HC Deb 30 April 1935 vol 301 cc280-90

(1) The executive authority of the Federation shall extend to the giving of such directions to a Province as are necessary for the purposes of:

  1. (a) securing in that Province the observance and execution of any laws of the Federal Legislature which apply in that Province;
  2. (b) securing that any functions entrusted by the Governor-General to the Government of a Province or to its officers are properly discharged:
  3. (c) securing that any powers and duties conferred by an Act of the Federal Legislature upon a Province or the officers and authorities thereof are duly exercised and discharged:

(2) If it appears to the Governor-General that effect has not been given to any directions given under this Act either by the Federal executive authority to a Province or by the Governor-General (whether acting in his discretion or otherwise) to the Governor of a Province, the Governor-General, acting in his discretion, may issue as orders to the Governor of that Province either the directions previously given or those directions modified in such manner as the Governor-General thinks proper.

(3) If it appears to the Governor-General that any orders issued by him under this Act to the Governor of a Province have not been obeyed the Governor-General may, acting in his discretion, but after consultation with his counsellors and the Advocate-General for the purpose of securing obedience to his orders as aforesaid, direct that all moneys for the time being in the hands of or under the control of the Federation which are assignable or payable to the Province in which the orders of the Governor-General have been disobeyed shall be withheld from that Province until such time as the said orders have been obeyed to the satisfaction of the Governor-General.—[Sir H. Croft.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

7.48 p.m.


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

The object of the Clause is to secure control by the Federation over the Provinces and also control by the Governor-General over the Governors and Provincial Governments. I hope the Committee will read this Clause in connection with Part VI of the Bill. The scheme of the Clause is that directions can be given to enforce Federal authority. That is the object of the Clause. If the directions are disregarded, they can be followed up by orders, and, if the orders are disobeyed, then financial sanctions can be imposed. I do not want to delay the Committee at any length on this Clause, because I think those who have been taking an interest in the Bill will have appreciated the fact that it is necessary that something of this description should be included in the Bill. Clause 125 provides in certain cases for directions and orders, but this new Clause extends that principle, and Sub-section (1, a) is designed to give practical effect to Clause 122, Sub-section (1, b) is designed to give practical effect to Clause 123 (1), and Sub-section (1, c) is designed to give practical effect to Clause 123 (2).

I think it will be at once admitted that in the Bill at present there is not sufficient power for the Governor-General to take over in the situation which is contemplated, and I hope the Under-Secretary of State will be able to accept this new Clause. It is reasonable in its application, and I think he will agree that there has been a good deal of disquiet about this subject as to whether the difficulties contemplated are adequately covered. I should be very glad if the Under-Secretary of State could give some indication that the Government will meet us over this extension of policy. I think it will be agreed that this is a subject on which there will not be any serious conflict of opinion as between one Member of the Committee and another, and the Government have had the support of the great flowing tide in the Lobby of various allies from the Socialist and Liberal parties this evening on another question, when they would otherwise have suffered a very severe moral defeat. I hope on this occasion they will endeavour to do what they can to meet an opinion which has no party aspect whatsoever, but which is calculated to strengthen the Bill.

7.52 p.m.


The hon. and gallant Member for Bournemouth (Sir H. Croft) was very soft, and cooed like a turtle dove in moving this new Clause, but he emitted to stress the sanctions contained at the end of the Clause. The first part of the Clause appreciably tightens up the control of the Federation over the units, and I shall not say very much about that, except that it puts in a form which we regard as less satisfactory certain Clauses of the Bill, notably the Clauses to which the hon. and gallant Member referred. But it is when we come to Sub-section (3) that we really take exception to this new Clause. Subsection (3) gives a sanction to the Governor-General that any moneys for the time being in the hands of or under the control of the Federation which are assignable or payable to the Province in which the orders of the Governor-General have been disobeyed shall be withheld from that Province until such time as the said orders have been obeyed to the satisfaction of the Governor-General. This introduces a completely new idea to our discussions and for the first time suggests that the scheme of Federal finance as outlined in the finance Chapter of this Bill shall be governed by the very important considerations set out in this new Clause. This means that the autonomy in finance which is the heart and the essential part of provincial autonomy can be taken away if the Governor General is not satisfied with the method of obeying his orders under the previous Sub-sections of the new Clause.

