HC Deb 10 May 1866 vol 183 cc709-20

said, he rose to call the attention of the House to the present condition of Land Tenure in the Presidencies of Madras and Bombay in reference to the supply of raw cotton, and to move a Resolution. He said, that a short time since a meeting had been held at Manchester, composed chiefly of commercial men, but attended also by a larger number of Members of Parliament than usually attended debates on Indian subjects in that House, and by many persons who had spent a considerable portion of their lives in India. No resolutions were passed by that miscellaneous assemblage, but the position of our Indian Empire was discussed in a debate which lasted two days, and in which the expediency of endeavouring to enlist the sympathy of the new Parliament upon subjects connected with India was strongly enforced, He (Mr. Smollett) did not attend that meeting; but, not having obtained his seat in that House until Easter, and having then looked through the Journal and Order Book he was, he confessed, somewhat surprised to find that though three months had elapsed since the new Parliament had met, not a single Motion having reference to India had been placed on the Notice Book. The truth he believed to be that gentlemen connected with trade and commerce had for the most part little or no knowledge of India or its requirements, while those gentlemen connected with that country who were present at the meeting at Manchester went down there he believed rather with a view to share in the splendid hospitalities of that city, to revel in venison and turtle, and claret, than for any more serious object. It was under these circumstances that he had given notice of the Motion to which he was about to invite the attention of the House; and he was glad to have an opportunity of doing so, because he was desirous, among other things, of knowing what was to be expected from the present occupants of office in the Indian Department. He felt perfectly satisfied that his hon. Friend the Member for Halifax (Mr. Stansfeld) did not wish to hide his light under a bushel; but he might nevertheless, he thought, safely prophesy that the House would very seldom hear the silvery tones of his voice while he continued to fill the office to which he had recently been relegated. So far, indeed, as discussions on Indian subjects were con- cerned, the Department of the Secretary for India was a perfect sinecure, and it would, he believed, soon become a refuge for the destitute. Those who were in that House in the last Parliament would recollect that it was the custom of Gentlemen connected with Manchester, and those who supported their views, to speak in terms of great disparagement of the administration of Indian affairs by Sir Charles Wood. They accused him, among many other things, of having obstructed the supply of cotton from India to this country, whereas he ought to have afforded facilities for its cultivation by enabling the people in India to get land for the purpose gratuitously and exempting them from taxation; and because Sir Charles Wood would not listen to their suggestions, because he had some faith in the principles of political economy and in the doctrine of supply and demand, his administration was covered with abuse. In the clamour against that administration, however, he had taken no share. The real state of the case was that for many years the Southern States of America had obtained a monopoly of the cotton supply. That monopoly suddenly collapsed in 1860; and it was absurd to apply every possible epithet of vituperation to our Indian Government, because within the two or three years which followed, India was unable to furnish us with 4,000,000 bales of cotton, the amount of the supply withdrawn from the commerce of the world, and which we used annually to receive from America. India did all which we could, under the circumstances, reasonably anticipate She furnished us with 1,400,000 bales annually, or five times the quantity which we received from any other single region of the world. The men who blamed the Indian Government for the want of cotton were utterly misinformed in respect to everything connected with India. The same parties also found fault with Sir Charles Wood's administration in reference to the tenure of land, and blamed him for cancelling some well-devised resolutions of Lord Canning relating to waste lands, under the operation of which howling deserts were to have been converted into smiling cotton gardens. Now, what Lord Halifax did was to amend some ill-advised resolutions which Lord Canning passed before leaving Calcutta—for it was idle to suppose that howling deserts could be converted, as if by the wand of a magician, into smiling cotton gardens—indeed, many of these waste districts were wholly unsuited to the purpose under any circumstances. Nevertheless, the Gentlemen connected with Manchester who made these unreasonable complaints sometimes made valuable suggestions, and one was that they might be brought into direct communication with the cotton producers of India. They said that all they wanted was to get a good article, and that they were quite willing to pay a fair price for it. This proposition, however desirable, was not feasible; because, unfortunately, all the land in the Presidencies of Madras and Bombay from which the greatest amount of cotton supply was derived was the property of the Government, and the cultivators were but serfs paying to the Government a very onerous rent. In the