HC Deb 05 August 1907 vol 179 cc1673-88

Order for Second Reading read.


, in moving the Second Reading of the Council of India Bill, said he had prefixed to it a short note which explained, he hoped, in a thoroughly concise and clear way what the object of the Bill was. When the Government of India was transferred to the Government of the Crown, the number of the members of the Council was fixed at fifteen, but since then for various reasons, with which he need not trouble the House, the number had been reduced to twelve. Under present cir- cumstances it had seemed to the Government perfectly clear that it was desirable to have larger room for the representation of various interests which were becoming more and more important. Therefore, they asked the House to allow the Secretary of State to increase the number of members of Council from twelve to fourteen. The Secretary for India would not be obliged to appoint fourteen members, but the Council must never consist of less than ten members. That being the case it was natural to consider some other conditions of the constitution of the Council of India, which in the mind of the Secretary of State of both parties were thought worthy of consideration. For instance, at present a Member of the Council might haw been absent from India for twenty-five years. That term seemed to be excessive. Therefore, the Government proposed to enact that absence from India at the time of appointment should not exceed five years. That would be of great importance to secure freshness of views on the part of the advisers of the Secretary of State. Then, in the same direction it was proposed that the term of occupancy of office should be reduced from ten to seven years, and that the emoluments should be reduced from £1,200 to £1,000 a year. These alterations themselves, he thought the House would agree, were of no very great importance; the most important part of the Bill being increase in the number of the Council. He would remind his hon. friend below the Gangway, who had an Amendment on the Paper, that when the present constitution of the Indian Council was set up, the magnitude and intricacy of the details of Indian Government were sufficient cause for increasing the number of the Council to fifteen. He did not think that any Member could find any reasonable objection to the Bill.

Motion made, and Question proposed:—"That the Bill be now read a second time."


said that so far as he was concerned there was no objection to the Second Reading of the Bill, although he confessed he looked with dismay on the proposal that the salaries in future of the members of the Indian Council in this country were to be reduced from £1,200 to £1,000. He was not sure that that was a wise proposal. He had not had an opportunity of consulting his friends who knew India better than he did, but he would have thought that if they desired to get officials of the highest ability and capacity in the future for the Council it would be penny wise and pound foolish to reduce the emoluments even by £200 as was proposed to do in the Bill. But the right hon. Gentleman might have reasons of which he knew nothing which would justify the policy he advocated. However, that part of the question did not touch the part of the Second Reading, and he welcomed the measure.

*MR. C. J. O'DONNELL (Newington, Walworth)

said he rose to oppose this Bill. He believed that it had been brought in with the very best intentions. The right hon. Gentleman wished to increase the number of his advisers in this country, not only men who were acquainted with Indian affairs, but Indians also. He felt that a Bill dealing with the constitution of the Council of India ought not to have been introduced at the fag-end of a session. This Bill was not quite so small a measure as it seemed. The Council of India was the only check on autocratic Government, and the intention of creating that Council was to give the Secretary of State advisers who would be independent and best fitted to give advice. A Council of India had been in existence for fifty years, and at first it was a very remarkable and independent body consisting of seven members of the Old East India Company and eight independent members. As year by year passed the Council had become more an official body and notorious, in the words of Lord Curzon, for its obsolete hugger - mugger methods. If a Viceroy of India could so describe it, it was well that they should look closely into its constitution. All measures and orders by the Secretary of State were laid on the Table of the Council for its members to express their opinion in writing. Though the whole of the members of the Council might differ from the Secretary of State, he had only to express his decision in a Minute, and the matter went no further. It never came to the knowledge of this House. The Secretary of State and the members of the Council might absolutely disagree, and this House had no opportunity of knowing it. That ought to be changed. Then on several points the Council might not be consulted at all. There were two specifically laid down by the Act. All urgent matters and all matters of secrecy might be dealt with by the Secretary of State without consulting the Council. Nearly all important matters were either urgent or secret. There might be some clause in the Bill giving Parliament an opportunity of knowing how things were going on in the Council. What they now had was only criticism of officials by ex-officials, and he must say that that ran contrary to their ideas of administration in this country. Let them imagine the Home Office criticised only by retired and pensioned ex-officials of the Home Department. He greatly desired to see members introduced into the Secretary of State's Council who would be as independent and hold as high a position as the Commercial Member and the Finance Member. It was understood that the Secretary of State was about to appoint two Indians. The House would naturally ask who those natives were to be. One knew that for many years Indians were appointed on the legislative councils and that they had no authority, but were the mere nominees of the Government. He was afraid the same thing was going to happen here. Surely, if the Bill was postponed till next year the Secretary of State might consider how he could get on his Council more independent opinion and advice. There was nothing he regarded with greater fear than the introduction of native members into the Secretary of State's Council, unless they were sure that they would be representative men. He was quite sure his right hon. friend would appoint two admirable men, but he would not always be in office, and the men he appointed might die or resign and the next who came along might not be so useful or authoritative. If the Secretary of State could come down to the House and say that what he recommended had the support of his Council, including representative Indians, his proposal would have great weight; but if these natives were mere figureheads they would have no influence. He knew that it would be urged that they should get the measure through, but he was not entirely in agreement with that feeling. After having waited forty-nine years, they could wait a few months longer, and, if the measure could be taken up next session and debated thoroughly, they would lose very little. He felt that they should have a much broader measure of reform, and that if this Bill were passed they would hardly be likely to get another chance next year. He believed it was even more necessary that the English section of the Secretary of State's Council should be reformed than that natives of India should be introduced. It was of the utmost importance that men of independence and character should be appointed. It was most essential that some half-dozen of the Secretary of State's Council should be as independent as the present commercial and financial members. He begged to move that the Bill should be read that day three months.

