HC Deb 05 April 1935 vol 300 cc765-72

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."

3.38 p.m.

Duchess of ATHOLL

This Clause is one of very great importance. I do not know whether the Commiteee quite realise its bearings, but it is clear, from the reply which my right hon. Friend gave me to a question that I put to him on another Clause, that this is the Clause which enables action to be taken under an Order in Council following an inquiry as to whether and to what extent the Secretary of State should retain his powers of recruitment for the Indian Civil Service, the Police, and the Indian Medical Service. We have to remember that in the White Paper there was a proviso that after five years such an inquiry should be held, and that proviso caused very great anxiety, because there was no guarantee of the continuance, for more than five years from the passing of the Constitution Act, of the Secretary of State's powers of recruitment for these important Services. The Joint Select Committee were so far impressed by the importance of the Secretary of State retaining his power of recruitment for these Services that they recommended that the inquiry should not be held at any specific date, but that it should not be before the expiry of five years. It is clear, from what my right hon. Friend has just said, that the Government regard themselves as bound to hold such an inquiry, and the Clause enables the Crown, under an Order in Council, should the result of the inquiry justify it, to require the Secretary of State to transfer to some body in India the powers of recruitment for the Indian Civil Service, the Police, and the Indian Medical Service which he retains under Clause 233. There is also a chance that he may do something to save his power of recruitment, for irrigation. He has promised to consider that matter and see what he can do. I think he realises the great importance of such recruitment to the welfare of the people of India.

Here we come to what have always been known as the security services—the Indian Civil Service, the Police and the Indian medical service, which mean so much to the welfare of the people. My right hon. Friend yesterday, when speaking on Clause 233, appeared to me very seriously to minimise the evidence that there is for the deterioration in the services which have already been transferred. I will not speak further on that subject than to remind the Committee that there is evidence in the Report of the Simon Commission as to the deterioration which has taken place in various services since their transfer. Their committee on education recommended that one of the main ways to remedy that deterioration in education was to place British recruitment upon an unassailable basis. I only mention that as an illustration of results which have been officially shown to have followed on the cessation of British recruitment in the education service in the last nine years. An illustration of that sort gives us an idea of how much the efficiency of other services, and of the administration in general in India, is likely to deteriorate if British recruitment for the Indian Civil Service comes to an end, as is possible under this Clause at any time after five years from the Constitution Act coming into operation.

Then, I think, any of us who have read the evidence before the Joint Select Committee have been able to form some idea of the extent to which public security in India depends on the maintenance of a strong British element. Yet if enquiry seems to justify it the Secretary of State will be able to transfer the entire recruitment of the police. Those who have read the evidence of medical witnesses before the Joint Committee will remember how they stressed the deterioration which has resulted from a steady diminution in the number of British officers. Therefore, this is a very serious matter, and I think we have to take note of the fact that antagonism to British members of the Indian Civil Service has been shown by some Indian politicians. Consequently, once a clause of this kind is put on the Statute Book, and in view of the statements in the White Paper and the Report of the Joint Select Committee, it will not be surprising if there is a great deal of pressure on the Government of India to get the Government at home to relinquish this power at the earliest possible moment, or, at any rate, steadily to diminish the power of the Secretary of State to recruit to the services.

When the question of the value of British recruitment to this service was raised, I think in 1922, the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) referred to the services as the steel frame on which the whole structure of government and of administration in India rests. That was in the happy and spacious days before recruit- ment for any of these services had been dropped. We already have considerable evidence, for those who take the trouble to look, of the loss of efficiency following on the diminution of the British element in the transferred departments. We have, therefore, every reason to feel the necessity for keeping the steel frame in the main security services and in the medical service in a country where there is a tremendous health problem, and I do beg of the Committee to realise the magnitude of the question raised by this Clause and the effect it is likely to have on the efficiency of administration and the general well-being of the people of India.

3.46 p.m.


When I first read this Clause, I was rather perturbed because it contemplates that all these protective powers, which we have given to the Secretary of State, may be handed over by some subsequent Government to some unspecified person. That rather alarmed me, but I imagine—and I should like to have the confirmation of the Secretary of State or of the UnderSecretary—that Clause 286 will, in fact, govern Clause 251. Here it says: His Majesty in Council may transfer But Orders-in-Council do not require the approval of this House. In order that there should be control it is proposed in Clause 286, not that the Order-in-Council should he approved, but that the draft should be approved, and that His Majesty should not take action except in pursuance of an Address from both Houses of Parliament. So it is only fair to the Secretary of State to say that Clause 251 cannot be operative unless with the concurrence of both Houses of Parliament. Nevertheless, we do not know what will be the future of another place, and still less are we certain what will be the constitution of this House. The other place has rather lost faith in itself and seems to be only too willing to pass all sorts of things which it ought to reject. I contemplate the time when there may be an administration, represented rather more numerously by the party opposite than is at present the case, sitting on this side of the Chamber, proposing the transfer of all these powers to somebody in India or to somebody who is not of European origin. This is not ruled out as I see the position. The whole of these protective powers which are given to the Secretary of State may possibly be handed over by a future Government to the very people against whom, by giving the Secretary of State these powers, we are seeking to protect the Civil Service in India. Though nothing serious is likely to happen immediately, it may later on be a very great danger to the good government of India.

