HC Deb 30 July 1935 vol 304 cc2551-9

Lords Amendment: In page 144, line 25, leave out: the recruitment of officers generally and insert: recruitment to such posts and in recruitment generally for railway purposes shall have due regard to the past association of the Anglo-Indian community with railway services in India, and particularly to the specific class, character and numerical percentages of the posts hitherto held by members of that community and the remuneration attaching to such posts, and

6.40 p.m.


I beg to move, "That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment."

When the question of the Anglo-Indians was originally discussed in this House it was decided to rely upon the terms of Clause 241, and this protection was considered sufficient. Since then in another place it has been very strongly pressed upon the Government that a declaratory statement of the kind indicated in this amendment and in the next Amendment would be valuable to the community, and the Government accordingly have agreed to accept this declaratory statement and to insert it in the Bill. The Government consider, however, that what they originally suggested would be the best course to pursue for those who have the interests of the Anglo-Indian community at heart, and although they have accepted the words of the Amendment that does not imply any change in favour of the community in the policy laid down in the Government of India Resolution, which is the accepted policy upon which the Governor-General is to be instructed to base his view of the interests of that particular minority. These words do not for instance fix any special rates of pay for particular communities. They do, however, make it perfectly clear that we wish the Anglo-Indian community to have in future as far as possible a satisfactory position in the services. It is, therefore, with pleasure that we have accepted the Amendment, and I recommend it to the House.

6.42 p.m.


I think this Amendment is a very bad piece of policy both for the Government and for the Anglo-Indian community. We all have sympathy with that community, but it is a very dangerous thing to exercise a charity at someone else's expense. In this instance I think that is what the Government are doing. Here we have an instruction which is almost mandatory, in which it is said that in recruitment for railway purposes, due regard must be had to the Anglo-Indian community. In effect it says that this community which, for historical reasons, has had a certain percentage of posts, that those posts shall as far as possible be assured for all time in the enjoyment of those people. I think that is an extraordinarily dangerous thing. The Anglo-Indian community has done great service in the past. It was particularly qualified for posts when the railway and postal services were started, because of its superior education and status, but since that time there has been tremendous competition among all the communities in India for the higher posts. The danger is that if you try to secure the future of the Anglo-Indian community in the way proposed in this Amendment, so far from doing them a service you will do them a disservice, because you will make them hated by all the other communities as being put in a specially privileged position.

When we discussed this matter before I said that we owed something to the Anglo-Indian community and that if anything could be done for them it should be done by the people of the United Kingdom. What you are proposing to do here is to say: "Yes, we owe a great deal to the Anglo-Indian community and we will therefore in future make the rest of the people of India keep them on a standard of life which is higher than that of the average Indian; we will secure for them a certain proportion of posts." You are saying: "We will disregard what we laid down originally when the Bill went to another place, that is to say, that they shall have a fair representation in the railway service, and that without regard to the numbers of the Anglo-Indian community and without regard to the state of the other communities we are going to endeavour to secure them posts in accordance with the lines laid down in the Amendment." You are doing a grave disservice to the Anglo-Indian community, and I think that they will suffer from it all the time.

6.45 p.m.

Viscount WOLMER

We have heard very curious and very different interpretations put upon Clauses in various parts of the Bill by hon. Members who support the Bill from different angles. When this Amendment was accepted in another place the Secretary of State for India said that it was a purely declaratory Amendment and would bind nobody. If I have misquoted him I hope the Under-Secretary will correct me.

But I should like to know what value these words really are to the Anglo-Indian community. I sympathise with the position in which the Anglo-Indian community finds itself, as I sympathise with the position of every minority liable to suffer discrimination under the Bill. There is some force in what the right hon. Member for Limehouse (Mr. Attlee) has said, that these words may expose the Anglo-Indian community to a certain amount of jealousy from other inhabitants of India. If he is right, if these words are going to provoke ill-will against the Anglo-Indian community, and if the Secretary of State is right that these words do not protect them at all, it seems to me that the Anglo-Indian community are not going to be much better off by the insertion of these words. I should be grateful if the Attorney-General will tell us the effect of these words. I was surprised to read that the Secretary of State said that they were purely declaratory and not binding. Inasmuch as it is an admonition addressed to the Governor-General he is bound to take notice of it, and, therefore, they are binding and will have an effect. I hope the Attorney-General will explain the nature and effect of these words.

