HL Deb 04 March 1853 vol 124 cc1061-9

then presented a Petition from the Members of the Bombay Association, and other Native Inhabitants of the Presidency of Bombay, praying for an Inquiry previously to the Renewal of the Act for the Government of the Indian Territories, and praying that the Period of continuance granted for the future Government of India should be limited to Ten Years at the most. The noble Lord said that this petition was, in many respects, similar to that presented a few evenings ago by the noble Earl (the Earl of Ellenborough), but it also suggested several new facts, to which he must be allowed to call their Lordships' attention. The petition emanated exclusively, he might say, from Natives connected with the Presidency of Bombay; it was signed by upwards of 2,400 persons; and he believed the signatures on one single sheet of the parchment before him were those of persons representing a property of between 2,000,000l. and 3,000,000l. sterling. This petition had not been prepared at the instigation or suggestion of any European—it was prepared at a public meeting held at the Elphinstone Institution at Calcutta, and there were not more than three or four of the petitioners who were of English blood. He had lately, much to his regret, known instances in which the claims and representations of inhabitants of India had been undervalued both in that and the other House of Parliament, on the ground that the native petitioners were acting under the guidance of certain grievance-mongers in India or in England. This petition was, however, the act of the petitioners themselves; it spoke their own opinions, and represented their case in their own language; they knew that, as British subjects, they were entitled to appeal to Parliament for the maintenance of their rights in such language as they thought fit to adopt. He hoped, therefore, that on this occasion no disposition would be shown to undervalue or to speak lightly of the petitioners, who were British subjects, and who, in that capacity, appealed to the British Legislature. He did not think there should be any minute criticism of the phraseology of the petition: it was couched in respectful language, and no conclusion could be drawn from it that the petitioners were disloyal to the Crown. The petitioners in the first instance recognised the advantages which they had derived from their connexion with England. While speaking, as they were perfectly at liberty to do, frankly of what they considered the evils of the present low, and the defects of the present system of Indian Administration, they expressed their deep sense of the benefits which India had derived from its connexion with this country, and from many useful laws received from England. They stated, that though they objected to many provisions of the law passed when the East India Company's charter was last renewed, they were aware that the benignant character of the English race had gone far to mitigate the evils of the existing system. When that charter was renewed, in 1833, Parliament had had to discuss the position, the duties, and the responsibilities of the East India Company as a great trading corporation. They had also to consider the monopolies of that Company, the great difficulties which it was enabled to interpose to the settlement of Europeans in India; the opening of the China trade, and the question of more unrestricted commercial intercourse with India. Now, however, though many of these points were settled, other questions were raised, in which he hoped Parliament would take as lively an interest as they had manifested in the commercial affairs which they were called upon formerly to discuss. They had now to consider the great question of the welfare of the whole people of India—the rights and feelings of that people; their moral improvement, as well as of their material interests. He should now endeavour to bring before the House the principal points to which the petitioners humbly craved their Lordships' attention. As it was probable that many of their Lordships had already had an opportunity of perusing a printed copy of the petition, it would not be necessary that he should go over its contents at length; but at the same time it was absolutely necessary that some of the questions referred to should be brought under their Lordships' serious consideration. The people of India considered that in many most important particulars the existing laws were defective, and required to be reconsidered and amended; they were as perfectly aware of the grave responsibility that devolved upon their Lordships, as of the rights that belonged to themselves. The petitioners in the first place complained of the present double system of governing India by the Court of Directors, jointly with the Board of Control. They considered that the combination of these two bodies produced delay and inconvenience; but their objections were, in this respect, less material than on some other points—for what they suggested as a substitute, although it did not precisely partake of the nature of a double government, yet very much resembled it in practice: they proposed to associate with the Board of Control a certain body, to be called "an Indian Council," to act as advisers of the Board. But a more material objection urged by the petitioners was one which resulted from the mode of constituting the Board of Directors. There was no one who had attended their Lordships' Committee now sitting on Indian Affairs, or the Committee which sat twenty years ago, but must be ready to admit that, so far from there being any lack of genius, talent, intelligence, and high and noble principles on the part of the Indian civil service, there were abundant examples of all these endowments; but, notwithstanding this fact, it was well known that the best and wisest of these civil servants were not always to be found among the members of the Court of Directors. When their Lordships recalled the names of the great men who had distinguished themselves in relation to India—the Monroes, the Mountstewart Elphinstones, and the Holt Mackenzies—they would find that none of those gentlemen had ever been elected as members of the Court of Directors. The petitioners, therefore, had a right to expect, on the part of the Legislature, that if they were now about to continue the Court of Directors in its present or in any altered shape, they should at least take some pains to secure for the service of India the highest amount of talent, the greatest amount of experience, the highest moral and intellectual acquirement and knowledge, which could be procured both at home and in India. The petitioners also complained that sufficient Pains were not taken to insure the best selection of persons for the civil service of India, and particularly in reference to the judicial service. Their Lordships would remember the impressive words which fell from his noble and learned Friend the Lord Chief Justice (Lord Campbell) on this subject a few evenings ago, when he stated that, from his own experience in connexion with the Judicial Committee of Privy Council, before which tribunal the Indian appeals were brought, nothing could be worse or more discreditable than the administration of the law in many of the inferior courts of India. Was this a state of things which their Lordships could con-template with anything like satisfaction? And yet the question was not why it should be so, but how it was possible that it could be otherwise? The fact was, that no special education was provided beyond the course of instruction at Haileybury for the student about to enter upon judicial office, No special pains were taken in India to fit him for the efficient discharge of the duties of that responsible position. He believed that the general education provided at Haileybury was excellent; and he knew upon authority much better than his own that some of the legal papers which