HL Deb 09 August 1833 vol 20 cc441-7

The Marquess of Lansdown moved the Order of the Day for taking the Report of the East-India Company's Charter Renewal Bill into further consideration.

The Earl of Aberdeen moved, as an Amendment, "that Counsel be heard at the Bar in support of the claims of the holders of Carnatic stock."

The Marquess of Lansdown

said, the claims of those petitioners arose out of a contract entered into between them and the East-India Company, by which certain revenues were to be set apart for the liquidation of their debt. By the 46th of George 3rd, the revenues of the Carnatic were to be appropriated to the liquidation of those claims. For his own part, he was of opinion, with his noble friend behind him (Lord Auckland), that the petitioners would not be in any way injured by the Bill then before their Lordships, From the best consideration which he had given the subject, it appeared to him, that the claims of the petitioners remained the same, and the means of paying them were just as safe, as before the introduction of this measure; but, as they seemed to entertain some apprehension on this point, he would recommend that their claims should be recognized by a distinct provision. He did not think, however, that their situation would in consequence be made better, or that Carnatic stock would be worth one shilling more in the market than it was at present. They undoubtedly had a right to call for the strict execution of the contract into which they had entered. It had been agreed, that the revenues of the Carnatic should be set aside to meet their demands; but it appeared that they had not derived much advantage from the arrangement, because it was not carried into strict execution; for, though those revenues had been set apart for that purpose, it did not appear that the claimants had received any benefit from those revenues. They had not been dealt with according to the original provision of the contract, but still they had not been substantively injured. Under all the circumstances, however, Ministers were desirous of satisfying them, by inserting a special clause to this effect:—"That the situation of holders of Carnatic stock should remain substantively the same as it is now, anything contained in this Bill to the contrary notwithstanding." At the same time he must observe that they would, in some respects, be placed in a better situation after the passing of this Bill than they were now placed in.

The Earl of Aberdeen

was satisfied with the course taken by his Majesty's Ministers. It was perfectly evident, that the claim put forward by these petitioners was just and proper. It was only fair that they should be continued after the passing of this Bill, in the same circumstances as they were placed in at present. They desired nothing new; they only wished to retain the security which they now held. Now, he would maintain that, by the 8th and 16th clauses of this Bill, their situation would be much worse, if a provision of this description were not introduced. There was a note appended to a return of the financial charges of India, which had been laid on their Lordships' Table, which clearly proved that, by the manner in which the commercial assets of the Company were to be disposed of, and which would throw the limitable debt and the bond debt on the territorial revenue, that the holders of Carnatic stock would, under this Bill, be placed in a much worse situation than they held at present but for the introduction of this clause.

The Duke of Wellington

called the attention of their Lordships to another class of creditors—he alluded to those who were interested in the limitable loan, from one of whom a petition had been presented a few days ago by a noble Lord (Ellenborough). The Acts of 1793 and of 1813 provided, that means should be adopted to transmit money to England to pay these creditors. But these enactments were set aside by the present Bill. It was not de- cided in what order these creditors were to be paid. All that was directed was, that the Court of Directors, who were the debtors, and the Board of Control, should make such arrangements as they thought fit for the payment of those demands, without naming any specific day.

The Earl of Aberdeen

said, that, not anticipating that the noble Marquess would have introduced such a provision as he had stated his intention of introducing, with respect to the Carnatic creditors, he had drawn up, and intended to move, a clause which embraced the limitable loan creditors, as well as the Carnatic creditors. He wished to know, whether the noble Marquess had any objection to adopt it?

The Marquess of Lansdown

said, he certainly should oppose any such clause. The case of the creditors now referred to was entirely different from that of the Carnatic creditors. In the latter case, the contract entered into with the creditors had not been strictly executed: because revenues that were set aside for the purpose of meeting their claims, had not been so applied. This, however, was not the case with the other description of creditors. The whole of these proceedings had been before these creditors for six months. The subject had been debated in the East-India House, it had been debated in the House of Commons, and it had been debated in that House, without those creditors ever stirring in the business; but now, at the eleventh hour, their complaints were first brought forward. Their claim was on the territorial revenue; and the President of the Board of Control, in a communication to the Court of Directors, in February last, which was laid before the Court of Proprietors, and which was published all through the country, distinctly pointed out the benefits which this class of creditors would derive from the new arrangement. Mr. Grant said:—"With regard to the territorial creditors, they obtain specific advantages. They obtain, for the first time, a national recognition of their lien on the Indian territory; they obtain a release from all doubts and difficulties which, either in law or in equity, may have been raised as to the nature of their rights in a technical point of view. All the property of which the commercial branch surrenders the possession, subject to the reservations already mentioned, confirms the obligation which the terr- itorial creditor holds. This security, under the existing Acts, is confined to a temporary claim on the territorial revenue and commercial profit. It will, under the new Act, consist of the general funds and revenues of the Indian government, aided and augmented by the surplus assets of the Company at home, and by all their commercial property in India, which, whatever be its amount, will merge into the general funds and revenues of the Indian empire. Besides all this, the interest of the territorial creditor, when viewed on a great scale, must be considered as identified with that of the territory, which is his principal security, and must be promoted by whatever promotes the territorial prosperity." It was provided by the 53rd of George 3rd, that the commercial assets of the Company should not be liable to the liquidation of any charge of a territorial or political nature payable in India, until after the dividend on the capital stock of the Company was provided for; and therefore, he contended, those creditors had no just claim for the introduction of a clause in that Bill similar to the clause which he meant to propose with respect to the Carnatic creditors.

