§ (5.2.) SIR W. PLOWDEN (Wolverhampton)
Mr. Speaker, in movingThat Standing Order No. LI., be amended by inserting after the words 'Ways and Means,' the words 'or the Committee on the Indian Financial Statement,'I do not think it will be necessary for me to trespass very long upon the attention of the House. The object of the Motion is very simple: it is to replace the House in the position in regard to debate on matters of general interest, in connection with India, it was in previous to the passing of the Standing Order No. 51 on the 28th of February, 1888. Standing Order No. LI., which was passed with very little debate and without any opposition, runs thus:—That whenever an Order of the Day is read for the House to resolve itself into 852 Committee (not being a Committee to consider a message from the Crown, or the Committee of Supply, or of Ways and Means) Mr. Speaker shall leave the Chair without putting any Question.''I propose to insert certain words which will save from, this clause the discussion on the Indian Budget. I shall be able to show, first of all, that this alteration in the procedure of this House which took place on the 28th of February, 1888, was altogether unwarranted and uncalled for; secondly, that it is useless; and, lastly, that it is invidious. In regard to the first point, it may be satisfactory if I turn for a moment to the Debate upon the Rules of Procedure to find what were the objects with which the change in the Standing Order was effected. The objects were briefly stated by the right hon. Gentleman the leader of the House. The right hon. Gentleman said—The object of the change is to prevent a repetition of discussion on the principles of a Bill on the Motion that you, Sir, do leave the Chair. It has been found," he added, "that the Motion that you leave the Chair is greatly abused, and there is a general agreement that a Second Reading Debate should not occur twice over.I think there are very few Members in the House—if, indeed, there is one—who will take exception to the doctrine laid down by the right hon. Gentleman on that occasion. I certainly do not take exception to it; but I think it can very easily be shown that that argument has no application whatever to the alteration of the Rule in so far as it regards the discussion of Indian subjects. That can very easily be shown by reference to the history of past years. I also wish to note, it would seem, from the course of the right hon. Gentleman's remarks, that it was not specially intended to cover the Debate on Indian topics by this change in the Standing Order. Certainly, at a subsequent period, when it was found that this change had that effect, the leader of the House showed distinctly he was of opinion that the discussion of general topics in connection with India should not fall within the scope of the change. What is the condition of things now that this change has been effected, and how does it contrast with the state of things which existed before the change was effected? I have ascertained from the Debates of the House all the occasions 853 on which, during the 10 years preceding 1890, there has been any discussion whatever on Indian topics in this House. The change occurred in 1888, and, going back to the seven years before 1888, when it was within the competency of the Members of the House to discuss any topic of general interest in connection with India on the Motion that you do leave the Chair, I find that in the seven years there were two occasions when no advantage whatever was taken of the Rule. In five other years advantage was taken of the Rule. But what was the effect upon the time of the House? In 1887 there was only one speech made on the question. In 1886 no discussion took place; in 1885 no discussion took place. In the four earlier years there was a discussion; but it will be found, if you look into the facts of the case, that the discussion on the occasions when there was a Debate on the question that you do leave the Chair was not very prolonged. In 1890 we spent 5 hours and 19 minutes in Committee on the East Indian Accounts. In 1889 we spent something less than six hours, and in 1888 a little more than seven, hours. The longest discussion was in 1885, when we spent very nearly nine hours in discussing Indian affairs. But when one comes to take into consideration the great importance of the affairs of the Dependency, there can be no reason for any action on the part of the responsible officers or leader of this House for shortening the time for the discussion of Indian affairs. In the last 10 years we have not devoted 15 hours in each Session to a discussion of Indian affairs. There are a number of topics which, are of far less importance to this great country than those connected with India which are debated at much greater length, and it seems to me altogether improper and irregular that a change of this nature should have been allowed to affect the consideration of Indian subjects. I said the change was entirely useless, and I will show why. Under the Standing Orders of the House it is quite possible for every Member who chooses to incur the displeasure of the House to make a Motion respecting India on the question that the House resolve itself into Committee of Ways and Means, and thus interpose himself between the House and the Chancellor of the Exchequer's Budget Statement. 854 Then, I say, the change creates an invidious distinction, because the position of India, as regards this House, is altogether different to that of other Dependencies. We have assumed the entire responsibility of determining what shall be the expenditure of that great country, and, therefore, it is not right and proper that we should treat the matters connected with the expenditure of India in a different manner to that in which we treat our own matters. I think it has a very unfortunate effect upon the people of India when, first of all, it is noticed how little time is allotted to the discussion of Indian subjects, and, secondly, how we treat the question of the Indian Budget. I am not now going to discuss the propriety or otherwise of our Indian Debates being taken at the fag end of the Session; it seems hardly necessary that they should be so taken; but whether that is necessary or not, it is quite obvious that the change which has occurred in the Standing Order is not one of which we can approve. I hope the House will see the desirability and propriety of going back to the old state of things. I hope I shall have the assent of the right hon. Gentleman who now leads the House and the assent of all hon. Members. This is no Party question at all. No question connected with India can be a Party question. We are all deeply interested in doing our duty by that country, whose resources we are so proud of, and whose position is so affected by our discussions.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That Standing Order No. LI., be amended by inserting after the words 'Ways and Means,' the words 'or the Committee on the Indian, Financial Statement.'"—(Sir William Plowden.)
