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CHARLES JAMES FOX,
MR. Pitt's BILL FOR THE GOVERNMENT OF INDIA,
July 16, 1784. O n the 6th of July, Mr. Pitt obtained leave to bring in a bill
for the better regulation and management of the affairs of the East India company, and of the British possessions in India, This act, though framed upon the same model with that brought in by Mr. Pitt in the last parliament, yet differed from it con, siderably in several material points. The powers of the board of controul, which, in contrast to the plan of the late ministry, and in compliance with the temper of those times, was kept as subordinate as possible, were now greatly enlarged. In cases of urgency, which might not admit the delays of consultation, and in cases of secrecy, which might not admit of previous commu. nication, they were enabled to issue and transmit their own orders to India, without their being subject to the revision of the court of directors. It also vested in the governor general and council an absolute power over the other presidencies in all points relative to transactions with the country powers, and in all applications of the revenues and forces in time of war, with a power of suspension in case of disobedience. The second part of the bill contained a variety of internal regulations respecting 'the affairs of India. The clauses relative to the debts of the nabob of Arcot, to the disputes between him and the rajah of Tanjore, and to the relief of dispossessed zemindars, and other native landholders, were adopted from Mr. Fox's India bill, with some exceptions and limitations. Various restrictions were also laid upon the patronage of the directors, and retrenchments directed to be made in the company's establishments. The third part of the bill related to the punishment of Indian delinquency. All : British subjects were made amenable to the courts of justice in
England for all acts done in India. The receiving of presents was declared to be extortion, and disobedience of orders, and all corrupt bargains to be misdemeanors, and punishable as such. Power was given to the governors of the several settlements to seize all persons suspected of carrying on illicit correspondence, and, if necessary, to send them to England. Every company's servant was required, within two months after his return to England, to deliver in upon oath to the court of exchequer, an inventory of his real and personal estates, and a copy thereof to the court of directors for the inspection of the proprietors; and, in case any complaint should be made thereupon by the board of controul, the court of directors, or any three proprietors possessing stock to the amount conjunctively of 10,0col. the court of exchequer were required to examine the person complained of upon oath, and to imprison him until he should have answered the interrogatories put to him to their satisfaction; and any neglect or concealment herein was punished by imprisonment, forfeiture of all his estates, both real and personal, and an incapacity of ever serving the company again. Lastly; for the more speedy and effectual prosecution of persons charged with crimes committed in the East Indies, a new court of justice was appointed, consisting of three judges, appointed by the three courts, four peers, and six members of the House of Commons: the four peers to be taken by lot out of a list of 26, to be chosen by ballot at the commencement of every session of parliament, and the six commoners out of a list of 40 members, chosen in the same manner; liberty being given to the party accused, and to the prose. cutor, to challenge a certain number of the same. The act also di. rects, that all depositions of witnesses taken in India, and all writings received by the court of directors, and copies of those sent out by them, shall be received as legal evidence. The judgment of the court is made final, and to extend to fine and imprisonment, and to declaring the party incapable of ever serving the company in any capacity whatever. The bill met with a strenuous opposition in al. most every stage. On the 16th of July, upon the motion for going into a committee on the bill,
Mr. Fox rose, and discussed the principle of the bill. He began with saying, that he rose in the present stage to object to the speaker's leaving the chair, because he found himself under the necessity of objecting to the bill toto cælo – in all its parts, and in its fundamental principles. He had flattered himself that the right honourable gentleman's second and third propo-sitions, namely, those relating to the regulations, and the new judicature to be appointed for India, would be so far conformable to the opinions which he held on the subject, that he should have been able to have gone into the committee, and for this reason he had foreborne to say any thing on the second reading of the bill; but now that the bill was printed, and
that he was able to examine the two latter parts as well as the - first, he must freely and explicitly declare, that he objected to
the whole. He thought the principles of the bill the direct op
posite of what they ought to be with regard to the regulations as well as the government; and he could never consent to the institution of the sort of tribunal stated in the bill, without giving up every principle on which he had been taught to approve of the criminal judicature of England.
As he objected, therefore, to the principle of the bill, the present was the stage in which he must deliver his opinions. He begged the House, at the same time, not to be deceived by the distinctions which it was now the incessant practice to make, between the principles and the objects of a bill. It was lately become the practice to confound the one with the other. It was often said to them, “ What! would you refuse to go into the committee on a bill which has for its principle to reform the abuses of India? Would you object to a bill which is to restore the zemindars to their possessions, and which is to punish delinquents ?” They thus artfully confounded the matter; for these were not the principles, but the objects of the bill. The principles were very different; and, to the principles, that was, to the foundations of the bill, the House were ever to look; and when these were not good, they were not justifiable in going to a committee, merely because the end was desirable. No man upon earth acknowledged with more readiness than he did, the necessity of the object of the present bill; no man would go greater lengths to accomplish it; but he could not accept of the principles of this bill as the means; much less could he believe that those means, if accepted, would be effectual.
With regard to the first part of the bill, nainely, the settlement of the government of India, he must observe, that during the discussions on the bill which he had the honour to propose to the last parliament, it was asserted that he had violated the chartered rights of the company — and chartered rights were of so sacred a nature, that nothing but extreme necessity could justify their violation. The right honourable the chancellor of the exchequer had made the confession, that necessities might arise to justify the rescinding of a charter ; and it was well he did so; for if ever a charter was completely and totally annulled, it was the charter of the East India Company by the present bill. He by no mean brought this as a charge against the right honourable gentleman: it was his opinion that the charter of the company ought to be anpulled: it had always been his opinion, that no charter ought to exist pernicious to the community whom it affected, and that the rights of a few ought not to stand in competition with the well-being and happiness of the whole. This had always been his opinion, and the chancellor of the exchequer had come over to it. He hnd abandoned his former opinion on this