HC Deb 28 February 1935 vol 298 cc1450-63

11.18 p.m.


I beg to move, in page 8, line 7, after "peace". to insert "health".

This Amendment is to provide that the Governor-General shall have special responsibilities for prevention not only of any grave menace to the peace or tranquility of India, but also of any grave menace to health. This is not a ques tion of the distribution of public health functions, with which we have had to deal elsewhere in the Bill. This is a question of the grave menace to the health of India. In the background of this position we have to remember we are dealing with 5,805,000 deaths in British India in a year, and something like 8,000,000 for the whole of India. Still more, we are dealing with special questions like cholera, the deaths for which number 70,000 in a year, and as many as 700,000 in 1906; and with plague, which causes 47,000 deaths in a year in British India. The number of deaths in the plague epidemic at the beginning of the century was some 9,000,000. We are thus dealing with a tremendous problem. These epidemics are liable to flare up suddenly in any one or more of the Provinces or States, and they run like wildfire across from one to the other. The early beginnings are unseen, and then they get beyond control. There would be no time for the inter-Provincial councils to act as is laid down in Clause 133. It would be a long time before they would be set up. Meanwhile, these grave menaces may occur on the morrow of the Bill coming into force.

The effect is not limited to India. Such a grave menace to India is a grave menace to commence from India and a menace to the world. I should have explained that point but for the appeal which has been made, and I will confine myself to one illustration. India is recognised throughout the health organisations of the world as being a standing menace, and therefore a, grave menace to India is a grave menace to the world. Take this single quotation from the last report of the Public Health Commissioner of the Government of India: The general opinion held by directors of public health and their staffs was that no provincial health departments in India had even the minimum requirements necessary for the efficient performance of those functions. If that be so now, under the present administration, what will the position be during the change which undoubtedly is going to shake the administration during the period when this Measure is being put into operation? A sudden and grave menace may flare up at any time; such things are constantly occurring in Oriental countries. I ask the Government to face this problem as if it were one of war; indeed, it is one of war. Action in these cases has to be taken early and instantly and it has to be comprehensive. This is far more important than the question of tranquillity, which is already provided for in this paragraph. Tranquillity means tranquillity from communal trouble. A disturbance of the tranquillity may result in 200, or 500 or, perhaps, 1,000 deaths. This menace of disease to which I am referring may mean thousands, tens of thousands, even millions of deaths, and the effect be felt throughout the world. Visualised as a military problem, this requires immediate and drastic action. I put this point straight before the Secretary of State. We in the medical profession do not know how this measure is going to act, but we must state the position as we see it. We have no wish to invalidate the Bill; we only wish to strengthen it.

11.23 p.m.


Before I address myself to this proposition may I appeal to the Secretary of State to give us the view of the Government? I do not think the debate could proceed satisfactorily without our knowing the reaction of the Government to the proposal submitted by the hon. Member for St. Albans (Sir F. Fremantle). The question far transcends the ordinary questions of party politics or non-party politics, or even national affairs: it is concerned with the great warfare of mankind against disease. Here we make a common front against the common foe. I should think that, on the whole, the Government would be very much disposed to include "disease" in the ambit of the Governor-General's powers; but it may be there are objections to it. It may conflict on some of the political theories which underlie the Measure. Our discussion would, I think, be abridged if we proceeded with a knowledge of what is in the mind of the Secretary of State, and with a clear comprehension of what are the purposes of the Government.

11.25 p.m.