§ (5.14.) SIR R. LETHBRIDGE (Kensington, N.)
I rise to second the Motion, and I appeal to Her Majesty's Ministers to give it a favourable consideration. There is no doubt whatever that the Motion is in absolute accord with the opinions and the earnest wishes of every class of Her Majesty's subjects in India, whether native or European, official or non-official. Everyone in India wishes to see more, rather than less, attention given in the House of Commons to Indian matters, for in the long run the House of Commons really rules the destinies of the Indian Empire. The wishes of all 855 classes in India have been freely expressed in Petitions, and those who follow, as I do, from week to week the Indian Press, will know that there is no subject which excites the interest of the public in India more than the desire that Indian subjects should be taken up in the House of Commons more generally than is now the case. I have had a Motion on the Paper almost identical with that which the hon. Gentleman has moved ever since the day that I discovered the real effect of the change in the Standing Order. At first, in common, I believe, with almost all the Members of the House, except those who are very well versed in its procedure, I was absolutely ignorant of the effect of the change. In 1888 I never realised the effect of the change. Every other part of the British Empire has a right to have its affairs discussed at least on one occasion during the year. The grievances of the Mauritius, or the Falkland Islands, or any other island in the Empire, can be discussed, for instance, on the Vote for the Salary of the Secretary of State for the Colonies. Surely, when we compare the importance of India with that of any other part of the British Dominions, it is right that an opportunity should be afforded of discussing any grievances that may exist in India. Hon. Members will remember that no Indian salaries, as such, are voted in this House. We vote the whole of the Indian expenditure en bloc, as it were. That, however, ought not to be given as a reason why we should not have an opportunity of entering into Indian grievances and discussing them: The only argument I have ever heard advanced in support of the existing rule is, that the discussion of Indian affairs in this House is generally based on a certain amount of ignorance and sometimes of prejudice. I do not agree at all with that view. I am quite aware that a large number of the Members of this House are not as entirely familiar with the affairs of India as they are with affairs at home, or perhaps with the affairs of some of the colonies; but I maintain that with the good sound judgment and common sense which is at all times brought to bear in the House of Commons on Indian subjects, especially when Anglo-Indian Members venture to submit them to the consideration of the House, the people of India 856 are quite satisfied, and usually find they derive very great and real benefits there-from. It has been pointed out that from time immemorial up to 1888 the right for which we are asking was possessed. It is perfectly evident to anyone who reads the Debate on the Motion for the change of the rule that it was not realised that the change would affect the Indian Budget. No one seemed to realise that this would practically preclude the House from taking notice of Indian affairs. I well remember that the very year when the Indian Budget came on I came down to the House with my pocket full of letters and extracts received from friends in many parts of India. I am not sufficiently egotistical to believe that any good would have resulted from what I might have said, but, still, there were many people in India who thought that their views and their grievances ought to be submitted to the House. What happened? I was called to order very rightly by the Chairman of Committees. I stumbled and stumbled on, not knowing exactly why I was out of order, and was called to order a second time. Finally, I had to give up the attempt to call attention to the subjects which had been intrusted to me, and to devote myself to the consideration of the Financial Statement alone. The Indian Financial Statement is not one of a kind that lends itself to very free discussion. It deals with immense figures, relating to subjects of the greatest importance I admit, but it is impossible to devote to it that amount of discussion that would properly attach to every other topic in connection with India. The financial details have been already settled, and there is little to be said upon them. It is on the other details of administration that the common sense and good judgment of this House should be exercised, and for that reason I think the Government will be well advised if they give a favourable hearing to the proposition of my hon. Friend opposite, and allow a reversion to the old and immemorial usages of this House to take place with reference to Indian questions.
