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Volume 218: debated on Friday 20 March 1874

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Considered in Committee.

(In the Committee.)

, in rising to move a Resolution, That it is expedient to enable the Secretary of State in Council of India to raise a sum, not exceeding £10,000,000, in the United Kingdom, for the service of the Government of India, on the credit of the revenues of India, said, that the portion of Her Majesty's most gracious Speech which referred to the Bengal Famine, expressed a wish that no money should be spared so that life might be saved, and in the spirit of that wish he was now about to ask leave for the introduction of a Bill which would place funds with that object in the possession of the Indian Government. Considering the exceptional gravity of the crisis existing in India, and the great interest felt in it not only by hon. Members, but throughout the country, he trusted the Committee would excuse him if he detained them at some little length. His hon. Friend the Member for Finsbury (Mr. "W. M. Torrens) yesterday moved an Amendment to the Address, on the ground that Her Majesty's Government were not sufficiently aware of the gravity of the present crisis, and were not, in consequence, prepared to take sufficiently energetic action. If his hon. Friend, or any other hon. Gentleman, still entertained that idea, he trusted he should be able to dispel the illusion when he said that in the Bill which he proposed to introduce he was about to ask for power to raise £10,000,000. He thought that sum would be a sufficient indication that the Government were fully alive to the gravity of the present crisis. In making a statement which would necessarily involve a certain amount of detail, he trusted the House would not forget the difficulties under which he laboured—first in having to succeed the hon. Member for Elgin (Mr. Grant Duff), who for five years not only represented the India Office in that House with great ability, but who, in addition, brought to bear on every Indian subject a fund of accumulated knowledge to which he himself could not pretend. Lithe second place, he would remind the House that he became associated with the India Office exactly when the famine, before impending over Bengal, had descended on the most densely-inhabited portions of that province. Thirdly, he was now under the difficulty of explaining measures which were sanctioned, elaborated, and carried out, not by the Government to which he belonged, but by their predecessors. He did not say that with the intention in any way of censuring any of the acts of the late Government, but merely to point out that it would have been far easier for the hon. Member for Elgin to explain them than for his successor. And, further, he would remind the House that there was sonic little difficulty in placing the figures before them, because the India Office had week by week received despatches from India, and, after having perused those despatches and managed to retain a certain number of figures, it was found next week that those figures were entirely changed. If, therefore, the figures which he should give differed from those which hon. Gentlemen, by their own industry or from the public prints, had been able to gather, they must not consider their own as accurate and his as the reverse, but they should bear in mind that he, as the Representative of the India Office in that House, had been able to obtain better and more recent information. On the 27th of October Lord Northbrook telegraphed to the Duke of Argyll—"Very bad failure of crops in Bengal. I leave at once to consult with Sir George Campbell." It seemed scarcely credible to Europeans that the failure of one crop over an area as large as that of England, Scotland, and Wales combined, and far more densely populated, should spread famine over the length and breadth of that district. But Lord North-brook was fully aware of the crisis; he at once proceeded to Calcutta, and there issued a weighty Resolution. That Resolution was shortly afterwards considered at a general conference, and he would by-and-by state its purport to the House. The Resolution to which he referred was issued in consequence of Information which the Indian Government had received, which led them to believe that in four districts of Bengal, comprising a population of 35,000,000, there would be, for the next eight months, great scarcity, and very probably famine. He must remind the House that in 1848 we had a famine in Ireland, which Lord Russell had graphically described as "a famine of the 14th century among a population of the 19th." On that occasion, though the English Government had a large Navy to assist it, and had the advantage of enormous subscriptions placed at its disposal, and an amount of individual charity and agency such as probably never before was at the command of a Government, and though the means of interior communication in Ireland were excellent, they were, nevertheless, unable to prevent the Irish people from dying by thousands. He did not state that as wishing in any way to diminish the responsibility attaching to the Indian Government or the India Office; he merely reminded the House of the difficulty which the English Government had to contend with in dealing with a famine on a much smaller scale. The population of the district now affected by famine was probably the densest in the world, being upwards of 496 persons to a square mile, or very nearly double the density of the population of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. In addition to that, there was a peculiar people to be dealt with who, whether from their habits or the nourishment upon which they existed, had neither physical nor mental stamina which would enable them to bear up against great privation or scarcity. The Government of India had besides to contend against the prejudices of caste. These were difficulties which were known to the public, but there was another difficulty to which sufficient importance had not been attached. Any Government, having to deal with a difficulty of this enormous magnitude must depend very much upon the information furnished by its local officers. He would say, in no spirit of censure, of the present or past Governors of Bengal, that there was no province of India so badly provided with the means of local administration, for they were not in Bengal under the same necessity which existed in other parts of India of having an accurate local survey. That arose from the fact that in that province certain Zemindars became responsible to the Government for the revenue, and the Government, therefore, had no reliable Returns as to the cultivation of the soil. All persons acquainted with India would concur with him when he said that statistical deficiency had attained an extreme point in Bengal when, some four years ago, a population was estimated at 42,000,000, which by a Census two years afterwards was found to amount to 66,000,000. Sir George Campbell, in a recent Report, dwelt on the difficulty that existed in the way of gathering reliable information as to the