HL Deb 04 August 1876 vol 231 cc499-513
EARL GRANVILLE (on behalf of Viscount HALIFAX)

moved that an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty for, Despatch from the Government of India, 72 Public, of 24th December 1874;Copies of any dissents to the despatches of the Secretary of State of 31st May 1876, recorded by Members of the Council of India.


said, that if, after having carefully considered the Correspondence relating to the Indian Tariff Act of 1875, which was already in their Lordships' hands, he had felt there had been any serious diver- gence of views between his noble Friend the Secretary of State for India and himself, he should have been reluctant to trouble them on the subject, and should at all events have abstained from making any observations upon it until the Papers for which his noble Friend (Earl Granville) had just moved, which were simply a continuation of those to which he had referred, had been produced, and until the House had the advantage of the presence of Ms noble Friend (Lord Lawrence), whose speedy restoration to health they all looked forward to with satisfaction, as well as of his noble Friends (Viscount Halifax and the Duke of Argyll), both of whom had for many years filled the office of Secretary of State for India. As, however, he hoped and believed that no material difference of opinion existed between the noble Marquess opposite and himself; and, as he would studiously avoid touching on any topic likely to lead to controversy, while he was anxious to place a very important question upon a more satisfactory footing than that upon which it at present stood, he hoped the House would not think he was wrong in making the few remarks which he was about to address to it. Their Lordships would recollect that in November last certain instructions were addressed by the Secretary of State to the Government of India relative to the removal of the Customs duty of 5 per cent upon cotton manufactured goods imported into that country. That despatch, which was dated the 11th November, 1875, contained also some observations as to the manner in which the Indian Tariff Act of 1875 had been passed, and it moreover gave to the Government of India certain instructions with respect to the manner in which communications should pass between the Government of India and the Secretary of State upon the subject of contemplated legislation for India. It had been laid on the Table of the House, and had given rise to a discussion in the early part of the Session. Since that time further Papers had been placed in their Lordships' hands, and it was on those Papers he desired to make some observations. They contained the replies of the Government of India, dated the 25th of February and the 17th of March, to the despatch of the Secretary of State of the 11th of November, and two answers from the Secretary of State to those replies, dated the 31st of May. As to the observations which were made by the noble Marquess with respect to the manner in which the Indian Tariff Act of 1875 had been passed, he desired not to say a single word, as the whole matter was fully discussed in the official despatches from the Government of India which had been laid on the Table. The question, so far as he (the Earl of Northbrook) wished to call attention to it, in connection with the instructions of Her Majesty's Government, stood as follows:—The Government of India, in considering whether it was possible for them to propose to the Indian Legislature a measure which would give up a very large and productive source of revenue—amounting to something like £800,000 per annum—were obliged to take into account the position of the finances of India, and upon the best consideration which they could give at that time—which was in February last—to the matter, they felt it would be impossible for them to sacrifice so large an item of revenue while there was a large increase of charge impending in consequence of the depreciation of the value of silver which then existed—a depreciation which had since, he need hardly remind their Lordships, become much more serious than it then was. The Government of India, under those circumstances, replied to the Secretary of State, that it would be impossible, in their opinion, in the condition of the finances of India at the time, to remit the duties to which he referred; and when, he might add, they deliberated on the despatch from the Secretary of State of the 11th of November, it was not quite clear to them whether it was intended or not that new taxes of some description should be imposed to meet the deficiency which would be created by the removal of the Customs duty on cotton manufactures. Upon that subject they entertained a very strong opinion, and he could not express it more clearly than it had been expressed in a passage in the despatch from the Government of India of the 25th of February last— We feel it to be our duty to represent to your Lordship that we deprecate in the strongest manner the imposition of any new direct tax or excise in order to abolish the import duty on cotton manufactures. No measure is, in our opinion, more certain to create irritation, if not serious discontent, in India than the introduction of such new taxes in order to remove that duty. The question of the removal of the duty was now reserved for future consideration, as the Secretary of State had expressed his concurrence with the Government of India in the opinion that the condition of the finances precluded the possibility of making any remissions of taxation; and with regard to the imposition of new taxes the noble Marquess wrote on the 31st of May— Highly as Her Majesty's Government estimate the importance of this measure, they did not contemplate the attainment of it by now taxation; and I concur with your Government in thinking that such a measure would be inexpedient. He (the Earl of Northbrook) was satisfied