MR. O'GRADY (Leeds, E.)

said he rose with great regret to second the rejection of the Bill, but there were certain features in it which seemed to him rather dangerous. He understood that the Council was the only check upon the autocratic government of India. It seemed to him that when Questions were asked in that House all the answers were stereotyped and came from the same source and were always in the interests of the bureaucracy of India. The most serious point revealed that night was that important matters connected with India never came before the Council at all. If that was so, it seemed to him that there was absolutely no need for the Council to exist. Then it was almost impossible to accept criticism by ex-officials upon the Secretary of State. The Bill made provision for two natives to sit upon the Council.


The Secretary of State may appoint two or he may not.


said he knew it did not specifically lay down that two native members should be appointed, but he presumed that was the purpose the right hon. Gentleman had in view. However estimable they might be, and however high they might stand in the opinion of the Indian people, they would only delay things, and it did not seem to him they would have much weight in the Council. The best course would be to appoint some Member of that House on the Council. He did not mean that they should have any emoluments. It seemed to him that that would he a particularly advisable course to pursue, and in his opinion the Council ought to change with the Government. He wished to enter his protest against the way things were carried on out in India, and to urge that if the Bill were delayed till next session it might be broadened so as to make it one of real reform for the Indian people.

Amendment proposed— To leave out the word 'now,' and at the end of the Question to add the words 'upon this day three months.' "—(Mr. Charles O'Donnell).

Question proposed, "That the word ' now ' stand part of the Question."

*MR. REES (Montgomery Boroughs)

said that the hon. Member who made this Motion generally approached Indian subjects from the point of view of those "who were oppressed and had no comforter" except himself and the two or three others of the like mind who were gathered together in that House, button this occasion he suggested that the comfort, which had been offered, should be postponed. One would have thought that the measure would have been welcomed as an instalment of comfort to the oppressed. It was better late than never, and, if the measure was a good measure, the earlier the better. Secondly, the hon. Member said the Bill was such a little one that it should not be passed. That again was a very bad reason, and he quoted the opinion of Lord Curzon, whose policy he and the two or three others who were gathered together had most comprehensively condemned during the debates on the Indian Budget. The hon. Member also asked why a Council could not be established of men as independent as the Commercial and Public Works Members, who happened not to be officials. He would like to know why he suggested that the official members on the Council were not independent. He could not imagine men occupying a more independent position. As a matter of fact they could not look for any further advancement. The Secretary of State, however much he might desire it, could do nothing more for them. Once they were appointed they were practically independent of him. Why did the hon. Member suggest that they were wanting in independence and rectitude?


said he never spoke of their rectitude. He objected to ex-officials being the sole critics of officials. He feared official bias. The members of the Indian Council were as distinguished men as existed in England or the Empire.


