§ (Sir Stafford Northcote Sir James Fergusson.)
§ Order for Committee read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."
§ LORD WILLIAM HAY
said, he wished to offer some general remarks on the measure, having been prevented from doing so at an earlier stage. There was a general agreement that some change should be made in the constitution of the Council, and he offered no objection to the second reading. The principal clause in the Bill was to alter the tenure of the Council from a tenure for life to one for twelve years. That was a great improvement; but it was the only change of importance proposed by the Secretary of State to be made in a Bill passed ten years ago for the better government of India. The right hon. Gentleman assumed that no other change was necessary, and that, with the exception of the tenure of office the constitution of the Council was just what it ought to be. To that proposition he would not assent. He thought that several changes might be made in the constitution of the Council, especially in regard to the power possessed by the Council of overruling the Secretary of State upon matters affecting the expenditure of the Indian revenues. That was a very unfortunate defect, because it placed the centre of power and real authority regarding the government of India in the hands of the Council. It was wrong in principle, and it was opposed to the opinion of those whose opinion was best worth having, among others of Lord Macaulay, who was not only well acquainted with the details of Indian administration, but had also had the advantage of having spent several years in that country; and who said in 1853—India is, and must be governed in India. That is a law we did not make, which we cannot alter, and to which we should do our best to conform our legislation.1871 But the existence of this power in the hands of the Council had a directly contrary effect. A Secretary of State for India was not chosen for his fitness to govern India, but because of his ability to manage his Council. This was a great misfortune, and one remedy would be to take away from the Council the power they possessed in respect to Indian expenditure, and to give the Secretary of State the same power on this as on other subjects that came before him, and which were scarcely of less importance. The Secretary of State had the power of giving away a country like Mysore, which was almost as large as Scotland; yet when the question arose of an expenditure of a few hundred pounds he was liable to be over-ruled by a body that ought to be purely consultative. The result of such a state of things was that, instead of accelerating the dispatch of public business it lowered the position of the Governor General of India. He feared that there was a tendency, owing to the facility of communication, to interfere with the Governor General of India, and this tendency was increased by throwing so much power into the hands of the Council. He did not believe that the influence they exercised had accomplished the object which Parliament had in view—the control of the Indian expenditure. He believed that it had led, on the contrary, to great extravagance in our expenditure that never would have been tolerated if the chief and main power had been left in the hands of the Governor General of India. This was not his own opinion merely, and he was surprised that the Secretary of State for India had asked the House to agree to the second reading of an Act to amend the Act passed a few years ago without giving the House the slightest opportunity of forming an opinion how the Act had operated. Lord Cranborne, in his speech last year upon the Resolutions moved by the hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets (Mr. Ayrton) said—We all know that this Council was constituted at a time of considerable difficulty, and that it was the result of Parliamentary compromise. Therefore, we cannot expect that it will work as well as a scheme matured under better auspices.And Lord Cranborne added—You cannot always expect, if you choose to place extravagant powers in a particular body, that those powers will not be sometimes misused."—[3 Hansard, clxxxix. 1380.]1872 The Session was so far advanced that it was too late to appoint a Select Committee, who might have taken evidence upon the subject. He might be told that Indian authorities were in favour of the Act; but these authorities were usually men who had been, who were, or who hoped to be themselves Members of the Council, and their opinions must therefore be taken with very considerable allowance. The witnesses who ought to be examined before such a Committee would be persons who had lived in India for the ten years during which the Act had been in operation. For instance, he should like to have had the evidence of Mr. Massey, who had just returned from India, on the subject. He would change the Council into a purely consultative body, still leaving to its Members the power of dissenting from the recommendations of the Secretary of State, and recording that dissent in a Paper to be laid upon the table of the House, He would, however, take away the power of over-ruling the Secretary of State, and then the Council would become what they should be, a body for the control and supervision of the Government of India. At present the Secretary of State must have a Council, but the day might come when it would not be necessary to have a Council at all, and when he would be able to obtain the information of a local character which he might require from Members of that House and others. Until then he admitted it was necessary the Secretary of State should have a body to advise him more independent than Under Secretaries of State. It was said that it was unadvisable and unconstitutional to give the Secretary of State the sole control over a revenue of £50,000,000 a year. But a Secretary of State would take a strange course if he went against the opinion of the majority of his Council without very good reason. He had not the control over the whole revenue of India, but only over the portion of it which was spent in this country. That question might be regarded from two points—first, from the Indian taxpayer's point of view, and next from what might be called the constitutional point of view. In the first place, what the Indian taxpayer thought of was the best guarantee he could obtain for the proper expenditure of the Indian revenues. As an Indian taxpayer himself, though not a very large one, he believed he spoke the opinion of the great majority of the taxpayers in 1873 India, both English and Native, when he said they would prefer the guarantee that would be afforded them by a Secretary of State, independent of his Council, whom they could question in that House about everything connected with Indian expenditure. That was preferable to the guarantee afforded by the check given to a body of gentlemen who were wholly irresponsible to any human being, and only responsible to their own consciences. The noble Viscount proceeded to say that the Council were at present practically irresponsible—I think, therefore, the protection of a Council which has power to limit the expenditure is desirable, and should be sustained; but the point to which I take exception is that the responsibility for that expenditure is not thrown on the Council.