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LETTER FROM THE EAST INDIA COMPANY TO THE PRESIDENT OF THE BOARD OF CONTROL 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).
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LETTER FROM THE EAST INDIA COMPANY TO THE PRESIDENT OF THE BOARD OF CONTROL
Supplement to Votes, 1858, pp. 269-72. Headed: “Letter from the Chairman and Deputy Chairman of the Honourable East India Company to the President of the Board of Control. Presented to the Honourable House of Commons by Command of Her Majesty, 24th June, 1858.” The letter is addressed “Lord Stanley,” dated “East India House, / 23rd June, 1858,” and concludes, “We have the honour to be, my Lord, / Your Lordship’s most obedient humble Servants, / F. Currie, / Wm. J. Eastwick.” (Frederick Currie, 1799-1875, was Chairman, and William Joseph Eastwick, 1808-89, Deputy Chairman, of the East India Company.) The Somerville College copy of the version in the Supplement to Votes contains inked corrections of punctuation, apparently by Mill. Also printed in PP, 1857-58, XLIII, 41-4, with the same heading and address. Several, but not all, of the changes in punctuation appear in the PP version, which also includes two other changes in punctuation here adopted (other accidental variants are ignored); see the list in App. G for details. Not otherwise republished. Identified in Mill’s bibliography as “The letter from the Chairman and Deputy Chairman of the Court of Directors to Lord Stanley, respecting the third India Bill, dated 23rd June 1858, presented to the House of Commons 24th June” (MacMinn, p. 92).
Letter from the East India Company to the President of the Board of Control
1. Although the Bill which has been newly brought in by Her Majesty’s Ministers “for the better government of India”1 has not yet been formally communicated to the Court of Directors, the Court, influenced by the desire which they have already expressed to give all aid in their power towards rendering the scheme of government which it is the pleasure of Parliament to substitute for the East India Company as efficient for its purposes as possible, have requested us to lay before your Lordship, and through you before Her Majesty’s Government, a few observations on some portions of the Bill.
2. Having in documents which have been presented to Parliament expressed their sentiments fully on all the general features of the subject,2 the Court refrain from offering any further arguments on points upon which the Government and the House of Commons seem to have pronounced a decided opinion. The joint government of a minister and a council, composed in majority of persons of Indian experience, deriving their appointments only partially from ministerial nomination, and all of them holding office on a tenure independent of the minister, is a combination which fulfils, to a considerable extent, the conditions of a good organ of government for India. The Court would have much preferred that in the constitution of the Council more extensive recourse had been had to the elective principle. But if they cannot hope that this course will be adopted, they see many advantages in the provision by which one-half the number, instead of being named by the Government, will be selected by a responsible body, intimately connected with India, to whom the qualifications of candidates will in general be accurately known, and who will be under strong inducements to make such a choice as will tend to increase the credit and consideration of the body.3
3. With regard to the qualifications prescribed for members of council, the Court desire to offer a suggestion. Her Majesty’s present Government have, on many occasions expressed a desire to secure the Crown appointments against the evils of abuse of patronage. The security against such abuse has hitherto consisted in the strict limitation of the appointments to persons who have served a considerable number of years in India. While the Court fully agree with Her Majesty’s Government in recognising the desirableness of an English element, it does not seem to them advisable that this element should extend to nearly half the Council, only a bare majority being reserved for persons of Indian experience. Knowledge of India is, after all, the most important requisite for a seat in the Indian Council: while it is chiefly in the English nominations that there is any present danger lest appointments should be obtained through political or parliamentary influence; from which influence, unless introduced through that channel, the Council, like the Court of Directors, may be expected to be altogether free. The Court, therefore, recommend that the qualification of ten years’ Indian service or residence4 be made imperative on at least two-thirds instead of a mere majority of the fifteen members of council. They also think it questionable if the interests of India will be promoted by the exclusion of the whole of the Members of the Council from seats in Parliament.5 These are the only modifications which we are requested to suggest in the provisions respecting the composition of the Council.
4. But we lament to see that the clauses which define its functions are liable to far greater objections. From the sentiments which have been publicly expressed both by your Lordship6 and by other Members of the Administration, as well as from the terms of clause 19, which declare that the Council, under the direction of the Secretary of State, is to “conduct the business transacted in the United Kingdom in relation to the Government of India and the correspondence with India,” the Court are persuaded that Her Majesty’s Government regard the Council, not as a body without regular functions or duties, whom the Minister is at full liberty habitually to disregard, but as a substantive part of the working organ of government. It is therefore incumbent on the Court to represent to your Lordship that the details of the Bill not only do not carry out this conception, but would appear to be inconsistent with it.
