Routledge

Charles Wood’s Speech in Parliament (1861)

Introduction: Charles Wood, First Viscount Halifax (1800-1885), Member of Parliament of the Liberal Party, served as Secretary of State for India from 1859 to 1866. When the East India Company had still ruled India, Wood had been President of the Board of Control in London. As Secretary of State, he was in charge of the constitutional reform of the Government of India after the Crown took over India. A major item of this reform was the establishment of the Imperial Legislative Council in 1861.
(see also AHOI, Ch. 6, section: The pattern of constitutional reform)

.... We have to legislate for different races with different languages, religions, manners and customs ranging from the bigoted Mahommedan, who considers that we have usurped his legitimate position as the ruler of India, to the timid Hindoo, who, though bowing to every conqueror, is bigotedly attached to his caste, his religion, his laws and his customs, which have descended to him uninterruptedly for countless generations. But, added to that, we have English settlers in India differing in almost every respect from the native population – active, energetic, enterprising, with all the pride of  race and conquest, presuming on their superior powers and looking down in many respects and I am afraid violating in others, the feelings and prejudices of the native populations, with whom, nevertheless, they must be subject to laws passed by the legislative body in India. .............
I regret to say that the recent mutiny has aggravated these difficulties. The unlimited confidence which a few years ago was felt by the European population in the natives of India has given way to feelings of distrust. Formerly there was, at all events, no feeling of antagonism between the higher portion of official persons and the great mass of the population.....
.... I proposed in 1853 a measure adding to the Council of the Governor- General, when sitting to make laws and regulations, members from the different provinces of India, together with the Chief Justice and another judge of the Supreme Court. My intention was... to give to the Council the assistance of local knowledge and legal experience in framing laws. The Council, however, quite contrary to my intention, has become a sort of debating society, a petty parliament. ...
It was certainly a great mistake that a body of twelve members  should have been established with all the forms and functions of a parliament. They have standing orders nearly as numerous as we have; and their effect has been, as Lord Canning stated in one of his dispatches, to impede business, cause delay and to induce a Council, which ought to be regarded as a body for doing practical work, to assume the debating functions of a parliament.....
The  present constitution of the Council for legislative purposes having failed, we have naturally to consider what should be substituted, and in doing so we must advert to the two extreme notions with regard to legislation which prevail in India. The notion of legislation which is entertained by a native is that of a chief or sovereign, who makes what laws he pleases. He has little or no idea of any distinction between the executive and legislative functions of Government. ...... in the present state of feeling in India, it is quite impossible to revert to a state of things in which the Executive Government alone legislated  for the country. The opposite extreme is the desire which is natural to Englishmen wherever they be – that they should have a representative body to make the laws by which they are to be governed. I am sure, however, that everyone who considers the condition of India will see that it is utterly impossible to constitute such a body in that country.....
The talk of a native representation  is, therefore, to talk of that which is simply and utterly impossible. Then comes the question  to what extent we can have a representation of the English settlers in India... but I must say that of all governing or legislative bodies, none is so dangerous or so mischievous as one which represents a dominant race ruling over an extended native population. ......
I have framed a measure which embodies the leading suggestions of Lord Canning. I propose that, when the Governor-General’s Council meets for the purpose of making laws and regulations, the Governor-General should summon, in addition to the ordinary members of the Council, not less than six nor more than twelve additional members of whom one half at least shall not hold office under Government. These additional members may be either Europeans ... or natives.....
I do not have any intention of doing anything to make this Council a debating society..... The Council of the Governor-General with those additional members , will have powers to pass laws and regulations affecting the whole of India, and will have a supreme and concurrent power with the minor legislative bodies which I propose to establish in the Presidencies and in other parts of India.......
The Bill also gives powers to the Governor-General in cases of emergency to pass an ordinance having the force of law for a limited period...........

(A. B. Keith (ed.), Speeches and Documents on Indian Policy 1750- 1921 (London, 1922), Vol. II, p. 3 f.)

 

Bookmark and Share Email
Book Information / Buy the book