condition of the distressed districts, He had, however, taken steps to overcome those difficulties of which his successor would reap the benefit. He now came to the Resolution which was passed by the Governor General of India in Council, in which they determined not to prohibit exports. They also resolved that measures should be taken for the vigorous prosecution of public works. The Lieutenant Governor of Bengal was authorized to open local relief works, and loans were to be advanced to municipalities as well as to landlords for the purpose of effecting improvements. It was further resolved that levies made on account of roads should be postponed; that one-half the cost of the carriage of grain to the distressed districts should be defrayed by the Government; that relief committees should be formed in all the districts; and their medical staffs considerably augmented. It had been hinted that the relations of the different Governments in carrying out this work were not as cordial as could be desired; but that was an error. The Government of India undertook to procure the necessary grain for the relief of the districts—the Government of Bengal, by a subsequent Resolution, were to provide the transport necessary for its distribution. That Government was also authorized to procure food for all who were employed upon strictly local works. As time went on more accurate information was obtained as to the districts in which real distress might be experienced, and as to its probable extent. The four divisions of Bengal to which he had alluded were divided into two by the Ganges. In the districts south of that river, little anxiety had been felt during the last two months, as it was traversed by the East Indian Railway and the local communication was far bettor than in the north. It was in the district north of the Ganges that the greatest difficulties were experienced. The district was bounded on the south by the Ganges and on the north by Nepaul, and it was felt from the very first that in this great district the utmost obstacles would have to be overcome in the transport of grain and rice for the relief of its inhabitants. At a meeting held by the Government in Calcutta on the 4th of February last, and which was attended by the Governor-General, it was determined to establish district committees; and various other measures of relief were resolved upon. Sir Richard Temple had already been despatched by the Governor-General to travel through the districts in which the greatest distress existed, with a view to place the transport in a more satisfactory condition, and of making a most accurate calculation as to the actual amount of food that would be required. The despatches of Sir Richard Temple bad only reached the India Office during the last week, and they afforded some most interesting information as to the districts north of the Ganges in which the greatest distress had hitherto been experienced. He calculated that in the district of Tirhoot not less than 1,000,000 persons would be on the hands of the Government, and possibly for a period of from six to eight months. The transport, he found, was to a certain extent backward, but the officials and private persons were exerting themselves very much, and he estimated that in that district alone, 148,000 tons of grain and rice would be required. He then passed on to the adjoining district, and calculated that not less than 400,000 persons would, for the same time as he had before mentioned, be likely to be on the hands of the Government, and that 37,000 tons of grain and rice would be required for their relief. In the next district he visited he found that not less than 200,000 would be obliged to come to the Government for relief, and that a corresponding amount of grain and rice would have to be transported into the district; and he further reported that the transport arrangements were not so perfect as he could have wished. Now, during the time that had elapsed between the holding of the first meeting by the Governor-General at Calcutta and the starting of Sir Richard Temple on this expedition, the Viceroy had frequently in public despatches expressed his dissatisfaction with the state of the local transport, and had urged upon the Lieutenant Governor of Bengal the necessity of more strict supervision, so that the necessary transport requirements might be adequately met. Sir Richard Temple, during the expedition to which he had referred, went up far north, and found that in the districts beyond our own—in Nepaul—there was considerable scarcity and distress. The House would see that the difficulty to be overcome in dealing with the district north of the Ganges was rendered greater by the fact that there was access to it only from the south, and that the districts which lay to the north, beyond our border, were themselves in a state of great distress. The Government had, therefore, to contend with very great and exceptional difficulties in transporting food to the distressed districts. He might state that Sir Richard Temple had estimated that the amount of grain and rice which would be required in the provinces he had visited amounted to not less than 332,000 tons. Since then they had had information by telegraph that that amount should be considerably increased. Now, what amount had Lord Northbrook procured? By the last telegram received they learnt that he had ordered 425,000 tons of rice and grain, and that on the 4th of March, 100,000 tons of that amount had arrived at Calcutta. Although they could not from their recent advices from India state positively that more than 425,000 tons had been purchased, yet the Secretary of State for India, both the late and the present, had earnestly impressed upon Lord Northbrook the necessity of purchasing amply sufficient stores of grain and rice to meet the heaviest estimates that had been made, and had further pointed out, that, on the one hand, if his estimates should exceed the requirements, the result would merely be that a certain amount of food would remain upon the hands of the Government which they could easily dispose of at a pecuniary loss, while, on the other hand, if his supplies should in any way run short the most terrible responsibility would rest upon all concerned in the government of India. Therefore, as they could not say that the 425,000 tons, although considerably in excess of the estimates the Government had received, would be sufficient, that amount would be considerably added to during the next few weeks. He now came to the important question of transport. That was from the first seen by the Governor General to be the great difficulty to be contended with. Sir Richard Temple, during his expedition through the northern tracts, placed the transport in a fair state of organization, and to give the House some little idea of the enormous amount of carriage required to transport the food necessary to feed so large a population, he might say that not very long ago they received a telegram from Sir Richard Temple, in which he stated that he had no fewer than 50,000 carts at work north of the Ganges, and that that number would shortly be increased to 