HC Deb 06 March 1934 vol 286 cc1667-77

Order for Second Reading read.

3.45 p.m.


I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."

The purpose of the Bill is to continue an emergency cut in the pay of those servants whose pay is protected by Parliament, for a further emergency period until 1st April, 1935. The House will remember that the original 10 per cent. cut in the pay of these servants made by Parliament was imposed as a result of the economic crisis in September, 1931. The cut was reintroduced at a lower rate of 5 per cent. in April of last year, and the necessary authority of Parliament for the imposition of the cut was given in the Indian Pay (Temporary Abatements) Acts of 1931 and 1933. When I introduced a similar Bill to this last year I explained to the House that this legislation affected only officers appointed by the Secretary of State before 1919. In 1931 the cut was imposed upon the whole range of officers in India, the whole range of Government servants; it was thought invidious then that this small class of protected officers, whose pay could not be reduced except with the consent of Parliament, should escape.

Since it has been found necessary, as I shall explain, to reimpose this cut for a further period, it has been thought that this Bill should be introduced to deal with the class of officers whose pay on the whole is higher than that of the others, that they should not escape, and that all should be treated alike. When the Bill was brought in last year it was sincerely hoped that it would be possible to avoid continuing the cut for a further period. It was hoped that finances might have improved sufficiently to render unnecessary the introduction of a Bill of this sort. Unfortunately, owing to the continuation of the world economic depression it is necessary to introduce this Measure. The Government regret that they see no alternative to introducing the Bill and continuing the cut, even if it be at the reduced rate of 5 per cent.

Since the economic depression the Government of India have never slackened in their efforts to achieve and maintain financial stability. They are approaching the Budget of 1934–35 in the same exemplary spirit. In order to avoid a deficit it has been proposed to raise an extra £4,000,000 by taxation and other measures. The House will see, therefore, that if we did not introduce this Bill the amount would have to be substantially increased. In the case of the Provinces, there are several in which there are special circumstances calling for continued economy. For example, special help is necessary from the central Budget to meet a deficiency in Bengal. There is also provision in that Budget for a grant to Bihar, where the colossal earthquake has made the financial position especially difficult. The House will see that it is impossible to save the necessary £2,500,000, which is the sum that would be required were the cuts to be removed in toto. That sum comprises the money necessary to relieve the cuts on all the services in India including the railway service. Therefore, I think hon. Members will agree that there is no alternative to continuing this cut.

It has been represented that the mere fact of having come to this House would undermine the security which the services felt in the fact that their pay could not be cut except with the consent of Parliament. I would rather envisage this procedure, which is necessary before this pay can be cut, as being an example of the special safeguard enjoyed by the Secretary of State's services in India. This Debate gives Parliament a satisfactory opportunity of discussing the matter and is a proof of the reality of the safeguard. The Government however desire to make it clear that the continuance of the cut for another year in no way implies that the present deduction in the pay of existing servants in India is other than temporary, as the terms of the Bill itself indicate. The restoration to the services in India of their full pay at the earliest possible moment is still the fixed determination of the Government and it is with the greatest regret that they have found it necessary to postpone the fulfilment of their earnest desire. It may be apposite to quote some words used by Sir George Schuster in proposing the Indian Budget to the Legislative Assembly. Having said that the finances of India bore comparison with those of any country in the world he used these words: We seem to have touched the bottom. If the tendencies which have recently been apparent continue, there is good hope that there will be a margin next year large enough, not merely for the restoration of the cuts but for the relaxation of other burdens. He added: Neither India nor any other country is yet out of the wood and a cautious outlook is still necessary. I sincerely hope that the services will accept the unfortunate necessity of continuing the cut. Even though it be at a reduced rate, to many of them it may seem obnoxious, but I am sure they will accept the necessity with the same good sense as they did on the previous occasion. It is largely due to the loyal determination of the services that an improvement in the Indian position has been seen during the last 12 months. To an officer on small rates of pay every rupee counts, and the House must realise that if we are to "emerge from the wood" it means demanding additional sacrifice from some of the most devoted servants of the Empire. If this improvement in the general position is to continue, it will again demand the loyal co-operation of the members of our services in India and of their families, living, perhaps, in some post where absence from home makes his burden all the more serious. I am sure that our Indian officials and service men can look with confidence to the sympathy of this House, and I am sure that this House will show that it is appreciative, despite the regrettable necessity of the Measure which I am obliged to introduce.

