HC Deb 26 November 1931 vol 260 cc541-9

I beg to move, in page 2, line 3, to leave out the word "thirty-three," and to insert instead thereof the word "thirty-two."

4.0 p.m.

The object of this Amendment is to reduce the period for which the Secretary of State will be enabled to reduce the salaries of members of the services in India from a period of 16 months to a period of four months. The Bill was introduced in this House yesterday in terms which showed that there was nothing at all in its favour except one thing. The only statement that was made in its favour was the statement that it was merely a temporary Bill. If that be so, my right hon. Friend must be the more willing to accept this Amendment. If a period of 16 months is temporary, a period of four months, as proposed in my Amendment, is still more temporary, and to that extent it deserves the support of this Committee. It is well known to all the Members of this Committee that it is not possible at this time to say what the state of the Budget of the Government of India will be for 1932–33. That must be evident to everyone who knows the conditions, and I am confirmed in this view by the statement made in Simla by the Finance Member of the Government of India speaking on this subject in September of this year. He stated before the Legislative Assembly: It is quite clear that in the present circumstances it is impossible to prepare an accurate estimate of our income and expenditure for 1932–33. We recognise the emergency which exists at the present time. We recognise that, in view of that emergency, the salaries of certain members of the services in India may have to be reduced this year, but we say, in view of the guarantee to those services by Parliament and by the Secretary of State, if it should be necessary again in 1932 to come before Parliament, the Secretary of State should do so. In the meantime those reductions which are necessary in the present year should be made, and with regard to 1932–33 a further reference should be made to Parliament if the necessity arises. There is a special reason why Parliament should insist on reviewing this question next year. It is known to many Members of the Committee that those who are affected by this Bill are members of services who were given a definite guarantee by Parliament in 1919. At that time Parliament was anxious to secure the co-operation of the services in India in the reforms which were then introduced. In order to obtain that cooperation, Parliament decided that their salaries should not be dealt with except by Act of Parliament. That was a contract which had two sides to it. You said to the Civil Service: "If you co-operate in these reforms, we on our part will see that your pay is not interfered with in any way." The contract has been carried out loyally by the services in India, and it seems only right that Parliament should see that it carries out its contract.

It is always a serious thing for a Government to break their promise. It is a- still more serious thing for a Government to break a contract entered into, when the parties on the other side have already carried out their share of the contract. It is a still more serious thing to break a contract which has been embodied solemnly in an Act of Parliament. For that reason, I think that the Committee would be well advised to accept this Amendment, and I feel that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State himself may find at least one reason why he should be prepared to welcome it. It is well known to the Committee that my right hon. Friend has been holding his office only for a few weeks. During that time he has had many pre-occupations of another kind which have prevented him from giving that continued attention to administrative questions which he otherwise might have done. He may very well then welcome a longer time to enable him to consult the Government of India and to think over this question with a little less pre-occupation. The very fact that yesterday, when this question was under discussion in the House—and I do not say this by way of criticism—the Secretary of State was not able to be present in the House during the whole of the Debate, is an indication that this question, on account of his other preoccupations, could not receive that attention from my right hon. Friend or this House which otherwise it would have received, and which it was entitled to receive.

There is one other aspect of the case. Before very long the servants of the Government in India who are affected by the Bill will be subjected to a very severe strain. That strain will commence in December, and, if history is any guide, it will go on increasing, and will reach a maximum about April or May. Is it right at a time like that for your servants in India to feel that they have not the support of the Government at home and the support of the House of Commons to which they are entitled? I quite agree with what was said yesterday on the other side of the House. It may be arguable whether we should remain in India or not, but what is not arguable is that your servants in India, as long as they are there carrying out your orders, should receive the constant support of Parliament and of the Secretary of State. If my right hon. Friend is prepared to accept this Amendment, it, will be a gesture that will show to all the services in India that he is anxious to give their case further consideration, and also that he is anxious that Parliament should carry out the definite contract it made with the members of these services in 1919. Those contracts should be inviolable. If, on the other band, the Amendment is not accepted, it will be felt by many members of the services in India that Parliament is not at their back, and when the time of strain comes, there may be many of your servants in India who will feel that on a question of this importance they should have received stronger support from Parliament and from the Secretary of State.


