HL Deb 11 March 1886 vol 303 cc410-7

, in rising to move— That a Select Committee be appointed to join with a Committee of the Commons to inquire into the operation of the following Acts of Parliament:—Statute 21st and 22nd Vict. chap. 106. An Act for the better Government of India (1858), and the Acts of Parliament amending the same. Statute 24th and 25th Vict. chap. 67. The Indian Councils Act (1861), together with the statutory provisions amending the same, and those relating to the Executive Councils of the Governors of Madras and Bombay. Statute 24th and 25th Vict. chap. 104 (1861). An Act for establishing High Courts of Judicature in India. Statute 24th and 25th Vict. chap. 54 (1861). An Act to confirm certain appointments in India, and to amend the law concerning the civil service there. Statute 33rd Vict. chap. 3 (1870). An Act to make better provision for making laws and regulations in certain parts of India, and for certain other purposes relating thereto, said, that the Statutes to which reference was made regulated the system of our Indian Government. It was a great many years since any inquiry took place upon this subject. The last Committee which was appointed was in 1852. In that year the time for which the Charter had been granted to the East India Company had nearly run out, and Committees were appointed in both Houses of Parliament to consider whether the Charter should be renewed or not. The Committees sat for two Sessions, and published the very voluminous evidence they had taken; but they never made any general Report. Not long after that, as their Lordships were aware, the great Mutiny in India occurred, and the result was that the whole subject of the Government of India was taken into consideration by Parliament, and in 1858 a Statute was passed placing our Indian Empire under the direct rule of Her Majesty. The Act of 1858 was the principal Statute which would be inquired into by the Committee he now proposed. Upon the occasion of moving the appointment of the Committee in 1852, the late Earl of Derby, who was then Prime Minister, made a very long and interesting speech, in which he described the whole system of government in India, and pointed out the enormous magnitude of our Empire there, giving a great many details on the whole subject. Their Lordships, he was sure, would not expect him to follow the same course on this occasion. Times had greatly changed since 1852. In those days, owing to the difficulty of communication with India, the subject was much less understood than was the case now. There was now so much of constant interchange between this country and India of travellers, and such was the effect of the telegraphs and railways and newspaper correspondence, that we had become far more familiar with Indian questions than formerly. Certainly, the magnitude of our Empire had not decreased, nor the greatness of the burdens of the Government; and it was sufficent to establish that by merely alluding to the fact that, either directly or indirectly, under the sway of the Queen-Empress there were no less than 250,000,000 of people, or not far short, he believed, of a fifth of the whole human race. The statement of such figures was enough to show how great the burden of government must be, and how vast must be the Empire over which they ruled. He would now explain to the House the reason why Her Majesty's Government thought it desirable to follow the conclusions, arrived at by the late Government, that there should be an inquiry on this subject. As he had said, it was no less than 34 years since there had been any general inquiry. In that time vast changes had taken place in India; and he was told by those who knew India well that if the India of the present day were compared with it in the days of the late Earl of Ellen-borough, the change which had taken place was greater than that which had occurred in this country in the same time. In one sense India had been immovable—that there were still existing ancient systems which were, no doubt, of very great stability; and, looking at these, it might be supposed that it was not operated upon by the changes going on around it, but remained a distinct world. That, however, he believed was a great mistake. The introduction of railways in India, which enabled the different parts of that country to communicate with each other, had alone made a great difference; and there could not be any doubt in the mind of anyone who had carefully and wisely observed the signs of the times that there were signs of movement such as had never been seen before. That, he thought, constituted a valid reason why they should carefully examine whether, after the lapse of all these years, any changes were necessary in the system then established. In saying this, he would guard himself against its being supposed that Her Majesty's Government were of opinion that the present system had broken down, or that it was a bad system. On the contrary, Her Majesty's Government believed that the principles on which the Government of India were founded were sound, and that the experience which they had had of the working of that system was entirely in its favour. But it might be that there were various details with regard to which changes were desirable. That the system had been, on the whole, successful, was no inconsiderable achievement. In 1858 Parliament was greatly perplexed by the great problem then submitted to it. The Government of the day found extreme difficulty in carrying the measure through to the satisfaction of Parliament and of public opinion; and if they read the debates of that time they would see there was by no means an absolute and confident ex- pectation that the system would