HC Deb 28 April 1876 vol 228 cc1838-77

in rising to call attention to the Correspondence on the Bengal Famine, and to move— That, in the opinion of this House, it is desirable that a Select Committee should be appointed to inquire into the circumstances of the late famine in India, and into the various systems of relief adopted, said, it was his full intention to have brought forward the question last Session. It might be thought by some that the question had now passed out of men's minds and had become a matter of history in which nothing practical could be done, and that it should have been discussed earlier if it were to be discussed at all; but an earlier discussion had been rendered difficult by delay in the delivery of the Papers, coupled with the pre-occupation of the time of the House; and, considering the interest which the country had shown in Indian subjects, he did not think it would be creditable to the House, nor just to that great Empire which was not represented in that House, if another Session were allowed to pass without attention being called to the enormous expenditure incurred in connection with the Famine. Having read a great deal in connection with the subject, he had observed that those whose duty it was to bring the matter under consideration had not done so. He had no idea of making a personal attack on any one, nor of showing that any one was to be blamed; but he thought the extraordinary divergences of opinion about the Famine, as to whether it had really existed at all, and the extraordinary systems of relief adopted rendered the subject one which deserved inquiry and which the House could not afford to pass over without any consideration at all. He could quote any number of statements of divergent views by men of high position, but he did not think it necessary to do so, as he was only asking for inquiry, and did not wish to commit himself to any conclusion or theory. The first question which arose was whether there was a famine at all in Bengal in the years 1873–4, and with regard to that, he would only refer to a few letters with the simple object of showing what were the opinions of persons in high official positions as to the prospective and actual measures required to meet the Famine in Bengal in 1873–4. They all remembered, no doubt, the interest which was taken, and the discussions which took place in this country, with respect to the anticipated Famine. It was agreed that, in face of so great a calamity, the laws of political economy, and the ordinary regulations adopted in similar cases, could not be held applicable in this particular instance. He would not say that there was a panic, but there was, he thought, an exaggerated idea prevalent as to its nature and extent. The correspondence led him to the conclusion that throughout a considerable portion of the country a famine existed. It was, however, not so extensive as was generally imagined. Having been in India in 1874 and having travelled over a considerable portion of the country in question, he had met a number of persons, including among them some persons who had access to the best information, who took a different view, and who argued that there never had been anything but what might be called a considerable scarcity in Bengal and the North-Western Provinces, and that anything like extravagant preparations for a famine were totally uncalled-for. Owing to the fact that the rain fell during the year 1873 at inconvenient and undesirable times, there was a deficiency of grain at a time when more was wanted, that deficiency not being peculiar to Bengal, but prevailing throughout the North-Western Provinces in an equal if not a greater degree. There was a very common idea among many people in this country that rice formed almost the sole food of the people of India, and that when a failure of the rice crop occurred the whole of their food supply was cut off. That, however, was not the case; and, in fact, it was a total mistake, for any one acquainted with the people of India must know that they used a great deal of pulses and grain of various kinds as food. These grain crops were grown subse- quently to the rice crop, and they largely supplemented the staple food of the people. Sufficient importance was not attached to these grain crops, and in the Patna division, at least, roots and vegetables were also an important resource in times of scarcity. It seemed to be established, then, that the population of the affected districts were not entirely dependent upon rice for their support. They had next to consider whether there was not usually grown in the distressed districts more rice than was required for those districts, and whether in fact the exports from those places were not considerable. On this point he found from the official Papers, that the distress occurred in those parts of the country where the inhabitants were in the habit in ordinary years of producing a very considerable surplus of rice for export. The people were therefore in a better position to bear the pressure of a time of failure than were the inhabitants of countries who only grew sufficient rice for their own consumption. It was a singular fact, too, that, in spite of the failure of crop which caused so much suffering and distress, the export of rice from Bengal only fell 90,000 tons, as compared with ordinary years, while at the same time the imports of grain amounted to 450,000 tons. The existence of a class of men who entered into grain speculations should not escape notice, for the Lieutenant Governor, Sir George Campbell, was very much impressed by the fact that certain traders in one of the affected districts were carrying on an extraordinarily profitable business in carrying out contracts for the Government for the carriage of grain to Calcutta, to be thence sent down to the country; and again it was found that grain was being sent to Nepaul, to be there sold at low prices or given away, while at the same time rice was being received from Nepaul, so that a double system of export and import was carried on at the same time. It was clear that although there was a deficiency in the main article of food, other articles of food were to be had in abundance, and they might, he thought, justly conclude that there was not that great necessity for interfering with the ordinary course of trade as had been supposed. It might, however, be said that this was a special calamity, and that there was a precedent on which to proceed. One great diffi- culty which existed in dealing with Indian affairs generally arose from the absence of statistics; but in this case the result justified the extraordinary accuracy of the calculation which had been made by Dr. Hunter, that about 660,000 persons would have to be fed by the Government, and that the cost for six months would be something like £400,000. Looking now at all the circumstances, from the experience that had been gained, he did not doubt that an expenditure of about £2,000,000 would have met the exigencies of the occasion as effectually as did the system which had been adopted. It was a remarkable fact that the valuable information afforded by the district officers who were scattered over all parts of India was systematically ignored; a course of proceeding especially to be deplored. The impending Famine, as was to be expected, caused great excitement in this country—an excitement which he had heard had been stimulated by the machinery used in the getting up of Joint Stock Companies—that object being to send up prices in order that speculation might be successful, and the excitement was kept up by alarmist articles appearing in the newspapers. There had been laid before the House copies of numerous telegrams that passed between the India Office in London and the Viceroy of India in reference to the question. The Viceroy, who, from his position and the fact that he was on the spot, might be supposed to have had the whole matter in hand, and know more of the circumstances of the impending Famine than could be known at home, proposed the adoption of a moderate course, but it was urged upon him by the India Office to spend more money in the purchase of grain, and to take stronger measures than he really thought necessary, in order to meet the difficulty that was coming upon a part of the Empire which had been committed to his charge. The Secretary of State, it seemed, was entertaining a proposition for purchasing 950,000 tons of rice; whilst, in the end, the whole quantity bought by the Indian Government was 450,000 tons, and of this there turned out after to be a surplus of 100,000 tons. Such transactions as these would of course seriously raise the price of rice. The Secretary of State also wanted to purchase Indian corn to be sent to Calcutta. These things showed the extra- ordinary state of panic which existed at the India Office; and it continued after the change of Government. So matters proceeded until it became necessary in the face of actual danger to take prompt steps, and then, for what reason he had never been able to ascertain, the Viceroy departed from the course he had up to that time maintained to be the wisest. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Kirkcaldy (Sir George Campbell), who had been Lieutenant Governor of Bengal, would probably be able to give the House some information as to the state of things that existed in Bengal and the North-West Provinces at the time to which he was referring. Up to January, 1874, the state of things in the North-West Provinces and in Bengal had been very similar; but rain came, and was a considerable benefit to the country at large. When February came there was a complete change, because the rains had been more beneficial than was expected; yet the Government, notwithstanding, settled a very considerable system of relief in that country. No one could read the Papers without seeing that Lord Northbrook and Sir George Campbell were resisting the enormous estimates which were being thrust upon them by the Government, and were doing all in their power to keep them down. There were documents which showed that Sir Richard Temple, having been deputed to go down to Behar to investigate the matter, arrived at a conclusion, at the end of 24 hours, which threw over all the previous calculations as to the number of persons who would require relief, and the amount of grain that would be necessary for their nourishment during the continuance of the Famine. Sir Richard Temple's estimate was that 4,000,000 maunds of rice of 80 lbs. would be required; but that estimate was cut down by Sir George Campbell to about 1,500,000 maunds, showing that he was not affected by the panic, and that he tried to do the best he could in the way of economy. What the Lieutenant Governor got for this interference was a letter from the deputy Secretary to the Government of India, which expressed disappointment that the local officers had so long neglected the wants of the country, and which supported Sir Richard Temple in recommending that there should be 4,000,000 maunds of grain. Consequently, Sir Richard Temple was able to carry out his system. It might have been a wise system or not, but it was a fit question for investigation as to whether the money had been rightly or wrongly expended. With regard to the steps which were taken in the North-West Provinces, the authorities there showed themselves alive to the importance of dealing with the subject, and laid down rules for relief with respect to the employment of labour, and gratuitous relief to persons incapable of labour. The principle was, that every person who could work should be obliged to work, and that those who professed to be unable to work should be placed in a position where they could not take advantage of the Government aid unless it was absolutely necessary, every care being taken that the expenses should be kept down. What, however, were the steps which were taken when the Bengal Famine was advancing to full swing? The first step which the Government took, as he had said, was to purchase grain to the extent of 450,000 tons. Of that quantity 100,000 were left, and it was impossible to say what was done with the 350,000 tons. Dr. Hunter calculated that 660,000 people would require to be fed by the Government per week on an average for six months; what was the number of people who were fed by the Government? In March the average number per week was 23,000; in June, 404,000; in August, for one week, or perhaps one day only, 750,000; and then the numbers declined steadily until in October there were only 100,000 persons who were being fed by the Government. So that Dr. Hunter's estimate was considerably above rather than below the mark; but even if 660,000 had been required to be fed for six months, their rations would only have amounted to £396,000, whilst the Government had expended £4,400,000 in the purchase of grain. Not only was food given to those who required it in the distressed districts, but people were attracted from other parts, so that they might live at the Government expense during the rainy season. Surely these facts afforded some grounds for investigation into this matter. And if the expenditure in the purchase of grain was not satisfactory, still less was the Government transport efficient. Sir Richard Temple did not appear to have formed a due estimate of the various means and facilities for transport which were at his disposal in the new circumstances with which he had to deal. One of the greatest mistakes was, that he absolutely insisted on getting all the grain on the spot before the commencement of the rains; whereas a great saving might have been effected if the grain had been kept back until Nature provided facilities for transport. Then there was the unaccountable reduction of railway fares by one half, whereby more was taken out of the pockets of the railway companies in the first place, and then out of the pockets of the Government to recoup the railway companies the guaranteed interest. He now came to perhaps the most important part of this subject—namely, the relief works. It was almost impossible to deal temperately with the relief works, the expense of which they would never know, or be able to form an estimate of the amount of gross extravagance that was practised whilst they were in operation. In Bengal the object was to get the people on the relief works, and officers who endeavoured to apply tests to the applicants got snubbed for their pains. He should have thought the course of a prudent Government would have been the opposite of that. People in parts of the country where Famine did not exist emigrated to the Famine district to be put on the relief works, because they were attracted by the rations and the high wages given there. At one time the local labourers employed on the relief works were only a tenth of those employed on them. People came in crowds to the relief works, under the idea that money was to be given away by the Government, whether the people worked or not. Little or no work was done at the relief works, people putting in an appearance simply to secure their wages. The real description of these relief works was to be found in the history of the relief works for the North-West Provinces, and Sir John Stracey found the rate of wages so high there that the works became excessively popular, and the people looked on the whole concern as a gigantic picnic. In order to get rid of the difficulty the rate of wages was reduced, upon which a considerable reduction of people attending them took place, the number of 127,000 men employed upon them in the first instance being reduced to 39,000. A very disgraceful waste of public money also took place in the advances in grain and money. The grain was distributed with a lavish hand. Anyone who wanted it was able to obtain it; at a very early period of the Famine 187,000 maunds were given away, without any certainty as to its application. The dealers abandoned the grain trade, because they were enabled to make a better thing of it by obtaining grain from the Government and selling it to the people. Seed was also distributed on loan to the ryots for seed purposes, which, according to Sir Richard Temple, would have to be repaid in 1875 and 1876 at 100 per cent increase of cost over the prices of 1874. It seemed extraordinary that the Government should have made advances of grain at such an extraordinary rate, but he doubted if the Government would receive a penny of it back. Advances of money were made in a very lavish manner. Every one who represented that he wanted money to carry out some local improvement got it, and £500,000 had been so expended without any guarantee of its being so expended. In fact, Sir Richard Temple had admitted that he could not say whether the money was expended for that purpose or not. [Lord George Hamilton: Will the hon. Member give me the reference for that?] The hon. Member, pointing out the page in the Blue Book from which he was quoting, said, that Sir Richard Temple there admitted that it was impossible to say how many persons derived assistance from the advances in question. Then, again, the expedition of Sir Richard Temple into Behar was an extraordinary proceeding, and according to his account the mules were only able to carry sufficient grain for their own consumption in going there and back, and he proceeded to say that the influx of so many men and animals into the Famine district was obviously bad policy, for they must have consumed more food than they were able to take into the country. However, they made the expedition, consumed the grain, and returned. The same extravagance was kept up after the Famine had passed away, both in the supply of grain and the employment of the people on the public works; and it was most strongly felt by men of experience that the expenditure incurred at the worst period of the Famine was not so much open to criticism as that which was continued for a considerable time after the pressure was said to have ceased, and caused a greater amount of surplus supplies to remain at the end of the Famine than was at all necessary or desirable. As by the Rules of the House he had not the right of reply, he could only try to surmise the answer which the noble Lord would give. He should, no doubt, be told that the matter would be investigated in India, that being the proper place for it to be done; but having been in India a few months after the Famine had passed over, he did not believe that a sufficiently important number of persons could be found to conduct the inquiry, because the people from the highest to the lowest were divided into "Faminists" and "anti-Faminists," and were as distinctly and clearly known as Whig and Tory in this country. Another reason for not relegating the inquiry to India was that of late years English interest in that country had greatly increased, a warm sympathy had been felt here in connection with this matter, and Englishmen had subscribed largely for the relief of the suffering. On behalf of the people both of India and England then, it was only just and sufficient that such an independent tribunal as the House of Commons should investigate this very serious expenditure. It might be said that such a course would not be respectful to the Government of India, and that it would involve a certain amount of censure on it. But such considerations as that did not prevent us from inquiring into the conduct of affairs in the Crimea and into the expenditure incurred in the Abyssinian War. Our Indian fellow-subjects were not represented in this House, and as long as the Government of India was conducted, necessarily perhaps, in the high-handed way in which it was, the people of that country had a right to require, when there was reason to suppose that their resources had been injudiciously and lavishly expended, that we should show the same zeal in inquiring into the subject as if we ourselves were immediately concerned. He, therefore, hoped the noble Lord the Under Secretary for India would give an assurance that the subject should be thoroughly investigated by a Committee of that House; and, in doing so, he would confer not only a benefit on India for the future, but give great satisfaction to the people of India at the present time. Famines in India were not exceptional, every few years they recurred, and it was not to be supposed that every 10 or 15 years Indian finances would stand an expenditure of £9,000,000 or £10,000,000. The next time there was a Famine in India there might be too great a zeal for economy and the people might die. He wished to avoid the two extremes, and from such an inquiry as he proposed we might obtain information which might be found most useful in such an emergency. He begged, in conclusion, to move the Motion of which he had given Notice.