6.48 p.m.


I do not agree with the Noble Lord in his view of the Amendment, and I am glad that the Government have accepted it. I entirely dissent from the view expressed by the right hon. Member for Limehouse (Mr. Attlee) when he suggested that these words will in some way be harmful to the interests of Anglo-Indians, and that provision should have been made for them by the United Kingdom. The Anglo-Indian community is an Indian community and is recognised as such. Other Indian communities are obtaining protection and safeguards, and I am glad that this has been done in the case of the Anglo-Indian community. I have had my attention drawn to what the Secretary of State said in another place about this being purely declaratory, but it does not seem to me that that takes away from the value of these words. The Amendment is, of course, declaratory because it merely says what is to be done, that due regard is to be paid to the past services of this community. The Government have gone as far as they can in requiring that "due regard" shall be given, but that, of course, does not bind anyone to any precise number of appointments. It does not lay down any particular proportions, it merely says that "due regard" shall be had to the past services of the Anglo-Indian community. I am glad, therefore, that the Government have in this way assisted the Anglo-Indian community, and I do not share the apprehensions of the right hon. Member for Limehouse.

6.50 p.m.


I propose to move an Amendment to the Lords Amendment. I desire to confirm what was said in another place as to the vital necessity of protecting the Anglo-Indian community. There is a special reason why they should have protection in the matter of these appointments, and it is much easier to gove them a numerical proportion. Then you do not want to go into so much detail as the Amendment does in respect of specific class character and numerical percentages of the posts hitherto held by members of that community and the remuneration attaching to such posts. It is generally assumed that the distribution is made according to percentages, but as a matter of fact, although I have not had time to check the figures, I am informed that at the beginning the application of these percentages was viewed with great alarm and despondency by the Anglo-Indian community. You may give a percentage of the appointments, but you want to give a percentage of appointments to the various grades and classes carrying the salaries which these appointments possess, and which they should not be deprived of all at once. As a matter of fact, in the early days of the railways the proportion of appointments held by the Anglo-Indians was much larger than it is now. Other classes of persons, Hindus and Mohammedans, have an enormous number of the extra posts while the percentage of the Anglo-Indians has shrunk during the last 10 years. All that is being attempted is to give them roughly the same percentage of appointments which they now have. It is suggested that by moving an Anglo-Indian from a telegraph post in a fairly large place and putting him into a village post office in rural surroundings you are adhering to what was intended.

The Anglo-Indians are a class for which this nation has accepted responsibility and they should not be left to the mercy of other communities, who will certainly resent any position of privilege which may be assigned to them. It does not matter whether you put it in this or that form, the communities who have the gift of these appointments will always resent the fact that the Anglo-Indians have any posts at all, because it will be urged that in any position they take the bread out of the mouth of some good Hindu or Mohammedan. It is no good trying to win their good will by cutting down the nature of the security which you confer on Anglo-Indians by this Amendment. Hereditary occupations always carry weight in India. The fact that a man and his father and grandfather have done a certain kind of work is always regarded as an appropriate reason for giving the son and the grandson posts of the same kind. That is entirely in accordance with oriental useage. It is only lately that the movement to reduce salaries received by Anglo-Indians has advanced very much, but if Anglo-Indians are to have jobs on the same pay as other communities they cannot live. If this continues it will mean that the Anglo-Indians will be reduced to the level of a depressed class. We are talking about uplifting the depressed classes in all parts of India.

When are we going to abstain from action which will surely turn the Anglo-Indians into a depressed class? They cannot do rural work. It will take generations before they can become agriculturists. They have not the land or the money to buy land. It is impossible to judge this community by the same standards as you would judge the distribution of posts among Hindus and Mohammedans. They have to be dealt with on a separate grade of their own, because you will destroy them as a class, bring economic ruin upon them if you throw them back on rural occupations or give them posts carrying a salary on which they cannot live. I do not say that you should give them more pay than the Indians get for the same work, but I do say that you should give them a reasonable proportion of the appointments and posts which pay salaries upon which Anglo-Indians can live. The words are declaratory in the sense that they set out the policy of the Government. The Governor-General when he is framing rules will have to pay due regard to all these matters. It is largely a question of arithmetic and a reasonably intelligent application of figures which can be obtained as to their past employment. I say that the duties of the Governor-General will extend to this, that if existing rules which have been framed do not conform to the standards laid down in the Amendment it is clearly the duty of the Governor-General to see that the rules are modified until they do conform. You cannot say that the rules have been made and cannot be altered. You must consider whether the objectives laid down in the Amendment are being observed or not. I hope the Amendment will be accepted, and that the Under-Secretary will be able to say that they are only declaratory in the sense that they lay down the policy to be followed, and that the Governor-General when framing the rules will see that they conform to that policy.