Before the right hon. Gentleman rose, I was intending to make a statement as clearly as I could on the attitude of the Government to this very important Amendment. Before I had the honour of taking up this position, I had the privilege of discussing these points, and the subject is one that we have con sidered, and which my right hon. Friend has considered during the whole course of his administration. It must be taken for granted as of extreme importance, and no words used by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) or by the hon. Gentleman the Member for St. Albans (Sir F. Fremantle) are in any way exaggerated. I would draw hon. Member's attention to the present position, and the position as it will be after the operation of this Measure. Public Health is a provincial subject under the Bill, and is to be part of Item 13 in the provincial list on Page 293 of the Bill. Public Health has been one of the transferred subjects for several years, and I would like to pay a tribute to the manner in which Provincial Governments in India have handled the question. I have had the privilege of discussing the matter with many administrators who have had experience of India, and, although it is possible to criticise the administrators of Public Health—and I am perfectly conscious of that—it is undoubtedly one of the subjects to which Indian Ministers have paid most attention and to which they have responded most readily.

The position under the Bill is that Public Health is included in the provincial list. When the Government came to consider the vital question, raised by the hon. Member, about the possible passage of disease with lightning rapidity from one unit of the proposed federation to another they realised, as he did, the urgency and danger of the situation. If hon. Members will turn to concurrent list No. III and will look at Item 29, they will see included there the prevention of the extension from one unit to another of infectious or dangerous diseases affecting man, animals or plants. This was deliberately put in, partly as arising from the discussions of the Joint Select Committee and partly out of the realisation of the Government of the urgency of the question. That means that since this item is in the second part of the concurrent list, it is susceptible of the operation of Clause 125 (2) of the Bill. That means that if the provisions of the Clause operate, the central executive have power of control over the Provinces to the extent that the Clause describes. Therefore, the correlation necessary for dealing with this question is included in the provisions of the Bill. Apart from this possi bility of legislating in order to provide machinery that deals with this passage of disease, there is also an opportunity under Item 12 in List I, which provides for the setting up and the maintaining of federal agencies or institutes for research, including scientific and medical research. This entry in the federal list, and all that legislation means when it is included in the federal list, gives an opportunity for dealing with scientific and medical research and setting up or maintaining federal agencies or institutes for research.

There remains the aspect of the possibility of inter-provincial co-ordination. Clause 133 refers to the possibility of inter-provincial councils. The Mover of the Amendment said that that sort of machinery was not rapid enough to deal with an emergency of this kind. I have attempted to deal with that point by saying that, by including an entry in the concurrent list, we had given an opportunity for setting up the necessary machinery for that purpose. My hon. Friend has often asked me, when I have discussed these matters with him, what would be the possible future for some central board of health or machinery, to deal with India, as a whole. The first step would be for the Legislature of India to take the opportunity conferred on them by Clause 133, and, if necessary, set up a provincial council under that Clause. From that germ might spring the future health organisation to which my hon. Friend refers, and which I believe he so ardently desires. I have attempted to cover the four aspects of the subject, and to point out that the Government have attempted to deal with them in this Bill; and, as my right hon. Friend asked for a statement of the position, I had better stop there, having done my best to explain the position as we see it under the Bill, without attempting to minimise the very great importance of these matters.

11.33 p.m.


What the Under-Secretary has said with regard to stopping the spread of epidemics and taking immediate action is very important, and is satisfactory. It is clear that such action can be taken under the item in List 3 to which he referred. I think, however, that some of us would be glad if the provision for health could be more specific, and not merely covered by the sections dealing generally with scientific research of all kinds and collaboration between provinces. If it were possible to make more specific reference to health, I am sure so many of us would regard it as a great improvement. I would not wish to press that this particular Amendment should be accepted. I think there would be objections to extending the Governors' list of responsibilities if the same object can be attained in another way, possibly either by an extension of Item 29 in the concurrent list, or possibly in the Instrument of Instructions to the Governor-General. But what is wanted is that there should be some, if not guarantee, at any rate some assurance in which we can put confidence, that the office of the Public Health Commissioner, for example, and all the work that he has done, is likely to be continued, and that the existing institutions for research will continue.

Besides the work of stopping epidemics, there is the necessity in a great country like India, for the collation of information gathered from within the country itself and also for the collection and utilisation of information from abroad and of course, conferences such as have been mentioned must be extraordinarily valuable. We would like some assurance that there will be a continuation of the central department and that instead of waiting for this or that Province to take the initiative, the centre will always take the initiative, in order to start the Provinces and keep them in carrying on the work by giving advice as well as in other ways.