Presidency of Madras, for example, the Government had possibly 100,000 farms; but a farm was not let to a single farmer as in this country, for the officials allotted annually, in small holdings, the arable portion of a farm, containing perhaps 2,000 acres, to 500 or 600 tenants, and every one of those allottees was answerable to the Government for the rent of his small occupation. That rent in former times had been fixed at the money value of one-half of the entire produce of the soil. The condition of these serfs had been very much ameliorated during the last fifteen years. From the year 1828 to 1850 he could state from his own knowledge that they were steeped in the deepest, the most helpless misery. The prices of the material they raised being then extremely low, they were in reality paying to the Government as much as 60 or 70 per cent instead of 50, on the value of their produce. This state of things had, however, very materially altered within the last fifteen years. Since 1850 prices in India had gradually risen, and the condition of the agricultural population had at the same time improved, and the cultivators probably did not pay now the Government more than 25 or 30 per cent of the value of their produce. But the smallness of the holdings still continued to reduce the population to a very humble and wretched condition. From data supplied by the Madras Government he found that in the year 1862–3 there were in that Presidency 2,200,000 persons paying agricultural rent to the Government; but the House would be very much mistaken if they supposed these tenants to be anything like the tenant farmers of this country; for out of that vast mass of tenants there were only 420 who paid as much as £100 a year; there were only 1,050 who paid between £50 and £100; there were only 5,600 who paid between £25 and £50; there were only 77,000 who paid between £10 and £25; 90 per cent of the whole number paid less than £10; and there were 1,200,000 of these occupiers of land who paid less than £1 a year. Here was an amount of agricultural pauperism. Agricultural destitution was made an institution in Madras. And these were the people whom the men of Lancashire wished to be brought into direct communication with in order to make contracts with them for cotton. The thing was altogether absurd. He had heard the hon. Member for Poole (Mr. Henry Seymour), who was not now in his place, suggest that these men should be allowed to purchase their holdings. If they did they would have to borrow the money. But they could not be allowed to purchase their holdings, because there were no boundaries; and to permit them to purchase their holdings would only be making that system permanent which he wished to see abolished. In 1862–3, Sir William Denison, then Governor of Madras, recorded his opinions on this subject. Sir William Denison was an Engineer officer not conversant with Indian agriculture, but he recorded in a minute how much he lamented to see such an immense number of small holdings in the province. He said that while that state of things existed it would be impossible that capital should be applied to the productions of the soil; but, while admitting the mischief of the present system, he had no remedy to propose. He suggested, however, that the Government should take into their own hands a number of these holdings, make model farms of them, and raise the products by implements of agriculture imported from Europe. He (Mr. Smollett) did not think these suggestions smacked of absolute wisdom. If adopted, they would only degenerate into great jobs. The proposal received no support from the Members of his own Government. Two Members of Council, Mr. Pycroft and Mr. Maltby, civilians of thirty-five years' standing, concurred with his Excellency in lamenting that the holdings were so small, and the more so, because the subdivision of the soil was annually progressing; but when they came to suggest a remedy they merely indulged in platitudes—that irrigation must be improved, roads cut through the country, schools introduced, and courts of law brought near to the serfs. Finally, they alleged that if the condition of the people was to be improved, rents must be lowered. Now, there was no way of improving the condition of the people but by putting an end to this most wretched system. He might be asked what he would substitute, First of all he would sweep away the present system and establish a system of village farms; renting out these farms to one person if possible, and, if not, to the heads of the community, instead of the rabble to whom the lands were let at present. The great advantage of renting out these farms would be this—instead of 2,200,000 small holders the Government would have to deal with a very much smaller number, and would be enabled to get rid of a great portion of the revenue collecting establishment. But was this plan of renting out the farms practicable? He contended that it was perfectly practicable. In point of fact, he had himself, during his official connection with India, carried out the system in a large tract of country, against the wishes of the Government, but with great success. He happened to have charge of a great estate for some years. It belonged to a gentleman (the Rajah of Vizianagram) who had recently occupied a seat in the Supreme Council of India. It was under the charge of the Madras Government for many years. His predecessor only collected £65,000 a year from it. The first year he took this great estate