said, he agreed with the hon. Member for Tynemouth (Mr. T. E. Smith) that an inquiry into the matter was desirable, and he was so much concerned in it that he trusted the House would bear with him in the statement he desired to make. He was prepared to second the Motion that a Committee of this House should be entrusted with the investigation, although he arrived at his conclusions from a different course of reasoning than that pursued by the hon. Gentleman. He thought an inquiry of some kind was necessary in order to set at rest the doubts which existed, which had taken an extreme form in India, and were very much shared in this country, and also to arrive at some conclusion for our guidance in future cases, so as to avoid the extremes of over-provision or neglect. If an illustration of the desirability of relieving the public mind on the subject was necessary, it would be found in the speech of his hon. Friend who, having taken a great interest in the matter and having acquired a great deal of information, had indulged in a great many fallacies which it was desirable by some inquiry to remove. For himself he could say that, so far from preferring to make a one-sided statement in that House, his desire was to be, as it were, turned inside out by a competent Committee, and he believed that from that and other evidence attainable the truth might be reached and the doubts which now existed set at rest. From what he could learn, however, he was afraid the noble Lord opposite (Lord George Hamilton) was not likely to grant this Committee, and he must make the best statement he could. In making his statement he would very much prefer to confine himself to public matters, and to leave matters of a personal nature altogether out of the narrative. But he feared that was impossible. The principal facts in relation to this matter were patent to anybody who would inquire into them with a calm and equal mind. During the Famine he received great public sympathy, which was very grateful to him; but since then the public view had taken an opposite turn. Many things had been said which required an answer from him, and it had even been suggested that there never was any serious Famine at all. If that was a correct view, then he (Sir George Campbell) had been guilty of great exaggeration, and must do what he could to clear himself, he having been in the beginning very much responsible for the views put forth as to the Famine in Bengal. His experience in India with regard to Famines convinced him that grave mistakes had been committed—on the one hand, in failing to appreciate the approach of Famine, in neglecting the warnings of local officers, and trusting too much to rigid rules of political economy; and on the other, in exaggerating the extent of Famine. An illustration of the former mistake was furnished by the Orissa Famine. Yet when the mistake was found out the other extreme was gone to; after that Famine was over, enormous supplies of grain were sent in when not wanted, and great quantities of it rotted, or it was sold off at a small price. During his administration in Bengal he had occasion rather to repress than encourage appeals to the Government for aid. He had found that by a kind of re-action there was a disposition to exaggerate the symptoms of scarcity, and that money was obtained to carry on public works on the plea that Famine was approaching, whereas those Famines never came. In 1873, when the approach of Famine appeared to him to be really probable, he did not rush into the belief that a great Famine was approaching, but appreciated the necessity of careful inquiry so as to avoid alarmist measures on the one hand and neglect on the other. Besides, he was one of those who did not take a very sanguine view of the finances of India, believing that economy in their administration was highly necessary.