said that that disclaimer was hardly in keeping with the condemnation of the hon. Member's speech, and if a member of the Council were wanting in independence, he failed to see how he could be full of rectitude. Independence was the outward and visible sign of rectitude. At what point in their careers did the hon. Member and the two or three who thought with him discover that officials were not independent and were not good advisers? Supposing the Government of India had thought fit to invite the hon. Member to serve longer in India by promoting him to a higher position, there was nothing in the hon. Member's past career to make him believe that he would not have continued to perform the excellent service he had performed and to carry out without cavil or objection the orders of the Indian Government, including, for instance, the partition of Bengal, had he, or one of the other hon. Members of his little party been appointed to the charge of either of the Bengal Lieutenant Governorships. When an ex-official came and suggested that his brother officials were wanting in independence, they should see whether he was justified, and he submitted that the hon. Member had no justification for making such a statement. He invited those who put forward this view, in justice to the service to which they belonged, to the Indian Government, to the House, and to themselves, to tell the House what discovery of moral obliquity or administrative incapacity induced them immediately they left the service of the Government of India to withdraw from it that confidence which he believed they felt in it during the quarter of a century or longer during which they served it. The hon. Member who seconded the Motion described himself as one interested in the natives, but did he really think that differentiated him in any way from other hon. Members? Whilst the hon. Member had no acquaintance with the natives of India he might on that ground hesitate before he made up his mind that all those who did know them and were carrying on the Government of India, were not capable of fulfilling the high functions with which they were entrusted. The hon. Gentleman said that members of the Council were mere dummies. He thought that was far indeed from the fact, and to none of the ex-civil servants who were appointed members of Council had been vouchsafed the revelation of the incompetence and servility of the Government of India and its servants which had been vouchsafed to the hon. Members, whose views on Indian affairs were those of the Hindu Congress and the Bengal agitators. It was perhaps hardly in order to take it for granted that the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State proposed to appoint any natives of India to his Council, seeing that the Bill contained no reference to Indians or to any other race, but since this assumption had been made, he hoped the right hon. Gentleman would appoint natives; if would be an admirable measure if he did. But he protested against the suggestion of the hon. Member who moved this Motion as to the men who would be representative, because he meant that those men alone would be representative who held the views of the hon. Gentleman— the views of the Bengalis of Calcutta, or rather of a section of the Babes of that city, and not of men who could and would represent the masses of India. He did not think that the Secretary of State would appoint men other than those who were truly representative of India, and they were not to be found among those who came over here and were accepted by the people of this country as authorities, although they had renounced the religion and caste of the natives and were, themselves in turn, renounced by the natives. As regarded the reduction of salary to which the Leader of the Opposition made certain objections, he would venture to suggest that members of the Civil Service and other officials who came home from India would not refuse an appointment because the salary was reduced from £1,200 to £1,000. He thought this reduction was probably a wise measure because by it the cost of appointing the extra members would be met, and he was quite certain it was very desirable to reduce the period of absence from India for appointment purposes from ten years to five. He might say for the benefit of those hon. Members who smiled at that, that he left India more than five years ago, and was, like most Indian officials and ex-officials, perfectly independent, and speaking with perfect sincerity, of matters which affected him personally and peculiarly in no way whatever. He thought this was an extremely good Bill and he was very sorry to find that any hon. Member who wanted to improve the position of the Council, and was filled with vague and ill -defined yearnings to do something magnificently revolutionary in character, should suggest that it should be passed next session or some other time instead of at the earliest possible moment.

*SIR H. COTTON (Nottingham, E.)

supported the Second Reading of the Bill, though he confessed that his anxiety to see the Bill passed into law had been slightly weakened by the speech of the hon. Member who had spoken just before him. He was almost afraid that his desire to support his right hon. friend the Secretary of State might be a mistaken one, because he felt that if he went into the same lobby with the hon. Member for the Montgomery Boroughs upon any Indian subject he might very possibly make a mistake. However that might be, he would certainly advise the House, if they would pay any attention to his advice in the matter, to support the Secretary of State for India and agree to the Second Reading of this Bill. He was personally not very friendly to the scheme for the enlargement of the Council that the Secretary of State had submitted, but he did not want to waste the time of the House by discussing the constitution of the Council. He freely admitted he did not like the enlargement of the Council; but in other respects the Bill seemed to him to be an excellent one, and its provisions were in the direction of greater efficiency. Although there were many points on which he would have liked to have spoken he thought at that late hour it was sufficient to say that the Bill had his general support and approval.

