§ MR. FAWCETT
presented Petitions from Bombay and Calcutta on the subject of the Indian Budget. On the Motion of Mr. Fawcett, the Petition from Calcutta, which came from the British Indian Association, was read by the clerk at the Table. It prayed that the House might be pleased to pass a Resolution requiring that the Indian Financial Statement should be brought forward at an earlier period of the Session.
§ MR. R. N. FOWLER
Mr. Speaker, in accordance with the Petitions my hon. Friend has just presented, I rise to move—That, in the opinion of this House, it is desirable that the Statement of the Financial Affairs of India should be made at a period of the Session when it can be fully discussed.Sir, I wish to recall to the recollection of the House the circumstances under which the Indian Financial Statement 403 was brought forward last Session. It was submitted at a morning sitting on the 6th of August, the prorogation taking place on the 10th. On that occasion my hon. Friend the Under Secretary for India made his statement in a speech of two hours' duration, distinguished by his usual eloquence and great knowledge of Indian affairs. He was followed by my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton (Mr. Fawcett), who spoke for two hours and a-half, and whose speech, considering the physical difficulties under which he laboured, and the columns of figures and long quotations which it contained, was one of the greatest intellectual efforts which I ever had the good fortune to hear and which, I believe, was ever witnessed in this House. I do not complain of the length of those speeches, on the contrary, having listened attentively to both, I believe that not a word could have been advantageously omitted from either; but if the two introductory speeches could occupy four hours and a-half, it is obviously impossible that such a debate could be advantageously got through in a morning sitting, or in any one sitting of the House. In fact, the hon. Member for Brighton had not concluded his speech when the morning sitting came to an end, and the Government were obliged to allow the debate to be renewed after the business fixed for the evening sitting. What was the result? Several hon. Members who generally took part in discussions relating to India were not present, and my right hon. Friend the Member for North Devonshire (Sir Stafford North-cote) was compelled, I know most reluctantly, to leave London before the debate came on. Can justice be done to the great interests of India in that way? When, in 1858, the power of the Government of India was taken away from the East Indian Company and was transferred to the Crown, it was understood that the Eastern Empire would receive greater attention at the hands of Parliament. They had that morning read a Bill a second time (East India Stock Dividend Redemption Bill), the object of which was finally to extinguish that ancient and historical corporation, the East India Company; and at the time when its political powers were vested in the Crown the leaders on both sides said that great advantage 404 would arise from giving greater attention to the affairs of India. Lord Palmerston, in a speech on introducing the Government of India Bill, said—However, we shall be told by some that the Government of India is a great mystery—that the unholy ought not to set foot in that temple—that the House of Commons should be kept aloof from any interference in Indian affairs—that if we transfer the Government to the Ministers responsible to Parliament, we shall have Indian affairs made the subject and plaything of party passions in this House, and that great mischief would arise therefrom. I think that argument is founded on an overlooking of the fundamental principles of the British constitution. It is a reflection on the Parliamentary government. Why, Sir, what is there in the management of India which is not mainly dependent on those general principles of statesmanship, which men in public life in this country acquire here, and make the guidance of their conduct. I do not think so ill of this House as to imagine that it would be disposed, for factious purposes, or for the momentary triumph of party, to trifle with the great interests of the country as connected with the administration of our Indian affairs. I am accustomed to think that the Parliament of this country does comprise in itself as much administrative ability, and as much statesmanlike knowledge and science as are possessed by any number of men in any other country whatever; and I own, with all respect for the Court of Directors, that I cannot bring myself to think that the Parliament of England is less capable of wisely administering the great affairs of State in connection with India than the Court of Directors in Leadenhall Street. I am not afraid to trust Parliament with an insight into Indian affairs. I believe, on the contrary, that if things have not gone on so fast in India as they might have done—if the progress of improvement has been somewhat slower than might have been expected, that effect has arisen from the circumstance that the public of England at large were wholly ignorant of Indian affairs, and had turned away from them, being daunted by the complications they imagined them to be involved in; and because Parliament has never had face to face, in this and the other House, men personally and entirely responsible for the administration of Indian affairs. No doubt a good deal has been done in the way of substantial improvement of late years, but that which has been done I may venture to say has been entirely the result of debates in this and the other House of Parliament. And, so far from any discussion on India having worked evil in India, I believe that the greater part of those improvements which the East India Directors boast of in that publication which has lately issued from Leadenhall Street, has been the result of pressure on the Indian administration by debates in Parliament and discussions in the public Press. Therefore, so far from being alarmed at the consequences which may arise from bringing Indian affairs under the cognizance of Parliament, I believe that a great benefit to India, and through India to the British nation, will result therefrom."