that this statement would be received in India with the greatest satisfaction. As the removal of the duty on cotton manufactures was now owing to the condition of the finances of India, to use the words of the noble Marquess, "not a subject of immediate interest," he would only assure their Lordships that there was no desire whatever on the part of those who had now for many years administered Her Majesty's Indian Empire to protect any branch of industry by Customs duties. All that the Government had had to do from time to time was so to administer the finances and so to adjust taxation as to enable the monies necessary to carry on the Government to be raised in the least objectionable manner, and with due regard to the interests and feelings, and he might say, also, to the prejudices in some respects, of the Natives of that country. With regard, then, to the first subject discussed in the Correspondence, he had only to express his satisfaction with the substance of the reply of the noble Marquess to the despatch of the Government of India, and to say that he thought the noble Marquess had exercised a wise discretion in not pressing the removal of the Customs duty upon cotton manufactures on the Government of India, and in declaring decisively that it was not his intention to instruct the Government of India to consider the imposition of new taxes for the purpose. As to the second subject dealt with in the Correspondence—namely, the manner in which the business relating to legislation should be transacted between the Government of India and the Secretary of State—he would frankly explain to their Lordships that on the receipt of the instructions contained in the noble Marquess's despatch of March, 1874, by the Government of India, they felt apprehension that greater interference by the Secretary of State in matters of detail was contemplated than had heretofore been the case. Those apprehensions were, to a considerable extent, removed by the correspondence which subsequently ensued, but they were renewed by the receipt of the despatch from the Secretary of State of the 11th November, 1875. The Government of India interpreted that despatch as showing that the Secretary of State was not satisfied with the practice which had heretofore prevailed, and that he had an inclination and disposition to interfere more in detail with legislative measures, and especially those relating to finance, than had heretofore been the practice. They therefore thought it their duty to express their views upon the subject. Nothing could be further from his mind, and nothing could be further from the minds of the Members of his Council in India than the idea of setting up for the Government of India any species of independence from Her Majesty's Government. The Government of India were bound to obey the orders of Her Majesty's Government. All the Government of India had ever maintained was that it was wise, politic, in accordance with precedent; and with the spirit of the Government of India Act of 1858, that all ordinary transactions of business should be left to the Government of India, and it would be prejudicial to the interests of India and even to that proper control which should be exercised by the Secretary of State on behalf of the Crown over Indian legislation if he should constantly interpose his authority previous to the action of the Legislative Council of India in respect to, and during the progress of, the Bills which were proposed in India. The Government of India, in their despatch of the 25th of February last, wrote thus— The practice has hitherto been invariably observed of holding the Government of India to be primarily responsible for the finances of India, with full discretion, subject to disallowance if disapproved, to pass such financial measures as may be necessary from time to time. We apprehend that a change in this practice would be attended by a division of this responsibility in respect to the administration of the finances, by delay, and by other serious inconveniences; and we submit that the rules should be so interpreted as to exempt measures affecting finance and customs which have hitherto been dealt with on the responsibility of the Government of India from the rule that requires legislative measures to be referred to the Secretary of State before they are introduced, and that it may be understood that the present practice of leaving in all ordinary cases the initiation of other legislative measures to the Government of India will not be disturbed. He was glad to find that there was no really serious difference between the views of the noble Marquess and himself on that subject—at any rate, there was no difference in substance—for the noble Marquess in his despatch of the 31st of May stated that in requesting the Government of India to communicate to him full information with respect to financial and other measures, Her Majesty's Government did not intend to imply any want of confidence in the Government of India, or "to withdraw from them the initiative, which, as a general rule, had been left to them." Of course the supreme power must always rest with Her Majesty's Government as representing the Crown, and Her Majesty's Advisers must say how their power should be exercised, but the acceptance of that principle in no way injured his contention that in ordinary cases great latitude should be allowed in matters of detail, that the initiative ought generally to be left to the Indian Government, and that only in matters of the first importance ought the Secretary of State to interfere. He believed, therefore, that in respect of this most important subject there was in substance no serious divergence of views between the Government of India and the Secretary of State. The Secretary of Statewas entitled to have full information on every matter brought under the consideration of the Government of India, and that information, he