HC Deb 20 April 1868 vol 191 cc971-82

then rose to move for the appointment of a Select Committee to inquire into the condition of Ceylon and the action of its Government. He hoped for the forbearance of the House, as Ceylon was not a very popular subject; but if he wanted any reason for asking the House to agree to this Inquiry, he would find it in the fact that the population of the country, if the Government Returns were to be trusted, had been reduced from 2,300,000 in 1863 to 2,000,000 in 1866, and this in the face of the other fact, which also appeared in these Returns, that there was an increase of births over deaths, which would show that the decrease was owing to emigration. When this question was brought forward on former occasions, the reply of the Colonial Secretary was that the island ought to be annexed to the continent of India. It was only a few years ago, however, that this question was fully discussed by a Committee of the House of Commons, and they came to the unanimous opinion that the circumstances of India and of Ceylon were so different that it would be highly inexpedient and unjust to annex the one to the other. The particular reasons he had for bringing this question before the House he might very shortly sum up. The Chamber of Commerce at Colombo and the Planters' Association at Kandy, both of them influential bodies, had requested him to take the matter up, as representations had been sent from the inhabitants of Ceylon, strongly backed up by the Press, unanimously urging that their grievances should be inquired into, and those representations had not been treated with respect. They did not ask the House to interfere until they had for many years vainly asked the Colonial Office to do them substantial justice. For the last ten years scarcely two had passed without memorials having been sent over from the Legislative Chamber, signed by official and non-official members alike, and often supported by the Governor, asking that they might have that control over the public works, and over the income and expenditure of the island, which was promised them in 1848 by Earl Grey, who stated that the time had come when full control over the expenditure should be given to the Council of Ceylon, and promised at the same time that a despatch should be sent out, laving down rules with reference to the taxation, the military expenditure, and other subjects of complaint. It had been said that the whole of the complaints arose from the desire of the colonists to shirk their fair share of colonial military expenditure, and to expend their whole income upon local purposes, leaving the defence of the colony to be defrayed out of Imperial taxation. He was sure that the right hon. Gentleman would not to-night use, or repeat any such argument. In justice to the men whose energy and enterprize had built up that noble dependency, he was sure it would not be urged by the right hon. Gentleman that their grievances were only traceable to the mean selfishness of seeking to avoid the payment of the military expenditure of the colony. On this subject he would read a letter from a gentleman who was formerly a Member of the House, and who was well known for his solid judgment and his intelligence (Sir James Elphinstone), who had large interest in Ceylon. In that letter he pointed out the necessity for railway extension and for a revision of taxation, and expressed a hope that he (Mr. Watkin) would persevere in his Motion for a Committee. Sir James stated that the colonists did not object to pay for a sufficient force for the protection of the island; what they did object to was that Ceylon should be treated as a garrison for Imperial purposes, and that they should have to support that garrison on a scale far beyond what was required for the purpose of internal or external defence. That they were denied a line of railway into the coffee districts, and that the rates on the railways now open were too high; a large duty was laid upon rice, which was the staple food of the people, and the taxes on land were so levied as to act as a discouragement to agriculture. In addition to this, Ceylon was called upon to maintain establishments at Galle and at Trincomalee which were for purely Imperial purposes. The disparity of numbers between the European and the Native population was no reason for witholding local self-government, since it was on the former that the prosperity of the island mainly depended. He felt assured that the House would weigh the strong opinion of Sir James. In the last three years there had been great depression. He did not mean to contend that that depression arose from causes all of which were under Government control. There had been great deficiencies in the crops; but most of the depression was caused by an injudicious system of taxation, and by incompetent government and Governors. Ceylon was the only country in the world where the greater portion of the revenue was raised from taxes on food. Now, taxing food in Ceylon was like taxing raw material — wages to a great extent were paid in food, and anything which advanced its price diminished produce and crippled industry. One-fourth of the revenue of Ceylon was derived from the tax on grain alone. The production of food in the country was decreasing, and this was traceable to the land tax, and to the gross neglect of irrigation. At one time Ceylon was the granary of the East; but it had not only ceased to be so, but it could not support its own population. There was this further evil, that taxation upon Native-grown rice was to this day collected by farmers. The vices of farming taxes were well known, and they had it upon the authority of Sir Emerson Tennent that, in Ceylon, the amount of taxation levied was double that which found its way to the Treasury. Then there was the question which they had already been in another case debating—the question of irrigation. Under the old Native system, works for the purpose of irrigation were kept up almost as roads were in England, under the "Rajah Karia" system—every district being compelled to keep its own irrigation works in repair. It was true there were abuses connected with that system; and under the English rule this forced system of labour was put an end to, and the irrigation works were left entirely to the good will and pleasure of the Natives. But the Natives had no capital with which to meet engineering difficulties, and unaided, could not combine, and hence important works were rapidly falling into disuse and decay; and from that cause there had been a falling off in the production of food of one-half or three-quarters; cultivation in some districts having in fact entirely ceased. Since agitation had commenced on this subject, efforts had been made to enable the right hon. Gentleman to say—as no doubt he would say—that Government was engaged in restoring these works. Yes, but what was the proposition by which the new system was to be maintained? It was to be met by a new tax on the food of the Natives; by increasing the burdens upon the labouring population. The unfortunate paddy-growers were already taxed to the extent of one-sixth of their gross produce. The planters of Ceylon had submitted to export duties on their produce, in order that the public works might go on with efficiency. That fertile island imported half its grain, and almost the whole of the labour employed in the cultivation of coffee; and its taxation amounted to nearly one-third of the gross produce of cultivation. He had no doubt the right hon. Gentlemen the Under Secretary for the Colonies would contend that as the revenue of the colony had increased it must be in a prosperous state. He had shown the House under what circumstances the increase had taken place, and for his part he thought that if the revenue of the colony had been diminished it would have been a better sign of prosperity than an increase, under such circumstances. Our revenue was increasing during the Russian war; and high taxation and prosperity were not synonymous. The right hon. Member for Oxford (Mr. Cardwell) the other night slated that Ceylon had the happiness to be governed by a man of the highest knowledge, capacity, and intelligence; but it should be remembered that the Governor of the island told the Colonial Office that, as far as regarded all the material parts of the complaints of the colonists, there was great foundation for every one of them. Surely that showed the case was one demanding an investigation. He knew that all official people were averse to inquiries; but he hoped the House would consider that the repeated complaints of the people, suppported in many cases by the opinions of the Governors themselves, made out a case for an inquiry. Year after year the colonists had sent home memorials, asking that the promises made them by Earl Grey, in 1848, should be carried out; year after year these memorials had been refused. Yet the colonists had never ceased to be loyal and true to the country and to the Crown. Last year Her Majesty was advised not to grant the prayer of the memorialists, and it was said that these planters wanted constitutional Government. But, in fact, they only asked for the fulfilment of the pledge which was made to them in 1848 by the Secretary of State for the Colonies. The mode of doing this they left entirely with Her Majesty. In the Governor's despatch Mr. Wall was not fairly treated. He was a loyal and an able man, and well capable, if in that House, of pleading the cause of the island. The wishes of the colonists having been for so many years refused by the Colonial Office, they had at last come to that House for redress. Our distant dependencies, he believed, could be retained by us in a satisfactory manner only through the cultivation among their inhabitants of two sentiments — namely, first a feeling of loyalty to the Crown and Government of this country, and next a conviction that, whenever they had real grievances to complain of, and failed to obtain redress for them in other quarters, that House would at least do them the justice of granting inquiry. The hon. Member concluded by moving the Motion 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 "a Select Committee be appointed to inquire into the condition of Ceylon and the action of its Government,"—(Mr. Watkin,) —instead thereof.