It was in that spirit and with these views that he approached the probability of scarcity in 1873. He endeavoured to obtain the best possible information from the moment when the failure of the rains occurred; and in order to effect that purpose every officer in Bengal was at once set to work to furnish it. This was attended with considerable difficulty, because there were not the same means of procuring statistical information as existed in other parts of the country; and no doubt in regard to the existence of stocks of grain and other matters the information obtained was necessarily somewhat deficient. But with regard to the amount of the failure of the crop at the end of 1873, the information was in the end as complete for practical purposes as it possibly could be. Indeed, the Reports on the subject filled dozens of volumes. Coming next to the facts of the failure, he could not help observing that the hon. Member for Tynemouth appeared to think the North Western Provinces were to be taken as a standard in regard to Bengal. It was absurd, however, to say that because there was not a Famine in one country therefore there was not in the other. It would be as reasonable to say that because there was no Famine in Wales there could be none in Ireland. As the hon. Member had correctly stated, the people of different parts of India lived on different kinds of grain, and the true explanation of the Famine in Bengal which occurred in 1873–4 was this—that it was solely and distinctly a rice Famine. In the districts where the people were in the habit of subsisting on rice there was a Famine, and in the districts where they more used other grain there was not a Famine but only a certain degree of scarcity. The wet districts suffered more than the dry districts, where different kinds of crops were grown. The dry crops came to maturity. The circumstances in the two cases were totally different. In describing the nature of the failure of the crops in Bengal he would first remark that the rains were not only short, but that they failed almost entirely at the latter part of the season, when the rice crops depend entirely on seasonable rains. The failure of rain in September and October, 1873, was greater than any on record. The position in October and November was as follows:—A failure of rain had occurred to such an extent that in many parts of the country the rice crops were absolutely dead and gone. It was evident, therefore, that there must be a considerable Famine; but beyond that, they could not ascertain the probable results in those parts of the country where the crops were yet doubtful. There was, however, the gravest reason to apprehend that the Famine might have much wider limits than were at that time certain, and there was also the further fear that the winter crops could not be sown with any probability of germinating, in consequence of the dryness of the ground. He knew, however, from experience the necessity for discounting alarm, and he did so. He decided to wait and see how far the Famine would go. He exercised the greatest caution, and the event proved that he exercised it rightly, for, by the blessing of Providence, things turned out more favourably than might have been expected. What saved them to a very great extent was that the cold weather crops did germinate, and came to maturity in a way that nobody had expected. Although there was at the commencement some uncertainty as to what the extent of the Famine would be, still as the season progressed they ascertained the facts, so far as the crops were concerned, with almost absolute correctness, and he believed the statistics on that head furnished by Sir Richard Temple, although the hon. Member for Tynemouth had doubted them, were as correct as anything of the kind possibly could be. He showed that a failure of the crops to the extent of seven-eighths, five-sixths, and three-fourths occurred in an area affecting 12,000,000 of people, and that it was impossible their lives could be saved without the aid of the Government. That there was an extensive failure would be made clear, he felt satisfied, if the proposed Committee were granted, and a few gentlemen were examined before it.

The failure, then, being an undoubted fact, what was the action of the Government in dealing with it? A great deal had been said with regard to the differences of opinion on the subject between the Viceroy and himself, but those differences, he could assure the House, had been greatly exaggerated. It was true there was some difference of opinion between them on economic questions, but those differences were such as must always occur, and both the Viceroy and himself might take credit for having devoted themselves honestly to the necessities of the case, and permitted no differences of the kind he had mentioned to prevent them from working together for the common good. No doubt the Viceroy interfered more in the matter than was usually the case. Generally the carrying out of the necessary measures was left to the local Governor, but in this case, as soon as Lord Northbrook became aware of the extreme urgency of the matter, he took a large personal control over it, which was creditable to him. Still, if he was to have the credit of what was successful in the management of the matter, it was only fair he should also take his due share of any blame which might attach to any failures which might have occurred in dealing with the Famine. He might add that there was an important difference between the Viceroy and himself in regard to the export question. He (Sir George Campbell) proposed that the export of grain should be prohibited; but the Viceroy at once negatived that proposition on the ground that it was contrary to the laws of political economy and free trade. There was no argument permitted on the subject, and it involved considerations into which it was impossible to enter on the present occasion. He could only say that he entirely adhered to the opinion which he had expressed as to the prohibitions being reasonable under the circumstances. As a matter of fact the principle of free trade was not carried out to its fullest extent, for the Government took upon itself functions which the laws of political economy would not cast upon it, and, those laws having been so far violated, the only question was what form of violation was best to be done to save the lives of the people. He, for one, looked upon it as quite an unnatural proceeding that large fleets of ships carrying large quantities of grain out of the river Hooghly should be crossed by other ships bringing in large quantities of grain purchased on behalf of the Government. During the Famine some 220,000 tons of grain were exported from the Hooghly, an amount which would alone, he believed, have sufficed to keep the starving people of the starving Provinces, with- out any importation on the part of the Government. He maintained that the advantages of the prohibition of the export of corn would have been direct and immediate, and that by that means an enormous expenditure, as well as great derangement of trade, would have been prevented. Besides, all classes in India were agreed that exportation should be prohibited, and he was entirely unable to see that any practical evils would have resulted from that course.

