HL Deb 26 April 1858 vol 149 cc1651-3

THE EARL OF ALBEMARLE, who had given notice of a Motion for Returns relating to India said, that he had never intended to insist on the production of these papers, his object in moving for them having been merely to put himself in order while addressing their Lordships on the subject. He had, however, lately heard from a noble Lord to whom on such a matter they were all bound to pay the most implicit deference—the late Speaker of the House of Commons—that his Motion would be informal, and ho, therefore, begged leave to withdraw it. He should now present a petition from certain inhabitants of Birmingham praying for a better system of Government for the Eastern possessions of this country. He had much satisfaction in calling their Lordships' attention to the petition, because it contained a practical suggestion for carrying out that principle which he in common with some very few Members of that House had for the last five years endeavoured to impress on their Lordships— namely, the necessity of a truly responsible Government for India. The principle of responsibility had been admitted both by the late and the present Government, and therefore he hoped that it would now be accepted. The proposal, which was first made on a petition from the Manchester Chamber of Commerce, had since been most unanswerably advocated by the ablest periodicals in this country, including The Times, The Examiner, and The Economist. It was that there should be a Secretary of State for India, with a sufficient number of Under Secretaries. This plan had the sanction of common sense, and he felt confident that it would in some shape or other form the basis of the future government of India: in which case the Manchester Chamber of Commerce would have reason to pride itself upon having suggested a scheme of Government which the united wisdom of two Administrations had been unable to devise. These petitioners doubted the expediency of associating a Council with the Secretary of State, and in his opinion such a plan would be only another form of a double Government. At the same time they unhesitatingly disapproved any proposition that the Council should be elected by such classes as the holders of India stock and the constituencies of large towns. It would be a work of supererogation to criticize the constitution of that portion of the Council which, according to the scheme of the present Government, was to have been elected by five large towns. That notable device had been thrown overboard, as sailors got rid of a part of the cargo to save the ship from sinking; but he doubted whether even this step would render the vessel seaworthy. If the principle was once recognized that a portion of the Executive power should be transferred to any constituency, he did not see that there was much to choose between the £10 electors and the soldier. Although the Elective Council should be the best constituted in the world, yet there would be an objection to its principle; because a Council having ministerial and executive functions ought to be responsible, and elective Councils could be responsible to no one. What advantage could be gained from any Council, of whatever number of members it might consist, which would not be equally well obtained from a Secretary of State, aided by a number of Under Secretaries proportioned to the work to be performed? One would really suppose that there was something so peculiar in India and its inhabitants, that they required a form of administration totally at variance with common sense, and contrary to the ordinary principles of government. The truth is, the mental vision of Her Majesty's Ministers was so completely obfuscated by the idea of a traditionary policy, that they were unable to see how utterly irreconcilable an irresponsible executive was with a constitutional Government. They saw a nominally responsible Secretary of State for India in the President of the Board of Control, and a wholly irresponsible Council in the Court of Directors, and therefore they must needs have similar functionaries. He asked Her Majesty's Ministers to remember that it was under that very system that the whole fabric of Indian administration had broken down, and that the thousand promises of wealth, security, and prosperity had issued in a heavy debt, a terrible mutiny, and, as it now appeared, a widespread insurrection. It was informal to move for, or even to mention the Resolutions which had been laid upon the table of the other House, and therefore he-would say he had read a printed paper presented to another assembly, the trainers of which appeared to have had no object but to make such a loophole for the Secretary of State for India as to release him from all possible responsibility. It was stated in that paper that care was to be taken to render the Councilors effective and in- dependent; but those terms were contradictory—the more independent they were the more dependent must be their chief, and the more dependent was the chief the less responsible would he be to Parliament or the country for his acts. From all he had read and all he had heard he felt quite confident that Her Majesty's Ministers were not competent to frame a Government for India which should govern our dominions in that country, should be compatible with the principles of the constitution, and should tend to promote what ought to be the whole and sole object of every Government, the prosperity and welfare of the governed.

Petition read and ordered to he on the table.

House adjourned at half-past Five o'clock, till To-morrow, half-past Ten o'clock.

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