HC Deb 23 May 1879 vol 246 cc1142-6

, in rising to call attention to the reply of the Governor General of India to a deputation of the British Indian Association, which petitioned against the financial measures of the Government, and to the treatment of the Vernacular Press; also to the Vernacular Press of India, as instanced in the case of the Native journal, the "Shome Prokash," for adverse comments upon the Government policy in Afghanistan; and to move— That this House regrets that Lord Lytton and his advisers have shown such unwise disrespect for the sentiments of a vast population, which is at the same time deprived of all constitutional representation, and subject to a harsh and grinding taxation of the most oppressive kind, said, that as the concluding clause of his Amendment implied a censure upon the Government, and as they had engaged to reduce their Expenditure in India, he would withdraw that portion of it. India, as hon. Members were aware, had not the advantage of Constitutional representation, and the Viceroy ought, therefore, to be doubly careful so to answer deputations as not to discourage them from laying their complaints at the foot of the Throne. Now, the Association he had mentioned included the most respectable members of the mercantile community of Bengal, many of the largest landowners, and the most prominent Native members of the Indian Bar. Its distinguished loyalty had been commended by successive Governors General. Yet, he was sorry to say, the reply of Lord Lytton to the Memorial of that respectable Association conveyed censure in the most biting terms, and on more than one point seemed to impugn the veracity of the deputation. The Memorial was a protest against the financial measures of the Government with regard to Afghanistan and the diminution of the cotton duties; and the Viceroy, in reply, made many injurious reflections on the personal character and status of the members of the deputation, even reminding those of them who were rich that they owed their wealth to the action of the Government. The Viceroy was acting entirely on his own initiative, and by his own power without any active support from his Council. He told the deputation their statements were in noto- rious opposition to the facts. When they pointed to the heavy distress and recent severe Famines, as an argument in support of their protest, the Viceroy appeared most injudiciously to imagine this reference was intended as an attack upon the Indian Government. The language in which he rebuked the deputation was most unbecoming in a Viceroy. Sneer after sneer, and offence after offence, were showered upon the heads of the deputation. Another portion of his Resolution referred to the interference with the Native Press of India. He referred to what he called the hostility with which the present Administration of India regarded the expression of opinion amongst the Natives of India. On the 18th of March there appeared in the official media of India a notice that the printer and publisher of a leading Native paper had been ordered to enter into a joint and special bond in the sum of 1,000 rupees for having published on the 24th of February a letter containing remarks and suggestions which were likely to excite disaffection to the Government and antipathy to the English race. On referring to the letter he found that it was no more than a criticism—from the point of view of a hostile critic, doubtless—on the Government neglect of Indian feeling, and what, in the view of the writer, were the drawbacks of the Government policy in Afghanistan. Hardly were the printer and publisher of the paper published in the Vernacular ordered to enter into these penal bonds than the Deccan Star, another Native journal, but printed in English, published a translation of this identical letter without incurring any penalty. The pettiness, the absurdity, the mischievousness, the foolish, hysterical, petty tyranny of a Government could hardly further go. If the Indian Government persisted in this course of conduct, they would establish an oppressive and grinding tyranny equal to anything that existed in Russia. The distinctions drawn between Native newspapers printed in the Vernacular and papers printed in English were not only offensive in themselves, but tended to impress the Indian people with the notion that, as subjects of the Queen, they were denied the rights which were enjoyed by Englishmen, Scotchmen, and Irishmen residing in the same country. The hon. Gentleman concluded by moving the Resolution of which he had given Notice.


, in seconding the Motion, observed, that it was difficult to exaggerate the painful impression which had been produced in India by the answer of the Governor General to the deputation of the British Indian Association. The Motion had his entire sympathy; and if the hon. Member pressed it to a division, he should have his support.

Amendment proposed, To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "this House regrets that Lord Lytton and his advisors have shown such unwise disrespect for the sentiments of a vast population, which is at the same time deprived of all constitutional representation, and subject to a harsh and grinding taxation of the most oppressive kind."—(Mr. O'Donnell,) —instead thereof.