under his superintendence he collected £120,000, and it now yielded to its possessor £160,000. The Government censured him, but he treated their censures with supreme contempt. Now, although this renting system he had just described would be a great temporary improvement, still he believed that other and more desirable measures should be introduced. His opinion was that they ought gradually to introduce into India a permanent settlement—not such as Lord Halifax used to say he was in favour of, but such as Lord Cornwallis introduced into Lower Bengal in 1772; for Lord Cornwallis was a statesman very superior indeed to the Cannings, de Greys, and Lawrences of the present day, The principle of his settlement was the creation of a class of landed aristocracy, by uniting ten or twenty farms into one estate, and conferring it on one individual, burdened, indeed, with a heavy land tax, but still leaving a surplus to the owner. Under that system a body of proprietors existed in lower Bengal who were not only rich and powerful, but well affected to the Go- vernment, their interests being bound up with it; and the value of the land had greatly increased. In Madras, on the other hand, during the half century ending in 1850 the value of land deteriorated, though of late years rents had increased, and the cultivation of the land had extended owing entirely to the great rise in prices. He wanted to see the system existing in Bengal applied to the other Presidencies; and until this was done, it was idle to talk of bringing Liverpool merchants or Manchester cotton-spinners into direct communication with the cotton-growers of India. If, however, he was asked whether there was any probability of these reforms being carried out, he must admit that there was not the smallest chance as matters were now managed—not because they were not perfectly practicable, but because they required the presence in high places of some one understanding the subject, and of resolute will. But, unfortunately, all the authorities in India were adverse to the creation of property in land. There was nobody whom a Madras or Bombay official hated so much as a Native landowner, and he was never so happy as when engaged in hunting down the few individuals of this class left by previous Governments, confiscating their estates on some frivolous pretext, and adding them to the Government domains. In this they were hounded on by their superiors, and. they found it, in fact, the surest road to promotion. To show the feelings that animated our rulers in the East, he might observe that during his residence in India Lord Harris was Governor of Madras. He did not wish to say anything disagreeable of that nobleman, who in private life was a man of the most estimable character; but on one occasion he had an interview with him to bring under his notice a gross injustice committed on some Native families of the district to which he had been appointed. Lord Harris received him with much courtesy, acknowledged that there was a great deal of truth in his statement, and that he to some extent sympathized with his views; but he added that he had come to India with the notion that it was our mission in the East to destroy all the native nobility and gentry. When an amiable nobleman in high position such as Lord Harris had got a notion of that kind, it was evidently no use arguing with him, and he accordingly withdrew. But if Governors held such views, what could be expected from their subordinates? Noble Lords and hon. Gentlemen went out to India with no knowledge whatever of the country they were going to govern, and they consequently fell naturally into the same groove as their predecessors. Occasionally, indeed, there were Governors who had had a previous acquaintance with Indian duties. The present Viceroy, for example, Sir John Lawrence, had spent his life there. Such men, however, had generally been brought up with the same ideas to which he had referred, and they generally made the worst possible Governors. What, for instance, were the views of Sir John Lawrence? For the last two or three years he had been endeavouring to overthrow the system introduced by Lord Canning into Oude, a landlord settlement similar to what he was advocating, and which was one of Lord Canning's greatest and best measures. The Under Secretary for India would probably deny it, but Sir John Lawrence's wish had been to upset that arrangement. His object was to set the tenantry in Oude against the landlords, and put an end to the system by rendering it impracticable. Sir John Lawrence, who came from the "Black North," was a man who entertained some extraordinary notion of tenant right, and one of his ideas, he believed, was that the land should be the property of the peasantry, and that the landlord was a tyrant and oppressor—much the same notion as that which Irish tenants had of their landlords. That had been his "little game" for the last two years; and though his policy had been hitherto thwarted, he was an obstinate man, and would no doubt renew his attempts to carry it out at the first convenient opportunity. In that House, moreover, no attention was paid to Indian affairs. They had the Indian budget year after year, but nobody listened to it, and he thought the farce had better be discontinued. Every attempt was made by excluding Members of Council from Parliament to keep the House in the dark on Indian matters, and the Government endeavoured to keep out all debates on such subjects. The consequence was