*MR. SMEATON (Stirlingshire)

said he only desired to offer his hearty support to the Bill. He agreed with his hon. friend who had just spoken that on any point with respect to Indian administration he was afraid he would be in the wrong lobby if he found himself in the lobby with the hon. Member for the Montgomery Boroughs. The Bill was a very mild one, but to his mind it had the saving grace that it moved in the right direction, namely, that it tended to keep the Indian Council more abreast of the changes in the opinions and condition of the Indian people. The restriction of the time of absence from India of a nominee for the Council was wise, because opinions and events in India now moved rapidly, and if the nominees for the Council were workmanlike, independent men who had quite recently been among the people and took a real interest in their affairs, the more useful to the progressive administration of India they would be. He would only add to his support of the Bill one suggestion. If it had been possible to introduce a provision enacting that there should be, as in the case of the Colonies, periodical Indian Conference it would very much strengthen the hands of the Secretary for India. There was no doubt that if the right hon. Gentleman had had the advice of such a Conference, and if the Council had had the advice of a few independent members of the Indian community to discuss frankly Indian affairs without official bias, many of the scandals which had lately disgraced the annals of the Indian administration would have been avoided. The presence in this country of independent natives competent to convey to the Secretary of State and his Council the changes that had taken place in Indian opinion would carry immense weight; and would be of great utility in preventing the commission of stupid blunders and arrogant acts of the kind which had been witnessed during the late régime in India; and would be a check on any reactionary tendencies on the part of the Government at home. With these few remarks and a general approval of the tendency of the Bill he begged to give it his most cordial support.

MR. MOONEY (Newry)

said he did not rise to speak as a retired Indian civil servant, but to ask the Secretary for India if he could give him any information on two points which had occurred to him. He noticed that the right hon. Gentleman took power under this Bill to repeal the Act of 1876, which gave power to appoint any person possessing special qualifications. He thought it was rather a curious thing to repeal such a power given to a Government. The real point he wished to raise, however, was that in the Act of 1876 a person appointed to the Indian Council held office during good behaviour, and could only be removed, on an address of both Houses of Parliament. He could not find in that Act any power for what he might call the temporary suspension of a member of the Indian Council. He did not know whether it was done under that Act or not, but what he wanted to know was whether, if a member were temporarily detached from the Indian Council, it was open to that member of his own initiative to return to the Indian Council without being reappointed thereto by the Secretary of State.


As I understand the law, it is not within the power of the Secretary of State to reappoint a member of the Council who has once retired from office.


said his point did not refer to a member who retired from the Indian Council, but to the case of a member who was temporarily detached by the Indian Government from the Indian Council. Under such circumstances could the member return to the Council without the consent of the Secretary of State? The correct expression was "temporarily lent."


said he was not aware of any such case, and he thought he would be if any had arisen. If he were right in assuming that the hon. Gentleman had in mind a certain case, he might inform him that he was incorrectly informed.


said there was no concealment about the matter. The case he had in his mind was that of the Under-Secretary for Ireland, who was a Member of the Indian Council when appointed, and did not retire from that body. It was announced in this House that he was to be "temporarily lent" by the Indian Council to the Government of Ireland. What he desired to know was whether a person in that position could go back to the Indian Council of his own initiative without re-appointment by the Secretary for India. Was he free to return simply by expressing a wish to do so?


Certainly not by expressing any wish. I do not use the words "going back." No appointment can be made except by and with the consent of the Secretary of State.


said that under this Act the number of years during which a member of the council could be absent from India was reduced from ten to five. If a member had temporarily left India for more than five years he took it that, under the Act, he would not be entitled to go back to the council of which he was created a member, and from which he had not been dismissed. He would be in this curious position, that he could not go back unless appointed by the Secretary for India, and the Secretary for India could not appoint him because the period of his absence was more than five years. In this way they were creating a very curious anomaly.

MR. LUPTON (Sleaford)

said he only rose to ask a question from the right hon. Gentleman. He understood that this Bill was introduced partly in consequence of the determination of the right hon. Gentleman to add some natives of India to the Indian Council. But the Bill, as it stood, contained nothing about natives. Was it competent, for the right hon. Gentleman to appoint as many as he liked of the new members from amongst the natives of India, or was there a limit? He (Mr. Lupton) had had the advantage, some years ago, of meeting a member of the Indian Council, and he told him a great deal about India. One of the things he said, which struck him very much, was that famines in India were increasing, and were bound to increase still more in virulence and mortality. When he asked him; "What about the famine fund, has that been spent in Afghan wars? "he replied that it had; the Indian Government always used what funds they had got to pay their debts. He (Mr. Lupton) wished to ask if the Government were now advised to use the special famine funds for the payment of expenses incurred in military expeditions?


The last question of the hon. Member is one that, does not at all arise here. In reply to the first question, there is nothing in the Bill which at all limits or defines in any way the choice of the Secretary of State. He may appoint Indian members of the council or others.