70,000. The amount of grain now carried by the East India railroad, running nearly parallel with the Ganges, was not less than 4,000 tons per diem—a little more than 2,000 from Calcutta, and the rest from the northwest Provinces—the greater part of which was imported by private traders. The great burden cast on the East India Line had attracted the attention of the Government, and only the other day a gentleman was commissioned to engage, if possible, 40 English stokers, and send them out by the earliest mail. Attention had also been paid to increasing the rolling stock and supplementing the engines at present available. Owing to the scarcity of rain during the past few months, many rivers were too low to be utilized for water carriage; but the Indian Government had asked the Imperial Government to authorize the building of steamers, and 10 had boon ordered on almost the same lines as those recently built for the Butch to assist them in their war in Sumatra. These, it was hoped, would soon be completed, and would be carried out in sections by the Suez Canal, each having a carrying power of 20 tons, while it was proposed to send out with them live barges, each carrying 60 tons. The Indian Government, moreover, had ordered four steamers at Calcutta, so that when the rainy season set in, the rivers would be thoroughly utilized throughout the distressed districts. A tramway, or rather railroad, had also been laid with great expedition from the Ganges up to the most distressed districts, a large quantity of matériel lying at Calcutta, and intended for one of the large lines, having been employed. He believed it would in a very short time be lit for use, in which case it would relieve very considerably the local transport. In the northernmost parts of Tirhoot, there being few roads, the local authorities had felt the necessity of relying a good deal on hand carriage, and to overcome the difficulty, small bags to contain 60lbs. of rice were being prepared in Bengal. Considerable anxiety had been felt as to the labour test, which it had been supposed, was rigidly enforced. Lord Northbrook, however, in a Circular of the 13th of February, addressed to all the Government officials, had laid down that it was merely a precautionary measure, and was not to be applied to those who had been hitherto unaccustomed to labour, or who were of such high rank as to prevent their accepting food on such terms. The labourers on many Relief Works had hitherto been paid in money; but it was felt by the Indian Government that when prices became very high it would be impossible for those receiving but small sums to purchase sufficient food, and Lord Northbrook had therefore decided that when 20lbs. of rice could only be purchased for 2s., food instead of money should be given. Many comments had been made on the class of food imported by the Indian Government from Burmah and elsewhere, and experiments had been made as to its nutritiousness. A Government orderly was ordered to cat a certain amount of Burmah rice and report from hour to hour how digestion was going on. He ultimately reported that it was not unpalateable and was easily digested, and although it could not be hoped that everybody was as complaisant as Government employés, there was reason to believe that the aversion which might be felt to Burmese rice resulted from the prejudice arising from ignorance, which frequently caused the lower orders at home to refuse healthy and nutritious food merely because they were not accustomed to it Lord Northbrook had set out elaborate rules indicating what were to be the nature and duties of the relief committees, the necessity of which was evidenced by the fact that a strong opinion existed that it was the duty of the Government to provide food and its distribution, and that private individuals should in no way interfere. Now, in the famine in the north-west Provinces in 1860–70, the total number of persons daily relieved was upwards of 100,000, of whom 80,000 were on the Government relief works, and 20,000 were relieved by relief societies. Those rules were to the effect that the chief duty of such committees was not to purchase, but to distribute, grain, and he attached much importance to their formation, because it placed at the disposal of the Government an organization for distribution which could not otherwise be obtained. In no country was it more necessary to secure the co-operation of native gentlemen than in India, for he was informed by the best authority that there were many well-born persons who would far sooner starve than incur what they deemed contamination, and who could not be kept alive unless the food was actually brought to their houses by persons whom they knew, or who were of their own caste and rank. Now, Government relief, especially if on a large scale, must be administered on system, and no system could be made sufficiently elastic to meet all these exceptional and isolated cases of distress. It was, therefore, earnestly to be hoped that persons would subscribe as well as give their moral support to the formation of relief committees, for, even from his limited knowledge of India, he was sure the famine could only be successfully combated by a thorough system of relief committees established throughout the distressed districts. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Sunderland (Mr. Gourley) had given Notice of a Question as to the measures the Government were prepared to take to prevent a repetition of the famine. Now, there were two classes of public works which could alone do this—irrigation, which would save the country from the effects of drought, and roads, which would open it up, and facilitate communication. With reference to these, a very large number of persons were at work on the Soane canal, with which many hon. Members were acquainted, as well as the various canals connecting it with the Ganges, while north of that river many persons had been employed during the past few months upon the Gunduck embankment. At the same time, in the north of Bengal many persons had been employed on the construction of a railway, while a tramway, or rather railroad, had been laid to the most distressed part of Tirhoot, and in every other part of the district, roads were being made and tanks made or cleaned out. Before turning to the financial part of the question, he must testify to the personal courage and resolution which had been exhibited by the Viceroy during this trying emergency. He had never deviated from the principles on which he believed it would be right to carry out relief. He had been subjected to attacks both in India and in England, but there was only one point to which, he would allude. He had been severely criticized for not prohibiting the export of rice from Bengal. That question resolved itself into two—the effect as regarded the supply of food, and the ultimate effect on the trade of Bengal. The latter it was now hardly necessary to consider. He now came to what would have been the immediate effect in reference to the food supply required for the present emergency. Those who blamed Lord Northbrook for not prohibiting the export of rice