HC Deb 04 December 1919 vol 122 cc709-11

(1) Sub-sections (1) and (3) of Section sixty-seven of the principal Act (which relate to the classes of business which may be transacted by the Indian legislative council) shall cease to have affect.


I beg to move, in Sub-section (1), to leave out the words "Sub-sections (1) and (3)," and to insert instead thereof the words "Sub-section (1), paragraph (a) of Sub-section (2), and Sub-section (3)."

This Clause deals with the business and proceedings in Indian Legislatures, and, generally speaking, the provisions of Clause 24 are similar to the Clause already dealt with dealing with the Provincial Legislatures. The point I want to raise is as to the grant of fiscal autonomy to Indian Legislatures. At present the Joint Committee have gone so far as to recommend that India be allowed to put on Import Duties and that the Government, if they think lit, shall propose Import Duties to time Legislatures. But what Indians want, and what I think we ought to grant, is some measure of fiscal autonomy. I submit that the question of Import Duties should not be simply a question for the Governor and the executive, but should be dependent on the Assembly itself. What I am proposing to do is to leave out from Sub-section (1) to (3), and to insert instead Sub-sections (1), paragraph (a) of Subsection (2), and Sub-section (3), and if that alteration is made it will be possible to introduce legislation imposing Import Duties in India and to grant that fiscal autonomy which I think almost the whole of the evidence from India asked for. This is not merely a demand of the Congress party. It is also the demand of the majority. They want that feeling of responsibility which can only come from some control of the purse, and if the Amendment were carried they would have a beginning of control of the purse which would, of course, be developed in future years. During the early years of this experiment, are we not going to allow these people any sort of fiscal autonomy? This demand comes from all parties in India, and should be conceded, and now we have got over the principal objection with regard to duties being imposed in India on account of the interests of people in Lancashire or elsewhere in this country, cannot we go the whole hog and decide there shall be fiscal autonomy, and that the people of India themselves shall be able to decide what duties shall be put rather than that the decision shall be left to the wisdom of the Governor, who is, in various ways, to discover what the people want. Why leave it to the Governor, and why not allow the people to feel that they have some control in this matter? In connection with Import Duties it is of paramount importance that the will of the people should be expressed, and it ought not to be left to be discovered by indirect means.

We are relying on the Governor interviewing all the vested interests concerned, bearing in mind no doubt the public interests and the interests of the consumers. Bat the people who will be interviewed, and whose desires will be translated into Import Duties, will be those who represent the vested interests. We all know that vested interests are powerful enough even in an ordinary representative assembly, but when a representative assembly has practically nothing to do I am afraid their power will be even greater. I am, of course, hoping that India will not impose any protective traiffs whatsoever. I know that if one is introduced it will work to the injury of the people of India, of the ordinary common or garden ryot and industrial worker. I say the people of India are entitled to express their own views as to what they want. If you leave it to the Government to impose these taxes, and if the people of, India subsequently find that they are not to their advantage but rather to their disadvantage, they will blame the British Government. The blame will not fall on the politician as it should do, and I submit it is only by allowing the elected representatives of the people to make their own mistakes that they will eventually learn to go right. If you put the duty on to the Governor, we shall have to stand the blame; we shall be accused of having imposed the duties, and the position of the British Government in India will be detrimentally affected. I know it is hopeless almost to expect any Amendment of any sort to be introduced into this Bill, but I do wish we could have that small amount of courage which is necessary for granting fiscal autonomy to this new democracy, so that time people may make their own mistakes and not put the blame for them on to our shoulders.


I hope I shall be able to convince the hon. and gallant Member (Colonel Wedgwood) that what he seeks to do is quite unnecessary. The proper plan of Parliamentary procedure is that fiscal proposals should be proposed by the Government. I am quite in agreement with the hon. Member with regard to fiscal autonomy for India, and I would point out that it is not the Government of India which has been in disagreement on this point. It has been the Secretary of State. There has been no controversy between the officials and the non-officials. Most of the officials have been Protectionists. I myself, as the hon. and gallant Member knows, am a convinced Free Trader, but I hope the example afforded by Protection in India will make more Free Traders. I think it is only right, if India is to possess any key industries, that she should have the liberty of revising her own tariffs in what she considers to be the best way. Under these circumstances I think my hon. and gallant Friend will appreciate the fact that this Amendment is not necessary. Any tariff proposed in India must be put into a Bill which can only be carried by the votes of the Legislature.


But the Bill will be such that it cannot be amended. It will not be possible to put Import Duties on other articles or to vary the proposal. The Bill must be carried as it stands.


They can amend it, but, of course, the Bill has to be introduced by the Government. It is the responsibility of the Government, and, whatever its shortcomings, we must keep that responsibilty to the Government.

Amendment negatived.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.