally intended to put the proposal which I wish to submit to the House in the form either of a Motion or of a question addressed to the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for India. But on examining the Government of India Act, I found that the India Office is already bound to lay upon our table a document so very similar to that which I meant to ask for, that I cannot imagine that anything further will be required than very briefly to call attention to the fact that neither the letter nor the spirit of the existing law, with regard to the information about India which is laid he-fore us, is, or ever has been, complied with. After enumerating the various accounts which must be laid before us, the 53rd section goes on to say that such accounts— Shall be accompanied by a statement prepared from the detailed Reports from each presidency and district in India, in such form as shall best exhibit the moral and material progress and condition of India in each such presidency. Now, I think there can be no doubt that these words point to a document of reasonable size, to a document certainly not larger than that famous minute of Lord Dalhousie's, in which he gave an account of the progress of India during the eight years of his rule, If the right hon. Gentleman admits my interpretation cadit qiwstio, the India Office is already bound to do all that I desire, and will naturally put itself en regle as soon as possible. It is possible, however, though not, I think, probable, that the right hon. Gentleman may say that, although the letter of the law has been clearly broken, its spirit has been complied with. The practice of the India Office has been as follows:—Instead of preparing a statement from the detailed Reports according to the statute, and laying that upon the table, it has laid upon the table the detailed Reports themselves, just as they came from India. If the right hon. Gentleman, in addition to the Statutable statement, chooses to give us these detailed Reports, it is well; but it is a work of supererogation. If, however, we are to choose between the Reports in extenso, and the statutable statement pre pared from the Reports, I for one should infinitely prefer to have the statutable statement. That statement was meant to be read. These Reports can, to the immense majority of Members of Parliament, be useful only for reference. Their value, even for purposes of reference, is greatly diminished by our not having that guide through their mazes which the statutable statement would have provided. Most persons who have tried to read them will, I think, complain that they are blinded with excess of light, and overwhelmed with avalanches of information. Anyhow, the right hon. Gentleman will acknowledge that he has utterly failed in obtaining readers for these detailed Reports, when I remind him that, whereas, for several years they were laid printed upon our table just as they came from India, were then re-printed in two huge blue-books, and sent round to all Members, they were last year not even re-printed at all, so that one copy of the detailed Reports pre served in our Library, just as it came from India, represents all the information about the material and moral progress of that country supplied last year to the House of Commons under the provisions of the Government of India Act. This state of things is quite indefensible, for no one can defend the direct contravention of an Act of Parliament; but, even if the Act did not exist, it would surely not be expedient to refuse to give us the information for which I am asking. My proposal could not be resisted on the ground that there is any difficulty in drawing up such a statement. To do so would be to pro claim that there is not sufficient ability in the India Office. Such an assertion would, however, be perfectly monstrous. To mention the names of persons now serving there might be improper, but who that takes an interest in India does not know that the two Mills, father and son, were for many years employed in the India House, and what would not be the value of a series of say forty annual Reports drawn up by these two men? Nor could such a proposal be resisted on the ground of its being undesirable that the House of Commons should keep an eye upon Indian affairs. That doctrine, if still secretly cherished in some quarters, is no longer openly maintained by any one; and I am sure the right hon. Gentleman entirely repudiates it. There is no reason in the world why Indian questions should, if properly treated, be unattractive to the English public. Any man with ample command of materials, acquaintance with the country, and fair literary powers, ought to be able to produce an annual Report upon Indian affairs, which at least a third of the House of Commons would read, and which would be quoted and commented upon by the leading newspapers in England, in India, and on the Continent of Europe, and which would have at once the effect of bringing the enlightened opinion of this country to aid in the task of governing India, and of making our increasingly just and benevolent policy in the East better appreciated by France, by Germany, and by Russia; thus at once positively adding to our strength by the wisdom which comes from a multitude of counsellors, and negatively by diminishing the distrust with which our doings are regarded in Europe, a distrust which, although it is the offspring of ignorance, is for nations as well as for individuals, a distinct element of weakness. I cannot better express my view as to the nature of the document which is required than by quoting two or three lines from the last paragraph of Lord Dalhousie's Minute, which, after all limitations and deductions for self-gratulation have been made, and read even by the glare of the Mutiny, will keep its place as one of the noblest State Papers of modern times— It would seem," said Lord Dalhousie, "that some few hours may he profitably devoted to a short review of eight eventful years, not for the purpose of justifying disputed measures, but for the purpose of recalling the political events that have occurred, the measures that have been taken, and the progress that has been made. Wars, and foreign relations, acquisitions of territory, administrative progress, education, railways, the Post Office, agriculture, internal navigation, public works, improvement of the military service—such are only a few of the subjects which Lord Dalhousie treated at sufficient length in forty pages of the ordinary blue-book size. The chronicler of a single year might easily put all that need be said in a considerably shorter compass. Lord Dalhousie thought that not the least useful of the measures, which had emanated from the Government of India under his rule, had been the resolution to require a Report from any governor, lieutenant-governor, and chief officer of a province, narrating the incidents that had occurred during the previous year in the country under his jurisdiction; and I am quite sure that not the least useful Act, amongst the many useful Acts, of the right hon. Gentleman's administration would be to cause to be prepared from these Reports, which Lord Dalhousie required, a clear, condensed Report upon the whole state of India for presentation to the House of Commons. Any opinion, however, which any of us may express with regard to the expediency of preparing such a document is really beside the question; for I must, with all respect to the right hon. Gentleman, maintain that, till the 53rd clause of the Government of India Act is repealed, the non-production of such a Report is a direct violation of the law.


