HL Deb 20 July 1877 vol 235 cc1556-62

rose to move for Papers respecting Coolie emigration from India to the British Colonies in the West Indies. The noble Lord said, that for the first time in a long series of years he felt justified in expressing a belief that the West India interest was in a more hopeful state of returning prosperity than it had been for a long time past. The great difficulty of the West Indian Colonies was to get labour to enable them to compete with produce of countries in which slave labour was employed. In the Spring of 1875, in consequence of the representations made by the West Indians, the Secretary of State for India addressed to the Government of India a despatch, asking it to consider whether it and its officers might not give more direct encouragement to a system of Coolie emigration from that country under proper conditions. Two years and more had since then elapsed, and he believed that no answer had been sent to that despatch until a very recent period. It was desirable to know what attention had been paid to the suggestion of the noble Marquess, who, he trusted, would be able to tell them how far the wishes expressed by the West Indians in regard to that matter were likely to be realized. He hoped, also, that his noble Friend would not relax in his endeavours to persuade the Government of India to encourage and promote the emigration of Coolies from that country. India had suffered severely in recent years from the scourge of famine; and if from the more crowded parts of that country a well-regulated system of emigration was encouraged to those Colonies where labour was urgently needed, a considerable amount of the misery resulting from those periodical calamities might be averted. Those Coolies who had emigrated there in past years had, he believed, no reason to regret the course they had taken. Many of them remained in the Colonies as settlers; while others again had, after a certain time, returned to their native country with considerable sums of money which they had earned in their possession. There could, therefore, be no doubt that a well-regulated system of Coolie emigration would be beneficial both to our Colonies and to the people of India.

Moved that an humble Address he presented to Her Majesty for, Copy of the despatch addressed by the Marquess of Salisbury to the Governor-General of India, dated 24th. March 1875, respecting Coolie Emigration from India to the British West India Colonies; together with copies of any subsequent despatches and correspondence on the same subject; with the reply of the Government of India, and any documents accompanying the same.—(The Lord Hampton.)


said, it was certainly true that two years ago he had addressed to the Government of India a despatch urging them to give greater facilities than had hitherto been given to the emigration of Coolies to the West Indies. His noble Friend (Lord Hampton) had rested his advocacy of such a measure mainly on the claims of our West India Colonies to be permitted to have a free supply of labour. For himself, he (the Marquess of Salisbury) did not in the least degree deny the urgency of those claims, nor did he disclaim the duty of the Government of India, as part of the Empire of the Queen, to do all which might properly lie in their power to alleviate the difficulties of the West India Colonies. But he confessed that that was not the consideration which was prominently in his mind. His belief was that an increase of emigration from India would tend, perhaps distantly and slowly, but still certainly, to an amelioration of the condition of the labouring population of that country. As was well-known to their Lordships, the condition of the labouring population of India was one which it was melancholy to contemplate; because not only were the peasantry of that country—as the tillers of the soil were in many countries—in a state of deep poverty, but it was a poverty from which there was for them little hope of escape. They were so involved in the bonds of the money lender, on whom almost for generations back they had relied, that their position had become one of absolute dependence, and their hope of saving or realizing any competency which could assure them against calamities such as that which now desolated India had almost entirely disappeared. A vast population cultivating the soil, plunged in debt, having little hope for the future, and having no security against the calamities of constantly-recurring famine, presented a phenomenon which must not only grieve every person who considered the terrible responsibility which lay on the Government of India in respect to that population, but must also in some degree alarm us for the political consequences which such a state of things might some day produce. He did not say that emigration could cure it suddenly or magically or with any very great rapidity. But in other countries they had the fact before them that emigration not only relieved the persons who emigrated, but, by bringing home to the population the knowledge that there were in other lands better markets for their labour, it stimulated them to make an effort to extricate themselves from the position of poverty in which they lived; it gave a new energy and a new life to their thoughts; it awakened their curiosity and their enterprize; and, in a far larger degree than was measured simply by the actual numbers who went out, it tended to better the condition of the whole community. That was the advantage which he believed a well-regulated system of emigration, if it could be introduced into India, would confer on that country. It would not only benefit those who went out, but it would induce those who remained behind to seek for better markets for their labour in their own country, and thus bring gradually into cultivation vast tracts of land now lying waste and yielding no support to the millions of population. On those grounds he had thought that was a matter to which the attention of the Government of India should be called. As his noble Friend (Lord Hampton) had said, a considerable time had elapsed before he received an answer. His despatch was sent out in March, 1875, and it was in May of this year that the answer to it came. He regretted that that answer was in no degree favourable. The Government of India did not, as at present advised, desire to adopt the measure which he had suggested for facilitating and encouraging emigration. He would not attempt at present to pass any judgment upon the opinion to which the Government of India had come, or upon the arguments by which that opinion was supported. It was obvious that he would do so to very little purpose until the Papers were in their Lordships' hands; and, indeed, the matter required very serious consideration, and also consultation with the Colonial Department before they could themselves undertake to give an opinion on the judgment expressed by the Government of India. "With the motive of some of the objections to Coolie emi- gration it was impossible not absolutely and entirely to sympathize; but he believed it was in the power of this country and the Colonies themselves to give sufficient security that the interests of the labourers should be properly attended to. On the other hand, the Government of India very properly pointed out that too active an interference with the action of the population was very likely to be followed by suspicion, and that great precaution must always be observed by the English rulers in respect of 'such matters. In the Bengal territory—he thought his noble Friend opposite would confirm what he said—a most curious suspicion was excited by the benevolent action of the British Government in introducing large quantities of food into the distressed districts. With a population so ignorant and so apt to suspect, the Government of India did well to be cautious. All he could say in answer to his noble Friend was that in his opinion it was desirable, if possible, both for the sake of India and the West Indies, to stimulate this emigration. He should be very glad to produce the Papers in order that the public might form a judgment upon the matter, and no efforts of his to conduce to that end would be wanting. Until there had been further deliberation upon the matter, he could not say what course would be adopted.


