Order for Second Reading read.
, in moving that the Bill be now read the second time, said, it had come down from the House of Lords, and had been waiting a second reading for some time, during which interval it had been subjected to much criticism and misrepresentation. The Bill proposed that in the Council of the Governor General for India, there should be one Member responsible for the Public Works Department. The Council of the Governor General consisted at present of five ordinary and one extraordinary members. One represented the Finance Department, another the Legislative, a third the Military; the Foreign Department was usually under the personal super-vision of the Viceroy; and the two civil members of the Council had to divide between them the Homo Department, the new Department of Commerce and Agriculture, and the Public Works Department, the consequence being, that the most hardly worked members of the Council had to discharge the duties of the Public Works Department. Each Department of State had a Secretary, and these Secretaries were in the habit of attending the Council when important business had to be transacted in relation to their Departments; but they had no vote, and, except on sufferance no voice. The Public Works Department was one which required very minute supervision. The first question the House would ask was, whether the business transacted by this Department was of such importance as to justify the Secretary of State for India in bringing forward this Bill? That could be best answered by stating the actual amount of the financial transactions in which that Department had, for the year 1873–4 been involved. It amounted, in income and expenditure, to the enormous sum of £26,500,000. There were three different classes of public works in India. There were those carried out by the Supreme Government, which were under their control; the provincial public works, carried out by the different local Governments, the cost of which was defrayed from allotments made by the Supreme Government to the local Governments; and there were also the local funds public works, which chiefly consisted of the construction and maintenance of roads, the expenses connected with which were chiefly defrayed by local taxation. There would be expended for the year 1874–5, £2,500,000 upon ordinary public works, £1,000,000 for native estates under British administration, £250,000 for railway charges, £1,600,000 for provincial public works, £1,600,000 for local public works, and £450,000 for telegraphs; making a total of £7,452,000. The working expenses of railways in connection with guaranteed lines would be upwards of £4,000,000, and there would be up-wards of £1,800,000 expended on further construction. There would further be expended for public works extra-ordinary £4,500,000, making a total of £18,000,000. On the other hand there would be received from miscellaneous sources £83,000, from irrigation nearly £500,000, from the State railways about £100,000, from telegraphs about £250,000, and from guaranteed railways £7,600,000, making a total of £8,600,000. He thought, therefore, that this Department was of sufficient importance to justify the entire attention of one member of the Council. Vast however, as had been the expenditure in the past, there was every reason to believe that it would be still greater in the future. That was not the result of any action taken by the present Secretary of State, or any pressure he had brought to bear on the Government of India. On the contrary, when he came into office he found the Government of India had last year announced their intention to expend £17,500,000 upon the construction of public works extraordinary during the ensuing four years; and in the financial Resolutions published at the end of April this year they stated that the total amount of money which would be expended during the five years ending 1877–8 on public works extraordinary would be £22,500,000. They expected to construct with that money 2,700 miles of railway, and irrigation works calculated to secure from liability to drought 50,000 square miles of country. They also announced in subsequent Resolutions that a general survey had been made of those parts of Her Majesty's dominions which they considered would be most likely to be affected by drought, with the view of constructing famine protective works, but at present they had no notion of what amount of money they might consider it necessary to expend on those works. The necessity for adopting such a proposal as that contained in the Bill was therefore all the more urgent. As to the imperfect working of the pre-sent system controlling that expenditure there was almost an unanimity of opinion. Successive Secretaries of State had remonstrated against it, and the Secretary of State in laying the Bill before the Upper House, had laid a Return upon the Table showing the number of cases in which the estimates for the past year had been largely exceeded, and he (Lord George Hamilton) had laid a similar Return upon the Table of that House. Well, the individuals connected with the Public Works Department could hardly be blamed. They had to perform their duties under great and exceptional difficulties, arising from the great distances to be traversed, the supervision necessary for native labour, and the sudden changes of the climate. But the main cause of excess of expenditure over the estimates was the system of handing over the Department from one member of the Council to another. Thus, there was an inconsistency of purpose and no continuity of design. Schemes, for instance, were frequently stopped which ought not to be stopped, and he believed, this was almost entirely due to the fact that no single member of the Council was personally responsible for the control and supervision of the Department. The Secretary of State was not alone in thinking it would be necessary to appoint a member of the Council specially to control and supervise the Department, for Lord Mayo when he arrived in India at once saw the importance of the public works, and took them under his own control. Writing to the Secretary of State in 1869, he recommended that a short Act should be passed early in the following Session to enable the Secretary of State to appoint by Sign Manual, three instead of two, ordinary Members of Council with a view of nominating a person who would fill the office of Minister of Public Works. He added—
Again in 1871, almost on the eve of starting on his visit to the Andaman Islands, he wrote—"This step is in my opinion indispensable. I am now discharging with great labour, the duties of the Member in Council in charge of the Public Works Department, I am very strong and can work 12 hours a day; but I have seen enough to know that the Member in charge of what is now becoming almost the most important Department in the Government ought to be able to devote his whole time and thoughts there-to-ought to have much special knowledge, and, moreover, should from time to time visit, with the Secretary to the Government, the various great works in progress."
A letter had appeared in The Times, written by a Member of the Upper House, stating his reasons against the Bill. He (Lord George Hamilton) would not express any opinion as to the propriety of a Member of the Upper House writing to a public journal with the view probably of influencing the Members of a House to which he did not belong. If any fresh argument was wanted to support the proposal now before the House, it would be found in that letter itself. The noble Lord traced the progress of a scheme from its conception to its maturity. It was, say, conceived by the Local Revenue and Public Works Department, and commended to the local Government. The local Government sanctioned it and the local executive officer prepared estimates which were corrected by the superintendent engineer. The scheme was next sent to the Public Works Department of the Province, and by them brought before the Council of the Province. Then it was submitted to the Supreme Government, and if approved by them, referred to the consulting engineer and secretary of the Public Works Department, who were empowered to sanction it. Now, he (Lord George Hamilton) wanted to know if that scheme fell through, which of these numerous authorities were to be held responsible? The Duke of Argyll, in one of his Despatches with reference to certain waterworks at Madras, condemned the system very strongly. He wrote—"The Public Works Department is now the most important branch of our administration and will grow. It requires besides the Secretariat, the undivided attention of one man in Council."
In the same Paper, there was a remark-able illustration of the manner in which, when responsibility was spread over so many authorities, no one person could be held liable for the failure of a scheme. Certain waterworks at Madras had proved a great failure, and the Duke of Argyll censured the executive engineer. In reply to that censure the Madras Government stated—"No condemnation can be too severe for a system, according to the ordinary routine of which it is possible for a project to be submitted with all the parade of detailed elaboration and of no less than 23 sheets of plans, for an expenditure thereon of 3½ lacs to be authorized on the assumption that the annual return would be at least 9, and might be 20 per cent. and for the project to be, after an interval of three or four years, abandoned on account of its containing inherent defects that would inevitably cause the result of its continued prosecution to be, instead of high profit, heavy loss, yet not abandoned without more than £11,000 being expended subsequently to the detection of these glaring and fatal defects. For that this is no exceptional case is clear from the fact of my having, within the last few months, found myself called upon to animadvert on similar heedlessness in the preparation of irrigation projects, in three several instances—those of the Moota Valley, the Madras Water Supply, and the Orissa Works, with regard to each of which confident promises of signal financial success were at first held out, and of which one has already proved and the other two threaten to prove, and long to continue, signal financial failures. There must plainly be something radically wrong in a system under which such results are of such frequent occurrence, and I must desire your Excellency's Government to give to the subject your immediate and most serious attention, with a view to the application of a proportionately radical remedy. Recent disclosures are, I confess, causing me to contemplate with no small apprehension the possible consequences of the large extension of works of irrigation on which the Indian Government is engaged, and of the wisdom of which I had previously entertained no doubt. Several irrigation schemes on a gigantic scale are already in process of execution, and many more are in preparation, which, it was sanguinely hoped, would benefit the people of India, not more by their direct influence in agriculture than indirectly by causing a largely-augmented flow into the national Exchequer; but, unless very much more thought has in general been bestowed upon them than those specially adverted to above would seem to have received, it is only too probable that the 30 millions sterling which have been provisionally accepted as the amount in round numbers required within the current decade for the extension of irrigation, may eventually prove to have been expended, not in diminution, but in augmentation, of the National Debt of India."
