HL Deb 12 July 1844 vol 76 cc696-704
The Marquess of Clanricarde

rose to put the question to his noble Friend opposite of which he had given notice, relative to events of great importance which were now passing in India, and to which it was desirable that the attention of Parliament should be directed. Undoubtedly he knew that it was not usual for Parliament to interfere very actively in Indian affairs, either with respect to what was actually going on, or to what might be in prospect, and he quite concurred in the general conviction that great latitude and discretion must be given to the Governor General of India who was placed in very difficult circumstances at such a distance as he was from Her Majesty's Councils. At the same time, he thought, looking to the improved communicatons, and the accelerated intercourse with that country, and the character of the events which had taken place there, it would not be mischievous, but might be attended with some advantage, if Parliament were to look to the affairs of our Indian Empire, not only with a view to express an opinion upon what had been done, but with a view to exercise an influence, which might have a prospective effect on the policy to be pursued; and he therefore hoped their Lordships would not think him without justification in seeking for some information, which he considered of importance. As to the events that were passing in the western parts of India,—he alluded to the appearances which, according to the information received by the last Indian mail, were stated to have presented themselves in the Punjaub, and on the frontier of our newly-acquired territory Scinde. By the last accounts brought by the mail from India, it appeared that a large force was collected on the western frontier of the territory of the Punjaub, that Sir Charles Napier was about to assume the command of that army, and that the Governor General was about to proceed to Meerut to be nearer the scene of action and to watch events. Considering the events which had notoriously occurred in the Punjaub recently, and the state of that country, and considering the appearances—which were represented by those accounts to which the public had access, he thought the state of affairs was calculated to create considerable anxiety. It was impossible to forget the result, of the last collection of troops under the immediate superintendence of the Governor General, and the command of the gallant general whom he had named. He did not wish to refer to transactions, upon which we had now suspended their judgment, in any invidious manner; but when he saw an army thus collected, he wished, for many reasons—although he mentioned but one of them—to know whether it was in the contemplation of the Indian Government to commence hostilities, or whether there was any reason which rendered it necessary to prepare for the defence of a frontier upon which it did not appear that any aggression was threatened. He wished, therefore, to ask his noble Friend whether the nature of our friendly relations with the government of Lahore was in anywise altered, or whether there was any apprehension of hostilities from that, government or from the chiefs of the Sikh country. But it was not only on the frontiers of the Punjaub that there were these appearances of a military force, but in and around our newly-acquired territory of Scinde there were appearances which justified anxiety and called for the attention of Parliament. It appeared that Sir C. Napier had found ii necessary to call together a meeting of the Beloochee chiefs. He was not going to ask so improper a question as, that his noble Friend should tell the House directly what were the instructions given to Sir C. Napier as to the negotiations into which he was about to enter, if such negotiations were pending. Undoubtedly there must be good reasons for calling together so great a force; but he was sure their Lordships would be very glad of any information which the Government should think fit to communicate, and the more so because there was a general rumour that in consequence of what had already taken place there was a desire, on the part of the Indian Government, to extend the British possessions on the banks of the Indus or of the Sutlej, for the sake of the benefit which commerce and navigation would derive from such an acquisition. He was not going to allude to the circumstances of the annexation of Scinde to our territory. He was not questioning the policy of that act. He merely mentioned it as a matter of fact, because he was asking a question relating to consequences which directly arose from it. And when their Lordships considered the great desire professed by Lord Ellenborough on entering on his Government, for peace and tranquillity, and how earnestly he protested against any thing like aggression or any increase of our power or even influence beyond what he pointed out as the natural boundary of our Empire, and when they found that circumstances had led or forced him not only to extend our influence, but actually to take possession of territory beyond what he had called our natural boundary, they must regard with peculiar anxiety the issue of these preparations. Ever since 1786 he dared say before, but at least ever since it had been laid down, both in the form of Resolutions and of speeches, that an unlimited extension of territory would be very dangerous to our Indian Empire. Although the nature of our possessions itself rendered it impossible to say that they should be confined within any definite boundary line, natural or otherwise, or to lay down our arms and say we would not, under any circumstances, engage in hostilities, or extend our power; at the same time the best authorities in Parliament had laid it down that we should not proceed unnecessarily to extend our territorial possessions in