§ (5.22.) THE UNDERSECRETARY OF STATE FOR INDIA (Sir J. GORST, Chatham)
This is a question on which the Government would like to consult the general opinion of the House. If the general opinion of Members is in favour of the 857 change proposed, it would scarcely be seemly for the Government to make any strong objection. It is rather the duty of the Executive Government to invite criticism on its action, and it is not for the Government to lay down in what particular form or circumstances the House can best criticise its conduct. I think the hon. Member who moved this Motion took rather a gloomy view of the possibilities of Indian discussion when he limited them to the Budget night. Since I have had a seat in this House I know that Indian questions have not only been discussed on the Indian Budget night, but, according to the fortune of the ballot, have found a place on many other evenings throughout the Session. Here we are to-night discussing Indian questions on one of the earliest and best opportunities in the Session. But it is true that the Indian Budget night is the only night on which discussion can be absolutely ensured by any Member who has an Indian question to discuss, and it is for those independent Members who wish to bring Indian questions under Parliamentary discussion to consider how the Indian Budget night can be best utilised for their purposes. It is generally a night towards the end of the Session. The effect of the 51st Standing Order is that the night is devoted to one subject to the exclusion of all others, and that is the discussion of the finances of India. I do not know whether it is the opinion of Members generally that it is essential that the finances of India shall be discussed in this House. If they are to be discussed, the Indian Budget is certainly the occasion on which they can be debated, as the Standing Order ensures that the sole business of that night, to the exclusion of all others, shall be the discussion of the finances. There are, no doubt, a great many subjects relative to India that are not connected with finance. Any discussion upon them has been very properly ruled out of order by the Chairman, and no doubt during the last few years Members have been confined to the consideration of the finances with such rigour as the duty of the Chairman has compelled him to apply. If Members who take part in the discussion would rather have a wider field for their utterances, 858 and would wish to discuss every question connected with Indian administration, the adoption of the alteration of the Standing Order proposed by the hon. Gentleman will give them a chance, but a chance only, of their raising such discussion, because the House must remember that if Amendments are allowed to the Motion that Mr. Speaker leave the Chair, the cream of the evening may be taken up by the Member who is so lucky as to get his name first down on the Notice Paper. That Member will be able, if he wishes, to take the sense of the House at a time when the Government forces are unusually strong, and when the sense of the House is likely to be against him. But we must also remember that this question which absorbs the whole evening may be a question which affects only half a dozen Indian officials or a question concerning a handful of Indian capitalists, whom I suppose the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy (Sir G. Campbell) would call the people of India.
§ SIR J. GORST
Or it may be a question which really affects the welfare of the 270,000,000 or 280,000,000 of people whom the Government represent; but whether it is a large question or a small question it may take up the whole of the time of the House to the exclusion of whatever discussion of the finances may be desired on the Budget. It is really for the House to consider whether it will confine the discussion on the Indian Budget to the Budget itself, or allow the wider scope which the hon. Gentlemen who moved and seconded the Motion advocate, but which may result in an unpractical and desultory conversation on a variety of unconnected Indian topics occupying that time which the Standing Order at present devotes exclusively to finance.
§ (5.29.) SIR W. HARCOURT (Derby)
I wish the right hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary had rendered the House a little more assistance by advising us what should be done. It seems to me that, considering that there are 270,000,000 or 280,000,000 of the Queen's subjects in India, we devote uncommonly 859 little attention to them, and I think some more attention should be given to their interests. This matter is becoming everyday more urgent, because the people of India are feeling more and more the necessity of having their interests guarded. The people of India see that the House of Commons is capable of applying almost as many hours to preventing the people of Dublin moving a pillar as they devote in a Session to the interests of the 270,000,000 of the Queen's subjects in India, and they desire that the House of Commons should discover some manner in which Indian grievances shall be considered in this House. The figures brought forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton (Sir W. Plowden) are very striking. They are not creditable to the manner in which India is dealt with by the House of Commons. The right hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary has said that if we were to allow Members to bring forward Indian grievances they might occupy much time, and the Under Secretary might not be able to begin his Budget speech until the dinner hour.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
At all events the right hon. Gentleman said it might throw the financial discussion back. Well, but is it absolutely impossible that in the course of the Session two days should be devoted to India? I think India is worth two days of the time of the House of Commons, and therefore I do not think that is a subject which ought necessarily to stand in our way. I am not speaking from the point of view of one who desires that Indian subjects should become a constant battlefield of discussion in this House. I do not think that is desirable from any point of view. We do not here undertake particular administrations in India in the same way as we undertake particular administrations in the United Kingdom, but, on the other hand, what opportunities now arise of dealing with Indian questions? We all know that on the Colonial Votes that come on under the Estimates, there are constant opportunities of discussion, but of course Indian expenditure does not come under the consideration of the House of Commons in the same manner. I will not myself attempt to propose any method of dealing 860 with this matter. I think it is one highly deserving the attention of the House, but I express no strong opinion on it. As far as I can see there is no objection to the proposal of my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, which at all events would give a definite opportunity of bringing forward any question of this kind. There may be gentlemen here who understand the matter better than I do, who may think that something else might be done. At all events I think it is a matter extremely deserving of the attention of the House.