… Remember that the Council have every item of expenditure, large and small, under their control, and every act of the Government which can involve expenditure—that is to say, the vast majority of its acts. But you never blame the Council if the Government of India goes wrong. You blame the Secretary of State; he is the figure that stands before Parliament. … What I wish to do is to impress upon the House that you hold the Secretary of State responsible for a policy in India and what it produces; but you never know whether he carries out his own policy, or a policy imposed upon him, either by the absolute votes of his Council or by a clear indication of their will."—[3 Hansard, clxxxix. 1381.]Lord Cranborne, therefore, argued that, if the Council was to control the Secretary of State, it ought to bear the responsibility; and he must confess that noble Lord also expressed the opinion that it was necessary the Council should have the power to which he was now objecting. But Lord Cranborne had not then before him the important alternative suggested by the hon. and learned Member for the Tower Hamlets (Mr. Ayrton)—namely, that the expenditure, which was really in the hands of the Secretary of State, should be submitted to that House in the shape of Estimates, and that, therefore, the check should be transferred practically from the Council to that House. He thought the constitutional objection that the Secretary of State ought not to have the power of dealing with the revenues of India would be entirely, or at least practically, met if that suggestion were carried out. But Lord Cranborne, when he said last year that the Council should have that power, seemed to assume that the Council was altogether free from those temptations to misspend money to which the Secretary of State was supposed to be so open. It 1874 was thought that the Secretary of State was ready to be drawn into every rash or extravagant scheme which might be brought before him, and that he required to have several Councillors to step forward and prevent him from committing indiscretions of that sort. Now, those who took that view assumed that the Councillors themselves were exposed to no temptations of the same description; but he held that the contrary was the case, and that with a body of men responsible only to their own consciences they had no guarantee whatever against all kinds of jobbery and mal-administration. If the House had an opportunity of examining the Estimate every year with respect to the portion of the Indian revenues that was spent in England, this great advantage, as it appeared to him, would be secured—that the House would be induced to take a deeper interest than it took now in Indian affairs. The First Minister of the Crown once said—We have heard over and over again that India never could command attention here, however great the magnitude of the subject. The explanation is simple, if humiliating: Englishmen have never yet had to pay for India. That is the reason why India never has produced any interest in this country.It might be humiliating that they should take no interest in India because they did not pay for India; but it was far more humiliating when they considered that India paid for them in many respects, and that they did not even then take the slightest interest in her. He said that India paid for us; at least there were many items of a doubtful character for which many plausible reasons might be advanced why they should come out of the English Exchequer rather than the Indian. Take, for example, the expenditure on the Abyssinian War and the late Entertainment to the Sultan. Assuming that both that war and that entertainment were necessary, the matter ought to come before the House in this form—"Which of the two taxpayers is to pay for them, the English or the Indian? How were such points settled at this moment? In the case of the Abyssinian War the question how much India was to pay was really decided in the English Treasury, which made up its mind that India should bear a certain portion of the expenditure and that England should bear the rest. As to the Ball to the Sultan, the question was no doubt decided by the fifteen Gentlemen who sat in the Council. On every occasion in which any expendi- 1875 ture was involved which might be referred to either of those two Exchequers the question ought to come before the House to be decided in this shape—" Shall this expenditure, which everybody admits ought to be incurred, be paid by England or by India?" He ventured to think, if that were done, that in nine cases out of ten India would gain very largely by that arrangement. If all that category of items, of which the portion of the Indian revenue expended in this country mainly consisted, came before the House as proposed by the hon. and learned Member for the Tower Hamlets (Mr. Ayrton) in the form of an Estimate, they would have what was so desirable—namely, at least one night in the year that was devoted to a real and not to a sham debate on Indian affairs. The opinion the House took on that question had a very important bearing on every clause of the present Bill. The 1st clause related to the length of the tenure of office in the Council. If the House agreed with him in thinking that the veto should be taken away, and that the Council should be reduced to a consultative body, they might feel that they could very well reduce the term of Office down to seven or perhaps even five years. On the other hand, if they were really to make the Council the rulers of India, objectionable as, in his opinion, that would be, still he must admit, as a consequence of that arrangement, that they must have a more permanent body of men in that position. With regard to the admission of members of the Council into that House, there were, he was aware, many objections to it; and if the vetoing power was retained he should object to it himself. But if they were to alter the constitution of the Council he could see considerable advantage in having some of its members sitting in that House. As to any objection that might be made on the ground of their being placemen, he did not think it of much weight; because, as was proposed by the Bill, they would hold Office only for a certain number of years. There was no doubt that the people of India took the deepest interest in this matter, and would be very much pleased to see one or two members of the Council with seats in that House. He could not understand, however, how that was to be done if the Council should remain constituted as it was at present. But, whatever view the House might take on that point, he hoped that they would proceed to deal with the Bill, bearing in mind those two 1876 very important maxims, that they should do all they could to strengthen the powers of the Government in India and also to induce the people at home to take more interest than they did at present in that country.
