§ LORD LYVEDEN
presented a Petition of 600 Zemindars, Talookdars, Putneedars, and others interested in permanently settled estates in the Presidency of Fort William, East Indies, complaining of a despatch of the Secretary of State for India of the 17th May, 1870, and praying for inquiry into and for redress of grievances. He said he knew the difficulty of arresting their Lordships' attention on a subject relating almost exclusively to India; but he thought it his duty to bring before them a matter which was of considerable importance. Probably few of their Lordships had read the despatch to which the Petition referred, it having been published in a Blue Book with a mass of other documents; but the proposal it contained, and of which the Petitioners complained, was to establish a cess on lands included in Lord Cornwallis's Permanent Settlement of 1793, for the purpose of compulsory education. This the Petitioners contended was inconsistent with the terms of that arrangement, by which the burdens on the territory included within it were fixed and declared incapable of increase. The proposed tax stood on an altogether different footing from the income tax, the imposition of which was necessary, after the Mutiny, in order to re-establish Indian finances. It seemed that the noble Duke (the Duke of Argyll) took the advice of his Council on this matter, and they only approved his despatch by a majority of one, the dissentients being seven gentlemen eminently qualified to give an opinion on Indian matters, 643 Most of them had been in India, and some had been Members of the old East India Company. Their objection was that the imposition of the cess would be a broach of faith with the landowners of Bengal; and one of them (Sir Francis Halliday) pointing out that the objection preferred in the case of irrigation—namely, that the tax would be likely to make unpopular what would otherwise be regarded as a blessing—was equally applicable to compulsory education. Now, one of the impressions as to the causes which led to the Mutiny of 1857, was that education was being diffused too rapidly in India, and against the desire of the people. He feared, therefore, that this despatch would produce great irritation. Moreover, there was no local machinery for levying the tax, and Lord Cornwallis's Settlement was looked upon in Bengal as a kind of Magna Charta. Considering these things, and the opinions expressed by a large minority of his Council, although he (Lord Lyveden) was no great admirer of that institution, the noble Duke would do well to suspend his judgment, and not to hurry on the measure. His noble Friend had already, indeed, inculcated on the Indian Government the necessity of caution. The proposed cess was to include roads, and to this he saw no reasonable objection; but a tax for education might entail serious consequences, and might produce a strong feeling against the Government. A question like this might have been referred with advantage to a Select Committee of this House. The Petition was couched in very respectful terms, and appealed with confidence to their Lordships' House, as comprising among its Members men who had at some time or other ruled the destinies of our Indian Empire, and who had thus become acquainted with the wants and wishes of the people, he trusted therefore it would receive the consideration of their Lordships.
THE DUKE OF ARGYLL
said, he must admit that the despatch touched on one of the most important questions connected with the Government of India. As to his noble Friend's complaint, that it had been buried in a large Blue Book, he should have been willing to lay it on the Table separately had he not thought it fairer to accompany it with the dissents of Members of the Council, and 644 with all the co-relative documents, which would enable any noble Lord disposed to wade through the Papers to form a judgment upon the subject. The fact was that the Revenue of India was more than fully absorbed by the judicial, civil, and military administration of the Empire, together with the larger class of public works, so that local drainage, roads, education, and other measures of immense importance would have to be neglected, and the country thus reduced to stagnation, unless other funds were found. This had been felt by every Government, and, to some extent, works of this kind had been undertaken, as was done in this country, by local cesses or rates. These cesses by no means originated with the present Government, for long before the decision taken in this particular case, local rates had been levied almost over the whole of India for roads and other local works. The Government of Sir John Lawrence and Lord Mayo had naturally wished to have recourse to the same expedient in Bengal, where those interested in landed property were wealthier than in the other Provinces, and they desired the local government of Bengal to impose a local cess for education, roads, and other works. They were met, however, by the old argument, that under Lord Cornwallis's Permanent Settlement of 1793 no local cess could be imposed on the zemindars and others, the land rate having by that Settlement been fixed in perpetuity. The same objection was urged to the imposition of the income tax, but it was overruled by the then Government of India and by the Home Government, and incomes from land in Bengal had accordingly been subjected to the tax equally with incomes from other sources. Unfortunately, the zemindars were supported in the present instance by Sir William Grey, the Lieutenant Governor of Bengal, who had just returned home, and the agitation reached such a height that the Imperial Government was appealed to. The objection, if valid, would apply equally to other parts of India, the land revenue being generally settled for 30 years; and the question was important also as regarded the good faith of the British Government. It was true that his despatch was approved by only a bare majority of the Council; but it was sanctioned unanimously by Her Majesty's 645 Government, and he thought that those who read the arguments on both sides in the Blue Book would be convinced that no breach of faith had been committed. There were, indeed, stronger arguments for the cess in this instance than existed in the case of the income tax, the latter being raised for Imperial purposes, while the contemplated cess would be for local objects. He believed the decision had been received with satisfaction by the general community, and hoped that in point of principle the question would not be reopened. At the same time he agreed in the impolicy of imposing such cesses too high and with too great rapidity. His noble Friend, like Sir William Grey, approved a cess for roads, but objected to one for education. There was, however, no distinction between the two in point of right. It was the opinion of many that education was not appreciated by the people of India, and that it was inexpedient to push it on by local taxation too hastily. He had, however, carefully warned the Government against proceeding too hastily. The new Lieutenant Governor of Bengal agreed with the despatch, and was anxious to carry it into effect with proper caution. He hoped, therefore, that nothing would be said in this House to embarrass the authorities in dealing with a question of great difficulty.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
agreed with the noble Duke that the imposition of the tax was not a breach of faith, for he could not conceive how Lord Cornwallis could fetter his successors for ever in the right of taxation. It was possible, however, that injustice might be committed in imposing the tax, and by casting on land special burdens, having no reference to land, might not be so patiently endured in India as it was in this country, where people were accustomed to it. It was quite possible that the landowners, when they saw their lands set out for new taxation, might conceive that it was not really for taxation, but for an increase of rent; and that would be a danger. He hoped the utmost caution would be shown in increasing taxation for purposes not closely connected with the interests of the taxpayers, and that none would be imposed which was not of obviously immediate benefit to the zemindars and other proprietors.
§ LORD LYVEDEN moved that the said Petition be printed.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
thought the custom might be more honoured in the breach than the observance, and he could not conceive why the printing of the Petition should be objected to. It could not be contrary to good policy to allow the views of an important part of Her Majesty's subjects to be brought under their Lordships' notice.
§ EARL GRANVILLE
said, he was not one of those who thought that because a thing had not been done it never should be done. Still, if there was to be a departure from what had existed as a rule, it would be better for his noble Friend to give Notice of his intention to make a Motion at some future time.
THE DUKE OF ARGYLL
said, their Lordships ought to be careful how they departed from, the practice without due Notice and consideration. Parties desiring to see their opinions put into print at the expense of others might present a pamphlet under the form of a Petition. There was a practice in the other House to appoint a Committee, who selected the Petitions which they thought ought to be printed, and they were circulated with the Votes; and in addition to that, any hon. Member could move that a particular Petition should be so printed and circulated. He thought the plan might be introduced here. There was not a single argument in the Petition which did not appear in the Blue Book.
§ LORD LYVEDEN
admitted the impolicy of printing all Petitions, but urged that these Native Princes had no knowledge of the forms of the House, and would infer that their Petition, if not printed, had been neglected.
§ Motion (by leave of the House) withdrawn.