3.55 p.m.


It is only necessary for me to say a few words on behalf of the Members on this side of the House. This Bill is really a continuation of a policy which has been laid before us previously and is, of course, merely consequential on what has been done in India. In India it has been decided that cuts should be made in the pay of the Civil Service there, and I think that the civil servants in India themselves would be the first to resent any difference being made between one section and another, where sacrifice has been asked from all, merely because certain services hold a privileged position. As the Government of India has decided that certain cuts should be made in the pay of their services, it is only right that this House should take action to see that among all those civil servants the sacrifice is alike. We all recognise the hardship imposed by cuts. We all hope that cuts will soon come to an end in India and in this country, but in the meantime we cannot do anything but support this Measure.

3.56 p.m.


May I express my regret that the Under-Secretary of State for India has been under the necessity of bringing this Bill forward once again this year. Had it not been for the sudden and unexpected fall in the prices of certain commodities and the disaster which occured in a certain part of India, one hoped that it would have been possible to have had these cuts restored fully this year. I regret the necessity for continuing the cuts and I do so on two grounds. First there is the question of principle. I regret that it was thought necessary a few years ago to break a contract with certain servants of the Crown. I believe that the same results would have been obtained on a voluntary basis. I regret, too, that this precedent has been set up, because it is one which may possibly be appealed to and quoted in the future. Secondly, I regret this Measure because of what it entails and has entailed to a large number of officers in India.

The pay of junior officers—indeed of those up to the ranks of major and colonel—in India, is none too generous under existing conditions. A few months ago I made some investigations as to the actual pay received by certain officers and the expenses necessarily incurred by them. I do not think hon. Members realise the difference between the standard of living which an officer has to support in India and that which has to be maintained anywhere else in His Majesty's Dominions. The argument is often used that the British officer in England has had to suffer a cut of 11 per cent. whereas the officer in India has only suffered a cut of 5 per cent. But in England the 11 per cent. cut has come slowly and step by step and has been accompanied by a definite reduction in the cost of living, whereas in India the cut came suddenly and it has certainly not been accompanied by any decrease in the cost of living there. In India it is impossible for an officer to alter his standard of living or to reduce the standard of wages of the servants whom he has to employ.

In addition, there has been during the last two years and even in the last year a great increase in the duties and the surtax put upon imports which an officer in India has to buy for his own and his family's use. For instance I was informed that in certain messes bacon is no longer served for breakfast owing to the peculiarly high duty placed upon imports of that commodity. The amenities available for these officers in many parts of India are few and far between. Club life which is almost essential for social intercourse out there, has nearly ceased to exist, very largely because of the increase in the cost of living and the decrease in the pay of officers. Side by side with these officers there are the members of the Indian Civil Service, who far be it from me to say are overpaid, who, however, do receive better pay and better allowances than officers living more or less under the same conditions and of the same age. Although I quite appreciate the difficulty which the Government have had in facing this problem this year, and, it may be, even the impossibility of restoring these cuts, I hope and trust that next year, in fairness to these most deserving servants of the Crown, the Secretary of State and the Government of India will see their way to restore the full cuts.

4.1 p.m.

Captain FULLER

Whatever our views may be with regard to this Bill, I think that we must all associate ourselves with the remarks of the Under-Secretary when he expressed his regret at the necessity of once again coming to the House and asking for this Bill to be passed. This is the third time of asking, and I think we all hope that it will, as in another case, be the last time of asking. I think that in introducing the Bill the hon. Gentleman did not quite do justice to his own case. He has introduced a paradox, if I may say so, into the situation, because he based his case on what is essentially the dark side of the financial situation of India, whereas we in this House, and the country and world at large, have been invited in the last few days by the Finance Member of the Government of India to look upon the rosy side of the finances, as he sees them, and as he saw them when he introduced the Budget.

