HC Deb 01 March 1921 vol 138 cc1614-8

I desire with your permission, Mr. Speaker, to raise a point of Order arising out of certain rulings which you gave on Wednesday and Thursday last, which rulings have given rise to anxiety in many quarters. That is due to an interpretation being placed upon them which I think they were not intended to bear. The point arose on Wednesday with reference to a question as to the action of a Governor in appointing a certain Minister, and you said, Sir, That does not seem to be a matter for this Parliament. You further stated: The House having given practically Home Rule or something in the nature of Home Rule to these Councils, the lees it interferes with these Councils the better."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Wednesday, 23rd February, 1921, col. 901, Vol. 138.] On Thursday in reply to a question of my own as to the responsibility of the Governor to this House through the Secretary of State, quite irrespective of any question of the Minister or the Council, you stated: The question was intended to hit the Minister through the body of the Governor."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Thursday, 24th February, 1921, col. 1149, Vol. 138.] I desire to raise now no question in regard to the Minister or the Local Council, nor, so far as I understood, was either of these involved in the question of the responsibility of the Governor to this House through the Secretary of State for India. I venture to call your attention to the Preamble of the Act of 1919, wherein, in reference to the progressive realisation of responsible government in British India, it is stated: Progress in giving effect to this policy can only be achieved by successive stages, and further: The time and manner of each advance can be determined only by Parliament upon whom the responsibility lies for the welfare and advancement of the Indian peoples. I would further call your attention to the fact that the appointment of the Minister rests solely with the Governor, and that under the Act and in accordance with strong recommendation from the Joint Committee responsibility to this House through the Secretary of State is strongly affirmed, and any rules restricting such responsibility must be approved by Parliament under Section 33 of the Act. I desire therefore to ask you whether we are right in assuming that nothing in your rulings of last week should be understood as limiting the powers of' Parliament to supervise the action of officers acting in India under the Secretary of State, or the right of Members of this House to raise questions as to such action.


I thank the right hon. Gentleman for having been kind enough to postpone from yesterday to to-day the raising of this point of Order. That has given me more time to look into the matter and refresh my memory by reading again the Preamble to the Act of 1919. The more I look at it the more I am convinced that I was right. The last paragraph says: And whereas concurrently with the gradual development of self-governing institutions in the Provinces of India it is expedient to give to those Provinces in provincial matters the largest measure of independence of the Government of India which is compatible with the due discharge by the latter of its own responsibilities. If, therefore, this House was of opinion that it was desirable to give the Provinces of India the largest possible measure of independence of the Government of India a fortiori, it is desirable that those Provinces should be given a large measure of independence of the Imperial Parliament. That was my reading and that is my reasoning upon the Preamble. I have also looked at the Act again. I have come to the conclusion that, having started upon this new departure of granting a measure of self-government to the Provinces of India, it is highly undesirable that this House should interfere in any way with the control by those provincial Legislatures of their own affairs. The Ministers who are selected by the Provincial Governors are selected under the Act of Parliament by the Governors, but the Ministers are responsible to the Legislative Councils of those Provinces, and even if this House were to pass some censure, either direct or indirect, upon such a Minister, it would be futile. Therefore, it is very undesirable that it should be done or that any step should be taken which would lead up to it.

It seems, therefore, to me that, taking the broad view of the situation, Parliament intended to transfer to these Provinces of India complete control, subject, possibly, to the action of the Indian Legislature, of the transferred subjects and. of the transferred subjects only—those are the only ones I am referring to. For that purpose the Governors of Provinces are empowered to select Ministers who will be responsible to the Provincial Legislative Council. Therefore, to permit criticism of the character or conduct of the Governors ii, the matter of transferred subjects appears to me to nullify the intentions of the Act. I have also come to the following conclusion. If it is desired to condemn the action of any Governor in a matter not transferred, it is open to a Member to make a Motion of a character similar to that which is made in the case of the Governor-General of India or the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. That, I think, replies to the last part of the hon. Member's point of Order as to the power of this House to supervise the action of the officers acting under the Secretary of State.


With all respect to your ruling, may I point out that I intended, and I thought I had conveyed my meaning, to confine my point solely to the question not of the case of Ministers dealing with transferred subjects but of the action of the officers responsible through the Secretary of State to this House in their general administrative acts. I was not referring to the transferred subjects at all. The appointment of those ministers is not a transferred subject. It is a matter for which the Governors are responsible, as I understand, to this House, but I gather from the last words that fell from you that you leave to Members the right to raise questions as to the action of such officers?


That is so. I accept the view of the right hon. Gentleman, but upon the question of transferred subjects I still hold that there is no right of interference by this House.


Of course we recognise that it is for the Chair to determine questions of Order, but I do not quite understand how this is a question of Order. It may or may not be desirable to interfere with transferred subjects, but it is for the House to consider the question; it is not a matter for the Chair.


The Noble Lord, I think, was not here when questions were put last week which raised the point of Order. That is why I was brought in.


May I ask, in view of the judgment which you have now delivered, that the action of the Governor may be criticised whether an appointment by a Governor of A or B is not an act coming directly under your ruling, seeing that the Governor is responsible to the Secretary of State for his action? We do not want to ask the views of yourself or of any other Members as to the acts of individual Ministers, but may we not, under your ruling, ask whether a Governor has appointed A or B as a Minister?


I thought that I had answered that question. As a result of my construction of the Act, it places him in the same position as the Governor-General. If criticism be desired, a Motion should be put down in the ordinary way, and discussed in this House.

Sir J. D. REES

Will not the difficulties of the Indian Governors, which are already sufficient, be immensely increased if the House is to discuss and criticise their appointments of Ministers?


I am much obliged to the hon. Baronet for his support.


Are not the restrictions and rules with regard to the putting of questions in this House definitely laid down in the Manual of Procedure which is in the hands of all Members, and would it not be more desirable that the Standing Orders on which those rules are based should be altered to meet these growing requirements than that the existing rules should be extended, however desirable it may be, by the exercise and discretion of the Chair? It would give much more certain guidance to hon. Members, and, in view of the growing importance of the relations between the Imperial Parliament and subordinate Parliaments, this is a matter which may come up in the future in many respects.


There are no Standing Orders applicable to the present case, but there is no reason, if the House think fit, why it should not introduce such a Standing Order as the hon. Gentleman suggests.


Is it correct to use the words "subordinate Parliaments" for the Legislatures of Canada and the Commonwealth of Australia? Is not that one of the things most resented in the Commonwealth, and is it not much more desirable, if we are going to frame a new Standing Order dealing with the powers of this House to question all these various Legislatures of the Empire, that the word "subordinate" should be carefully kept out in each case?

Lieut.-Colonel ARCHER-SHEE

Is it not the fact that India is a self-governing Dominion?


We are getting rather far from the point from which we started.