HC Deb 05 August 1891 vol 356 cc1384-9

Resolution reported. That it appears, by the Accounts laid before this House, that the total Revenue of India for the year ending the 31st day of March, 1890, was Rx.85,085,203; that the total Expenditure in India and in England charged against the Revenue was Rx.82,473,170; that there was a surplus of Revenue over Expenditure of Rx.2,612,033; and that the capital Outlay on Railways and Irrigation Works was Rx.3,173,390.

(10.50.) MR. W. M'LAREN (Cheshire, Crewe)

I will not detain the House for more than one or two minutes; but I wish to know from the right hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary for India whether he can give the House some definite assurance with regard to the Indian Councils Bill next year? It has been a matter of great regret to many Members of the House, and, I believe, to a large number of persons in India, that that Bill has not been proceeded with this Session. This is the third Session in which a Bill substantially of the same character has been before the House. It is perfectly true that the measure did not meet with the approval of some hon. Members. Among others, the late Mr. Bradlaugh, who took a great interest in Indian questions, and whose death we all lament, was strongly opposed to the Bill, and I myself took the liberty of putting down a Motion on the Second Reading with regard to the adoption of the elective principle in the measure. It was desired to extend the scope of the Bill; but although the opposition which was offered may have; postponed the progress of the measure, nothing can mitigate our regret that the Bill has not been discussed during the present Session. I am quite sure the right hon. Gentleman will not find fault with me when I say that the constant dropping of the Bill cannot fail to create a very bad impression. It must show the people of India, who take a great interest in the matter, and especially what are called the Congress Party there, that there has been no sincere intention on the part of the Government to pass the Bill. I believe it is the fact that Sir William Wedderburn has recently received a letter from the Secretary of State for India, dated the 28th of July, in which he states that the withdrawal of the Bill was not due to any fault of the Government, but to circumstances beyond their control. With all due respect, that statement is not altogether accurate. It is absolutely the fault of Her Majesty's Government that the Bill was not advanced and passed into law. It would not have occupied more than two days of the time of the House—one day for the Second Reading and another to get it through Committee. Therefore, to say that it was not the fault of the Government that the Bill was not pressed forward is trifling with the House. I am ready to admit that it has not been the fault of the right hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary, but of those who have had the arrangement of the business of the House. There was a chance offered in the early part of the Session, when the Bill nearly came on by accident; but the discussion upon the previous subject was prolonged, and we never heard any more of the Councils Bill. I think the fact is deeply to be regretted, and I should like to say that when the Government re-introduce the Bill, as I hope they will, next Session, they will reintroduce it in a somewhat wider form and show a more favourable leaning to the adoption of the elective principle in the Provincial Councils. It is well known that that was the view of Lord Dufferin; and we have never been told why Her Majesty's Government have gone back from the opinion of Lord Dufferin, who, in his Despatch, distinctly expressed himself in favour of the elective principle. I trust that the House will receive a definite promise from the right hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary that he will have this Indian Councils Bill brought on fairly and properly for discussion at an early period next Session, and it would also give great satisfaction to many hon. Members if the right hon. Gentleman could promise that the Bill will contain in some moderate degree a recognition of the elective principle.

*MR. MORTON (Peterborough)

I would also press upon the Government the necessity of allowing the House to discuss, at any rate, the provisions of the Bill which has been mentioned by my hon. Friend. I would further express a hope that the Government will, during the Recess, consider the wishes of the people of India in reference to the introduction of the elective principle into the Indian Councils. In my opinion, that is the only proper way of governing the people of India, and the only way in which any legislative measure connected with that country can be properly considered, having regard to the interests of the people of India. What I wish is that Her Majesty's Government, instead of making another Ireland of India, should consider this question in good time; and now that the people of India have to a large extent been educated, that they will take them into their confidence as far as possible. I would also ask the Government to endeavour to bring forward the Indian Budget at an earlier period next Session. Everyone knows that to bring it forward in the dog days, as was the case last night, is practically a farce. There were only a handful of Members here to consider it, although it affects the prosperity and well-being of some 200,000,000 or 300,000,000 of people. Every year attempts are made to dispose of Indian questions without adequate consideration and without proper debate. I have no desire to blame the right hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary for India, because I do not know that he has had anything to do with the matter, and we all know that he has a very poor opinion of the Government of India, and the way in which the people of India are treated.


I never stated anything of the kind.


I should be sorry to misrepresent the right hon. Gentleman, but I gathered that to be his opinion from a speech which he delivered not long ago, and it is certainly the view which the newspapers have taken. This question of bringing in the Indian Budget at an earlier period of the Session has been spoken of hundreds of times; before, and what I wish to impress on the Government, in the interests of Great Britain as well as of India, is the desirability (now that the franchise is being extended, and the people of this country are taking a deeper interest in the affairs of the Empire than they did formerly) of giving us an opportunity of considering these matters at an earlier period of the Session.