5. It is hardly necessary to remark that the Council cannot “conduct the business transacted in the United Kingdom in relation to the Government of India and the correspondence with India,” unless provision be made for their meeting regularly at short intervals to dispose of the business as it arises. The Bill, however, makes no provision for any regular or periodical meetings of the Council, but leaves the time of convening it, and even the convening it at all, to the entire discretion of the Secretary of State, saving the case necessarily exceptional of a requisition in writing by five members, which would impose on the requisitionists the necessity of appearing to place themselves in a posture of opposition to him.7
6. By the 16th clause the Council are denied all power over the establishment, beyond the first appointments to junior clerkships and inferior offices, all promotions being made by the Secretary of State alone, and the appointment of secretaries or assistant secretaries and heads of departments being wholly reserved to him. While the officers, including those whose duty it is to prepare drafts of despatches, are thus entirely withdrawn from the control of the Council; the Bill does not even provide that the drafts, when prepared, shall, as a matter of necessity, be considered and discussed in Council. It only provides that they shall, seven days before being sent to India, be placed in the Council room for inspection by the Members, to afford them an opportunity for the invidious office of recording objections; and this power of dissent from a measure or a document already sanctioned by the Minister, is the only positive function which the Bill secures to the Council.8 It is obvious that the same comments which, if made in the early stage of the proceedings, before the Minister has made up his mind, have the character of cordial and zealous co-operation, will, if delayed until his intentions have been declared, assume the aspect of opposition or remonstrance, and are therefore much less likely either to be made at all, or if made, to be of any efficacy, unless by way of a protest.
7. The Court submit that the only mode by which the direct action of the Minister and the substantive existence of the Council as a co-operating body, can be brought into complete harmony, would be by enacting that all ordinary business, and as far as possible all business, shall be transacted by the Minister in Council. A perfect and most successful example of this mode of transacting business is afforded by the Local Government of India. All business is as a matter of course transacted by the Governor-General, or Governor in Council, and, as a general rule, the decision is according to the vote of the majority. But the Governor-General, or Governor, has the power of setting aside the decision, on assuming the formal responsibility and recording his reasons. No inconvenience of any kind has ever been experienced from this arrangement; it has never been found either to hamper the discretion, or in any degree impair the responsibility of the head of the Government. It cannot be doubted that the Minister for India would find the same advantage from this principle in superintending the Administration, which a Wellesley and a Dalhousie found in conducting it in all its complicated details.
8. The Court see no reason for withdrawing from the deliberation and knowledge of the Council even such subjects as are at present disposed of through the Secret Committee. It is their conviction that the power of carrying into effect measures of the highest importance without the advice, or even the knowledge of the Court of Directors, has been the source in times past of some of the greatest errors, and of the greatest calamities, which are recorded in our Indian history; and they earnestly recommend that a barrier be raised against the future exercise of this dangerous power, and that since it may be presumed that the Council will possess the confidence of Her Majesty’s Ministers, the right and duty of advice be vested in the Council on all subjects of Indian administration, without excepting, as hitherto, from their cognizance, some of the most important of all.
9. The Court are of opinion that, on all questions regarding expenditure, the Council should have more than a consultative voice, and that these questions should be an exception to the power which the Secretary of State will in all other cases possess, of setting aside their opinion. The disposal of the entire revenues of India by the mere fiat of a minister, freed from the necessity of the assent of any co-ordinate authority, would, the Court conceive, be neither consistent with the principles of the constitution, nor conducive to the good administration of the Indian finances. The propriety of allowing to the Council in this one department a negative voice, was recognised in one of the Bills introduced into Parliament,9 and the omission to include such a provision in the present Bill is, the Court hope, only the effect of inadvertence.
10. The Court think it of great importance that the Council should be associated with the Minister in deciding on appointments to the higher as well as the inferior situations of the establishment, and on the position and the remuneration of the officers. They deem this important, both for securing the due influence of the Council over the establishment, and for promoting the legitimate interests of the officers themselves, with whose merits and services the Council, being a permanent body, is likely to possess a more intimate and detailed acquaintance than will generally be possessed by the Secretary of State.
11. The Court would also suggest that the Vice-President, who is to preside over the Council in the absence of the Secretary of State, should be chosen periodically by the Secretary of State in Council, but not by the Minister alone, it being of importance that this officer should possess the confidence of the Council, and should be their representative with the Minister in the intervals of their sittings.
