HC Deb 30 July 1935 vol 304 cc2566-93

Lords Amendment: In page 182, line 13, leave out "or electoral college."


This Amendment raises definitely for the first time the question of elections to the Council of State. I would suggest to the House that if they wish to debate that subject, they should do so on this Amendment instead of waiting until the main proposal, which is raised on a Schedule. If that meets with the convenience of the House, I think that would be the best course to pursue.

7.32 p.m.


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

This Amendment and the next one—in line 16, to leave out "or college"—are two small Amendments consequential upon the decision taken in another place to substitute direct for indirect election as the method of electing the members of the Council of State. I agree that it would be convenient to have the general discussion now on that subject if the House so desires, and I dare say it would meet the convenience of the House if I made as short a statement as is reasonable considering the nature of the subject, explaining the change that has been made.


I hope my hon. Friend will explain not only the change, but why the change has been made.


I hope to explain the change and to satisfy my right hon. Friend why it has been made. The consequential Amendments first of all deserve a word of explanation. The change that I refer to makes unnecessary any reference to electoral colleges, which were to have constituted the electorate under the indirect system in unicameral provinces where there was no provincial upper house. However, it is not necessary now to keep them, if the House is to agree to the change to the method of direct election for the Council of State. I think it is possible, in presenting the reasons for the change, to speak indefinitely upon the question of the merits of direct or indirect election. Medieval ecclesiastical lawyers would have been very much in their element in putting before their public the various arguments for and against a system of direct or indirect election, but I do not propose to enter into that field of controversy unduly.

I would like, in the first place, to remind the House that the original decision taken here followed the decision of the Joint Select Committee that the Council of State should be elected indirectly by provincial upper houses where there were provincial upper houses and by electoral colleges where there were not provincial upper houses in a particular province. At the time of attempting to move the various Schedules to the Bill relating to this subject, certain weaknesses in that plan were apparent to some Members of this House, and the complications of it were certainly obvious. Since that time the matter has been very carefully reviewed by another place, and on the whole there has been general agreement in another place, with one or two notable exceptions, that the plan in its original form had certain weaknesses and that this plan on the whole is the better method of constituting the Council of State. The Chairman of the Joint Select Committee himself moved this Amendment in another place. He himself decided, after his experience of considering this matter from every angle in the Joint Select Committee, and in spite of the decision of that Committee, that on the whole this was a preferable plan. Let me say in passing that, as far as we can hear, satisfaction has been expressed in India at the change. My hon. Friend the Member for Bodmin (Mr. Isaac Foot) knows that Indian opinion would have preferred a system of direct election. I do not wish to conceal these obvious matters from the House, but there is no doubt that there is satisfaction that this change has been made in the method of election to the Council of State of substituting direct for indirect election.

When I have considered this point, it has struck me that it is in fact a simplification in the Bill, and it is as a simplification that I think it will be wise to look at it. It eliminates the electoral college of the small provincial upper house and eliminates the very small quota which would have had to be used in the upper houses of provinces. What is more important is that it eliminates the ad hoc electoral college. The more we examined the electoral college system with our advisers in the various Governments concerned in India, the more we came to the conclusion that in any constitution a body which has very little work to do is of very little value in the body politic. This body, the electoral college, in the unicameral provinces had as its only task and duty the election of representatives from that province to fill the seats allotted to that province in the Council of State, and we are informed, and we think it undoubtedly to be the case, that it would therefore not be a useful system and one which we fear would not have worked very well. In fact, we are told that it might have been very difficult to fill these electoral colleges, considering that their only duty was at certain intervals to fill the seats allotted to a particular province in the Council of State. Those therefore were two of the weaknesses which have been removed, and instead of election at one remove, using these upper houses and these small ad hoc and otherwise useless electoral colleges, the decision now is to elect the representatives in the Council of State by direct election for the general, the Sikh, and the Mohammedan constituencies in territorial constituencies.