He now came to the measures which had been actually taken in dealing with the Famine, and he would observe at the outset that he did not think he could be fairly accused of having exaggerated the evil in its early stages. In order to show that his statements were not extreme or unduly alarming, he would ask hon. Members to refer to the messages he sent home, and which were published in the Blue Books, from the earliest blush of the impending Famine, and from which it might be seen that he took a moderate view of the matter from the outset. What happened was this—that in the early part of the Famine he took a somewhat graver view of the danger than was taken by the Government of India; but later on the Government of India took a graver view of it than he did. They thought a greater expenditure necessary, and they were much more liberal than he considered the circumstances demanded. His original demand of credit to the amount of £500,000 was refused—the Government considering that there was at that time no clear necessity for that sum, though at the same time allowing him a wide licence. Looking to the subsequent expenditure he thought his original demand was not an excessive sum. As regarded food he asked first for 70,000 tons, and that was supplied. He asked later on for 75,000 more, and ultimately it was recommended that 200,000 tons in all should be sent to the Famine districts. That was a good deal less than half what the Government of India thought proper to send, and therefore his demands were not exorbitant. He obtained all the information he could; but in the meantime public opinion in this country was becoming excited about India, and that feeling, no doubt, influenced the Government above all things to secure the safety of the people. The orders of the Govern- ment consequently were entirely on the side of excessive liberality. In his opinion, the failure to prohibit the exportation of grain had very much to do with the excessive expenditure and provision that were gone into, as the Government felt very much the responsibility thrown on them by that refusal. Sir Richard Temple, who succeeded him as Governor of Bengal, made estimates much higher than had been made before, but considering the orders he had from the Government at home, this could hardly be matter of surprise. At the same time, he considered that he (Sir George Campbell) had better means of information than any Secretary of State could have sending orders from a distance, and that if the matter had been left to him on his responsibility, he would have managed with a much smaller supply than the Home Government thought necessary. The Government of India acted on the orders they received from home, and both the Viceroy and Sir Richard Temple did their duty in a manner which entitled them to the thanks of the country. It was true that some European gentlemen engaged in the carriage of supplies to the Famine districts made large fortunes, but that circumstance was perhaps inevitable from the excessive provision of grain which the Indian Government thought it necessary to make. By the ordinary means of transport 200,000 tons of grain, which he himself judged sufficient to meet the case, might have been distributed; but he was quite willing to admit that, if it was well to take such measures of precaution as the Government of India had done, it was necessary to provide extraordinary means of carriage. After all, there were great interests at stake, and although the expenditure might seem extravagant, yet if they were to compare famine with war, and to consider the saving of life as important as destroying it, they would find there was not so much extravagance in the management of the Bengal Famine as in the Abyssinian War, and the cost of the former was less than that of the latter. Before leaving the country in March, 1874, he made a tour through the worst of the districts, and actually saw for himself that a Famine was existing which, but for the steps taken by Government, must have resulted in acute suffering, and great loss of life. Happily that calamity had been averted, and, looking at all the circumstances of the case, it was a little hard that people should now turn round and say there was never any danger of a Famine at all.


remarked that he simply expressed a belief that the danger of Famine was confined to certain districts. He did not deny that a Famine existed.


said, his observation applied to assertions made by other people, but his hon. Friend had certainly attempted to convey the impression that the danger was less serious than was generally supposed, and in fact his argument went a long way towards attenuating and minimising it. Whatever the judgment of the House and the country might now be, he must again say that he was sure, the policy apart, the energy and devotion which the Viceroy, Sir Richard Temple, and the executive officers brought to bear on their task would be universally acknowledged. A very large proportion of the officers employed were competition civilians, and no class of men could have shown greater vigour and zeal in the public service. For the excessive expenditure which had been incurred, public opinion was, perhaps, after all, most to blame. After he had left, the Government sent 458,000 tons of food—more than double what he had thought necessary. 334,000 tons were expended in various ways, and 120,000 tons remained as a surplus not needed. The facts as they now appeared seemed to justify the general concurrence of opinion that his (Sir George Campbell's) own estimates would have been sufficient to meet the Famine, and save the lives of the people. He might, perhaps, be allowed in self-justification to say that if he had been allowed to have his own way there would have been a saving of 50 per cent in the expenditure, the question of prohibiting exports apart, and if he had been allowed to prohibit the export of grain, very much more of the expense incurred would have been saved. He did not blame those who took another view of the matter; but he thought the House should be careful how they allowed public opinion in this country to run into excesses with the money of India. He had no doubt that if the disbursements on account of the Indian Famine had had to be paid by this country the Government would not have had the smallest hesitation in granting a Committee of Inquiry. However generous they in this country might be in any matter for which they had to bear the cost, it was generally found when the bill came in that they were of a more frugal mind, and bestowed on the expenditure an amount of discussion and of criticism which might lead to greater prudence in the future. But there was no House of Commons in India, and no means of thus overhauling the accounts, and therefore he was inclined to support the present Motion for an inquiry by a Committee. It was to be remarked that the correspondence on that subject had ended without the enunciation of any general principles by the Secretary of State for their guidance in future cases. He thought they should restrain their generosity by providing only for those calamities and contingencies which were probable. If they were to provide not merely for probable but for possible contingencies, doubtless the provision which had been made in that instance was not too much. If another failure had occurred in Bengal—and certainly that was possible—they would have required all the provision which had been made. But it was not probable that there would be a second failure, and some general principle should be laid down by a central authority for their future guidance as to whether they should provide for a merely possible and extreme necessity, or only for probable contingencies. A great responsibility was thrown upon the local officials; and he felt that while they should be left free to act according to circumstances, and with a full sense of their responsibility, they should feel that so long as they did their duty they would be supported both by the Home Government and the Government of India. They should avoid going to either extreme in such cases, and he thought the Orissa Famine must be held on the one hand as an example of the evils of making no provision, and the Bengal Famine, on the other hand, as to some degree a warning against making an excessive provision.

As to the executive officers, who had undergone great privations in conducting in the hot season the campaign against famine, they had been somewhat hardly used, and their services had not been sufficiently recognized. The Government had been influenced in some degree by the feeling that the provision for the Famine had been somewhat overdone; but those executive officers, in carrying out the policy of the Government, had done their duty most nobly; and it was only right and fitting that their labours should be thoroughly appreciated and acknowledged. In India there was a feeling that this had not been done. Among a large class of officers in Bengal there existed an impression that they had been hardly dealt with for not foreseeing the approach of the Orissa Famine, and that was the origin to a great extent of what was called the Anti-Famine School referred to by the hon. Member for Tynemouth. For himself, if an inquiry should now be instituted before a Committee, he, as having had a large concern in that matter, would willingly submit himself to the fullest cross-examination, and afford every information in his power. That, he thought, would be far better than an imperfect statement made to the House by an hon. Member who, like himself, was comparatively new to public discussion, and who could not in the form of a speech put the subject before the House in so clear a light as he desired.

Amendment proposed, To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "in the opinion of this House, it is desirable that a Select Committee be appointed to inquire into the circumstances of the late famine in India, and into the various systems of relief adopted,"—(Mr. Eustace Smithy,) —instead thereof.


said, he thought the hon. Member for Tynemouth (Mr. T. E. Smith) had done good service by bringing that question forward, because it would convince the people of India that the House of Commons recognized the services of those who had been acting in the manner described by the last speaker, while it would also show that the House took a great interest in all that affected the welfare of the population of that great dependency. At the same time, he could not support the Motion for a Committee to inquire into the circumstances of the Bengal Famine and the various systems of relief which had been adopted. It was quite out of the question that a Committee of that House, sitting thousands of miles from the scene of action, could either give any practical advice to future Viceroys, or lay down any general principle on which famines should be managed in future years. Those famines must be dealt with by the Viceroy and the officers on the spot, according to the special circumstances under which they arose, and a Famine in Orissa, for example, would be wholly different from one in the Punjab. He thought they should leave the Viceroy as much as possible to manage India; at least every Secretary of State should recognize the propriety of ruling that great country as little as possible by telegram. With reference to the extraordinary expenditure incurred for the Famine, he must say, from the telegrams received in this country at the time and the remarks made upon them, great alarm was felt both here and in India, and the Viceroy was urged to do everything that could be done to save the lives of our Indian fellow-subjects. When any great calamity occurred in India the Natives were apathetic, and the Government alone could do any practical good. That was one of our greatest difficulties in India. We had felt it in the case of the Orissa Famine, and it was a difficulty which, if not increasing, was, at any rate, not diminishing. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Kirkcaldy seemed to think that the local Government should, on the occurrence of such a calamity, be left to manage affairs itself. He (Mr. Onslow), on the other hand, thought it mattered little who was Lieutenant Governor of Bengal or the Punjab; the Viceroy should be responsible for everything that occurred, for it was to him that Parliament and the country looked. Therefore, it was imperative that the Viceroy should go into the details of every case and see that his orders were carried out. During the whole time he had been in India the hon. Gentleman the Member for Kirkcaldy had done very great service, and the Viceroy could not have found a better man to succeed him than Sir Richard Temple. The latter gentleman was a most energetic administrator, and though, perhaps, his estimates might have been a little coloured, yet it was far better he should have erred on that side, than that the Viceroy should have stinted the supply to the famine-stricken districts. We must always more or less expect the recurrence of such calamities in India. There was a great scarcity every three or four years, and a famine every six or seven years. We had gained experience by these calamities. It must be left to the officers on the spot to inform the Viceroy exactly how matters stood. We could not rely upon the Natives; we must rely only on ourselves. With respect to this particular Famine, it was easy to judge after the event. The officers connected with the famine-stricken districts gave for the time-being the best advice they could. They reported that there was a famine—there might be a very serious famine, and it was incumbent on the House and the Secretary of State for India to urge on the Viceroy the necessity of saving every life he could. For this these millions were spent, and thus Lord Northbrook had gained a great success. He could only hope, should another famine occur in that country, we might have such another Viceroy as Lord Northbrook on the spot, and two such Lieutenants as Sir George Campbell and Sir Richard Temple.