Asia. But it appeared now that in consequence of the advantage derived to our possessions by the control of the Indus and other streams adapted for navigation and commerce, great benefit would arise from extending our dominion still further. He therefore thought it right, considering the appearances which presented themselves, and the matters which had occurred, to ask his noble Friend whether Sir Charles Napier had been instructed to acquire, by negotiation or otherwise, any addition to our territorial possessions on the banks of the Indus, or of the Sutlej? It was natural that attention should be turned to this subject at the present moment, because the accounts from India, as far as the public knew, were anything but encouraging. He knew that Sir Charles Napier conquered Scinde with an army of 5,000 men; but in order to retain it, he was obliged to have a force of 16,000. In addition to this, the Beloochee chieftains were making inroads upon our territory, and the peasantry of that country—the Ryots as they were called—were more harrassed, oppressed, and damaged, than at a former period, under a barbarous and less powerful Government, because the Beloochees were not content with carrying off cattle and plundering valuables, but burnt villages, and killed the inhabitants, and lost no opportunity of attacking those who were employed in our service, or were even indirectly attached to us. It was even stated that a village had recently been burnt at a short distance from Shikarpore, where there was a brigade of our troops. To guard against these things, that immense extent of frontier demanded a very large force to supply guards to outposts, and as he had stated, 16,000 men was the number of troops required for its defence; whereas the country had been conquered by 5,000 men. He repeated, he was not questioning the policy of that conquest, but he said the matter was one which called for the attention of Parliament, and it would be satisfactory if his noble Friend, instead of merely answering the question which he put to him, would give the House an assurance that before the end of the Session he would come down with some extended information to enable their Lordships to judge what was really the state of Scinde, and what were the prospects of that country, because—to take but a limited part of the question—this state of things entailed an immense expense upon us: we were obliged to sustain the expense of a war without any of the glory or the profit which a war might produce, or any prospect of a termination of the present unsatisfactory state of things. The possession of that territory, we had been told was to be extremely valuable to us, and in the end it might turn out to be so, but he should like to be informed whether it was true, as stated, that the revenue of Scinde only sufficed to pay its civil expenditure, and that the whole of the military expense fell upon the East India Company. It was of great importance to attend to this, because although it fell upon the East India Company, nevertheless whatever fell upon them, really and practically pressed upon the resources of this country. [The Earl of Ripon: Indirectly.] Not indirectly, but directly, because he took it as an undoubted fact, that for some years back the expenditure of the East India Company, in consequence of these very military operations, exceeded their revenue. This could not go on for ever, and it must come to this, that there must be a sudden reduction, not with a view to the exigencies and the policy of the country, but solely with a view to reducing the expenditure. Therefore it was evident how much the mother country contributed towards these operations either by money or the materials for carrying them on. The operations and military movements, expensive though they were, yet were not the only ground of expense, for, according to the accounts which he had seen of events there, it was clear that considerable loss of life had resulted from these victories and the other operations, and thus an additional expenditure must have been added to the pension list. Now, if the events which had taken place already there were repeated—if those proceedings were continued, it was quite clear that the expenditure would go on increasing in that latter respect. If this state of hostility were continued, Government would have to continue to supply troops, and their Lordships would see the result of maintaining an army in a country in which the Indian troops were indisposed to serve, indeed, so much that a mutinous spirit had been evinced in a certain portion of the Bengal army, and that spirit would appear to have been, in a great degree, successful; for though the ringleaders and others were punished, yet a great number of those who had been indisposed to go, had not, in fact, since gone. He therefore hoped that, before Parliament separated, some statement would be made with respect to those circumstances. With regard to the present and future proceedings in that country—he said the present and future proceedings, for their Lordships might have remarked that he had not said one word as to the proceedings which had already taken place, as he looked upon that portion as un fait accompli. He only, therefore, required them, to look to those occurrences and that state of things which were the consequences of that fait accompli. He thought that the public accounts were such us to justify an anxiety to hear a statement from the Government with respect to the subject, and he begged to say, that in addition to the information which he had already stated he would require, he was also anxious to know if the Government would, during this Session of Parliament, be prepared to lay any statement of the financial resources of Scinde, and the amount of revenue which the East India Company might hope to derive from it?

