HL Deb 24 March 1863 vol 169 cc1797-803

rose to ask Her Majesty's Government, Whether they intend in this Session to reconsider so much of the Act 21 & 22 Vict., c. 106, as relates to the Nomination, Election. Numbers, Duration of Service, Salaries, and Retired Allowances of the Councillors of India? In the Bills which were introduced by the Government of the Earl of Derby and Lord Palmerston, at the time the Government of India was transferred from the East India Company to the Crown, the numbers of the proposed Council differed in each Bill. Six was the number at first proposed by himself to the Cabinet to which he had the honour to belong, who altered it to eight, and it was raised by the noble Earl opposite (the Earl of Ellenborough) to fifteen, its present number. Many objections were raised to the duration of the office; and Motions were made in both Houses to limit the duration to five years; and, altogether, there were great doubts and differences of opinion as to the details of the Bill. Lord Stanley then stated that it was unnecessary to introduce clauses of that nature into the Bill; because the Legislature might, at any moment they pleased, alter the constitution of the Council. After they had had a few years' practical experience of the working of the Council, it was generally felt it would be necessary to revise its constitution altogether. From the time, however, of the passing of the Act, Parliament had been kept perfectly in the dark as to what the Council was doing. One paper, certainly, had been laid on the table, and a very remarkable one it was. It related to the amalgamation of the Indian with the Queen's army—a question on which every one would have supposed that the Indian Council would have been able to give excellent advice. But the Secretary of State (Sir Charles Wood) would not allow them to express an opinion upon it until the matter had been finally decided by the Cabinet. Some of them wished to protest; but the right hon. Baronet pointed out to them that the Act only allowed them to protest in matters which had been decided at one of their meetings, whereas this matter had been decided by the Cabinet before the Council met. However, as a matter of good nature, he allowed those who desired it to enter a useless dissent. The Council, too, would have been very well qualified to arrange the details of the manner in which this measure should be carried out; but the Secretary of State, instead of employing them, had recourse to that last expedient of a Minister at his wits' end—a Royal Commission. As to the amount of work in the Council, he knew from his own official experience, that under the old Board of Directors despatches were read and answered by clerks. Abstracts were made for the Directors; but the principal part of the writing was mere clerical labour. In reply to his demand to have the number of Councillors reduced, the names of distinguished men would no doubt be mentioned. It would be said that Sir John Lawrence was one of the Councillors. That was true; but they did not want fifteen Sir John Lawrences, even if they could find them. Six or eight Councillors, the number proposed by Lord Palmerston's Government in the first instance, would be quite sufficient. He said this with the greatest respect for the gentlemen who at present composed the Council. With some of these he was personally acquainted, and he knew that they were all men of business habits and high character; but if even £10,000 a year could be saved by reducing the number, it would be worth while to study economy in the matter. He therefore begged to ask whether Her Majesty's Government intended to submit the question of the number of Councillors to a Committee—which might be a useful course—or whether they intended to bring in such a Bill as might be introduced under the proviso in the Act 22 & 23 Vict., c. 106, which stated that the arrangement made by that Act should stand till "Parliament shall otherwise provide."