I support the Amendment proposed by the hon. Member for Stirling and Clackmannan (Mr. Ker) and I congratulate him on his first speech in this assembly. I hope that he will have many opportunities of contributing to our Debates and that he will add one more to the distinctive Scottish tongues which occasionally make themselves heard here. It was the intention of myself and my hon. Friends, who moved the rejection of this Bill yesterday, to propose several Amendments on the Committee stage but it will be remembered that we received somewhat meagre support in the Division Lobby on the vote on the Second Beading of the Bill. After that vote we did not think that we should be justified in carrying our antagonism to the Bill into a further stage of the proceedings. The speech of the hon. Member and his Amendment have, however, given us new heart and we assure him that when he goes into the Lobby in support of his Amendment we shall be only too glad to assist in swelling the number of those supporting the Amendment, and if he should be in any difficulty as to getting the necessary Whips or tellers for the Division, we shall be ready to give what assistance we can from our somewhat limited numbers.

The SECRETARY of STATE for INDIA (Sir Samuel Hoare)

I should like to remove two misapprehensions which seem to be in the mind of my hon. Friend the Member for Stirling and Clackmannan (Mr. Ker). First, he seemed to think that I had not been giving close attention to this question. I assure him that ever since I have held my present office—and that time is more than the few weeks which my hon. Friend suggested—there has been no question to which I have given closer attention than this. During the whole of that period I have been in constant communication both with the Government of India and with many representatives of the Civil Service in connection with it and it certainly would not be fair to say that I have not taken a very exceptional personal interest in the question during all the time that I have been at the India Office. My hon. Friend was justified in calling attention to the fact that I was not present yesterday during the whole of the Debate but that was not my fault. I had to attend a Cabinet Committee in connection with Indian affairs and my absence on that occasion does not mean that from start to finish I have not taken the closest personal interest in this very important question.

Secondly, my hon. Friend seemed to think that the passing of this Bill would show that the House of Commons as a whole was not prepared to give its full support to the public servants in India. I venture to think that that is not a correct estimate of the situation. This Bill in no way shows any want of confidence in the Services and I assure the members of those Services once again as I assured them yesterday that they would have the fullest support on all sides of the House in the difficult time which may be in store for them. Having made those two observations I come to the Amendment itself. I am afraid I cannot accept it for this reason. It is the intention of the Government of India to balance its Budget over the next 18 months. Very careful calculations have been made and have been embodied in the Budget which was introduced by the Finance Member a few weeks ago. It is essential if the Budget is to be balanced during the next 18 months that the items included in it should be carried into effect. These cuts represent one of those items and it is essential, if financial stability is to be assured, that during this period of 18 months the cuts should continue. Without these cuts I am sorry to say that the Budget would not balance.

If the hon. Member's Amendment were accepted it would mean that similar action would have to be taken with the Services which do not possess the protection of the Secretary of State, that is to say the cuts over the whole field of the Services would have to be restricted to a period of four months. That would entail a loss of about £6,000,0000 to the revenue over the period in question. In view of that fact I cannot accept the Amendment nor do I think that it would be wise for the Committee to agree to a course which would inevitably involve the Secretary of State for India, whoever he may be, coming here in the course of another four months for another Bill of the same kind as this. I hope, therefore, that my hon. Friend, whom I would like to congratulate upon his maiden speech, will see that I am forced to take the course which I am taking by the national emergency and by the situation in which we find ourselves and that it is essential that the Bill should go through in its present form.


The only reason why I find myself unable to support the Amendment is the fact which has been stated by the Secretary of State, namely, that a cut of this kind must be universal. But I wish to make it perfectly clear that there are dozens, indeed, probably hundreds of Members of this Committee who dislike the whole idea of these cuts just as much as the Secretary of State. I should not like any wrong conclusion to be drawn from the speech of my hon. Friend who moved the Amendment—and I am sure he did not mean to cast any reflection on any of us—or from the fact that we are voting for this Bill. We only do so because a crisis exists. I think the Services in India realise and have accepted the fact that a crisis does exist. It is only for that reason and because the situation is as serious as we all know it to be, that any of us would vote for this Bill at all.

Lieut.-Colonel Sir WALTER SMILES

I listened yesterday with great attention to the speech of the Secretary of State for India and I sympathised with the right hon. Gentleman in the fact that these cuts were forced upon him. I wish to point out that these cuts may be used in the Provincial Legislatures as an excuse for reducing the pay of the lower ranks of the police, and it is the lower ranks of the police about whom I am concerned. Unless the pay of the higher ranks was reduced I do not believe that support would be found in the Provincial Legislatures for reducing the pay of the lower ranks. Only two years ago I was asked to report on the pay and conditions of our Indian police. I went round the barracks there and I found them living under conditions which were absolutely deplorable for servants of the Crown. A number of young well-educated men have joined up as police constables, and in my inspection I found a young University man who had joined up as a police constable. It was a great distress to me to see the conditions under which these men were living along with the other police constables, the lodging which they had and the pay which they were receiving.