—[3 Hansard, cxlviii. 1290.]405 Lord Palmerston's view evidently was that Indian affairs might with advantage be more discussed in the House than they had previously been, and that view was endorsed by what the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire (Mr. Disraeli) called an "overwhelming majority;" the majority being 145, or 318 against 173. The argument brought forward by the East India Company, whose defence was conducted by a very eminent Gentleman still spared to this House, my hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr. T. Baring) was, that if the Company were abolished India would become the battle-ground of party in this House. The hon. Gentleman said, at the conclusion of a very eloquent speech—Above all, it relates the history of a Government which did not destroy the population of the territory which it acquired, but won their respect and gratitude. God grant that the continuation of that history may present as bright or brighter pages! but let it not have to record that, at a moment of great trouble, the English Minister of the day to the difficulties of an un-extinguished Mutiny added the uncertainties of a change of Government; let it not record that an English Parliament, guided by a public opinion which was ignorant of Indian affairs, imperilled an empire by its rash legislation; and, above all, let it not record that, by an act of this House, the fairest dominion of the Queen was converted into the shuttlecock of party."—[3 Hansard, cxlviii. 1304.]The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire on a subsequent evening of the debate attributed the indifference with which Indian matters were treated in the House of Commons to the circumstance that the House was not responsible for the finances of India, and made use of the following words:—We have heard over and over again in this House that India never could command attention here—that so long as there was a debate on India it was impossible to make or keep a House, and that it was a subject—however great its magnitude and vast and varied its details, in which Englishmen would never take an interest. I think, Sir, there is a very simple and satisfactory reason for conduct which I cannot say is much to our honour, and for circumstances which I own are somewhat humiliating."—[3 Hansard, cxlviii. 1708.]The right hon. Gentleman then proceeded to give as a reason that the House was not responsible for the finances of India. Within a few days after that debate the Government of Lord Palmerston was defeated and retired, being succeeded by the Government of Lord Derby, in which the right hon. Member for Buck- 406 inghamshire filled the office of Leader of the House of Commons. That Government passed a Bill, transferring the Government of India from the Company to the Crown, in treating of which Lord Derby spoke as follows in a debate in the other House of Parliament:—This Bill does not pretend to deal with all those complicated and difficult questions which will, no doubt, within the next few years frequently engage the anxious consideration of Parliament and of the country. It does not pretend to deal with the revenue, with the finance, with the land regulations, with the condition of the natives, and the possibility of extending their admission into the public service."—[3 Hansard, cli. 1448.]Sir, I think it is evident from the extracts which I have read that it was contemplated by the leaders of parties of that day that if the Government of India were transferred to the Crown, India would receive a greater amount of attention at the hands of Parliament. Sir, how has that pledge given by the Leaders, and endorsed by an enormous majority of the House, been redeemed? It had previously been the practice to put off the Indian Budget to the end of the Session, and after the power was transferred to the Crown it might well have been expected that a new system would be adopted; but the House will see from the dates on which the Indian Budget was introduced between 1855 and 1870, that the practice still continued of bringing it forward at the close of the Session. Under the old system, the right hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Vernon Smith) brought it forward on August 7, 1855; and again on July 21, 1856; while, in 1857, the right hon. Gentleman, in answer to the noble Lord the Member for Tyrone (Lord Claud Hamilton), said he should make no statement on account of the Mutiny. Under the new system, it was brought forward by the right hon. Baronet the Member for Halifax (Sir Charles Wood), on August 1, 1859, the Prorogation occurring on August 13—a period of 12 days; again on August 13, 1860, the Prorogation occurring on August 28—a period of 15 days; again on July 25, 1861, the Prorogation occurring on August 6—a period of 12 days; again on July 17, 1862, the