said, that the hon. Member for Stockport (Mr. Watkin) asked that House to grant a Select Committee to inquire into the state of Ceylon upon two grounds. The first was, that certain complaints had reached this country from that island; and the second was, that the institutions of the island were decaying, and its population and prosperity were falling away, and that general misgovernment existed there. Now, as far as the complaints were concerned, they were amply discussed only four weeks ago, when the hon. Gentleman called the attention of the House to the petition which had been forwarded from Ceylon to this country. The hon. Member had not adduced any fresh complaint. Four hon. Members interested in Ceylon took part in that discussion. He (Mr. Adderley) then stated the views of the Government upon the subject, which were fully indorsed by the right hon. Gentleman the late Colonial Secretary, and the House seemed to think that no case whatever had been made out in support of the petition. The hon. Gentleman had now put forward statements of his own, alleging that the island was in a general state of decay. But he submitted that the hon. Member had altogether failed to change the issue of the discussion which had already taken place upon Ceylon. The sole ground of complaint was the military contribution which that colony had been called upon to pay. Now, the fact was, that the contributions which the colony had been called upon to make had been recommended in the Report of a Select Committee, who were of opinion that Ceylon ought to contribute towards the cost of the troops kept in that island. The hon. Member intimated that the colonists did not so much complain of the military contributions as of the number of troops. [Mr. WATKIN: I said nothing of the kind.] He had certainly understood the hon. Member to say so; and of the number of troops which ought to be maintained in Ceylon Her Majesty's Government was the proper judge. It was only when Ceylon was called upon to pay the military contribution that they heard of any complaints on the part of that colony. The statements of the hon. Member with reference to the mis-government of Ceylon and the decay of the prosperity of that island were not borne out by the reports which had been received in this country upon the condition of that colony. When it was proposed to place Ceylon under the Indian Government, there was a general outcry against the proposition. The hon. Gentleman stated that the population had fallen off. Now, the fact was that it was rapidly increasing, being 13,000 more than last year. Last year the births were 48,000, and the deaths 39,000.


