THE LORD PRESIDENT OF THE COUNCIL AND SECRETARY OF STATE FOR INDIA (The Earl of KIMBERLEY)
Your Lordships will remember that at the last Sittings in the course of the summer a Bill passed this House for amending the law as to the Indian Armies. The matter to which I have now to call the attention of the House merely relates to one single portion of that Bill. An Amendment was moved by Lord Cross, and supported by several Peers of experience in Indian affairs, providing that those who are to command the Bombay and Madras Armies should in future, as at present, remain Members of the Councils of those two Presidencies. At that time, when the discussion took place in this House, I said that, after so strong an expression of opinion from so many noble Lords, many of them sitting on this side of the House, I did not think it necessary to divide the House on the question, but that I reserved to myself liberty of action at a future stage of the Bill. The Bill went to the other House; and when it came on for consideration there, it was stated on behalf of the Government that they thought possibly, looking to the importance of the Bill passing and to the circumstances of the Session, those even who might not have liked the Amendment made by this House would be willing to allow the Amendment to pass, and that the Bill might become law immediately. That, however, was by no means accepted by the House of Commons generally, and an Amendment was moved and strongly supported to restore the Bill to its original position, under which the Commanders of the two Armies would cease to be members of the respective Councils. I think it right to mention these facts, because I felt myself somewhat bound, after there had been so strong an expression of opinion 1130 in this House, although I did not share that opinion, to take care that if the Amendment was not accepted by the other House, it should be made perfectly evident to all that there was a strong expression of opinion in that House on the subject, and that it was not done merely on the motion of the Government without some discussion. My Lords, I now move that this House take into consideration the Amendment which has been made by the Commons, and I would express a strong hope that this House will not insist upon its Amendment. I may mention that since the Bill was last before the House a Despatch has been received, in which the Government of India, having previously expressed an opinion that they saw no objection to the Commanders of the Armies remaining Members of the Councils, now state that, upon a full consideration of the whole matter, they had come to a very decided opinion that it was not necessary or desirable that the Commanders should remain upon those Councils, and they express very fully and clearly the reasons which had caused them to come to that conclusion. That Despatch has been laid upon the Table in both Houses. I need not say that I should deeply regret if a Bill of such great importance as this, the principle of which has been so very strongly advocated by successive Viceroys and Governments in India, should now, at the last moment, fail to pass. I have no doubt whatever that noble Lords who pressed the Amendment in this House thought it really desirable that the Commanders should remain in the Bombay and Madras Councils; but I venture also to think they cannot have been of opinion that the retention of the Generals upon those Councils was a matter in any degree of such importance that a Bill of this great magnitude should be endangered on that account. I greatly fear that if the House were now to insist upon its Amendment the Bill might be so endangered; and I beg, therefore, earnestly to press upon your Lordships not to insist upon your Amendment to the Bill.
§ Moved, "That the House do consider the Commons Amendments."—(The Earl of Kimberley.)
§ Motion agreed to.1131
§ Moved, "That the House do agree to the Commons Amendments."—(The Earl of Kimberley.)
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, I am sorry my noble Friend Lord Cross has been unavoidably prevented from attending this discussion. He would have been glad to give his opinion upon this subject now, as he did in the previous Debate. I have, however, had the advantage of conferring with him upon the matter, and with some other noble Lords. Amongst others, I have heard from Lord Roberts, who is obliged to be in Edinburgh to-day, who would have been glad to have spoken upon the matter, and whose opinion, no doubt, would have carried great weight with your Lordships. As far as I am able to ascertain, the general opinion, even among those who took our view upon the former occasion, is that, however much there is still to be said in favour of the Amendment we then proposed, its value is not such as would justify us in risking a Bill which is really of extreme importance to India. I much regret that the House of Commons has taken the view which it has; for I fear it will be, in the end, the condemnation of the separate Presidencies in India. I fear that the Councils handed over to an absolute majority of the Civil Service will be found not to work smoothly, and that in course of time the tendency to condensation and centralisation will end in drawing the Presidencies of Bombay and Madras under the more immediate Presidency of the Government of India. But however that may be, the authorities as we have them now are, there is no doubt, in favour of the Bill passing as we have it before us, as Her Majesty's Government have all along been of the opinion which is now shared by the Indian Government, and strongly endorsed by Lord Roberts, as to the advisability of accepting the view adopted by the House of Commons in regard to the Amendment. I do not think it would be at all reasonable for us to insist upon our view upon what is, after all, a matter of detail, when matters of great moment to the future government of India are in question. For some 15 or 20 years we have been longing for this change in the relations of the two Armies which the Bill 1132 will introduce, and it would be a very great misfortune if this opportunity of finally sanctioning it should be thrown away.
THE EARL OF KIMBERLEY
My Lords, I wish to add one remark only. I ought to have mentioned in the few observations I made that I have received a letter from Lord Roberts strongly expressing his opinion that the Amendment formerly passed by this House should not be insisted upon, and also pointing out the great importance of passing the Bill. I am glad he has communicated his opinion also to the noble Marquess.
§ Motion agreed to.