HC Deb 09 May 1898 vol 57 cc753-60

Order for Second Reading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed— That the Bill be now read a second time.

Amendment proposed— To leave out the word 'now,' and at the end of the Question to add the words 'upon this day six months.'"—(Mr. Herbert Roberts.)

MR. J. HERBERT ROBERTS (Denbighshire, W.)

There are one or two points of importance which I desire to raise. The object of this Bill, as I understand it, is to enable the Secretary of State for India to acquire compulsorily certain portions of land on which the India Store Depôt now stands. According to the explanatory statement of the Bill it appears that, whereas the largest portion of the land has a good long lease to run, the particular plot in question has a lease of only two or three years to run. It is, therefore, desirable that the India Office should acquire it. As the House is aware, the whole question of the charges which are to be placed upon the Indian revenue has been under the consideration of a Royal Commission. The first reason why I ask the House to reject this Bill is that that Commission has not yet reported. The Commission is certain to make some recommendation with regard to such expenditure. The other reason why I make this Motion is because it appears to me very questionable indeed whether it is in the interests of India that this Store Depôot in England should be carried on at all. I do not think it necessary to make any apology for raising this question. The Bill raises a question of policy. There is no other time to discuss it. It is almost impossible to refer to the Indian question except for an hour or two during the Debate on the Address at the beginning of the Session, or at its expiring moments. There is an increasing feeling in favour of a change, and India ought to have more of the time of Parliament. This Bill raises one or two very important points in reference to the placing of home charges upon the Indian revenue. I wish very briefly to explain to the House why I make this Motion. I think the noble Lord opposite will admit that it is the declared policy of the Indian Government to reduce the purchase of stores for India in England, whenever the Government can satisfy themselves that those stores can be purchased in India without loss to the Indian taxpayer. That is the policy which he declared himself, on behalf of the Indian Government. The only right test of this lies in an examination of what is bought and stored in this depôt in England. I will take a few facts from the East Indian Finance Statement, which lies in the Library, in regard to stores procured in England for shipment to India. It is for the year 1895–6, page 31. I find that they amount to a total value of £831,375 for that year. I should like to give you a few of the chief items. The item for stamps is of the value of £43,000; post office, £46,000; telegraph, £43,000; coal, £57,000; stationery, £39,000; buildings, £31,000; Army clothing, £210,000; and Army ordnance, £235,000. Now, it must be apparent that there are many questions raised on this point. First of all, there is the question, to what extent is the Store Depôt in England used for these stores? The second point is, is it not a fact that most, if not all, of these things could be bought in India itself as cheaply as here. It is very interesting to read a Blue Book dealing with the facts relating to the moral and material progress and condition of India. One of the items purchased in England which, I suppose, is to some extent stored in these stores, is coal. I find from "The Moral and Material Progress and Condition of India" Report, that in that item there has been a very satisfactory increase of recent years. The annual output of coal in India in 1893 was 2,347,000 tons; in 1894 it was 2,820,000 tons; and in 1895—the last year for which figures are given, it reached 3,537,000 tons. Upon that point I wish to ask the right honourable Gentleman opposite whether this depôt in England is used in any way in connection with these items of coal. It seems to me, in regard to these Army Clothing and Army Ordnance charges, that it would be possible, under the present condition, to equip the Army—at all events the native Army—in India with, clothing supplied from India, rather than from this country. There is every reason to believe that the articles produced, can be better and more cheaply purchased in India than in England. I have one or two criticisms to make in regard to several points. Take Clause 1 of the Bill, in which there is a reference to plans. I would ask the right honourable Gentleman where those plans are to be seen at the present moment, and whether it is possible to see them. Then Clause 2 deals with the area of the land. I would like some information from the right honourable Gentleman as to the approximate area, and the approximate value, of the land, and the building that stands upon it. The third point is in regard to Clause 8. By that section the Secretary of State for India has been empowered to pull down the present building and erect a new building. I would ask him whether he would give the House an approximate estimate of the expenditure entailed in the purchase of the land and that in the erection of this new building. The only other point on which I desire information is Clause 11. Under that clause exceptional powers are given to the Secretary of State for India in reference to those who wilfully obstruct him, and those who act with him in the erection of these buildings. Will the noble Lord allow me to ask him what reason there is for claiming privileged powers in regard to a building of this kind more than in regard to any other class of building all over the country? The crucial point in the Bill arises in Clause 13, which charges the revenues of India with all the purchase moneys, the compensation, and the costs in connection with this Bill. It seems to me that, unless this depôt will be a means of saving to the Indian taxpayers, there is no just ground for proceeding with the Bill. I beg to move that the Bill be read this day six months.