§ (5.34.) SIR R. TEMPLE (Worcester, Evesham)
Though I give credit to the hon. Member for Wolverhampton (Sir W. Plowden), and to the hon. Member for North Kensington, for having brought this subject forward, nevertheless as a practical man I submit to the House that the present plan is far and away the best, because by it one first-rate discussion is secured and devoted to a practical purpose from the first, and to a Debate which relates to the whole of India. Whereas, under the plan of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton the whole evening might be devoted to miscellaneous matters which might or might not be important, and some of which might interest only particular persons who put them forward. Instead of discussing the large matter of Imperial finance, we should be discussing all sorts of grievances which might or might not be fit to occupy the attention of this House. Of course if, as suggested by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby (Sir W. Harcourt), two evenings could be devoted to Indian affairs so much the better. But even then the better plan is to say that the discussions should be devoted to definite matters of Imperial concern. In reference to all this I submit that there is no good whatever in our following the old English method of disparaging ourselves, and I should be very sorry that the natives of India should suppose from to-day's discussion that this House of Commons, or this Parliament, has at all neglected or been inattentive to the interests of India. Quite irrespective of the Indian Budget Debates and the hours of discussion to which my hon. Friend opposite has referred, it will be found that this Parliament has every Session 861 devoted part of many evenings to vivid and forceful discussions of Indian affairs. I venture to say that the subjects so discussed have been of the very greatest importance to many of our fellow-subjects. We can no longer Debate Indian topics on the Address to the Throne, but we can still day by day put questions to the responsible Minister at Question time in the House, and very often this questioning is an effective way of bringing forward Indian subjects. Besides that, we can ballot for a position on the Notice Paper. There are many Members of the House who take an interest in Indian subjects, and if they all ballot they will secure an evening. Besides those who like myself have lived in India, there is a large and increasing number of Members who take an interest in that country, though they have never been there. Under these circumstances there is no danger of the interests of the great Dependency being neglected.
§ (5.38.) SIR G. CAMPBELL
Except that I was sitting opposite the right hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary, I have not the slightest idea why he fixed a dart in me. I was listening with interest and appreciation to his argument when I understood him to suggest that the Member for Kirkcaldy called small knots of capitalists the people of India. The Member for Kirkcaldy is the very last person to do such a thing. On the contrary, any efforts I have been able to make in this House on the subject have been devoted to the purpose of protecting the people of India against knots of capitalists. I generally agree very much with the hon. Member for Wolverhampton (Sir W. Plowden) on most topics, and especially on Indian topics, but I must say that on the present topic I am not much with him, and on this broad ground: that I am inclined to think that the less the House of Commons interferes with Indian affairs the better. An hon. Friend of mine opposite said that some people who took an interest in India were apt to be influenced by ignorance or prejudice. I will not say much about ignorance; what I am most afraid of is prejudice. I have noticed in this House that the strongest influences which are brought to bear on India are those exercised by prejudice, and those of a personal 862 character. I do not think I need go further in illustration of this view than the subject of the Indian Factories Act. Who are those who take the greatest interest in the question of the Indian Factories Act? They are the rivals of the Indian manufacturers—the manufacturers of Lancashire. The questions which are put on this subject are almost invariably put by Lancashire Members. The First Lord of the Treasury told us that to some extent he accepted the views of these hon. Members, and that he had pressed their views on the Government of India; and he told us that the Secretary of State had urged on the Government of India the desirability of prohibiting night work for women and children. We know that work of that kind was a disputable question in this country; but those who are acquainted with tropical climates are aware that night is often the best time for work, and that work is done at night, the day being devoted to rest. I am quite sure that the First Lord of the Treasury, humane man as he is, would never have advocated such a course except under the influence of ignorance and pressure from hon. Members. Therefore it is that I am not anxious that great facilities should be afforded for the discussion of Indian matters in this House. Feeling that such matters would be discussed to a certain extent to the exclusion of other subjects which we already have too little time to discuss, Parliament in its wisdom has thought fit to delegate great powers to a body sitting not far from here, and the principal duty imposed by law on them is that of controlling the expenditure of money by the Secretary of State. I certainly feel the force of that which has been urged on the House by other Members, namely, that if you go into all sorts of discussions on all sorts of subjects—all sorts of personal grievances which will crop up—on the Budget night it will be impossible to discuss Indian finance in the future as you have discussed it in the past. It is clear to my mind that if you accept this Motion it must be on the understanding suggested by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby, that instead of having one night you must have two for Indian questions—one for grievances and the other for the Indian 863 Budget. If we delegated our duties to local bodies—as I hope one day to see them delegated—and could afford to give one or two additional nights to Indian subjects then, I hope, Members in this House would become better informed as to Indian subjects, and the number of Members who really do desire the welfare of India would preponderate over those who act on prejudice. Under such circumstances, if great good is not done to India, at any rate no great harm will be done. Therefore, I await the decision of the House merely submitting my own view, that I do not think it desirable that the House should have too much control over India, or that too much time should be devoted to the discussion of Indian subjects, until we have sufficiently delegated our duties in the matter.