I frankly regret that the Clause should be in the Bill. I think that, if it was ever contemplated that these powers should be transferred to the Secretary of State or to anybody else, an Act of Parliament ought to be introduced and ought to jump over all the different hurdles. There is all the difference between the two means. There is the possibility of giving up a day in each House and the automatic majority coming into operation at the end of the day. That is one proposal. It is an entirely different thing when the Bill has to run consecutively—a Second Reading, Committee stage and possibly Amendments, and, if Amendments, a Report stage, and the Third Reading—with the same process in the other House, with possibly a great measure of agitation in the country during the rather long process. That is an entirely different thing from simply passing a Resolution in both Houses of Parliament. Therefore, the Committee ought to give very careful consideration to this Clause which seems to be a most amazing and unnecessary Clause, I think that with great advantage it might be left out of the Bill. I am sorry that more of us have not taken an active interest in this Clause before to-day. I confess that I had not realised its full implications before. It seems to me a most dangerous Clause and I hope that the Committee will give careful consideration to it before it stands part of the Bill.


Are we not to have a reply from the Secretary of State?


I am waiting until the case has been fully stated.


The case has been fully stated, and I think we ought to have a reply from the Secretary of State.


Two or three hon. Members. Rose

3.51 p.m.


I want to express my agreement with the hon. Member for Croydon, South (Mr. H. Williams) that this is a most dangerous Clause. In it we are giving power to His Majesty, by Order in Council, to remove all the safeguards to which apparently the Government now attach so much importance. Every single power of the Secretary of State can be removed without proper consultation. It does not give any security to the new constitution that we are setting up. It is possible for a Socialist administration—my hon. Friends opposite will forgive me for saying that the Socialist Administration would be a reckless one—by Order in Council to hand over the power of appointment to a body like the Congress party. The Clause says, "any authority." There is very little doubt, and I hope that hon. Members opposite will confirm me in this, that the party opposite if they had the authority would hand over all the powers at once to some authority in India. All the speeches that they have made hitherto on the Bill indicate that that is their object. They are in favour of complete self-government for the Indian Empire, a self-government which is not contemplated in the present Bill.

They have also told us with commendable frankness that any idea that we may have had in the past about continuity of policy can now be regarded as null and void. They do not propose to exercise continuity of policy in any branch of Government and particularly not in the case of India. Therefore, I hope the Secretary of State will consider what a dangerous weapon he is leaving behind in this Clause. It may be possible to amend it, although I do not see how any Amendment is going to make the Clause sufficiently harmless to commend it to those who are of the same views as myself. I cannot see what is the point of giving all these powers to the Secretary of State unless there is some reason for it now. One presumes that it is considered that the Secretary of State is the only fit person to exercise them. What is the point of giving him these powers if at any moment there is power, simply by advising His Majesty, to transfer all the things that are now considered to be essential now to keep. I cannot see the sense or logic in it.

I hope that we shall get a, reassuring explanation from the right hon. Gentleman, although I do not see how he can reassure us. He will only be able to say that he does not contemplate any administration in this country ever being foolish enough to hand over all these powers. If he does not contemplate any such administration being foolish enough, why give them the power to do it? If the Secretary of State is right it is unnecessary to give these powers because no one will ever want to exercise them, and if anyone does want to exercise these powers we can be pretty sure that they will be exercised wrongly. The Committee will be well advised to read the clause carefully and find out how much we are abandoning if we pass it. I hope that some of those who are the most fervent supporters of the Government and the Bill will carefully study the clause before we meet again on Monday and realise that they cannot, in fact, continue their blind support of the Bill any longer. If the Secretary of State sees signs of the great anxiety which exists he may perhaps graciously give way on this point. He has been more conciliatory during the last few days and I hope that it is an indication of future benefits.

3.57 p.m.


I appeal to the Secretary of State to withdraw the Clause or allow it to be rejected. There are, of course, none of the sinister intentions prescribed to it, it is merely the familiar instance of the draftsmen putting into a new Bill an existing provision of an old Act. The Secretary of State under the existing Government of India Act has these powers already; this is merely copied from the old law. But, in the new situation, when we are making this new staff and gone out of our way to say that the whole question shall not be prejudiced, and that when it is reconsidered in the future it shall be reconsidered with full liberty of action, it is obvious that it is a thoroughly bad policy to put again into this Bill this old Clause; although the Secretary of State has these powers already.

3.58 p.m.

Marquess of HARTINGTON

I hope that we shall not pass the Clause before the Secretary of State has had an opportunity of explaining fully exactly what purpose it serves and why it is in the Bill. We have devoted some time to a discussion of the various safeguards in the Bill to which, rightly, great importance is attached by those whom they concern, but if I understand the Clause it will make these safeguards of no effect. If a Government comes into office which holds different views on this question then the whole of the safeguards become of no account whatever.


Yes, hamstring the next Government if you can.

Marquess of HARTINGTON

I have no knowledge what the next Government will be, and I am opposed, on principle, to cruelty to animals. There is no question of hamstringing the next Government. All that is suggested is that if these enormous powers are to be given they should be conferred only after proper deliberation by Parliament.

It being Four o'clock The CHAIRMAN left the Chair to make his Report to the House.

Committee report Progress; to sit again upon Monday next.

The remaining Government Orders were read, and postponed.

Whereupon Mr. SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 2.

Adjourned at One Minute after Four o'Clock until Monday next, 8th April.