11.36 p.m.

Duchess of ATHOLL

My hon. Friend who moved the Amendment spoke with knowledge of the devastating effect of epidemics in India, and I should like to emphasise the fact that great gatherings of pilgrims from all over India, at certain seasons of the year, make the occurence of epidemics something that is likely to continue unless much more effective steps are taken to standardise public health measures throughout British India, than have so far been taken. The position at present is that there is no standardisation of public health throughout India except in the major ports. In addition to the epidemics which my hon. Friend mentioned, malaria is a terrible scourge. It has been estimated that about half the population of India suffer from malaria every year and that the disease keeps them from work for an average of six weeks in the year, so that there is a tremendous economic loss from malaria alone. Various types of machinery for dealing with the situation have been mentioned. Reference has been made to the possibility of inter-provincial councils, set up on provincial initiative. That kind of machinery seems likely to produce little result. It will obviously take time to set it up, and in some cases there may be difficulty in getting cooperation between the Provincial Governments on these matters. The Central Government will have no power of initiative, no power to spend anything on getting such a council set up and no power of direction. It can only come into such a council on the invitation of the Provincial Governments.

I am thankful indeed to see in the concurrent list the subject of preventive measures against the spread of infection and disease which means, of course, that the Federal Legislature will have powers in this matter. But there again action may not be speedy and there may be jealousies between the Provincial Governments and the Federal Legislature. I fancy that many powers would have been given to the Federal Legislature with respect to provincial subjects, had it not been for the dislike of one large and important section of opinion in India, to anything of the kind. Therefore it may not be easy to get the Federal Legislature to act promptly or to get the Provincial Governments to cooperate with them and it seems to me to be of great importance that the Governor-General should have the power of initiative in this matter. As we know, the initiative passes to his ministers under one of the clauses which we passed this afternoon. It is important to realise that at this moment the Governor-General has the power, if he chooses to exercise it, to require the passing of any legislation affecting the interests of the people of British India. He has the power to-day to get the Indian Legislature to pass any measure which he considers necessary, not only for the peace and tranquillity of British India but for its interests generally.

Obviously, there can be no interest of the people of British India more vital than the question of health in a country where there are such tremendous problems of illnesses of various kinds. It is a power which is passing out of the hands of the Governor-General, and one of the reasons why we say that this Measure will be so prejudicial to the masses of India is that it will rule out Governor and Governor-General alike from having any say in anything except the vital matter of the safety of the people. All other interests, particularly this great interest of health, is to be taken completely out of the hands of Governor and Governor-General alike. India has probably greater health problems than any other country in the world, and, unfortunately, is likely to continue to have those problems because of the great assemblies of pilgrims from all over the country. I most earnestly ask the Government to see if they cannot ensure that health remains a responsibility of the Governor-General, even if they cannot accept the Amendment exactly in the form in which it is drafted.

11.41 p.m.


I must say that I think the extremely well-expressed and competent speech of the Tinder-Secretary was not at all adequate to the issue before the Committee. He gave a very clear account of the elaborate provisions of the Bill and threaded his way through that labyrinth with every proof of the assiduity and thoroughness with which he has studied its details. But, after all, let us get back to the central fact. We are not now pressing to set up machinery at all; all we are pressing to assert is a principle and a duty. Let me read the words of the Sub-section as it is proposed that it should be amended: The prevention of any grave menace to the peace, health or tranquillity of India. Health is probably going to exact a far graver toll of slaughter, casualties of a blind impotent approach, than anything that will happen in the communal riots which will follow the passing of this Bill, and to the peace of India that is a matter formidable in its character. Surely, the Government ought to assert, and allow the House of Commons in this clause to assert, that fact among the supreme reserved responsibilities of the Governor, so as to shield India from any grave menace to its health. It is not very much to ask that it should be put in here, and in this form. You may say, that all this sort of arrangement with local and Provincial Governments of this and other lands will not work. Everyone knows that when we are dealing with pestilence you want supreme direction. That is what you require. I remember, many years age, living in an Indian city during a hot summer when 40,000 people died of bubonic plague, and the resistance of the population to the necessary measures of the Government was quite marked. It even reached the ears of the European community, the trouble there was in enforcing the necessary provision of feeling under their armpits to see if the tumour had begun to swell and so forth; and in these examinations the greatest trouble was shown. All this rests in the highest mission which the British have in India.