I am bound to say that if the case for this Bill rested upon the condition of the finances of the Central Government, I would be inclined to oppose it, because we have been told, and it is the fact, that the budgetary position in India for the last few years is that all outgoings have been met from revenue, and there has been, in addition, a very considerable sum—some eight crores—set aside for debt reduction. I think that is a state of affairs for which the Finance Member is entitled to be justly proud and with which few other countries in the world can compare. In the same Budget there has been, as the hon. Gentleman mentioned, quite a large appropriation for earthquake relief, a matter over which no one, unfortunately, has any control, but which we are entitled to think might have been applied to the alleviation of the situation in which these cuts have occasioned if the earthquake had not occurred. We must not forget, in considering the favourable position of the finances of the Central Government, that there has been a very large saving in expenditure, due once again to the efforts of the British taxpayer, because we have been told that a very large reduction in military expenditure has been due to the grant which this country is making—some £1,500,000 towards the military expenses of India.

While we are entitled to take note of this state of affairs in the Central Government, we must also, when we are considering the Bill on its merits, consider the state of affairs in the Provinces as well, because it is in the Provinces that I imagine the bulk of the servants affected by this Bill work, and on whose budgets the incidence of the salaries fall. The hon. Gentleman has rightly called attention to the case of Bengal, and there is the case of Burma, whose budget, I think, has a huge deficit, and for the balancing of which recourse has had to be made to borrowing. I think that in connection with the Bill itself, so far when this matter has been discussed we have considered the general principles underlying it, and we have not concerned ourselves, so far as my memory serves me, with the contents of the Bill.

It is an insignificant enough looking Bill of two Clauses. The second does nothing more than call attention to the contents of the Bill itself, but there is one thing in connection with Clause 1 and the Preamble to the Bill, to which I would like to draw attention. The Bill refers entirely to the question of pay. If I may be permitted for a few moments, I would like to explain what the general term "pay" means in India. It is not quite the same as it is in this country; in fact, the pay of the public servant in India may consist of one, or it may consist of three or four types of pay. In the first place, you may have an officer who is drawing only one pay, a basic rate of pay. Then you may have another officer who, in addition to this basic rate of pay, is drawing extra duty pay for some duty on which he may be employed. You may also have another officer who, in addition, will be drawing staff pay, so that it is frequently the case that an officer may be drawing three types of pay for appointments which he may be holding which would all come within the meaning of the term "pay" in this Bill. That generic term includes these three elements of pay.

There is, however, another aspect which affects this question materially, and that is the aspect of allowances, which the great majority of officers in India draw. There is, in the first place, the question of marriage allowances, which are paid to officers 30 years of age and over. Then there is the question of lodging allowance, which is payable to all officers, whether married or single, except in the case of those who are provided with quarters. There is also another form of allowance, which, I think, is payable almost exclusively to those who are stationed in the great Presidency towns which represents a compensatory allowance to provide for the great increase in cost of living which prevails in those cities. So that, in addition to the pay pure and simple, nearly everyone is affected by one or other, or perhaps all, of the allowances which I have enumerated, and, in fact, those allowances are not part of the pay at all. They are recognised in the financial instructions of the Government of India not to be part of pay. Pay includes basic pay, staff pay and extra duty pay, but it does not include allowances such as those which I have mentioned.

The point I wish to make is that, under the provisions of this Bill and the corresponding enactments in India on which this Bill is based, the abatement in pay has been applied not only to pay but to these allowances as well, and although I am not a lawyer, I have been long enough in this House to realise that most Bills that are introduced mean something quite different from what they say, and I would like to ask the right hon. Gentleman if it is the case that, under the terms of the Bill, allowances do not come within the provisions of the Bill. If I am right in this, some Amendment will obviously be necessary in the Committee stage.