The Duke of Argyll then wrote—"At the time that the Madras Waterworks project was brought forward, there was no one whose special duty it was to examine completely its several bearings, and to take care that all requisite information with regard both to its engineering and revenue details was duly obtained and reviewed."
Now what was the reply of the Madras Government to the Duke of Argyll's argument? This—"I had previously been under the impression that the special duty referred to devolved in all cases not on one person only, but on a whole series of authorities; on the superintending or other engineer, in the first instance, by whom the project was prepared; then on the chief engineer and secretary by whom it was placed before the Government; and finally, on all the Members of the Government individually and collectively. If this has not always been the custom, I trust that it has now become so."
It was to abolish that system, that the Secretary of State had brought in the Bill, believing that when once responsibility had been fixed upon the head of the Department, it would permeate to the lower branches. The proposal was one so simple and natural and had been so successful wherever it had been carried into effect that it was necessary to go rather out of the way to find objections to it. The opposition to it, in-deed, was principally founded on a misconception of Lord Salisbury's object. For instance, by some curious mistake it was believed that Lord Salisbury intended to send out a person to India to carry out works costing £40,000,000, instead of £14,000,000. So far from such being the case, he was glad to be able to show when he made his annual Financial Statement for India, that whilst the Secretary of State for India had given the Indian Government great latitude, his policy had been rather to tie up than to extend their borrowing powers. Again, it was urged that there was a strong feeling in India against the Bill. He was not surprised that such a feeling should exist in India, not against the Bill, but against the supposed proposals of the Secretary of State. There had been some agitation in India about the famine expenditure. Some people went so far as to say that there had been no famine at all, and that the excitement had been got up by the Government for their own ends. The Pioneer, a well-known Indian journal, had published a leading article, in which it was assumed that a new member of the Council was to be appointed to attend specially to the famine."That a particular duty devolved upon 'a whole series of authorities 'including' all the Members of the Government individually and collectively' is to say that it did not devolve specially upon any one of those authorities."
Certain members of the Civil Service further objected to the scheme, but it was only natural that they should view with great suspicion any proposal which took away their privileges. Their opposition in the present case seemed to spring from the same feelings as those which prompted them to object to the appointment of a financial Member for India. Dismissing also, as unfounded, the objections that the proposed appointment would make the Department stronger than the Viceroy, and that the Secretary of State had omitted to lay the proposal before the Council—to decide upon which did not come within their powers—he would proceed to refer to the Amendment which the hon. Member for Hackney (Mr. Fawcett) had placed on the Paper. The main objection embodied in the Amendment was, that the Viceroy of India was strongly opposed to the Bill, and that he would resign if it passed. Now, he (Lord George Hamilton) had the authority of the Secretary of State for saying that that assumption was entirely unfounded. The noble Lord who had written the letter in The Times already referred to, stated that his opinions were those of Lord Northbrook. He (Lord George Hamilton) was perfectly certain that Lord Northbrook never gave authority for that statement, and he should certainly have thought that a gentleman of such experience as the writer would have been more guarded in his assertions. He also entered his protest against the publication in a newspaper of the opinion of a noble Lord upon a measure that ought to have been delivered in his place in the House of Lords when the Bill was under consideration there. The Bill had to be introduced that Session, inasmuch as two vacancies were about to arise in the Council. Between Lord Northbrook and Lord Salisbury, certain unofficial communications had passed, and he had authority to state that, although Lord Northbrook in the first instance did not desire the measure on the ground that it would increase the number of the Council, he had subsequently withdrawn his opposition on the introduction of a clause providing that the Council might he reduced to five if necessary, and now he had no strong view on the subject one way or another. It was easy to understand why Lord Northbrook at first did not approve the proposal. He, like his predecessor, Lord Mayo, was capable of an enormous amount of work, and he could reasonably say—"I can manage the Public Works Department myself so long as I am Viceroy." But the Secretary of State was not justified in allowing an objectionable system to continue, simply because he had an exceptionally powerful lieutenant-general. Lord Northbrook's successors in the Viceroyalty might not have the same capacity for work as he himself had, and in that case the continuity of responsibility and management would be interrupted. The Bill, therefore, was designed to fix and concentrate the responsibility for the Public "Works Department on one member of the Council and to continue it to his successors. The Amendment of the hon. Member for Hackney amounted to this—that it was inexpedient for the House to decide on the Bill until the Viceroy's opinion was known. That course was hardly consistent with the rôle of independent critic which the hon. Member had taken up, nor was his present opposition quite in accordance with the opinion which he had expressed on a previous occasion, namely—"But," said that journal, "after all, good may come out of evil: for when the famine has passed away, he may he able to give his attention to the Public Works Department, and that is what we want."
The former First Commissioner of Works (Mr. Ayrton) on the same subject had said—"No Department in India had been characterized by so much waste and extravagance as the Public Works Department, and nothing-had contributed so much to that result as the impulsiveness with which Public Works had been undertaken, and the suddenness with which they had been abandoned in order to obtain a favourable balance of expenditure and revenue."—[3 Hansard, ccxvii. 1409.]
And the hon. Member for Hackney, referring to this opinion, had observed—"Each man, in his own sphere, should be definitely responsible, and it should not be like the game of hunt-the-slipper, in which the responsibility was shifted about so that no one could find it."—[Ibid. 1505.]
Seeing that the hon. Gentleman had formerly expressed such a strong opinion in favour of the object of the Bill, it was a little disappointing to find him now in the ranks of its opponents. The hon. Gentleman was evidently prepared to lay great stress upon the point that the Government of India should have been consulted. He (Lord George Hamilton) could only say that on almost every occasion, it was the habit of the Secretary of State to do that, but, as he had explained, the Secretary of State was the responsible Minister, and he must be allowed some discretion. The real fact of the matter was, the Government of India had resolved to expend a very largo sum of money on public works. That being notified to the Secretary of State, all that he said was, that if such were to be the case, it would only be right and proper for a Minister to be appointed who should be personally responsible for that expenditure. That being so, it could hardly be said that the Government of India had not been consulted, for the Secretary of State's proposal bore directly upon the propositions of that Government. A good deal of misconception had prevailed in reference to the Bill. It was, after all was said, simply a Bill of Control. Its object was, to control the Department of Public Works and attach the responsibility for expenditure to one individual. Such a proposal would necessarily meet with opposition, because it implied that the administration had not been perfect, but was capable of improvement. He felt pretty certain that no one who would oppose the Bill would attempt to defend the present state of things as satisfactory. Those, therefore, who opposed the scheme under such conditions were bound to submit an alternative proposal. If they failed to do that the House had no option but to accept the Secretary of State's proposal for placing a responsible Minister at the head of the great spending Department of India, upon whose action, and upon the success of whose undertakings largely depended the future financial prosperity of our great Indian Empire."Nothing had been advanced in the debate with which he concurred more cordially than he did in the concluding remarks of the right hon. Gentleman the First Commissioner of Works. As he had said, the principle which ought to guide us in all attempts to reform Indian administration was this—that we should, if possible, endeavour to concentrate responsibility more than we had done hitherto."—[Ibid. 1505–6.]
Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—( Lord George Hamilton.)