The method of electing the minorities, the Anglo-Indians, the Europeans, and the Indian Christians, remains as it originally was in the first Schedule to the Bill when it left us. The concession given by the Government in this House that there should be six seats for women continues to hold good, and there are six seats reserved for the depressed classes. In passing, I would say that there is another improvement which this alteration has entailed. When I had originally to defend the First Schedule to the Bill as it left this House, I said that there would be from four to six members of the scheduled or depressed classes elected to the Council of State, provided that the various provincial Governors freely used their power of nominating depressed class representatives to the provincial Upper Houses, and so gave a possible number from whom the depressed class representatives could be chosen. Now I consider that this definite reservation of six seats to the depressed classes elected by the depressed class members of the provincial assemblies is an improvement, because it assures six seats for the depressed classes, and to the extent that six seats are now reserved for women and six seats for the depressed classes, I think it relieves the pressure on the nominations which are reserved to the Governor-General. To that extent these six nominations will be available to nominate to the Council of State those who have not been able to get there, such as the Labour representatives, in whom hon. and right hon. Members opposite are interested, and others whom the Governor-General may wish to nominate. I do not go further than that, but I think that the certainty of six depressed class seats and six women's seats does relieve to some extent the pressure on the candidates for nomination by the Governor-General.

The franchise for this Council of State with direct election in territorial constituencies is, to use that blessed word, to be prescribed. I do not doubt that there will be some attention paid to that word, but I would remind the House that when I was discussing this matter before, I warned the House that it was impossible to schedule to the Bill the franchise for provincial upper houses, and it is equally impossible at this stage to schedule to the Bill a, franchise for the Council of State. The House may rest assured that the Order in Council containing this franchise will be placed before it, and there will be full opportunity for considering that Order in Council, which must have the approval of Parliament. Therefore, the House will have an opportunity of considering this franchise. It will probably be the same franchise as we are working out for the provincial upper houses. It will be a franchise of the same general character as that of the present Council of State, with the difference that the present Council of State has an electorate of some 20,000, and this particular Council of State will have an electorate of somewhere in the neighbourhood of 100,000, and probably a little more than that. But the nature and character of the franchise will be the same as that of the present Council of State—a high franchise.

I do not doubt that there will be opportunities for discussing on this Amendment the question of large constituencies. It may be asked how it is possible to reconcile our natural antipathy to large constituencies with the undoubtedly large constituencies that will be necessary in electing members to sit in the Council of State. I think it would be valuable if the House were to examine this difficulty from this point of view: Let them examine the size of these constituencies in comparison with the size of the constituencies for the present Council of State. The present Council of State has 30 seats; the new Council will have 128 seats, elected in this manner, territorially, apart from all those special seats which are elected in the different ways set out in the Amendment. I can say with confidence that the size of the constituencies for the new Council of State elected in this manner will be a quarter of the size of the constituencies for the present House. There has been no difficulty in electing members to the present Council of State in the undoubtedly large constituencies that there are for the present Council of State.

In constituencies which will be about a quarter the size I do not see that there need be any more difficulty than there is at present. In view of the fact that the voters for the new Council of State will be increased about five times and the number of seats will be about four times the present number of seats in the Council of State territorially elected, we find on a basis of those figures that there are in the present Council of State some 650 voters per seat and that in the new Council there will be some 800 to 1,000 voters per seat, if the franchise works out at just more than 100,000 voters. In that case the difficulties of area will be one quarter as great as they are at present—and I can report no difficulty in the present elections to the Council of State—and the number of voters will be a little bit larger but in the neighbourhood of 800 to 1,000 voters to a seat.

The difficulty of large constituencies is, therefore, largely met by a reduction in the size in comparison with those of the present Council and by the fact that the electorate is to be a very restricted one, with whom it will be comparatively easy for any candidate to get into touch. How glad we should be if we had 800 to 1,000 people, all, I hope, of an intelligent nature, to approach at our elections. I hope that that will give the House some idea of the nature of the franchise, which for reasons of the immense labour, the decision we have taken and so forth, it is not possible to produce in detail to the House at the present moment.


