HC Deb 02 July 1868 vol 193 cc529-35

rose to move for Copy of any further Despatches, Telegrams, and Letters between the Secretary of State in Council and the Government of India, respecting the proposed purchase of the works of the East India Irrigation Company, or the advance of funds for the works thereof since July 16, 1867. There were two Bills of an important character before the House relating to the Government of India, affecting the relations between the Home Government and the Indian Government, and the relations between the Secretary of State for India and the Council. The Papers he wished to obtain would, he anticipated, throw an important light upon these questions, and assist them materially in arriving at a sound conclusion, as to the proper mode in which these relations should be estab- lished. The House would remember that about two years ago there was a most fearful famine in the province of Bengal—one of the most frightful famines ever recorded in history. He was not about to dilate on the famine in Orissa; but it was necessary, in order to lay the ground for what he was going to urge, that he should state one or two circumstances connected with it; and he could not do better than read two extracts from papers now in the Library. There had been an inquiry in the province as to the nature and extent of the famine, and a great number of witnesses had been examined, from whose evidence he would select two passages almost at random:—The Rev. A. Miller, Balasore, said— I think the mortality was greater than was reported. Hundreds died in the fields and out-of the-way places, where no one knew them. If one chanced to cross the country one saw the bodies lying about, and the jackals eating them. I should say, to be within bounds, that about one quarter of the population of Orissa has died. In this neighbourhood, I think the mortality has been about one-third, but I believe in other parts of the province it has not been so severe. But, as respects the general misery and suffering, I do not think it has ever been fully described; it would almost be impossible to exaggerate it. The people bore their misery with extraordinary quiet and submission. Nothing that I have ever read has enabled me to conceive anything equal to this famine. I have known no instance of Hindoos eating dogs, or cats, or cows. But they did cat their own children, when they were dead. I heard a well-authenticated instance, in which a mother and son were found eating a dead child. Abdool Ghunnee, zemindar, Balasore, said— There were 18,000 people on my estates; of these 4,700 have died during the famine. He believed that the mortality occasioned by that great calamity was little short of 1,000,000. The inference he wished to draw from this deplorable state of things was that no effort they could make of an indirect kind should be spared, in order to avoid the recurrence of such a calamity as this. They were bound to do their best for the people they had undertaken to govern. Now, there was but one remedy that had ever been suggested, and which was admitted to be perfect against the recurrence of such calamities, and that was irrigation works. These calamities arose from the failure of water, owing to the great prevalence of drought, which would have been almost entirely obviated if those means of irrigation had been provided which engineers were perfectly able to supply, if they were furnished with the necessary funds. This was a matter of great importance to India, and the Papers he asked for would show that the present Government had not acted as they should have done in regard to it. A private company of adventurers, encouraged by Lord Canning, when he was Governor General of India, did undertake to provide irrigation works for the province. They made great progress with the works, and laid out a large amount of capital in forming dams, canals, and other engineering arrangements, with the object of providing the means of irrigating a large portion of this very province—arrangements which, if they had been completed, would have obviated this dreadful famine. There were two sets of opinions with regard to the construction of public works in India; there was one set that believed that these great undertakings should be carried on by private enterprize; and there was another, more associated with the old notions of Indian government, which imagined that the less private capital and enterprize had to do with India the better for India, and that works of this kind had better be executed by Government officers, and with public revenue. Lord Canning was in favour of private entcrprize, whilst Sir John Lawrence belonged to the school that believed that such works should be executed by Government. There was upon the table of the House a Paper presented this Session, signed by the Queen in Council, and by the Council, in which it was recommended that the Indian Government should purchase the works of this great Company at a certain stated price. That despatch was withheld by the Secretary of State for India for a considerable time from the House, and in doing no doubt what he considered his duty he committed an act not becoming the head of a great public Department. The right hon. Baronet adopted the policy recommended by the Governor General and his Council, but he kept back the despatch containing the terms which were proposed as just and fair by them, while he endeavoured to drive a hard bargain with the Company. It was not in his opinion consistent with the dignity of a great Department of the State to endeavour to make a very good bargain out of the special necessities of a private company; neither was it within the duty of the Secretary of State for India to dispute the authority of the Governor and Council in a matter which they were peculiarly fitted to determine. The right hon. Baronet having offered far less terms than Sir John Lawrence and his Council thought just, his offer was refused by the Company, and then the despatch was laid upon the table of the House, when the Company at once perceived that the Government had offered them less than the terms proposed by Sir John Lawrence. The Company, taking what appeared to him to be a reasonable step, offered the works to the Government on the terms mentioned in the despatch, but their offer was declined by the right hon. Baronet, no doubt for what he deemed very good reasons. It appeared to him essential that these great and beneficial works should be completed as early as possible, in order to prevent the recurrence of these dreadful famines, and if the right hon. Baronet refused to purchase them on the terms offered, he should lend all the assistance in his power, consistently with his public duty, to facilitate their completion, by which water, that great blessing and source of wealth in India, would be diffused throughout the province in question. This was not merely a question between a private company on the one hand and the Indian Government on the other, it was an illustration of the difficulties which beset all Indian financial questions. The Secretary of State had told them that in all matters of finance he was dependent upon his Council, who, by Act of Parliament, possessed the entire control of all matters relating to the expenditure of money in India; and that was the system which the right hon. Baronet proposed to continue. Instead of there being a Secretary of State in that House who was responsible for these matters, there was an irresponsible Council behind whom the Secretary of State could, if he were so inclined, always shelter himself. It had been his object to draw attention to that point, and having done so he begged to make the Motion of which he had gives Notice.