§ MR. J. STUART MILL
said, he agreed with the noble Lord that it was most important that India should be governed in India, and that there was a great tendency in the change of circumstances which had rendered communication with India so much easier to lead to over-interference on the part of the Home Government. But, after all, they could not altogether abdicate their control, though the best way in which that control could be exercised would be to send out men to represent us who could be relied upon to perform their duty well. Since there must be a controlling power here, the question was between placing it in the Secretary of State alone or in the Secretary of State and the Council. On that point he did not think the noble Lord had said anything which tended to show that it was better to place that control in the Secretary of State alone rather than in the Secretary of State and a Council which had an effective power. The noble Lord had admitted the absolute necessity of the Secretary of State being assisted by persons who had acquired a knowledge of India. About that there could be no difference of opinion between the noble Lord and himself. But if the Council did not possess some substantive power, if they were made a consultative body only, they never would have that degree of weight which they ought to possess; they would be a mere superfluous wheel in the machinery. If they had only the power of giving their opinions they would never be so powerful with the Secretary of State as his own subordinates in Office. If the House did not think that the Council as at present constituted was the best controlling body, they could try to improve it; and various modes of doing so had been suggested, some of which he thought were improvements. Perhaps it would be an improvement if a portion of them were allowed to sit in that House. He confessed he was surprised, however, when the noble Lord said that if the present powers of the Council were continued he would be against its Members being admitted to seats in that House; but if their powers were taken away then he thought it would be of advantage that they should have seats. Now, such an expression of opinion appeared to 1877 him at variance with the whole course of the noble Lord's argument, because he had contended that the Council were irresponsible, and that the Secretary of State was the only one who had any responsibility. But what responsibility had the Secretary of State? It was that he could be called to account in that House, and if he did not succeed in defending his measures he could be turned out of Office. But the same thing would happen to the Council. They could be turned out after a period of trial, because the proposal of this Bill was to make the duration of Office as a matter of course shorter. But of all the surprising things in the speech of the noble Lord that which had surprised him most was that the noble Lord should have brought forward the tendency of this country to throw all expenditure, when any excuse could be found, on the people of India, as a reason for asking the consent of England, not India, when such expenditure was in question. If there was one thing which might be held absolutely certain, it was that the majority of a body constituted like the Council would in such matters be on the side of India. The Court of Directors had always been so, and many a battle to his knowledge had been fought by them with the Board of Control, in order to prevent such expenditure from being thrown upon India; and they often succeeded, but, he was sorry to say, still oftener failed. Now, if the power of sanctioning expenditure were taken away from the Council, which represented India, and given to that House, which did not represent India; and which seldom troubled itself about India at all, but which did care about England and its burthens, and if the noble Lord believed that the House would be actuated in such matters by a generous and chivalrous spirit and would take the burden from India to throw it upon their own constituents, he must say that the noble Lord had a far higher opinion of the virtue of that House than his (Mr. Stuart Mill's) experience had taught him to have of that or perhaps any other public body in similar circumstances.
said, that nothing had surprised him more than the assertion of his noble Friend (Lord William Hay) that the Government was impeded by the power of the Council of India. Why, the Council were the mere agents of the Secretary of State, with the exception of the control of the finances of India, which his noble Friend would do away with. The power 1878 which the 41st clause of the India Act gave the Council of controlling the expenditure of India was the only power which they possessed. They could not see a despatch unless it were referred to them, by the Secretary of State. They were little more than automata, except in financial matters, and were on an entirely different footing from the Directors of the East India Company who had as much freedom of action as a Member of the House of Commons, and he spoke from nineteen years experience. The Secretary of State, much to his credit, upon his own authority, had restored to the Prince of Mysore the dominions which had been taken from his family, and that was a power which the Secretary of State, under the circumstances, ought to possess; but he ought not to have the sole control of £50,000,000 of revenue, or the power of guaranteeing £60,000,000 of money—he believed it was now £80,000,000—for railways. That was a power he would give to no man, inasmuch as the House of Commons did not allow a Secretary of State to spend a £100 unless it had been placed at his disposal by a previous Vote of the House. Neither would he allow an individual to lend £500,000 for irrigation works, without the advice of those who had had experience of the necessities and advantages of such works in India.