Is there any suggestion about a postal franchise?


That will have to be decided. If it is found convenient to conduct elections on a postal franchise with only 800 to 1,000 voters to a seat I have no doubt that that will be considered. I cannot give the House any final information on that subject to-night. There is one complicated table which appears on the Order Paper, relating to the method of the triennial elections. The only compliment which I can pay this table is that it is a little larger than the original complicated table. But the same considerations which I put before the Committee should, I think, be attended to by the House, and I do not think that there is any alteration of the principle of the method of election. The figures have to be divideed up territorially and among communities.

I have tried to explain the nature of the scheme, how it arose and the nature of the franchise. There is only one aspect on which I would touch, and that is the constitutional position of the new Council of State. Attempts have been made in another place to prove that this Amendment would involve large constitutional alterations in the Bill. The only alterations in the Bill were a small quasi-drafting Amendment to do with the Berar voters and the two small Amendments we are considering now. The powers of the Upper House and its relations to the Assembly are left substantially as they were in the original Bill.

I think there is one substantial change in the system proposed. It deals with what some thought was a weakness and that was that both Houses of the Federal Legislature were elected from Provincial Chambers. This change does mean that the origin of the Upper House is different in its method of election from the origin of the Lower House, and it is probably an advantage having these two Chambers emerging from different sources. I think that the change really results in curing what might have been regarded by some as a slight constitutional weakness. In conclusion the general impression made on a humble Member of the House, myself, is that this Amendment is a simplification. It is not intended to alter the constitutional position of the two Houses vis-a-vis one another, and it does not overlook the claims of a depressed section of the community. I think it came about because it is a simplification and because it is an improvement, and it is for these reasons that I recommend to the House that they should agree with the Lords in the Amendment.

7.51 p.m.


On behalf of my hon. Friends on this side I think that I can say what we have to say in this matter in a few sentences. The House will recall that when we were discussing the Bill at an earlier stage we took the view that the method of direct election would be a much more desirable form of election than indirect election for the Lower House. As for the Upper House we were against the institution in toto. Now by a curious chance the other place has made a change and instead of granting the system of direct election for the Lower House they have proceeded to grant the principle of direct election for the Upper House. I think that I shall not be exaggerating if I say that, as far as my hon. Friends and myself are concerned, we attach little importance to this concession. As far as it goes it is a concession, but it means very little indeed, and we are very largely indifferent to what has happened in the other place in respect of this change. Our indifference is increased by this added consideration. The hon. Gentleman gave us an idea as to how the Council of State is to be made up and assured us that of the six extra seats to be nominated by the Governor-General Labour will perhaps get a share. How kind of the hon. Gentleman to give us that assurance.

If anything could have added to our lack of gratitude to the hon. Gentleman it is that observation. Millions of working-class people are to have no representation on a Council of State which is going to have the power to revise. They are not going to have guaranteed one single representative. They may get one by leave of the Governor-General; by his kindness, generosity and condescension; but as a right, no. I do not expect the hon. Gentleman expects us to be unduly grateful, and therefore I tell him that we are not.

7.55 p.m.


This is a remarkable episode in the history of this Bill. I am sure that the Under-Secretary has rarely made a better speech than that which he has delivered this afternoon. It was cogent, terse, informative, well-reasoned, and he stated the difficult case he had to make in terms which would be inoffensive in almost every quarter. The House must realise what the difficulties of the Under-Secretary were, because if my recollection serves me aright he made an almost equally cogent, well-reasoned speech in exactly the opposite sense when the Bill was going through the House of Commons. The Attorney-General has anticipated me. I really think that if the Under-Secretary had not made such a brilliant success of his Parliamentary career this Session he might seriously consider embracing the great profession of the law, and then he would find himself in a position where those admirable gifts which he has of being able at short notice to deliver an equally powerful argument for or against any cause for which he is briefed, would not go unrequited. We must examine for a few moments the morals which may be drawn from this remarkable change. I admit that very considerable arguments have been employed for both direct and indirect election, and an overwhelming argument may be put forward by those who dislike either of these methods. But although this argument is nicely balanced the Government must have some view and conviction about it.

