HL Deb 11 November 1912 vol 12 cc946-8

My Lords, the Question that stands in my name runs as follows—

To ask the Secretary of State for India whether the house known as Hastings House, Calcutta, which was built and occupied by Warren Hastings and was purchased by the Government of India in 1900 partly as a historic monument and partly as a State guest-house has been offered for sale, or has already been sold, by the Government of India; whether its contents have already been sold by auction; what is the reason for these measures; and whether steps cannot be taken to preserve in the hands of Government so interesting and unique a historic memorial.

I have left the Question on the Paper in the form in which I put it down in order to enable the Secretary of State to give us as full a reply as he may find convenient. But I ought to add that only yesterday I received a letter from the Viceroy of India in which he informed me, with regard to the sale of the contents of the house to which I referred in the Question, that all the most important furniture was reserved, and that the Government of India have not the least intention of parting with the house itself. I need hardly say that this was very good news to me, as I believe it will be to the majority of your Lordships, and I only hope that the Secretary of State may be able to tell us that this assurance applies, not merely to the house itself, but to the beautiful garden by which he may perhaps remember the house is surrounded.


My Lords, I am not at all surprised at the keen interest which the noble Earl opposite takes in this house, which owes its preservation and improvement to his energy when he was Viceroy of India. I was surprised myself when I saw a letter which he wrote to The Times on the subject on the 26th of last month, because he appeared to assume, what I certainly had never heard hinted at when I was in India at the beginning of this year, that the sale of the house was actually contemplated. He stated in this letter that he founded that opinion upon a paragraph which appeared in the Statesman, a well-known Calcutta newspaper, and he appeared to assume that the statements contained in that paragraph were altogether accurate. The Statesman, if I remember right, announced the approaching sale as an absolute fact. Now that the noble Earl has received an intimation from the Viceroy, there is not very much more that I can tell him than was, as I gather, contained in that letter. The house, as the noble Earl has stated, was employed by him when the seat of the Imperial Government was at Calcutta as a guest-house for Indian chiefs paying visits to the capital. With the change of capital it was no longer required for that purpose, and it contained a quantity of ordinary furniture which has been the subject of the sale to which the noble Earl alluded. The pictures which were in the house have been reserves and removed, and that applies also to anything which it contained which could be regarded as of particular value. The whole question of the future destination of the Imperial buildings at Calcutta has naturally been referred for their advice to the Government of Bengal, and I hope it will be in a very short time that we shall receive their opinion of the proper destination of those buildings. As soon as we do I shall have pleasure in informing the noble Earl of what is decided. But there certainly never has been any question of the demolition of the house, as to which a Question was asked in another place by Sir John Rees. There has, in fact, never been any question of its sale. I am glad to be able to answer in the affirmative also that the intention of the Government of India is to keep the grounds altogether intact, so that there is no opportunity of their meeting the fate which the noble Earl has dreaded for them—that of being cut up for building. As to the use to which in future the house may be put I have myself no idea, and it is certainly not worth while to endeavour to invent hypothetical uses for it. But I am quite sure we all share the feeling of the noble Earl, that so important a historical monument, connected with the great ruler of India to whom both Englishmen and the natives of India owe so much, is worthy not merely of preservation but of being treated with all respect. I trust, therefore, that some use will be found for it which is worthy of its past.


I should like to be allowed to say that I am much obliged to the Secretary of State and also to the Viceroy for the action they have taken in this matter, and I am quite satisfied with the reply we have just heard from the noble Marquess.