It may be that you will ask how it should be expressed in later Clauses, Certainly we are not saying that the Governor-General is to interfere in every matter affecting the health of the community. He has all the local bodies and other splendid institutions which are dealing with it, and why, you might say, interfere on every occasion?—Certainly not, but this is a supreme ultimate responsibility, just as vital as the defence of India and the maintenance of tranquillity in India, in order to shield enormous masses of the human race from the ravages of pestilence, and from pestilence which may sweep like the black death through the land. And to say that the Governor-General has not that responsibility is, surely, a menace and a grisly hiatus in the scheme which you are putting up for the future government of India. I do not think that it is at all satisfactory. The Secretary of State refuses to deal with the matter. He will not allow it. There is a special adjuration in the Clause as to the matters in which the Governor-General is to interest himself. In 99 cases out of a hundred it would not constitute "a grave menace," but even when there is a grave menace to the teeming population crowded together in circumstances which seem incredible to western experience, you will not arm him with or summon him to the discharge of that duty. You leave it out of the Bill. My Noble Friend has just said that he has the power to-day, bid you take it away from him by the Bill, which you call reform. You take away from him the right, the power to lift the shield of Britain against sweeping pestilences which may devastate India. You will not even give him the invocation to do the duty, and you call it a constitutional reform Bill.

11.46 p.m.


I find difficulty in dealing with some of my right hon. Friend's arguments. They are so obviously founded upon the fact that he has given so very little study to the Bill. Public health—this is really the essential point—is a Provincial Service. It is a Provincial Service now. Therefore most of the criticisms which my right hon. Friend has just urged might be urged against the present state of affairs. The Governor-General does not intervene in any of these fields now.


But he could.


Technically, perhaps he could. But what is the good of that? This is really the essence of the whole matter. The great thing in public health is to get the sympathy of the people who are dealing with it on the spot in the Provinces. One of the best features of recent years has been the increased interest of the Indians themselves in such questions, and I am quite sure that if we maintain this kind of technical power of interference, to use my right hon. Friend's own words—


They are your words.


Well, my words. We maintain that technical power of interference, knowing perfectly well that public health is a Provincial Service and that in actual practice the Governor-General will not be able to intervene in the kind of way my right hon. Friend wants. If he did it would turn the Provinces and the provincial public health ministers against the kind of action that he wished them to take. I am sure that this of all the causes in the Bill is the cause in which we have to carry public opinion with us in the Provinces. We are much more likely to carry public opinion with us in the Provinces if we do not attempt to have this kind of imaginary interference which we know in practice is not going to take place.


If we do not allow them to mismanage it they will not try to manage it well.


The right hon. Gentleman must not make such comments upon my observations. I am assuming that this is one of the services in which there is going to a great deal of agreement in the Provinces and in which there is going to be a great deal of public opinion behind the Provincial Ministers. That being so, it is much better to leave the service essentially a Provincial service, at the same time making provision for central research and for the interest, by all means, of the Federal Government in the general problem, as a whole, particularly in case of epidemics, quarantine at the ports and so on. There, by all means the Federal Government should intervene, but, speaking generally, the desire that we should have in a public health administration can be much better served by frankly admitting that it is a Provincial service. Whilst I have every sympathy with my hon. Friend's intention, I hope he will not press the Amendment, because in actual practice it would not work. I will give him an undertaking to look into the matter to see whether on the lines I have just described, namely, keeping it definitely a Provincial service, at the same time strengthening the central organisation of research, we cannot in some way go a little bit further in the Bill. I cannot give a definite pledge, but I am perfectly willing to look into the question with sympathy.

