Front Page Titles (by Subject) OBSERVATIONS ON THE PROPOSED COUNCIL OF INDIA 1858 - The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXX - Writings on India
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
OBSERVATIONS ON THE PROPOSED COUNCIL OF INDIA 1858 - John Stuart Mill, The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXX - Writings on India 
The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, XXX - Writings on India, ed. John M. Robson, Martin Moir, and Zawahir Moir (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1990).
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The online edition of the Collected Works is published under licence from the copyright holder, The University of Toronto Press. ©2006 The University of Toronto Press. All rights reserved. No part of this material may be reproduced in any form or medium without the permission of The University of Toronto Press.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
OBSERVATIONS ON THE PROPOSED COUNCIL OF INDIA
London: Penny, 1858. No running titles. Unsigned. Not republished. There are no emendations in the Somerville College copy. Not listed in Mill’s bibliography, but clearly part of the series of pamphlets by Mill, located with the others in his library, and reflecting his approach (see the reference to Bentham on the first page) and manner. Perhaps the superficial similarity to the next title led the copyist to omit this one.
Observations on the Proposed Council of India
the house of commons has virtually decided that the home administration of India shall be carried on by a Minister of the Crown with the assistance of a Council.
It is still to be determined in what manner the Council shall be composed.
The three principal leaders of sections in Parliament, have proposed as many different plans for the composition of the Council.
Lord Derby proposes that it should be partly nominated by the Minister, and partly elected by a constituency.1
Lord Palmerston proposes that it should be wholly nominated by the Minister, and that each member should hold office for only six years, unless reappointed.2
Lord John Russell proposes that it should be wholly nominated by the Minister, but that the members should hold office, like the judges, during good behaviour, that is, virtually for life.3
Which of these is the preferable scheme?
The answer depends on whether it is intended that the Council to be associated with the Minister, should be a check, or a screen.4 It will necessarily be either the one or the other.
If it is intended to be a screen, Lord Palmerston’s plan deserves the preference. The Council should be selected by the Minister, and should be dependent on him for remaining in office.
But if it is to be anything else than a screen, independence must be secured to it. For this purpose it is best of all, that either every member of Council, or a preponderant majority, should be elected. But if nominated, then it ought not to be in the power of any Minister to remove them.
If any one thinks that it is a matter of small importance whether the Council is independent or not, he must think that it is of small consequence whether there is a Council or not. For it is better there should be no Council at all, than a sham Council.
But to suppose that the existence and the independence of the Council are of little importance, is to overlook all the essential circumstances of the case. The good government of India will entirely depend upon the Council. If India is well governed, it will be because the Council will be capable of well governing it: for the Minister, as distinguished from the Council, usually will not.
All the requisites for the good government of India will be found in the Council, if rightly composed. None of the requisites are likely to be often found in the Minister to whom the tactics of party may transfer the Indian Department.
The members of Council may be, and are intended to be, chosen for their knowledge of India. The Minister is chosen because he has a Parliamentary position, either from his rank, or from his powers of speaking, which are more likely to have been exercised on any other subject whatever than on India.
The Minister, before he has had time to learn his business, is out of office. The Council may be, and ought to be, a permanent body.
Even while the Minister is in office, India will be one of the smallest of his concerns. The maintenance in power of the Ministry and the party to which he belongs, and the support of the general policy of the Ministry and of the party, will be at all times his principal objects. And these objects will not be much promoted by good government in India, nor much impeded by bad; because neither the English Parliament, nor the English public, will generally know anything either of the one or of the other.
There is one point in which the Minister’s position is supposed to be more favourable to good government than the position of the Council; responsibility. But there cannot be a greater error. The sort of responsibility to which the Minister is subject, is no security at all for good government. The only way to make responsibility of any use, is to impose the responsibility on the Council.
The Council, in the first place, has nothing to do with the general business of the empire. It is concerned with India, and India only. All its thoughts must be given to India. All the credit it can hope for, must be derived from India only.
The Council, moreover, is or ought to be a permanent body. Its interest, then, is identified with the permanent results of the mode in which India is governed. Its estimation, its position in opinion, perhaps its tenure of office, depend on permanent results. This is not the case with the Minister. He will have ceased to be in office long before the permanent results of his policy can disclose themselves; and when they do disclose themselves, it will hardly be remembered, and perhaps will hardly be distinguishable, whether his acts, or those of his predecessors or successors, are accountable for them.
The responsibility of the Minister, therefore, will not depend on the general results of his policy. He will seldom have either the credit of them if they are good, or the discredit if bad. What is called his responsibility to Parliament, will not be of the kind which would maintain him in well-doing. It will operate in a totally different manner. Its principal tendency will be, to make him afraid of doing anything which any person who has the ear of the House of Commons, opposes; or of opposing anything which any such person demands. His responsibility will not be to Parliament, but to a few speakers in Parliament. It will mean, liability to a debate in the House of Commons. To get rid of a debate, by every sort of concession, will be the course to which his responsibility will prompt him; for he will have no reason to expect that he will be the person to answer for the ultimate consequences of the concession. And on these occasions, it is always the people of India who will be sacrificed. The people of India have no means of interesting any one in standing up for them; while all who prey upon the people of India have. It may be said, the Minister may be a man of principle; he may disregard these considerations, and follow his own conviction of right. But if he does so, it will not be in consequence of his responsibility. It will be in spite of his responsibility. It will be because he cares less for his responsibility than for his duty.
It is believed that an examination of several recent instances in which the responsibility for measures has been transferred from a Board out of Parliament, to a Minister in it, would show, that the result has been not to accelerate, but on the contrary, to arrest improvement. The permanent Boards were identified with the general success of their administration. The Minister is only responsible for keeping on good terms with all individuals and all interests powerful enough to give him trouble.
[1 ]The plan of the Conservatives, led by Edward Stanley, 14th Earl of Derby, was laid before the Commons by Disraeli in his speech of 26 Mar., 1858.
[2 ]Temple, speech of 12 Feb., 1858, in introducing the India Bill of that date.
[3 ]Russell, Speech on the Government of India Bill (26 Apr., 1858), PD, 3rd ser., Vol. 149, cols. 1695-1701.
[4 ]The image comes from Jeremy Bentham (see p. 84 above).