, in moving, as an Amendment—
said, he thought a strange illusion had come over the Government. He had often observed that when the Session was about to come to an end, Bills, which at other times would be considered of great importance, dwindled into simple measures of course, and were allowed in many cases to pass without opposition. The Bill now before them was one of that description. There was a great discrepancy between the statements of the noble Marquess who had introduced the Bill in "another place," and the noble Lord the Under Secretary who had now moved its second reading. The Under Secretary had tried to make out that the Bill was small and unimportant; but upon that point he preferred to take the word of the Secretary of State himself. That Nobleman had distinctly declarad that the Bill was an important one, and that it raised important questions of policy. Well, if that view of the question were correct, the House had a right to protest against the way in which so important a Bill had been treated by the present Government. How was it treated, to begin with, in the House of Lords? Not a word was said upon it, either upon the first or the second reading; and when it reached Committee, the whole discussion did not make more than a couple of columns in the daily papers. As if that were not enough, they were now asked on the 29th of July, and in an exhausted House, to proceed with its consideration. That was not a proper or a statesman-like way of treating such a great measure. A change so vast ought to have been submitted to Parliament in a manner that was more worthy of it. India would be affected by it for generations to come, and her expenditure would be influenced; and that being the case, more circumspection should have been exercised. The noble Lord the Under Secretary of State for India seemed to be surprised that he (Mr. Fawcett) should bring forward his Amendment; but he thought it his bounden duty to do so. He was, as the noble Lord said some time ago, an independent critic of Indian finance, and he assured him that he had no intention whatever to reject the Bill, had it been brought forward at a proper time. It would involve him in a responsibility he was not warranted in assuming, if he were to move the rejection of a Bill involving an important question of policy, the decision of which, as he had said, might affect India for many years to come; and his contention, therefore, was, not that they should reject the Bill, but that they should insist on all information relating to that policy being laid before them. This was not an unreasonable contention. He did not assume, as the Under Secretary seemed to think it was necessary he should, that the Bill was opposed by Lord Northbrook; whose opinion, indeed, he did not know, and with whom he had not had any communication; but the Secretary of State had said that the Viceroy was unfavourable to it; that declaration had been repeated again and again by some of the most intimate Friends of the Viceroy, and he really wanted to know what the Viceroy's opinions were, and whether he thought this the best way of carrying out the change; whether there was unanimity of opinion between the Secretary of State and the Viceroy, and between the Secretary of State and his Council. As an independent Member, he should not venture to offer his own opinion in opposition to an agreement of official opinion: but, at present, the House was asked to pass a Bill without being informed whether the Viceroy was favourable or unfavourable to it, and before they knew the opinions of the practical and able men by whom the Secretary of State was advised. If it were said the Bill ought to be accepted as a mark of confidence in the Marquess of Salisbury, he admitted the zeal and ability of the noble Lord, but he also recognized those of Lord Northbrook, whose solicitude for the welfare of India was equal to that of the Secretary of State. Uninfluenced by political or personal friendship for Lord North-brook, with whom he did not remember he had ever spoken, he believed that noble Lord, by his calmness and firm-ness, had guided India through a terrible crisis, in which less discretion might have been very disastrous to the future of India. His correspondents, who for three or four years had been writing gloomily and hopelessly about Indian finance, now expressed great confidence in the financial administration of Lord Northbrook, and said that, if he were not interfered with from home, in a short time he would place Indian finance on a satisfactory and sound position. No one who had watched his career could doubt he had got hold of the secret of managing the finances of India. He recognized the fact that India was an extremely poor country, and that her finances required to be managed with the utmost caution. If the Bill effected a most important change in the Government over which Lord Northbrook presided, if, as the Secretary of State said, he was unfavourable to it, and if the Under Secretary was obliged to admit he did not know whether Lord Northbrook was or was not favourable—would not they pursue a course more respectful to Lord Northbrook, if they deferred the passing of the Bill until they had ascertained what his opinions were? Lord Lawrence, the only survivor of the illustrious men who had been Governors General of India, who spent 40 years there, and 25 in the Public Works Department, in the course of the debate in the other House, earnestly entreated the Marquess of Salisbury to wait until Lord Northbrook's opinion was made known; but no notice was taken of the appeal, and the Bill was instantly passed by the majority whom the noble Marquess had at his back. It was impossible to understand the Bill, and many Peers supported it under a misconception. The debate in the other House proceeded on the assumption that the clause which they were now told was permissive was obligatory, and that the result would certainly be an addition to the Council. Lords Strathnairn and Sandhurst based their support on the supposition that there would be an addition of one to the Council, and the Under Secretary now said that that might not be the case. Therefore, they did not know whether the Council was to be increased or if it was not. As far as he could gather, the opinion of Lord Mayo, which would carry weight, rested entirely on the supposition that the Council was to be increased. In spite of the precedents quoted against him, he believed there was not one instance in which a Secretary of State had introduced a Bill of this kind without first ascertaining the opinion of his Council; he might not be legally bound to consult them, but he was bound to do so by precedent, and by the obvious meaning of the Act. If an addition was made to the Council of the Governor General, the first effect of the Bill would be to entail a charge on the Revenues of India, and the indirect effect would be a great additional expenditure on public works. On matters of finance, the authority of the Council was coordinate with that of the Secretary of State, and if the Council chose, they could make the Bill null and void if it passed, because they could veto the salary. There was no analogy whatever between the position of the Permanent Under Secretaries of the Home Office or the War Office and the Secretary of State's Council, because he did not act in his individual capacity; but what was done was done by him in Council; and oven if he should have regarded the advice of his Council as superfluous, their opinions were not superfluous to Members of the House. If they had been given and had been favourable to the Bill, he would not have offered any opposition to it. If, however, they were to pass it on the word of the Secretary of State, they were reduced to the position of deliberating, without having before them elements of a proper discussion, and of registering the decree of an individual Minister. The speeches of the Secretary of State and of the Under Secretary were entirely different. The former alarmed the Indian public by foreshadowing great schemes; the latter advocated the Bill as effecting a simple and obvious administrative change. If it had been presented at the first as it was now, it would not have attracted so much attention in India. The debate in the other House had been read and commented on in India; the Bill had been unanimously condemned; and he was advised that an influential Petition against it from the mercantile community of India was on its way to England. The Secretary of State admitted that it was condemned in official circles. The Secretary of State spoke of irrigation schemes involving the expenditure of £40,000,000, and the impression produced was, that the author of those gigantic schemes had gained the confidence of the Secretary of State and was to be appointed to carry them out. If a Minister were rushing hurriedly into extravagant expenditure, the House could render great service by en-forcing caution and inspiring prudence. He adhered to every word he had said about the waste and the mismanagement in the Public Works Department and the necessity of concentrating responsibility; but if such an official as the Secretary of State pointed out were to be appointed, extravagance would be intensified and responsibility weakened by taking away that of the Governor General. If they were going to send out a great engineer, an enthusiastic projector—a Haussman or a Brunel—he would be anxious to immortalize him-self, regardless of cost, and extravagance just now would be perilous. It might involve bankruptcy, or the necessity of imposing taxes on a people so burdened that additional pressure might endanger the tranquillity of the country. The Secretary of State, anticipating