§ SIR HENRY RAWLINSON
said, he regretted that means had not been taken to furnish the House with reliable and authentic information with respect to the working of the Council of India. There was a vast number of points on which such information was needed before Parliament proceeded to legislate further in the proposed direction for that country. The very question involved in the financial power of the Council, for instance, was one which it was very important should receive elucidation. How had that power operated? Had the Council assisted or impeded the Secretary of State with reference to financial operations? How often had they exercised anything like a veto on financial measures? Did the Secretary of State over-rule their decisions in matters not connected with finance? So far as he had an opportunity of obtaining information, his opinion was that the Council were in reality a very great assistance to the Minister for India; that they were, in a word, an auxiliary, and not an obstructive body. But the subject was one on which adequate knowledge could be secured only 1879 by means of fin inquiry before a Select Committee empowered to examine those who, from the position which they occupied, were most conversant with it. The Session was, however, now too far advanced, he was afraid, for the appointment of such a Committee, but he trusted the Secretary of State for India would throw some light, before the House proceeded further with his Bills, on the working of the present system.
§ SIR STAFFORD NORTHCOTE,
in reply, said, that after what bad fallen from one or two hon. Members whose opinions on Indian matters deserved the greatest consideration, he felt it to be his duty to make a few observations on the subject. The hon. Member who had just spoken seemed to think it very desirable that the present measure should be preceded by some kind of inquiry before a Select Committee. Undoubtedly in former times it was the practice to institute an inquiry into the mode in which the East India Company used to conduct the affairs of that country, and the terms on which their charter should be renewed at the expiration of the several periods for which it had been granted, and some might think that that formed a precedent for inquiry in the present case. The old and the new systems of government for India were not, however, exactly parallel. Under the former, Parliament delegated to a body extrinsic to itself and peculiarly constituted—for it was originally nothing more than a private company—certain functions of an Imperial character. It was therefore only reasonable and proper that Parliament should from time to time review the proceedings of that body. But the present Government of India was in the main neither more nor less than one of the branches of the Executive, and under those circumstances he did not think there was any standing occasion primâ facie for a review of its working beyond that which existed in the case of the Admiralty, the War Office, or any other public Department into whose affairs the House might, when it deemed fit, order inquiry to be instituted; while, upon the other hand, those who were responsible for the transaction of its business would very properly, in the event of setting about making any alteration in its Constitution, submit their proposals to the consideration of a Select Committee, or even move for a Select Committee to investigate the whole subject before proposing any such change. It was not, however, the opinion of the present Government, nor 1880 so far as he knew of their predecessors in Office, that the Constitution which had been adopted for India in 1858 had, upon the whole, worked ill. They were, on the contrary, satisfied with that Constitution, believing it to be as good a one as could well be devised. There were certain points it was true with respect to which they deemed it desirable that amendments should be introduced, and to those the attention of the House was invited in the Bill under discussion. They were points which in his opinion might very fairly be dealt with by the House itself; but if it were deemed right that they should be more closely investigated before a Select Committee he should not, had not the Session been so far advanced, offer any objection to that course being taken. He very much doubted at the same time whether a good case had been made out for any inquiry of the sort. It was by no means a difficult thing to give the House a general idea of the way in which the present Constitution worked without such an investigation. It was not true, as the hon. and gallant Member for Aberdeen (Colonel Sykes) seemed to imagine, that the Council were mere automata, doing the bidding of the Secretary of State. The hon. and gallant Gentleman, in putting forward that view, seemed to have lost sight of the phraseology of the Act under which the Council was constituted, and which rendered it incumbent on the Secretary of State to submit to them every despatch or Order which he might have occasion to send out to India, with the exception of the very few which might happen to pass through the Secret Committee. In the event, too, of any sudden emergency arising, the Secretary of State might proceed to act without consulting his Council; but then it was his duty to give his reasons for the course he proposed to take, and to lay those reasons before them. [Colonel SYKES: Such as he pleases himself to submit to them.] The words of the Act had reference to every Order which was about to be sent out to India. Every Member of the Council had full power to record his dissent from the policy about to be adopted, and each of those dissents might be moved for and laid before Parliament. The Secretary of State, indeed, might take no notice of communications from India; but when anything was going to be done the matter was always brought before the Council. So much was that the case that only two letters had, he believed, been sent out to India through the Secret Department 1881 —the one written by his immediate predecessor in Office with reference to the Mysore question, the other by himself in connection with the Abyssinian Expedition. There might be one or two other cases in which letters had been written in the Secret Department, and usually, after the immediate occasion for secresy had passed away, had been transferred to the Political Department. But, as a matter of ordinary routine, almost everything went before the Council of India. The mode in which business was done was this—The Council was divided into a certain number of Committees—the Political Committee, the Finance Committee, the Military Committee, and so forth. Every letter which came from India, with the rarest exceptions, was first opened in the Department to which it belonged. It then, if of sufficient importance, was submitted for the opinion of the Secretary of State, Afterwards it came before the Committee to which it belonged. That Committee met every week. They fully considered and discussed the subject, and prepared for the consideration of the Secretary of State the answer which they thought ought to be sent. This answer, again, was reviewed by the Secretary of State, and when approved by him was brought before the Council, where the matter was once more fully discussed and voted upon. Thus, every question underwent a careful sifting, first before the Committee, and afterwards before the whole Council, the Secretary of State being privy to the whole of the proceedings, he being in constant communication with the members of the Committee, and being able to discuss freely with them and with the Council all the