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and with the local courts and authorities, the Government of India is in a great measure responsible for the excellence or imperfection of the laws themselves. Subject to the control of the Secretary of State, it makes provision for the construction of the railways and canals, without which there can be no proper development of the public wealth, or protection against drought and famine. It administers the post office and telegraph. It is mainly responsible for the management of the finances, and it lays down the principles by which the fiscal policy of the empire is to be guided. It depends on its decisions whether commerce shall be free, or fettered by unwise restrictions, whether salt and clothing shall be cheap, or made dear by taxation.
I must now refer to the Act of 1858, by which the Government of India was transferred to the Crown. It provided that all the powers of the East India Company and Board of Control should be exercised by a Secretary of State, in concert, in certain cases, with a Council, and, although various changes have been made in it by subsequent legislation, it remains in essential respects still in force. 1
The Council, styled the Council of India, consists of fifteen members appointed by the Secretary of State. Twelve of them hold office for ten years, and this term may, for special reasons of public advantage, which must be laid before Parliament, be extended for five years more. Three of the members · having professional or other peculiar qualifications may be appointed for life. The majority of the Council must be persons who have served or resided in India for at least ten years,
' The principal Acts referring to this subject are the following :- Act 21 and 22 Vic. c. 106 ; Act 22 and 23 Vic. c. 41; Act 23 and 24 Vic. c. 100; Act 32 and 33 Vic. c. 97; Act 39 Vic. c. 7.
and who have not left India more than ten years before their appointment. Most of the members are always men who have held high office in India. If you look at the present list of the Council, you will see that five of them belonged to the Indian Civil service, and have been either lieutenant-governors of provinces or members of the Viceroy's Council, four of them are soldiers, two are engineers, one is a banker, and three are men of diplomatic, official, or mercantile experi
The object aimed at by the law is to give to the Secretary of State, who must ordinarily have little personal knowledge of the details of Indian administration, the help of a body of experts. The position of the Council differs essentially from that formerly held by the Court of Directors of the East India Company, for, unlike that body, which possessed and exercised large independent powers, it has no initiative authority. Questions of the greatest importance, notorious to all the world, may be pending, but the Council can give no opinion on them until they are laid before it by the Secretary of State.
Every order proposed to be made by the Secretary of State must, before it is issued, either be submitted to a meeting of the Council or be placed in the Councilroom for seven days for the perusal of the members, unless the Secretary of State considers the matter urgent, in which case, recording his reasons, he may make the order. There is one limitation on the powers thus given to him. He cannot order expenditure without the consent of a majority of the Council. The Act of 1858 provides that “the expenditure of the revenues of India, both in India and elsewhere, shall be subject to the control of the Secretary of State in Council, and no grant or appropriation of any part of such revenues,
or of any other property coming into the possession of the Secretary of State in Council by virtue of this Act, shall be made without the concurrence of a majority of votes at a meeting of the Council.'
The powers thus given to the Council in controlling expenditure are, however, far from being as great as at first sight they seem to be, for they can only be exercised in regard to the ordinary business of the administration. Orders involving large expenditure may be given by the Secretary of State without either the consent or the knowledge of the Council. In dealing with questions affecting the relations of the Government with Foreign powers, making war or peace, prescribing the policy to be followed towards Native States, and generally in matters in which secrecy is necessary, the Secretary of State acts on his own authority alone. Before the transfer of the Government to the Crown, the Board of Control was empowered to send to India on these subjects through the Secret Committee, which consisted of not more than three members of the Court of Directors, and those powers were transferred to the Secretary of State. Despatches from India on similar matters may be marked Secret’ in India, and they are not communicated to the members of the Council unless the Secretary of State shall so direct. Such questions as an Afghan war, the negotiations with Russia and the Ameer of Kábul regarding the boundaries of Afghánistán, or the annexation of Burma, do not come before the Council. Its members have not only no power of interference, but they have no recognised means of obtaining information in regard to such subjects other than those of the general public.
Apart from questions of this character, most of the ordinary business passes through the Council, and, con
sisting as it does of men possessing special experience of Indian affairs, its advice is naturally, in the great majority of cases, followed by the Secretary of State.
The business is distributed among the various departments, each of which is in charge of a permanent secretary, and the Secretary of State appoints, for consideration of the questions coming before each department, a committee consisting of three or four members of the Council. They are chosen according to their presumed knowledge of the subjects likely to be referred to them. The recommendations of the committees are laid before the Secretary of State, and, if he so directs, before the Council.
It has often been said that one result of the transfer of the Government of India to the Crown has been to increase very greatly the interference of the Home Government, and to weaken the authority of the Government in India itself. There is no foundation for such statements. Having myself been a member of the Government of India for nearly nine years, under five Viceroys, from Lord Lawrence to Lord Ripon, and afterwards a member of the Council of the Secretary of State, the point is one on which I feel that I have authority to speak. The increased facilities of communication, the establishment of telegraphs, the greater interest in India taken by the English public and by Parliament, the growth of the business of the Home Government in consequence of the large investments of British capital in India, and other causes, have made the relations between the two countries far more intimate than was formerly the case, but it is an error to suppose that the Secretary of State is constantly interfering in the ordinary work of Indian administration.
The description of the Home Government given by Mr. J. S. Mill in the time of the East India Company is as applicable now as when he wrote:
'It is not,' he said, “so much an executive as a deliberative body. The Executive Government of India is, and must be, seated in India itself. The principal function of the Home Government is not to direct the details of adıninistration, but to scrutinise and revise the past acts of the Indian Governments; to lay down principles and issue general instructions for their future guidance, and to give or refuse sanction to great political measures which are referred home for approval.'
The action of the Secretary of State is mainly confined to answering references made to him by the Governments in India, and, apart from great financial questions, the number and nature of those references mainly depend on the character and wishes of the Governor-General for the time being. Some men in that position like to minimise personal responsibilities, and to ask for the orders of the Home Government before taking action. Others prefer to act on their own judgment and on that of their councillors. The Secretary of State initiates almost nothing
So long as the Government of India is content to carry on the administration without largely increasing the cost of existing establishments, and without incurring new and heavy charges, it is practically almost independent, so far as its action in India is concerned. Even in matters connected with the public expenditure, in regard to which, as I have said, special responsibilities which cannot be avoided have been placed by Parliament on the Secretary of State in Council, the financial powers of the Governor-General in Council and of the local Governments in India have been largely extended since the transfer of the government to the Crown.