A few months ago there was a Debate in the House of Commons on the conduct of our police in India and several bouquets were thrown, and deservedly thrown, at the police for their loyal conduct during a time of civil commotion. Now the House of Commons proposes to reward them with an Irishman's rise. I think that the Amendment is quite in order in relation to a serious cut of this character. The police will probably have to go through further troubles and dangers in the next few months and it is only fair that the question should be considered again, before making these cuts applicable for the longer period. If we are going to cut the pay of the police in this way it will be very difficult to get the right type of men to take commissions in the police. Up to date they have been making all the sacrifices in India. I have seen these commissioned policemen quelling riots and walking backwards and forwards between two opposing bodies and going up to the people and speaking to them in the vernacular and saying to them, "Brother keep quiet; why do you want to do this sort of thing?" Had it not been for the action of these British police officers in many cases these mobs would have been inflamed and the courage of these men during those hot periods has saved the situation. Now we propose to reward them with a cut in their pay.

I think it is quite in order to propose that this matter should come up again for consideration in a few months' time. By then, when measures have been taken by the Government to meet the economic situation in India, it is quite possible that as the result of a trade agreement, the finances of both countries may have improved. It may then be possible to pay our police force properly. I know that in the Provincial Legislatures a cut of this kind in the higher ranks of the police will be seized upon by the Swarajist members as an excuse for reducing the pay of the lower ranks and it is for that reason that I support this Amendment.


I would like to reply to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Blackburn (Sir W. Smiles) on that point. Let me say first that we are all glad to have in him another Indian expert to join in our discussions on these questions, and I congratulate him upon his speech. As far as the police are concerned, all the lower ranks are exempted. The Provincial Governments one and all have agreed to exempt the lower ranks from any cut.


Having been a member of the Indian Civil Service for 27 years can claim to understand the feelings of that service as well as anyone here. After what I have heard from my right hon. Friend on the subject of these cuts, I wish to express my gratitude to him on behalf of the men of the Civil Service for all the kindness which he has shown to the service in the short time during which he has been Secretary of State and to express the hope that that attitude on his part will continue. I should also like to say that I was both surprised and pleased to hear the very sympathetic remarks on the subject of the Indian Civil Service of the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton). I can hardly say whether my surprise or my pleasure was the greater. In view of what the Secretary of State has said and the attitude which he has shown on this question of the Services in India I ask the leave of the Committee to withdraw the Amendment.

4.30 p.m.


We had intended to divide the Committee on this Amendment, but we do not wish to put the Committee to the trouble of taking a vote. May I suggest to the hon. Member for Stirling and Clackmannan (Mr. Ker), who is a newcomer here, that I am extremely surprised at his congratulations to the Secretary of State for India. He must be very easily satisfied with the right hon. Gentleman when he congratulates him on his generous disposition. About the only thing he has introduced for India so far is a cut, yet the hon. Member hoped he would continue in that generous fashion. It is rather a curious way of being generous. However, speaking for myself and my hon. Friends, we do not intend to divide, not because we are not in favour of the Amendment, but because the coalition of the Labour, Liberal and Conservative parties would make our numbers appear so meagre that we do not wish to take up the time of the Committee by dividing.

Amendment negatived.


I beg to move, in page 2, line 4, after the word "pension," to insert the words "or gratuity."

This Clause as it stands exempts pensions altogether from the cuts. The Amendment is intended also to exempt gratuities payable at the end of an officer's service, which are calculated with reference to his pay. It is not intended that the amount of these gratuities shall be affected by any temporary reduction of pay, and it is therefore desired to extend to such gratuities the protection already provided in the Bill in respect of pensions. The Government contributions to provident, funds, although not directly dependent on an officer's pay, are indirectly related to pay, in that, they are based on the amount of the officer's own contributions, which are a percentage of his pay. It is intended to give officers the option, during the period when the cut in pay is in operation, of contributing either on the basis of their gross pay or their reduced pay, but that the Government's contribution shall in all cases be calculated as it the officers' contributions had been based on their gross pay. The Committee, therefore, will see that the Amendment is intended still further to safeguard the rights of the services.

Amendment agreed to.


I beg to move, in page 2, line 5, after the word "pay," to insert the words: or the amount of any contribution from the Governor-General in Council or from any local government in India to any provident fund.

This is consequential upon the last Amendment.

Amendment agreed to.

Question. "That the Clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill," put, and agreed to.

Clause 2 (Short title) ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Bill reported; as amended, considered.