an expenditure of £80,000,000 or £90,000,000 on public works said, that railways and irrigation works in India must necessarily pay, either in interest on the cost of construction, or in the general prosperity of the country. An estimated expenditure of £80,000,000 or£100,000,000 might be safely set down to result in the outlay of £160,000,000 or £200,000,000, and where was the money to come from? If £100,000,000 were laid out and returned 1 per cent. where was the remaining 4 per cent to come from? England had superfluous wealth, and the Revenue could easily be raised a million or two; but in India the resources of taxation were exhausted, and it would sorely try the people to tax them more in order to make up any deficiency. That opinion was expressed and confirmed by the Governor of Madras, the Commissioner of Nagpore, Lord Canning, Lord Mayo, and Sir George Campbell; and it must be remembered that the population of India was not homogeneous, and that to tax the whole population for a local deficiency would be like taxing the people of Russia for a work in France or England. By permanent settlements we had surrendered all increase in the value of land, and the increase of that value, by railways and irrigation works, would go into the pockets of the zemindars, while it came out of those of all taxpayers. We treated the people of India as if they had no engineering ability; but native engineers had constructed enduring aqueducts which were remunerative under native management, while the costly works of the European engineers had rapidly given way, and were pecuniarily very unsuccessful. Natives had constructed works which had lasted 1,600 or 2,000 years. On the other hand, we had made the Madras Irrigation Works at a cost of £1,600,000, and the banks were not strong enough to hold the water. Only 1,500 instead of 100,000 acres were irrigated, and the undertaking did not half pay expenses. Again, the Orissa Irrigation Works cost £2,700,000, and irrigated 14,000 instead of 1,500,000 acres, while the supply of water exceeded the demand, for the Natives would not use it. We did not make any allowance for the genius and instincts of the people. They cared more for cheapness than for rapidity, and therefore preferred water conveyance to railway transport. If it were the object of the Bill to appoint simply a financier—like Mr. Wilson, Mr. Laing, or Mr. Massey—there would be no objection to that; but the evil was, the House did not know whether the member to be appointed was to be a financier or an engineer. He asked the other day the opinion of one whose name would carry with it the highest authority with respect to the Bill, and the reply was, that if it were intended to send out as Minister of Public Works a skilled financier, who would have nothing to do with their projection, but who would simply be responsible, as Mr. Wilson was, for the Finance Department, the Bill might prove extremely advantageous to India, but that if the new Minister were to be a designer and engineer of works, then the control would be taken out of the hands of the Governor General; and, the Minister going out with all the prestige and influence of a man appointed by the Secretary of State, he felt satisfied that there would be in the Department far more waste and mismanagement than now existed. That being so, he for one, looking at Indian questions from an independent point of view, hoped the House would do nothing to impair the authority of the Governor General, who was on the spot, who was less subject to political influences than the Secretary of State, and who was in a position to give an unbiassed opinion on the matters which came before him for decision. He, however, was afraid the Bill would be interpreted by the people of India as a serious weakening of the prestige and authority of the Governor General. Of course, no slight was intended towards the Viceroy; but if it wore, he could imagine no more effectual way of offering it than by pressing on the Bill, heedless of the warnings and entreaties of such a man as Lord Northbrook. Bearing in mind the services of that noble Lord, it was not, at all events, too much, he thought, to ask the House to wait until it ascertained what the view was which he took of the measure. The hon. Gentleman concluded by moving the Amendment of which he had given Notice."That, in the opinion of this House, it would he inexpedient to proceed with this Bill until the opinion of the Governor General of India in reference to it has been ascertained and laid upon the Table of the House,"
, in seconding the Amendment, said, he wished to point out that the Bill enabled the Crown to nominate the Minister of Public Works in India, who would have a seat in the Cabinet of the Viceroy, with a salary of £8,000 a-year. This officer would relieve the Governor General of important duties; but it did not appear that the great official in question desired relief, for he did not seem to believe that in the multitude of counsellors there was safety. The Bill came before them under peculiar circumstances, because it was neither desired by Lord Northbrook, nor had the measure been approved by the Council of India, who had not been consulted as to the expediency of the change. If the Indian Council had approved of the Bill, it would have better deserved the attention of Parliament. The reason alleged for the introduction of the Bill was, that enormous sums had for the last 10 or 15 years been spent on works of irrigation in India, undertakings which it was supposed would be remunerative, but which it was now found were productive only of loss. Instances had been given in "another place" of great losses sustained in the Madras Water Supply, the Orissa Works, and, no doubt, the Orissa Works—an old ac-quaintance of his—must stand the Government in a large sum, while the Jumna Canal and the Punjab Eastern Canal had been spoken of as huge adventures not paying anything like the interest on the cost of their construction. A list of miscellaneous works had been furnished in a public Return, the construction of which had been estimated to cost £4,000,000, while the outlay had been £6,000,000 or £7,000,000, and these proved unremunerative by reason of the increased expenditure. Now, he was glad to find the Secretary of State making charges of gross mismanagement against the Public Works Department in India, for when on former occasions he assailed that Department for its extravagance, and for the false data on which its calculations were based, he had not met with the smallest sympathy from any public functionary in that House. It would therefore be readily believed that he was disposed to support any measure which would curtail the mischievous action of the Department. In that view, he would have gladly supported almost any Bill that tended to that result; but as he was perfectly satisfied that such a proposal as that under discussion was rather calculated to extend indefinitely the idle waste and wild extravagance of its proceedings, he should therefore give to it his most active opposition. He had seen the Bill advocated in the public newspapers upon the ground that it was necessary to appoint an additional member of Council because the existing members were greatly overworked. If that were so, however, would not Lord Northbrook himself have been the very first person to bring the matter under the notice of the Secretary of State, and to ask for relief? The argument was founded on some delusion; it was at variance with all the ideas he had imbibed in a long career of service in the East. His own impression was, that when a gentleman attained the high position of a member of Council in India, he had never any very enormous amount of labour imposed upon him. Its members were generally speaking elderly persons, who drew their salaries, enjoyed their dignity, and were always ready to inform their friends that they were underpaid and borne down by the indefatigable discharge of their official duties. That, however, was all gammon. The ordinary Council of the Governor General consisted of seven members, and it was, he thought, sufficiently numerous to perform all the duties which it had to discharge. The Legal and Financial members; had not very much to do, and besides, there was an Extraordinary Council, which consisted of eight or ten members, with considerable salaries, whose services might, in his opinion, be dispensed with without much loss to a single person in India except themselves. This extraordinary Council was engaged for several months in passing legislative Acts, but upon the value of their services all classes were agreed. The prayer throughout India was that the plague of legislation, which had perplexed and harassed the land for the last 20 years, should, if possible, be stayed. In "another place," the proposal to nominate an additional Councillor in India had been advocated on the ground that a similar arrangement made in another Department had been a great success. The Department in question was the Finance Department. It was alleged that in bygone times the Minister of Finance was always taken from the Bengal Civil Service, and that under the guidance of these officials, Indian finance became hopelessly embarrassed. Under these circumstances, it was determined by the Cabinet of Lord Palmerston to send a Minister of Finance from Eng-land to Calcutta, and the choice fell upon Mr. Wilson, then a subordinate in the Treasury in Downing Street. It was argued, under the auspices of the new Minister, and by reason of the fresh taxation imposed, that order was evoked from chaos, and a surplus revenue was attained. Now, he (Mr. Smollett) simply denied that the facts were as stated. He broadly asserted that, until 1860, there