THE DEBATE ON THE INDIAN COUNCIL. T HERE is a kind
of bore not unfrequently met in society who has a mania for "broad topics." He gives you while waiting for dinner his judgment on the New Settle- ment Act, wants to discuss the Church while the soup is; getting cold, asks you, just as coffee appears, to explain Indian land tenure, and button-holes you as you take leave to prove that the public ought to be interested in the fate of' Schleswig-Holstein. Mr. Mills, the member for Taunton, is- not entitled to that reputation, but he played just that part on Tuesday night, asking as he did for a Royal Commission to' inquire "whether any and what alterations could advan- tageously be adopted in the Home Government of India as con- stituted by the Act 21 and 22 Victoria, cap. 106." Mr. Mills, that is, at the fag end of a stupid session, with no. pressure from without, and no encouragement from within„ asks the House of Commons to consider whether the scheme of government adopted to control another Government which, seven thousand miles away, controls a sixth of the human race, is, or is not, the wisest conceivable. He does not quote„ as statesmen did after the mutinies, any unmistakeable break- down, or point to any imminent or visible danger, or promise any immediate tangible advantage to the community or the Government. Indeed, he did not exactly affirm that he- thought any change wanted at all. He believed, indeed, that the Secretary of State had too much power because he could dispense with his Council, but "whether a remedy was to be found by relieving the members of the Council from their duties altogether, or by giving them greater power, he did not pretend to decide." Parliament, in other words, is to assert that some evil not distinctly specittedis to be removed in some way which the mover declines to intimate, but which may probably consist in taking one of two diametri- cally opposite lines of action. It might as well be asked to order an inquiry into the condition of mankind, and the best mode of improving the same. As if to make the vagueness of the motion more conspicuous, Mr. Mills proposed that altera- tion should be considered by a Royal Commission, certainly a novel method of arriving at political truth. The utility or otherwise of the Council must be proved either by facts which the House can have for the asking, such as the number of times Sir Charles Wood has overridden his Council, or by facts which no Commission could possibly extract, such as the number of times he ought to have overridden them. The question is a political one; which will be answered differ- ently by every different mind, and according to every different view of the relation of India to England, and of the best administration for Orientals. Those who believe local knowledge indispensable will be all for extending the powers of the Council; those who think the principles of statesmanship applicable everywhere will be for leaving the Secretary alone ; those who care first for England will insist on the need of responsibility ; those who are devoted to India will be peremptory on the advantages of experience. A Royal Commission could no more settle such differences than it could reconcile Whig and Tory opinions, or suggest modifi- cations in the British Constitution which all parties would agree to accept. All it could do would be to lay down a few broad principles which, when reported, would be worth about 'half a page of Mr. J. Stuart Mill's writing, and which would have just as much effect as any other well-written leading -article. The use of a Commission is not to act as a committee of political notables, but to collect evidence, and the only evi- dence worth a straw was contained in Mr. Mill's own speech. He said, and Sir Charles Wood admitted, that on the question of the amalgamation of the Home and Indian 'armies, all fifteen Members of Council were opposed to the Home Secretary. Nevertheless, Sir Charles Wood -carried out the amalgamation. In other words, the re- sponsible Minister having consulted his colleagues, and the Queen, and Parliament, forthwith issued his orders, which were of course obeyed. Mr. Mills says that is "dangerous," but if so, the Empire is always in danger, for no other course of proceeding is ever attempted in any department of the State. What else can any Minister do, however great the occasion? Suppose Lord Palmerston to consider war with France imperative—the most serious contingency, we take it, which can ever occur to a British Cabinet—what other steps .could he take which would be in accord with the constitution? Mr. Mills does not, we presume, mean to affirm that fifteen retired Indians are to overrule the Government of Great Britain on an Imperial question, or to interfere with the only possible constitutional course. The Minister, when backed by -the Crown and Parliament, is absolute, and must be absolute, and to inquire into the expediency of his absolutism is simply to inquire into the framework of British administra- tion. He may order a war, says the member for Taunton, with a constitutional horror which, considering that the bewept old Company was never at peace for five consecutive years, is not a little comical. Is the Indian Secretary the only one with that power ? Suppose Mr. Mills moves a Com- mission to inquire whether a Council might not be usefully created to assist Earl Russell in preventing that war with Japan which he has just ordered, and which—troops having been summoned from India—is, in all probability, raging furiously. The one proposition would be as sensible as the ether, and neither of them has any sense at all. The Council of a Cabinet Minister on important questions is Parliament, .and not any collection of nominees, however able, or however carefully selected. That is the necessity of a Parliamentary .system; and all the talk in the world about "checks," and "advice," and "information," and "local knowledge," will not diminish its force one jot. Of course, the Members of Coun- cil do not like to acknowledge the fact, would prefer greatly to constitute an imperium in imperio, and to "guide," if not con- trol the Minister without too much responsibility,—so would any knot of gentlemen who could be gathered together in Great Britain ; and the reason that England and India, on the whole, get along so well is that they cannot do it. If they could, the first duty of Parliament would be to depose them ; but, fortunately, Sir Charles Wood's faults, as well as his merits, are precisely those which shield a man from the influence of irresponsible advisers, and induce him to bow only, and then reluctantly, to the voted will of the nation. A great statesman might be worried into giving up half his power, the sharp attorney-like politician who has succeeded the Great Mogul will not surrender a fraction.
The only question in this matter which is or ever has been open to discussion is this. Is the Council of India a good machine for considering and deciding on the details of Indian business ? We hold that it is not—first, because it can, by no possibility, be better than the precisely similar Council already sitting in India; and, secondly, because a Council without initiative always devotes itself to "revision," i.e., to spoiling other men's work. Every Indian ques- tion is always considered on the spot by the very six or eight gentlemen who, when at home, will be selected as Members of the Indian Council. If it is a little ques- tion their decision ought--while Indian life is limited to twenty-five years and an Indian despatch takes six months to answer—to be final, and acted on there and then. If it is not, the Secretary of State admits that he, and not the Council, accepts or rejects the scheme forwarded from Cal- cutta. The home Council is es necessitate rei either unneces- sary or injurious, and ought on every abstract consideration to be abolished and superseded, as Lord Palmerston advised, in one of the most statesmanlike of his speeches, by five perma- nent Under-Secretaries, who should be of the class from which Councillors are drawn, and responsible each for his own de- partment. The Secretary would then have all the aid he has now in the way of information could understand, for example, the quaint jargon of mixed Iindostanee and Portuguese, by which Indians strive to conceal the simplest facts, and yet be•rid of the cumbrous consultations he never attends, and lengthy minutes which he is not bound to read. But, while thus believing, we still acknowledge that to touch any system of administration which in the relative circumstances of England and India can be made to work at all, is a most delicate and dangerous enterprise. Sir Charles Wood says he can make this one do its work very well without either killing the Minister or bringing Indian affairs to a dead lock, and it may therefore be wise to wait till some event demonstrates beyond doubt that a revising Council seven thousand miles off is a source of delay, and that in politics, as in boy's copy- slips, "delays are often dangerous." That, we suspect, is the course which the House of Commons, despite the member for Taunton, is pretty sure to pursue.