HL Deb 19 July 1838 vol 44 cc310-2
Lord Ellenborough

rose to present a petition which had been placed in his bands a considerable time since. He had not presented it before, because he knew that it was almost impossible to attract the attention of their Lordships to any question connected with the East Indies, however grave and important it might be. The petition which he was about to lay before the House, and which came from the presidency of Bombay, was most respectably and most numerously signed, by Hindoos as well as by Europeans; and its general prayer was, that their Lordships or the Legislature of this country would repeal that part of the last Charter Act which took from the Governments of Bombay and Madras the power of local legislation which those Governments previously possessed. The petitioners complained that certain acts authorized by the Government of Bengal (to which had been transferred the power previously exercised by the Governments of Bombay and Madras), had been most prejudicial to their interests. At the time when the Charter Act was under discussion, he had strongly objected to that part of it which deprived the Bombay and Madras Governments of the power which they, up to that time, exercised, and exercised advantageously. This alteration was made without any reason whatsoever having been assigned for it. For the purpose of carrying a mere speculative theory into effect, the people under the Government of Bombay, who were ten times more numerous than the people of Canada, and the people under the Government of Madras, who were at least thirty times more numerous than the people of Canada, were deprived of the advantages of that legislative rule which the respective Governments had long enjoyed. This alteration could not have been made in consequence of any want of ability, or supposed want of ability, of the individuals who had been placed at the head of those Governments. In fact, Bombay and Madras had for a considerable time been governed by men of much greater eminence than those who had presided in Bengal. There never was, he believed, for instance, a better legislator in India than Sir Thomas Monro. In addition to the reasons assigned by the petitioners for having the old system of Government renewed in these two presidencies, he might also quote the decided opinion of Mr. Elphinstone and Sir Thomas Monro, who were strongly opposed to the alteration that had been introduced. The petitioners were perfectly right in the view which they took of the existing law, which, so far as the interests of Bombay and Madras were concerned, undoubtedly called for repeal. That the existing system worked badly was evident by the case of Hill Coolies, which was lately the subject of a bill introduced by a noble Lord opposite (Lord Glenelg). Early in 1836, the governor of the Mauritius called on the governor-general, in council, at Bengal, to make some provisions and regulations for the protection of the natives of India who might wish to enter into contracts as labourers in the British colonies. Nothing, however, was done until May, 1837; and in November following so ineffective was the law, that the Bengal government was obliged to alter it altogether, and to substitute another regulation. When this latter law was passed, it was found to relate to Calcutta, and not to Madras. The papers which the noble Lord at the head of the Colonial Department had laid on the Table of the House proved what a dreadful mortality had occurred amongst those native labourers who had been sent out to the Mauritius. Every one of those ships carried out British subjects, natives of India, to act as labourers. Many of them had perished. But he was quite convinced, that no such catastrophe would have occurred if the government of Madras had been possessed of those legislative powers of which they had been deprived by the last Charter Act. Efficient steps would, in that case, have been taken to prevent that overcrowding of vessels which had occasioned such fatal consequences.

Lord Glenelg

said, the provisions of the Act had been fully discussed in the other House of Parliament, on the occasion of its being introduced. He considered its general principle to be a wholesome one, although it was possible, that its advantages might be, to a great extent, defeated by the mode of carrying it into operation, and that injustice might be inflicted in particular cases.

Petition to lie on the table.