§ (5.45.) SIR R. FOWLER (London)
This Debate has recalled to my mind the recollection of the late Mr. Fawcett, and I think my hon. Friends near me will testify that he had as much knowledge of Indian affairs as could be gained without residence in India. Hon. Members will recollect that it was his habit to bring forward Indian matters in connection with the Indian Budget, and on those occasions he addressed the House in speeches of length and fulness, such as would have been remarkable in any man, and suffering as he did from his physical infirmity perfectly marvellous. I heard these then, and look back upon them now with astonishment. At that time the discussions were taken on the Motion that the Speaker leave the Chair. I know there is one argument against this course—that towards the end of the Session the labours of the occupant of the Chair are very great, and that these discussions involve an additional strain upon the Speaker as distinguished from the Chairman of Ways and Means, but at the same time I must admit there are great advantages in the proposal of the hon. Gentleman opposite. My hon. Friend has said he has found himself unable to enter upon certain subjects in connection with India, because the Chairman of Ways and Means has ruled that he could only refer to matters connected with the financial question, and I think there are a good many questions which might be discussed with advantage on such occasions if a rather more liberal interpretation 864 were accorded. There is the question of irrigation, for instance, which might be supposed to have an indirect connection with finance, and there are many cognate subjects which might be better discussed on the general Motion that the Speaker leave the Chair; and recognising the great advantage there was in this respect when such was the practice 15 or 16 years ago, in Mr. Fawcett's time, and feeling that there has been less advantage in the system pursued in later years, I have much pleasure in supporting the Motion of my hon. Friend.
§ (5.50.) MR. BRYCE (Aberdeen, S.)
The hon. Baronet the Member for Evesham has expressed an apprehension lest the effect of Debates in this House read in India should give natives of India the impression that the House is becoming less and less interested in their affairs than the House ought to be. Now, I am bound to say in reply to that remark that it will not be from these Debates that the natives of India will have their attention called to this matter, because any hon. Member who has travelled in India, like myself, will confirm what I am going to say, that there is no topic which an Englishman, and especially if he happens to be a Member of Parliament, has more frequently brought to his attention than this discontent, this regret on the part of the people of India that the House of Commons takes so little interest in their affairs, I never remember having a conversation with an intelligent native in which this subject did not come up, and you find them saying, "You must be far from sensible of the great responsibility which rests upon you, and of the great honour you claim it is to be the holders of such an Empire, judging from the small amount of time you find for the discussion of Indian affairs." It is a matter of very great concern, and there are not a few Members here who do feel the greatness of their responsibility—and who would willingly take whatever opportunity the proceedings of the House afford to bring Indian affairs to the knowledge of the British public. I am far from wishing to see the House of Commons interfering more actively in the duties of Indian Government than now. I do not think that any of us differ from my hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy (Sir 865 G. Campbell), that it is undesirable that the House of Commons should endeavour to supersede the Government of India or interfere actively with the duties of the Indian Government. It is Lot at all on that ground that my hon. Friend has made his Motion. His view is that what is wanted is not that this House should interfere directly, but that the House should give mandatory directions to the Indian Government that it should give more attention to, and be more tolerant of, Indian grievances than it is now, and provide better means for bringing the complaints of the Indian people before the British people, not necessarily with a view to action by this House, but in order that the people of India may feel that the facts of their condition are fairly known and studied. Now, the question is, whether this is best effected by having a power of general discussion before the House goes into Committee on the Indian Budget. It has been very fairly stated, Sir, that a discussion with you in the Chair might have a tendency to wander, but there are two or three points connected with our procedure which have a bearing on this question. It is not possible late in the Session for Private Members to secure an opportunity for raising a discussion, and, indeed, even at the commencement of the Session, as some of us from recent experience have found, the rights of Private Members are very uncertain. But towards the close of the Session, after the middle of May, it is extremely difficult for Private Members to obtain any opportunity of bringing questions forward in the House, and not only so, but in regard to Indian questions it is very difficult to keep a House together. As the House knows, towards the period of the year I have mentioned it is the practice of the Government to take Morning Sittings, and it is not easy to bring 40 Members back to the House at 9 o'clock to make a House for an Indian Debate. It is a misfortune, for there are many Indian questions that well deserve Debate; but Members, disappointed of their opportunity in May, June, or July find their only chance upon the Indian Budget. That is a strong reason for allowing this greater latitude for which the Motion pleads. It seems to me that even more material than the particular technical question as to the width of 866 the discussion upon the Indian Budget is the bringing the Budget forward earlier in the Session. The suggestion has been thrown out that the Government ought to give two days for the discussion, and I hope that that expresses the general view. If that suggestion be adopted, it certainly will be an argument in favour of the Motion of my hon. Friend, because the Government will no doubt feel that it is desirable to give the two days at the earliest possible period in the Session. Of course in the last days of the Session the discussion has to be crowded into one night, but if taken earlier then two days might fairly be occupied. On the whole, I think the balance of argument, looking to the fact that we have to satisfy public opinion in India and to show that we are sensible of our responsibilities towards India, is in favour of the Motion.