that the office of Secretary for India would decline in public estimation year after year, and a man of great debating power and talent would think himself thrown away in this Department, because he would find himself entirely shelved. He should not be surprised, some of these days, to see the appointment given away by public examination, and falling into the hands of some Competition Wallah on the Liberal benches. He thought the personnel of the Department had greatly deteriorated in the recent changes. Lord Halifax was a man of considerable attainments as a statesman; he was a man of great business capacity; he had a will of his own; and his administration as regarded India was generally a liberal one. But what was the case now? He had stated that Manchester men never came to the House to discuss Indian matters; hut just before Easter a deputation from Manchester went to the India Office and had an interview with Lord De Grey to press upon him some most extravagant projects, which he hoped would never be listened to. What, however, was their reception? His Lordship received them very courteously, heard their story, told them that he had only just been removed from the War to the India Office, and was quite fresh to his duties. Lord de Grey admitted that he did not understand the subject they had brought before him, hut said he would endeavour to get the matter up, and if he had time, and was in that office for another year, he hoped to be able to give them a more satisfactory reply in the year 1867. Meanwhile, he told them he had a Reform meeting to attend to, in order to stir up the country during the Easter Recess, and he must, therefore, bid them good morning; and with that intimation he handed them over to the Under Secretary, the hon. Member for Halifax. When things were arranged in that way, he really despaired of seeing any improvement in the Indian Administration. He felt that he had only done his duty in bringing this matter forward, and he should conclude by moving the Resolution of which he had given notice.


seconded the Motion.

Amendment proposed, To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "the great subdivision of the soil in Southern and Western India, consequent on the present system observed in the revenues settlement of the Madras and Bombay Presidencies, deserves the serious attention of Her Majesty's Government, with a view to its amendment,"—(Mr. Smollett,) —instead thereof.

Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."


said, he hoped his hon. Friend (Mr. Smollett), who had so good a right to address the House upon the subject before them, would not regard him as presumptuous if he ventured shortly to reply to his speech—the more so, because his hon. Friend would recollect that in point of principle the system of permanent settlement he advocated, but with all the details of which he might not agree, was put into force by the well-known despatch of July, 1862. Perhaps he might have left the duty of replying to the hon. Gentleman in the hands of one of the hon. Members for Manchester, as the boo. Gentleman had paid several somewhat dubious compliments to that city in referring to a meeting held there a short time since, which he appeared to be disposed to class among meetings where a great deal of talk took place without any valuable result being obtained. But with regard to his remarks upon Lord Halifax and Lord de Grey, he (Mr. Stansfeld) would acknowledge his obligations to him. His hon. Friend had correctly stated the question between Lord Canning and Lord Halifax on the subject of waste land; but with regard to his estimate of the speeches at Manchester, he must take issue with the hon. Gentleman upon that point. He bad read the speeches made at the meeting with great care and interest, and he believed that, had some of them been delivered in that House, they would have assisted hon. Gentlemen to more fully understand the subject before them, and might even have affected the opinions of the hon. Gentleman himself. He should refer to the opinions expressed at that meeting by a well-known gentleman who was thoroughly competent to speak upon the subject—namely, Mr. Cassels. The hon. Gentleman spoke of the land in India as being Government property. He (Mr. Stansfeld) admitted that the hon. Gentleman spoke with an authority and a weight be could not pretend to, but that certainly was not the lesson he had been able to learn during the short period in which he had had the opportunity of studying the question; and he believed he was in a position to cite against the hon. Gentleman a Return made to that House in June, 1857, from the Revenue Department of the then East India House, which was signed by a gentleman whom the hon. Gentleman would himself acknowledge to be an authority on all questions of national economy, and more especially on all Indian questions—namely, the hon. Member for Westminster (Mr. J. Stuart Mill). He found in that report the following description of the land tenure of India:— Under the ryotwar system every registered holder of land is recognized as its proprietor, and pays direct to Government, He is at liberty to sublet his property, or to transfer it by gift, sale, or mortgage. He cannot be ejected by Government so long as he pays the fixed assessment, and has the option annually of increasing or diminishing his holding, or of entirely abandoning it. In unfavourable seasons remissions of assessment are granted for entire or partial loss of produce. The