Prorogation occurring on August 7—a period of 21 days; again on July 23, 1863, the Prorogation occurring on July 28—a period of 5 days; again on 407 July 21, 1864, the Prorogation occurring on July 29—a period of 8 days; again on June 29, 1865, the Prorogation occurring on July 6—a period of 8 days; by the noble Lord the Member for Stamford (Viscount Cranborne), on July 19, 1866, the Prorogation occurring on August 10—a period of 22 days; by the right hon. Baronet the Member for North Devon (Sir Stafford Northcote), on August 12, 1867, the Prorogation occurring on August 21—a period of 9 days; again on July 27, 1868, the Prorogation occurring on July 31—a period of 4 days; by the hon. Member for Elgin (Mr. Grant-Duff), on August 3, 1869, the Prorogation occurring on August 11—a period of 8 days; and again on August 5, 1870, when the hon. Member for Brighton (Mr. Fawcett), moved an Amendment—That this House regrets that the Indian Budget is introduced at so late a period of the Session, and is of opinion, considering the present position of Indian Finance, that it would be expedient to appoint a Select Committee early next Session to inquire into the administration of the finances of India."—[3 Hansard, cciii. 1599.]—this Amendment was withdrawn, and the House agreed to the Resolutions—the Prorogation occurring on August 10—a period of 5 days. I venture to submit that to postpone so important a debate until the "dog days," is not creditable to the conduct of Business in this House. I may be told that it is impossible to get an earlier day; but I venture to think that it would be better to have a satisfactory debate on incomplete Returns, than an unsatisfactory debate on Returns which have been completed. Hon. Members have seen in the newspapers telegrams from India of the announcement of Sir Richard Temple's Budget. I think there could be no difficulty in bringing forward the Budget shortly after Whitsuntide At all events, a matter of such deep importance deserves some sacrifice of the time of the House. I can but think that in putting off the debate to the end of the Session the House is neglecting its duty. Members of this House are trustees of the people of India. Our Indian subjects are not a people who can be entrusted with representative institutions; and it is on that account the duty of England to see that the interests of India are properly looked after. We must all rejoice that the apprehension of the dis- 408 tinguished advocate of the East India Company that India would become the shuttlecock of party has not been realized; but at the same time we must all deplore that this House has not taken a calm and dispassionate interest in the affairs of the greatest dependency any nation ever possessed. I cordially agree with the hon. Member for Brighton that there is no responsibility presses more strongly on a Member of this House than the responsibility he owes to the people of India. It seems to me to be a discredit and a reproach to Parliament that the affairs of India should be discussed by a jaded and exhausted House in the last days of an expiring Session, and entertaining this belief I venture, humbly but earnestly, to commend to the House the Resolution which stands in my name.
§ SIR DAVID WEDDERBURN
*In seconding the Resolution of my hon. Friend opposite, I shall confine my remarks to one or two points, as to which this House appears to be specially responsible for the finances of India, and upon which our influence may be most legitimately exercised. There are, of course, many important questions of Indian administration, which it is impossible for persons resident in this country fully to comprehend, which must be left in the hands of the Government in India, and in connection with which Parliament will show its wisdom by interfering as little as possible. But as regards finance, this is far from being the case, and it is to Parliament alone that India can look for any check upon those large items of expenditure which are under the immediate control of the India Office, or for any relief to the Indian treasury from charges which ought to be borne wholly or in part by the Imperial Exchequer. Apart from all other ways in which the British Parliament may afford protection to the unrepresented people of India, it is the duty of this House to inquire thoroughly into these two branches of Indian financial administration, and to exercise the control which it alone has the power of exercising over the Secretary of State for India. In petitioning Parliament, great stress has been laid by the Natives upon these two points—namely, first, the disposal of the revenues of India by the authorities in England; secondly, the adjustment of the financial relations be- 409 tween England and India upon a fair and equitable footing. In a Petition presented in May, 1871, to this House from the Bombay Association—a society composed entirely of Native gentlemen—the earnest attention of Parliament is invited to these topics, and "the immense increase which has taken place during the last 13 years in the amount of disbursements made in England out of the revenues of India by H. M. Secretary of State in Council" is assigned as one of the principal causes to which must be ascribed the large deficits in the Indian Exchequer from 1864 to 1870. For this result Parliament cannot be held free from responsibility. Then, again, items of expenditure, which ought to have been provided for entirely from the Imperial Exchequer, or equably distributed, have been entirely defrayed by India, and