§ (5.55.) MR. CONYBEARE (Cornwall, Camborne)
When I heard the remarks of the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy I was inclined to exclaim "Is Saul, also, among the prophets?" The Anglo-Indian official view is not one I feel inclined to adopt. The usual Anglo-Indian official view is that India is governed in the best of all possible ways, and that it is difficult or impossible to discover any means of bettering the condition of the Indian people. Now we cannot all speak with practical experience and knowledge of India, but I am perfectly certain that the great majority of Members who do attend in any degree whatever to the statements and facts they may gather from all sources as to the condition of the people of India must come to this conclusion, that however proud we may be of the great system of administration our forefathers have built up in India, and I in no way wish to depreciate it, yet it falls far short of what it might be expected to be if we relied on the optimistic Anglo-Saxon official view. It is not merely the financial condition of India we wish to bring before the House; that is done adequately enough by the few specialists capable of dealing with the figures in an Indian Budget. We cannot leave out of view the social condition of the people of India, and it is to this we want to call the attention of the people of this country and to enlighten them, through the medium of Debate, upon the con- 867 dition of our fellow subjects in India. I am inclined to think that few of our people realise what a terrible condition of poverty is that of the greater part of the 270,000,000 of our fellow subjects in India. The average earnings of each inhabitant of these islands is £41 per annum, but the average earnings of an Indian subject of Her Majesty is £2 a year. There are many other facts which might be adduced in proof of the terribly poverty-stricken condition of the people, which suggests that something should be done to stem the constant drain of wealth out of India at present going on. If this were a time to go into details it would be possible to show by accumulated instances the enormous suffering caused by the constantly recurring famines—I will not say the result of our government, but which surely our government has not done enough to prevent. I do not say we are at fault in relieving distress when famine occurs, but we have not been successful in rooting out the causes of these famines, and it is well the light of public opinion should be directed to the subject. So far as I am able to gather, though I confess my statistics are not altogether reliable or complete, the condition of the people in the native-governed portions of India is far more satisfactory than the condition of the people in those parts immediately under British administration. That surely shows that the causes of the poverty of which we complain and the terribly depressed social condition of the people are not to be found in the inherent qualities of the people or conditions of climate, but may be traced to maladministration or defects in our system. But the question before us is whether we shall return to what was the old Constitutional practice in regard to Indian affairs. The hon. Member for Kirkcaldy is anxious that this House should not have too much control over Indian affairs, and he fears the ignorance and prejudice that exist on the subject. We do not, however, as has been said by the hon. Member for Aberdeen, want to take away the responsibility and power exercised by the India Office, but so far as the system of Government emanating from the India Office is concerned, I say the proceedings ought to be subjected to the light of public opinion. Everything 868 is done in a hole-and-corner manner. We ought to know what the Indian Council is doing, how it conducts the affairs of this great Empire, and I hope the time for this publicity is coming. As to ignorance and prejudice, we know how prejudice has been excited by the rivalry that the Indian cotton manufacturers have established with our home manufacturers, and how, by the development of the cotton industry, Bombay has become a manufacturing city equal to many in this country. We can understand the selfish interests brought to bear against formidable rivals in India, and these influences being exercised in an underhand, backstairs sort of way, we cannot cope with them so long as we are unable to bring the facts before the House. The effect of free discussion in this House would be to stamp with a sense of responsibility those who otherwise might conduct administration to the prejudice of our Indian fellow subjects. I am quite sure that public opinion in this country would be against the exercise of any influence from these selfish trade motives. An excessively small amount of time is devoted here to Indian affairs. I think it has been estimated at 14 hours in a Session for all subjects affecting India. Now, I do not think it is too much to insist upon, that two regular days should be devoted to Indian affairs, one day for the discussion of general questions on the Motion that the Speaker do leave the Chair, and the other day to the specific subjects connected with finance. The Ballot for private Members interested in Indian subjects is an uncertain process, and even when the day is secured the Government steps in frequently and confiscates the opportunity. We know, too, that in the latter part of the Session it is well-nigh impossible, by the influence of a private Member, to keep a House together for an Indian Debate. I do not want to elaborate the various suggestions made, but there is one