It really introduces the principle which was put before the Joint Select Committee by the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill). It savours of the policy of grants-in-aid, though actually it does not include that proposal, because it attaches a financial sanction to the scheme of Federal finance set out in the Federal finance Chapter and means that those moneys in the Federal finance Chapter which are not at present to be taken away from the Provinces may be withheld from them in a completely arbitrary manner by the Governor-General in the circumstances detailed in the new Clause. The hon. and gallant Member will perhaps remember that the Statutory Commission investigated closely this question of the control of the Provinces by the Centre, and Sir Walter Layton, in the financial portion of the Statutory Commission's report, also investigated it. I think perhaps the most striking sentence from their report against the principle of this new Clause is contained in their second volume, in paragraph 158, which reads: A system of grants-in-aid by the Centre to the provinces…would involve some measure of central control and would run counter to the whole trend of constitutional development which we are recommending. We are endeavouring to complete the process of decentralisation by constituting the provinces as self-governing units in a federation. As I have said, it is not literally a system of grants-in-aid that is suggested, but financial sanctions are for the first time suggested, and we regard that as equally obnoxious and equally against the spirit, not only of our Bill, but of the report of the Statutory Commission. I do not want to pursue further the whole question of the control of the Federation over the Provinces, because I think our view has been given in earlier Debates. It is very tempting in any Federation to consider that some sort of coercion should be possible from the Federation over the units, but in a federal form of government it is vital that we should not on the one hand approve of provincial autonomy and on the other hand take it away by saying that in certain circumstances you must have financial sanctions, and thus stop the whole growth of responsible government. For these reasons I regret that we are not able to accept the new Clause.


May I ask what the hon. Member proposes to do in the final resort? How does he mean to meet a situation which we hope will never arise?


I do not think I can give every single instance, but if my hon. and gallant Friend will glance at the Clauses of the Bill which are contained in Part VI, he will see the various provisions set forth. It is true that in some cases there is no ultimate coercion, and it is not in the spirit of a federation ultimately to coerce a unit. For instance, in questions of labour legislation, which we have so often discussed, many of us would have liked to coerce the units, but it is only by a system of agreement that it is possible to arrive at the proper results. Take the question of health. It would be by an institution of an Inter-Provincial Council, which is provided for by Clause 133, that some agreement would be able to be arrived at on a uniform policy for health, and it is by agreement rather than by coercion that uniformity is achieved in a federation. In cases of emergency, of course, it is possible for the Governor-General to give direct orders to the Governor of a Province, and the Governor in his discretion will then have to carry out the orders of the Governor-General. That, I think, meets the point made by the hon. and gallant Member about emergencies.

7.58 p.m.

Viscount WOLMER

I am very sorry that my hon. Friend has not been able to give a more sympathetic reply on this new Clause, because the object of the Clause is to provide machinery to make this Federation work, which the Bill does not provide. I entirely dissent from the view which the Government have expressed that it is improper in all circumstances for the Federal Government to withhold financial assistance to the Provinces. You have in finance a very potent lever for inducing the provincial authorities to work in harmony with the Federal Government, and that is a principle with which, after all, we are very familiar in this country. The Ministry of Health, for instance, in making grants-in-aid to the various local authorities exercises a power of supervision and makes conditions under which those grants-in-aid shall be forthcoming. Of course the analogy is not complete, but there is the same principle, and I submit that it is a very sound principle, because, after all, if you get a Provincial Government which is deliberately following a policy which is contrary to that of the Federal Government, you will have an impossible situation. You will ultimately be faced with the sort of position which has arisen in Western Australia. Friction will increase from year to year, matters will go from bad to worse, and you will finally be faced with a demand for the secession of a Province from the Federation. The great merit of using financial pressure in the early stages of these differences of opinion and policy, is that you have there a weapon which is not only very potent but very subtle. Clause 125 empowers the Governor-General to issue orders to the. Governor of any Province, and that principle, of course, is reinforced in this Clause which we are now proposing.

The method of financial pressure, which the Governor objects to so much, is really a much more direct and easier method of applying authority. An order which is issued may be disobeyed. I do not suggest that it will be disobeyed by the Governor. But you do not want to allow matters to reach that point. If a Provincial Government realised that by pursuing a certain policy it might forfeit the financial assistance it might otherwise get from the Federal Government, it would be deterred from following that policy in the initial stages, and you would not get to that unfortunate situation where two Governors took up irreconcilable attitudes and there were no means of smoothing over the difficulties.