it is urged that Parliament should fairly apportion the cost of maintaining the connection between the two countries, India having cost Great Britain nothing either for her acquisition or defence. The attention of the House is directed to one more topic of great importance with which Parliament alone is competent to deal. The Bombay Association asserts that if Parliament were to give an Imperial guarantee for the Indian public debt, and convert it into consols, an immediate reduction might be effected in the rate of interest to the amount of £1,500,000 sterling, without any real burden being cast upon the Imperial Exchequer, and that this sum might be applied as a sinking fund to the complete extinction of the debt. It is an open question, upon which I will now venture no opinion, as to how far this country would be morally bound, in case of necessity, to make good the public debt of India. By many the moral obligation is held to be so strong that the concession of a legal guarantee would not practically increase our liability, while it would effect a great immediate saving to India, which would also benefit from the increased vigilance likely to be exercised in such a case by this House over the finances of our Eastern Empire. At the present time, moreover, a new danger to Indian finance has to be guarded against. The decentralization scheme has been fairly inaugurated, and a large additional share of administrative power, both in levying and expending money, has been 410 conferred upon local governments. Great advantages were anticipated from this scheme as to economy, besides the development of municipal institutions, and the association of Natives in the administration. These hopes have been as yet very imperfectly realized, and it is complained that in certain cases these powers have been exercised to the detriment of the people, resulting merely in the imposition of new and vexatious taxes. In particular by the "Non-agricultural cess" in Bombay, the policy of the Imperial Government was reversed, and an income tax was imposed, which in-eluded those whose incomes reached £5 a-year, a sum implying great poverty even in India. It is, in fact, a sort of graduated poll-tax—the power of determining the class in which any individual is to be included being left to the Government assessors, whereby the door is opened to the grossest corruption and oppression. The estimated return from this tax was only £45,000, to be paid by about 500,000 people; and, although an appeal for exemption might be made to a European official, this involved a stamp equal at least in value to the minimum amount of the tax. All that can be said against an income tax applies with threefold force to such an impost as this, which is indeed in abeyance, but appears to be unrepealed, so that its machinery is at any moment available if required. I lay the more stress on it now, because being provincial, it finds no place in the financial statement laid before this House, and might altogether escape notice in England. In the opinion of the Natives the decentralization system is likely to produce many new local burdens, and many European officials share this view, holding that nothing will require to be more carefully watched than the tendency to grave abuses involved in such a system. There will always be a risk of the local authorities repeating, for purposes perhaps excellent in themselves, those petty but vexatious taxes formerly imposed under native rule. In the time of the Peishwa, no less than 29 cessses were levied in addition to the land tax, and although all have been abolished as Imperial taxes, some have been already re-established for municipal purposes. The fact is that publicity is above all things required in Indian administration; the Indian Council deliberates with closed doors; the proceedings of 411 the Indian Finance Committee attract no attention in this country, although eagerly scanned in India. By discussion in this House alone can such publicity be given as may educate British opinion, and may satisfy India that her interests are being watched over. It is a question of Imperial policy to strengthen in every way the belief that this House is a true court of appeal against fiscal oppression, the worst evil with which India is now menaced. Once only during the whole Session does Government direct the attention of Parliament to Indian affairs, and it is idle to tell us that so many more important matters are pressing upon us that only in August, or late in July, can a few hours be spared for a weary remnant to discuss this vital question of Indian finance. When the Indian Budget is the subject of debate, there are hardly ever 40 Members present, but possibly all are present who take an interest in the question. It is true that India has never been made "the shuttlecock of party," but greatly as she has gained by this exemption, it has caused her also to suffer neglect. Even if her sense of neglect be to a certain extent a sentimental grievance, it is not the less keenly felt. The Petitions to-day presented from Calcutta and Bombay show the importance attached by the Natives to a full discussion of their affairs in this House, and, believing their demands to be just and reasonable, I have great pleasure in seconding this Resolution.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That, in the opinion of this House, it is desirable that the Statement of the Financial Affairs of India should be made at a period of the Session when it can be fully discussed."—(Mr. Robert Fowler.)