business which had to be transacted. If there was an objection to this system, it was that the system was somewhat cumbrous, and that business did not proceed quite so rapidly as one could wish. But, on the other hand, when you considered what the Council of India was meant to be and what it ought to be—namely, more in the nature of a Council of Review and Control than an Executive Council, the same objection would not apply with the same force as it would to a Department which was altogether executive. He agreed entirely with the hon. Member for Westminster (Mr. Stuart Mill) that the Executive Government of India must be conducted in India, and that, as far as possible, the hands of the Viceroy must be strengthened; and he 1882 thought that when the proposals in these Bills were considered it would be seen that their tendency was to strengthen the hands of the Executive in India. But you must have the power of review and control here, and the question was, how that power could best be exercised? His belief was—and it was strengthened by his experience of the working of the Council since he had been in Office that you exercised the power best by a Council constituted very much as the present Council of India was constituted. He believed that there you had the means of thoroughly discussing the questions which arose, and that the Secretary of State was thereby really put in possession of the merits of a case and enabled to exercise his discretion much better than in any other way. Possibly there were faults in this system as in all others; and one was that the members of the Council, being for the most part gentlemen who had served for many years in India, who had acquired much practical knowledge of details, were rather too prone to import their own knowledge into the discussion and into the regulation of matters decided in India. There was, perhaps, a tendency on the part of members of the Council to examine and criticize the acts of the Government of India a little more in detail than was desirable. At the same time, though that was a natural temptation to gentlemen who saw anything done with which they were practically acquainted, and who saw it done, perhaps, not exactly in the way in which they would have done it in India ten or twelve years ago, yet he was bound to say that the animating spirit of the Council of India was a desire to support the Government of India. He was not at all disposed to find fault with the Council of India for any tendency to meddle or interfere too much in petty details. He only said it was a temptation; but it was one which generally was very fairly resisted. As to the speech of the noble Lord, which was an extremely interesting one, he rather gathered from it this view, with which he agreed—namely, that the Executive Government of India should be in India; that the control should be exercised in England by the Secretary of State, using his Council simply as his advisers, the responsibility being concentrated as much as possible upon him, and he being responsible as much as possible to this House; that the control, in short, should not be that of the Council, but that of the Secretary of State 1883 informed by his Council, with the sanction of this House. The effect of such a system would be to throw a much greater amount of direct control into the hands of this House than existed at present. Now, with all respect to this House, he did not think that it would be as good a body to control the Indian Government as the Council of India. It was a great advantage to have a body independent of Parliament, which concentrated its attention on the affairs of this great dependency, which was adequately informed upon the affairs of India, and which had a direct interest in India, and the control of such a body was likely to be much more effectual than the loose control which must be exercised in this House. Perhaps there might be here twenty, or thirty, or fifty Gentlemen who understood a good deal about India; but they were always liable to be overborne by Gentlemen who knew little about it, whose ideas were crude, and who might do a good deal of mischief. Therefore he was entirely for maintaining the present Constitution of India, keeping the control in the hands of a body apart from this House, not influenced by political exigencies, and with no other object than the good government of India. It was desirable to shorten the tenure of office of the members of such a body in order that new blood might be more frequently infused into it, and newer ideas respecting India might be represented; but otherwise he should be jealous of interfering with the independence of the Council of India. He was much obliged to those hon. Members who wished to give more control to the Secretary of State, and who said they would rather trust him than the Council. But he did not desire to have for himself or his successors greater power than he now had. If the Secretary of State chose to exercise it, he now had quite as much power as was necessary. There was no doubt that upon matters not connected with expenditure he had the power of over-ruling the Council. Even in other matters, however, he had great moral power, and through Parliament and in other ways, could bring to bear so great a leverage and pressure upon the Council that he did not believe they would for a moment resist it. The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Frome asked whether the Council had often over-ruled the Secretary of State. He did not think there were many cases in which a direct vote had been taken, and the Council had outvoted the Secretary of State. At the same time there were many cases in which, 1884 if it had not been for the Council, the Secretary of State would have incurred expenditure which, owing to them, had not been incurred. Therefore, the Council exercised considerable influence—and, on the whole, a very beneficial influence—in checking expenditure which he would otherwise have been inclined to incur. There were some cases in which they had stopped an expenditure which the Secretary of State would think advantageous; but, looking to the spirit in which the Council had always acted, the result of their influence had not been as much of mischief on the one side as of good on the other. They sometimes heard a good deal of praise bestowed on the Secretary of State, who was told that he was a fine fellow, while the Council, it was added, stopped him from doing a great deal of good. Now, this was hardly fair. You did not hear of the mischief which the Secretary of State would have done but for the influence of the Council; you only heard of the good which the Secretary of State would have done if it had not been for the Council. In thinking over this matter, the excuse given by Adam in the 3rd chapter of Genesis always occurred to him—"The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat." The Secretary of State was always tempted to say—"It is the Council that you put upon me that has caused this mischief." Now, it was really not the Council who should be blamed. If the Secretary of State were over-ruled upon any point which he thought of vital importance he ought to put it upon record and let the facts be known. He ought to take upon himself the responsibility which was properly his due, and should never shelter himself, if over-ruled by the Council, unless he was prepared to state in this House that he had been so overruled. The present system, therefore, worked as satisfactorily as you could expect it to work with a Council constituted for so peculiar a task as that which devolved upon it. If Parliament had before it the whole question de novo, he was by no means sure that there was not a great deal to be said for the old system, when there was a separate power and a separate company. However, that was all past, and we could not go back to it. Under the old system there were two powers—the India Company and the Government in this country—one balanced against the other, and the Executive in India was, in consequence, made more free and independent; and it 1885 was because a much greater force was brought to bear on the Governor General under the existing system of unity of action, and because a greater directness of control was exercised upon the Governor General through the rapidity of communication by the electric telegraph, that he wanted to strengthen the position of that functionary. That was the object of one of the Bills he had introduced.