I therefore regret very much indeed that the Government have rejected this weapon of financial pressure, and rejected it so scornfully. I do not think that there is anything derogatory to the Provinces in having such a machine. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary spoke about the incompatibility of Provincial autonomy with a measure of this sort, but the truth is that you cannot have complete Provincial autonomy in a federation. You have got a contradiction in terms. It is just like the Indian Princes, who, until they saw the Bill, believed that they could enter the Federation and have complete self-government in their States. Directly they saw the Bill, they found that it was impossible, and I venture to suggest that the more they study the matter the more they will see that it is inherent in the Bill. If you are going to have complete Provincial autonomy, then you will not get a federation that is a federation. It will simply be a collection of independent States, all of whom will be liable to pursue their independent and perhaps conflicting policies, with the result that one day you will get a breakdown. I think that the example of Australia shows us the dangers that apply to any Federation where the residual powers reside in the Provinces rather than at the Centre. The Australian Commonwealth in that respect has always been substantially weaker than the Dominion of Canada or the Union of South Africa, and the Government here are deliberately following—in fact extending—the principle on which the Commonwealth of Australia was established.

I believe that the sort period during which that commonwealth has existed, under conditions incomparably easier than those that will be met with in India, has shown the very great dangers which are inherent in any federation where the residual powers reside in the Provinces. The Government are giving the Indian Provinces so great powers, they are depriving the Central Government of so many powers, that I cannot believe that this Federation will stand the test of time, and it is for that reason that I very much regret that the Government would not give a more sympathetic hearing to this proposal. This is not a wrecking Amendment. It is not an Amendment which represents our ideal. We offer it as a contribution, something which we believe to be necessary if the Federation is to stick together. But, if the Government reject it, then all that we can say is that it will not be our fault.


The proposal that has been put forward is one that interests me a great deal and that I myself several times put forward and tried to get a scheme which would be workable, because it looked so attractive on the analogy of our local government system. But I confess that I was always beaten, and probably the Noble Lord will confess that he has been beaten. This new Clause assumes that the Governor might refuse to obey the orders of the Governor- General, and it is the British Governor, or it may be the Indian Governor, of a Province whom you are proposing to distrain upon in the way of finance in order to bring him to heel. The point is that you cannot conceive the Governor whose duty it is to see that the Federal Authority is maintained having to be coerced by financial measures. The Governor is the executive authority in the Province and the instrument of the Governor-General.

Viscount WOLMER

Is not my hon. Friend ignoring this point, that, if you rely entirely on the Governor-General issuing orders to the Governor, you are relying on what I may call the safeguard power? I should have thought my hon. Friend wanted to keep the Governor-General and the Governor, acting in their discretion, out of the picture as much as possible. Suppose the Governor is desired by his Ministers to take an act which is contrary to a decision of the Federal Government, then our Clause would operate in this fashion. The Governor-General, acting under the advice of his Ministers, would set this machinery in being, and that would be the constitutional remedy which the Federal Government had against a Provincial Government. The hon. Member for Limehouse (Mr. Attlee) wants the matter to be dealt with, as it were, personally, between the Governor and the Governor-General, each acting in his discretion and using his safeguard powers. The whole of his argument depends on the Governor-General issuing these personal orders to the Governor.

That is not the development of constitutional machinery. You are now trying to erect a constitution which you hope will function in a Parliamentary fashion. We want to give some sanction which the Federal Government can impose on a Provincial Government. The hon. Member for Limehouse says that is quite unnecessary because it is inconceivable that the Governor of any Province would disobey the orders of the Governor-General. I agree, but I do not think that it is at all inconceivable that the Cabinet or Government of any Province may desire to disobey the orders of the Federal Government, and I should have thought that the hon. Member would have liked to keep the whole business on a Cabinet plane rather than on the plane of Governor-General and Governors. I submit that this measure of the financial lever, which works so efficiently as between the Government in Whitehall and our local authorities in a strictly constitutional manner and not in a personal manner, would be applicable to the sort of condition which the hon. Member would like to see in India.