said, that the colonial blue book showed that in 1863 the population was 2,342,098, whilst in 1866 it was only 2,088,027.


said, that the hon. Gentleman had, perhaps, selected a year in which there was a great mortality; but the last accounts showed a great increase in the population. The hon. Member had adduced the increase of the revenue as a proof of decay, inasmuch as he attributed that increase to the imposition of new taxes. The truth, however, was, that it was due to no such cause, but to the growing prosperity of the colony, for the taxes there remained the same as those which had been levied for the last ten years. The next complaint of the hon. Member was that the Government had unwisely interfered with the railway speculations of the colonists, and prevented railways being made into the coffee districts; but that, too, was a statement which was not supported by the facts of the case. When it was shown that the state of the funds for making the railway referred to was satisfactory, it was sanctioned by the Government. The hon. Gentleman also complained that large taxes were levied upon rice grounds; but these taxes had been brought under the consideration of the Government, who had ordered that an inquiry should take place with a view to ascertain whether a reduction in them might not be effected. The tax upon rice was a tax per bushel, and therefore the increased produce of the tax showed an increased production. [Mr. WATKIN: The tax is in proportion to the value.] The tax had not been altered. The question whether the naval stations for the purposes of the colony should be maintained at the cost of the British taxpayer he did not think it necessary to discuss. He had frequently heard the hon. Gentleman complain of the burden thrown upon the English taxpayer to maintain such stations for colonies, many of which were richer than England. Why should not the people of Ceylon bear their share of the taxation of the Empire? Was all the expense of the Empire to be borne by a particular part of it? [Mr. WATKIN: Certainly not.] Under all the circumstances of the case, he did not see any good that could be derived from granting the proposed Committee. Since the Report of the Military Commission in Ceylon, the colonists seemed to be perfectly satisfied with the terms which had been come to, and that Report, he believed, would be strictly adhered to. He did not, he might add, at all agree with the views of the hon. Gentleman as to the government of Ceylon. While the Governor was responsible for the good government of the colony, he must have ample discretion in the management of its affairs; and if, as the hon. Member proposed, the majority of Members in the Council were to be elected, the Governor would no longer be in the position which an autocratic governor ought to occupy, who, being fully responsible, should have the power of conducting his own policy. The hon. Member had also fallen into a mistake with respect to the intention of Earl Grey, whose despatch contained no such promise as that indicated by the hon. Member. Earl Grey expressed a wish that the colony might become more able to take a part in its own financial affairs, and it was rapidly exhibiting greater capacity in that respect, for it frequently controlled votes on financial questions. The hon. Gentleman talked, not in the interest of the great population of the colony, but in the interest of a small section — the English planters—who had ample influence in the Council. He thought that no case had been made out for the inquiry which the hon. Gentleman asked the House to sanction.


