HC Deb 24 April 1879 vol 245 cc983-4

asked the Under Secretary of State for India, Whether it is the case that the late reduction of the Cotton Duties in India was carried out by the Governor General in opposition to the opinion of his Council; and, if so, whether it is the opinion of Her Majesty's Government that such a reduction of Duties is a measure whereby the safety, tranquillity, or interests of the British possessions in India are essentially affected within the true intent and meaning of 3 and 4 Will. 4. c. 85, s. 49, by which alone the Governor General is justified in the extraordinary measure of over-ruling his Council; whether he will produce the Papers on this subject, showing the grounds on which Lord Lytton exercised those extraordinary powers in a matter of Customs Duty of this kind; and, whether the question of this reduction of the Cotton Duties were ever submitted to the Council of India in this Country, and with what result?


Yes, Sir; it is true that the recent reduction of the cotton duties in India was carried out by the Viceroy in opposition to the majority of his Council. The hon. Member assumes that the Act under which this course was taken was the one to which he refers, 3 & 4 Will. IV. c. 85, s. 49; but he is mistaken. It so happens that that section has been repealed. The Viceroy acted in accordance with the 5th section of the Act 33 Vict. c. 3. Anyone who read that section will, I think, be convinced that the occasions upon which this power should be exercised are left entirely to the sole discretion of the Governor General of India. The measure for the partial repeal of the cotton duties is considered by the Governor General to be one "whereby the interests of the British Possessions in India are, in his opinion, essentially affected." And the reasons put forward by him and by the minority of his Council for forming that opinion are fully stated in the annual Financial Statement. That Statement has recently been received in this country, and will, of course, be laid, according to the usual practice, before the Secretary of State in Council. I may add that the whole subject was very carefully considered by the Secretary of State in Council in 1876; and a despatch, bearing date the 31st of May, 1876, was sent to India, stating that— The interests of India imperatively demanded the timely removal of a tax which is at once wrong in principle, injurious in its practical effect, and self-destructive in its operation.


I beg to give Notice that I will take the earliest opportunity of moving— That the action of Lord Lytton, as Governor General of India, in over-ruling his Council on a question of Customs Duties on Cotton Goods, is contrary to the true intents of the Law, an evasion of Constitutional restraints, and a dangerous advance in the direction of personal Government.