§ MR. KINNAIRD
said, he was of opinion that it would have been right to have referred the Bill under consideration to a Select Committee in the first instance; and he believed that great evil was being done in consequence of the restraint exercised upon the Governor General by persons who could not know so well as he the circumstances arising in India.
§ Bill considered in Committee.
§ (In the Committee.)
§ Clause 1 (Members of the Council of India to be in future elected for a Term of 12 Years).
§ MR. AYRTON
said, he hoped some modification would be made in this clause, which was open to great objection. The clause, while it enacted that new Members of the Council, after holding office for twelve years, should not be re-eligible, said nothing about the existing members of Council, who held office during good behaviour, so that, if new Councillors should be appointed under the present clause, there would exist a Council consisting of two classes of members, and the appointment of one class would condemn the existence of the other class, for both systems could not be admitted to be right. In the Act constituting the existing Council a proviso was introduced declaring that if Parliament should think fit to reduce the number of the Councillors, or alter the terms and conditions on which they held office, no Member of the Council who had not served ten years should be entitled to claim compensation. Therefore, Parliament then concluded that it would be a proper time at the end of ten years to reconsider the mode in which the Council should be appointed, and if a change should he made in the terms and conditions of appointments to the Council for the future, the Committee was bound to apply the new: conditions to the members of the Council now existing, so that they might also be on the same footing. For what purpose was the Council formed? The Council was desirable to supply a link of connection between the Secretary of State and those 1886 who were engaged in administering affairs in India. For this purpose it was absolutely necessary that those forming the Council should have a fresh knowledge of everything that was going on in India, should have been recently in India, should know those engaged in affairs there, and be able to speak of the effect of measures which were being carried on. Another function of the Council was to prevent the Secretary of State from writing any incon-considerate despatch or sending out any indiscreet Order to India. That function could not be well and effectually performed unless the Councillors had a fresh knowledge of the immediate views with which the Government was administered. If ten years ago they had been enabled to consider this question with due regard to principle, they never could have arrived at the conclusion that the members of Council should hold their offices during good behaviour. If they were to have in the Council gentlemen of eighty years of age who perhaps had been away from India for thirty or forty years, it was quite evident that the purposes for which the Council had been established could not be fulfilled. Persons at the age of eighty were as able to receive their salary and to enjoy honours as when they were in the vigour of life; but unfortunately there was no means provided by the Act of bringing the councillors to a test of their efficiency and capacity, because they were not bound to do more than they pleased. They might remain, in point of fact, as long as they liked, until they chose to present themselves to the Secretary of State as wholly unfit for any further services. No one up up to this time had been found incapable or inefficient for the performance of the duties of the Council. Was that a state of things they should encourage? The Secretary of State would be prepared after this year to got them to retire on pensions of £500 a year; but he denied that this was the proper mode of treating this question. They should show some regard for the revenues of India. Members of Council were in receipt of very large pensions from the Indian revenues already. They had been Directors of the Mast India Company, with £500 a year and unlimited eating at the India House, and now they were in receipt of £1,200 a year. What possible moral claim then could they have to receive pensions. They were perfectly free to examine this question; he therefore urged on the Secretary of State the necessity of putting the whole of his Conn- 1887 cil on one uniform footing—a footing more consistent with the purpose for which it was intended. What was a reasonable period during which a person should hold the office of Councillor without his position being subject to review? Having regard to the fact of there being fourteen Councillors—[Sir STAFFORD NORTHCOTE: Fifteen]—he thought there should be a change of at least two every year. This would run no risk of disturbing business or subverting the policy which regulated the course of affairs, while it would enable them to introduce into the Council men who had just returned from India. The Secretary of State for India proposed that one should retire after twelve years, but that appeared an extremely long period. It did not offer sufficient rapidity of change to ensure efficiency. He hoped the right hon. Baronet would listen to the appeals which had been made to him and re-consider his proposal. It was necessary to carry this clause much further than the Secretary of State proposed. The whole Council should remain subject to legislation, and the period for which the office of member of Council was held should be shortened very considerably below that which the right hon. Baronet proposed. But the right hon. Baronet no doubt stood in a delicate position with regard to his Council. In order to bring the question properly under the consideration of the Committee, he should move the Amendment of which he had given Notice. He had fixed seven years, but there should be the power of re-appointment. He begged to move the Amendment of which he had given Notice—To leave out all after 'Council,' and insert 'shall continue in office until he shall retire in manner following, unless he shall by any other means previously cease to hold such office; the two members of the Council, one having been elected and the other appointed, who have been longest in office, shall retire on the first day of January in the year one thousand eight hundred and sixty-nine, and in every subsequent year, but any such member may be again elected or appointed a member of the said Council; and when two or more members shall have been elected or appointed on the same day, the Secretary of State shall determine the order of retirement of such as were appointed, and the said Council shall determine the order of retirement of such as were elected.