MR. J. HERBERT LEWIS (Flint Boroughs)

India is a poor country, and when a few months ago it was proposed to place certain charges upon the finances of India there was a cry of indignation in this House that came, not from this side alone, for those most hostile to it were honourable Gentlemen on the other side of the House. A Commission is sitting at the present moment for the purpose of determining, or, at all events, for the purpose of recommending what charges ought to be borne by India and this country respectively. And now, on the eve of that Report, when we are expecting almost daily to see it, the Secretary for India comes and asks us to pass a Bill which may prejudice materially the finances of that Report. We want to see what the Commission has to report before we sanction any expenditure of this kind. Therefore, on the ground stated by my honourable Friend—that India is well capable of furnishing some of these stores, and is becoming more and more capable in that direction every year—it does seem to be quite unnecessary that at a period like the present we should seek to enlarge the stores of the Indian Department. I think the House will require strong reasons from the noble Lord before it assents to this proposal. It may be that some of the provisions are explicable, and the right honourable Gentleman might have saved trouble if he had explained what was his Bill. It is a contentious Bill in the first instance; there are some provisions to which on general grounds the House might take exception. The crux of the whole matter lies in Clause 13. I hope we shall look upon this matter not from the point of view of the United Kingdom alone, but from the Imperial point of view. Having regard to the enormous burdens that have already been laid upon India during the past few years in consequence of the plague, the war, and the famine—these three great scourges of the human race—I think that we should not at this moment make these additional charges upon the revenues of India. I hope the right honourable Gentleman will consider this question, especially having regard to Clause 13, and give the House some assurance that if we want the Store Depôt in this country extended, the cost of extending it shall be borne by this country.


Honourable Members will see at a glance, if they read the explanatory note, what the Bill proposes to do. India cannot provide many articles that are required for the administration of the country except at a cost greater than that paid in this country. Wherever India can provide articles of the same quality and at the same price as those supplied from this country, preference will be given to India A Store Depôt has been established for many years for the dispatch of articles which it is necessary to purchase for India which India could not provide for herself. The work is carried out on two pieces of land which belonged to the same landlord. Of one portion the India Office has a fairly satisfactory lease. Of the other portion of the land, which is an integral part of the Store Depôt, the lease is about to expire. Difficulty was found in coming to an arrangement with the landlord, and the Government asked for the compulsory provisions of the Lands Clauses Act to be put into operation. It was thus necessary to bring the question under the notice of the House, because the funds upon which the charge is made are public funds. The Commission appointed to inquire into the apportionment of the charges between the Indian and Imperial Governments, has nothing to do with the supply of stores. It is a distinct and separate question. This country is one of the greatest manufacturing countries in the world, and it consequently follows that a considerable number of things India wants can be obtained much more cheaply here than in India. The only effect of the rejection of this Bill will be to do a good turn to a London ground landlord. I agree with the honourable Gentleman that we ought to do everything in our power to increase the demand for articles manufactured in India. Of recent years there has been a great increase in the number of articles India may require.

MR. WEIR (Ross and Cromarty)

The noble Lord has given no information as to the area of the land, the cost of the land, or the cost of the buildings proposed to be erected. Is it to be £50,000 or £300,000 or £400,000? We are absolutely ignorant of the amount we are going to spend. I think the people of this country ought to bear some portion of the expenditure, and that it should not be imposed on the poverty-stricken and famine-stricken people of India. If the Amendment for the rejection of this Bill is carried to a Division, I shall certainly vote for it.

MR. J. DILLON (Mayo, E.)

I wish to say a word or two in support of one of the points which have been raised against this Bill. My objection to the Bill is entirely based on Clause 13, which provides that all purchase money and compensation payable by virtue of, and all costs, expenses, and liabilities in carrying this Act into effect, shall be a charge upon the revenues of India. Are we to understand that this charge is not to be repaid to the people of India, and that they are to bear the cost of the purchase of this site in London? If that is the case, I think it is most cruel and most unreasonable to call upon the natives of India to pay the expense of providing a building in this city, and that they should pay for carrying out these works. On that ground, I shall vote with my honourable Friend if he goes to a Division against the Bill.


After the explanations which have been given by the noble Lord, I do not desire to put the House to the trouble of a Division; but I should be glad if he would give us some information as to the approximate cost.


I may say, in answer to the questions which have just been put to me, that we have no idea of erecting buildings under this Vote, but that all we want is to get possession of the land. The amount asked for the land is about £70,000, but I think we may get it for very much less. The honourable Member for Mayo will therefore understand that the object of this Bill is to reduce the charge which ultimately India will have to bear.

Question proposed— That the word 'now' stand part of the Question.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Main Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read a second time.


I beg now to move, Sir— That the Bill be committed to a Select Committee of five Members, three to be nominated by the House and two by the Committee of Selection; that all petitions against the Bill presented three clear days before the meeting of the Committee be referred to the Committee; that the petitioners praying to be heard by themselves, their counsel, or agents, be heard against the Bill, and counsel heard in support of the Bill; that the Committee have power to send for persons, papers, and records; that three be the quorum.

Motion agreed to.