was never an Indian Minister of Finance at all. The Governors General of India up to 1860 managed the revenues and were their own financiers, and any statesman competent to fill the position of Viceroy ought to be his own Minister of Finance. Surely, Lord Northbrook must know more upon the question of Indian taxation than any person who it might be contemplated to take from the Treasury, or any hon. Member of that House, on whom it might be desired to confer a large salary with nothing to do. Lord William Bentinck, Lord Dalhousie, and Lord Ellenborough were their own Finance Ministers, and so dealt with the resources of the country, that there was far less of profusion and jobbery than was now rife. There were, no doubt, frequent deficits before 1860, but they arose from the warlike expeditions in which the Governors General found themselves involved. Under Lord William Bentinck, whose administration was a peaceful one, there was a large surplus, and a considerable amount of debt had been paid off; but some of the most disastrous and extravagant wars had from time to time been forced on India by the Government of England, as, for instance, the Afghan war on Lord Auckland. Notably, however, and in times of peace, the finances of India, without the and of a Minister, were managed with great economy. In 1860, it was true, the revenues were found to be in a state of much entanglement, but that arose from the Mutiny in Bengal, and the necessity of maintaining something like 100,000 British troops in the country for a period of three or four years. When peace was again restored, and the Army reduced, the revenues of India began to resume their former normal position, and the income tax, which would never have been imposed by anyone who understood India, was abolished. We had, however, not paid off during the last 13 years a single shilling of debt, but for that he did not blame Mr. Wilson and those who succeeded him in office, for they were unable to control the extravagant expenditure on public works. As to the alleged financial surplus for last year, he would merely observe that it had been obtained by a juggle of the figures by excluding from view the £5,000,000 expended on what were called Public Works Extraordinary—but which were extraordinary only in their magnitude—and the amount of the loss which they entailed, and the sums laid out in famine relief. In 1873–4, there was an excess of expenditure over income of, at least, £7,000,000, and that being so, he could not understand how it could be argued that the finances of India were at the present moment in a very favourable position. That position, indeed, appeared to him to assume a rather alarming aspect, when he took into account the appalling sums which were to be expended on public works in the future. He found from the latest Indian Budget that Lord Northbrook, in July, 1873, had set apart a sum of £22,000,000 for expenditure on extraordinary works, the money to be borrowed and the disbursement to be spread over a term of five years ending in 1878. The programme had, he might add, been sketched out before there was any apprehension of famine; but notwith-standing existing circumstances, it would seem that it was still to be adhered to. Again, the newspapers spoke of a great work which had been projected by an engineer of immense genius—a man whose ability, according to Lord Salisbury, was above all praise—a work which it was intended to carry out without delay. Now, he had the greatest dislike of engineers of genius, for his experience was that whenever a genius set himself down to interfere in public business in this country, he generally made a mess of it. And what was the estimate for the work according to the newspapers? £40,000,000 to begin with. Some persons might think that a fleabite, but he thought it a very large amount to venture on an undertaking which, before it was completed, would cost £60,000,000, while the odds were three to one that it would prove a signal failure. But this was not all. They were now told that although 6,000 miles of railway had been completed during the last 18 years, 9,000 miles more were absolutely required; and the Government of India, so fertile in its resources, had declared its readiness to supply the want. Public companies were no longer required, nor subsidized shareholders, who took all the profit and incurred no risk whatever. These 9,000 miles of railway were to be laid down by the Department of Public "Works, which had shown itself so capable of spending public money during the last 18 years. The Secretary of State had told them that those railways might be made inexpensively—he estimated their cost at £36,000,000. But he (Mr. Smollett) would not admit that this was a sufficient estimate. He did not believe they could be completed under £50,000,000 or £60,000,000. Therefore, for railways and irrigation works from£100,000,000 to£120,000,000 would have to be raised for India by loan during the next 20 years, and that was entirely apart from the annual outlay of India—namely, £48,000,000. These calculations were appalling, and he would not sanction by his vote the appointment of a Minister to carry out these projects, many of which might be of his own designing. The projects of expenditure in India in view at the present time were indeed doubly alarming when viewed in connection with the admissions of the present Secretary of State. Twenty years ago, when he (Mr. Smollett) was in India, where he had passed many years of his life, the apostle of irrigation was Colonel Arthur Cotton, now General Sir Arthur Cotton, for all his old acquaintances, though he considered them very common people, came back to this country with handles to their names. Sir Arthur Cotton, in 1854, was constantly suggesting to Lord Dalhousie the propriety of borrowing £20,000,000, for the regeneration of India, to begin with. The money was to be expended wholly on irrigation works, for the gallant officer had an awful horror of railways and of their projectors. Projects of this nature were not to be wondered at, coming from Sir Arthur Cotton, for that amiable enthusiast laboured under a hallucination that irrigation works would yield at once, on an average 100 per cent profit, and millions hereafter, to the lucky cultivators. But it did strike him with astonishment to find that the present Secretary of State, who had much more solid and truthful views than the apostle of irrigation, should apparently advocate a gigantic expenditure on works of this description in 1874, for what did Lord Salisbury say? He spoke first of the Railway Department. He said—
Now, he (Mr. Smollett) had never been a devotee to that superstition; and he had been superseded in India because he could not believe in such delusive statements. For 25 years he had, in season and out of season, denounced that superstition as a base imposture; but he was glad now to find Secretaries of State coming forward and admitting that he had been perfectly correct. He could not sanction the career of expenditure which had been shadowed forth, and he trusted the House of Commons, by rejecting this Bill, would place a veto on such extravagant schemes. He adhered to all the opinions that he had over entertained upon the expenditure in India on public works. He was one of those who felt that men who had spent from £14,000,000 to £20,000,000, in recent years, on public works which yielded nothing, should be brought to justice. The Government of India should be compelled to pause, till, by economy, retrenchment, and reform, they had acquired a surplus which might be ex-pended on public works without detriment to the finance of the future. For what, after all, were these public works but "gigantic speculations," framed by ignorant engineers, and carried out by means of loans, the interest on which must be levied by increased taxation imposed upon an already overburdened population. If eager speculators and sanguino philanthropists desired to see great undertakings matured without any delay, he (Mr. Smollett) would offer no opposition, upon one condition, and that condition was, that the interest on the money borrowed should not be guaranteed in future, to be paid from the ordinary revenues of India, but should be defrayed from the proceeds of the works themselves, when they yielded any true returns. If capitalists were not prepared to lend money on the security of the works themselves, that might be taken as a proof that the public had no faith in the honesty of the undertakings, and if that was the public feeling on the safety of the security, he denied the right of Government to spend the money of the people on speculations to be made from taxation, on the imposition of which that people had no voice. These were the principles of honesty, prudence, and commonsense; the policy he indicated was the only policy which would reconcile the people to the Government and foster the loyalty of the mass of Indians in the alien rule under which they lived. Such a policy would take away all anxiety for the future, and place the finances of India on a basis of prosperity. For those reasons he begged to second the Amendment of the hon. Member for Hackney."Those works, though they had conferred great advantage on India, were, commercially speaking, not profitable. Many of them did not yield the interest of the money borrowed for their creation." Then, with regard to irrigation works, he said "A happy superstition had prevailed for the last 10 years in England and India, that it was only necessary for the Government to lay down such works to produce immense profits to the State, and magnificent returns to the people. But this delusion had been dissipated by the stern and inexorable logic of facts."