said, he differed from the opinion of the hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Onslow), and thought that, having regard to the very great expenditure in this case, it was essential that a Committee should be appointed, and it would be strange indeed if it were refused, when the hon. Gentleman the Member for Kirkcaldy himself, who acknowledged his responsibility in the matter, had seconded the Motion. He admitted that the Viceroy should be master; but in this case the Viceroy was not master. He was urged against his own judgment by telegrams from day to day, bearing the character of haughtiness and dictation, from the Secretary of State. It was clear the expenditure in India had been trebled because there was alarm in Downing Street, for the estimate made by Sir Richard Temple was three times as great as that made by the Lieutenant Governor of Bengal, and provided for nine months, instead of only for three, without looking, as the Lieutenant Governor had done, to the prospect of the growing crops in Behar. He believed that a great deal of money had been wasted in useless expenditure, and they had the authority of Sir Richard Temple himself that £500,000 had been expended for which there was no voucher whatever. Surely here in itself was a sufficient reason for inquiry. He believed that it had been in the case of the Indian, as it had been in the case of the Irish Famine, that a considerable portion of the money intended for the relief of the people never reached them, but had in its passage been intercepted by other people. The principal allegations calling for inquiry were four—namely, that there had been excessive expenditure in the face of the best knowledge; that men were extravagantly employed on relief works; that there had been reckless advances and no returns; and that in the matter of transport, European speculators had enriched themselves at the expense of the Government, which in some cases, it was stated, had to pay twelve times as much as if there had been no panic. He believed that from the first there had been an ample supply of food for the people, but the result of the panic in Downing Street was that the price of food went up so high that, taking into account the price of transport, it cost them from £10 to £12 a-ton, and that, or the surplus of it, they had afterwards to sell at £2 15s. per ton. Again, when they employed the people, they gave four times the ordinary rate of wages, and the result was, that in order to gain by it, the inhabitants of districts in which there was no scarcity whatever, crowded into those where it was supposed to be, for the sake of getting the higher wages. In the same way the native carriers were induced to raise the price of transport. The strongest reason, however, for inquiry was, that India was a country of recurring famines, and it would be prudent to settle the principles on which they should be dealt with in future. It was necessary for a Committee of the House of Commons to do it, because India was divided into two parties, the Famine party and the anti-Famine party, and their partizanship rendered it difficult for them to concur in any common plan of action. For these reasons, he supported the inquiry that was asked for.


said, he was in favour of the inquiry asked for by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Tynemouth (Mr. T. E. Smith), not for the purpose of bringing to light the faults and mistakes which might have been committed by men who were surrounded with difficulties at a most critical period, but with a view to the devising of means to prevent the future recurrence of famine. The amount, too, expended to meet the emergency, although it certainly was not so much as the amount stated by the hon. Member, and probably no more than £6,778,000, the sum put down in the Indian Budget, was nevertheless so great as to justify the proposal of a Committee of Inquiry, in order that it might be ascertained how far the expenditure was justified by the occasion, and whether it had been applied in the right direction and in the proper way kept under control. The great object of the inquiry, however, would be to search out, from the records, the information as to the various famines which had in the past destroyed so many millions of people in India, with a view to devise measures for the prevention of famine in the future, as far as that most desirable end could be accomplished. He had himself seen what famine was in the Madras Presidency 40 years ago, and he knew that, owing to the course which had since been adopted in the Madras Presidency, he was proud to say that the famines which occurred about every five years formerly were now almost unknown there. This was entirely traceable to the great improvement and extension of irrigration works, mainly through the efforts of that Indian benefactor, Arthur Cotton. No doubt, in Madras, scarcity was sometimes experienced, but not famine. There was a great difference between a famine and a scarcity. In both cases distress undoubtedly was caused; but a famine fell upon a whole tract of country, in a manner of which no one could have any idea who had not had practical experience. He therefore hoped that the inquiry would be granted in order that they might be enabled to determine the best mode in which they should act when the visitation came. Inquiry was required, also, for this reason—that there was great diversity of opinion among officials in India on the subject of the treatment of the Bengal Famine, and the disputes and differences which prevailed in India would be set at rest, he believed, by the Report of a Committee of the House of Commons. An important head of inquiry would be the nature of the works to be undertaken for the opening up of Bengal, in order that the mistakes, which had been formerly committed by confiding this vast and productive area to a body of zemindars, but little, if at all, interested in the development of its resources or in the well-being of the people, might be ascertained so as to enable the evils the refrom to be thereafter avoided. Another point well worthy of consideration was with respect to the powers conferred on officers in India. There could be no doubt that a conflict of authority between the Viceroy and Lieutenant Governor of Bengal had arisen, and it was very desirable to have some investigation as to the respective duties and responsibilities of these high officers. There was also another subject which well deserved attention, and that was the attempt to feed multitudes of starving men, women, and children, by giving them work in fixed localities. In his opinion it was much better that they should keep the people together in their several villages, ready to be engaged on the home works when the time came for cultivating their fields. No commissariat in the world could suffice to feed such enormous multitudes of people as any extensive famine would throw on their hands under the system recently followed of collecting large masses of people on public works. In the Bengal Famine he thought the Government had acted on the whole with great prudence and judgment; though he must say a month was wasted by the Indian Government after the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy had called attention to the marked failure in the rains, and to the famine that was threatening. The truth was that the Government of India were not fully alive to the gravity of the situation. The present occasion appeared suitable to invite attention to the great crisis which at present existed in Indian administration, and to urge the fullest investigation into every branch of the vast affairs of that country. No one who looked at the effect of the very serious losses by the depreciated exchange in silver, and on the present most unsatisfactory relations between Indian income and expenditure, could fail to be apprehensive for the future of that country, and for that reason, and for the various other reasons already stated, he asked the noble Lord opposite to assent to the appointment of a Committee, which, if properly constituted, could not fail to elicit useful information, and by their Report produce good results.