were prepared for the students at examinations were models in regard to the philosophy of law; but these would hardly be effectual, as it was in evidence that while the most distinguished students were draughted off to the political and financial departments of the service, the almost uniform practice was to appoint; the least promising and the least informed students to be the future Judges of India. Now, he would ask, was it a fitting and becoming mode of spreading the civilisation and law of England over the whole extent of the Indian peninsufe to select for the judicial department, by an ingenious misapplication of the power of choice, those who were least qualified to give effect to the laws and institutions of this country? But this was not all. There was another cause why the functions of judicial officers in that country were not duly administered. The persons, who were employed as Judges might he occasionally transferred from other pursuits of a different character—they might have already been, or they might be, named revenue collectors, secretaries, or diplomatic ser- vants. We had in this country great respect For the heads of our financial department; but, what he asked, would their Lordships think if Mr. John Wood, the able chairman of the Board of Excise, were suddenly to exchange places with the Lord Chief Justice of the Court of Queen's Bench; and if exchanges of this sort should happen to form part of our regular system, could any one find words strong enough to express the contemptuous feeling which such a system of things would justly excite? He begged their Lordships to bear in mind also that we were now in the habit of employing Natives as Judges, and that it had been admitted by many of the witnesses that, although till very lately, those Natives filled subordinate judicial offices, being for the most part, till within a few years, Judges of the first instance, from Whom appeals were made to their more fortunate European fellow-subjects, it was shown that in many cases they were better Judges, and their decisions had more weight, than those of their European competitors—a result proved by the fact, that when both classes of decisions were brought under review in a common court of appeal, the decisions of the Native Judges were more frequently affirmed than those of the European functionaries. The petitioners also complained that nearly all important posts in the civil administrations of India were exclusively in the hands of the covenanted civil service, that is, of Europeans selected by the Court of Directors. When the Act of 1834 was under consideration, a noble Friend of his, now departed, whose name he could never mention in connexion with India without the deepest respect—he meant the late Lord W. Bentinck—procured the introduction of a clause (the 887th) which declared, that "no native of India, of natural-born subject therein, should be disqualified for office by reason only of religion, place of birth, descent, or colour." And when that clause was passed it was certainly intended that it should confer absolute eligibility on the Natives. Nothing at all events, was suggested to the contrary; and it was certainly supported on that ground. But the result had been that it had been rendered a perfect nullity by the maintenance of the distinction between the covenanted and uncovenanted services. The responsibility for this rested, 6f course, with the Court of Directors, and not with the Board of Control; because, while the latter were entrusted with supreme political power, even with the pre- rogative of declaring war and peace, and of directing the whole course of policy for the government of India—even in opposition to the wishes of the Court of Directors—they were restrained from interfering, directly or indirectly, with respect to the patronage of India. He (Lord Monteagle) was of opinion that it might not be altogether judicious to appoint the Natives to the higher political and military offices at once; it would be advisable to advance them by degrees, and in proportion as they proved themselves competent to discharge the duties of the inferior positions which they at present were permitted to occupy. And here, while he ventured to speak of the advancement of knowledge among the Natives of India, and of the fact that many of them discharged important judicial offices to the complete satisfaction not only of their own countrymen but of the Judges of the Appellate Court, he must take the liberty of reminding their Lordships, that from other causes, the India of 1853, with which they were now called upon to deal, was anything but the India with which they dealt in 1830. The Government of India had wisely and justly endeavoured to promote the advancement of Education in our Indian Empire during the intervening period. In Calcutta, as well as in other parts of India, there were Hindu, Mussulman, and other colleges, all thronged with native students; and if their Lordships would take the trouble to look into the appendix of the Report presented last year, they would find in the answers given by native students to the examination papers submitted to them, ample evidence of their high intellectual capacity, their answers being such as would, in many instances, leave something to be learned by many members of our own Universities. He had with him a statement, which, however, he would not trouble their Lordships by reading, of the condition and progress of education in the Presidency of Bombay, from which it appeared that the students were minutely examined in the works of our modern philosophers and our best modern historians. The questions and answers refer to the writings of Hallam, Macaulay, Guizot, and the most celebrated of the Gorman historical writers. Here, then, was a rapid advance; literature was progressing, morals were progressing; and he must be permitted also to remind them, that politics were likewise progressing. There were examinations from Paley's Moral Philosophy, which opened the whole principle of free governments, the results of free governments, and the respective rights and duties of the governors and the governed. All, in fact, that related to the science of government and the laws of nations was placed before these Native youths as plainly as it could be before their Lordships' sons and brothers at Oxford or Cambridge. He believed that if confidence were placed by Government in the Natives of India, they would be found deserving of that confidence. Such, at all events, was the opinion of Mr. Hill, who had been employed in the East India Company's service, and had lived in India for 24 years; that gentleman stated it to be his conviction that the duties of the higher judicial tribunals would be discharged with more efficiency by native Indians than by Englishmen. He (Lord Monteagle) might not go quite so far in his views upon that point as yet, as he still wished that the great Courts of Appeal should be presided over by Europeans. He hoped their Lordships would refer this petition to the Committee upon Indian Territories; and that Committee, he hoped, would see fit to investigate it minutely, treating the reference not as a matter of form, but as a matter of truth and reality. When a petition came to that House from a class of persons not directly represented in either House of Parliament, it was their Lordships' duty to prove, by the attention they were prepared to give it, whether those who addressed them resided in India, Australia, or British North America, that their petition would be received with as much respect, and its prayer be considered with as much deference, as if it had been pressed upon the House by the inhabitants of this vast metropolis, or by the multitudes who carried on the manufacturing or agricultural industry of this country. He begged, then, for this petition their Lordships' serious, attentive, and, he might add, respectful consideration.