(11.2.) SIR J. GORST

I feel grateful to the hon. Member for giving me an opportunity of saying a word about the Indian Councils Bill. This Bill was brought in, as he has said, three Sessions ago. It was brought in in order to make good the pledge given by the Viceroy of India, with the sanction of the Secretary of State, that two small but not unimportant reforms should be made in the proceedings of the Council—that, in the first place, the right of interpolation in certain conditions should be given to members of the Council; and that, in the second place, they should have an opportunity of discussing the Indian Budget, although no change should take place in the taxation of the country. It was found, soon after this pledge was given, that it would be impossible to carry out what the Viceroy proposed without legislation, because the old Indian Councils Act, which was drawn apparently for the purpose of repressing discussion, was so stringent in its terms that these two reforms could not be carried out without an alteration in the law. Therefore, the Indian Councils Bill was brought in. At the same time a further reform was introduced in the Bill, which had not been made the subject of any definite pledge on the part of the Viceroy, and that was to increase somewhat the numbers both of the Viceroy's Council and the Councils in the various provinces. This Bill as it stood was a very small measure. It was a Bill which was to carry out a reform which everybody desired, to which the Government had given their assent, and which gentlemen who may be called "the Indian Congress Party" had repeatedly solicited, and there was nothing to prevent the people of India enjoying the benefit of these improvements in the Constitution during the last three years, except that the hon. Member for Crewe (Mr. M'Laren) and his friends—those gentlemen who profess to represent in this House the opinion of India—chose to use this extremely simple and small measure as a peg on which to hang a discussion of the whole Constitution of India and a proposal to introduce into the Constitution of India what they vaguely call "representative institutions," as to the nature of which they are not themselves agreed, and of the consequences of which they have themselves no conception whatever. Well, although the Bill is a small one, the question which is hung on it is a question of extreme importance, and one which certainly ought not to be lightly passed by the House without ample and complete discussion. In consequence of the appendage which hon. Gentlemen opposite themselves placed on this very modest measure of reform, it has been found impossible for the Government in either of the past Sessions of Parliament to devote that time which is necessary to the consideration of a matter so important to the future interests of India. I cannot promise that the House of Commons in the coming Session will have leisure to discuss and decide this great constitutional question, and I am afraid that if the hon. Member for Crewe and his friends persist in the course they have adopted for the past three years, the people of India will have to wait a little longer before they can enjoy those modest but excellent reforms promised so long ago by the Viceroy. With regard to the present Session, the Government is at least perfectly innocent in connection with the withdrawal of the Bill, because I understand, on what I believe is excellent authority, that the Bill was abandoned at the special wish of the leaders of the Party opposite; and that when certain negotiations took place as to bringing this Session to an early close, the Indian Councils Bill was one of those innocents which hon. Gentlemen opposite insisted on having sacrificed.

(11.7.) MR. M'LAREN

Perhaps, with the permission of the House, I may say this—the right hon. Gentleman would not wish that anything he said should be open to misunderstanding. Therefore, I would like to ask whether he wishes by his speech to indicate that those who are in favour to some extent of the Indian Congress programme should have let this Bill go through without discussion? Does he complain that we attempted to discuss the Bill and widen its scope?


No; I tried to explain that I did not complain of their discussing the Bill, bat I did complain that they should take advantage of the Bill to introduce a much larger and more comprehensive measure. It was perfectly in order to do so in this House; but it had the effect of rendering the small reform projected by the Viceroy of India and Her Majesty's Government perfectly impossible.


I will not detain the House two minutes, for I am not an authority on Indian affairs, and I think that some of those who stand up opposite to speak on them have as little authority as myself. But I do sometimes read matter which is sent to me for perusal. I have read matter sent to me by Committees in which hon. Gentlemen opposite are interested, and my study of it has led me to the conclusion that if those hon. Gentlemen, or those they represent, would refrain from stumping India, and from telling the Radical people there that they are badly treated, we should have a better opportunity—as the Under Secretary for India has said—of doing good for the people of India. The fact is, that all those who wish to do a good stroke, as they think, for Radicalism, think that not only ought they to do it in every part of England, Ireland, Wales, and Scotland, but that, when they have done it there, they should detach some of their regular forces, and do it in India, too. We know that India is not fit for this sort of thing. We know that in the Empire of Russia they tried to adopt English institutions—they tried to establish Justices of the Peace—but the whole thing was a total failure. So it is in India. Therefore, I support what Her Majesty's Government have said, and I hope we shall have less of this stumping India by discontented ex-Viceroys or anybody else.

Resolution agreed to.