said, he had an Amendment on the Paper limiting the term of service to five years; but he was willing to accept the proposal of the hon. and learned Member for the Tower Hamlets (Mr. Ayrton). The term of twelve years was decidedly too high. If a man of forty- 1888 five to fifty, after lengthened service in India, were appointed for twelve years his mental and physical faculties might fail in the interim. In the time of the East India Company there were twenty-four directors, six of whom were obliged to go out every year. They were not eligible for re-election until after the expiration of a year, and they were not re-elected if they had not maintained the reputation they had when first elected. The term of office therefore was four years. The Governor General and the Governors of Presidencies and their Councillors held their appointments only for five years. The same principle obtained in the Royal Service, and no officer could be appointed to high command, or to the Staff, for more than five years. Why therefore adopt a different principle for the Council of India? By the more rapid infusion of new blood and ability the effectiveness and reputation of the India Office would be enhanced.
§ MR. THOMSON HANKEY
said, the speech of the hon. and gallant Member who had just sat down would lead the Committee to suppose that his Amendment was identical with that of the hon. and learned Member for the Tower Hamlets (Mr. Ayrton) with the exception that the former proposed that the duration of Office should be five years, while the latter thought it should be seven years; but, as far as he understood them, the two propositions were totally distinct. The hon. and learned Member for the Tower Hamlets proposed that the present members of the Council should be removed, two every year, from the 1st of next January, whereas the hon. and gallant Member proposed that the existing members should hold Office for a further period of five years from that date. Then, with respect to the question of pensions, he was in doubt as to the effect of the Amendment of the hon. and learned Member for the Tower Hamlets. The members of the Council had now a reasonable right to a pension on retiring. [Mr. AYRTON: No!] He understood that the present members of the Council could not be displaced after ten years' service without being pensioned.
§ SIR STAFFORD NORTHCOTE
said, the way the matter stood was this—In the Act there was a proviso that, in the event of Parliament making any change within ten years, none of the members of the Council were to be entitled to a pension.
§ MR. THOMSON HANKEY
said, it was only a fair expectation of the present 1889 members of the Council that they would not be displaced without a pension. Under the proposed system, however, the members of the Council would be appointed for a fixed term of years, and would not be entitled to a pension. The term of service proposed was undoubtedly too long, and the effect would be that there would not be an introduction of sufficient new blood.
§ SIR EDWARD COLEBROOKE
said, he was glad that the principle of a limited term of service—for which he contended in 1858—was now recognized not only by Members of the House but by Her Majesty's Government. Most of the Members of the Committee were, however, agreed that the term of service proposed by the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State was too long. He thought, at all events, the term should be reduced from twelve years to ten. According to the proposal before the Committee, the members of the Council were to be nominated by the Council or by the Secretary of State; but he thought it was unadvisable that the members should feel that their re-election depended upon the good-will of their colleagues or the judgement or caprice of the Secretary of State. Balancing the advantages and disadvantages of the two terms proposed, he felt bound to support the proposal of the Government; but he should be happy to support so much of the Amendment moved by the hon. and learned Member for the Tower Hamlets (Mr. Ayrton) as did not refer to the re-eligibility of the retiring Councillors.
