HC Deb 09 April 1935 vol 300 cc1101-10

The Amendment on the Paper in the name of the hon. Member for Limehouse (Mr. Attlee)—in page 163, line 16, at the beginning to insert: (1) A Provincial Legislature shall have the power to make a law amending the provisions of this Act for the purpose of extending the franchise to every person of the age of twenty-one years and upwards upon the sole basis of the residential qualification provided in this Act, and if at the expiration of ten years after the commencement of Part III of this Act a Provincial Legislature has failed to make such a law His Majesty in Council may make provision accordingly

should be moved as a new Clause.

9.45 p.m.


I beg to move, in page 163, line 19, after "resolution," to insert: by a majority of not less than two-thirds of the members of each Chamber. It seems to us that this is a matter of great importance because the Clause might be used to upset the communal award or to abolish or create, as the case might be, a second chamber. After all the time and trouble which has been taken in establishing the communal award and the amount of agreement that has. been arrived at, we think that no change should be mooted with regard to that subject or such questions as the constitution of a legislature without a decisive majority in each Chamber. The Committee will realise the vital importance of some such protection and I hope that the Secretary of State will accept the Amendment as an obvious precaution.

9.46 p.m.


I hope that my hon. and gallant Friend will not press this Amendment. This proposal is one on which we had a great deal of discussion during our deliberations in the Joint Select Committee and the Indian delegates rightly attached considerable importance to the procedure set out in the Clause. It is provided that, after a specified period, an Indian legislature should have a formal procedure under which its resolutions on the points set out in the Clause would have to he taken into account by the Imperial Parliament. Parliament is not tied in any way. All that would happen would be that resolutions sent to the Secretary of State under the procedure set out in the Clause would be taken into account. I attach importance to the safeguard that this procedure cannot come into operation for 10 years. I think it is very important that we should have as much stability as possible in the early years of these constitutional changes. I should have thought that with that safeguard, this was on the whole a satisfactory kind of procedure, namely, that the legislature should be able to send forward its resolutions and that Parliament should have to take formal notice of them. As I say the hands of Parliament are not tied in any way. I think it would be a mistake to make any further restrictions upon a proposal which I regard as safe from the point of view of Parliament and which is obviously regarded as important both by the Indian delegates and I believe by all members of the Joint Select Committee because I do not think there was any difference upon this point.

9.50 p.m.

Viscount WOLMER

With great respect, may I say that my right hon. Friend has not addressed himself to the argument of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Bournemouth (Sir H. Croft). Here you are dealing with a constitution, a fundamental document on which all the liberties and safeguards—


It is limited to the points set out in the Clause.

Viscount WOLMER

But they are very important points. They are fundamental points on which there has been great contention and all we are asking is that there should not be any alteration of the constitution in those important respects without a two-thirds majority.


It is not that at all. It is simply a procedure for sending forward resolutions. It is not a question of alterations being made.

Viscount WOLMER

I am aware of that point. I have read the Clause. But we say that a proposal of that sort should not be entertained as carrying the endorsement of Indian opinion unless it has a two-thirds majority. That is surely a reasonable stipulation. I do not think that in any country in the world, except this, it is possible to alter the constitution by a bare majority.


And this is the best of all.

Viscount WOLMER

But we have 700 years of political experience behind us and we are the only nation who have made Parliamentary Government a success—though we have not made quite such a great success of it as all that.I apologise to the Committee for the aberration into which I was betrayed by the Leader of the Opposition. The Secretary of State says this is only a question of forwarding to the Imperial Parliament resolutions on which we shall be free to act. I doubt whether we shall be so free to act. We have had it dinned into as that Indian opinion will not accept this or that and that in these matters we ought to be guided by Indian opinion and if Parliament contained at that time a majority of Members of the political persuasion of hon. Members opposite, any chance vote which might come from any legislature in India would get the O.K. from my hon. and right hon. Friends opposite. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh !"] I think my hon. Friends know what I mean. We had a judicial decision on the expression a few week ago so that it may now be regarded as part of the King's English.


I hope not.

Viscount WOLMER

It is no answer to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Bournemouth to say that the hands of this Parliament will be free. A resolution ought not to be regarded as expressing Indian opinion unless there is an overwhelming majority in favour of it. It is, surely, undesirable that these constitutional points should be raised on behalf of India by a bare majority. Remember what the situation is in the Provinces. In five Provinces there is a perpetual Hindu majority under this communal law. It is, I grant, a bare majority, nothing like a two-thirds majority, but it is perpetual. Is it right to say that the perpetual Hindu majority in those Provinces or a perpetual Mohammedan majority in other Provinces, is to have authority to demand, in the name of the whole Province, an alteration of the constitution which may benefit its own party or denomination? I submit that it would be wiser to lay down a figure in the Constitution Act which would make it impossible for such a demand to come before the Imperial Parliament unless with the consent of both parties and if we fixed a two-thirds majority the result would be that in nearly every Province there would have to be agreement between Moslems and Hindus on the matters referred to in the Clause.



