HL Deb 28 August 1889 vol 340 cc725-32

in rising to ask the Secretary of State for India whether the Government have arrived at a determination with reference to the mode in which the native officials are to be dealt with who came forward as witnesses before the Commission of Inquiry into the conduct of Mr. Crawford, said: My Lords, before putting to the noble Viscount opposite the question of which I have given notice I desire to say a few words upon the subject to which it refers. In the course of last year the Government of Bombay found itself in a position of peculiar difficulty and embarrassment. I think that justice has hardly been done to that Government in the criticism which has been passed upon its action, because the difficulty of its position has not been fully realised. A native had been tried and sentenced to imprisonment in the Poona district of the Bombay Presidency for having received bribes; but the impression widely prevailed that this man was only an instrument, and that the person who had employed him was an official, high in the Indian service, who was at that time Commissioner for the Poona district. The Government of Bombay had reason to believe that that impression was well founded, but the difficulty arose, which often does arise in such cases, of obtaining proof, however well founded the charge may be. It is needless to dwell on the grave mischief that might and would have resulted, if the charges were well founded, from leaving Mr. Crawford in the position he occupied in the government of a large and important district. The Government of Bombay believed that his continuing in that position was calculated to lead to widespread corruption, if there were any truth in the information which had been laid before them. Therefore, they were under every possible obligation to deal with Mr. Crawford and his continuance in that position, with a view to his removal in case the charges were well founded. In these circumstances the Government came to the conclusion that it would be impossible to obtain evidence of the acts which were alleged against Mr. Crawford, and of which he was believed to be guilty, unless assurance were given to the native officials who had been serving under him, and who were alleged to have given money to Hanmantrao for Mr. Crawford, that, if they did come forward and testify before the Commission which was appointed to inquire into his conduct and tell the truth, they should in no way suffer for it. Undoubtedly it was a very serious matter to give such a pledge. It has been no uncommon thing to give a pledge of indemnity from any proceeding against a person coming forward in such circumstances in respect of acts which he has done; but in this case the difficulty was created by the fact that these men were in the employ of the Government of India, and it was useless giving them a pledge unless it secured them from the loss of their position in respect of the acts which they were invited to come forward and testify to. That, then, was the position in which the Government of Bombay found itself, and it was a most difficult one, there being, as it seems to me in any view of the case, but a choice between two evils. It would have been a great evil to leave the Commissioner in charge of his district and these natives in prison, if he were really the chief offender. On the other hand, no doubt there were obvious objections to giving the pledge which in the end the Bombay Government felt it right to give. Inquiry was made by a Commission, which reported that although the allegations of personal bribery and corruption against Mr. Crawford were not proved, yet that by employing this man to raise money for him, and by putting him in the position he held, he had enabled him to lead others to the belief that the threats, invitations, and solicitations which came from Hanmantrao really came from Mr. Crawford himself. The result of the Commission was that Mr. Crawford was dismissed the Service. No doubt the result to him was very serious, but I cannot think that it was in the slightest degree in excess of what he merited. Our rule in India could not be maintained unless the administration of justice and of the country generally by European officials is above the suspicion of corruption of any kind whatever. It has been the custom to felicitate ourselves upon the absolute freedom from corruption and indirect motive of European employés in dealing with the question of the extension of native employment in India; and it seems to me of vital importance that everything shall be done to secure that the European officers employed shall be absolutely above suspicion. I cannot help saying that I think that in the appointment of Mr. Crawford to the position in which he found himself there was some cause for blame in those who made the appointment, because Mr. Crawford had been known for years before to be in a condition of hopeless impecuniosity, and in such a condition as naturally to create suspicion in the minds of those who heard the rumours to which I have referred. Upon this matter coming before the public there was in some quarters an outcry in favour of the immediate dismissal of the native officials who had testified to their having given money to Hanmantrao. The Government of Bombay were called upon at once and without hesitation to violate the pledge they had given that the men should not suffer on account of their evidence, and to dismiss them. A greater hardship than that could hardly be conceived. I think it ought to be known that to some extent undoubtedly that outcry proceeded from the friends of Mr. Crawford. They were only too desirous that punishment should be inflicted upon these men whose evidence no doubt had been in part the cause of the consequences for which Mr. Crawford was suffering. Others joined in the outcry because they belonged to a class who were only too ready to point to all questionable acts on the part of native officials with the view of securing attention to the attitude which they maintain, that we already employ too many native officials, as compared with European, and that it is not safe to trust them. There were others, I quite agree, who condemned the action of the Bombay Government because they were jealous for the purity of the Service. But I cannot think that these critics fully appreciated the difficulties of the Bombay Government and the enormous importance of obtaining evidence if the charges were true. No doubt the case put forward by those who called for the immediate dismissal of these men was a plausible one. They said they had confessed that they compensated Hanmantrao for giving them their offices; they had purchased them, and no man who had purchased his office and admitted it ought to be allowed to continue in it. But that, I think, is not a true description of the action of these men so far, at all events, as regards a great number of them—probably a large majority of them, for aught I know of all of them. I am not speaking wholly without knowledge on this matter, because I was in India at the time the inquiry was going on, and I read the evidence as it appeared day by day in the Indian journals. We must remember what the relation of these native officials is to the Commissioner. He has their future, you may say, in his hands; their promotion, their degradation, their being moved from one place to another, all depend upon him, and the Commissioner has—generally has justly—deserved the greatest consideration and respect and regard of all the native officials throughout his district. He has the control of them all, subject only to the control of the Government, and one knows that substantially the control is his. I am satisfied that these men did believe and had good reason to believe that the solicitations and the threats which came to them from Hanmantrao really came from the Commissioner himself, and I say so for this reason, that at