trusted that the Motion for a Select Committee would be agreed to. The Under Secretary for the Colonies had objected that the complaints came only from Englishmen in the colony; but Englishmen constituted the life and soul of the colony; and, if they complained, they ought to have a fair hearing. With regard to the population of the colony, it was true, as stated by the hon. Member for Stockport that its amount had diminished since 1863, though there had been some increase of population in 1866 over the amount in 1865.


thought the House had not only failed to dispose of the grievances of Ceylon, but had failed in understanding what those grievances really were. It was ridiculous to say that the matter had been fully discussed on a former evening, when, in point of fact, only four Members took part in the debate. Moreover, both the Under Secretary for the Colonies and the right hon. Member for Oxford (Mr. Cardwell) had misconceived the real ground of complaint. Although the statement that the military expenditure was not the real grievance had been proved during the former discussion, the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Adderley) had repeated his former statement. The grievance was not confined to any particular expenditure. It referred to the general system pursued by the Colonial Office; and the complaint was that the Colonial Minister of this country expended £1,000,000 per annum without the slightest check or control from any person in the world. [Mr. ADDERLEY: No, no!] Well, was that expenditure controlled by the House? The state of the House when colonial matters were brought forward showed that hon. Members did not take the slightest interest in them; and it was almost impossible to discuss them except when a Vote was proposed in Committee of Supply. On the previous discussion the House would have been counted out but for the accidental circumstance that the Government wanted to pass a Vote in Supply, and the result would probably have been the same on the present occasion but for a similar reason. Not only was there no control by the House over the expenditure in Ceylon, but there was no control whatever. Now, what was wanted was that there should be an efficient control vested in the colony itself. It was quite true that there was a Legislative Council, and that money votes were brought before that Council; but of the sixteen Members who composed it ten were official servants of the Government, who were compelled to vote according to instructions sent out from this country. He strongly urged the Government to consider the question, and to devise some means for checking our colonial expenditure. He believed that representative institutions had been granted far too soon in many of the colonies, and there was great danger lest the refusal to redress real grievances might lead to an extension of that practice. There was first a refusal to listen to just complaints, and then violent agitation having been excited, extravagant concessions were made for the purpose of allaying that agitation. He did not believe that the Colonial Office was at all ill managed; but he did think that at a time like the present, when the House of Commons took no interest in colonial affairs, it was desirable to provide some machinery by which the action of the Colonial Office in expending a sum of £1,000,000 per annum should be effectively controlled.


objected to the assertion of the Under Secretary of State that the governors of the colonies must be autocrats. They could not expect any body of Englishmen to submit to a system of Government which deprived them of all real control over their expenditure. But that was precisely the state of things at present in Ceylon. There was a Legislative Council, but the Government officers by their votes rendered popular control impossible. He would ask, why were these Crown Colonies kept in the hands of the Colonial Office? The answer was, because of the patronage they brought in the appointments of governors, and judges, and others. The hon. Member for Stockport (Mr. Watkin) was undoubtedly right in the view he had taken of this matter, and in bringing it before the House.