was satisfied, had always been supplied. If there had been any omission in that respect, it was a mere matter of accident in the transaction of business. He could answer for it that there had never been the slightest desire on the part of the Indian Government to withhold information from the Secretary of State. There was one more subject—certainly one of the greatest importance—raised in these despatches. It appeared from that despatch from the Secretary of State of the 11th of November, 1875, that in future every legislative measure, however urgently required it might be, was to be communicated by telegraph to the Secretary of State, and suffi- cient time allowed him to consider whether it should be proceeded with or not. To that arrangement the Government of India entertained the strongest objection. They pointed out that the instructions they had received, if they were to have any practical effect, meant that the Secretary of State was not satisfied to rely upon the opinion of the Governor General in Council on the question whether a measure could or could not be delayed "without serious public evil," but desired to form his own opinion for the guidance of the Government of India. In such circumstances legislation must be intimately connected with the prompt executive action of the Government. A question of urgency was one which of all questions required most imperatively that it should be decided at once and by those on the spot. Yet this rule would take the responsibility of deciding out of the hands of the Government of India and place it in those of the Secretary of State. The questions whether action was or was not urgently required, and what form it should take, would have to be discussed and determined through the medium of telegraph messages, in which the views on either side must necessarily be imperfectly expressed; delay, which from the nature of the case implied embarrassment, if not danger, must occur; and the conduct of business, which might be of the greatest gravity, would be subjected to the risk of misunderstandings which were inseparable from such a mode of proceeding. It is our duty," we added, "to represent to Her Majesty's Government that the withdrawal from the Governor General in Council of the power of prompt action on the most important occasions that can arise will, in our opinion, seriously weaken the authority and hamper the action of the executive Government in India. For himself, he might say he could conceive of no more unsatisfactory manner of settling important business than by telegraph. He had on more than one occasion seen difficulties arise, owing to the curtness of the language necessarily used in telegraphic despatches, which difficulties he was satisfied would have been altogether avoided, or, at all events, would have been very speedily solved, if the parties had been face to face. On this point he was happy to say the Secretary of State had given an entirely satisfactory explanation. The noble Marquess stated, in his despatch of the 31st of May, that he did not mean to withdraw the power of action from the Governor General; that he fully admitted that "in cases really urgent the delay involved in obtaining the sanction of a superior authority might be most dangerous;" and that the words of his despatch were intended to leave the Governor General as free as he has ever been at any former time to act, and to act at once in any way which a public emergency may seem to him to demand," provided only he informed the Secretary of State of his proceedings. Of course, as he had already observed, it was necessary and right that the Secretary of State should be informed of what was done in India, and he was perfectly satisfied with the condition in which this matter had been left by the Correspondence. There was nothing in the Correspondence with which he need trouble their Lordships further. He had studiously refrained from entering into any matter of controversy. If he had referred to the issues raised in the despatches, it had been for the purpose of showing that the principles which the Government of India deemed to be of the highest importance had, as he conceived, in substance been recognized by the noble Marquess in his replies, and he believed that any misunderstanding which had existed on the subject had mainly been caused by the difficulty of communicating fully on a matter that was exceedingly complicated in the midst of arduous business of different kinds, and that if he had had the advantage of the free and frank communications with the noble Marquess which were not withheld from him on his return to England, it would have averted the appearance of any serious divergence of opinion between the Government of India and the Home Government. All through the Correspondence the Government of India had asked for no new liberty of action, but wished to adhere to the old lines upon which the business of the Indian Empire had heretofore been transacted. If the noble Marquess agreed with the interpretation which he put on that Correspondence—that, although he thought for certain reasons it was desirable to obtain more information, there was no desire on the part of Her Majesty's Government to change the principles on which the Government of India had been conducted—then, whatever divergence of opinion there might have been at the time, the result would be, so far from any interference with the good government of India, that the relations between Her Majesty's Government, as represented by the Secretary of State, and the Government of India would be strengthened and consolidated. He was obliged to their Lordships for listening so long to him on a matter somewhat difficult to explain, and it had been a great gratification to him to be able to express his satisfaction at the general substance of the views expressed in the last despatches of the noble Marquess the Secretary of State for India.