I came down to the House in the days when this Bill was passing through Committee and I was very largely converted by the argument of the Government that anything in the nature of direct election was quite impossible, physically impossible. That was what had been ingrained on me. I was also very much impressed by the arguments put forward in favour of an ad hoc electoral college. The Government used all the power of these arguments and the House responded with its customary submissiveness. But now what does the Under-Secretary say about the ad hoc electoral college? He says that this Amendment gets rid of the small ad hoc and otherwise useless institution like the electoral college. But he did not hesitate only a few weeks ago to make the House of Commons swallow this small ad hoc and otherwise useless institution. He did not hesitate to turn to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury, who, I see, is in his place, to drive the legions through the Lobby in order to affirm the free independent judgment of this great majority in this memorable Parliament in favour of the virtues of the small useless electoral college. And now for some reason or other we know the truth, and the Government, without hesitation, order the House of Commons to turn round and march in the opposite direction. The Duke of Wellington was described as saying to the House of Lords on a great Reform Bill, "Right about turn." Theirs not to reason why, theirs not to make reply. All we have to do is to vote. I am reminded of the famous quotation of the father of the right hon. Member for West Birmingham (Sir Austen Chamberlain). He said: He (Mr. Gladstone) says it is white. They say it is good. He says it is black. They say it is better. My hon. Friend has out-Heroded Herod, although his conduct in these matters has been exemplary in every respect except where logic, consistency and conviction are concerned. The hon. Gentleman puts this forward as a simplification. Nothing could be less simple than the proposal which he now puts before us. It has one element of simplicity about it, namely, that it is so very patently absurd. Here we are to have a Constitution the like of which has never been seen in heaven or earth, or in the waters under the earth, where the Upper Chamber, the House of Lords, is to be elected on some approach to a democratic franchise, or what is called a comparatively democratic franchise, and by direct election; while the Lower House, the House of Commons, the people's chamber, reflecting the heartbeats of 350,000,000 people, is to be smuggled through on the basis of indirect election. That is the simplification. It is a very strange method of approaching it.

What I am anxious to know is why this change has taken place. At what point did the Government suddenly see the light shining? At what point did they foreswear everything that they had previously declared, and at what moment in the discussions in another place were they led to adopt a proposal that they had argued elaborately and in cold blood was impossible? The spokesmen for the Opposition said that the Labour party had nothing to do with it; indeed, he expressed almost contemptuous indifference to the change. What has, therefore, been the motive power behind this process of conversion? I see the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Isaac Foot) smiling with a triumph that even his native modesty cannot restrain. In another place Lord Lothian and Lord Reading are also, no doubt, congratulating themselves and shaking each other cordially by the hand. This trinity is the explanation of this change. It is a sop to another three-headed Cerberus. That is the root of this matter.

While making these important alterations the Government have scorned every appeal from their own followers and brushed them aside. They have made this great transformation in the structure of their Constitution for India in order that the hon. Member for Bodmin may, when he goes home to-night, say with profound convictions, "Thank God for the House of Lords." I think that that is not at all a creditable episode. I do not quite know what part this question of direct and indirect election played in the decision of the Joint Select Committee. I do not know whether my right hon. Friend the Member for West Birmingham is going to speak on this subject, but the voice of rumour, which is no doubt a lying jade, has sometimes suggested that the extremely important decision for which he took the responsibility of throwing his weight in favour of the Government scheme was not uninfluenced by some concession which he received upon the question of direct and indirect election.