assessment is fixed in money, and does not vary from year to year, except in those cases where water is drawn from a Government source of irrigation to convert dry land into wet, or one into two-crop land, when an extra rent is paid to Government for the water so appropriated; nor is any addition made to the assessment for improvements effected at the ryot's own expense. The ryot, under this system, is virtually a proprietor on a simple and perfect title, and has all the benefits of a perpetual lease without its responsibilities. That he maintained, upon the authorities he had cited, to be the state of the law in India, and the policy of Sir John Lawrence in Oude meant simply that be recognized the necessity of respecting those rights which were recognized by the several states he had to administer. The hon. Member (Mr. Smollett) had talked of the minute subdivision of the soil and of the agrarian poverty and barbarity to which it led; but he had by him three very useful books, which were prepared at the desire of the Governments of the three Presidencies in 1861, on the growth of cotton in India. The one having reference to the Bombay Presidency was written by Mr. Cassels, the gentleman to whom he had before alluded as having spoken at the Manchester meeting. What was his opinion upon these minute holdings? He said— There can be no doubt that, until European energy and enterprise are brought into contact with the Natives of this country, the progress of improvement will be slow and unsatisfactory. All, however, who know India are aware that European agency cannot successfully be employed in the actual cultivation of the soil. A quarter of a century has produced very little change in the circumstances which led Sir J. R. Carnac to say, 'Cotton culture holds out no inducement for any private person who knows what he is about to engage his capital in any speculation on a large scale.' The whole of the cotton experimental establishments abundantly tested and proved that Europeans cultivating the soil could never compete in economy or compensating results with the husbandry of the ryots. Generally speaking, the whole of the work of his farm is performed by the ryot and his family, and their labour is given with all the goodwill of self-interest and all the constancy of personal concern. It is as impossible to compete with such efforts by hired labour, as it is for the European to perform that labour himself under an Indian sun. What was the actual state of those cultivating the soil under the zemindar system in the Presidency of which the hon. Gentleman thought so much? The subdivision of the soil was equally minute, and the ryot was much more impoverished than by the other system; whereas in the latter case, the peasantry became in some degree capitalists, and were in a far better position than those to whose level the hon. Gentleman would wish to reduce them. But, whatever might be the truth upon that point, and without having regard to what would be the best method of dealing with the land with reference to the cultivation of cotton, he would ask by what system of confiscation the hon. Member proposed to bring about the change in the tenure he advocated? [Mr. SMOLLETT said, no confiscation would he necessary.] He supposed the hon. Gentleman meant that confiscation would be unnecessary because the law was not as he had stated it to be. [Mr. SMOLLETT: Hear, hear!] But he (Mr. Stansfeld) would venture to affirm that no Secretary of State for India, nor the Governor Generals of India, nor the Governors of the Indian Presidencies, ever dreamt of interfering with the proprietary holdings of the peasantry of that country. The only way in which this aggregation of small farms into large holdings could be brought about, was by the system of twenty or thirty years' leases which tended in that direction. It was the fact that the permanent settlement system was being brought to bear, and that it would tend to accumulate the holdings in somewhat fewer hands, and in that respect the anticipations of the hon. Gentleman were likely to be realized. But one thing which the hon. Gentleman desired, it was impossible to do—they could not artificially create a landed aristocracy. The system of Lord Cornwallis of erecting such an aristocracy had been unfortunate in many of its effects. In conclusion, he might say that he entirely approved the Report of the Committee of the House which sat in 1848 to inquire into the growth of cotton in India, in which the system was recommended which had added so considerably to the means and to the comfort of the population of Madras. He believed further in the recommendation of the Committee of Bombay of 1846, who authorized the promotion of works of communication, of irrigation, and so on— works of which his hon. Friend appeared to think so slightly, influences which his hon. Friend had designated as platitudes—and he could not but think that if this country would unite its skill and capital with the industry and natural self-interests of the ryots, we should enable the future Government of India to he conducted more safely and more economically—we should enable the country to increase its own wealth, while it ministered to ours, and we should add greatly to the contentment and the prosperity of the 130,000,000 committed to our charge.


said he would withdraw his Motion.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Main Question, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair," put, and agreed to,