§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."
§ 9.51 p.m.
§ Mr. C. WILLIAMS
Could we be told why the sum fixed in this Clause isnot less than fifty thousand rupees or such other sum not less than fifteen thousand rupees as may be specified by the Act"?These seem considerable sums when we remember that a vast number of the people of India are badly off. It is for the Conservative party, as mainly representing labour in this country, to see that the poor are not worse off in this respect than those who are well off. Perhaps the Solicitor-General will explain the basis on which these sums are fixed.
§ 9.52 p.m.
§ The SOLICITOR-GENERAL
The right of appeal from one court to another is not a privilege which the rich always particularly value. The amounts, which are only rough and ready, are a measure of the importance of the case. The figures are arbitrary, but the idea of an amount as a criterion for the right of appeal already exists in respect of appeals in India, and we think that these figures are the proper figures to put in the Clause.
§ 9.53 p.m.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
We ought to dwell on this point a moment. I should really have thought that it was a matter that appealed enormously to the Opposition, for obviously, in this Clause we are laying down in the most naked and blatent terms that there is one law for the rich and another law for the poor. It does not at all follow that cases over 50,000 rupees are more important than cases under 50,000 rupees. It was a maxim in Roman times, and the great Augustus is stated to have said, that magistrates should always make a point of attending to the small cases, because the small cases revealed the life of the people who bore upon their shoulders the pressing weight, the necessarily inevitable pressing weight, of an elaborate social organisation. Why should the Committee be ready to pass in a casual manner a Clause such as this? Why are the representatives of Labour, the broad proletarian masses, dumb when these things come up? They seem to say, "It is a matter involving 50,000 rupees; what do we care for that? "It may be that a poor widow is asserting her right to live—rather difficult, I believe, in some cases in India. There may be a case of a humble agricultural labourer who has been paid a wage which does not give him even the daily subsistence which is necessary to support body and soul. "Oh, well," they say, "this is nothing." It may be some small tenant farmer, oppressed by some rich landlord, who has rack-rented him and ill treated him very much, taking perhaps the whole value of his poor holding, with all the improvements which he has put into it. That is not a matter of 10,000 rupees, let alone 50,000 rupees.
I am not saying that some arrangement of this kind may not be necessary. There is a maxim, De minimis non curat lex, but I have never, known that de minimis was regarded as having a pecuniary standard, or that there was any idea that wealth and wealth alone is to be the test by which the course of justice is to be regulated. I know that this may easily strike a rather unexpected and perhaps uncomfortable chord in the breast of the right hon. and learned Gentleman. Among the hierarchy of the 149 law there are wealthy and famous and skilful advocates, and a litigant does get very well attended to when such a one puts his case. There are a lot of people who might manage to put a case effectively, and it would go through in the ordinary way, but with nothing like the careful and considerate attention to detail with which it is handled when eminent K.Cs. appear on one side or the other. That may be one of the practices which grow up irresistibly in the ordinary workings of a complicated civilisation, but there is all the difference between that and putting principles into the cold lead of an Act of Parliament. I am bound to say that I think this is a little characteristic—though I am sorry to have to say so—of the kind of outlook and view, and temper and touch and mood in which this Bill has been shaped and framed by His Majesty's Government. There is nothing like a careful procedure reserved for the appeals, the cries for justice, which arise from people whose case does not involve 50,000 rupees, none of the elaborate precautions which are available in cases above that mystic figure.
How does the right hon. and learned Gentleman arrive at his figure of 50,000 rupees? The Attorney-General, in an audible aside which I think we may fairly say has become the common property of the Committee, mentioned that the present figure was 10,000 rupees. Now it has to be 50,000 rupees before a man can get the full and careful consideration of the courts. That is very typical of the Bill; it is the exact measure of the Bill. In the future it is to be five times as difficult for poor people to get their affairs attended to in India as it was before this Bill was passed. I wish I had a legal training which would enable me to do justice to these matters, but, lacking that, I must study the text of the Bill as best I can in bringing these points forward. It is a bad thing for a great Empire when it definitely draws the line in this cold, cynical and brutal manner between the rich and the poor, especially in a population which, as my hon. Friend has reminded us, is miserably poor, brushing aside the poor and selecting only the affairs of the wealthy, of the Ahmedabad millowners, the wealthy corporations of Bombay, the enormous landowners and others. I think something 150 should be done to make it clear that money is not to be the test. I am delighted to hear my right hon. and gallant Friend laughing, because, generally speaking, he seems to be oppressed by a melancholy disposition.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
And surely I am allowed to derive a momentary and transient personal satisfaction at having lifted the clouds of depression from my right hon. and gallant Friend. But I will return to the topic before us. I press the point no further except to proclaim the moral, which is very clear and rather ugly. But I should like the learned Solicitor-General, or the Attorney-General if he is disposed to do so—because there is nothing like going to Number 1 in these matters— when he is replying and freeing our minds from the anxiety we have that a sordid discrimination is being established on the face of our Statute Book, to deal with Sub-section (2). As far as I can make out, though here I must plead my lay disqualification, this Subsection enables the Federal Legislature, by passing some law, to withhold appeal to His Majesty in Council in an enormous class of civil cases in India. If I am wrong I should like to be corrected, but it seems to me that that can be the only purpose of that Sub-section. Of course, one does not want to have the Privy Council here oppressed by an immense volume of litigation coming across the Indian Ocean and, after a long process both of time and space, arriving to be decided here; but I happen to know that the right of appeal to the Privy Council is deeply valued by our Indian fellow subjects. Till they have been taught worse manners by their new masters they will, no doubt, greatly value the power of appealing to what is the most august Court that has ever been in existence in modern times so far as justice between man and man is concerned.