agreed very much in the spirit of what had fallen from the hon. Member for Cambridge (Mr. Gorst) that it was almost hopeless to discuss any colonial question in the present state of that House. He also agreed with much that had been stated by the hon. Member for Stockport (Mr. Watkin). Ceylon had not undergone that rigid inspection by the Colonial Office which from time to time was required; and he strongly urged the desirability, if a Committee were not granted, of sending out a Commission to Ceylon to look very thoroughly into the whole system of administration there. Such a course would, he was convinced, be most beneficial not only to Imperial but Colonial interests. He believed the Government of Ceylon was not well administered; from careful inspection of official documents he could say that a great deal ought to be done with respect to the finance of the colony. But he should feel considerable difficulty in voting for this Motion, because it must be considered in connection with the Papers which had been laid on the table; and he was bound to say that those Papers disclosed such extraordinary doctrines that the House could not allow itself to appear to give any sanction to them. The whole of this movement was based on a Paper which emanated from the gentlemen who called themselves the Ceylon League. That Paper had been laid on the table, and he would quote only this one sentence from it— The public of Ceylon will, at present be satisfied with such a concession as will give them the enjoyment, through their Representatives in Council, of the constitutional right of full control of the local revenues, freed from the dictation of the Governor or the Secretary of State. The meaning of that was, that representatives of the white population, consisting of 3,000 should have entire control over the revenues without reference to the wishes of the Native population, amounting to 2,500,000. He thought such a position would be monstrous, and he trusted no one on either side of the House would support such a doctrine. But if the Committee were moved for on the ground of the bad Government of Ceylon, he thought there was ground for supporting it. The secret of the matter was this. Until within a few years there was no agitation on the part of the people of Ceylon with respect to the financial administration of the colony. There had been a considerable surplus, which was accumulating. Some years ago a Committee of this House reported that the colony did not bear anything like its proper share of military expenditure, and that that share ought to be increased; and the Government wrote to the Governor to the effect that there being a large surplus every year a portion of it should be applied to relieve the military expenditure. The planters then urged the Governor to expend more money, and the real object of the agitation has been to obtain for them not the power of refusing expenditure, but of increasing it in spite of the Government. Now that was not constitutional. Even in that House they could not force upon the Government any particular course of expenditure. It was such a system which broke down the Government of Jamaica. The agitation going on at Ceylon was that of a minority to force the expenditure of money in the colony, and thereby to reduce the surplus, so that the colony should not have funds out of which to bear their share of the military expenditure. It seemed to him that, by countenancing such a movement Parliament would be adopting a retrograde policy. He thought the right hon. Gentleman might properly object to the Motion; but he hoped the Government would consent to send out a Commission of Inquiry.


said, the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down had hardly done justice to the Paper which he had quoted. The paragraphs preceding the extract which he had read considerably modified that passage. The spirit of the Paper referred to was this:—That the Government officials in Ceylon had an absolute majority in the Council with regard to the control of expenditure. Ceylon was too large an island to be placed on the same footing as some small West Indian islands, and the people of Ceylon wished that un-officials should have a majority in the Ceylon Council. They wished that should be effected in one of two ways—either by increasing the number of the unofficial men, or by diminishing the number of the official men. He thought that was a very fair proposal. A remark of the right hon. Gentleman opposite, that only a small minority supported this proposal, put him in mind of an anecdote which was related to him by Mr. Abercrombie, a former Speaker of the House. Mr. Abercrombie told him that at the commencement of the anti-Corn Law agitation a division took place in which only twelve Members voted in the minority, and that when he (Mr. Abercrombie), one of the minority, was marching out of the House to give his vote, he heard one of the Members of the majority say, "There are just a dozen of them, and they have not an acre among them." That, no doubt, was thought a conclusive argument by the Member who adopted it. He believed it was true, that the twelve had not an acre amongst them, but they had brains; and they inoculated the country with the truth of the proposition that they advocated. That truth prevailed; the majority of the House adopted it, and there was now no one on either side of the House who would say that they did not arrive at a right conclusion. It was vain to say as an argument against the demand of the Ceylon League, that only a minority were in favour of it.


said, that if the hon. Member did not go to a vote upon this question, he should, in future, walk out of the House whenever the hon. Gentleman brought forward any other Motion of a similar nature. He protested against the House being turned into a mere debating society. Hon. Members brought forward Motions of this description, and after they had impeded the progress of Public Business they withdrew them and the matter ended in smoke. He hoped that the hon. Member would press the question to a division. The very fact that the Under Secretary for the Colonies, and an Under Secretary under the last Administration, had combined in defending the present state of things in Ceylon, convinced him that there must be something rotten in the Ceylon Government.


said, that having spent some time in Ceylon, and having had in former times a pecuniary connection with the island, he felt an interest in its condition. Ceylon was a conquest of the Crown, and whatever might be the opinion of the gentlemen represented by the hon. Member for Stockport (Mr. Watkin), it was the duty of the Government to take care of the 2,500,000 of Natives, and not of the 3,000 Europeans only. In order to protect the Natives of the island, the supreme Government should be vested in officers who were responsible to the Crown, and not in a mock popular Council, selected from a few commercial European inhabitants. To place the supreme power in the hands of the Natives would only give rise to false hopes, and would be likely to lead to sedition and insurrection.

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


desired to state that he had said "Aye" to the Motion which involved the rejection of the Committee for which he had moved in the belief that he was supporting his own proposal. He had certainly intended to press the matter to a division.


stated that all the Members in his neighbourhood had shared in and acted under the same misapprehension.

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