HC Deb 19 July 1867 vol 188 cc1759-64

then rose to call attention to the manner in which the arrangements for the ball to the Sultan had been carried out. He said he was aware that he was about to do that which was not customary for many hon. Members to do, and that was, to seek for information from a public Department; and it was well known that all persons who sought information of such Departments were not generally popular, but were gentlemen mostly to be avoided. He was sorry that the right hon. Baronet who represented the India Office thought it was necessary to decline to reply to a series of Questions which he put to him at an earlier stage of the sitting. A day or two ago he heard, for the first time, that there was to be a State Entertainment given by the Indian Council to the Sultan and the Pasha. Along with other hon. Members he learnt this with surprise, as the subject had been kept quiet. He, accordingly, asked certain questions respecting the entertainment, partly from curiosity, and partly with a view to elicit information. He was told that there were 2,000 or 3,000 tickets about to be issued; but that those tickets could not be issued to Lords or Commons, because there were certain other persons who had a prior claim upon them. In consequence of this, he had determined to submit a Motion to the House, and he knew that several hon. Members approved of that Motion, and therefore he was fortified in the course he was taking. He intended to move for a list of those persons who had been invited to this entertainment, and also an account of the expenses incurred by it. No doubt the thanks of this House were due to the right hon. Baronet for the intentions which he had exhibited in reference to the Sultan and the Pasha; but those intentions had not been carried out in the spirit in which they had been devised. The right hon. Baronet had allowed this affair to fall into the hands of that inner circle of officials who marred and made a mess of everything they had to do with. The proposal of the right hon. Baronet was that, in contradistinction of the private parties given to the Sultan and the Pasha, a national or State Entertainment should be given to them as an indication of national respect, and, of course, no Member of the House could object to that; for so important was it that the entente cordiale with the Pasha of Egypt should be preserved, that no expense or trouble should be spared by this country to render his reception a fitting one. The dominions of the Pasha were the high road to India; and we depended necessarily a good deal upon the good faith of that potentate, and the importance attaching to his position might be best estimated when they considered that France and England had, for a certain time, been running a sort of race with each other to see who should secure the greatest and most lasting bond of amity with that important personage. As to the Sultan, songs had been sung in his praise, and they had vied with each other in doing honour to that powerful monarch. But, however excellent the intentions of the right hon. Baronet had been, they would have been still more praiseworthy if he had so timed the entertainment as that it would have been possible for the Pasha of Egypt to have accepted the invitation to be present. It had been suggested by the right hon. Baronet that the entertainment should be given at the public expense, or rather that the people of India should be charged with the cost. Whether the Council of India had the power or the right to appropriate the resources of India to such a purpose was a question which he was not then prepared to discuss. Part of the entertainment was to consist of a ball; but it appeared from a communication which he had received on the subject that there was no room whatever at the India Office in which a ball could be given, and the consequence was that temporary erections of wood, highly decorated, had to be constructed, and the expense of the entertainment was thus most wantonly and culpably increased to an extent entirely disproportioned to the occasion. They had been told that this State Entertainment was to be given by the Government of India. His idea of the Government of India was, that the Queen, Lords, and Commons constituted the governing power of India, who merely delegated their executive functions to the Council of India. If he rightly interpreted the meaning of the words "governing power of India," the givers of this entertainment were the Lords and Commons, and he wished to know how it was that those who, in theory at least, were the hosts, had no opportunity whatever of being present? They had been told by the Secretary of State for India that if both Houses of Parliament were to be invited to this State cere- monial, they would be unable to invite those other persons who had nothing whatever to do with India. The right hon. Baronet said he had only one objection to inviting the Lords and Commons, and that was, that in all probability they would accept the invitation, and that in that case there would be too many. That was the only excuse which had been given on the subject, but surely that was not an excuse with which the House or the country would be satisfied. It was intended that officers of the army and navy, and members of the Corps Diplomatique should be present; but the army and navy were not the governing power of India, and as for the Corps Diplomatique, the Sultan had seen them before over and over again, and he did not think it would distress the mind of that illustrious person very much if they were not invited at all. The right hon. Baronet said that if both Houses of Parliament were invited at least 1,000 Members of the Legislature would avail themselves of the invitation; and, with a lady's ticket for each, that would take 2,000 out of the 3,000 guests who were to be invited. It very seldom happened however, that all the Members of the Legislature availed themselves of opportunities of this sort; and he was sure he would be supported in the assertion that had they all been invited not more than 700 persons belonging to both Houses of Parliament would have attended, which, with 700 ladies' tickets, would have made a total of 1,400, leaving 600 tickets for the Corps Diplomatique and 1,000 for the Council of India to dispose of in complimentary invitations. The House would have been quite satisfied, however, if the right hon. Baronet had told them frankly that he had only 300 tickets for that House, and 250 for the House of Lords, and they would have been content to have had them distributed amongst them by ballot or by any of the usual modes of distribution. The Sultan might be deeply interested in seeing the officers of their army and navy, and the members of the Corps Diplomatique; but the Members of the Legislature, had they been invited, would, he was sure, have been objects of more interest and observation to the Sultan than any other persons who might have been present. He accused the Council of India of great remissness in the course which they had pursued. One of the reasons which had been alleged for not inviting the Members of the Legislature was, that the Lords and Commons did not dance, and that it was necessary that the persons invited to meet the Sultan should be able to dance, and in that way to amuse his Imperial Majesty. What could be more supremely ridiculous? Did the right hon. Baronet suppose that every one who had been invited was an expert and nimble dancer? But who had informed the right hon. Baronet that the Lords and Commons could not dance? Who had informed the right hon. Gentleman that the Sultan, with whom gravity was a matter of religious belief, and who rarely moved the muscles of his face, would put in vigorous motion the muscles of his legs and feet in order to execute a Highland fling or a double-shuffle with the right hon. Baronet himself? All this was simply ridiculous. He had been informed of the case of an hon. Member who sat on that (the Opposition) side of the House, who, having voted with the Government during the Session, had a ticket given to him for the entertainment that morning. He had also heard of a case where a clerk in the India Office had obtained tickets for himself, his wife, his wife's sister, his wife's brother, and the whole kit of them, having seven tickets in all. He hoped the House would not think that he had brought this matter forward in any personal spirit, for he never went to entertainments of this sort; but because he believed that, as the matter had been arranged, it was a direct way of affronting the Sultan and of affronting both Houses of Parliament.

