HC Deb 09 April 1935 vol 300 cc1014-22

4.45 p.m.


I beg to move, in page 157, line 27, to leave out from "Council," to the end of line 30, and to insert:

  1. "(a) create a new Province;
  2. (b) increase the area of any Province;
  3. (c) diminish the area of any Province;
  4. (d) alter the boundaries of any Province."
This is purely a drafting Amendment. What is in Sub-section (2) is brought up into Sub-section (1), and the words are slightly added to in order to snake clear the intention of the Clause.

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendment made: In page 158, line 1, leave out Sub-section (2).— [The Solicitor-General.]


The Duchess of Atholl.

4.47 p.m.


On a point of Order. Is not my Amendment—on page 157, line 39, at the end, to insert: Provided that no Order in Council under this section shall transfer the civil station of Bangalore or the township of Tangasseri from British India"— in order? I understood from the Chairman of Committees that I should be allowed to move a proviso with regard to Tangasseri.


We have now passed the place at which the hon. Member wished to move his Amendment.


My Amendment refers to Tangasseri. Tangasseri is at present in the presidency of Madras, and is not part of Travancore, and, therefore, I think the Chairman of Committees said that this Amendment might be moved.


The hon. Member may be correct, but we have now got past the point in the Clause on which his Amendment would arise, and, therefore, I cannot call it.


Will it be possible to mention this matter when we discuss the Clause standing part of the Bill?



4.49 p.m.

Duchess of ATHOLL

I beg to move, in page 158, line 16, at the end, to insert: Provided further that no such Order shall vary the total representation of any community in either Chamber of the Federal Legislature. I need not say very much in regard to this matter. We know what very high tension exists between the various communities in India, particularly between the Hindus and the Moslems, and we know that the condition precedent to any new constitution being framed was that some arrangement should be arrived at by which the various proportional representations of these communities in the different legislatures should be fixed. We know for how long the communities in question were engaged in trying to arrive at an agreement, how, in spite of repeated attempts, they failed to do so, and how finally the Prime Minister took on himself to impose a. communal award. It seems to me very important that in passing this Bill we should do everything we can to secure the stability of that arrangement which has been made, and that nothing would militate more against the smooth working of the new constitution than the fear that the propor- tions fixed by the award for the representation of the different communities in the various legislatures should be upset.

4.51 p.m.


I noted with satisfaction what my Noble Friend said about the necessity of making no alterations in the communal award by which the different proportions should be upset. I can assure her that there is no intention under this Clause of upsetting the communal settlement. Indeed, having had a great deal of experience in connection with the communal settlement, I can assure her that the Government of India, the local Governments, and His Majesty's Government here would be the last people in the world to attempt to make changes that might reopen the whole of that great controversy. I would, however, suggest to her that it is better not to have so rigid a statutory enactment as she proposes. As I say, there is no intention to make alterations by Order in Council. None the less, there might be cases in which small details might have to be adjusted. For instance, supposing there was an alteration in the boundaries of two Provinces and a certain territory was added to one Province, making necessary some change in the communal representation of that Province, I think the Noble Lady will see that some change would be necessary. Having given her the assurance that there is no intention—and I do not think there could be an intention—of making alterations in the award, I hope she will not press this rather rigid proposal.

Duchess of ATHOLL

May I ask whether my right hon. Friend envisages that if there was any alteration of a boundary which might necessitate some slight alteration in the representation, it would still be his aim, his purpose, that the existing majority should still remain the majority in that Province?


Certainly, I give that assurance. That would be our intention.

4.54 p.m.


The right hon. Gentleman said he must refuse the Amendment of my Noble Friend because it would cause too much rigidity, but may I not call his attention to the proviso in the Clause just prior to the point at which the Amendment would come in, namely: Provided that no such Order shall vary the total membership of either Chamber of the Federal Legislature. Sub-section (1) of the Clause states: Subject to the provisions of this Section, His Majesty may by Order in Council alter the boundary of any Province if, with a view to the creation of a new Province or on other grounds, he deems it expedient so to do. That might cover a third or it might be a half of the area of the Province, yet the proviso which I have just read says that the total membership of that Province in either Chamber of the Federal Legislature shall not be altered. Does that mean that the members allotted to the new territory or the new Province would be deducted from the members allotted to the old one? If so, of course, there is that loophole to prevent rigidity, but if you had two Provinces occupying the area of what is now one Province, might it not be necessary to increase the representation? What my Noble Friend desires is nothing like so rigid as the proviso in the Clause to which I have alluded. My right hon. Friend admits the principle that it is desirable to do everything possible to maintain the communal award, and that nothing should disturb that award, but an alteration in the representation in favour of one or other of the great religions of India would undoubtedly be upsetting the communal award, and, therefore, I ask him if he will consider that point of view before we reach the Report stage.