Viscount WOLMER

I think the effect of carrying the Amendment would be that it would be impossible for the Hindu majority in any of those Provinces to force a change against Moslem public opinion, and it seems to me that it would be very undesirable that we should erect machinery in this Bill by which it would be possible for a perpetual majority in the elected Legislatures of India to speak in the name of the whole Province in regard to a fundamental alteration of the Constitution which might be very unfair to the minority. I do not want to put our successors in this Parliament in the position of having to stand up to a, demand of that sort, which would only be availing itself of the facilities offered by this Bill and might place the Imperial Parliament in the very difficult position of either having to betray the minority or to engage in a stand-up fight with the elected majority

9.56 p.m.


I am not quite as familiar with the provisions of this Bill as some hon. Members, but of all the Amendments that I have heard moved to it, I think this is the most objectionable. Before the two Chambers in India could pass a resolution and send it forward, they must have a two-thirds majority of the members of each Chamber, and here we are to-night, with not more than 220 of us out of 615 Members of the House of Commons, asked to vote in favour of an Amendment of that kind. It is preposterous. It means, if this Amendment were carried, that these two Chambers would never pass any resolution at all, at any time. I very much doubt whether you would get two-thirds of the Members of this Parliament to do that much. It requires more than 400, at any rate, to be in this House to represent two-thirds, and I guarantee that the vast majority of the provisions of this Constitution which we are debating have been carried with less than two-thirds of the Members of this House present.


Supposing we were debating a great constitutional change at this moment, does the hon. Member say the attendance in this Chamber would not be very different from what it is now?


We are now passing, so we have been informed, the greatest constitutional Measure that has ever come before the British Parliament, and we have been told authoritatively too that this Bill containing 451 Clauses will affect a greater number of people in any one country than have ever been affected by any Act of Parliament before. I would mention another point. A provision of this kind is put very often into municipal Acts of Parliament, but even then, when they call for a two-thirds majority, they do not say that they require a two-thirds majority of the members of the authority. They say "a two-thirds majority of the members present and voting," which is quite a different thing. I do not think I have ever seen more than about 520 Members of this House here at any one time, whatever the subject under discussion may have been, and—


If it would save time and the Secretary of State would accept such an Amendment, it would be agreeable to me.


The Secretary of State at any rate knows what he is doing in this matter. He knows that if this Amendment were carried, no resolution would be passed at any time by either of the Chambers in India. My last point is this: It seems to me that the Amendment is deliberately designed to stultify the Chambers in India from passing any resolution at all, and we are delighted indeed that the Secretary of State has declined to accept it.


I think it is not appreciated that we are simply aiming to see that the Constitution itself shall not be changed unless there is this great feeling in the two Chambers in favour of the change.

10.0 p.m.


This is not a question affecting the Constitution directly. The Noble Lord the Member for Aldershot (Viscount Wolmer) kept on saying that the Constitution could be changed by a two-thirds majority, but there is no question of changing the Constitution. First of all, they have to wait 10 years, and, having done that, they can pass certain resolutions dealing with specific points, such as the composition of the Chambers and so on, and bring those Resolutions to the notice of the British House of Commons. But the Noble Lord does not even want them to speak to us and tries to prevent them approaching the Imperial Parliament or the King-Emperor. The hon. Member for West Islington (Mr. Donner) sitting next to him said last night that I looked upon India with a Western view. I certainly look upon India from a British point of view whereas the Noble Lord the Member for Aldershot, looks at it from a Prussian

point of view, and although the Noble Lord might be successful in the administration of Herr Hitler, I do not think his views should carry any weight with us on this particular point

Question put, "That those words be there inserted."

The Committee divided: Ayes, 29; Noes, 196.