said, he concurred generally in the views of the last speaker, and he thought, that neither in letter nor in spirit had the right hon. Baronet conformed to the Act of Parliament. The documents presented to Parliament were so bulky that they could not properly be called a statement. They were rather the documents from which the statutable statement ought to be compiled. The right hon. Baronet might demur to preparing such a digest himself; and even if he did not, his version might be supposed to be coloured. But would there be any difficulty in getting the Governor General to have a digest of the Report made under his own eye, in accordance with the spirit of the Act? He did not complain of the economy which had led to discontinuing the printing of bulky volumes which no one read; but the fact remained that there existed only one copy of the Indian Reports for the use of the House. If the right hon. Baronet would not agree to the suggestion to get an epitome made in India of the statistical details of the Reports now sent home, perhaps he would, at all events, get a larger number of copies, say fifty, sent instead of one, for the use of hon. Members who took a special interest in Indian matters.


said, that the hon. Member who had brought forward this question only did him justice in supposing that he did not wish to keep back any information from the House. He could only say that the Government had laid upon the table all the information they possessed on the subject. For himself, he confessed he had never till within the last few days looked at the clause in the Act of Parliament which had been referred to. It was passed upon the Motion of Lord Monteagle in the other House, and no discussion took place upon the clause in either House of Parliament; but he had never understood the words of the Act to mean that such a Report as the hon. Member had alluded to should be furnished. Some Gentlemen might like to have Indian reports in the shape of "reading made easy," but he did not think that Parliament should pay for the compilation. What he had always believed to be the intention of the clause was that the Government should produce, with respect to India, the same sort of blue-books as were presented yearly with respect to the colonies. This had always been done, and elaborate reports from all the provinces of India were yearly laid on the table. But he confessed he thought it was not consistent with the duties of the Secretary of State for India to compile a Report from those documents which would probably have more or less a certain amount of colouring. He should be happy to afford hon. Members information in the shape that would be most agreeable to them; but he really thought that an extract prepared from those important documents on the condition of India would not be the sort of thing to lay before Parliament. For himself, he entertained the strongest opinion in favour of having the original documents laid before both Houses. It had sometimes occurred to himself to find some material fact omitted from a précis which had been prepared for him; and he did not think the House ought to be satisfied if a précis, made in the office of the Secretary of State, and not the original paper, were laid upon the table. A great deal of useful information was contained in the district Reports from India, and he did not think that putting all these Reports together hodge-podge would be by any means a desirable arrangement. With regard to the distribution of the Reports, he had to observe that it was his duty, to lay the Reports on the table I but whether they were to be printed and distributed was not a matter for him to determine. It was a question for the Printing Committee and the House themselves. If it was the wish of the House there would not be the least difficulty in having them printed, or a certain number might be placed in the library, and a copy could be given to each hon. Member who might apply for it. With a view to meet the wishes of his hon. Friend (Mr. Kinnaird), he should have great pleasure in directing that fifty copies, instead of one, should be furnished from India of the annual Reports, which were now sent; and next year (he could not promise this year), he hoped they would be at the disposal of those hon. Members who were chiefly interested in Indian affairs.


said, he understood that his right hon. Friend intended to disregard the Act of Parliament, which was very distinct in its provisions. He confessed he thought such a Report as his right hon. Friend deprecated would be very useful. It might be drawn without any especial colouring, and might furnish an account of what had been done in each Presidency in the increase of schools and railways, of any important events that might have occurred, or changes in the law, with a few remarks in the way of general information. The great defect of the present Reports was that they were too voluminous and published in a ver inconvenient shape. A Report was prepared some years ago by Mr. Melville of the India Office, which gave a very fair view of the progress of India during the period to which the Report related. He believed that if such a statement was now prepared, it would be read with interest by the Members of the House and by the public, and would tell beneficially on Europe and the rest of the world. He did not think it was right deliberately to disregard the provisions of the Act of Parliament, and he hoped his right hon. Friend would direct his attention to that point.