be satisfactory which was then established. It was believed they had invented a good system; but still it had yet to be tried. But now experience had shown that it had worked, on the whole, smoothly and well, and he insisted the more upon this because they heard very often of complaints, sometimes just complaints, of defects in their administration. Fixing their minds on it as a whole, however, and not looking at particular points, he would maintain that, as a whole, the Administration of India, whether at home or in India, was one which gave them reason for pride. The Acts which he referred to in his Motion were the most important Acts by which the machinery of the Government was established. The first—the Act of 1858 — was the important Act which transferred the Government of India from the East India Company to the Crown. Upon that basis the whole of the structure rested; and in referring that Act to the Committee they were, no doubt, technically referring the foundation on which the Indian Government was established; but he apprehended that no one supposed they were about to refer to the Committee the question whether India was to be under the direct government of the Crown. But that Act did greatly more than transfer the Government of India to the Queen. It provided the whole machinery by which it was to be done; and without going on this occasion into details on the subject, he might say that some parts of the working of that machinery had been questioned, and it was quite reasonable that Parliament should investigate the subject, and should declare whether there should be any changes in that machinery or not. He did not anticipate that the strong accusations brought against it would be proved; but, at the same time, he admitted that after so many years it was possible that improvements might be made in the arrangements. Then the Acts amending the Acts of 1858 in various minor points were also referred to the Committee. The next Act was that which related to the Executive Councils of the Governor's of Bombay and Madras. The 24 & 25 Vict. c. 104, established the Court of Judicature, and the next Statute mentioned regulated the whole appointments in the Covenanted Civil Service. The last Statute established what was known as the Statutory Civil Service—a special branch of the Service into which large numbers of Natives were admitted. And here he wished to observe that he was extremely anxious that it should not be supposed that, in specially mentioning the Act regulating the Civil Service in India, he was casting any reflection of any kind on the Service. He was quite certain that there was no portion of the Civil Service of Her Majesty which deserved better of their fellow-countrymen than the Civil Service of India. It was eminently patriotic and energetic. That it was better than the older Service he would not say, for it would be difficult to find a better Service; but that the present Civil Service came up to the high standard of the former Service could safely be asserted. At the same time, it was quite right that that Statute should be referred to the Committee. The other question to which he had alluded under the name of the Statutory Civil Service was a more difficult one. There could not be the least doubt that a great deal of discussion and some dissatisfaction had arisen from the regulations under which Natives were admitted to the Service. The age for admission was altered some years ago, and there had been during the last three or four years a strong agitation for a return to the former limits of age. The question of age bore on the admission of Natives to the Statutory Civil Service, which was established with a special view to meet the wants of the Natives. They were all agreed upon one point—namely, that full scope should be given to the admission of the Natives to Her Majesty's Service in that part of her Empire; but, at the same time, the particular arrangement by which that object should be secured was by no means easy to devise; and, looking to the difference of opinion on the matter, the labours of the Committee would be very wisely directed to that question. It might be asked if it was intended that this Committee should go into the whole of this vast subject which was being remitted to them. He admitted that from the reference of the Act of 1858 to them this might be inferred; but if the Committee went into the various branches of the administration of the Indian Empire—to its Revenue, its finance, its Army, its Judicature, its relations to Native States, its foreign relations, and, in short, all the whole administration which was controlled by that Act — then he would say that the Committee might find much useful occupation for itself, but no practical result could come from it. They would produce two or three enormous Blue Books which would lie upon the shelves unread; but no practical result would follow. His hope was that the Committee would have the wisdom and the discretion to direct itself to those particular points in which there was some immediate question involved, and which ought to be dealt with by Parliament—to those on which it was desirable there should be some inquiry with a view to legislation. If they did that, they would strengthen the hands of the Government; because it was exceedingly difficult for any Government to come to Parliament with Bills altering the Statutes regulating the Indian Administration unless they had behind them the recommendations of a strong Committee who had considered the whole matter. They proposed, on this occasion, a Joint Committee as more convenient than two Committees, and as more likely to lead to a practical result than was the case on former occasions.