§ SIR CHARLES WINGFIELD
said, that the Amendment of which he had given Notice was not in spirit adverse to the Motion of the hon. Member for Penryn (Mr. R. N. Fowler). He concurred in thinking it highly desirable that the Indian Budget should be brought in at an earlier day, but thought that the object would be more effectually attained by an Amendment of which he had himself given Notice. The Prime Minister stated in 1870 that the pressure upon the Government during the months of April, May, and June was such that they could not afford time for the dis- 412 cussion of the Indian Budget at that period of the year. The right hon. Gentleman at the same time admitted that the present practice was not satisfactory. It therefore became a question whether it would not be possible to enable the Indian accounts to come to this country early in the spring. It was by no means indispensable that they should continue to be made up to the 31st of March; but as long as that was done it was better to discuss Indian finances at the end of the Session than at the beginning, because otherwise the House would have to discuss the subject in the absence of the statement of the Financial Member of the Council, which was made in the last days of March or the first week in April. If the House discussed the finance of India in the absence of that speech and of any reliable accounts for the current year, or any estimate for the ensuing year, there would be no data before them for discussion. If, on the other hand, the Indian financial year which now terminated on the 31st of March were changed to the 31st of December, then the Indian Finance Minister could make his statement by the 10th of January, all the necessary documents would be sent home and printed by the end of February, and any day before the 10th of March might be fixed for the Indian Budget. It was said that this change would not harmonize with the land revenue accounts; but the present financial year did not correspond with the agricultural year, nor was it necessary that it should do so. He earnestly pressed this matter upon the attention of the House, because it appeared to him they had the remedy very much in their own hands. It was impossible, however, to enter into all the details of the proposed change on the present occasion it being a question eminently for examination and report by a Select Committee the hon. Member concluded by moving the Amendment of which he had given Notice.
To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "it be an Instruction to the Select Committee on East India Finance to consider and report whether the Indian Financial year which now terminates on the 31st March, should be altered to the year ending on the 31st December, in
order that the Secretary of State for India may be enabled to make his Financial Statement to the House before the Easter Recess," — (Sir Charles Wingfield,)
§ —instead thereof.
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ MR. EASTWICK
said, he supposed the Resolution of the hon. Member for Penryn (Mr. R. N. Fowler) would be generally acceptable to the House. Hon. Members who took an interest in Indian affairs would be glad to have the financial statement made at a period when their energies were fresh and when it could be properly discussed. They would be glad, too, that there should be no ground left for the offensive imputation that that House was indifferent to the affairs and interests of India. It should, however, be remembered that the time for closing the accounts of the year was changed—no longer back than in 1866—from the 30th of April to the 31st of March. That change entailed immense trouble on the financial department in India, which was always a hard-worked Department. We might be sure that this second change would also entail trouble and would cause considerable dissatisfaction and some expense, while it would likewise disarrange our statistics. We had already a year of 11 months to break our calculations, and now we should have in addition a year of nine months, so that it would be extremely difficult to make comparative statements, or draw deductions from averages. These, however, were small matters in comparison with mischiefs which might arise from the change, owing to its being inconvenient to get in revenue balances at that particular period or its offending the religious prejudices of the natives to do so for some reason or other which no Englishman would ever suspect. Whether this might happen or not was more than he could undertake to affirm until he had heard exhaustive evidence on the subject. His impression at present was that, so far as the natives were concerned, they might close the financial year in December just as well as in March. At the same time we should, of course, lay ourselves open to the objection—"Begin at home." Why, indeed, should we make this change in India and not in this country? But whatever evils this change, if it were adopted, 414 might remedy, it was certain that it could possibly do nothing to remedy what was the greatest difficulty of all as regarded Indian accounts, and that was their overwhelming unmanageableness, owing to the vast extent of the Empire. If Bengal, the Panjáb, Bombay, and Madras were separate States with separate finance, then, of course, we might really look for something like accuracy in the Indian accounts. Before he sat down he would express a hope that, whether in this debate or in any other on Indian questions, the habit of making sharp criticisms on the action of the Indian Government would be avoided as much as possible. It was his belief that disaffection was bred and fed in India by the unpatriotic and offensive language of our own countrymen as much as by any other thing whatever. As a specimen he would, with the permission of the House, read one passage from a most mischievous and seditious article which appeared in The Calcutta Review for October, 1872. After sneering at our Government, and calumniating it in every possible way, the writer said—The fact is, the English Dominion of India is a waste of power injurious to the English taxpayer as well as to the Indian. At the same time, inasmuch as the British taxpayer has the option of terminating the arrangement, while the Indian taxpayer, although the poorer, has no choice whatever in the matter, the former deserves little pity for his own folly, but the latter merits the deepest sympathy for his helpless plight. In our own coming season of English tribulation, with its reckoning of 200 millions of discredited Indian securities, when the helm of the State shall have fallen from the incompetent hands of rhetorical drivellers, may the ranks of the English people yield a ruler with the fearlessness of Delescluze, and a financier with the rectitude of Jourde.All he could say was that if the Government chose to appoint a magistrate and collector to preach sedition in Orissa, they had no right to blow ignorant ryots away from guns for responding to his appeal.