To leave cut from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "in the opinion of this House, it would he inexpedient to proceed with this Bill until the Opinion of the Governor General of India in reference to it has been ascertained and laid upon the Table of the House,"—(Mr. Fawcett,)
Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
We have wandered over a very wide field, and I have more than once during the discussion felt inclined to say in the words of an English classic—" Sorry to interrupt so much learning, but I think I've heard all that before." I should like, Sir, in a very few sentences, to recall the attention of the House to the not very large question which is legitimately before us—the question whether we should or should not delay this Bill. I do not think we should. I have no prejudice in its favour. It is unlike two other Indian measures which have passed this year—no child of the late, it is the child of the present, Government. It is no part of my business to defend that Government, but we should be fair, even to our adversaries. The Government, after all, are our fellow creatures, and it really does seem to me too hard upon them to blame them—as they have been blamed in the course of this discussion—because the debate in "another place" only occupied two columns of the morning papers. Why, if that proves anything, it surely only proves that noble and learned persons in "another place "saw no particular harm in the Bill. Then, again, objection has been taken to our proceeding with its consideration, because the Secretary of State spoke of it in "another place" as a Bill of much importance, while the Under Secretary has spoken of it here as a Bill of minor importance. That is no valid objection, for, in truth, both statements were perfectly accurate. The Bill, as introduced in "another place," contained a clause of the most discreditable character. I wish to express no opinion for or against that clause; but I do say that it involved most serious issues, and that we might well have discussed it for a couple of evenings. That clause, however, has disappeared. It is no part of the Bill before us, which has shrunk through its disappearance to very moderate dimensions. Again, a great deal has been made of the figure of 40,000,000, which occurred in the speech of the Secretary of State, as given in a morning paper. Well, I, too, saw that figure of 40,000,000, and was, I need not say, startled by it; but I took the surely not very unnatural course of asking the first authorized per-son I chanced to moot about it, and was, of course, informed that it was a mere mistake of the reporter. With regard to the measure itself, it surely does stand to reason that, as the Governor General has a great deal to do, and his Council has a great deal to do—the hon. Member opposite (Mr. Smollett) said not too much, but that is very doubtful—and as the business of the Public Works Department has enormously increased, and as, further, it has certainly not been the most successful Department of our Eastern affairs, there is a primâfacie case for trying the same experiment which has succeeded so well with our legal system, and so fairly with our finances. That experiment was the creation of a member of Council specially charged with looking after that particular Department. No doubt, every now and then you will have a Viceroy, who, like Lord Mayo, will take a special interest in public works, but very often you will have Viceroys—aye, and first-rate Viceroys too—who will have no special interest in public works, and whose minds will he occupied by quite a different class of subjects. Who can say that when the Viceroy was fully occupied, perhaps with pressing political business, it would be otherwise than extremely convenient to have a member of Council taking special charge of public works? A good deal has been said on either side of the House with reference to the personal opinion of the present Viceroy with regard to the Bill. I am rather sorry that topic has been introduced at all; but as it has been introduced, and as very strong statements have been made on my own side of the House, I think it is only just for me to say that from personal knowledge, derived from sources quite unconnected with those possessed by the noble Lord opposite, I can confirm what he said, and assure the House that the Viceroy has no strong opinion about this Bill, and has expressed a wish that his personal Friends should not vote against it, in consequence of an erroneous impression that he is opposed to it. I say that I am sorry this topic was introduced at all, for the person who is immediately responsible to Parliament is not the Viceroy, but the Secretary of State, and the surest way for this House to maintain a control over Indian affairs is to maintain his responsibility intact. If we once begin to insist that the Secretary of State must show to us that his measures are approved by the Viceroy, what is to prevent a Secretary of State saying to us—"True, such and such a measure has not been successful, but you must not blame me; it was approved by the Viceroy." Then, again, the Secretary of State has been censured because he did not consult his Council. The legal point, I understand, is given up. No one says that he was in duty bound to consult his Council; but it is said he ought to have consulted them. Well, some of them he did consult. That I happen to know. Let is it really to be maintained that this House is to lay down rules as to the particular method in which the Secretary of State is to use the assistance of his Council? That would be just another way of weakening his responsibility and our own power. I know not, Sir, that there are any more objections to the Bill to be noticed other than those dealt with in the speech of the noble Lord who addressed us, if I may be permitted to say so, with so much ability; and that being so, and it being now 10 minutes past 4 o'clock on a July afternoon, I think the best thing I can do is to sit down.
hoped that the House would permit him to offer some explanation in reference to his views upon the Bill. When it was originally introduced into the House of Lords, it was of a much more extensive character than it now was; for now it only provided for the increase of the Governor General's Council. It came to them, however, as being a Bill of very great importance, because it might impose a vast burden upon Indian finances, now so little able to bear the burden, and also because it would largely affect the relations of the Governor General to his Council. Upon both these grounds, he thought that the Bill was one of the most important that could be brought under the consideration of the House. He did not, however, think that they could entertain the Amendment which had been placed before them. The Secretary of State for India was responsible to Parliament for the administration of India, and it was to the administration at homo that the Governor General was responsible. No doubt, the House was not in possession of the opinion of the Governor General; but what the hon. Member (Mr. Fawcett) said was, that although the Bill was brought forward with the full weight and authority of the responsible Minister of the Crown, yet they should not proceed with it, until they had the opinion of the Governor General, who was not the Minister immediately responsible to Parliament. He (Sir Seymour Fitzgerald) however, put the Motion of the hon. Member (Mr. Fawcett) on one side, because the House surely would not consent to have the opinion of the Governor General inter-posed between the Secretary of State and the judgment of the House. The first objection to the proposal now made was, that it would increase the number of members of the Governor General's Council. Now, he had himself had many confidential communications with Lord Mayo as to the necessity which that statesman saw for increasing the number of the Council. It was most objectionable that the Governor General should himself be charged with the administration of any particular Department, his proper function being that of exercising a general control, and nothing could more interfere with his general efficiency than that he should be charged with the administration of any public Department. Further, if he had the control of any particular Department, it would place his Council in a most difficult position when proposals came from the Department with which the Governor General himself was charged, because they would hardly like to attempt to control him. The Governor General however, must himself take the control of some Department, whilst his Council should continue so small in number as it now was. It had been said that there was the Legislative Council; but the members of that body had been appointed solely with reference to legislation, and not at all in connection with administration. He took it to be clear that the Governor General's Council must be increased, and that the Governor General should no longer be charged with the administration of any special Department. Then it was said that it was necessary to have some one per-son responsible for the public works in India, and he did not think that there was any one who would not say that some one person should be made responsible for these public works. Now he came to the consideration whether the proposition of the Government was one that should in every respect meet with approval. Though he was quite prepared to vote for the second reading of the Bill, he did not concur as to the particular method of appointment of this officer, though he agreed that there should be such an appointment. He did not believe that there could be anything which would be more unfortunate than an addition to these special Members of Council who were to a considerable extent removed from the control of the Governor General and of the Council itself. The appointment of the legal member of the Council had not by any means met with universal approval in India. It had brought on an anxious feeling among all classes in the Indian community which it would be very difficult to eradicate. The gentleman appointed was no doubt an eminent jurist; but he was inclined to try experiments and to meddle with the laws of inheritance, succession, and marriage, upon a theory of his own, that he could reduce them to a system that would be satisfactory to a jurist of education like himself; but not very likely to be productive of much satisfaction in India. He therefore thought it desirable to appoint an additional member of Council in order that he might take charge of the Public Works Department and be responsible for it; but it was