§ The Marquess of Lansdowne
would take the opportunity of presenting a petition of the greatest importance, not only in consideration of the body from whom it came, but 240 also in consideration of the vast population to whose interests it related. Not being prepared to originate any motion, or to express any opinion of his own, or any opinion on the part of the Government, respecting the many subjects this petition embraced, he should confine himself to the duty of stating distinctly the substance of the petition to their Lordships. The petitioners were the directors of the East India Company, who in pursuance, as they stated, of that duty which they had always felt to be incumbent upon them, that of promoting the interests of that population, now increased to so many millions which was confided to their care, thought it expedient, solemnly and distinctly, to call the attention of the Legislature of this country to the complaints respecting the commercial disabilities affecting those interests. Without giving any opinion as to any practical measures that might be applied to remedy those complaints and representations, he was sure that he did no more than express not only the feelings of the Government, but of their Lordships, when he said that they were at all times prepared, as far as policy and circumstances would admit, to encourage the industry of the natives of India. It was represented by the petitioners, that although some measures had recently been taken to encourage the Indian trade, those measures were still in many respects essentially deficient, and that the India population were still deprived of the benefit which, as composing an important part of the dominions of this country, it was entitled to, being a peaceful, a loyal, an attached, and an industrious population under the British monarchy. The first point adverted to by the petitioners was that of the duty on sugar. They stated, that although it was true, Bengal sugar was now admitted into the British possessions upon the payment of a duty equal to that paid upon West Indian and American sugar, yet with respect to all the other Presidencies that measure was accompanied with so many restrictions that their sugar was not admitted for British consumption upon equal terms. With regard to many other commodities, the same restrictions continued to exist. They stated that this circumstance arose in consequence of the legal ambiguity of the term, "Her Majesty's dominions," and the term, "British possessions." A great many portions of the Indian empire which 241 deserved to be included in the facilities afforded to Indian commerce, and more especially the Mysore country, were deprived of that facility and encouragement. The petitioners therefore prayed their Lordships to give a more extended, and, in some respects, a more definite and precise interpretation to the term "British possessions." Another point to which they referred was, the extent to which Indian manufactures had been extinguished by the importation of English manufactured goods. They thought it was but reasonable, that, if the products of English industry were admitted free of duty in India, so Indian produce should be admitted free of duty for British consumption, or at least upon terms on a par with the produce of other parts of the British dominions. With regard to spirits, there was a greater difference between the produce of India and of the West Indies, than perhaps in any other commodity. That difference reached as high as 8s. or 9s. They prayed that that difference should be removed, and that in this respect also, there should be no difference between Bengal, and the other Presidencies. They further stated the injurious operations of the navigation laws, as affecting the population of India, and they prayed that those laws should be revised, as regarded the employment of native Indians in British commerce. They next adverted to the large extension of the growth of tea in Assam, which held out expectations that Assam would be able to furnish a large proportion of the supply of that article to Britain. They therefore appealed to their Lordships, to consider, as that supply increased, whether it would not be fit to encourage its cultivation by a discriminatory duty on tea, the produce of British territories. These were the different topics dwelt on in the petition, all involving very important interests, and which could not be approached without great consideration. At the same time he was convinced that if their Lordships were not prepared to entertain any measure having for its object the giving immediate relief to the petitioners on the points alluded to, they would have no hesitation in assenting to the general policy of promoting, whenever they had the means of doing so with safety, the growth of the produce, manufactures, and industry of the immense mass of the industrious and loyal population of India; and that, while they had succeeded in civilizing them for 242 the purposes of war, by disciplining them and making them instruments of war, they would not be less able or willing to improve them in the arts of peace, and assist in the developement of that industry which no persons who had recently made themselves acquainted with the state of the country, and the improvement of its population, could doubt they were capable of attaining, in the progress of time, under the fostering care of a paternal government. He therefore hoped the petition would meet the consideration of their Lordships; and, as he should not have another opportunity of bringing the subject before their Lordships, he begged it might be read by the clerk.
§ Petition read.
was not aware of the intention of the noble Marquess to present this petition to-night; and although he yesterday saw the petition in the newspapers, yet, not having been previously acquainted with it, he had not had an opportunity of giving that consideration to the subject-matter of it which he was desirous of doing, before he expressed an opinion upon the many important topics it involved. He thought it must be matter of disappointment to the petitioners, the noble Marquess having undertaken to present the petition, that he should not have been able to broach any opinion whatever with respect to the expediency or inexpediency of complying with any one portion of his prayer. He must say, from the cursory view he had been able to take of the matter, that there appeared to be a very great deal of reason in many of the complaints, and many of the demands made by the petitioners. It did appear to be a very great grievance that, at Ceylon, the cotton goods of Great Britain should be charged with a duty of 5 per cent, only, while those of India should be charged with duties varying from ten to twenty per cent. In one point of view, however, the Indian Government had the remedy in their own hands; and if the Imperial Parliament would not act with generosity and liberality towards India, as the Indian Government had acted with regard to British commodities imported into that country, it must be expected that that Government would act in obedience to their first duty, which was that of consulting the benefit of the people of India. If it should be found that the Imperial Parliament would not act with reciprocity towards India, the consequence 243 would be that the duty on British goods imported into India would be increased. While a duty of only 3½ per cent, was imposed upon British silks imported into India, in no case was the duty on cotton goods of India brought to an English port at less than 10 percent., while on India silk piece goods the inequality was still greater, they being subjected to a duty of 20 per cent. He was willing to go a great deal further than the noble Marquess. The noble Marquess had said, that he was prepared to do all that policy and circumstances would permit. He was ready to do all that policy and circumstances could demand. It appeared to him that there was no higher duty their Lordships had to perform than that of protecting the interests of the people of India. They had no representatives of their own in the British Parliament: the Reform Bill had deprived them of that benefit. They were entirely at the mercy of the Parliament of this country, and therefore, they had the highest claim upon their Lordships, and were as much entitled to the paternal care and regard of Parliament as any portion of the people within the dominions of this country. He thought it was really a matter of consideration whether a petition of this importance should not be referred to a committee for the purpose of investigation, in order to ascertain how far it would be expedient to comply with its prayer.
§ The Marquess of Lansdowne
begged to state, in explanation, that the noble Lord must have misunderstood him exceedingly, if he had understood him (the Marquess of Lansdowne) to say that no measure could be founded upon this petition, or upon these representations. The petitioners, with whom he had communicated on the subject previously to presenting the petition, could not be disappointed with any explanation or omission of explanation, inasmuch as he had told them that it was not in his power, neither would it be fitting in the present state of the finances of the country, for him to declare any opinion as to what might be done in consequence of their petition. The noble Lord must be aware that it would be exceedingly unwise for them to excite any expectations which could not afterwards be realized. He fully agreed with the noble Lord in opinion as to the duty of Parliament attending to the interests of the Indian people, and taking into their 244 serious consideration all the circumstances in which their future interests were involved, identified as those interests were with the general welfare of the whole empire. He agreed with the noble Lord that they were more peculiarly entitled to the attention of their Lordships upon the score of justice, inasmuch as they were not (as stated by the noble Lord) represented in either House of Parliament But they were entitled also from the generosity much more than from the justice of their Lordships to the fullest hearing of their representations which either the East India directors or others might be advised to make. The petitioners had thought it would be an advantage to the people of India that their wants should be distinctly made known, and having been made known, he was sure they could not fail to engage the attention both of the Government and of the Parliament.
§ Petition laid on the table.