said, he could assure their Lordships that the feeling of the Government of India was in favour of a properly regulated system of emigration; and they would have no hesitation in acceding to any satisfactory proposals that were made for that purpose. But it was the duty of the Government—and he was sure their Lordships would concur in the opinion—to secure complete protection for the Indian emigrants, and to take precautions with regard to their health, their subsistence, and the security of their wages. If these precautions were taken, the Government of India would be prepared to give every facility for carrying out a scheme of emigration from India to the West India Colonies or elsewhere. He thought the noble Marquess had taken too gloomy a view of the labouring classes. So far from the labouring population being in a state of misery and distress, there were in many parts of India no class of people who were better off, or who spent a more peaceful and happy existence. They did not consume, perhaps, as much cotton goods as could be wished: their habits and customs did not require expensive food, and they lived on their own ground in tolerable comfort. It was, however, difficult to appreciate how slightly English knowledge and civilization had penetrated the mass of the people; and he agreed with the noble Marquess as to the difficult task which the Indian Government would have to discharge if they were to interpose actively for the purpose of encouraging schemes of emigration, owing to the suspicion with which such schemes were regarded by the labouring classes of India. He wished to urge upon their Lordships that it would not be right to exercise any undue pressure upon the Indian Government in this matter, for they, after all, were responsible for the protection of Her Majesty's Indian subjects.


said, it was satisfactory to find it admitted on all sides that if you had a large and redundant population on the one hand, and a great want of labour on the other, it was only a reasonable and a wise course to promote the removal of the redundant labour to the market where labour was employed to advantage. He thought the noble Lord on the other side of the House (Lord Hampton) laid himself open to some misconception when he implied that the precautions which were now taken and which had been taken by the Colonies for the protection of Coolies, were not such as to justify the Indian Government in sanctioning a system of emigration of Coolies from India. But, whatever evils might have existed in former times in respect of Coolie emigration, those evils had been effectually neutralized. Every reasonable precaution had been taken, and legislation of the most careful and most minute pattern had been passed for that particular object. For some few years the manner in which the emigration of labourers to British Guiana had been conducted was a model. The condition of these Coolies in most instances when they returned from the Colonies was one of enviable prosperity. He admitted, however, that jealous watchfulness on the part both of the Home Government and of the Governors of the Colonies over the treatment of the Coolies was necessary, and if that duty was properly performed, he did not doubt that the condition of these people would be greatly ameliorated.

Motion agreed to.

House adjourned at a quarter past Six o'clock, to Monday next, Twelve o'clock.