in reply, said, all the hon. Gentlemen who had hitherto addressed the House had spoken in favour of the appointment of a Committee, but it appeared to him that they had answered one another. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Tynemouth (Mr. T. E. Smith), who introduced the Motion, very frankly stated why he did so. The hon. Gentleman had travelled in India, and had come in contact with a good many people who were somewhat sceptical as to the existence of the Famine in 1874. But although the hon. Gentleman did not quite share that belief, yet he adduced arguments to show that the preparations made by the Government of India to meet the emergency were on an unnecessarily large scale, and that we might have been content in Bengal with similar preparations to those which were made in the North-Western Provinces. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Kirkcaldy (Sir George Campbell), who followed, utterly demolished the greater part of the arguments brought forward by the hon. Member for Tynemouth. Speaking with an authority and experience to which he (Lord George Hamilton) could not pretend, the hon. Gentleman the Member for Kirkcaldy showed, beyond the possibility of contradiction, that there was a terrible calamity overhanging Bengal, and that if the Government had not exerted themselves there would have been a tremendous loss of life. The hon. Gentleman said there had not been a famine of similar dimensions for 100 years; in fact, since that of 1770. The hon. Gentleman stated his opinion, however, that the appointment of a Committee would be advantageous, inasmuch as it might arrive at general conclusions which might hereafter be useful. He would deal with that matter by-and-by; but, at present, he only wished to point out, as he had remarked before, that the general arguments and reasons advanced by the hon. Member for Tynemouth were entirely demolished by the hon. Gentleman who seconded his Motion. Let hon. Members remember what was the prevalent feeling at the General Election of 1874 as regarded the impending Bengal Famine. On no other question which was brought before the constituencies was there such unanimity of feeling, not only among the constituencies themselves, but also amongst the candidates. There was a general feeling of nervous apprehension that the Indian Government would not be able to contend with the approaching Famine, arising from the recollection of the recent calamity in Orissa, which had been dealt with on Malthusian principles. On that occasion nearly 1,400,000 of our fellow-subjects died of starvation. That naturally caused a revulsion of feeling which expressed itself the louder because the pending Famine was approaching the most populous part of our Indian Empire—a part which, with the exception of Barbadoes, was perhaps the most densely-populated country in the world. A similar calamity had overtaken Bengal in 1770, on which occasion it was difficult to estimate the loss of life; but there could be little doubt that it might be fairly estimated at tens of millions. Well, it was the unanimous opinion of the constituencies in 1874 that it would be a lasting shame and disgrace if such a calamity should again occur. Shortly after the General Election there was a change of Government, and his noble Friend (the Marquess of Salisbury) being appointed Secretary of State for India at once set to work to read the mass of official documents relating to the Indian Famine. In a few days his noble Friend was able to express his approval of the course which had been adopted by Lord Northbrook, from whom he differed on only one point. His noble Friend thought the surplus amount of food was not sufficient, and accordingly he directed the Indian Government to largely increase it. The estimate of the number of people to be relieved had largely increased in the previous few months and no corresponding increase in the quantity of food had been made. His noble Friend gave the instructions, because he thought there was a likelihood of the Famine lasting more than one year, and he therefore thought it advisable to increase the supply of food, deeming it better to incur some risk in expenditure of money than loss of life. With that single exception the present Secretary of State gave his support to measures which had been adopted by the previous Government. A Correspondence was carried on between his noble Friend and the Indian Government who, on the 24th of April, expressed their sincere acknowledgments of the approval, which his noble Friend had conveyed to them, of the policy that had been pursued. They concluded by stating that, though they had not considered it necessary to altogether comply with the request made by the India Office, yet they had increased the quantity of grain in order to meet the contingency contemplated by his noble Friend. When he heard the hon. Gentleman the Member for Tynemouth attacking the Secretaries of State for telegraphing from the India Office and insinuating that the Duke of Argyll had negotiated for the purchase of 950,000 tons of rice, it seemed to him that the hon. Gentleman's commercial knowledge had for the moment left him. The only object of that telegram was to convey to the Indian Government a statement which had been made to him to the effect that that quantity of rice could be procured. There was obviously a vast difference between making a statement and giving an order. He would remind the House that when Parliament met, in 1874, the subject of the Bengal Famine was referred to in the Speech from the Throne, and the Address, in reply, stated that— We humbly assure your Majesty that we join in your Majesty's regret that the drought of last summer has produced scarcity amounting to actual famine in some parts of your Majesty's Indian Empire, and that we learn with satisfaction that your Majesty has directed the Governor General of India to spare no cost in striving to mitigate this terrible calamity. This language, however, was not strong enough to meet the wishes of some hon. Members, and an Amendment was moved with respect to that passage. On the same night, he (Lord George Hamilton) introduced a Bill for a loan of £10,000,000 to be raised on account of the Famine, and he would state one fact which proved what was the state of feeling then existing in the House. The hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite the Member for Kincardine (Sir George Balfour) said that the Government ought to borrow, not £10,000,000, but £15,000,000, and that indicated what was the opinion of the House and the country. What were the facts? The Indian Government for four months previously had been investigating the subject, in order to ascertain as accurately as possible the dimensions of the impending calamity. They found that the area of the territory which had been threatened by famine amounted to 88,000 square miles, containing a population of 42,000,000. He was, however, himself soon able to inform the House that after those estimates were received, more reliable data were obtained by the Indian Government, and no serious apprehensions were entertained as to any of the districts south of the Ganges. Scarcity was, no doubt, certain to prevail there and in the North-Western Provinces; but the Famine, it was found, would be exclusively confined to the districts in Bengal, north of the Ganges, between that river and Nepaul. He stated, however, as a reason, why they should take active steps, that the population of the threatened district was the most dense in the world, not excepting Belgium; and yet in Bengal, with a population of 66,000,000, there were only two towns—Calcutta and Patna—with a population exceeding 100,000 souls, the mass of these village communities depending for their livelihood on agriculture alone. The greatest difficulty lay in the inaccessibility of this district, which was accessible only from the south, and it contained very few Government officials to cope with the impending famine. The statements made by the Secretary for India in the other House in some measure re-assured public opinion, but very great anxiety was still manifested, and for the next two months a perfect torrent of questions was showered upon him (Lord George Hamilton) with the view to see if he could give any further information as to the intentions of the Indian Government. The Government were pressed to increase their exertions and enlarge their expenditure, and that expenditure was incurred quite as much with the sanction and at the request of the House as the Government. Now what was the policy of Lord Northbrook? He saw that the Famine threatened to attain dimensions which the Indian Government unaided could not hope successfully to meet, and it was accordingly desirable not to deter private traders from assisting the Government. Lord Northbrook was of opinion that if at the commencement of the Famine he had stopped the export of rice, such a measure would, to a certain extent, have paralyzed private trade, and if this had been done it would have been very difficult to rely on private traders for assistance. One of the tests, and the greatest, of the soundness of Lord North- brook's policy was, that he obtained a great deal more assistance from private traders than had been anticipated, and for that reason alone the preparations of the Indian Government were, as it ultimately proved, in excess of the requirements of the case. The result of the operations of Lord Northbrook was that the Indian Government obtained one of the most complete successes on record. So complete, indeed, was its success that a certain number of persons now doubted whether there was any Famine at all. Now what were the financial results of the Famine? Shortly after the Government received the Budget for 1874–5 the estimate of the Indian Famine expenditure was £6,500,000. During the past year the final accounts, which had been received within the last few days, showed that the actual expenditure had been £6,588,000, showing an excess of £88,000 over the original estimate. This calculation took no credit for the value of the Famine relief works, in which an enormous number of persons were employed, and some of which were of considerable value; but it would not be pretended, so far as the financial result was concerned, that the expenditure of £88,000 was very seriously in excess of the large outlay sanctioned by the House. A famine affected the revenue in two ways, for while the income fell off, through so large an amount of it being derived from the land revenue, the expenditure increased. Spread over three years, it appeared that there was in 1873–4 a deficit of £1,800,000; in 1874–5, a surplus of £319,000; in 1875–6, a surplus of £1,247,000; and the net result was, that on the three three years there was only a deficit of £141,000. The public works extraordinary, of course, were left out of the calculation. If the system of public works were sound, it would go on without the Famine. As the most complete success had attended the policy the House had sanctioned, he would briefly advert to the reasons which might be urged on behalf of the expenditure in Bengal contrasted with that in the North-Western Provinces. As he stated last year, no comparison could be drawn between the two cases. There never was a famine in the North-Western Provinces, but only a scarcity, while there was a very serious famine in Bengal. The success of Lord North- brook's policy was soon demonstrated, the largest harvest known for many years was gathered in the Punjab, and nearly the whole of this surplus grain was sent down to the districts suffering from scarcity. On the other hand, Lord Northbrook sent up vast quantities of food from Calcutta, and thus there were two continuous streams of supply poured into the famine-stricken districts; one from the North-West, the result of private enterprize, another from the South-East, being the food purchased from Burmah and elsewhere by the Government. That the preparations of the Indian Government were somewhat in excess of the necessity was frankly admitted by them. The amount of grain which had been purchased was 470,000 tons; but 260,000 tons of this were stored in three districts alone, and of this 182,000 tons were consumed in September alone. The only reason why the Government efforts had been in excess of the requirements was that private trade had so much expanded itself. It should be recollected that in making preparations to deal with the Famine it was absolutely essential that the grain should be stored in certain places, and during that period of the year when transportation could go on. The measures that had been taken had not only prevented the extent of mortality which must otherwise have occurred, but the general productive power of the country had not been allowed to deteriorate, and there was no reason to believe that any demoralization had resulted from the relief that had been administered. It was necessary that the Indian Government should run a certain amount of risk in anticipating the requirements of the Famine. If they had not taken the course which they did, they would have exposed themselves to the danger of not being able to supplement the probable deficiencies of private trade. Preparations were made in excess of the Famine, but that excess was owing to circumstances which no one could have forseen. The hon. Member for Tynemouth had stated that nobody knew what became of the grain; but a book which was published in 1874 gave full and elaborate information on that subject. It stated exactly the quantity of the grain and the mode in which it was distributed. The hon. Member further said that only a very limited number of persons were in receipt of relief from the Government. Half a million, he (Lord George Hamilton) thought, was the number mentioned by the hon. Gentleman. Well, he (Lord George Hamilton) had Sir Richard Temple's Report in his hand, and he found that the number of persons who were in receipt of relief on the 15th of August was upwards of 4,000,000. Then the House had been told that the arrangements as to transport were so defective that certain persons made large fortunes out of contracts with the Government. Well, of course, they made money. Did any one suppose that any war broke out without a certain number of unscrupulous persons making profit out of the Government, and why should we expect that in a case of famine such persons would not avail themselves of the opportunity of making profit out of the Government? The hon. Gentleman also said that £500,000 had been advanced without voucher. What Sir Richard Temple said about the advance was, that he did not know how many persons derived subsistence from it, which was a very different thing from saying the money had been advanced without voucher. An hon. Gentleman said the wages paid by the Government in the Famine district were ten times higher than the wages in neighbouring parts. Ten times higher! Well, that he (Lord George Hamilton) confessed was new information to him. He had read very carefully, and more than once, all the documents relating to the Famine, and that certainly never in any way attracted his attention. The hon. Gentleman who made the Motion stated that there was a great difference of opinion on the subject of the Famine among officials, so much so, that they were divided into parties known as the Faminists and Anti-Faminists. That there was a Famine had been proved to-night beyond the possibility of contradiction by the late Lieutenant Governor of Bengal (Sir George Campbell), and until it could be proved that there had been a conspiracy between the Government of India and the Government of Bengal, and the special correspondents who were sent out as the representatives of different English newspapers, to pretend that there was a Famine, he should believe that there was a Famine, and that the Indian Government were entitled to credit for the measures they adopted with reference to it. All the data as to the failure of the crops was supplied by the district officers, and there could be no doubt as to their accuracy. He must again say, he was perfectly prepared to admit, and so would every one who had studied the question, that the preparations which were made by the Indian Government were more than sufficient; but was it possible under the circumstances to make any other preparations than those which were made? Less money might have been expended, but that was no reason why the Government should shirk their responsibility and the House appoint a Select Committee. But, in truth, what would a Committee do? The first question would be the number of witnesses to be examined, and Bengal would be left almost without any government. And when the witnesses were obtained, what would be done? It would be quite impossible to enter into all the circumstances connected with the Famine. It had been said that the inquiry might lead to the laying down of some general principle which might be useful hereafter. The Continent of India was nearly equal to the Continent of Europe, with the exception of Russia, and there was not much difference between the population of the two areas. Suppose a famine occurred in Belgium or France, could any one suppose that it would be of the slightest use to appoint a Committee in Washington to inquire into that famine, and to lay down general principles which might probably hereafter apply to inhabitants of the North of Scotland? It must be remembered that this was not an ordinary scarcity. It was a Famine such as had not occurred for 100 years, and it might fairly be expected not to recur for that period. No doubt there would be droughts in different parts of India, but year by year the country was being guarded against these visitations by the extension of railways and other means of communication, as well as by the construction of works of irrigation. This Famine caught the country in a somewhat transition state, for the population of India, being no longer liable to be carried off by intestine war or by periodical famine to the same extent as in old times, had greatly increased, and thus famines were more difficult to deal with than in old times. It was true that the productive power of India had increased. The great difficulty, however, was transport. The means of transport were now becoming more complete every year, and it would be possible to deal far more cheaply and effectually with future than with past famines. Under such circumstances, what could be more unwise than to take this Famine for your model and draw from it elaborate conclusions which, probably, every local Government would feel bound to apply to every petty scarcity which might occur for a 100 years to come? The result of such a course would be rather to increase than diminish expenditure. Two precedents had been cited for inquiry, the appointment of Select Committees on the Abyssinian Expedition and the Expedition to the Crimea. But the Crimean Committee was appointed, because our Commissariat had disgracefully failed; while here, the complaint was that the Commissariat had been too good. In the other instance, inquiry was made because, while the Abyssinian Expedition was a complete success, the Estimates were largely exceeded. Here the success was as complete, while there was no such excess of Estimates; and there was, therefore, no analogy between those cases and the present. He contended, then, that no practical good could come from the appointment of a Select Committee, because no proper evidence could be obtained; and if evidence could be obtained, the Committee could come to no practical conclusion. Moreover, the appointment of such a Committee would be understood out-of-doors as implying censure upon the Indian Government for too successfully carrying out the policy forced upon them by the House of Commons; and Lord Northbrook, on returning home, would be rewarded by being called as a witness in order to impugn a work for the success of which he had been expressly thanked in the Queen's Speech. Lord Northbrook, so far from showing scepticism as to the reality of the Famine, stopped at Calcutta through the hot season of 1874 in order to deal with it, and visited the districts in which it was likely to occur. Having done so, he said that, without the slightest doubt, an immense mortality would have resulted but for the efforts of the Bengal Government. There was no doubt that the Famine expanded and contracted very suddenly in many places, and also that great discrepancies existed in the state- ments which he had seen and read upon the subject. A mass of Papers had been sent to him (Lord George Hamilton), including some of the private diaries of the civil officers employed in the Famine districts; and while it was clear that certain officers south of the Ganges, in the West, and elsewhere were somewhat sceptical, all the officers stationed in the Famine districts indicated by the Indian Government declared the reality of the Famine, and said that a mass of the people must have died but for the relief given to them. He would, however, only refer to the statement of one of them—that of an officer who was stationed in the Famine district. In the particular district in which that officer was situated there was a population of 90,000, and he wrote that the popular belief was that but for Government aid two-thirds of that number would have perished. He could not himself suppose from his own actual experience that less than from 15,000 to 20,000 would have died from absolute starvation had it not been for the measures which were adopted by the Government. It seemed to him (Lord George Hamilton), therefore, that no case had been made out for such an exceptional proceeding as that of appointing a Select Committee, which, when appointed, would be useless. Much had been said about the constant interference exercised by the India Office on the Indian Government; but it had always struck him as somewhat anomalous that hon. Members should rise in that House and make violent speeches about India, and at the same time object to the Secretary of State telegraphing to the Viceroy. Great and powerful as the Indian Government was, it had no power of its own, for all that it exercised was derived from English Acts of Parliament and from the English Government, who were responsible to Parliament for the exercise of its power. It must always be the wish and desire of the Secretary of State to increase and maintain the authority and prestige of the Viceroy of India, and he denied that there had been any tendency in the past few years to unduly use the telegraph in forcing on the Indian Government. What had been sent out had been suggestions, and except the one telegram which had been referred to, none were sent but replies to messages which had come home. He admitted that the improper use of the telegram was a mistake; and if there was but one wire between here and India, he believed that the present Secretary of State would be the first to cut it. It was necessary, however, to use the wires, because others used them; and the Department had to use them sometimes in order to obtain information with which to answer Questions put by independent Members. In conclusion, he would say it was the House of Commons who urged the Indian Government to spend money in relieving the Famine, and having successfully carried out that desire, it was now proposed to appoint a Committee of Inquiry, which was nothing less than a Motion of Censure. ["No, no!"] He maintained it would be a Motion of Censure, and no other construction could be put upon it. ["No, no!"] The argument by which the Resolution was supported was that the Famine was on a limited scale and that unnecessary expenditure was incurred; and if that was not censure he did not know what could be. He must, however, again remind the House that it was a most inopportune moment to inquire into the conduct of an ex-Governor of our most important dependency. If, in 1874, Lord Northbrook had engaged in a great war, if his preparations for that war had been as successful as they had been for the Famine, would he have been found fault with at the close of the war if his reserves had been left practically untouched? Yet the complaint against him was that his preparations were wasted, and that he was so successful in dealing with the enemy against whom he had to contend, the Famine, that he was not compelled to draw upon his reserves. It would be an evil day when, in drawing a distinction between the two kinds of campaign, we drew it in favour of that which had for it object the destruction of human life, as against that which had for its object the preservation of life. He regretted that pamphlets and documents had been widely disseminated throughout India, reiterating in coarse and vulgar terms some of the statements that had been made in debate; and he could not think the House would select that occasion to enforce the appointment of a Select Committee, which, in his judgment, would be nothing less than an inopportune and impolitic mode of censuring a Govern- ment for having too successfully carried out a policy of which the House had not only approved, but forced upon them.