Division No. 151.] AYES. [10.3 p.m.
Acland-Troyte, Lieut.-Colonel Erskine-Bolst, Capt. C. C. (Blk'pool) Renter, John R.
Atholl, Duchess of Fleming, Edward Lascelies Todd, Lt. Col. A. J. K. (B'wick-on-T.)
Balfour, George (Hampstead) Goodman, Colonel Albert W. Waylaid, Sir William A.
Blaker, Sir Reginald Gretton, Colonel Rt. Hon. John Williams, Herbert G. (Croydon, S.)
Broadbent, Colonel John Gritten, W. G. Howard Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel George
Brown, Brig.-Gen. H. C. (Berks., Newb'y) Hartington, Marquess of Wise, Alfred R.
Burnett, John George Knox, Sir Alfred Wolmer, Rt. Hon. Viscount
Craddock, Sir Reginald Henry Manningham-Buller, Lt.-Col. Sir M.
Croft, Brigadier-General Sir H. Nunn, William TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—
Donner, P. W. Peto, Sir Basil E. (Devon, Barnstaple) Mr. Thorp and Mr. Lennox-Boyd.
Emmott, Charles E. G. C. Reid, David D. (County Down)
Addison, Rt. Hon. Dr. Christopher Goff, Sir Park Mabane, William
Albery, Irving James Gower, Sir Robert MacAndrew, Lieut.-Col. C, G. (Partick)
Allen, Lt.-Col. J. Sandeman (B'k'nh'd) Graham, D. M.(Lanark, Hamilton) MacDonald, Malcolm(Bassetlaw)
Aske, Sir Robert William Greenwood, Rt. Hon. Arthur McEntee, Valentine L.
Assheton, Ralph Grenfell, David Rees (Glamorgan) McEwen, Captain J. H. F.
Baldwin, Rt. Hon. Stanley Griffith, F. Kingsley (Middlesbro', W.) McGovern, John
Banfield, John William Griffiths, George A.(Yorks. W. Riding) McKie, John Hamilton
Batey, Joseph Grimston, R. V. McLean, Major Sir Alan
Beaumont, Hn, R. E. B. (Portsm'th, C.) Grundy, Thomas W. McLean, Dr. W. H.(Tradeston)
Bevan, Stuart James(Holborn) Guest, Capt. Rt. Hon. F, E, Magnay, Thomas
Bossom, A. C. Guy, J. C. Morrison Mainwaring, William Henry
Boulton, W. W. Hacking, Rt. Hon. Douglas H. Mander, Geoffrey le M.
Bourne, Capt. Robert Croft Hamilton, Sir R. W.(Orkney & Zetl'nd) Margesson, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. D. R,
Braithwalte, J. G. (Hillsborough) Haslam, Henry(Horncastle) Mason, David M.(Edinburgh, E.)
Briscoe, Capt. Richard George Haslam, Sir John (Bolton) Mason, Col. Glyn K.(Croydon, N.)
Brown, Cot. D. C. (N'th'I'd., Hexham) Hellgers, Captain F. F. A. Mills, Major J. D. (New Forest)
Butler, Richard Austen Heneage, Lieut,-Colonel Arthur P Milne, Charles
Campbell-Johnston, Malcolm Herbert, Major J. A.(Monmouth) Milner, Major James
Caporn, Arthur Cecil Hoare, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir S. J. G. Mitchell, Harold P.(Br'tf'd & Chlsw'k)
Cayzer, Maj. Sir H. R. (Prtsmth., S.) Hope, Capt. Hon. A. O. J. (Aston) Molson, A. Hugh Elsdale
Christie, James Archibald Hornby, Frank Monsell, Rt. Hon. Sir B. Eyres
Clayton, Sir Christopher Horobin, Ian M. Moreing, Adrian C.
Cocks, Frederick Seymour Horsbrugh, Florence Morris-Jones, Or J. H. (Denbigh)
Colman. N. C. D. Howitt, Dr. Alfred B. Morrison, G. A. (Scottish Univer'ties)
Cook, Thomas A. Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hackney, N.) Munro, Patrick
Cooke, Douglas Hume, Sir George Hopwood Nation, Brigadier-General J. J. H.
Cooper, A. Duff Hunter-Weston, Lt.-Gen. Sir Aylmer Nicholson, Godfrey (Morpeth)
Crooke, J. Smedley Inskip, Rt. Hon. Sir Thomas W. H. Or[...] Ewing, I. L.
Croom-Johnson, R. P. Jackson, Sir Henry (Wandsworth, C.) Owen, Major Goronwy
Culverwell, Cyril Tom James, Wing-Com. A. W. H. Paling, Wilfred
Daggar, George Jamleson, Douglas Palmer, Francis Noel
Davidson, Rt. Hon. J. C. C. Joel, Dudley J. Barnato Patrick, Colin M.
Davies, David L. (Pontypridd) John, William Peaks, Osbert
Davies, Maj. Geo. F. (Somerset, Yeovil) Johnston, J. W. (Clackmannan) Penny, Sir George
Davies, Rhys John (Westhoughton) Johnstone, Harcourt (S. Shields) Petherick, M.
Denman, Hon. R. D, Jones, Henry Haydn (Merioneth) Pickthorn, K. W. M.
Dickie, John P. Jones, Lewis (Swansea, West) Potter, John
Drew, Cedric Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly) Radford, E. A.
Duggan, Hubert John Ker, J, Campbell Ramsay, Alexander(W. Bromwich)
Edwards, Charles Kirkpatrick, William M. Ramsay, T. B. W. (Western Isles)
Ellis, Sir R. Geoffrey Lansbury, Rt. Hon. George Ramsden, Sir Eugene
Elliston, Captain George Sampson Law, Sir Alfred Rathbone, Eleanor
Emrys-Evans, P. V. Lawson, John James Reed, Arthur C. (Exeter)
Essenhigh, Reginald Clare Lewis, Oswald Reid, William Allan(Derby)
Evans, Capt. Ernest(Welsh Univ.) Liddall, Walter S. Ropner, Colonel L.
Evans, R. T. (Carmarthen) Lister, Rt. Hon. Sir Philip Cunliffe- Rose Taylor, Walter (Woodbridge)
Fermoy, Lord Little, Graham-,Sir Ernest Rung, North Cecil
Flelden, Edward Brocklehurst Liewellin, Major John J. Russell, Albert (Kirkcaldy)
Foot, Isaac (Cornwall, Bodmin) Lloyd, Geoffrey Russell, Alexander West (Tynemouth)
Fox, Sir Gifford Locker-Lampson, Com. O. (Handsw'th) Rutherford, Sir John Hugo (Liverp'l)
Fraser, Captain Sir Ian Loder, Captain J. de Vere Salmon, Sir Isidore
Gardner, Benjamin Walter Logan,m David Gilbert Salt, Edward W.
Gluckstein, Louie Halle Lunn, William Samuel, M. R. A. (W'ds'wth, Putney)
Selley, Harry R. Stourton, Hon. John J. Warrender, Sir Victor A. G.
Shaw, Helen B. (Lanark, Bothwell) Strauss, Edward A. Waterhouse, Captain Charles
Shaw, Captain William T. (Forfar) Strickland, Captain W. F, Weymouth, Viscount
Shepperson, Sir Ernest W. Sueter, Rear-Admiral Sir Murray F, White, Henry Graham
Smith, Louis W. (Sheffield, Hallam) Sutcliffe, Harold Williams, Charles (Devon, Torquay)
Smith, Sir Robert (Ab'd'n & K'dine. C.) Thompson, Sir Luke Williams, Edward John (Ogmore)
Smith, Tom (Normanton) Tinker, John Joseph Willoughby de Eresby, Lord
Smithers, Sir Waldron Todd, A. L. S. (Kingswinford) Wills, Wilfrid D.
Somervell, Sir Donald Tree, Ronald Womersley, Sir Walter
Soper, Richard Tryon, Rt. Hon. George Clement Worthington, Dr. John V.
Spent, William Patrick Tufnell, Lieut-Commander R. L.
Stanley, Rt. Hon. Lord (Fylde) Wallace, Sir John (Dunfermline) TELLERS FOR THE NOES—
Stevenson, James Ward, Irene Mary Bewick (Wallsend) Lieut-Colonel Sir A. Lambert Ward
Stewart, J. Henderson (Fife, E.) Wardlaw-Milne, Sir John S. and Mr. Blindell.

