HL Deb 20 August 1857 vol 147 cc1884-5

reminded his noble and learned Friend on the woolsack, that on a previous occasion he had undertaken that the question of the legality of the growing and selling opium, and trading with China in that drug by the East India Company, after the treaty concluded with China, should be referred to the law officers of the Crown. He would now ask his noble and learned Friend if this had been done, and what was the result?


said, that pursuant to the engagement into which he entered with the noble Earl, a case in reference to the legality of the East India trade in opium had been submitted to the law officers of the Crown. Considerable delay had, however, taken place in ascertaining what the facts really were, and with that view the case was laid before the Court of Directors of the East India Company previous to being submitted to counsel. The case as amended by the Court of Directors was then laid before the law officers of the Crown. They suggested that further facts should be stated, and those having been supplied, they gave their opinion it the course of the present month. It was not the practice in these cases to lay these opinions before the House; but, as the opinion of the law officers of the Crown had been taken in this instance, intead of that of the Judges, the rule would be departed from. He would state the substance of their opinion. With regard to the first question, the law officers were unanimously of opinion that there was no illegality in the cultivation or sale of opium by the East India Company. With regard to the other question, whether the trade in opium with China was contrary to the provisions of the treaty, their opinion was, that the trade was now carried on as it had been during the whole of the present century, long before any treaty existed, and that there was no violation of the treaty in carrying on that trade; but that as some doubts existed as to whether the trade was not contrary to the spirit of the treaty, it would be expedient to introduce some change so as to avoid remonstrances which might possibly be made.