§ MR. DENISON
merely wished to say that had the Amendment been an abstract Resolution for altering the date of the financial year he could not have supported it. It could not have failed to strike anybody who had listened to this and similar debates that this matter was discussed solely from an English point of view, and without the slightest regard to the feelings or the convenience of the people of India or the Indian au- 415 thorities. The object of the proposed change was simply to allow certain discussions to take place at a period of the year most convenient to the House. He did not think that a sufficient reason for making the change without reference to the Indian authorities. The change which had already been made, and which was now only of five years standing, had created great inconvenience and disturbance. The 31st of December was a time when every executive officer in charge of a district was out in camp looking after the interests of his district, and when the Governor General, if he was on a tour, was absent from the seat of government. He did not find any fault with the Amendment which proposed that the Committee now sitting should take evidence on the point, but he protested against changes being made simply to meet a temporary inconvenience to the House. A subject of this importance ought to be deliberately considered, and if the proposed instruction were given to the Committee they might take evidence on the point, and would not come to any hasty or violent decision on a matter of such very great importance. In his judgment, the convenience of India, and of those who administered the government of India, ought to be the primary consideration in deciding this question, and not simply the convenience of this House.
§ MR. KINNAIRD
agreed with the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down that the object the House ought to have in view was the convenience and benefit of the Indian Empire. He was of opinion that the question should be referred to the Committee upstairs, which was now engaged in considering the subject of Indian Finance.
§ SIR STAFFORD NORTHCOTE
said, he questioned the advisability of referring the question to the Committee upstairs. He would remind the hon. Member that that Committee were already charged with a very heavy task. The present was the third Session of their sitting, and it was by no means clear that they could terminate their inquiry within the limits of the present Session. Looking at the question simply from an English point of view, it would, of course, be easy for the Committee to discuss it and make recommendations; but the paramount question after all was, what would be most convenient for India, and 416 probably upon that point they would have to take evidence from India. The more reasonable course to adopt would be to affirm the Motion of his hon. Friend the Member for Penryn (Mr. R. N. Fowler), and to remit to the India Office and Council the question whether it was desirable to make any change in the time at which the Indian financial year should close. The Motion, in point of fact, contained a truism which he hoped the House would not hesitate to affirm. Although at one time he had thought that the Indian financial year should be closed on the 31st of December, he confessed that more recent information had led him to doubt whether that change would put the Indian Government to an amount of inconvenience which would not be compensated by the convenience which that House would gain by it. At all events, he believed that this matter would be better undertaken by the Secretary of State himself than by the Committee upstairs, whose hands were already full. One advantage resulting from such discussions as the present was to show the people of India, and those who were interested in India, that there was more difficulty in the matter than was apparent at first sight, and that it was not from any indifference to Indian interests, but owing to the practical difficulty of getting through the business which the House must dispose of, that this scandal—for such he did not hesitate to say it was—annually occurred. On the other hand, it must be borne in mind that the discussion of the Indian Budget was not like the practical work of legislation, for the House had only to receive a statement, ask questions, and talk about it. It would, he thought, be better for the Government to face the matter boldly, and even in the midst of the Business of the House to set apart a day early in July for the bringing on of the Indian Budget, as they could do so then more conveniently than at the end of the Session. With respect to the Amendment of the hon. Baronet the Member for Gravesend (Sir Charles Wingfield), he hoped that by referring the question to the Select Committee the House would not add another to the straws which were already breaking the camel's back.