the very outset of the inquiry, and before the evidence had come before the public, I found European officials unconnected with the Government of Bombay who shared these views, and who entertained the idea that Hanmantrao had really been but the instrument in Mr. Crawford's hands. These views were shared by European officials unconnected with the Government of Bombay. In the circumstances the nature of the acts done was not a buying of offices, and I do not believe they bought their offices; they obtained their positions in the ordinary way, subject to the ordinary conditions, and they would have obtained them if they had never given one rupee to Hanmantrao. They believed that if they had not done it they would have suffered unjustly. It was a levying of blackmail, and not a buying of offices; the money was extorted from them, and they paid it in the hope that the payment would save them from injustice. That was the true character of the acts, certainly of many, perhaps of all these men, and it seems to me that that is an extremely different thing from the buying of offices. We must remember that it is not so long ago in England that buying of offices was not thought to be such a discreditable thing. We must bear in mind what the progress is that has been made in India, and, although it has been vast, we cannot expect it yet to have reached the level of European or English ideas in that respect. That there has been an enormous progress is beyond question. I made considerable investigation on the subject, and on all hands I heard that the change which has been brought about in India has been enormous, and that the vast majority of the Indian native officials are as little subject to corruption and as little yield to temptation as do the European officials themselves, and this is certainly a great change from what could have been said, as I heard on all hands, some 30 or 40 years ago, and it is a matter upon which we may well congratulate ourselves. But we must still bear in mind the relation of these men to a person in the position of Mr. Crawford. It is hardly possible for an Englishman who has not seen with his own eyes the administration of India and realised what the relative position of these native officials and the Commissioner is to understand how they would feel that their future was hopeless unless they yielded to what they believed to be the solicitations of the Commissioner. Therefore, my Lords, I do not believe that the men who have thus acted are necessarily at all unfit for the public service. It needs a very strong man to withstand the extortion and blackmailing to which these men were subject, and if the circumstances could be repeated in this country I am not quite sure that there would not be officials in this country found to yield to the temptation to which these native officials yielded. Therefore, the Government of India having given this pledge, and this being the true character of the transaction, it seems to me that the Government were bound to the utmost limit possible to adhere to the pledge that has been given, and that more harm would be done by a pledge solemnly given by a branch of the Government of India being broken, and those who had trusted to that pledge suffering from it, than would be done by maintaining men in the position which they had held whose error was only of toe nature which I have described. I do not mean to say, of course, for a moment that they are free from blame. No one, I think, will attribute to me any indifference to purity in the administration of justice or in the administration of the country in any other respect, but at all events one ought, as far as possible, to judge of the transaction fairly and impartially. My Lords, I have only this further to say. The Government of Bombay may have erred in giving this pledge. Upon that it is not necessary for me to express any opinion. I have pointed out the grave difficulty in which they were placed, and how much there is to be said against either course that might have been taken. But I am convinced that through the whole of these transactions, which have been most anxiously and carefully considered by the Government of Bombay, and personally by the Governor, they have been actuated by one motive, and one motive only, and that was to secure that the administration of the country through the officials should be purified, and that no official, European though he be, and however high placed, should be permitted to retain his place any more than one in the lowest rank, if the maintenance of that position was likely to lead to the corruption and degradation of the administration throughout the province. I have now only to put to the noble Viscount the question of which I have given notice.


The question of dealing with the Mamlutdars has been one of considerable difficulty. I wish to take this opportunity of publicly stating that Lord Reay deserves much credit for the manner in which he has endeavoured, I hope successfully, to put stop to bribery and corruption in his province. He was, however, in my opinion ill-advised in offering a guarantee to the officials who came forward as witnesses, which was not simply an indemnity against public prosecutions or private suits, but "involved retention in office of certain Revenue officers who were also officers holding second or third class Magisterial powers." That part of the guarantee seemed to me to be illegal and to be an indemnity which, in the case of really corrupt officials, could not be carried out. The witnesses have been divided fairly enough by the Government of Bombay, as they have been divided by the noble and learned Lord who has just sat down, into two classes— (1) those who either practically volunteered the payment of bribes to secure their own objects or to escape the results of previous misconduct, or who, on slight provocation or under slender temptation, paid money to purchase favours to which they had no substantial claim. The noble and learned Lord will I think agree that that class of witnesses, if such there be, fall distinctly within the meaning of the Act of George III. against the purchase of offices. The second class was described by the Government of Bombay as Those who only paid under extreme pressure in order to avoid unmerited degradation, unjust supersession, or transfers, ruinous to their purse, and destructive, as they feared, of their health. That is evidently a totally different class, and corresponds to the class to which the noble and learned Lord referred in the latter part of his observations. It was quite impossible to give effect to the indemnity with regard to the first and corrupt class. The second class, on the other hand, can hardly be said to have had any corrupt intention whatever, but to have been the victims of the most cruel extortion. The consideration of individual cases is now before the Government of India. I believe that this very day the Governor of India is considering these cases in Council. I have no doubt that those whom they consider corrupt will without fail be dismissed from all their offices with such money compensation, if any, as the Government of India may think advisable, and that the rest will be allowed to remain in their offices undisturbed—an indemnity being given in all cases, but simply against private suits and public prosecutions. In conclusion, I should like to state that Lord Reay has certainly done his utmost to give full effect to the pledges which he gave, and has acted all through with the highest sense of honour, and although he was, in my judgment, ill-advised in the particular course which he took, and which I have not been able to sanction, I have every confidence in his administration, and I should like to take this public opportunity of bearing testimony to his continuous and successful efforts to promote the moral, social, and material prosperity of the people committed to his charge.