The elections were to be indirect and now, the Government having got the right hon. Gentleman and having got the House of Commons to pass the Bill and to carry it to this final stage, there still remained the waifs and strays of the Liberal party to be conciliated. In consequence, we see this alteration of the Schedule, this very complete, complicated transformation of the whole scheme for the better government of India which was previously before us. It certainly seems to be a very astonishing thing that after this matter has been discussed for seven years, with committees and commissions and visits to India, and all the advice of the officials and Governors in India, and all the considerations given to it by the Joint Select Committee—it seems very remarkable that these cogent, powerful arguments which we have now heard for the first time from the Under-Secretary should never have occurred to His Majesty's Government before. Obviously, there has been an arrangement of a political character which, if I were in a controversial mood, I could characterise very tersely.

The House will, of course, obey the orders of the Government. The condition of the House at this period of the Session shows that it has completely disinterested itself in the Indian question. It has thrown it up as hopeless or as wearisome, and there is no serious attempt to grapple with this issue. If there were, and if this Measure had been resisted by the forces of a great party, a change of this character would have been marked as it should be, and would have been held up to the reprehension, or, at any rate, to the observation of the entire country. But this Parliament has not been a Parliament in the ordinary sense of the word. It has been such a one-sided, unnaturally distorted Parliament that it has confined itself to obeying the directions which is has received from the Government Whips. In order to conciliate the handful of Liberal supporters, the only enthusiastic people in the country about this Measure, the whole arrangement for the Second Chamber and the franchise are ripped up and an entirely new proposition is put forward in circumstances which really rob all future ministerial arguments on this subject of any vestige of credit.

After all this lengthy period, the Government come to this conclusion, and even now we are not to know what their plan is. Here is a delightful phrase which the Under-Secretary ingenuously underlined—"the franchise is to be prescribed." Vague indications only may be given at the time when it is to be prescribed. The Government are setting up Parliamentary and constitutional responsible governing institutions throughout India, and they cannot even make up their minds about the franchise on which they are to rest. After all this study of the question, they are not able to come to a conclusion. I remember reading at the time of the South Sea Bubble that many absurd companies were started, and the most absurd was one which invited people to subscribe for shares in a project "the purpose of which will be presently disclosed." I think we could hardly have a more disquieting episode than this, because I have no doubt that, if the Government had felt under the necessity of consulting any other body of their supporters, they would have given us equally convincing arguments which would have undermined other parts of this great structure.

I would like to address myself to Members of the House who are new in this Parliament, and for whom in some cases, perhaps, it may be their only experience of the House of Commons. These Members naturally look with the greatest reverence and almost overweening faith at the utterances of Ministers. They expect those utterances to be based on profound study and definitely resolved conclusions and decisions. Now it appears that Ministers can disport themselves with equal ability and facility in either case for or against these propositions. In fact, all they have been endeavouring to do in this India Bill is to get something through the House of Commons which will enable them to say that they have dealt and truly dealt with the problems of the Indian Constitution in a final and satisfactory manner.

I thought it right to emphasise these droll aspects, ridiculous aspects—even laughable aspects, were it not that the subject is serious and tragic. I have no doubt that the vast structure of this Bill is holed and honeycombed with devices and with arrangements which are just as unsound as this ad hoc electoral college which we were made to swallow and which the House is now made to vomit up again at the dictation of the Minister. I congratulate the Under-Secretary. I do not blame him, because naturally he has to march to the right or to the left according as he is ordered, and he has the Attorney-General there to encourage him in that flexible docility. But I say that we have a right at the end of this long Bill to hold up this particular tergiversation. It is one of the most revealing incidents that will bring home to everyone the jerry-built and unsubstantial nature of the structure by which we are invited to believe the masses of India will march forward into a brighter and better age.

8.13 p.m.


I did not quite understand the right hon. Gentleman when he said that we had been persuaded and influenced by arguments that had been put forward by the Government in favour of indirect election. He led the House to think that those arguments were so strong that he had acted upon them, but I think I am right in reminding him that he supported us—


I said that I was persuaded, not over-persuaded.