had not the least desire to undervalue or to treat lightly the petition which the noble Lord had laid upon the table; neither did he mean to deny that many of the allegations of that petition deserved the most serious attention of their Lordships. The noble Lord would not expect him to refer to any portions of that petition which it was possible might be affected by the mea- sure which the Government proposed to introduce for the government of India; and he would humbly submit, though he had no doubt that the statements of the noble Lord had been listened to with attention and satisfaction by their Lord-ships, that the proper quarter for the consideration of that petition was the Committee of which the noble Lord was himself a Member. He hoped that before that Committee the noble Lord would press the considerations which he had just addressed to the House, with so much ability. He would merely add, that it appeared to him that the greater portion of the subject-matter of that petition seemed to be more fitted for the consideration of the local Government of India than of their Lordships and of the Legislature of that House; but such topics as could suitably engage the attention of the Legislature ought, no doubt, to receive it in the course of the present Session, As the noble Lord had asked to have the petition referred to the Committee, of course to that there could be no objection; on the contrary, he had every desire that the information which it contained should be in the posssesion of the Committee.


did not recognise any peculiar qualification which entitled the noble Lord who had presented this petition to administer a rebuke to any Member of that House with reference to what he might think it necessary to say. He understood the noble Lord to state that it was the right of any body of petitioners to come before that House without having their expressions criticised by a Member of that House. He (the Duke of Argyll) could only say, though he recognised the undoubted right of any body of people to petition Parliament, that it was equally the right and duty of any Member of Parliament to make any remarks upon the terms of that petition which he might think necessary, On reading over the petition which was presented the other day by a noble Earl (the Earl of Ellenborough) from the Presidency of Madras, he observed very many statements which he conceived deserved the most serious consideration of the Government and of Parliament; but at the same time he noticed some individual expressions which he thought pointed to extreme views, and some individual terms which he thought might have been avoided. Though there were many great and real grievances complained of in that pe- tition, which their Lordships and Parliament would be bound to consider, and, he would add, to redress, he conceived, when they came to speak of the organic changes which they wished to be made in the Government of India, that it was important to observe that they used expressions and pointed to views which no House of Parliament and no Government would be expected to sanction. This was the sole object which had actuated him the other evening; and he had not the slightest desire to depreciate the importance of the petition, far less to convey the impression to their Lordships that the prayer of the petition was not worthy of their consideration, or that the grievances complained of were not deserving of their attention.

Petition read; and referred to the Select Committee on the Government of India Territories.

House adjourned to Monday next.