11.50 p.m.


The right hon. Gentleman talks about strengthening the federal powers in the matter of research, but that does not deal with the problem of the grave menace. I want to know if he will look into the question of strengthening the federal power with regard to the existing organisation of the Public Health Commissioner. It is not the Governor-General who will act in these emergencies, but the Public Health Commissioner who will exercise those powers of advising the Provinces. You want somebody at the Federal Centre to help to advise these different people in order to bring all these forces into play together and to secure common action. Will the right hon. Gentleman look into that matter and see how far it will be possible to maintain what is at present the existing real power, which exists in every federation and which is asbolutely essential to the Federation in India?

11.54 p.m.


I will certainly look into the point, but let me suggest to the hon. Member that the most hopeful direction in which to look is in the direction of the provincial public health ministers. Speaking generally, the most hopeful policy is in the direction of getting the public health ministers in the Provinces to meet together regularly and

to discuss Means of dealing with these matters.


In view of that undertaking I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.




No, certainly not.

Question put, "That the word health ' be there inserted."

The Committee divided: Ayes, 20; Noes, 145.

Division No. 73.] AYES. [11.55 p.m.
Acland-Troyte, Lieut.-Colonel Craddock, Sir Reginald Henry Todd, Lt.-Col. A. J. K. (B'wick-on-T.)
Alexander, Sir William Emmott, Charles E. G. C. Wells, Sydney Richard
Atholl, Duchess of Fuller, Captain A. G. Williams, Herbert G. (Croydon, S.)
Bailey, Eric Alfred George Greene, William P. C. Wolmer, Rt. Hon. Viscount
Bracken, Brendan Lennox-Boyd, A. T.
Broadbent, Colonel John Remer, John R. TELLERS FOR THE AYES—
Churchill, Rt. Hon. Winston Spencer Sandeman, Sir A. N. Stewart Mr. Donner and Mr. Raikes.
Courtauld, Major John Sewell Sanderson, Sir Frank Barnard
Addison, Rt. Hon. Dr. Christopher Grigg, Sir Edward Peake, Osbert
Allen, Lt.-Col. J. Sandeman (B'k'nh'd) Grimston, R. V. Petherick, M.
Apsley, Lord Grundy, Thomas W. Radford, E. A.
Astor, Viscountess (Plymouth, Sutton) Guy, J. C. Morrison Ramsay, Alexander (W. Bromwich)
Baldwin, Rt. Hon. Stanley Hamilton, Sir George (Ilford) Ramsay, Capt. A. H. M. (Midlothian)
Balfour, Capt. Harold (I. of Thanet) Harris, Sir Percy Ramsay, T. B. W. (Western Isles)
Banfield, John William Harvey, Major Sir Samuel (Totnes) Ramsbotham, Herwald
Barclay-Harvey, C. M. Herbert, Major J. A. (Monmouth) Rankin, Robert
Belt, Sir Alfred L. Hoare, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir S. J. G. Reid, James S. C. (Stirling)
Bevan, Aneurin (Ebbw Vale) Howard, Tom Forrest Reid, William Allan (Derby)
Blindell, James Howitt, Dr. Alfred B Rosbotham, Sir Thomas
Bossom, A. C. Hunter, Dr. Joseph (Dumfries) Russell, Alexander West (Tynemouth)
Boulton, W. W. James, Wing-Com. A. W. H. Rutherford, John (Edmonton)
