§ VISCOUNT CROSS
called attention to the great delay which had taken place in presenting the Report of the Opium Commission. He reminded their Lordships that in1893 a Commission was issued to inquire into the whole question of the Opium Trade, the revenue received in respect of it, and the monopoly of the Indian Government in connexion with the commodity. The Commission originated in a vote passed in the other House. The question was one that affected most seriously the whole of India, whether viewed from a financial or moral standpoint. It was, therefore, a subject in which everybody concerned in the welfare of India must feel the deepest possible interest. A long time had now elapsed since the appointment of the Commission. The Commissioners had taken voluminous evidence in India, and everybody was very anxious last Session that the Report should be published before the Session ended. The delay in presenting the Report was referred to in both Houses in August, and the opinion was then confidently expressed that the Report would be issued in November. Three months had now elapsed since the time indicated, and the Report had not yet been issued, they knew that the Chairman of the Commission (Lord Brassey) had accepted an appointment in one of the Colonies. He congratulated the Colony upon that appointment, as well as the noble Lord himself; but he was very anxious that the Report should be issued before the noble Lord left this country to undertake the new duties which would no doubt engross his attention. It was stated in the other House last Session that the Indian revenues were to bear half the charges incident to the Inquiry that had been held. That seemed to 1062 him a monstrous burden, to throw upon the revenues of India. He had intended to ask a question upon this point also, but he understood that it was the wish of the Secretary of the State for India that he should not do so now, and he would therefore postpone the question for a week or ten days.
§ LORD REAY
contended that, considering all the circumstances, the extent of the Inquiry, the fact that it had to be conducted in India, and that the Members were nut all in this country during the later stages of the work, the time taken by the Commission before issuing the Report could not be considered excessive. It was certainly not excessive when compared with the time taken by the Commission on Vaccination, to which allusion was made yesterday in their Lordships House. He thought he could assure the noble Viscount that the Report, of the Opium Commission would be laid upon the Table of the House very soon. The English Members had passed the Report with the exception of a summary of conclusions to be put forward at the next meeting by his noble Fiend the Chairman, who, both in India and in England, had used his influence in order to expedite the issue of the Report. To-morrow and Thursday next the Commission would meet for the final verbal Amendment and the rearrangement in some cases of the three or four sections passed last week, and for the consideration of a valuable memorandum on the original draft contributed by Mr. Haridas Veharidas, one of the Indian Members, which was received only yesterday morning. The greater part, of the Report thus passed was sent to the Indian Members a fortnight ago, and the rest would go by next mail. They had been requested to telegraph their assent if they agreed to the whole, and to send memoranda on the points respecting which they wished to qualify the views and conclusions of their colleagues. Mr. Haridas's memorandum had already been in great measure, anticipated during the recent Sittings, but no communication had been received from the Maharajah of Darbhanga. In case of the receipt of a memorandum from the latter qualifying the acceptance of the Report, the Commission would meet once more to consider his suggestions before ordering the Report to be 1063 submitted. He thought he could safely say that the Report would be issued before Easter.