said, the noble Lord the Under Secretary of State for India had totally misapprehended, misinterpreted, and misunderstood the motives and intentions of the hon. Member for Tynemouth (Mr. T. E. Smith), and the objects he sought to obtain. Nothing was further from his intention than to censure either the Home Government or a distinguished nobleman like Lord Northbrook, who had rendered great service at personal sacrifice. If he thought the Motion could be twisted into a censure of Lord Northbrook, he would give it strong opposition, for considering all the circumstances, he (Mr. Fawcett) was surprised Lord Northbrook did not spend more money, and great credit was due to his Lordship that the extravagance, great as it was, was not still greater. The noble Lord the Under Secretary of State supplied the strongest possible argument in favour of the appointment of a Committee; for, while saying Lord Northbrook was not to blame, he admitted a certain amount of waste and extravagance, for which he said the House of Commons and English public opinion were responsible. If that House were responsible for forcing upon the Indian Government an expenditure which was unnecessary, was it not bound as a simple duty which it owed to the Indian people to obtain all the information that was possible in order to prevent its committing a similar mistake in future? As to the difficulty of obtaining information, if the Secretary of State, as the noble Lord had told them, in a fortnight could look through Papers and obtain information which enabled him to form such a judgment as to send out to an able and distinguished statesman, who had been working for months at the problem, on the spot a peremptory order, might not a Select Committee, with the labour of a few weeks, and with those Papers before it, and a power to call for evidence which the Secretary of State did not possess, also obtain some knowledge about this subject? As he had said, the noble Lord himself supplied the most complete argument of the opportuneness of this Motion. Lord Northbrook would be back in about four weeks; and if for no other reason, it would be worth while to have this Committee appointed, so that it might call that distinguished statesman and ask him what was the exact extent and the exact manner in which his judgment was overruled by the Secretary of State after he had been in office for a single fortnight. An answer to that question would alone justify the appointment of the Committee, and would throw a light upon the subject which would be of incalculable service to the people of India. The Secretary of Sate also might be asked to state, in order to prevent the recurrence of another such error, in what way the House of Commons had interfered with his discretion, or had forced upon him an expenditure which otherwise he would never have sanctioned. The only argument he had heard against the appointment of the Committee was that advanced by the hon. Member for Guildford (Mr. Onslow). The hon. Member said that these famines could only be managed by one like the Viceroy, who was upon the spot—he did not know whether it might not be out of order to call him "Viceroy"—but one who until that evening would be a Viceroy. He so far agreed with the hon. Member for Guildford; he thought the Viceroy should not be interfered with; but interference with the Viceroy had never been carried to such an extent as by the present Secretary of State. He also thought that unless we were very careful in dealing with the Government of India the position of Viceroy would be reduced to such an extent that the distinguished men who had held that office hitherto would not hold it in future; for he could not understand how a Governor General would submit to such language as that which of late had been addressed to the Viceroy of India. He would, however, say no more about it now, for they would have another opportunity of considering the point. No one could doubt that a tendency existed at present towards the Secretary of State assuming a more direct control over the Government of India. If that were so, and that the Secretaries of State were in future to govern India more directly, the House of Commons would be bound to take a greater interest in Indian affairs; for if it did not do so, the result would be that India would suffer from all the disadvantages of Party Government, and would not have one advantage in return. Under all the circumstances, he thought a case for such a Committee had been made out by his hon. Friend, and he (Mr. Fawcett) submitted that the issue should not be led astray by a false trail. For his part, he should support with his vote the Motion of his hon. Friend for the appointment of a Select Committee.