suggestion I offer. There is a complaint of ignorance of Indian matters in the House, that Members do not make themselves acquainted with the geography, language, and social conditions of the people, and there is a desire for more information on Indian affairs. It is not possible for many Members to avail themselves of the oppor- 869 tunity of travelling in India during the Recess; but I throw out the suggestion that if the Government would place at the disposal of Members berths in some of Her Majesty's ships, there would thus be afforded a ready means of acquiring knowledge, by personal visits, of our great Indian Dependency. I am prepared to have this suggestion met with a laugh; but have we not at this present moment notices in different parts of the House offering facilities to Members to view the launch at Portsmouth, and in the Jubilee Year were not other facilities offered of this nature? I am not in the least alarmed by the fear expressed that important Indian questions may be dragged through the mire of partisan debate. What is required is the ampler discussion of Indian affairs generally, so that free ventilation may be given for all real or supposed grievances. I am certain that much good will result to India from the confidence inspired by the knowledge that an increasing number of people in this country take a lively and sympathetic interest in Indian affairs.
(6.13.) MR. SWIFT MAC NEILL (Donegal, S.)
I have always taken an interest in Indian matters, for I represent a country which, like India, is under British rule, bat outside the pale of the British Constitution. We always hear from Anglo-Indian officers that the natives of India are contented and happy; but they are nothing of the kind, and would be foolish if they were. The Government of India is in the hands of a few officials, and Debate in this House was restricted in 1888, just about the time when Mr. Bradlaugh got his mandate from the people of India to take up their cause. Debate is restricted by being taken in Committee on the Budget, and I well remember how this operated when the hon. Member for Shoreditch wished to draw attention to proceedings in India for the authorisation of vice. That had nothing to do with the Budget question, and was accordingly ruled out of order. Similarly, when the hon. Member who seconded the Motion and who has taken great interest in educational matters in India, and has done a great deal to solve the problem as to how far we are able to bring western education and ideas into harmony with eastern life—when this hon. Gentleman thought he was 870 quite within his rights in giving the House some idea from his special knowledge on that subject, he was at once ruled out of order. And a Member of the Government opposite who is a deputy Chairman, I remember, on the Budget of 1889, exercised his legitimate rights, as he thought, and endeavoured to give expression to his views on Indian Government and the Indian National Congress, but he had hardly uttered half a dozen words when he was called to order. I wish to show how Debate is stifled in this House not only by irresponsible Members like myself being ruled out of order, but by even Members of the Government being treated in the same way. I think that what took place on the last Budget was the most emphatic condemnation of discussion of all. I have here a speech by Mr. Bradlaugh—whose presence here we all of us, no matter on what side we sit, were always glad to see, and who was an upright and honourable man, and a great acquisition to the House. I am sure that, of all Members of the House, the First Lord of the Treasury will pay attention to what Mr. Bradlaugh had to say on the subject, for we all recollect with pleasure that in Mr. Bradlaugh's closing hours the right hon. Gentleman forgot all the enmity of party, and wished to tender to the dying man all sympathy and regard. The Chairman of Ways and Means will remember calling Mr. Bradlaugh to order, with great pain. He would have liked to have heard what Mr. Bradlaugh had to say on this most interesting topic, if his speech could have come into consonance with the ruling of the Chair. We all know that, of all matters, the one which has affected Indian trade most materially was the answer of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the 24th March, when he proposed to abolish the silver plate duty. Mr. Bradlaugh wished to direct attention to the probable consequences to Indian finance of that abolition, and at once the Chairman said "I do not know how this concerns the finance of India." And then, further, we have a still more important point. Mr. Bradlaugh wished to direct attention to the operation of the salt syndicate in still further increasing the Salt Tax in India, which is one of the worst and vilest taxes of the Indian 871 Government, and a tax which we alone, of all people, impose upon a native race, and one which was referred to only the other day as a specimen of our rule in India. Again the Chairman said, "I cannot see how that is relevant to the subject before the House." Referring to the point that all matters connected with the salt syndicate were outside the scope of the discussion, Mr. Bradlaugh said—The moment you say that, it is my duty to accept, as I always do with profound respect, the ruling you give, but it then becomes my duty to appeal to this Committee, when it is sitting as a House, to give at least once a year as, by the old custom, always was given, some opportunity during which the representatives of a defenceless nation may put before Parliament their criticism of the official statement made and some reasons for