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


said, he thought the House would regret that the hon. Member for Dungarvan (Mr. O'Donnell) had felt it his duty to interpose in the middle of a very important debate on the finances of India the discussion of a question which, although it might be important, might, at any rate, have been deferred to a later day. The hon. Gentleman, at a single day's Notice, and when hon. Members had not any official Papers before them to enable them to come to a proper conclusion on the subject, had moved a Vote of Censure on the Governor General of India. It was, therefore, his duty to the Governor General that he should say a few words in explanation. He might, however, state that he had no official information on the two points to which the hon. Member had referred, and only knew what he had been able to discover regarding them from the newspapers. With respect to the answer given by Lord Lytton to the deputation from the British Indian Association, which presented a Memorial to him, any hon. Member who chose to refer to the newspapers could read that Memorial and form an opinion upon it himself; and he thought that anyone who read impartially the account given of the proceedings on that occasion would admit that the Memorial was not only full of grave misrepresentations, but also of imputations against the motives of the Government of India. The Viceroy, addressing the deputation in those circumstances, said— You have attributed to the Government of India views which it has publicly repudiated; you have imputed to the Parliament of England and the Ministers of the Crown satisfied acquiescence in a state of things which they have distinctly condemned; and you have ignored the duty, at all times incumbent on Her Majesty's Indian Administration, to act in honest accordance with the principles laid down for the guidance of its action by the authority from which its own is derived. As the Representative of the Sovereign of India, I regret that such language should have been held to me by the representatives of some of Her Majesty's most favoured Indian subjects; and as the responsible guardian of the general interests of the people of India, I notice with disappointment and surprise that you, who represent to some extent the wealthiest class in India, while deprecating forms of taxation such as the Bengal Land Cesses, which fall mainly on your own class, have not shrunk from advocating and urging on my adoption other forms of taxation which fall almost exclusively on the great body of the poor. That was a perfectly accurate and just statement of what had been put before Lord Lytton. With regard to the Vernacular Press, be did not understand the hon. Member for Dungarvan to deny that what the Government of India had done was entirely legal. The hon. Member seemed rather to condemn the policy of the Vernacular Press Act. That was a question on which there was considerable discussion in the House last year. The Act was now in force, and under it proceedings were taken against the newspaper to which the hon. Member had alluded. The hon. Member had omitted, in giving his quotations from the article which appeared in that newspaper, the most offensive passage, and the one which brought it under the operation of the Statute. He would not lend notoriety to the passage in question by reading it to the House; but anybody who fairly took the article as a whole would acknowledge that the Indian Government were perfectly justified in the action they had taken in the matter. The hon. Member suggested that the Act had been used to suppress fair criticism upon the Government, but that notion could not for an instant be supported. Speaking in reference to the Act at a meeting of the Indian Legislative Council on the 16th of October last, Sir Alexander Arbuthnot said— The Act has so far justified, and, indeed, has more than justified, the hope which I ventured to express when it was passed, that the mere existence of this law would in a great measure suffice to suppress the mischief against which it is aimed, and that the actual enforcement of its provisions would be a thing of very rare occurrence. As a matter of fact, seditious and disloyal writing—writing calculated to inflame the minds of the masses and to bring the Government into contempt—has been entirely stopped. At the same time, there has been no interference with the legitimate expression of opinion. The liberty of the Press has not been in any way restricted. The only case in which the Act had been put in force was that to which the hon. Member referred. He had made these remarks solely in justice to the Viceroy, who had been attacked at a moment's notice, and he hoped that the House would now pass to the important Business which stood before it.


wished to remind the House that the subject-matter of his Motion was a month ago placed on the Paper anent the Motion for going into Committee of Supply, and to explain that he had merely changed its position, as a matter of convenience, from Committee of Supply generally to Committee of Supply on a subject to which the Resolution was germane.

Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes 215: Noes 36: Majority 179.—(Div. List, No. 109.)

Main Question proposed, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."