said, he was extremely glad to hear the hon. Member for Hackney (Mr. Fawcett) so explicitly declare that, in supporting the Motion for a Committee, he had no idea of expressing an opinion that either the Home Government or the Government of India deserved censure. But if the speech of the hon. Member for Tynemouth (Mr. T. E. Smith) did not mean censure, he could not see what it meant at all. Was his hon. Friend not conveying a censure on the late Secretary of State when he intimated that he had gone into the rice market to negotiate for 950,000 tons? The hon. Member, with his great business experience, ought to have seen at a glance that the object of the Secretary of State in sending to the Viceroy the telegram on which he had commented was as different as possible from that which he had supposed. The spirit of the telegram was this—"Do not be uneasy about your rice supplies. I can send you any amount of rice—much more rice than you can possibly want." Then again, was his hon. Friend conveying no censure on the present Lieutenant Governor of Bengal when he told the House that that distinguished officer was not acquainted with the great net-work of water communication in the province which he ruled? He would be, indeed, a bold man who would assert that there was any Indian subject of importance with which Sir Richard Temple was not acquainted, for the range of his knowledge and interest was quite exceptional. But the hon. Member had made a peculiarly unfortunate selection, for he (Mr. Grant Duff) knew that the water communication of Bengal was a subject on which the mind of Sir Richard Temple dwelt a great deal, and to which he was accustomed to direct the very special attention of persons studying that part of India. Further, was the hon. Member not expressing censure on the present Lieutenant Governor of Bengal when he pointed out the great extravagance involved in the relief works? All relief works must be attended with a certain amount of extravagance. In the nature of things it must be so. But no one could read the Report of Sir Richard Temple without seeing that the most minute precautions had been taken to prevent extravagance and abuse in the relief works. But passing from particulars to the general character of the discussion, he (Mr. Grant Duff) thought that it would do good—not immediate good, but good in time to come. When the next Indian Famine arose—and he agreed with the noble Lord the Under Secretary that they might fairly expect many years to pass before they had such another Famine—he did hope that the persons in authority in connection with India would be more trusted when they attempted to re-assure people than they were last time. This discussion would be preserved in Hansard, and would be something to point to in the middle of the next red-hot fit of philanthropy. It would enable the persons who had to deal with the next Famine to say—The hot fit is on now, but in about two years' time we shall have the cold fit. He only wished there had been some people in January, 1874, to take the line which the hon. Member for Tynemouth had taken to-night. It fell to his (Mr. Grant Duff's) lot at that time to have to make a speech in which, being then at the India Office, and having, of course, all the facts of the case before him, he ventured to say that the authorities in India and at home had taken every conceivable precaution. But what happened? Why, for doing this, he was treated in many quarters as a person possessed by such a crazy optimism that he was hardly fit for any place out of Bedlam. But if the discussion would do good, it would be otherwise with the Committee. If the Committee were granted, he believed it would be likely to do unmitigated harm. He was glad the noble Lord had dealt firmly with the proposal. If the Committee were appointed, it could only examine the hon. Gentleman the Member for Kirkcaldy, Lord Northbrook, and a few others, whose opinions were already well known. That would leave matters where they were. The only effectual further step they could take would be to bring home a ship-load of the people engaged in the work of Bengal; but if they did that, Bengal being under-officered, they would throw the ordinary duties entirely out of gear, and great calamities would be the result. He could not see any sort of advantage which would spring from the proposal before the House, and he should vote against it.

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

The House divided:—Ayes 149; Noes 46: Majority 103.

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