12. There are other provisions not connected with the functions of the Council which the Court greatly regret to see transferred from the former into the present Bill. By one of these, forming clause 29, the Governments in India itself are radically altered in constitution, and their most characteristic excellence destroyed. Instead of a Governor-General or Governor and an independent Council, appointed by the authority to which he is himself responsible, the Government is now to consist of the Governor-General or the Governor, and advisers selected by himself. The Court have reason to believe that this proposal has met with unanimous reprobation in India, and they would regard its adoption as one of the most fatal blows which could be struck against good government in that country. The association of the head of the government with advisers not of his own choice, but chosen for him by superior authority, has given to a government, necessarily absolute, an advantage rarely possessed by absolute governments, and the absence of which in India would be peculiarly mischievous; that of free, unrestrained, and conscientious discussion and deliberation. This advantage would be entirely sacrificed if the head of the government selected his constitutional advisers. Advisers who will merely echo his own opinions he can never want; what he is in need of are advisers who will think for themselves; who by the collision of judgments will cause subjects to be examined in a variety of lights; who will correct his mistakes, complete what is imperfect in his information, and whose very errors will be useful by being of a different kind from his own. Such are not the colleagues whom, even with the best intentions, that high functionary can safely be relied on for selecting; not to mention that for some time after his first arrival he will not be in a condition to distinguish such persons, even if he looks out for them.
13. The 48th clause proposes the appointment by the Crown of an auditor of the home accounts; a provision which, if carried into effect, must materially interfere with the independent action of the new government, and the necessity of which is completely obviated by the existing system both of pre-audit and post-audit, which is recognised and apparently approved in the 47th clause of the Bill, and which system would be greatly weakened by the introduction of a distinct auditor, acting under another authority.
14. The Court regret that it should be contemplated by the 50th clause to send a Commission to India to inquire and report to Her Majesty, on many important branches of Indian administration, passing over the local governments. It is impossible that such persons, however judiciously chosen, should collect in three years a tithe of the information which already exists so abundantly on the records of the Home Government, and is daily added to by the labours of the ablest functionaries in India; while their appearance in the country will be considered as opening up for re-consideration all the vital questions included in “the collection, receipt, and management of the revenues,” as well as “the application of such revenues and public moneys in India:”10 the first, embracing the whole subject of the landed tenures and proprietary and possessory rights of the agricultural population, the other, the entire economy of the public resources, whether in relation to civil or military administration, public works, the contraction or liquidation of debt, or any other of the multifarious matters which require to be decided by a finance minister. The Court are as desirous as Her Majesty’s Government that all practicable and well devised improvements should be made in these branches of administration, and many such have been, and are even now being, made; but they are convinced that the proper mode of making these improvements is through the Governments on the spot, by whose instrumentality alone India can be governed or held, and whose ascendancy it is of the utmost importance to maintain, by making all orders and all benefits which proceed from the supreme authority, flow through them as the intermediate channel.
15. The Court are also apprehensive that the effect of clause 34 may be to remove from the Military College at Addiscombe the education of cadets for the engineers and artillery. That College has, during a long course of years, been most successful in training highly qualified cadets for the scientific branches, a result greatly attributable to the earnest competition for engineer and artillery appointments which exists within the College amongst the cadets appointed to it; and the Court would consider any change which involved the transfer of the education for these branches from the Military College to private establishments as being injurious to the public service.
16. These are the observations which, by the desire of the Court, we take the liberty of submitting to your Lordship, and we hope to be favoured with a communication from your Lordship of the intentions of Ministers on the several points hereinbefore adverted to, at a sufficiently early period to admit of their taking any further measures which may be necessary for bringing their views before Parliament.
[1 ]“A Bill for the Better Government of India,” 21 Victoria (17 June, 1858), PP, 1857-58, II, 313-36.
[2 ]Including “The Petition of the East-India Company,” and “Report to the General Court of Proprietors, Drawing Attention to the Two Bills Now before Parliament Relating to the Government of India,” above.
[3 ]By Clause 8 of the Bill.
[4 ]By Clause 10.
[5 ]By Clause 12.
[6 ]Stanley, Speech on the Government of India (7 June, 1858), PD, 3rd ser., Vol. 150, cols. 1673-8.
[7 ]By Clause 22.
[8 ]The drafting of despatches is detailed in Clauses 25-8.
[9 ]By Clause 12 of the Bill of 12 February (the first Bill).
[10 ]Clause 50.