Bowyer, Capt. Sir George E. W. Janner, Barnett Rutherford, Sir John Hugo (Liverp'l)
Braithwaite, J. G. (Hillsborough) John, William Samuel, M. R. A. (W'ds'wth, Putney).
Brass, Captain Sir William Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly) Sassoon, Rt. Hon. Sir Philip A. G. D.
Burghley, Lord Ker, J. Campbell Savery, Samuel Servington
Burgin, Dr. Edward Leslie Kerr, Lieut.-Col. Charles (Montrose) Shaw, Helen B. (Lanark, Bothwell)
Butler, Richard Austen Kerr, Hamilton W. Simmonds, Oliver Edwin
Cadogan, Hon. Edward Latham, Sir Herbert Paul Smith, Tom (Normanton)
Caporn, Arthur Cecil Liddall, Walter S. Smithers, Sir Waldron
Cazalet, Capt. V. A. (Chippenham) Lindsay, Kenneth (Kilmarnock) Somerville, D. G. (Willesden, East)
Chamberlain, Rt.Hn.Sir J. A.(Birm., W) Lindsay, Noel Ker Stanley, Rt. Hon. Lord (Fylde)
Cleary, J. J. Lister, Rt. Hon. Sir Philip Cunliffe- Stanley, Hon. O. F. G. (Westmorland)
Cocks, Frederick Seymour Lloyd, Geoffrey Steel-Maitland, Rt. Hon. Sir Arthur
Colman, N. C. D. Logan, David Gilbert Stones, James
Colville, Lieut.-Colonel J. Mabane, William Strickland, Captain W. F.
Courthope, Colonel Sir George L. MacAndraw, Capt. J. O. (Ayr) Stuart, Lord C. Crichton-
Cranborne, Viscount McCorguodale. M. S. Sugden, Sir Wilfrid Hart
Crooke, J. Smedley MacDonald, Malcolm (Bassetlaw) Tate, Mavis Constance
Cruddas, Lieut-Colonel Bernard McEwen, Captain J. H. F. Thomas, James P. L. (Hereford)
Culverwell, Cyril Tom McKie, John Hamilton Titchfield, Major the Marquess of
Daggar, George McLean, Major Sir Alan Tufnell, Lieut.-Commander R. L.
Davidson, Rt. Hon. J. C. C. McLean, Dr. W. H. (Tradeston) Wallace, Captain D. E. (Hornsey)
Davies, David L. (Pontypridd) Mainwaring, William Henry Ward, Lt.-Col. Sir A. L. (Hull)
Dugdals, Captain Thomas Lionel Margesson, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. D. R. Ward, Irene Mary Bewick (Wallsend)
Duncan, James A. L. (Kensington, N.) Mayhew, Lieut.-Colonel John Ward, Sarah Adelaide (Cannock)
Eastwood, John Francis Mills, Sir Frederick (Leyton, E.) Wardlaw-Milne, Sir John S.
Eden, Rt. Hon. Anthony Mills, Major J. D. (New Forest) Warrender, Sir Victor A. G.
Edwards, Charles Milner, Major James Watt, Major George Steven H.
Elmley, Viscount Monsell, Rt. Hon. Sir B. Eyres Whiteside, Borres Noel H.
Emrys-Evans, P. V. Morris-Jones, Dr. J. H. (Denbigh) Wilmot, John
Foot, Isaac (Cornwall, Bodmin) Muirhead, Lieut.-Colonel A. J. Wilson, Lt.-Col. Sir Arnold (Hertl'd)
Fraser, Captain Sir Ian Normand, Rt. Hon. Wilfrid Wilson, Clyde T. (West Toxteth)
Gault, Lieut.-Col. A. Hamilton North, Edward T. Womersley, Sir Walter
Gillett, Sir George Masterman Nunn, William
Goff, Sir Park O'Donovan, Dr. William James TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—
Gower, Sir Robert Orr Ewing, I. L. Sir Frederick Thomson and Major
Graham, Sir F. Fergus (C'mb'rl'd, N.) Paling, Wilfred George Davies.
Graves, Marjorie Patrick, Colin M.

Ordered, "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again."

—[Captain Margesson.]

Committee report Progress; to sit again To-morrow.