My Lords, I think it is very satisfactory that we should have heard from my noble Friend opposite (the Earl of Northbrook) so clear and ample a statement of his views on this important matter, because it would be a great misfortune if questions of this magnitude in relation to the government by this country of her most important dependency were regarded either as Party questions or as matters principally concerning the individual reputation of particular statesmen. These matters are really of great importance, and I think my noble Friend has done a public service in giving the weight of his authority to doctrines which he conceives to be right doctrines, and to which, as I understood his statement of them, I entirely accede. In the first place, the most important misunderstanding in this Correspondence is that to which my noble Friend has alluded last—namely, with respect to telegraphic communication. I do not think that either he or the Government of India have stated in too strong language the danger that would result if in important emergencies, when delay is a serious evil, they were forced to consult with any distant authority before taking such measures, either executive or legislative, as those emergencies might seem to demand. To every officer, high or low, in India, the discretion must be delegated in moments of urgency of doing what is needed by the public interest, and that discretion must à fortiori be conceded to the highest officer of all—the Governor General. I do not think the terms of my original despatch contained in them any instruction of so pernicious a character as was understood to be conveyed in them by the Government of India; but as the same apprehension was felt by noble. Lords who had previously been Secretaries of State, and was expressed with some vehemence in the earlier part of the Session, I am bound to assume that my despatches were wanting in that quality which my noble Friend tells us is characteristic of Indian Papers—that is to say, they were not sufficiently voluminous; and that if I had explained things at greater length considerable controversy would have been avoided. It was the same with respect to the Indian Tariff. I thought that I had in my despatch stated with sufficient distinctness that the Customs reform which we desired to establish, and to which we attached very great importance, would have to be accomplished out of such margin as the surplus revenue might yield, and was not by any means intended to involve any increase of taxation. That that was my view long before any of these discussions arose, I may prove by mentioning that I stated it with great emphasis—as I felt myself bound to do—to a deputation of Manchester merchants, and I agree with my noble Friend that the difficulties incident to such a measure in India are so great, and they are accompanied, especially in the case of income tax, with such disadvantages connected with the necessity of employing Native agency, that it is only in a very serious emergency that we should wish to suggest or to authorize any new taxation of that kind. I think the apprehensions of the Government of India were not based on anything to be found in my despatch. But I am inclined to think they agree with the view of the interpretation of my despatch which seems to me the natural one, for they say that they themselves inferred from it on the whole that we did not intend to increase taxation. It is true that the policy which we then invited the Government of India to pursue in that way has for the moment become impossible. In November of last year the exchange on silver was 1s. 9½d. It has fallen to something like 1s. 6½d., although I think matters have a little mended lately. That fall involves a loss to the Government of India in the mere bringing home of the money which the Home Government spends of a sum of not less than £2,000,000 a-year. It is needless to say that that loss makes the giving up (out of a surplus) of the £800,000 involved in the change which we indicated a much more difficult matter than it was while that £2,000,000 a-year were looked upon as safe in the Exchequer. We do not, however, attach less importance than we formerly did to the remission of this duty. We believe it will be of great benefit to the consumers in India, and to those industries to which the protective character of the duty offers a delusive and injurious shelter, and that it will also stimulate that commercial prosperity upon which so much not only of the welfare of the inhabitants, but of the future strength of the Indian revenue must be held to depend. We, therefore, do not, as I have said, attach less importance than we formerly did to the remission of this tax; but we feel strongly that the finances of India are in a critical condition, and that until the present sources of danger are removed or seriously mitigated it would not be safe to consider any extensive remission of taxation. But these are matters of comparatively small moment if you consider them by the side of the large Constitutional question of the relations of the Government of England to the Government of India round which a great portion of the controversy turns. And in that respect, too, I think our intentions were misunderstood by the Government of India, and, to a great extent, by noble Lords opposite in an earlier part of the Session. The position of the Government of India towards the Government of England appears to be exceedingly plain. It is impossible to recognize in the Government of India the slightest claim to independence. Nay, more, you cannot recognize in them that sort of qualified independence which we concede to the responsible Governments and the elected Parliaments of Canada and Australia. If any such concession were to be made, it would be necessary to give to the Government of India a perfectly new structure, which would be wholly unsuited to the present circumstances of the country, and which the necessities of our position in India would absolutely preclude. Therefore, the supremacy of the Home Government must be maintained intact, in language perfectly unqualified, as far as any question of right or claim is concerned. But the matter is different when you come to questions of prudence and of policy. It is then quite clear that, as to matters of detail, the affairs of a distant and an alien nation, which cannot be studied by those who are not familiar with the circumstances and the peculiarities of the country, cannot be conducted by orders from a distance. Questions involving great principles should be dealt with by the Home Government, but it is impossible that they can safely undertake to manage matters of detail. In all matters of detail a discretion must, to a very large extent, be left to those on the spot, and as a rule the initiative in all questions of government—that is to say, the duty of making the first proposals on which the Home Government are afterwards to judge is wisely left to them also. Her Majesty's Government have never for a moment suggested that any change in these traditional principles should be made; but what they have required is that they should be informed of those measures, in order that they might be the judges whether the questions raised involved matters of principle or only matters of detail, and whether they were or were not of such a character as required the interference of the Home Government. It was on this ground that Her Majesty's