HL Deb 02 March 1871 vol 204 cc1160-3

asked the noble Duke the Secretary of State for India, If he intended to move for a Select Committee on East Indian Finance? The noble Lord said that in putting the Question he desired to make a few observations on the subject. Last Session, as President of the East India Association, a body composed of gentlemen who had been in India or were in some way connected with it, and had continued to circulate information upon it, he was asked to move for the appointment of a Committee of their Lordships on the subject; but he replied that he did not think that the best mode of dealing with the subject. He thought that a Commission on India would be better; but that such a step might appear an affront to the Governor General, and Lord Mayo, as far as he had been able to observe, had fulfilled his duties with great ability and public advantage. More recently there had been a rumour that if a Committee were moved for in the House of Commons the Government would not object, and there was afterwards a proposal from the Government for a Joint Committee of both Houses. This proposition, however, had been abandoned, on the ground that their Lordships were not entitled to inquire into the subject of Indian finance. If not, what were their Lordships to inquire into? He had never heard of a more extraordinary objection. Their Lordships were often reproached with idleness; but this enforced idleness arose from a want of business whereon to exercise industry. Surely there was no question which they were better fitted for dealing with than Indian finance? Indian finance stood upon an entirely different footing from English finance. The objection to their altering Money Bills—namely, that taxes should only be imposed by the representatives of the people — did not apply to Indian finance, which was not regulated by the Imperial Parliament at all. If, moreover, India was indirectly represented in Parliament, it was in this House rather than in the other. The noble Duke (the Duke of Argyll) had on two occasions submitted to their Lordships, with great ability and usefulness, the Indian Budget — a step which obviously was no less open to objection than the consideration of the subject by a Committee. In the House of Commons there was at present a great dearth of Indian authorities—Sir Stafford Northcote being absent, and there being very few Gentlemen Members of that House who had been at the India Office or who had applied themselves to Indian affairs; whereas in this House there were on the opposite side two noble Lords who had been Secretaries of State for India, the Earl of Derby and the Marquess of Salisbury, as well as two on the Ministerial side, Viscount Halifax and the noble Duke himself (the Duke of Argyll). Above all, there was Lord Lawrence, than whom no man could be better fitted to deal with such a subject; yet he was to be excluded on account of the fanciful notion that it would infringe the privileges of the House of Commons. That a man could be as useful as a witness as a member of the Committee he denied, for there was a great difference between the presence on the Committee of a well-informed man, who could examine the witnesses, and the examination of that man as a witness by Gentlemen not conversant with the subject. It cast a ridicule on our institutions that so desirable a measure as the appointment of a Joint Committee should be set aside through political pedantry, on the ground that their Lordships were not to interfere with the finances of any part of the Empire. Considering the number of noble Lords who might usefully apply themselves to a subject of so much difficulty—which even a statesman of such grasp of mind as Lord Ellen borough had confessed his inability to master—he would ask the noble Duke, whether it was not advisable to appoint a separate Committee in this House, a step which need not be regarded as at all antagonistic to the Commons' Committee?


, in reply, said the suggestion of a Committee had not emanated from Her Majesty's Government, for they saw nothing special in the state of Indian finance to call for inquiry; but during last Session, in a discussion on the subject, the Government intimated that if any considerable section of the House desired an inquiry, they would not stand in the way of it. This Session a considerable number of Members, not entirely satisfied by an early day being given to the Indian Financial Statement, still wished for a Committee, and the Government had accordingly to consider how the inquiry could be best carried on. A Joint Committee of both Houses was suggested not by himself, but by the other Members of the Government. He entirely approved it — for it was a mistake to suppose that there was any jealousy on the part of the India Office on the subject—and communicated personally with several Members of both Houses. He was glad to find that the idea met with general approval, and that some of the most distinguished Members of this House acquainted with Indian finance were willing to serve on the Committee. Such a step, however, required the general consent of all parties; and, on the matter being discussed in the House of Commons, it did not appear to meet with general acquiescence. The proposal of a Joint Committee had, consequently, been withdrawn. He did not think an inquiry was very urgent, and thought the appointment of a Committee of their Lordships, contemporaneously with the Commons' Committee, would have an appearance of jealousy and antagonism. He entirely concurred with his noble Friend that it was a total mistake to regard this House as being in the same position with regard to Indian as to Home finance. The House of Commons represented the taxpayers of this country, but not the taxpayers of India, and their Lordships were as much entitled as the House of Commons to deal, if necessary, with Indian finance. Should any suggestion emanate from the Commons' Committee, of which the Government or their Lordships might doubt the propriety, it would be their Lordships' duty to institute a full inquiry before passing any measure founded upon it.