said, his right hon. Friend seemed to be conscious of 417 the weight of the straw which broke the camel's back upstairs, but did not seem to be equally conscious as to the weight of the straw which broke the camel's back downstairs. His right hon. Friend thought it an easy matter for the Government to find a day in the beginning of July, as compared with an earlier and later period of the Session, but that was not his experience. They were told the Motion of the hon. Member for Penryn (Mr. R. N. Fowler) was a truism, and that therefore it was desirable to place it upon record. But there were a great number of plain and undeniable truths in reference to the conduct of the Business of the House which were full of weight and importance, but which it would be most inexpedient to place upon record. For example, every year many measures which it was desirable should be carried remained unpassed. If an hon. Member were to move that it was of great importance that those measures should on the following year be adopted by the House of Commons and sent to the other House, that would be a truism, but one which it would be impolitic to record on the Votes of the House, and for this reason that the House ought not to record opinions which did not carry in themselves some operative principle—in other words, which did not tend to their own fulfilment. He wished, however, to meet the hon. Member as far as possible. The present year was not, perhaps, so much pressed with measures of the greatest importance as some years had been, and might afford them an opportunity of seeing whether in the months immediately before the last weeks of the Session, and before the attendance of hon. Members began to thin, they could not find a day for the discussion of the Indian Budget. He was willing to pledge himself to make that effort. It should be remembered that the Indian Budget must be taken on a Government night, as private Members, whether specially interested in India or not, were usually unwilling to give way and allow it to take the place of their own business. But the Government nights were spent in discussing questions which led to immediate and practical issues, in making progress with Bills or Votes; and, as a rule, it would not be found practicable to put aside those practical issues and the making of progress with the Votes 418 in order to introduce a discussion which did not lead to an operative vote. He could not therefore concur in the opinion expressed by his right hon. Friend that the Resolution of the hon. Member for Penryn, which could not lead to any operative result, should be recorded on the Votes of the House. To refer the question to the Committee was a practical and, he thought, a fair proposal. If the Committee found they could not deal with it without taking evidence from India, they might discharge themselves of so serious an element of inquiry and recommend that it should receive the consideration of the Executive. On one point, which was of great importance, they were all agreed—namely, that the whole question at issue was for the benefit and advantage of India. It was not connected with the advantage of this country, or the comfort or convenience of Members of the House. What was desirable was that the discussion of the Indian Budget should be taken at such a time of the Session as was likely to be most conducive to the interests of India, and that time would, he thought, be found at the outset of the Session. He did not hesitate to affirm that the first two or three weeks of the Session constituted the period during which it was easiest to secure a considerable attendance of hon. Members. He did not think it would be possible to obtain a large attendance of hon. Members upon the Indian Budget late in the Session; but at the beginning of the Session there was a sort of freshness, and renovated zeal, and appetite for work among them which would really give a fair prospect, or the best prospect of a good attendance. He doubted whether the Under Secretary of State would not find it difficult to keep a House for the purpose even in May or June. There were thus two questions for consideration—first, the time at which the Indian Budget could be most advantageously discussed in this House; secondly, the best re-arrangement of the financial year in India. It would not be unreasonable to refer these points to the Committee, who would either point out the best way in which an investigation might be made, or would give a weighty judgment which he thought the House would be disposed to confirm. Holding this view, he was in favour of the Amendment. Meanwhile, he repeated 419 that he had no wish to thwart, but, on the contrary, wished to forward, the reasonable object which the hon. Member opposite had in view. He did not, however, believe that the mere record of a truism would answer any useful purpose; and, on the part of the Government, he engaged during the present year to make the experiment of appointing the discussion upon the Indian Budget at an earlier period than usual, when hon. Members would not be drawn away from town by other attractions or necessities. He hoped the hon. Gentleman would be satisfied with this assurance; but if the vote of the House were taken, he should certainly vote for the Amendment.
§ MR. FAWCETT
admitted that the assurance of the Prime Minister, that he would endeavour to bring forward the Indian Budget at an earlier period this Session, was satisfactory as far as it went; but it did not appear to him to supply any valid reason why the hon. Member for Penryn should refrain from asking the House to express an opinion upon his Motion. He should vote for the Motion rather than the Amendment, because the Amendment, though not inconsistent with the Motion, took off the House upon a side issue. All the Motion did was to affirm the necessity of discussing the Indian Budget earlier than usual, and if the Committee decided that the Indian financial year should end December 31st, and that the Budget should be discussed here before Easter, the two things would not be inconsistent. The Prime Minister had enlarged upon the disadvantage of placing abstract Resolutions upon the records of the House. As an independent Member he looked upon abstract Resolutions from a differeent point of view. On some occasions he had withdrawn abstract Resolutions after proposing them, and he had never done so without regretting their withdrawal. On other occasions, when he had pressed abstract Resolutions, and they had been accepted by the House, they had proved fruitful of good. What was the objection to