HC Deb 04 December 1919 vol 122 cc757-61

  1. (1) Where either chamber of the Indian legislature refuses leave to introduce, or fails to pass 758 in a form recommended by the Governor-General, any Bill, the Governor-General may certify that the passage of the Bill is essential for the safety, tranquillity, or interests of British India or any part thereof, and thereupon—
    1. (a) If the Bill has already been passed by the other chamber, the Bill shall, on signature by the Governor-General, notwithstanding that it has not been consented to by both chambers, forthwith become an Act of the Indian Legislature in the form of the Bill as originally introduced or proposed to be introduced in the Indian legislature, or (as the case may be) in the form recommended by the Governor-General; and
    2. (b) If the Bill has not already been so passed, the Bill shall be laid before the other chamber, and, if consented to by that chamber in the form recommended by the Governor-General, shall become an Act as aforesaid on the signification of the Governor-General's assent, or if not so consented to, shall, on signature by the Governor-General, become an Act as aforesaid.
  2. (2) Every such Act shall be expressed to be made by the Governor-General, and shall, as soon as practicable after being made, be laid before both Houses of Parliament, and shall not have effect until it has received His Majesty's assent, and shall not be presented for His Majesty's assent until copies thereof have been laid before each House of Parliament for not less than eight days on which that House has sat; and upon the signification of such assent by His Majesty in Council, and the notification thereof by the Governor-General, the Act shall have the same force and effect as an Act passed by the Indian legislature and duly assented to:

Provided that where in the opinion of the Governor-General a state of emergency exists which justifies such action, the Governor-General may direct that any such Act shall come into operation forthwith, and thereupon the Act shall have such force and effect as aforesaid, subject, however, to disallowance by His Majesty in, Council.


I beg to move in Sub-section (1) to leave out the words "safety, traquility, or interests," and to insert instead thereof the words, "maintenance or discipline of any part of His Majesty's naval, military or air forces, or for the safety or tranquillity."

The object of the Clause is to give the Governor-General power to pass any Bill over the heads of the Indian Legislature, and that power professes to be qualified to the extent that he can only do this when he certifies that the passage of the Bill is essential for the "safety, tranquility or interests of British India, etc." The words are so general in their scope that they amount to no qualification at all. There is hardly any conceivable measure which the Governor-General if he wished could not pass over the heads of the Legislature under this provision. Therefore the Legislature has no effective power over the matters submitted to it. The real power rests with the Governor-General, and it is very dangerous to have a state of things like that. If this body of representative Indians approach these questions with the knowledge that the responsibility is not theirs, and with a feeling that if they reject a Bill it can still be passed over their heads, the result will be that the debates will be conducted as a means of agitation and propaganda and not as a means of practical legislation. If you are to have the debates of the proceedings conducted in a practical way you can only secure that by giving the Legislature some modicum of real responsibility for the work they are doing. Why are they not to be allowed some effective responsibility for measures which really concern themselves alone and which do not affect any problem of defence or international or Imperial relations or that really affects the safety or tranquility of India as a whole. I therefore suggest that the power of the Governor-General to pass legislation over the heads of the Legislative Assembly should he limited to those matters which are really essential from the military point of view, should, in the words of my Amendment, be limited to measures which are essential for "the maintenance and discipline of any part of His Majesty's naval, military, or air forces, or for the safety and tranquility of British India or any part thereof."


My hon. Friend has raised a point of supreme importance. It would be very strange if now we adopted an Amendment on this Clause after not adopting a similar Amendment on the previous Clause. I cannot for the life of me see why you should make a difference between the maintenance or discipline of any part of His Majesty's Forces and other interests. The only reason for specifically excluding His Majesty's Forces would be that the Viceroy and his Government are responsible to the Secretary of State and to this House for the internal arrangements of those forces, but not for internal arrangements generally. Under the scheme of the Bill we make the Government responsible to Parliament still for the whole of the government of India. The whole theory of the Bill is that we do not establish a diarchy in the Government of India. I know that some of my hon. Friends think that we do, but if you have an Executive responsible to Parliament not only for the maintenance of discipline in any of His Majesty's Forces, but also for the interests of India you must give them power to discharge that responsibility and to pass the legislation which they regard as essential. It is not any measure which affects the interests; it is a measure which the Viceroy can say is essential. He does not now, as he used to do, pass that legislation by means of what used to be called the "official block;" he passes it frankly as an executive order of his Government. It does not then become law until it has been before this House and the other House where any Member will have an opportunity of discharging his true functions as the trustee of the Indian electorate. He will have in order to deal with that subject the opportunity of a Repot upon the measure by a Standing Committee appointed by this House itself. Therefore, I do think that the use of the power is guaranteed both by the form and by the appeal to Parliament itself. With these guarantees I do submit, if the Viceroy and his Government, who are responsible to this House for the good government of the Empire of India, feel that legislation is necessary, they ought not to be deprived of the opportunity of getting it.


I quite agree that the Viceroy ought not to be deprived of the opportunity of passing legislation which he thinks is essential to the safety of India or of the British Empire. But what is the meaning of the word "interest." It is a perfectly vague term. Every piece of legislation is held to be essential in the interests of this country. But this Clause gives the Viceroy carte blanche to introduce any legislation. I think that is too wide a power. If the Amendment of my hon. Friend is accepted it will provide a clear definition of the sort of measure the Viceroy can introduce. Would he be able to introduce a Bill like the Ballot Act which was passed through this House? Is it required to give the Governor-General power to introduce Bills of even a more general character or less urgent in their nature? Even if this Amendment is not carried, I hope the right hon. Gentleman will inform the Viceroy, or anyone who is to have power to initiate such legislation, that by the word "interests" what is meant is exactly that which the hon. Member has put down in his Amendment.


Is not too much stress being laid on the wrong word? Should it not be on the word "essential" rather than "interests." And does not the word "essential" ensure all the protection which is necessary?

Amendment negatived.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 27 (Supplemental Provisions as to Powers of Indian Legislature) ordered to stand part of the Bill.