*SIR J. JARDINE (Roxburghshire)

said he wished to make a few remarks, even at that late hour, because of the extreme importance of the subject, and necessarily few because the Bill had been introduced so very late in the session, and was now being debated very far into the small hours of the morning. He could have wished as they had a great question before them, that the debate could be conducted without any of that asperity which was introduced by his hon. friend near him. It was important when they were dealing with the affairs of India that they should take a high, statesmanlike view, not mere criticism of other Members whose opinions differed. He thought that those opinions were extremely valuable. He agreed entirely with what his hon. friend the Member for Walworth said about the need of having independent persons on the Council of State. He spoke of an independent mind rather than of personal character in these distinguished men. They should have men of varied careers, not merely one sort of officials, but as various and as representative as in that House. It was well known to those serving in India that the administration gained immensely in every way and at every point, and especially in times of peril, when it had competent native advisers on whom it could depend, and he welcomed the belief that this Bill was intended to assist the Secretary of State for India to bring into his Council some of the natives of the country, who were familiar with the opinions and the feelings of the people on many questions, familiar to a degree that no British official —however well-qualified in other respects —could possibly be. The changes the Bill made were likely to do good. It was, on the whole, he thought, well that the tenure of office should be reduced from ten years to seven. He could have wished, however, that they had some certain assurance that natives were going to be introduced into the Council. In fine, he hoped this Bill would pass its Second Reading, while its important details could be discussed in Committee.

MR. JOHN O'CONNOR (Kildare, N.)

said he wished to emphasise the observations of his hon. friend the Member for Newry. He had pointed out a couple of points at least which were well worth consideration by the Secretary of State for India. He had pointed out that under the Council of India Act, 1876, there was power to appoint a person possessing special qualifications to be a member of the Council. Section 5 of this Bill repealed the Act of 1876. Was it a wise proceeding to deprive the present Secretary of State or any future Government of the power of appointing a person possessing special qualifications? There might not be now on the political horizon a Warren Hastings or a Lord Clive, but there was the hon. Member for Montgomery Boroughs. The hon. Member was somewhat snobbish, but he put him down with such distinguished predecessors as Warren Hastings and Lord Clive, and they would all be satisfied if he soared in such a starry atmosphere as he had mentioned. He thought it would be an act of the greatest un wisdom for the Government to deprive itself or any other Government of India of the power of availing of the services of such hon. Gentlemen as the Member for Montgomery Boroughs. Now he came to what was proposed by this Bill. The first proposition was to fix the number of members of the Council, and on that he did not intend to trouble the House with any observations. But the second proposition was to reduce the period of possible absence from India before appointment from ten to five years. That affected a very distinguished public servant at the present time. They were not, and the House was not, quite clear as to what were the terms upon which the present Under-Secretary for Ireland retired from the position of a member of the Council of India. His recollection was that his retirement from the Council of India was tentative, that it came upon an invitation of a distinguished member of the late Government for the purpose of assisting him in a difficult situation. He wanted to know if he had altered his position as a member of the Council; was he still an outside member of the Council; did he ever retire from the Council; was his absence from India at present a real absence; was it an absence which would be construed by those who would have the interpretation of this Bill as a period of absence from India of five years or not? These were points they desired to have elucidated before they could with a clear conscience pass this part of the Bill. His hon. friend had raised these two points. He submitted that they were important points. The first was an important point; although he might have treated it in a light manner so far as the hon. Member opposite was concerned. The second question was one which his hon. friend, himself, and others were unable to understand. He did not wish it to be understood— and he was quite sure his hon. and learned friend did not wish it to be understood— that they were expressing any desire for the retirement of Sir A. MacDonnell. Par from it; but he was in Ireland at the invitation of, and had been appointed by, the Government of Ireland, on the understanding, if he remembered rightly, That his position would not be worsened soar as the Government were concerned. Before this Bill was pressed to a final issue, he thought the right hon. Gentleman ought, if he possibly could, to inform the House as to what the real position of the Under-Secretary for Ireland was. It might be that they would be obliged to abstain from voting, while they had a very honest and sincere desire—as they often had —of supporting the Government in the lobby. Then the Secretary of State had referred to the period of absence from India. He said a period of "real" absence. What did that mean? He thought that these two points ought to be elucidated before the House was called upon to come to a find decision on the Bill.


I beg to ask leave to withdraw my Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House for Tuesday. (Mr. Secretary Morley.)