the grievances pointed out.Those words are more eloquent coming from a man in the grave than they would have been if we had still his kindly presence amongst us. I do not see how the Under Secretary for India can at all, even by implication, limit to one night the discussion of questions affecting the interests of 270,000,000 people who themselves have no voice whatever in this House. So far back as 1873, when Indian subjects did not excite the amount of interest they do at present, the Indian Budget took three nights. I am sure the First Lord of the Treasury would be glad to consult public opinion in India, and would be glad to show to the natives that he takes some interest in their welfare. I hope that when the right hon. Gentleman comes to speak—as I see he will immediately—he will take note of and consider the opinions of Gentlemen on all sides of the House, and those of Mr. Bradlaugh, to which I have directed attention. On all these grounds I respectfully hope, having regard to the magnitude of the question, and to the scant attention given to Indian matters, that the right hon. Gentleman will at once say that the Government will accede, and gracefully accede, to this Motion.
§ (6.20.) THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. W. H. SMITH, Strand, Westminster)
I have listened with great interest to the conversation—it cannot be called a Debate—which has been taking place during the past hour and a 872 half. I find that there is almost a universal concensus of opinion on the part of those who have been responsible for the government of India in any sense, and that there is no desire, whatever, to interfere with the actual administration of affairs in India. The only difference of opinion which has been expressed has been by gentlemen who have hitherto had no responsibility for that Government. The desire we have had in limiting the Debate on the Indian Budget has been to insure the discussion of Indian Finance. It appears now to be generally the opinion of hon. Gentlemen in this House that it is even more important to secure an opportunity for dealing with the grievances of India than to discuss Indian finance. At the same time we do not desire to escape from the discussion of these Indian grievances although we disavow all intention of interfering with Indian administration. If the Debate we have had this evening is circulated in India, I am afraid it will not give the people of India generally a very high opinion of the knowledge and information that this House possesses on Indian subjects, or that they are able to suggest any very pratical method by which the grievances—if they are grievances—can be remedied. I remark that one hon. Gentleman, who spoke in this Debate, said that discussion in this House would probably tend to uproot the causes of famine in India. I have always understood that those causes were drought, and it struck me as very remarkable in the House that any hon. Gentleman should get up and say that a resolution or discussion here could avert those terrible calamities, which are certainly due to causes far beyond any human control. I observe that an hon. Member opposite shakes his head. I wish he could have the responsibility of governing some district in India and would state for himself how he could avert a drought there by any Resolution like this. I only refer to this remark of an hon. Member to show how thoroughly impracticable are some views on the great questions that affect the Indian people. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby pressed on Her Majesty's Government the expediency of yielding to the views expressed by hon. Members on both sides of the House. Well, this 873 is not a matter on which the Government desire to oppose the appeal of hon. Gentlemen if they wish to discuss questions other than those of finance on the annual occasion when the Indian Budget is presented to the House. There would be no desire on the part of Her Majesty's Government to shut out these questions. The arrangement now in force is the one which best secures the consideration of the finances of India, for which undoubtedly the Government of India is responsible. If, however, in the opinion of hon. Members and of the House, there are questions which should precede the consideration of the finances of India it is certainly not for the Government to interpose any obstacle. I notice that one hon. Member desired that those matters should be discussed at an earlier period than we are accustomed to take, but the House is aware that the actual figures on which the Indian Budget is framed do not arrive from India until the month of June is far advanced, and in the month of June the condition of public business is such that it is almost impossible to interpose a Debate of one or two days in the Debate on some Bill which is before the House, and which it is necessary to press for the consideration of. It is not in our option to present the Indian Budget for consideration at a very much earlier period than at present, and if it is relegated to a late period of the Session it is a circumstance which we regret but which we are unable to prevent. My desire is that hon. Gentlemen who are acquainted with and have an interest in this subject, should have a full opportunity of dealing with it when the occasion arises, because there is no doubt that questions of very great importance to their fellow subjects in India frequently occur—questions upon which they undoubtedly ought to have the means of expressing not only their own views and opinions but those which they know to be entertained in India.
§ Question put, and agreed to.