a different thing that he should be sent out in a position different from that of the other members of Council and be relieved from the control of the Governor General. There was no ground for the terms of unmeasured condemnation in which the hon. Member for Hackney had referred to the extravagant estimates of some of the public works in India which had been in most instances largely exceeded. Had public works in this country always been carried out within their original estimates? The House in which they were now sitting was estimated at something under £1,000,000, but it cost more than £3,000,000. Then, as to railways, the expenditure had been under the control of the most eminent engineers, yet there was not a great bridge or a great work where the work had not been inefficiently clone, and whore it had not cost twice as much as the original estimate. The public works had been very expensively administered, but no remedy for that would be found in the present Bill. His hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Mr. Smollett) asserted that the personnel ought to be diminished; he (Sir Seymour Fitzgerald), on the contrary, maintained that it ought to be doubled, if they would secure economy and efficiency. In the Presidency of Bombay, a man sometimes had the supervision of a district 150 miles in length and 50 or 60 in breadth, and it was impossible for him to exercise that minute control which was necessary where an engineer had to do with native contractors. Another effect of a weak personnel was, that when the health of one man gave way an entire change was necessary. The new superintendent did not know what his predecessor had done, plans were altered, estimates were increased, and it took six or seven years to execute works which ought to have been completed in two or three years, and at very much less expense. It was therefore quite clear that the Board of Public Works in India did not deserve the unmitigated reproach cast upon it by the hon. Member for Hackney, for it was absolutely impossible for the present limited staff to exercise perfect supervision over such an extensive area. Before sitting down, he wished to say a word on a matter personal to himself. In the last Session of Parliament, the hon. Member (Mr. Fawcett) had referred to the very large expenditure connected with the Government Palace at Poonah. The Returns would be found in Papers which had been laid upon the Table. It was stated that he (Sir Seymour Fitzgerald) was responsible for that expenditure; but he wished to take that opportunity of stating that for the bulk of that expenditure, he had no responsibility of any sort, kind, or description. The greater portion of the works was completed and occupied long before he received the appointment. As soon as he arrived in India, he found that the works were being carried on without plan or estimates, and he ordered them to be stopped until plans and estimates were prepared. He was told that that could not be done, because there were contracts which would be interfered with. He then insisted that estimates should be sent in, and the first representation made to the Secretary of State for India, as to the enormous expenditure on these works, was made by his direction within five or six months of his arrival in India. In saying that, he did not wish to throw any responsibility upon his distinguished predecessor. All who knew him would agree that while he was liberal, not to say profuse, where the interests of the public required it, he would grudge the outlay of even a single rupee upon his own convenience or the dignity of his office. It was only from the fact that his predecessor was just leaving India, and that he (Sir Seymour Fitzgerald) was not able to go up the country while those works were going on, that that large expenditure was incurred. He did not hesitate to state that a Despatch more inaccurate and unjust than that of the late Secretary of State on this subject was never signed by any Minister of State. That Despatch spoke of the large expenditure incurred, yet added, that after it had been condemned, a further expenditure had been incurred by the Government of Bombay. That was wholly inaccurate. What happened was this—Long before he went to India certain works that were not part of Government House were in progress, giving accommodation to the clerks and persons in charge of the Military and Irrigation Departments. After this profuse expenditure had been the subject of remark, the Government of India ordered that a portion of the cost, which had been debited to the Military or Irrigation Department, should be written back and debited to the general scheme of Government House. The Papers were all sent home to the Secretary of State. They were in his possession, and he was aware that that had been done by direction of the Government of India. Yet the late Secretary of State treated that as a new and unauthorized expenditure. Pungent remarks had been made by the Press both in England and in India, and it was due to himself to ask permission to give this explanation. With regard to the general question, he should be sorry if the Bill, in increasing the number of the Council, did not leave the power of selection of the member of the Council who was to have charge of the public works in the hands of the Governor General. They, however, had been in-formed that the new member of the Council appointed by the Secretary of State, and to a special Department with special functions, was an engineer. If that was true, they were doing a most unwise thing. What was wanted in the Council of the Governor General was not a man of professional eminence. Of course, there must be a proper inspection by competent persons directly responsible to the Governor General of all plans of proposed public worts and irrigation; but the questions which came before the Council were not those of engineering, but of general policy. Men trained in the civil Department might have the special qualities required in a far higher degree than men of the utmost eminence in a professional point of view. When a question came before the Council—say of irrigation—to cost a given sum, the point to be decided was how money was to be found to pay interest on that cost. He knew that when it was seen that the administration was unsatisfactory, and the condition of the people deplorable, people here were in the habit of saying that it was because there was not enough money spent on public works and irrigation. The consequence of that ill-informed public opinion was, that large expenditure had been entered into, for which the Government of India was made responsible, and for which there was no proper pro-vision. Believing that it was necessary that the Council should be increased in number, he should vote for the second reading.
said, that while he coincided generally with the views of the last speaker, he could not believe it to be wise or expedient that any member of the Council should have the independent power which the Bill gave to the new Minister of Public Works. The Governor General ought to be able to look into every administrative Department. So far from the Council of the Governor General being increased, he would rather see it reduced, and definite duties and responsibilities imposed upon every member of that Council. The Board of Works had been exceedingly ill managed. The Governor General had specially administered that Department himself, and its failure financially and professionally would not have been so long concealed, if it had not been known that the Governor General was at its head and entirely responsible for it. Was it right that such a vast amount of detailed responsibility should rest upon the Governor General? Lord Mayo, who did his duty nobly and worked laboriously, complained of the amount and extent of the work. Yet, at that time, Lord Mayo had the assistance of a distinguished engineer officer in conducting the public works.
said, that people naturally asked what were the circumstances which suggested the introduction of a Bill of that importance at so late a period of the Session? His own opinion was, that the Secretary of State for India had been influenced by the extraordinary facts disclosed in the Correspondence which, about the time of the second reading of the Bill in the House of Lords, was laid upon the Table. That Correspondence disclosed numerous cases of grave omissions in the execution of designed works, and in carrying out the orders of the superior authority, nearly amounting to contumacy. The House was well aware that the Civil Service expenditure in India had been brought within proper control; but they also knew that by no process of arrangement had they been able to keep the Public Works Department in that order which they all desired to see. It was admitted that that was the weak point of their administration in India; and now more than ever, because that Department had to deal not merely with surplus Revenue—always a small sum—but with vast sums raised on loan nominally for works which were expected to prove productive, but which unfortunately were generally productive of no-thing but disappointment. It was obvious that no Government could go on laying burdens on the Revenue, without having any idea whence the interest on those burdens was to be derived. The question, then, was, how far the Bill now before the House would correct these evils? He agreed with what fell from the late Governor of Bombay (Sir Seymour Fitzgerald), that if it were proposed by the Bill to nominate an additional member of the Council, simply as an addition to the strength of the administrative Department, then it would be productive of great good; but, on the contrary, if he were a purely professional man, with the idea of creating a great name by identifying himself with vast and gigantic public works in India, the Bill would be a great mistake. The Council, as a whole, was responsible for public works, and the member specially appointed to see to them should be completely subordinate. There should be no room for the idea of an independent authority—a sort of Imperial Brunei. The Secretary of State, they knew, took the greatest possible interest in this proposition; and he had, no doubt, thoroughly considered, not only the appointment, but how it should be carried out. It would be wrong, therefore, to thwart the noble Lord in his plans, and he should vote for the second reading. At the same time he reserved the right to move certain limitations as to the power of this official, in Committee, which might dispel some of the serious misgivings which persons acquainted with India could not help entertaining.
