HL Deb 11 May 1852 vol 121 cc496-8

presented a petition from George James Gordon, that certain Propositions set forth in his petition connected with the Position and Political Rights of the Natives of India might be taken into consideration. His Lordship said that this petition, although it was signed by only one person, represented, as he had good authority for stating, the feelings of many enlightened, wealthy, and respectable Natives of India on the subject of their position and their political rights under the last Act for the renewal of the East India Company's Charter. The exclusion of the natives of India from holding offices in the Government of their own country had been rigidly acted up to in former times; but a clause, recommended or supported, as he believed, by the high authority of Lord William Bentinck, was made part of the last Charter Act of the 3rd and 4th of William IV., and affirmed the principle of an opposite policy. It was to the following effect:— That no native of our territories in the East Indies, nor any natural-born subject of His Majesty resident therein, should, by reason of his religion, place of birth, descent, colour, or any of them, be disabled from holding any place, office, or employment under the same Company. In consequence of that enactment, which established their eligibility for the public service of India, a considerable number of natives had been introduced by Lord W. Bentinck into what were called "uncovenanted offices," both revenue and judicial, in which he believed their conduct had been highly creditable; yet, notwithstanding his authority, notwithstanding likewise the result of the experiment tried, and the spirit of the clause he had cited, there had been a practical exclusion of them from all "covenanted services," as they were called, from the passing of the last Charter up to the present time. The Charter Act was construed so as to declare the eligibility of natives to "uncovenanted" offices only, whereas its words are general, and without such limitation. In that interval there had been a great development of education in India, and a great expansion of intellect and of knowledge among the natives—circumstances which had not only increased a sense of the oppressiveness of the law thus construed, hut had also created a greater desire on the part of the natives to be employed in the public service. All this was fully stated in the petition which he then held in his hand; and petitions to the same effect would soon approach their Lordships' table from native landed proprietors, merchants, and traders of Madras, Calcutta, and Bombay. When such petitions were laid upon their Lordships' table, men well acquainted with India would be able to inform their Lordships how far they represented the sentiments of all the weight, and wealth, and intelligence of the educated natives of India. It was due to the petitioners who had placed the petition in his hands, that he should state what was its prayer. They adverted to the approaching renewal of the East India Company's Charter; they also called their Lordships' attention to the present state of the finances of India; they impressed on their Lordships the necessity of applying the most stringent measures of economy to the expenditure of the Government in Europe and in Asia; they asked for the abolition of useless offices, suggested the expediency of reducing many of the official salaries, and recommended an alteration in the tenure of certain appointments, on the ground that at present India lost the services of some of the best officers just at the moment when by experience and knowledge they were best qualified to fill their situations. They also complained that, although natives had distinguished themselves in subordinate offices, they were excluded from holding the higher class of appointments, and prayed their Lordships that a more generous construction should be practically put on the 87th Section of the Act, by enlarging the field of employment for the native subjects of Her Majesty. They also called attention to the necessity of completing the system of education by adding to schools and colleges an Asiatic university. They also complained of utter neglect shown to the labours of the law, on which high intellectual powers and a considerable amount of revenue had been expended. They called for the enactment of a consistent code, and the adoption of general measures for further amending the state of the law in India. He (Lord Monteagle) wished the attention of the Committee upstairs to be specially directed to these allegations of the petition, because the people of India now took a deep interest in what took place in this country with respect to Indian affairs, and in British legislation as affecting their interests, and they were now more sensitive than ever with regard to the legislation and even the discussions of the Imperial Parliament, in England, as affecting their rights and interests. He wished also to call their attention to the evidence which had been given by the late Lord William Bentinck after his return to England, when examined before the Select Committee on Steain Navigation with respect to the growing capacity and intelligence of the people of India, which were advancing not only in proportion to the diffusion of education, but in proportion to the development of their material interests. This progress could not be arrested or even retarded. His Lordship had said that "every indigo and coffee plantation, the Glocester mills, the works of every description moved by steam, the iron foundries, the coal mines worked after the European fashion, and the other great establishments which we see around us in Calcutta, are so many great schools of instruction, the founders of which are the real improvers of their country;" and he further added that, among the causes of progress now so rapidly in action to render India so different from what it had been twenty years ago, were to be enumerated every commercial enterprise, every manufacturing improvement, and every extension of agriculture—all which had tended to improve and to expand the capacity of the people of India, and to stimulate their desire for still further progress and advancement. In presenting this petition, he neither sought to prejudge the question, or to commit himself to a distinct opinion. But he hoped that he had convinced the House that the subjects he had touched upon were fit subjects for examination before the Committee, and that an inquiry which did not include them would be unsatisfactory and incomplete.

Petition read, and referred to the Select Committee on the East India Company's Charter.

House adjourned to Friday next.