6.58 p.m.


For the first time in the Debates on the India Bill I find myself in agreement with the last two hon. Members, and I heartily support the request that the Under-Secre- tary will explain as fully as he can what is meant by "purely declaratory." The right hon. Member for Limehouse (Mr. Attlee) quoted the Secretary of State as having said in another place that they do not bind anyone to anything. The Secretary of State as regards remuneration also, said: It cannot be held in any way to be a promise that special rates of pay will be provided. He followed this up by saying: As far as the Instrument of Instructions is concerned I will inform the Government of India that the 4th of July Resolution is the accepted policy. Perhaps the Under-Secretary will explain what is meant by those words, and what "purely declaratory" means.

7.0 p.m.


The memorandum says: "The Amendments are intended to draw attention to the claims of the Anglo-Indian community …" and the Amendment states that the Governor-General or person authorised by him "shall have due regard to the past association of the Anglo-Indian community" with the railway services in India. You draw the attention of the authority to their claims, and then you do not say that the claims should merely be "considered," but that they shall "have regard," which goes a stage further, and makes it, if not mandatory to employ a certain or fixed number, at any rate in a sense semi-mandatory. You do lay down that these people have a definite claim because of their past services, not to this country but to India and the Indian people, and you make this claim semi-mandatory without definitely handicapping and hindering the powers on the spot in their choice of those individuals who serve the interests of the railways. I think the Government have gone a very considerable way to meet the fears, and also the claims, of a body in India who have rendered immense service to the whole of the Indian community.

7.3 p.m.

Viscount WOLMER

More than one hon. Member has asked the learned Attorney-General to explain the principle of this Amendment, but he appears to have left the Chamber. The Solicitor-General, however, is here, and I hope that we shall get a legal interpretation from him.

7.4 p.m.


I have been asked whether these words are mandatory, semi-mandatory, declaratory or semi-declaratory. After all, the effect of words like these—"having due regard"—is perfectly familiar to everyone who has had experience of working legislation in this country. May I give my Noble Friend the Member for Aldershot (Viscount Wolmer) an analogy from this country? The Board of Education, in judging a dispute between a local authority and the managers of a church school in respect of the starting of a new school, is bound to have regard, among other things, to the wishes of the parents. It is true that nobody can prove, whatever the President of the Board of Education may decide, that he has not paid regard to the wishes of the parents. It is not a guarantee that any particular school is going to be recognised, but my Noble Friend would be the first to admit that that duty on the Board of Education to have regard to the wishes of parents is, in every dispute of this kind, of the greatest effect in securing fair play as between voluntary schools and the local authority.

If my Noble Friend is not satisfied no doubt the Solicitor-General will give him a second opinion. But surely the effect of these words is precisely as I have stated. You would never be able to bring any case in the court to prove that the railway authority have not had "due regard." It is not provable in any court of law, but on the other hand it is a statutory duty on the railway authority to have such regard. It is a duty on the Governor-General to give directions to that railway authority to have such regard, and to say that all that has no statutory effect and that it is purely a facade would be absurd. It is a valuable statement of the standard by which the railway authorities must act.

7.7 p.m.


The hon. Gentleman who has spoken will be grateful to the Noble Lord for the explanation he has just given. For my part I accept it as a satisfactory explanation. I think that the words introduced in another place are an effective guarantee for the fair treatment of the class of community whose case is under discussion. It is not the words themselves, but I think the Secretary of State in another place used some rather loose language in describing what they were and what they were not. What I have hitherto understood by a declaratory law was that when doubts had risen as to what the law was, it was positively declared to be so-and-so; that, in fact, the Legislature professes to re-state clearly the existing law and not to introduce an entirely new law. That is a very different thing from saying, in connection with such a Amendment as this, that it is purely declaratory and that it does not bind anybody to do anything. I think those words were unfortunate and gave rise to misgivings which have found expression to-day. After hearing my Noble Friend I am satisfied that the words themselves are right and will do what we want done.