I remember the late Lord Haldane, who was a colleague of the Leader of the Opposition, and one who was always treated with great respect, telling the story of how men were found at sacrifice in a remote village of India. It was not a human sacrifice; they were sacrificing the ordinary domestic animals, which were valuable to them; but they were sacrificing them to the god called Privy 151 Council, which had reached out an arm across the ocean and had given back to the humble dwellers of the village land which had been wrongfully taken from them. I am alarmed by both Sub-sections (1) and (2) of this Clause. The first appears, as far as I can see, though I await an explanation, to draw this property qualification in a manner more crude and more barefaced than I have ever known before, and the second seems to authorise and even to encourage the Federal Legislature to bar whole classes of appeals to the Privy Council in certain circumstances. I shall be glad to have these doubts removed by the legal exposition of the Attorney-General or the Solicitor-General, but what will not be removed by their exposition, however admirable it may be, is that sense which I have, and which I think the Committee has already derived, that the language of this Statute is contrary to the entire principles upon which British civilisation has been built up, and, still more, British administration of Eastern lands has been built up, and that as it stands it is a blot and a defacement upon the statute law of Great Britain.
§ 10.2 p.m.
§ The SOLICITOR-GENERAL
My right hon. Friend has spoken of the outlook, temper, touch and mood in which this Bill has been drafted and put forward. It would be impertinent for me to suggesI that it was in accordance with the right hon. Gentleman's outlook, temper, touch and mood in advancing an argument which a further perusal of about a further half-an-inch of the Clause would have dispelled and shown to be quite erroneous. The basis of his argument was that this Clause provided a financial test, and a financial test alone. That is not true as a reference to paragraph (b) shows. When I was replying earlier to a specific question put by my hon. Friends opposite as to why certain figures appeared at all, I replied that figures had been, and indeed were, a test of a case. If a case involves a large sum of money it is obviously a case of importance to litigants. It is also true to say that cases which involve only small sums of money are much better settled in one court without two or more rights of appeal. That is in the interest of all. It is better to have justice promptly administered 152 in one court rather than to be dragged from one court to another. I do not think anybody need be shocked at the fact that a sum of money is in issue as a convenient rough-and-ready test. If the case of an oppressed widow is thought to be one in the discretion of the courts for an appeal, it can be allowed under paragraph (b). I think that really answers the argument my right hon. Friend advanced.
With regard to Sub-section (2), the Federal Legislature can give a right of appeal in certain classes of cases from the High Court to the Federal Court. Obviously if you do that you cannot have a double right of appeal. One party cannot be going to the Federal Court and also to the Privy Council in the same class of case. The right of appeal to the Privy Council is safeguarded to this extent. If my right hon. Friend will look at Clause 198 he will seeAn appeal may be brought to His Majesty in Council from a decision of the Federal Court by leave of the Federal Court or of His Majesty in Council.At present in a certain class of case there is an appeal as of right from the High Court. That appeal would he to the Federal Court, and the further appeal from the Federal Court to the Privy Council would be by leave either of the Federal Court itself or of the Privy Council over here. I think the Committee can rest satisfied that in the event that it is right that there should be a further right of appeal to the Judicial Committee over here, the Judicial Committee would exercise the absolute discretion they have to hear it.
§ 10.10 p.m.