There is one other point I would like to bring to the notice of the right hon. Gentleman. With regard to the compensatory allowances which are paid for the increased cost of living not only to civil but to military officers, while that allowance has been subject to the 10 per cent. cut up to last year, in spite of the fact that the Bill of last year reduced the cut from 10 to 5 per cent., the higher rate of 10 per cent. was applied to the Rangoon compensatory allowances at any rate up to October of last year, and refunds have only just been made. I recognise, of course, that that is an administrative error. At the same time, I would suggest that, in view of the fact that every rupee is needed by these officers, it is an error of a somewhat careless nature, and perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will be good enough to bring it to the notice of the requisite authority. There is nothing further I wish to say except that I agree with all that the hon. and gallant Member for Chippenham (Captain Cazalet) said in regard to the difficulties under which officers are serving, but I recognise that the Bill is absolutely necessary, and, in consequence, I shall support it.

4.12 p.m.


I have very few observation to make, as the year before last and last year I said all that could be said from my point of view as a retired member of one of the Services. I only hope that this Bill, which, I am afraid, shows signs of becoming a hardly annual, will at least after this year fade away, and that these cuts which the Services have suffered will then be restored. There is, however, one point which I would like the right hon. Gentleman to make clear in his reply. Last year, on the day that the second Bill was in the House for Second Reading, I received a telegram from the Services Association to the effect that the Madras Government had restored the cuts. I have never yet heard whether that was actually the case or not, but it does raise one issue upon which a reply by the right hon. Gentleman would, I think, be very useful. The point I wish to make is this: Does the restitution of these cuts depend upon the finances of the particular province in which the officer is serving, or does it depend upon the condition of the Central Government? All these officers whose pay has been cut are of an all-India Service, and therefore they have a claim upon the Central Government which does not equally apply to those officers who belong to provincial Services.

On the other hand, if the test is whether the particular province in which the officer is serving can afford to restore the cuts, then it seems to me that the position may become one of difficulty, because the province concerned has imposed the cuts on provincial and subordinate Services, and while the rest of India may be sufficiently flourishing to have the cuts restored, the officers in that particular province may be subjected to this constant reduction in their salaries on the ground that that particular province cannot restore them to their former position. I should very much like that point to be elucidated by the Secretary of State. For the rest, I know—and the speeches that have been made to-day confirm it—that the House views with sympathy the position of these Services and recognises the loyalty with which they have sustained this continued reduction in their emoluments, as has been explained, at a time when, to them at least, the cost of living has risen rather than fallen. The Services will, therefore, appreciate the feeling of the House in respect of their interest and of the loyalty with which they have continued to carry out their duties.

4.16 p.m.


I rise with the permission of the House to answer, quite shortly, the points that have been put by the hon. Members who have taken part in the Debate. I notice that all hon. Members who have spoken share the regret of the Government that these cuts have been continued, and, therefore, I may take it that the House will agree that it is only with regret that we are obliged to consider this Measure. The hon. Member for the English Universities (Sir R. Craddock) raised a specific point to which he desires an answer. The position in Madras is that the cuts on the Provincial services have been restored. The all-India services all over India are treated in exactly the same way. The hon. Member said that he hoped that this matter would be gone into and also that it would not be necessary to introduce this Bill again another year. We certainly share his last wish, and if the Bill is not introduced again, we sincerely hope that difficulties such as he mentioned will not become acute. I think it is impossible at this stage to lay down any general principle, except to repeat that the members of the all-India services in India, as I said in my original remarks, are treated alike in this matter, and that the position does not depend on the exact financial position of each particular Province.

The hon. and gallant Member for the Ardwick Division of Manchester (Captain Fuller) raised some points about pay and the question of what pay actually means. He is steering into rather deep water when he wishes us to consider all the intricacies of the definition of pay, compensation allowances, and so forth, of which he is himself so great a master. I would only say that I understand that compensatory pay, both civil and military, is not cut, but that duty pay and all that that entails is cut. That is the position, broadly stated, and I think that on this occasion of the Second Reading it would be wiser to leave the matter in that sense. The hon. and gallant Member for Chippenham (Captain Cazalet) raised precisely the sort of difficulties which I envisaged in my original remarks, and I fully sympathise with all that he said about the difficulties which some of our officers in India have, to make both ends meet. It is for these reasons that we particularly hope the position will be such next year that it will not be necessary to reintroduce this Measure. With these few remarks, I sincerely hope the House will allow us to have the Second Reading of the Bill.

Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House, for Monday next.—[Sir S. Hoare.]

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