8.11 p.m.


The Under-Secretary a few moments ago advanced a most extraordinary proposition. The essence of his argument was that in this or, for he stated the proposition generally, any Federation, there should be no coercive power in the Federation in relation to the Provinces. But in the sixth part of the Bill, particularly Clause 125, power is taken for the Federation to coerce the Provinces. It was very difficult to follow the Under-Secretary and understand exactly what he meant. It may be that it would be sufficient for his argument for his proposition to be stated more narrowly, but the effect of it was that it is wrong to give to the Federation power to coerce the Provinces. But this power is already taken in the Bill: or rather coercive powers are taken in the Bill, but no power is conferred by it. We desire that the Federal Government should have not merely powers, but power, to secure compliance with its decisions by the Provinces.

8.13 p.m.


I would like to say a few words if only to clear up the accusation made by the Noble Lord the Member for Aldershot (Viscount Wolmer). He thinks that there are what he calls residual powers possessed by the Commonwealth of Australia being conferred by this Bill on the Provinces of India. That is not so. It is clear that in this Constitution there are two main lists, one dealing with subjects in the Federal sphere and one dealing with subjects within the Provincial sphere, neither of which can attempt to impose on the other. Then there is the concurrent list. Suppose some subject comes up—and this is the residual point of my Noble Friend—that is neither in the Federal list nor in the Provincial list nor in the concurrent list, then it is a matter entirely for the Governor-General, under Clause 104, to lay down whether it is to be regarded as a Federal or Provincial subject. The whole object of this Constitution is to prevent anything in the nature of the type of constitution that we have in this country between Parliament and the local authorities.

There are two clear divisions between what is the legislative and executive field in the Provincial Legislature and the legislative and executive field in the Centre. The whole idea of grants-in-aid is fundamentally unsound and wrong. The Province should look to its own sources of revenue when dealing with its services, and the Centre should look to its own revenues. The essence of Provincial autonomy is that there should not be interference from the Centre in the Provincial sphere, any more than we in this country interfere with the subjects, either legislatively or administratively, which are within the province of Northern Ireland. I agree the analogy is not exact. They have their own subjects which are dealt with in the Parliament at Belfast, and we here deal with other subjects. It is most undesirable that there should be the idea that under this Constitution there will be the old unitary form of Government where all the services derive their authority from the Centre. The whole scheme of the Bill and the report of the Joint Select Committee emphasises the fact that the grant-in-aid system would be inimical to the whole structure of the Bill, and because this proposed Clause raises a fundamental difference between our whole conception of the future Constitution of India and that of the Noble Lord, we naturally resist it.

8.17 p.m.

Viscount WOLMER

I cannot refrain from saying this to my right hon. Friend. No doubt what he says about the underlying idea of the Government is true and accurate, but our point is that it is a mistaken idea and is not likely to work well and cannot work well. He gives the example of the Government of Northern Ireland. I think I am right in saying that this House, in the short time in which that Government has existed has given something very like grants-in-aid towards that Government. I can remember an occasion three or four years ago when this House was called upon to make a heavy payment to the Government of Northern Ireland—


I think that this Debate is getting very much wider than the Noble Lord's new Clause would justify.

Viscount WOLMER

I am sorry if I have trespassed beyond the Rules of Order, but my right hon. Friend gave the instance of Northern Ireland, and I was concerned to point out that the system of grants-in-aid did obtain and had had to be used. I believe that in any Federation it will be found that it is impossible on certain subjects for the Provinces to follow diametrically opposite policies. Just consider the sort of mentality you are trying to generate in Indian politics. You have held up to the Indians, and they have held up to themselves, the ideal that India as a whole—the unification of India—is the underlying idea of this Bill. That ideal is inconsistent with the ideal which my right hon. Friend the First Commissioner has explained. I do not think it can be done. You will find in practice that if the Provinces pursue divergent policies on matters which, though they may be provincial, yet do excite interests and passions throughout India, you will inevitably get a clash between the Centre and the Provinces. Our submission is that by coaxing the Provinces into uniformity with the gentle, yet persuasive weapon of finance, you might avoid a great deal of trouble of that nature. I know that the Government take a contrary view, and I very much regret it.

Question, "That the Clause be read a Second time," put, and negatived.