Whatever the arguments were, the right hon. Gentleman resisted them, and we appreciated the support which he gave us in the Lobby on that particular Vote. It is my duty to repudiate the suggestion that we are responsible for the present Amendment. Neither my friends here nor my friends in another place are responsible for it. If we had had any such power as the right hon. Gentleman attributes to us, we should have used it for a more effective purpose. Although I do not go so far as the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. M. Jones) in dismissing this Amendment as almost wholly unimportant, yet it falls far short of the request which he and the rest of us put before the House a short time ago. The line he took is very familiar to the House, and the Amendment which has been made in another place does, to a certain extent, meet the objections we placed before this House. We said the Government were adopting a system, with the indirect vote for the lower chamber, which was depriving electors in India of the vote they had already enjoyed.

That objection still remains. It is true that we are restoring to a certain number of people the vote they have enjoyed during the last few years, but it is given back only to a few thousands. We said on the former occasion that the Bill, having regard to the electoral college in the uni-cameral Provinces, set up fantastic constituencies, and I do not recall that the hon. Member did speak in such terms of eulogy of the ad hoc chamber as were attributed to him by the right hon. Gentleman just now. As the Bill left this House the constituencies were fantastic. I think it was impossible to have both the Council of State and the lower chamber in India depending upon a handful of voters in the several Provinces, and to the extent that that has been changed we ought to be thankful. We complained before that we were having a Measure under which neither chamber would be representative of the people at large. The whole experience of every Federal system has shown that one should have the upper chamber representative of the federating units and the lower chamber representative of the community at large. We are changing that system by keeping indirect election for the lower house and seeking to make the upper house in some sense representative of the community. I do not know whether this is a precedent to the world, but certainly I know of no other federation in which the lower house is upon the restrictive indirect basis and the upper house is based upon direct election.

We then alleged against the indirect election of the lower chamber that it was contrary to Indian opinion. The hon. Member said just now that as far as he could ascertain the change made in another place had been welcomed. I have not his advantages, I have to rely on what has been said generally in the Press, and I do not think it has been welcomed with any great enthusiasm; but in so far as it acknowledges the principle of direct election it has been accepted, though it falls far short of the demand of Indian opinion that the lower house, the people's chamber—to the extent that you can have a people's chamber in this huge constitution—should be founded upon the direct vote. Our complaint of the Bill as it left this House was that it would put the Governor-General in an invidious, difficult and almost impossible position, inasmuch as it would deprive him of the effective power of dissolution and did not give to him any power to turn to the people of India as against the Provinces of India. I do not know whether this change will affect much improvement in that direction. So far as it goes, although my friends had nothing to do with the Amendment introduced in another place by the Chairman of the Joint Select Committee, we on these benches welcome it as being the recognition of what we believe to be the right principle.

I notice that when the matter was discussed in another place reference was made to the opinion of the Government of India, but the reference was not very clear. If anyone is to speak again from the Treasury Bench I wonder if we could have put before us just what is the opinion of the Government of India. There was no ambiguity about their opinion as to the lower chamber being based upon the direct vote. That attitude has been taken by the Government of India ever since they reported upon the Statutory Commission, in 1930. What is the view of the Government of India on the change now being carried out? We on these benches—and I will include, if I may, the right hon. Gentleman, who gave to us at that time his very much valued support on the direct vote—are entitled, I think, to congratulate ourselves that the principles we then sought to proclaim have been so far accepted. I remember that on the Third Reading we were derided by the papers supporting the National Government for the views we had expressed. I was in the North of England the following day, and I saw what so eminent a paper as the "Scotsman" had to say about our views. The "Scotsman" congratulated the Government upon its strength and determination in resisting Liberal clamour for the direct vote.