Moved, "That a Select Committee be appointed to join with a Committee of the Commons to inquire into the operation of the following Acts of Parliament:— Statute 21st and 22nd Vict. chap. 106. An Act for the better Government of India (1858), and the Acts of Parliament amending the same: Statute 24th and 25th Vict. chap. 67. The Indian Councils Act (1861), together with the statutory provisions amending the same, and those relating to the Executive Councils of the Governors of Madras and Bombay: '"Statute 24th and 25th Vict. chap. 104. (1861). An Act for establishing High Courts of Judicature in India: Statute 24th and 25th Vict. chap. 54. (1861). An Act to confirm certain appointments in India, and to amend the law concerning the civil service there: Statute 33rd Vict. chap. 3. (1870). An Act to make better provision for making laws and regulations in certain parts of India, and for certain other purposes relating thereto."—(The Earl of Kimberley.)


said, that he had no objection or opposition to offer to the proposal made by the noble Earl opposite. The subject had been referred to in the Queen's Speech, and it had been the great desire of the noble Lord the late Secretary of State for India (Lord Randolph Churchill) that this inquiry should be held at once. He was very glad to observe the temperate and moderate language which had been used by the noble Earl; and if any objection could be made to an injuiry of this sort it would be on the ground of the very vague and most inaccurate charges which had been thrown out by persons who had looked more to grievances of their own making than to those which really affected the people of India. The assumption of the Government of India by Her Majesty was not to be touched at all; they started from that foundation, with the view of seeing whether the system of government which had been carried on in India had been such as followed to their full consequences the Resolution of Parliament and the Proclamation of Her Majesty. Those inquiries would very naturally be made into the Civil Service including the Judicial Service, as affecting both the Natives and the English; but he quite agreed with the noble Earl that any Committee which sat upon this question should limit its inquiries to some distinct and tangible issues, or else they would involve themselves in inextricable difficulties, and would never come to any decision or conclusion at all. He believed that the system of administration in India had worked, on the whole, extremely well; that the Natives had little cause to complain of it, and that they were rapidly rising into positions for which they were fitted. It must be remembered that they were not dealing with one nation and one religion, but with several nations and different religions, and that they had to apply their legislation to the different parts of the country. He hoped that the Committee would apply themselves with temperance and sobriety to the great task which the noble Earl had proposed to impose upon them.


asked whether the Reference to the Committee in regard to the High Courts of Judicature in India would be sufficiently wide to cover the question of establishing a Court of Appeal in that country for those cases concerning property, which many thought ought to be decided judicially, and not, as at present, administratively?


said, that he understood his noble Friend to allude to a certain class of cases where questions, which were partly of a judicial nature concerning the property of some privileged owners of land in India, were referred to the decision of the Government, rather than of the Courts. The question which his noble Friend had in his mind deserved some attention; and he saw no reason why the Committee, if they thought fit, should not inquire into that particular subject.

And, on March 16, the Lords following were named of the Committee:—

D. Norfolk, E. Lytton.
D. Buckingham and Chandos. E. Iddesleigh.
V. Cranbrook.
M. Ripon. L. Harris.
E. Derby. L. Elgin.
E. Cowper. L. Napier.
E. Cadogan. L. Revelstoke.
E. Kimberley. L. Hobhouse.
E. Northbrook.

And a message sent to the Commons to acquaint them that this House has appointed a Committee of sixteen Lords to join with a Committee of the Commons to consider the operation of the Act for the better government of India (1858), and certain other Acts relating to India; and to request that the Commons will be pleased to appoint an equal number of Members to be joined with the Members of this House.