§ Sir B. PETO
In view of the explanation of the learned Solicitor-General I would like to ask whether the net result is not this: Whereas at present in the cases contemplated in this Clause the procedure is the hearing in the original court; an appeal to the High Court or a corresponding court from the Court of Appeal; and then an appeal to the Privy Council, will not the general result now be that in cases of the same magnitude there would be three appeals—an appeal to the High Court from the Court of Appeal, an appeal from that court to the Supreme or Federal Court in India, and by leave a further appeal to the Privy Council? In view of the fact that 153 many of the cases are very small in India—there is no question that taking them at large the people of India are more inclined to litigation, and always have been from the days of the old East India Company, than the people of this country, as they are less afraid of the law and like it better than we do, is not the net result of these two Clauses to put still more money into the pockets of the lawyers and to take still more money out of the pockets of the unfortunate litigants, or the people who think that the law is fun, and find that it very likely ruins them before they have done with it?
If that be so, why is this new procedure introduced? Where are they more likely to get justice from any court in the world than from the Privy Council? Why is it more expensive to bring an appeal to the Supreme Court or Federal Court in India, which may be situated almost as many miles from the source of the litigation, and the court of trial as it is from India to this country and consequently quite as expensive a procedure? A really litigious person may well be prepared to go to the extreme limits of appeal allowed by law. It is not a question of the poor widow with her one court, but whether the real result of the new proposals is not to make the law in India still more expensive than it is and pour still more into the pockets of the advocates in India, be they Indians or Europeans. I hope the Solicitor-General will answer that question. Is this a simplification of appeal, or is it a complication of appeal? It seems to me quite clear that it is making it still more complicated and costly than it is to-day.
§ 10.13 p.m.
§ The SOLICITOR-GENERAL
I am informed that there is procedure for assisting poor persons and that this procedure applies up to the Privy Council. With regard to the question by the hon. Baronet, this is only a permissive Clause. It is obvious there may be grounds which make the Legislature think it reasonable and satisfactory to have an appeal court in certain classes of cases.
§ 10.14 p.m.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I think the learned Solicitor-General made us a very full 154 answer, and that on Sub-section (2) his answer, seeing that I have not the necessary training in these matters, was a good one. As far as I could understand it, what he told us was that if a litigant appealed from the High Court to the Federal Court he cannot at the same time appeal to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. That would appear quite reasonable. He cannot appeal to both directly. He can appeal from the High Court to the Federal, and thereafter to the Privy Council. I will not take this point any further. So far as the money bar is concerned, I am not at all satisfied why, when 10,000 rupees have hitherto been the limit, 50,000 should now be the limit. A reply has been elicited from the Solicitor-General which greatly comforts us. It is vitally important that in human issues of great concern, however small may be the financial sum involved, the case should be capable of being brought before the tribunal. I gather that that is so, and that it is a procedure which in a test case may be invoked, and that persons who never dreamed of possessing a tithe of 50,000 rupees can appeal and receive justice.
§ Mr. C. WILLIAMS
The question of poor persons' appeal should be properly safeguarded in the Bill. Nothing is more vital than to remember—
§ The CHAIRMAN
It is clear that this is not in the Clause. The question which was put to the Solicitor-General has been answered, and we cannot go into it any further.
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
Obviously if it is not in the Clause we cannot deal with it. The Committee are greatly concerned, and I hope that the Government will see that there is adequate protection. I hope that that is a fair question.
§ Viscount WOLMER
I have a question on Clause 200. Will you be so good as to put the question "That Clause 200 stand part of the Bill," because I want to raise my Question?
§ The CHAIRMAN
No notice has been given of opposition to this Clause, so I was entitled to include it in a block under the Resolution of the House.
§ The CHAIRMAN
It is well known that we have a special order of the House. The Noble Lord knows that notice has to be put down. I understand that he wishes to raise a point upon Clause 200, and I will permit him to do so.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That Clauses 197 to 199 stand part of the Bill."
§ 10.19 p.m.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
May I, on that point of Order, ask if you can give your guidance on the following point? I understand that where there are no Amendments to Clauses, the Clauses will be put in groups. That was part of the arrangement which was decided upon, with general agreement. I was under the impression that where there was any Amendment, the Clause would be called, whereas it appears that an Amendment may be put down to a Clause, you may decide not to take it and, therefore, rule that there is no Amendment to that Clause. De we understand that, in the event of your not deciding to take an Amendment on a particular Clause, you will treat it as one of the Clauses to which no Amendment has been moved? If that be so, the remedy is very simple, to put down Amendments to leave out every Clause in the Bill.
§ The CHAIRMAN
I shall have to consider the point later. The only Amendment down to Clauses 197, 198 and 199 are Amendments which are out of order. I have no doubt that the right hon. Gentleman will agree that there is no Amendment in that case. I will consider the right hon. Gentleman's quesand perhaps the rather more doubtful 156 points in regard to an Amendment which is not to be selected.