, in seconding the Motion, recommended that large basins or reservoirs, connected by canals, should be made in India for the purpose of storing the water and affording water communications throughout the country. Such works would be of immense importance to the development of the resources of the country, and would prevent a recurrence of that frightful calamity under which the district in question had recently suffered.

Amendment proposed, To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, that She will be graciously pleased to give directions that there be laid before this House, Copy of any further Despatches, Telegrams, and Letters between the Secretary of State in Council and the Government of India respecting the proposed purchase of the works of the East India Irrigation Company, or the advance of funds for the works thereof since July 16, 1867,"—(Mr. Bouverie,) —instead thereof.

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


said, he had not expected that the Motion of the right hon. Gentleman, which was at the bottom of the list of Motions upon going into Committee of Supply, would have been reached at such an early hour, and therefore he had not obtained any special information upon the subject. He, however, was prepared to give a general answer to the observations of the right hon. Gentleman. In the first place, he had no objection to the production of all despatches and telegrams which had passed upon the subject. He regretted that the right hon. Gentleman should have thought it necessary to comment in the terms which he had employed on the fact that it had not been deemed right to communicate to the Directors of the Irrigation Company the despatch of the Governor General proposing certain terms for the purchase of the works of the Company. He believed the right hon. Gentleman would acknowledge that if it was the duty of the Council for India to offer less liberal terms than those mentioned in that despatch, it would certainly not have been their duty to have accompanied that proposal with a communication in which higher terms were mentioned, for the effect of such a course would simply have been to throw dirt on their own offer. The question really resolved itself into this—whether they ought to have at once acted upon the judgment of the Indian Government, or have exercised the right of judging for themselves? Now, Parliament had distinctly imposed upon the Secretary of State for India in Council the duty of superintending the expenditure of the revenue and finances of India, and as there was a difference of upwards of £100,000 in the terms mentioned in the despatch and the offer actually made, he did not think that he would have been justified in offering so large a sum above what he believed to be the real value of the works. But the Government of India not only suggested those terms as the extreme point to which the offer should be carried, but contemplated moreover their exercising their own discretion in the matter. But he must take exception to one of the statements made by the right hon. Gentleman. The right hon. Gentleman had said that an offer below the real value of the works had been made in order to gain an advantage over the Company, and to force them to enter into a bargain which would be advantageous for the Government, and that therefore the Company were purposely kept in the dark as to the recommendation which had been made by the Government of India. That was not the case. The Government of India were not at all anxious to purchase these works, but they were desirous of purchasing the Behar scheme, which the Company would scarcely at present have the means of completing with reference to the Orissa scheme, however, it was not thought advisable to deviate from the policy which had been adopted from the days of Lord Canning and even earlier—of allowing works of this nature to be undertaken by private individuals, and though the Orissa Company had for some little time been in difficulties, they could not blind their eyes to the fact that the Company had made great efforts to raise money, and had actually succeeded in raising something like £800,000, which had been expended in carrying on the work in a very creditable manner. In case the offer made should not prove acceptable, the Government further offered to assist the Company with a loan on terms which, they thought, were fair, and on the condition that the Company would hand over the Behar scheme to the Government, but that offer was also rejected by the Company. The view of the Council for India—a view in which he entirely concurred—was this They did not think it right to give anything in the nature of a guarantee for the capital required to carry on these works, or that the Government of India should in any way identify themselves with the scheme as shareholders. They were prepared to abide by the offer they had made, or to aid the Company by a loan on the security of the works. Upon the latter point there had been a difference of opinion between the Directors and the Government. The Directors stated that they were willing to accept the loan on the security of the works on this understanding, that when the Government had entered upon the works, in case of failure of payments, they should only retain possession until the advance with reasonable interest had been repaid. But to this plan—a plan which would give rise to vast and endless complications, and would be attended by very great inconvenience—the Government did not think that they could consent. As far as he was personally concerned, he had no ill-will towards the Company. He believed that they had done good service to the public, and he trusted that their labours would ultimately prove remunerative. He believed, however, that it would be for the advantage of the Company themselves as well as for that of the public that they should give up the Behar scheme. The Government had no arrière pensèe in this matter, and had not the slightest desire to get possession of these works by a side-wind. All they wished was to have a good security for their money. He was perfectly prepared to produce the documents for which the right hon. Gentleman asked, and would lay them upon the Table of the House.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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