§ *THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
had no doubt that most of their Lordships would share the feeling of the noble Viscount that it was unfortunate that so long a time should have intervened between the taking of the evidence in India and the final expression of the views of the Commissioners. He hoped the Chairman of the Commission would concur in his opinion that whatever might have been the cause of the delay the Government of India could not be charged with any responsibility for it. He was glad to have that opportunity of bearing witness to the earnestness shown by the officials of the Indian Government throughout the country in facilitating the work of the Commission. The Under-Secretary for India was perfectly right when he said that in this case there were special circumstances making some delay inevitable. He supposed that this was a solitary instance of a Royal Commission having some members domiciled in this country and others living in different parts of India. Those of their Lordships who knew by experience how difficult was the task of reconciling opposing views on Commissions and Committees could picture to themselves the embarrassment that must have been occasioned to the members of this Commission when the time came for an interchange of views between the London and the Indian sections. There was another point that ought to be taken into consideration. It was that the Commissioners were apparently obliged to compress within the limits of a single cold season an extremely difficult and detailed Inquiry. The result was that the evidence had to be taken rather hurriedly. The Commission was obliged occasionally to divide into sections, and witnesses had to be summoned from different parts of the country. That the Report might be expected at a very early date gave him great satisfaction. It was awaited with the utmost interest in India, because this was a subject that concerned not only the Finances of India, but also the private lives and domestic habits of the people of that country. Upon the question of expenditure the general feeling in India among natives and Europeans, 1064 official and unofficial, could, he believed, be expressed in the following words:—We did not want this Inquiry, and if you wanted it you ought to pay for it yourselves.That was the view entertained from one end of the country to the other. He would ask his noble Friend (Lord Reay) to consider whether this was not a case in which the costs of the trial might very fairly follow the verdict. If the Commissioners should report that the abuse of the Opium drug was very much less than had been supposed; if they should report that the people of India were not nearly so chargeable with intemperance in the use of narcotics as our own people here were chargeable with intemperance in the matter of stimulants; if they should report that the growth and cultivation of Opium in India did not affect the consumption of Opium in China much more than the growth of a choice Bordeaux vintage affects intemperance in the United Kingdom; if they should report that the Government of India from time to time had done its best to check the immoderate use of the drug and to prevent any artificial stimulus being given to its consumption; if they should report that any further interference might raise not only financial, but social and political questions of the gravest importance; if they should report to that effect,—then he ventured to say that Lord Elgin's Government would be amply justified in saying to the Government of Her Majesty: This Inquiry was forced upon us under pressure from an influential section in your political community at home; you have failed to prove your case against us; you have unsettled the minds of the people of this country; do not inflict upon us the further injustice of making us pay for an investigation which we regard as both mischievous and superfluous.
§ *LORD BRASSEY
wished to explain how it was practically impossible for the Commission to present their Report in time for consideration in the last Session of Parliament. After having taken evidence in London in September, they met for the taking of evidence in Calcutta on November 18, 1893. Between November 18 and the departure of the Commission from India on its return to this country, with the exception of some few days at Christmas, the Commission sat every 1065 working day, often six and even seven hours a day, and sometimes sitting in two sections. The result of that constant sitting was that the printers could not possibly keep pace with the Commission. He desired to say that at Calcutta the work of the Government printing press was admirably done, but when they were a distance from Calcutta, in Punjab or Burma, it was obviously impossible that the Government printers should follow the work satisfactorily. It was therefore decided to bring the shorthand-writers' notes to England and to print in this country. The printing of the evidence taken in India and at Burma was not completed before the month of June. They had found it necessary to issue interrogatories through the Foreign Office to the Consuls in China and to other persons whose information they were desirous to obtain with reference to the Opium question in China. The replies from China were not printed and in the hands of Members till July. It was therefore quite impossible that the Report could have been considered in time for presentation to this and the other House of Parliament in the last Session of Parliament. They could have presented a short Report by meeting in Bombay at the conclusion of their journey through India. They did hold consultations in Bombay, and did decide on Resolutions which practically formed the recommendations of the Commission; but it would have been most unsatisfactory to have presented a final Report in Bombay without an opportunity of considering the evidence, which they had much trouble to take and which involved considerable expenditure of public money. They had their report ready for consideration in the early part of November, and he could truly say that from that time to the present the attention of the Commission had been bestowed with the utmost assiduity upon the subject, which was by no means a simple one. He could only say that the pledge given by Mr. Fowler in the other House of Parliament, to the effect that the Report would be in the hands of Parliament before Easter, would be faithfully kept.
§ VISCOUNT CROSS
thanked the noble Lord for the immense trouble he had taken as Chairman of the Commission 1066 and said he was happy to hear that before Easter the Report would be presented, because it was anxiously looked forward to.