The Duke of Wellington

said, that those petitioners had a claim, as well on the revenue derived from the sales of the Company, as on the territorial revenue. The former would, of course, cease under the present measure; and, therefore, the creditors would be so much worse off than they were at present, if a protecting clause were not introduced. Formerly an arrangement was made for the payment of those creditors, but now there was no provision of that kind. The noble Marquess said, that those creditors had not made an application in time, but the fact was, that they did not, and could not, know how they would stand, until the Bill was brought in. He was an advocate for the Company, but he would say, that they ought to sustain their credit by making a proper arrangement.

The Marquess of Salisbury

said, the question appeared to him to be a very simple one. He thought that the limit-able creditors ought to be placed on the same footing with other creditors.

Lord Wynford

contended, that the creditors were placed in a much worse situation by this Bill than that in which they stood before. Under former Acts there were specific arrangements made for the payment of those creditors; but now it was left, by two clauses of this Bill, to the discretion and convenience of the debtors (the Court of Directors) and the Board of Control, in direct contravention of preceding legislative enactments. To remedy this injustice, he would move, that the latter part of the 8th clause, and the whole of the 16th, be omitted.

Lord Auckland

said, if the assets of the Company were sufficient to provide for the expense of the government, these creditors should not be placed in a worse situation than at present; and it was certain that those assets would be more than sufficient. He could not understand how the holders of the remittable debts would be placed in any manner or degree in a worse situation than at present.

Amendment withdrawn, and the House proceeded to reconsider the Report.

Lord Wynford moved that the last five lines of the 8th clause, which exempted any stock or effects which the Company might hereafter have to their own use, or any dividend which might, by this Act, be secured to them, from liability to any debts which, under the Act, were chargeable on India, be omitted.

The Motion was negatived, as was also that for omitting the 16th clause, which gives priority of payment to the stockholder over all other creditors.

The Marquess of Lansdown

introduced in the 37th clause, an Amendment, which went to provide that the fifth member of the Council, who is not a civil servant of the Government, should take no part in its deliberations, except on pure legislative measures, in order that he might not take part in any deliberations concerning the executive.

Amendment agreed to.

On the 65th clause, the Duke of Wellington proposed an Amendment to provide that the Commission to be sent out to revise the laws, should not consist of gentlemen sent from Westminster-hall without any experience of India, or the habits of the people.

The Lord Chancellor

said, that it never entered into the imagination of any man to send out such persons; but, at the same time, it was barely possible that a gentleman who had been in India, and had returned to England, might be willing to go back to India, and to allow such a man to be employed, the clause must be left as it was.

Amendment negatived.

The Marquess of Lansdown

proposed, in the 85th clause, an Amendment, the effect of which was to make the Governor-General send to England drafts of all measures which might be considered as tending to abolish slavery, in order that the Government at home might keep this delicate subject under its control.

Lord Suffield

expressed his regret that this alteration had been made. He did not believe, that there would be any fears excited by the preamble of this Bill with reference to slavery; he would mention a fact to show that the idea of emancipating slaves was not so utterly out of the minds of the East Indians as seemed to be thought. In the island of Ceylon a great portion of proprietors, of all denominations, had liberated their slaves; the example was thought so laudable that it was, soon after, followed by the Mallaccans, the Sumatrans, and the proprietors at St. Helena. Even if the preamble were calculated to excite fear, it was now too late to prevent it, for the Bill, preamble, and all, had long ago been forwarded to India. The condition of the slaves in the East Indies was, in every respect, quite as deplorable as that of the West-India slaves. In Malabar it was infinitely worse: there, in addition to other dreadful punishments, it was not unusual to cut off the noses of the slaves; and several instances were related in the work of a credible traveller, where slaves had died under punishment. So degraded was their position, that when a Brahmin chanced by accident to touch one of them, he was obliged to fast a certain time by way of purifying himself from the supposed contagion of the slave's touch. One case was related where a man had stabbed his own son to save him from the disgrace of coming into contact with a slave in a narrow road.

The Duke of Wellington

said, the noble Lord had enlarged much upon despotism and tyranny—abuses which he (the Duke of Wellington) was no more in favour of than the noble Lord. All he wanted was, to uphold the ancient laws, customs, and religion of the country. This had been the principal point observed with all former Governments, and he therefore trusted, that this Government would not make such violent innovations in the best institutions and customs of India. The proposed change was altogether uncalled for. He had never known a single instance of cruelty in Indian proprietors towards their slaves, and there were many other noble Lords who had, like him, served in India, who could afford the same testimony. The instance quoted of peculiar cruelty in Malabar had more reference to difference of caste than to slavery. There was hardly a family in India which was without domestic slaves; certainly there were no Mussulman families who had not female slaves, and any attempt to deprive the Indians of their slaves would inevitably produce the greatest dissatisfaction, if not absolute insurrection.

Report received—Bill to be read a third time.