The Bill now before the House has for its object the creation of an additional member of the Governor General's Council. This new member is to be charged with the entire control of the public works there, and so strengthen that Council in its now weakest part. To those who, like myself, have an intimate personal knowledge of India, it was scarcely needed to refer to the Returns which have been laid on the Table of the House. I allude to the Returns showing the large expenditure over original Estimates incurred in the construction of public works in that country. Those discrepancies are chronic, and have supplied food for amusing local gossip for many years past. To the minds of all thinking men, they are a scandal which reflects discredit on our system of government, and constitute an act of gross injustice to the people who are forced to provide the funds for these monuments of extravagant incompetence. The enormous demand which must be made in the immediate future for the construction of public works in India will, beyond all question, seriously affect her finances, but not less will those works, if carried out, as I hope they will be, conduce to the welfare of the population, and the general prosperity of the country. The effect of the appointment of a Member of the Council charged with the supervision and control of all public works will be that for the first time there, we shall have a responsible officer to carry out, on a comprehensive system and in a uniform manner, all the great public works of the country. Among such works may he classed irrigation, the construction of canals, the improvement of the natural watercourses, with the object of making them available for boat navigation at all seasons of the year, the supervision of all the railways already constructed or to be constructed, and all the public buildings of our vast Eastern Empire. We have still 9,000 miles of railway to make, at an estimated cost of £36,000,000, and we have also, by a comprehensive and skilful system of irrigation and strong up of water, to prevent, or at all events to mitigate, any further visits of that scarcity which has recently caused us all so much anxiety. The necessary irrigation works alone will cost no less a sum than £40,000,000 sterling. The heavy task of providing these vast sums is to be laid on the Indian taxpayer, and the House is bound, as far as practicable, to see that the money is honestly and judiciously applied. If we are to go on upon the plan hitherto prevailing in India, by which, as the official Returns show, £6,500,000 are required to satisfy original Estimates of £4,000,000, then we must either make up our minds to increase very largely our already prodigious Estimates, or be content to considerably diminish our plans. It is said by those whose views are unfavourable to the contemplated change, that excess of cost over estimate is common to all parts of the world, and that this country forms no exception. That may be so, but it is no argument against attempting a remedy for a proved evil. Increased cost over estimates in this country may to some extent be accounted for by the sudden and great fluctuations in the price of labour, and the consequent advance in the value of manufactured materials; but that is not so in India. There we have no trades unions or other combinations to increase wages. In no part of the world that I know of can the cost of work as a rule be more accurately estimated. No doubt, since the introduction of railways into that country, there has been an increase in the wages of labour, and I believe the first contractors suffered in consequence. That was owing to a largo and unexpected demand for labour springing up in particular localities, and a rise of wages for ordinary labour took place which has ever since been maintained. The House will observe, by the Correspondence which has been laid on the Table, that although the Marquess of Salisbury has in no measured terms stated his opinion of the officers concerned, only a very feeble excuse is offered on the score of increased prices for labour or materials. The truth is, that unskilfully prepared Estimates, and want of proper control over expenditure by superior authority, is at the bottom of the present state of affairs. Possibly this measure is not so popular in India as its promoters could wish; but the feeling against it is one that might have been anticipated. The change now proposed, if carried out, will doubtless offend many prejudices, and possibly affect some interests. A strict supervision over the disbursement of enormous sums of public money may be distasteful to a limited number, but no opposition of that character ought to have the slightest weight in the discussion of the principle involved in the Bill. I need hardly say that, if the measure now before us passes into law, a great deal, if not everything, will depend on the capabilities, the firmness, and the energy of the man first selected to fill the office, and I have no doubt that is a point which will receive the careful and the earnest attention of the Government. I am far from saying that the fittest man to fill this most important office cannot be found in India. Local knowledge would perhaps be more reliable in this case than that of any other member of the Governor General's Council, for there is no analogy in the requirements of a finance or a legal member and that of a Minister of Public Works. Men of thought imported hence would be best adapted in those first-named cases, whereas a man of action and local know-ledge is indispensable in the last. This is a matter for those who are responsible to this House, and not for the House itself. It is our duty to consider, looking at the magnitude of the interest involved, at our clear duty to the people, and the credit of our administration in India, whether we ought to comply with the wishes of the Government as embodied in this Bill. In my judgment, we ought to look on the proposal as a reliable one, and one that ought to commend itself to every person who has really the interest and welfare of India at heart. I congratulate the noble Marquess on his wisdom and on his courage, for I am not insensible how much of the latter quality was needed to insist on this course. He will receive, as he deserves, the grateful thanks of all those whose knowledge of the country and the people enables them to estimate truly what will be the result of this measure.
hoped he might be allowed to express his regret that the hon. Gentleman (Sir Seymour Fitzgerald) had introduced the subject of Government House at Poonah without giving Notice of his intention to do so.
On the general question of this Bill—introduced to the consideration of the House by my noble Friend the Under Secretary of State for India in so complete a manner, and with ability so distinguished, that it has been recognized on both sides of the House—I have very little to say, except that I hope there will be no division upon the second reading. Vast sums have been expended upon public works in India, and the unsatisfactory manner in which those vast sums have been expended has produced a very general opinion that some protection is requisite. I will only say that the last letter I received from Lord Mayo was upon this subject, to which, indeed, he had often adverted in his correspondence. And there was nothing upon which Lord Mayo insisted as more important and necessary to the administration of India than an appointment of this kind. One or two remarks have been made to which I should like to advert. The first was made by the hon. Member for Hackney, who treated the Bill as a slight upon Lord North-brook, who, he said, had passed through a great crisis with credit and distinction. I am perfectly aware of the conduct of Lord Northbrook during the trying crisis he has had to encounter; but when I come to consider the amount of support received by Lord Northbrook during that trying occasion, I do not think that the present Secretary of State for India can be looked upon as one who has been deficient in that respect. He has, on the contrary, on every occasion given that support to Lord Northbrook, which a person holding his high position was enabled to give with great effect. Therefore, there has been no disposition on the part of the Secretary of State or his Council to be wanting in giving due support to Lord North-brook. I may take it upon myself to say, that before the formation of the present Government, upon an occasion when it was necessary I should express my opinions upon public affairs, I adverted to that great calamity which has occurred in India, and I took that opportunity to do justice to the eminent qualities of Lord Northbrook, which we might have assumed those who had been connected with him by previous ties and similarity of opinion would have hastened to support. The hon. Member for Hackney also said that the proposal would add enormously to the expenditure of India. Necessarily, it will add nothing to that expenditure, and that expression is therefore scarcely justified: nor will any new scheme be added to those already matured and prepared. All the schemes which have been adverted to by the Secretary of State are entirely independent of this appointment, and have been decided upon without reference to it. My right hon. Friend the Member for Horsham (Sir Seymour Fitzgerald), whose opinions would always receive great consideration, has expressed an opinion that the Council ought to be increased, but that no engineer with special knowledge should be appointed. My right hon. Friend admitted that there ought to be an addition to the Council, and as to the individual who might be appointed to the post that is a matter which ought to be left to the Secretary of State in communication, as he now is, with the Viceroy. The Secretary of State will not, of course be determined absolutely by the opinion of the Viceroy, but he will weigh that opinion, and before he makes a final decision will communicate it to the Viceroy. The hon. Member for the West Riding (Mr. Beckett-Denison) objected to the proposal as setting up a new independent authority. I do not see in what light the appointment proposed by the Under Secretary in this Bill can be looked upon as establishing a new independent authority. The Viceroy of India must be supreme in his own Council, and no one for a moment questions that that is a principle upon which the safe administration of our affairs in India entirely depends. In conclusion, I must say, I think the general tone of this debate has been decidedly in favour of the policy recommended by the Under Secretary. There are no doubt objections to details; but there seems a general concurrence of opinion that the vast expenditure upon public works in India should be controlled in a more direct and responsible manner than has hitherto been the case. There seems to be a general opinion that an increase in the Council is justified under the circumstances, though there may be a difference of opinion as to the sort of person who ought to be entrusted with this particular duty. As, however, there seems also to be a general concurrence in the House that it is time for the Homo Government to take some decided step which should control and secure a better administration of the general expenditure of India upon public works, I trust the House will give its hearty support to the second reading of the Bill.
The House divided:—Ayes 171; Noes 52: Majority 119.
Main Question put, and agreed to.
Bill read a second time.
On Question, That the House resolve itself into a Committee on the said Bill on Friday next,
said, he wished to take that opportunity of making a personal explanation to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Horsham (Sir Seymour Fitzgerald), with reference to a statement which he (Mr. Fawcett) made last year in the discussion of the Indian Budget. The right hon. Gentleman seemed to think his name had been hardly used. The circumstances were those—when he alluded to the expenditure of the money in question, he mentioned no names, because in discus-sing such a subject he thought it was better not to do so. He was, however, challenged on the point, and then he mentioned, not the right hon. Gentleman's name, but that of his predecessor, as the person who was Governor of Bombay when the expenditure commenced. An hon. Gentleman, however, soon after came down to the House, and said that the right hon. Gentleman's Predecessor was not in Bombay during any portion of the time that the expenditure was made. Of course, he (Mr. Fawcett) accepted that assurance. He hoped, however, the right hon. Gentleman would do him the justice to admit that there was nothing inaccurate in his figures. Nothing was further from his intention than to cast any personal blame upon any one who did not deserve it.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill committed for Friday at Two of the clock.