4.57 p.m.


I do not think it is necessary to reconsider this position. I think my hon. Friend is confusing two things, namely, the number of members of the Federal Legislature and the number of the provincial representatives that go to make it up. The number of members of the Federal Legislature is rigid, but there may be an adjustment as between the various units. As I say, it is our intention to maintain in the spirit and the letter the communal settlement, but in these adjustments it may be necessary to make certain minor exceptions from time to time. It may not be necessary, but I am advised that it is desirable to make provision for it.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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

4.58 p.m.


I gather that I may refer to the question of Tangasseri on this Motion, and I do so in the hope that my right hon. Friend may see his way to make a statement on the matter. This question, in my opinion and in that of my hon. Friends who support me in raising it, involves a very considerable principle. This small township of Tangasseri in the South-East corner of India is adjacent to the State of Travancore.' It became Portuguese in 1571, it was taken by the Dutch in 1661, we took it in 1795, and since that time it has been a part of British India and has not been a part of Travancore. The proposal now is to cede this township to the State of Travancore, and I am asking that the irrevocable opposition of the inhabitants of Tangasseri should be regarded in this matter, a proposal which has the. support of no less an authority than Lord Halifax, who, when he was Lord Irwin, said in the House of Lords that he regretted that the people of Tangasseri opposed the cession to Travancore, but that if their opposition was irrevocable, he felt sure that His Majesty's Government would not persist in bringing about the cession. Well, their opposition is irrevocable, and why? On grounds which are religious, social, and political. It is a community of some 2,000 people, and they are all Christians except one family.

Travancore is a Hindu State, but there is a very large number of Christians in the State. The total population of Travancore is something over 5,000,000. Of that number 1,600,000 are Christians, and 868,000 are caste Hindus. The caste Hindus dominate everything in the State. I need only mention the representation in the Legislature of Travancore. In the Assembly the 868,000 caste Hindus have a representation of 25 members and in the Council they have a representation of 10 members; whereas the 1,600,000 Christians have only eight members in the Assembly and two members in the Council.

The inhabitants of Tangasseri have full religious liberty, with their own ceremonies, schools and churches, but they look across the border and find that their fellow Christians in Travancore have not that complete liberty. There is also a difference in taxation. They will be very much more heavily taxed if they are ceded to Travancore. Their opposition is unvarying and irrevocable; and there is also the consideration that this question involves the very great principle that no community of British Indian citizens should be handed over to a native State against the wishes of that community. There is, I think, riot the least doubt that the practically unanimous wish of the inhabitants of Tangasseri is irrevocably opposed to cession to Travancore. This is a small place, but the principle involved is a very important one, and, with the greatest sincerity, I would appeal to my right hon. Friend to take heed of the clearly expressed wishes of the people of Travancore and to say that Lord Halifax was right when he said in another place that if the inhabitants of Tangasseri were irrevocably opposed to the cession, that cession would not be insisted on by His Majesty's Government.

5.3 p.m.


I hope in a very few sentences to give an answer which will not be unsatisfactory to my hon. Friend. Of course, there can be no difference of opinion between Lord Halifax and myself. The hon. Member, as a constitutional student, would realise that that would run contrary to the responsibility of Cabinet Government. Lord Halifax was speaking with the full authority of the Government, and I can only repeat what he said. So far as I know, it has always been the practice of the Government of India to make no transfers of British territory to Indian States if the inhabitants of the British territory are opposed to the transfer. We shall certainly follow that line in our dealing with Tangasseri. I understand that the inhabitants of the township are opposed to the transfer. If that be the case, and I have no reason to suppose that it is not the case, we shall not sanction the transfer. I have been in communication with the Government of India, and they take the same view as I do upon this subject. I hope the assurance I have now given to the Committee, in continuance of the statement made in another place by Lord Halifax, will remove anxiety from the minds of some of my hon. Friends who have taken a very close interest in this question.