Question put, and agreed to.

10.11 p.m.


I beg to move, in page 164, line 13, at the end, to insert: or to the method of choosing members of a Provincial Legislature. It was always intended that this provision should be included with the others, and I move the Amendment now to make the position quite clear. The changes would cover both the Provinces and the Federation.

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendment made: In page 164, line 20, after "purpose," insert "by them or."—[Sir S. Hoare.]

10.12 p.m.


I beg to move, in page 165, line 8, after "shall," to insert " unless it appears to him that the proposed Amendment is of a minor or drafting nature. This is a small Amendment in that part of this Clause which provides that if amendments are made there shall be consultation between the Secretary of State and the Governments and Legislatures in India, and it is to provide that such consultation shall not be necessary where the proposed Amendment is of a minor or drafting nature.

Amendment agreed to.

Motion made, and Question proposed,

That the Clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill.

10.13 p.m.


The Amendment down in my name and home of my hon. Friends —in page 163, line 36, after "minority," to insert "or the due discharge of any of his special responsibilities—has not been selected, but I would like to ask the Secretary of State if he could possibly consider the insertion of these words. The Section to which we refer lays it down that the Governor-General or the Governor, as the case may be, in forward- ing any resolution passed by a Legislative Assembly, shall give his own opinion as to safeguarding minorities. The safeguarding of minorities is one of his special responsibilities. He has got also other important special responsibilities to safeguard, such as law and order. We ask that law and order should be inserted.

10.14 p.m.


I think the hon. and gallant Gentleman will see on further examination that no question about law and order can come in in connection with this procedure. This procedure is only in connection with questions like the size of the Chamber and franchise, and it is on that account that we thought that the only special responsibilities which are likely to be involved are responsibilities to do with minorities. I will look into the question further, and if any other responsibilities were involved, will make it clearer on the Report stage.