and grain, did not seem to have learnt the first principle on which he had conducted his measures for the relief of the distress. Lord North-brook saw that the calamity was one of so gigantic a nature that it would be utterly impossible for any Government to cope with it alone, and he therefore laid it down that it was the duty of the Government in no way in the first instance to interfere with private trade, but that they must rely mainly in the first instance on private trade and enterprise in supplying the wants of the people, and that when private trade failed, then it would be the duty of the Government—having in the meantime provided stores—to supplement it and supply deficiencies. He ventured to say that no one placed in Lord North brook's critical and exceptional position could well have come to any other determination, and the best justification of that measure was founded on the fact that at the present moment grain was pouring in from the northwest Provinces mainly through private trade at the rate of 1,500 tons per diem. Another strong reason for not prohibiting exports was that famines had occurred from time to time in various parts of India, and, although they were localized, they had been very severe in the localities to which they were restricted, mainly because a system of selfish isolation was pursued by the native rulers who refused to allow food to be exported from their districts. We had constantly preached against that practice, and he could not conceive a greater satire on our doctrine than if we had ourselves adopted the very principle we had condemned, the very first time that we had to contend with famine on a large scale. In the Council Chamber at Calcutta there was an old motto indicative of that high quality which had enabled us as Europeans to maintain our Empire, and it was comprised in these four words—"Mens æqua in arduis." It had distinguished many illustrious men who had filled the office of Viceroy of India; and of this he was certain, that though many had borne their part in deeds which might perhaps have more attracted the eye of the superficial public, yet, when history came to be written, no man would be found more justly entitled to credit for the quality he had mentioned than Lord Northbrook, as shown in his personal conduct during the great crisis through which they were now passing. Let him say one word with reference to finance. He had stated that they would ask powers to raise £10,000,000, but he sincerely trusted it would not be necessary for them to raise any sum equivalent to that amount. At the present moment they drew monthly upon the Government of India for about £1,300,000. Some time back the Governor-General telegraphed to the Secretary of State, requesting him to diminish his monthly drafts by £250,000. The Duke of Argyll had proposed, and Lord Salisbury had agreed to diminish them still further, and they had now reduced them by £400,000 per month. The expenditure for the famine up to the end of February was about £2,500,000. Sir George Campbell, in his Estimates—which would shortly be before the House—calculated that the total amount incurred in relieving the distress and in starting relief works during that famine would be £6,295,000, but of that sum about £1,900,000 was expected to be refunded, and speaking roughly it was estimated that the total expenditure would not be less than £4,500,000. Although they hoped it might not be necessary for the Secretary of State in Council to raise more than the £3,000,000 which would be the amount by which be was originally requested to reduce his monthly drafts—namely, £250,000 per month, still he deemed it absolutely essential to ask for longer powers, and for this reason—it was impossible to foretell what would be the condition of the great winter crops this year. Parliament would in all probability be up at the end of July; they would receive no accurate information very likely till late in October, and those who had experience of the East knew that those famines frequently lasted more than one year, and he would point out to the House what a terrible position they would be placed in if they merely asked for power to borrow£3,000,000, the amount by which Lord Northbrook expected them to diminish their drafts, and when Parliament was prorogued they received intelligence from India that there was every probability of a perhaps even more dreadful famine lasting during the winter months, and they had no power of raising the necessary money to moot such an emergency. Proposals had been made, both in public and in private, by which it was insinuated that it would have boon a better course if the English Government had undertaken to guarantee any loan which they might propose to raise; but he thought that anybody who considered the matter would see that it would confer very little present advantage, while unquestionably it would deteriorate their financial character morally, and ultimately India would have to pay dearly for the English guarantee. He would only add one word in conclusion. It might be thought by some hon. Gentlemen, as they proposed to borrow £10,000,000 when they were asked for £3,000,000, that they were about to inaugurate an era of extravagance in India, but he could assure them that no one was more anxious than the present Secretary of State for the economical administration of the finances of India. His noble Friend conceived that for years the revenue, as well as the expenditure, of that country would require the most careful supervision to place it in a satisfactory position after such a terrible famine. He felt, further, that it was the duty of the Government to develop as far as possible the resources of India, with a view of preventing the recurrence of a similar calamity. But the difficulty which every one connected with India had to contend with could be summed up in a sentence—they had to govern India upon European principles, and they had merely an Asiatic revenue to depend upon. It had been supposed in years gone by that the functions of the Government were merely to collect the revenue and maintain peace and order; now he was glad to say they had higher and nobler views, and it would be the earnest wish of the Secretary of State in Council to develop by every practicable means the material resources of that country. His noble Friend felt that after they had successfully passed through the present ordeal, public attention would naturally be directed to India, and they hoped also that private enterprise would be extended in that country. He trusted that no one would grudge the money that was now asked for. He could not conceive that the sternest economist could hesitate when the choice lay between the expenditure of millions of money and the sacrifice of millions of lives. He therefore hoped the House would accord its unanimous assent to the bringing in of that Bill, and by doing so place at the disposal of the Indian Government the requisite funds which alone could enable them successfully to terminate the dreadful battle they were now fighting against famine and all its attendant horrors. He would conclude by moving the Resolution.