Amendment proposed, To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "an humble Address he presented to Her Majesty, that She will be graciously pleased to give directions that there be laid before this House, a List of the Persons invited to meet the Sultan at the State Entertainment to be given to His Majesty by the Indian Government"—(Mr. Henry B. Sheridan,) — instead thereof.


said, it might be thought by some that our reputation for national hospitality did not stand very high; but it was hardly likely to be increased by a special request on the part of a Member of that House to have such a bill of costs published. The hon. Member said, that was an entertainment given by the two Houses of Parliament; but where a family of entertainers was very large indeed, it was, he believed, very general that they should not all of them dine at the table. Their own good taste induced them not to crowd the limited space available for their guests. He should not, therefore, complain of not being invited to that State ball, but he should rather object to the list being published, so that everybody might know that he was one of those who had not been honoured with an invitation. Those who, like himself, were not invited would rather not have the fact mentioned. The great potentates, whom the country had the honour of entertaining, had, he believed, felt deeply the universal enthusiasm with which they were received, and regarded the spontaneous expression of the national welcome as worth more than all the pageants and ceremonies which had marked their sojourn among us. He trusted that the Motion of the hon. Member for Dudley would not be acceded to.


said, he rose with great reluctance to address the Committee; but, after anxious and careful reflection, he thought he should not be doing his duty if he did not express his feelings on that subject. As to the lists of the guests who had been invited to that entertainment, he regarded it as a matter of secondary importance. He placed the greatest confidence in the high character and fine sense of honour of the Secretary of State and the Council of India, and should believe, in spite of certain sinister rumours, that in their selection of the persons to be invited they had been actuated by no motives of partiality. There was another question far more important than that which referred to the persons who had been invited, and that was, how could the Secretary for India reconcile it to himself to tax the people of India for an entertainment to the Sultan and Viceroy? It might be a very proper thing for those who were connected with India to give such an entertainment, but why should the poor toiling peasant be called upon to pay for it? If the officers of the army desired to exercise hospitality towards any one to whom they wished to show respect, the expenses would be defrayed by subscriptions among themselves, and would not be raised by levying a sum of money from the pay of the soldiers. Why, then, should the Secretary of State for India and his Council spend the money wrung from the people of India on such an entertainment? The question was one of great importance, and though the amount was small the attention of the country would be directed to the subject. What a handle for sarcasm it would give to writers in the Native press of India, many of whom were not over favourable to England, when calling public attention to the fact, that while thousands of persons were dying of famine in India, succour and relief came tardily and slowly from Calcutta, while even England was not hasty in giving proof of her generosity; but when it was a question of giving an entertainment which might be partaken of by people in London, £10,000, £15,000, or £20,000—a portion of the amount raised by the heavy taxation in India—was expended without the least compunction.

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