May I express my gratitude to my right hon. Friend. I am quite sure that what he has just said will cause the very greatest satisfaction in Tangasseri.

5.6 p.m.

Duchess of ATHOLL

I should also like to say with what relief I have heard the right hon. Gentleman's speech. I remember well not only what Lord Halifax said in another place, but what the Under: Secretary of State for India said in December, that the Government would not go against the ineradicable opposition of the inhabitants. At that time there had been two memorials protesting against the transfer. There have since been two more. My right hon. Friend will remember that as recently as yesterday I asked a question about this, but he could tell me nothing. It was therefore with tremendous relief that I heard the statement he has made, and I assure him there will be very grateful hearts among that little community of Christian people who have been so long under our rule.

5.7 p.m.


There is one point which I should like to put to the Secretary of State. Does this Clause carry out the recommendation of the Joint Select Committee? Or does it not diverge from it? The Joint Select Committee recommended that when a new Province was to be created the Province affected and the Central Government should be given adequate opportunity of expressing their view, which is done under this Clause. They also said that, if the boundaries of the Province were to be altered, then the initiative should come from the Province and that should have to receive the concurrence of the Central Legislature. In this Clause, by the alteration now made, there is no provision in the case of the alteration of boundaries that the initiative should come from the Province and that the concurrence of the Central Legislature should be obtained. It seems to me that this Clause differs from the recommendation of the Select Committee.


This is intended to be only a machinery Clause, but I will look into the point raised by the hon. Member. I am rather inclined to think that it will not be necessary to make an addition to this Clause, but it may be a case for giving instructions in the Instrument of Instructions. I will look into the matter.

5.9 p.m.

Captain SHAW

I would like to ask the Secretary of State if he cannot give us some general idea of what conditions will have to be fulfilled before a new Province is set up. For many years there has been an agitation to set up a new Andhra Province of Telugu speaking people carved out of the Presidency of Madras. There you have a population of 17,000,000 people speaking the same language and living in a compact area. They have a satisfactory budget, and I think that on two occasions the Legislative Council in Madras has passed resolutions in favour of a separate Province. Could the right hon. Gentleman give us an idea of what conditions would have to be fulfilled before we could get an Order-in-Council setting up a separate Province and whether such a Province could be set up before the Federation comes into being?

5.10 p.m.


I should not like to say anything that would encourage any substantial body of opinion in India in present circumstances to support the setting up of further new Provinces. The Statutory Commission dealt with the cases of Sind and Orissa, those cases seeming to be much the most urgent among the demands for new Provincial units. I do therefore take the view that it would be a mistake in present financial conditions in India to attempt to start other new Provinces. I know from experience how many controversies are raised as soon as one does start making provision for a new Province in India. I admit that the Telegus in Madras have definitely a case on the grounds of their racial unity, their ancient civilisation and so on, but I think that they and the Government of Madras would make a great mistake in attempting to set up a separate Province. When the time comes to consider questions of that kind, the whole position will have to be taken into account, the financial position, the reactions upon the existing Provinces and all the other considerations we have had to take into consideration a great deal in connection with Sind and Orissa. I could not be more precise. My hon. Friend can see for himself that the Legislatures in India and we here would have to take many considerations into careful account before we sanctioned any proposal for any new Province.

5.12 p.m.

Captain FULLER

This is a matter in which I have been interested for many years, and I was sorry to hear the right hon. Gentleman say what he has just said in regard to Andhra and the possibility of working out some other Provincial distribution in India. He seems to pin his faith to the communal award. The communal award has become sacrosanct in relation to this new Constitution. I am one of those who have always thought that any constitution built upon the communal award is built upon a quick-sand.


I hardly think that the question of the communal award arises on this Clause.

Captain FULLER

I am just coming to that point, when I say that I think this Clause is the most sensible Clause in the Bill, for it does make provision in the future for His Majesty's Government to consider the reconstitution of Provinces, which should, of course, aim at the elimination of the communal award. I think it is the most sensible Clause in the Bill, because it does give an opportunity in the future to solve India's problem and set the people of India on the road to peace.

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