The Earl of Ripon

said, that the noble Marquess, in those questions to him, had gone rather beyond the limits which his notice indicated, but, nevertheless, he should endeavour to answer them as explicitly as possible, and he had no doubt that he should be enabled to answer them satisfactorily. He did not anticipate from the terms of the notice that the noble Marquess would put that question with respect to Scinde and its financial resources, and the amount of expense in which it had involved this country, as he thought that it was the intention of the noble Marquess to confine himself rather to the subject of the Punjaub. The noble Marquess said it was rumoured that certain extensive operations were contemplated in India; but it appeared in this case that rumour had, as it generally happens, greatly exaggerated whatever truth there might have been in the accounts which reached this country of the collection of the military force to which the noble Marquess had alluded. It was rumoured that an army of 80,000 men had been collected on the confines of the Punjaub, and that the army so assembled was to be placed under the command of Sir Charles Napier, for the purpose of invading and subjugating that country. Now, that rumour was altogether without foundation—there was no such army collected on the confines of the Punjaub—he (the Earl of Ripon) knew nothing of the assembling of any such army, and Sir Charles Napier, was then probably either at Kurrachee or Hyderabad, and had not the smallest idea of having been placed at the head of 80,000 men on the banks of the Sutlej. But with respect to the military state of our north-west frontier in India, he had to offer a few remarks. Within the last few years it had become obvious to every one who had paid any attention to the geographical and political position of that, part of India, that it was indispensably necessary that a large portion of the military force of the Presidency of Bengal should be concentrated in the northwestern provinces. Everybody knew that that part of our possessions were those most, liable to any sudden attack; and that it was indispensably necessary that they should be at all times in a condition to meet such an emergency. On that account, and considering the actual position of the Punjaub—the confusion which had now existed for a considerable time—the utter powerless-ness of its Government—the uncertainty how far it could or could not maintain friendly relations with the surrounding countries—considering all these things, they would admit that it would be nothing short of insanity to leave that portion of our territory without adequate means of self-protection. When he recollected that the country adjoining the Sutlej, and which constituted the boundary of Lahore, was not ours, but it was composed of "protected states," really held by independent Sikh chieftains, who relied on us for protection, under whom cultivation had been extended to a great extent, and, from that very circumstance, offering a strong temptation to their disorderly neighbours in the Punjaub, who obeyed no rule—when he considered this, and when he recollected that such an incursion would be an attack on those defenceless Sikh cheftains who relied for their defence on us, he thought that every one would admit that our position on that river ought to be such as would prevent any attack being made with any prospect of success. It wag for that object that a force was stationed there, and he could assure the noble Marquess that neither the Governor of India under Lord Ellenborough, as it was now constituted, nor the authorities at home, had ever the slightest desire to obtain an inch of territory in that quarter in so doing. Their views were essentially pacific. But nobody could say what circumstances might arise—nobody could say that we might not be forced to defend ourselves, or those who relied on us, and for this our sole defence would be the presence of the Bengal army. He trusted, therefore, that what he had said would allay the fears which the noble Marquess entertained of our taking advantage—which by the way would not be a very honest proceeding—of the state of anarchy and confusion which prevailed in that country. With respect to Scinde, the noble Marquess had asked him whether he had heard the rumour that it was the intention of Government to extend their territory still further, beyond the Indus? The noble Marquess had been more fortunate than he was, for he had never heard of such an intention; and he believed such an idea had never entered the mind of any one, except the person who had originated it. It was quite true that a recent incursion had been made into the neighbourhood of Shikarpore by an armed body of one of the tribes, who did not belong to Scinde, but to the Hill tribes on its north-western frontier, and that a village had been burned. It was an incursion similar to those which had been made on former occasions, a recurrence of which would be prevented by the measures taken to protect the inhabitants. The last question which the noble Marquess asked was, whether Government was prepared to lay before Parliament during the present Session any detailed information on the state of affairs in Scinde, and particularly with respect to its revenue, and its capacity to meet the expenditure of its Government. He was not prepared to give that assurance. Government were desirous of giving every information they could on the subject, but he was not prepared to say that he could lay on the Table any information which would satisfactorily meet the object the noble Marquess had in view. The noble Marquess must recollect, that the transactions to which his questions referred were of recent occurrence, that there had been a transition from one species of Government to another, and that it would therefore be imprudent to lay before the House any information which might be imperfect, and being so would not be available to the noble Marquess. With regard to the revenue, it was undoubtedly true that the amount derived from Scinde was not equal to the expenditure. But that was to be expected, when a new system was introduced, and which they had been obliged to incur a considerable expense with respect to the troops. The noble Marquess had alluded to the unhealthiness of the climate and the sickness of the troops, but he believed that it was not so destructive as it had been imagined; and it was a singular circumstance in the sickness of last year that the natives of Scinde had suffered as much from it as the sepoys in the Indian army. From all he had heard he flattered himself that there was no ground to expect that the sickness was likely to prevail to the extent it had done, or that it was to be considered as the habitual condition of that country, or of periodical recurrence; he believed that there were very few parts of our possessions in India in which, at certain seasons, sickness of the like destructive kind as that which prevailed last year at Scinde did not exist. He believed he had answered all the topics adverted to by the noble Marquess, and he trusted he had allayed his anxiety on the most important of them.