Moved to resolve, That it is expedient to enable the Secretary of State in Council of India to raise a sum, not exceeding £10,000,000, in the United Kingdom, for the service of the Government of India, on the credit of the revenues of India.

said, he wished to congratulate the noble Lord the Under Secretary of State for India on the admirable manner in which he had performed the delicate and difficult task which had been entrusted to him. He rejoiced at the measure which the Government proposed to take, believing it was a first step in the right direction. The finances of India did not at this moment require the Imperial guarantee. They were sufficiently sound and solid for Parliament simply to give its sanction to the raising of such a loan as the Indian Government thought necessary for the moment. He sincerely trusted that the calculations made by the Viceroy and the Home Government would be amply justified by the result. He had never felt any serious doubts as to the ability of the Indian Government to supply the requisite amount of food; his apprehensions related to the question of transport, and the still greater difficulties of distribution. He was not at present prepared to say that the difficulties in the way of transport had been overcome, and he had only to express his earnest hope that these difficulties which were not matters of to-day or to-morrow, might by the varied and concentrated energy of Indian officials be successfully combated. As to the distribution of food when it reached its destination, he could not hesitate to believe that with the example of the Governor-General and the Lieutenant Governors before them, there would not be a man in any of the districts in question who would not give the Government all the assistance which so great an emergency demanded. There could, he might add, be no question that private charity would have an ample field for its exercise, even in the later days of the famine, when hundreds of thousands of people would be in such a state of helplessness that they would have to depend upon relief rather than upon the labour of their own hands, and if it should be found necessary to supplement the larger works of irrigation and locomotion which had been referred to, Parliament would, no doubt, give its assent.