place the Motion of the hon. Member for Penryn on the records of the House? It would be an instruction to the present and to successive Governments—which could not be lightly disregarded by them—that the House of Commons desired the Indian Budget to 420 be brought forward at a time when it might be properly discussed. No doubt it was difficult for the Government to provide a night for the Indian Budget, and for that very reason the House should declare that a night must be provided, so as to prevent the discontent which now existed in India, because the House of Commons frequently acted as though it wished to treat the affairs of India with intentional contempt. Two years ago a promise was given that an effort should be made to introduce the Indian Budget at an earlier period, but what happened last year? Why, last year the Indian Financial Statement had not even a day at the end of the Session. All that was vouchsafed was a morning sitting. At that morning sitting the speech of the Under Secretary of State for India occupied three hours and a-half out of the five hours. His own remarks occupied the end of the sitting, and were unfinished at the Adjournment; and when the House resumed, but for the accident that the Amendments to the Licensing Bill had not been printed, there would have been only a speech and a-half upon the Indian Budget, and there would not have been any other opportunity for the conclusion of his own speech, or for any remarks by the 15 or 20 other hon. Gentlemen who wished to take part in the discussion. Such a state of things was a scandal, and it produced the worst possible impression in India. He was speaking within the mark when he said that he had received ten times as many letters respecting the way in which the discussion on the Indian Budget was treated last year than he had on any other subject connected with the affairs of that great Dependency. The right hon. Gentleman said the discussion on the Indian Budget was not practically operative like a Bill. In one sense this was true, but in another sense it was far from true. Many Bills produced no practical effect, whereas every moment given to the affairs of India produced results of the highest importance, and was warmly appreciated by the people of India. Parliament had no power to alter the Indian Budget, nevertheless, the people of India looked to Parliament as the final arbiter of their destinies, and they knew that if in a full House a strong opinion was expressed upon a tax or upon expenditure, no Secretary 421 of State or Governor General could disregard such an opinion. He hoped his hon. Friend would not be satisfied with the promise which had been given to him by the Prime Minister, and which, no doubt, would be faithfully carried out so far as this Session was concerned. He hoped his hon. Friend would ask the House to express its opinion on this Motion. Let the House, at any rate, tell the people of India that if the Indian Budget should again be brought forward at the fag-end of a Session at a morning sitting the independent Members could point to a Resolution which they had put on the records of the House for the purpose of protesting against the Indian Budget being brought forward at a period of the Session when it was impossible that the important matters it contained could be adequately discussed, or the affairs of our great dependency could be treated with that respect which they so eminently deserved.
MR. GRANT DUFF
said, the hon. Member who had just sat down had repeated a statement which he had heard before, and which he felt it his duty to correct. The hon. Member had said that in laying the Indian Budget before the House in August last, he (Mr. Grant Duff) spoke three hours and a-half. Now, the truth of the matter was that he rose a few minutes after 3 o'clock and sat down a little after 5 o'clock, and during about half-an-hour of the time, between 3 and 5 o'clock, the House was in attendance in "another place" while the Royal Assent was being given to Bills; so that, instead of speaking three hours and a-half, he spoke very little more, if more, than an hour and a-half. When the hon. Member for Brighton complained that the promise given by the Government, in 1870, that the Indian Budget should be brought in earlier in 1871 was not kept, he must have forgotten that on the 24th of February in the year 1871, he (Mr. Grant Duff) did make a statement, although it was impossible at that early period to lay before the House exactly what was known as the Indian Budget. If it were possible, the Representative of the Indian Government in the House of Commons would wish to bring forward the Indian Budget about the second or third week of June; but it had been proved again and again by the experience of every Administration that had ever existed since there was an Indian 422 Budget, that the House would not, under any consideration, give up a day at that time for the discussion of Indian affairs unless they were of the greatest possible urgency, such as those which occurred in 1857. The Government, therefore, had these alternatives—either they must bring forward the Indian Budget early in the Session, as they did in 1871, with imperfect documents, or they must bring it forward as they did now at the end of the Session. The only other course was to alter the Indian financial year. But any change would cause considerable inconvenience; and the only practical course seemed to be to adopt the suggestion for referring the matter to the Financial Committee now sitting. They would be able to examine a former Viceroy, two finance Ministers, and other witnesses, and, doubtless, would be able to make some reasonable proposition to the House.
§ MR. R. N. FOWLER
said, he could not accept the proposition of the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government, because they must have regard not merely to the present year but to the action of future Governments, and as he thought those who felt strongly upon the subject ought to protest against the present system, he must press his Motion to a division.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 89; Noes 130: Majority 41.
§ Words added.
Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to.
Ordered, That it be an Instruction to the Select Committee on East India Finance to consider and report whether the Indian Financial year which now terminates on the 31st March, should be altered to the year ending on the 31st December, in order that the Secretary of State for India may be enabled to make his Financial Statement to the House before the Easter Recess.