HL Deb 18 July 1853 vol 129 cc353-7

rose to present two petitions on the subject of Indian grievances. The first was from the Bristol Chamber of Commerce, praying that the monoply of salt exercised by the East India Company in India be abolished, but that, if it should be considered still expedient to levy a tax on this necessary of life, it should be in such a form as to press less heavily on the poor of India than the present system of taxation. He should have been content to lay this petition on the table without comment, had he not thought that Her Majesty's Government were disposed to underrate the extreme oppressiveness of this tax. When he last addressed their Lordships on this subject, he had confined himself to the incidence of the tax as it affected Bengal; but upon the present occasion he wished to make a few observations in regard to the manner in which it operated in Madras. Under the Native government of Madras, the tax was one-half of the selling price, or 1l. 4s. 6d. out of a selling price of 2l. 9s. per garce—a measure of 10,000lbs. Prior to 1806 our Government in Madras raised the tax to 3l. 5s. the garce; and in 1806, having taken the whole control of the salt department into their own hands, they raised the tax to 7l. On a subsequent occasion they again raised it to 10l. 5s. per garce; and in 1844, when the transit duties were abolished, they simulaneously raised it to the enormous sum of 18l. per garce, or more than eight times as much as it was under the Native government. The consequence was that the consumption was entirely stopped, and they were obliged to reduce the tax to 12l., or five times as much as it had been under the Native administration—at which point it now remained. A Government monopoly, he believed, never, under any circumstances, could be a cheap one; but there were a variety of other causes, both natural and artificial, to enhance the price of salt in Bengal. In the first place, the material out of which it was made was by no means adapted for culinary purposes; it contained a great quantity of that bitter compound, familiar, perhaps, to their Lordships as Epsom salts. The manufacturers of it were in a partial state of slavery; they were among the most miserable of the Bengalese, possessing no capital of their own, subsisting and carrying on their manufacture by the advances made to them by the East India Company. Now, to would compare this with time system of making salt in a county well known and very familiar to the noble Marquess who sat near him (the Marquess of Westminster), who had upon a former evening presented s petition from Northwich on this same subject. In Bengal the machinery of Manufacture was simply a number of earth pots piled one on the top of the other, heated by a fire made of straw, or such wood as could be found in the neighbouring jungle. In Cheshire, on the other hand, he salt was manufactured in large iron vats, heated with sea-coal fires, into which the saturated brine was pumped direct from the spring. He contended that a manufacture such as that in Bengal ought entirely to cease, for it was quite impossible that it could compete either with Northwich, with the other improved systems of manufacture, or with the excellent and cheap salt of Madras, Balasore, or Bombay. If he might venture to suggest a plan, it would be, that the Government should abolish the monopoly of salt; that the salt manufacture in Bengal should be prohibited, in the same manner as we had prohibited the growth of tobacco in this country; he should propose to lower the tax to one-half, and that there should be a fixed uniform duty on all salt, whether imported from England or from any other foreign country. He would abolish, too, any duty upon salt from the Malabar or Coromandel coasts. He would apply the same principle which they had lately applied to the tea duties, and he was convinced that it would lead to increased consumption. It was very generally calculated that the quantity of salt consumed by every native in India was somewhere about 10lb. or 11lb. per head per annum; while, according to Mr. M'Culloch, in this country it was just double that, or about 22lb. If, then, they reduced the tax to one half, it was very fair to calculate they would have the same revenue as they had at present. He did not, however, propose to abolish the factories in Bengal all at once. With regard to the persons engaged in the manufacture, as he had before remarked, they were in a state of partial slavery; at the present moment no condition could be worse than theirs, and their labours could be rendered of much greater advantage to themselves and to their country by employing it on the cultivation of the neighbouring jungles. One great objection he had to the manufacture was the expense of the agencies, some of which cost 8,000l. or 10,000l. a year. Another objection was the smuggling: if the tax were reduced to a mere Customs duty, smuggling would become impossible, because of the greater size of the vessels which would have to be employed, and the fact that Calcutta was the only emporium to which it could be brought. The second petition with which he had been intrusted was from the East Indians of the Presidencies of Calcutta, Madras, and Bombay, at present residing in London, complaining of the grievances under which they and the community to which they belonged laboured in the existing state of the law. It complained of the violation of the provision which the noble Marquess below (the Marquess of Lansdowne), who had introduced the Charter Act of 1833, would bear him out was the intention of the Government of that day, as expressed in the 87th clause, which provided that all offices of trust and emolument in the civil and military service should be open, without distinction, and without exception of caste, colour, or creed. That was the intention of the Government; but it had been made a perfect mockery under the present double and irresponsible government, and the East Indian community continued up to this time to be superseded by Europeans quite insufficient from standing, experience, or general knowledge of the habits and opinions of the people of the country, to discharge the duties of their position. Among this calumniated class of men there had been men of the highest eminence in all professions, and at the head of large mercantile firms. Many of them had received an education quite equal to that of Members of their Lordships' House. These petitioners complained that all these claims to be admitted to superior office had been overlooked, and they complained also of the ex parte evidence given by some of the Company's officials before their Lordships' Committee. He himself had been intimately acquainted with several persons of this class during his residence in India. One of them was General Stevenson, for many years Quartermaster General in India, who bore a very distinguished part in the late Pindarree war. Another was Colonel James Skinner, who had the merit of introducing into India that celebrated body of irregular cavalry—a body of men, he believed, equal, if not superior, in efficiency to the regular cavalry—at least, if only equal, they had the very great merit of costing 17 per cent less than the others. There was also General Jones, Commander in Chief at Bombay. As this class of persons had been spoken of in very disparaging terms by witnesses examined before their Lordships' Committee, he would take the liberty of quoting to them in opposition an authority quite equal, if not superior—that of Sir Charles Metcalfe, afterwards Lord Metcalfe. That noble Lord addressed the East Indian community, shortly before his departure, in the following terms:— That you should be considered, or consider yourselves, as a separate class, is greatly to be lamented; not less is it so that there should be any distinctions or separations of any kind in this empire. It must be the anxious wish of every man connected with India that all classes, Native, East Indian, and European, should be united in one bond of brotherly love. If any feelings, too natural to be wondered at, caused by the division of foreigners, or difference of religious customs, manners, and education, render this union at present difficult or unattainable with respect to our native brethren, we can only hope that such difficulties may in time be surmounted by good government and the enjoyment of equal rights. But if your community, gentlemen, were to be regarded as separate, it is one of which you have much reason to be proud. Judging from what has come under my own observation, I am not aware of any community in which there is more respectability of character, or less apparently of crime or unworthy conduct. In official ability and efficiency you yield to none; and in all pursuits and professions, in arts and in arms, you have representatives of whom every community might justly boast. You have an extensive share in the public business connected with the administration of the Government of this country; and the acknowledgment of the value of your co-operation has long been established, is daily increasing, and cannot fail even tually to produce for you important and beneficial results. The petitioners, also, further complained that, though Englishmen, they were deprived of the benefits of English law, and of the right of Habeas Corpus. They were subjected to Mahomedan or Hindoo law, and were even liable to corporal punishment according to it, at the will, not merely of an European, but also of a Native magistrate. The noble Earl concluded by moving that the petitions be referred to the Select Committee on Indian Territories.

Petitions referred to the Select Committee on the Government of Indian Territories.