expressed the great satisfaction with which he had listened to the statement of the noble Lord the Under Secretary for India. It showed that a great calamity had been met in a spirit worthy of the English nation and of the Government of India. It was perfectly clear that the Government had not been drifting on loosely and vaguely, but that the difficulty had been looked in the face by Lord Northbrook from the first, and that he had provided for it with a wisdom and energy deserving of commendation. The late as well as the present Government showed, in his opinion, great wisdom in not interfering with the measures taken by the Viceroy. Our duty was, beyond doubt, to furnish without stint the means necessary to meet the emergency, and then to give the able men who had to deal with it in India our cordial support. As to the particular proposal before the House, the Government was, he thought, quite right in applying for a large sum of money to cover any possible contingency, though the whole of that money might not be required. In the long run it would, he believed, be found to be the truest economy to provide ample resources. With respect to an Imperial guarantee, it might have been granted if the financial position of India had been entirely different; but when a question of merely a half or three-quarters per cent was involved it would be unwise, in his opinion, to raise a large question for so small an amount. He wished, in conclusion, to ask the noble Lord, as the whole of the £10,000,000 was not likely to be wanted, if he could tell the amounts which would be required, and the periods at which it would probably be necessary to raise the money in this country?

said, that if Parliament rose early he hoped that Government would take care that proper funds should be available, if required, for the saving of life in India, for he doubted very much when he recalled the history of the famine which had occurred in the same part of India 100 years ago, whether the present famine would not continue till September, and therefore whether it would not be wise to ask for powers to borrow £15,000,000 instead of £10,000,000. He thought he might add that, owing to the inaccurate and indeed unreliable statistics they were possessed of relating to Bengal, the causes of the famine ought to be clearly investigated, and the area of cultivated land for the production of food ought to be considerably extended, in order that an adequate supply of food might be provided for the present vast and yearly increasing population of the country. Steps ought also, he contended, to be taken to meet the difficulties of transport and distribution of food which were obviously the serious obstacles, in the present crisis, to feeding the people. He trusted the House would cordially support the propositions now made to it, and without delay pass the Bill authorizing a loan of £10,000,000, and thereby prove to India that the people of this country were anxious and ready to lend their money to aid the Government to provide food for the famine-struck districts of Bengal.

Motion agreed to.

Resolved, That it is expedient to enable the Secretary of State in Council of India to raise a sum, not exceeding.£10,000,000, in the United Kingdom, for the service of the Government of India, on the credit of the revenues of India.

Resolution to be reported To-morrow.

EAST INDIA [ANNUITY FUNDS],—Committor to consider of making provision for the transfer of the Assets and Liabilities of the Bengal and Madras Civil Service Annuity Funds, and the Annuity Branch of the Bombay Civil Fund, to the Secretary of State for India in Council (Queen's Recommendation signified), To-morrow.