said, he could not help thinking that his noble Friend had addressed this question to Her Majesty's Government rather for the purpose of expressing to the House his own opinion on a very important subject than for that of obtaining from the Government an answer, the substance of which he must be able to anticipate; because his noble Friend must feel, that if it was the intention of the Government to revise and alter the decision which had been deliberately come to by Parliament respecting the nature, tenure, and composition of the Indian Council, it would have been their duty to come down and make an announcement to that effect, and not withhold the information till such time as it might incidentally be elicited in answer to a question from a noble Lord. His noble Friend must be aware that the answer he had to give him on the part of Her Majesty's Government was, that there was no intention at that moment, or at any future time, as far as they could at present speak for the future, to revise and alter the decision come to after much deliberation and by large majorities, when the India Bill was under discussion in 1858. During the debates on that measure the question was raised by a distinguished Member of the House of Commons (Mr. Roebuck) whether it was necessary for the Secretary of State for India to have any Council at all—whether India might not be governed by a Secretary, assisted by an Under Secretary, and some officials acquainted with India. Mr. Roebuck raised that question; but it was not pushed to a division. He (the Duke of Argyll) was not prepared to state that India might not be governed in that way if men acquainted with the country, and of ability and experience, could be got to serve under the Secretary of State in the subordinate position of ordinary officials. But this objection was taken by Parliament, and he thought it was a fatal one— that we should not be able to induce men who had distinguished themselves in India to assist the Secretary under such circumstances. He very much doubted that we could have got such men as Sir John Lawrence, Sir Frederick Carrie, and Mr. Willoughby under that arrangement. The next question was, as to the number of Councillors. He confessed he did not believe the weight of the Indian Council de pended on its number. He believed it depended on the character of the Councillors, more than on their number. Although there were some expressions of opinion in favour of a Council of twelve, it was ultimately decided by a large majority, with the assent of Lord Stanley, that the number should be fifteen. Another question which was discussed was, whether any portion of the Council should be elective, or whether they should all be nominated by the Crown. A new constituency was devised for the purpose of carrying out the elective principle; but the proposal was rejected. He would not pronounce any opinion upon the wisdom of that scheme; but this, at all events, might be said in favour of it, that it provided that in the new constituency the interests of the commercial classes should be represented. The only principle of importance in election was the principle of representation, and that was entirely abandoned; because, although the proposal was adopted that seven out of fifteen Councillors should be nominated by the Council itself, Lord Stanley very fairly admitted at the time that it had nothing to do with the principle of election, and was merely a means of introducing some few persons who would not be selected by the Secretary of State. These successive decisions by Parliament, in divisions which were not influenced by party feeling, ought to be accepted by the Government as settling the question of the constitution of the Council, unless and until some evil was discovered which it was their duty to remedy. He entirely disputed the proposition that any pledge was given by which they were bound, within a certain number of years, to consider the question again of an organic change in the Indian Council, and he maintained that no change ought be suggested which might lessen the reputation and authority of the Council. In his opinion, nothing had occurred since the passing of the measure to cast a doubt upon the practical working of the system. The Council had, upon the whole, worked smoothly and satisfactorily; and the absence of papers, of which the noble Lord complained, was a proof that occasions did not arise for the Council to record protests and dissents in reference to decisions of the Secretary of State. Some papers, showing what was doing in the Council, had been produced. The amalgamation of the two armies was not an Indian but an Imperial question, and the opinions of some of the most eminent Members were laid before Parliament previous to Parliament being asked to come to a decision upon it. He could not conceive a more important question than the redemption of the land tax and the permanent settlement of the land revenue of India. That question had been discussed and decided in the Indian Council, and valuable papers had been presented to Parliament in which the opinions of the most distinguished Members with regard to it might be read. Another important question, as to the relations between the European planters and the ryots of India, had also been decided, and the opinions of members of Council, eminent for their knowledge of the country, and of Indian affairs, had been made known. In both those instances, the Secretary of State had overruled the decision of the Governor General and his Council, and it was most important to the Secretary of State that he should be able to point to those papers, to show that he had not acted without full consultation and the full support of those eminent and distinguished men. The local Government must sometimes be influenced by local opinion, and local opinion in India, was mainly the opinion of the English settlers and the English commercial classes. He had no doubt that upon the question of the relations between the planters and ryots the local Government had committed a material error; and he was equally sure that the power of the Secretary of State to correct that error was greatly strengthened by his being able to appeal to the opinions of men of equal eminence with the Councillors of the Governor General and free from the vices under which the Legislature of Calcutta more or less conducted its proceedings. In both these cases, of the relations between the planters and the ryots and the settlement of the land re- venue, it was satisfactory to see the opinion of competent men sustaining the opinion of the Secretary of State, and he sincerely believed that the present Council was composed of a body of gentlemen, whose opinions might fairly be trusted in all questions of a similar kind.


said, he entirely approved of the course which the noble Duke had announced on the part of the Government, namely, that of deprecating any disturbance in the constitution of the Council. He thought it extremely fortunate that the noble Duke had had the opportunity to make that declaration, which would strengthen the Council and give stability to its judgments. He (the Earl of Ellenborough) had always been in favour of a Council, and the stronger the better, as he thought it was always an advantage for the Secretary of State, when he introduced a measure, to be able to tell Parliament that he was supported by the concurrence of his Council. He believed there would always be occasions when the opinions of the Members of the Council would clash, because there were always questions which required to be treated in a cautious and deliberate manner. He confessed that he should never be afraid of a strong Council; but he should have the greatest apprehension of a weak one; for the Indian Minister might be able to manage able men, but might not be able to manage weak men.


said, it was the unanimous opinion of the country that the Council did, on the whole, work well; but it might, nevertheless, be a legitimate subject of inquiry whether, even if they should not proceed to an immediate reduction, there might not be a possibility of future reduction, not only without a diminution, but even with an increase of efficiency. His own idea was, that the Council would work better if it were not quite so numerous. The noble Lord, however, had given no indication of the kind of change he contemplated in the Council. But what he complained of, and what his noble Friend complained of, was that Parliament did not know how the Council worked. He thought that great advantage would result from the publication of the Minutes of the Proceedings of the Council, because at present they were utterly in the dark as to when the Secretary of State was opposed or supported, and by whom. It was all very well for the Secretary of State for India to say, "I am supported by Sir John Lawrence and such and such other distinguished men;" but their Lordships did not know whether, or on what points, and how far, he was supported by them. On one most important question the opinion of the Council was not known until the decision of the Government had been taken. If the Secretary of State could appeal to the authority of his Council in support of his views, it was right that Parliament should know when he did so, whether the Council were unanimous, and what were the opinions of individual Members. Without such knowledge, Parliament came to the discussion of questions relating to the Government of India at great disadvantage.


said, that the fact of their knowing very little about the Council was to his mind the best possible proof that it was working tolerably smoothly and well. If difficulties arose, and the Council were unable to conduct the affairs of India in concert with the Secretary of State, he had no doubt Parliament would hear of it soon enough. When they found things working well, he certainly did not wish to see changes introduced.


said, what he objected to was that the authority of the Council should be quoted without giving Parliament an opportunity of seeing how far the Members of Council were unanimous,