Government required that information, not only upon all executive, but also upon all legislative proposals should be submitted to them before they were carried into effect. We required that that should be done, not for the purpose of constant and petty interferences, not for the purpose of taking the Government of India out of the hands of those to whom it has been committed, and who are upon the spot, but for the purpose of enabling us to judge whether or not we ought to interpose. And the cause of the misunderstanding that arose was this—it was thought that because we desired to have the means of knowing whether we ought to interfere, it was our intention constantly to interfere. We, however, entertained no intention of the kind, our only object being that we at home should be enlightened by a full knowledge of the circumstances of each case and of the designs which the Government of India entertained. It must be remembered that a fuller knowledge of this kind has become necessary as the communications between England and India become more rapid. The telegraph wire does not exist for us alone. Constant communications of what is passing in India reach others than those who sit in the India Office. There are frequent attempts to obtain the suspension or the reversal of acts done out in India, and it is a very frequent practice to endeavour to apply to the Home Government political pressure in order to put a stop to proceedings to which parties in India may object. It is impossible that Her Majesty's Government can deal properly with such suggestions and proposals or can exercise duly their duty at once of supervising and of supporting the Government of India unless they are furnished with full information upon all subjects upon which that Government is engaged: and therefore the increase in the rapidity and the ease of communication between this country and India, makes it all the more necessary that the information which we sought should be given to us. The Government of India, in a recent despatch, requested especially that matters concerning financial questions should be excepted from these orders. In reply to that request I have to say that as far as we are personally concerned, we should be very glad to make the exception asked for, because the subject is one which we naturally have not any particular desire to deal with. We have, however, to consider the fact that the British Parliament takes a very great interest in Indian finances, for which we are responsible; that we have to answer Questions, to meet Motions, to refute erroneous views, and to give the information which may be required with regard to those matters, and that, therefore, it is impossible to except the domain of finance especially from the list of subjects upon which we require information. In conclusion, I would say, that in order to explain my view of the relations that exist between the English and Indian Governments, those relations are not unlike those that are maintained between the Home Government and a General commanding in the field. In the latter case any constant interference in the details of movement would be accompanied by those failures which history has associated with the name of the Aulic Council. But, on the other hand, it must be for the Government at home to determine all great questions of policy; they must say what is to be the object of the campaign, and when it shall begin and finish, and the end that it is desired to obtain. And in order that the Home Government may exercise their judgment in these points, it is necessary that they should have the fullest information given to them. That is precisely the position between the Government of India and the Government at home. I do not believe that when once those relations are fully understood any difficulty will be found in working under them. There may be feelings on both sides which it may be necessary to repress, but as long as there is full confidence between the two Governments their respective functions can be kept distinct and their respective duties can be reconciled. I am far from deprecating any such Parliamentary criticism as has been offered upon the conduct of Her Majesty's Government in this matter. On the contrary, the discretion committed to the Government of England with regard to India is so great that it is requisite they should be watched and followed by Parliamentary criticism; and the more these questions are discussed, the more clearly and plainly will come out the sound principles upon which the double Government of India is carried on. It was because I felt that these matters were the subject of some doubt and controversy, and that mistaken ideas prevailed with regard to the important functions of the Government of India, that I laid the Papers on the Table of the House, in order that the attention of Parliament should be invited to the question. It is, therefore, a source of great satisfaction to me that my noble Friend opposite, who of all men has had the best opportunity of judging of these questions, has arrived at conclusions which do not in any material or substantial sense differ from those embodied in the despatches, and that he agrees with me in thinking that whatever acerbity may have characterized some parts of the controversy that arose, the settlement of a common ground of principle is well worth the risk of giving rise to such incidents of controversy. I shall have no objection in laying the additional Papers required on the Table of the House.


After what has been said by the noble Marquess the Secretary of State for India, and the noble Earl (the Earl of North- brook), who have spoken on this question, I have but a few words to add. It is very satisfactory that the Correspondence which is the subject of this discussion has now been laid before your Lordships. In a country so vast and important as India, in which great events take place almost without a moment's warning, it is of the utmost consequence that the authority of the Governor General in Council should not be impaired; at the same time, no one is more sensible than I am of the necessity of the general control of the Secretary of State and the Home Government, especially as an authority to which appeal may be made in case of differences of opinion within the Council of the Governor General. The Secretary of State should, doubtless, be supplied with the fullest information, and it is due to the noble Earl who has recently relinquished the Government of India (the Earl of Northbrook), to say that all the demi-official correspondence of which I had any cognizance showed the greatest desire to give full information, and to avoid, if possible, any collision of opinion. But if the Governor General is hampered and trammeled by too many leading-strings, it is impossible that he can have confidence to act with the necessary decision and prompitude in the emergencies which are constantly liable to arise. I have, therefore, heard with much pleasure the assurance of the noble Marquess that it is not his intention to depart materially from the manner in which business has heretofore been conducted between the Secretary of State and the Government of India. This assurance will be received in India with the greatest satisfaction.

Motion agreed to.

Then, an Address for Copy of reply to despatch from the Government of India, 72 Public, 24th December, 1874, being moved by the Marquess of Salisbury, the same was agreed to.