§ SIR HENRY RAWLINSON
approved the principle of infusing fresh blood into the Council. It did however appear to him close practice that when there remained only about two months to the time when the Councillors originally appointed were entitled to claim their pensions this right should be altogether done away with. [Mr. AYRTON: That is not proposed.] As he understood the Amendment it would certainly have the effect of abrogating the right which the present Councillors would have to a pension at the expiration of ten years' service, that period having very nearly expired. He could not help regarding that as hard. He might remind the Committee that though absence from India might be a disqualification for Members of the Council, age could not be regarded as such, their functions being purely consultative. Concurring as he did in the principle that an infusion of fresh blood 1890 was advisable, he was inclined to give a preference to the suggestion that the term should be reduced to ten years.
§ SIR STAFFORD NORTHCOTE
said, it was perfectly clear that Parliament might alter the constitution of the Council, or, indeed, abolish it altogether, without the members being entitled to any legal claim for compensation, a provision to that effect having been inserted in the Act of 1858. Inasmuch, however, as two or three members who might retire by reason of infirmity next year would be entitled—morally, at all events—to a pension, he agreed in the opinion that it would be rather sharp practice now to deprive them of that right. Those members had performed their duties to the best of their ability, and it would be hard that they should be deprived of an advantage to which they might possibly have been looking forward for some years. The recognition of that principle would not interfere with the Amendment proposed by the hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets (Mr. Ayrton), because the cases to which he referred would be included in the words; "unless he shall by any other means previously cease to hold such office." He doubted, however, whether the proposal made by the hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets was the best, because the hon. Gentleman proposed that the two senior members should retire every year, independently of those who resigned from other causes. As there would constantly be some member or members retiring in this way, it was extremely uncertain whether any member of the Council would be able to serve the full period, whatever the period they might fix upon might be, inasmuch as through the vacancies so caused, he would be called upon to retire before his allotted period of service had expired. Some of the present members would probably retire in a few years, and probably the average number of years' service would not amount to seven—it might be five, or even four. He thought that they should give a salary, and not a pension, and that a gentleman ought to know how many years he was likely to serve. The objections which had been urged against the re-election of the members of Council were certainly strong ones, and it was therefore proposed that there should be no re-election. Although he had placed the term of service at twelve years, he thought it might be reduced to ten, but not to a less term, because length of service undoubtedly in- 1891 creased a man's value. He attached great weight to the remark of the hon. Member for Westminster (Mr. Stuart Mill) some time ago, to the effect that care should be taken that the Council did not fall below the permanent and assistant Secretaries in experience of Indian affairs. It was highly important that new blood should he infused into the Council from time to time, but it was also important that the body should know of the past history of the Government. Whenever a new Secretary of State was appointed all the old complaints and grievances connected with his Office were re-produced, and unless his Department numbered among its officers one who could tell him how and why those matters were formerly disposed of, his time would be largely occupied by the consideration of frivolous cases. On the whole, he recommended his own proposal in preference to that of the hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets.
§ MR. AYRTON
asked whether the right hon. Gentleman proposed the present members should hold Office for life?
§ SIR STAFFORD NORTHCOTE
said, he did not think any object would be gained by altering the position of the present members of the Council, because retirements would be tolerably frequent, and because the Councillors had been appointed on the presumption that they would act as long as they were able.
asked whether the old arrangement by which the directors of the India Company elected seven members of the Council and the Government nominated eight, would continue?
§ LORD WILLIAM HAY
said, he would be willing to pension the present members of the Council, no matter what it cost, because he was sure the expenditure would be a cheap bargain in the interests of India. They would have a thoroughly efficient Council by getting rid of those who, in his opinion, were no longer fit for their work.
MR. J. B. SMITH
said, he was in favour of putting new blood in the Council, and suggested the expediency of occasionally appointing others than Indians, on the ground that such Councillors would look at questions from an English, and not exclusively from an Indian point of view. He thought ten years too long a term.
§ MR. AYRTON
said, that as the Secre- 1892 tary of State would not put an end to a system he admitted was bad, he proposed to take the sense of the House on the simple question whether all the members of the Council of India should not hold their office for the same term. He asked leave to withdraw his Amendment.
§ LORD WILLIAM HAY moved the omission of the following words—" shall after the passing of this Act be so elected or appointed."
§ Amendment proposed, in page 1, line 14, to leave out the words "shall after the passing of this Act, be so elected or appointed."—(Lord William Hay.)
§ Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Clause."
§ The Committee divided:—Ayes 145; Noes 109: Majority 36.
§ SIR STAFFORD NORTHCOTE
said, he thought the division which had just taken place might practically be accepted as an adoption of the principle of the clause recommended by the Government. He had no objection, however, to substitute the term of ten years for that of twelve, believing that this change would be acceptable to the majority of the Committee; and he should also be willing to accept the suggestion of the hon. Member for Taunton (Lord William Hay), that members, provided they had served or resided two years in India, should be eligible for reelection. If these Amendments were agreed to the clause might be adopted at once, and Progress could then be reported, as he understood the House was anxious to pass to other Business.
§ Clause as amended agreed to.
§ House resumed.
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again upon Thursday,