Liberal clamour was really the expression in this House of the opinion of the Committee of which the Under-Secretary was a member, which recommended the direct vote for the lower house. It was the expression of the opinion of a substantial number upon the Joint Select Committee, including the Archbishop of Canterbury, who repeated his opinion in another place only a few nights ago. It was the opinion of the Government of India. It was the opinion, as far as it was expressed, of the politically-minded classes in India. It was the opinion of the Government itself as expressed in the White Paper. It was the opinion of those who were best qualified to speak upon Indian conditions. But such is the degree of subservience which many of the papers in this country have now reached that the "Scotsman" has to condemn that expression of opinion, not merely ours but the opinion of at least two parties in this House, and of all who could speak for Indian opinion, as being "clamour." At any rate what has happened now has shown that what we submitted to the House was not wholly unreasonable.

I think the blot upon the Measure is the denial to the Indian people of a right which we should never surrender in this House, the right of the direct election of our own representatives. I expressed the hope when the Bill was dealt with on Third Reading that the position might be remedied in another place. I make no comment upon "Thanking God for the House of Lords." I said that although the change ought to have been made in this Chamber yet in the circumstances I should be content if it could be made elsewhere.


It is a very restrained thanksgiving.


The change ought to have been made in this House. With that expression of regret that the larger Measure has not been granted, that the Government have not gone back to the position they took when they produced the White Paper, we welcome this introduction of the principle of the direct vote. We think the arguments submitted in its favour by the Chairman of the Joint Select Committee were very valid arguments, and I hope that the examples set of the direct vote for the upper chamber will lead very soon to the adoption of the direct vote for the lower chamber. For that reason we thank the Government for the change made in another place.

8.25 p.m.


I wish there had been a larger attendance of Members to hear the speech with which my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) delighted us a little earlier in the evening, and all the more because it was so instructive to Members who have observed the workings of the mind of my right hon. Friend in relation to the Bill. Who would have dreamt that, after his not undeserved criticisms, he was blamed for doing what he had himself objected to?


I was addressing myself to the great change and the inconsistency in the advice we had received from the Treasury bench, and was drawing from that a moral of the unsatisfactory position in which the structure of this Bill stands. In fact, I myself voted for the India Bill


For direct election.


I beg pardon. I meant for direct election—the Minister must not laugh on that very limited pretext—for the Lower Chamber. I still think there are reasons in favour of that. I am not attacking this particular change on its merits, but am merely pointing out the sins of which the Government have been guilty and the obvious difficulties which attend their new plan.


It was when studying my right hon. Friend in that aspect of his political life that I regretted that there were not more of our common and mutual friends present this evening. I am one of those who, since the White Paper was presented to us, have felt very grave doubts about this part of the Government's scheme as they put it before us. I followed the subject with very great attention in the Joint Select Committee, and I spoke so often there that I think it unnecessary for me to say more than a few words to-night. I am not sure whether the Government feel that they have done wisely in accepting this Amendment in another place; at any rate, they do not get much credit. They have thrown over an arrangement, or have agreed to change an arrangement, come to in the Joint Select Committee, an arrangement which was at any rate a consistent whole, and they have introduced this. It was not a scheme which many of us would have wished, and was not as good as the scheme which some of us could have supported but it was accepted by the majority of the Committee and was a workable scheme, and, in all the conditions of Indian life, was the best that we could devise.

The Government have upset that scheme and introduced another which is not less full of anomalies than that for which they have substituted it. Did anyone ever hear of a constitution in which the lower house is to be elected indirectly because of the vastness of the constituencies, and the upper house to be elected directly but on the condition that the number of the electors was strictly limited to fit that system of election; in which the Chamber which is direct should be indissoluble while the Chamber which is indirect should be dissoluble? That is about as anomalous a proposition as could be put before any Parliament for assent. What have the Government gained? They have placated hon. Gentlemen on the Liberal benches. They have placated the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Isaac Foot). They have given him a certain satisfaction, a certain revenge for the long hours he has had to spend arguing this question in this House, upstairs, in the Joint Select Committee, here on Second Reading, in Committee and on Report and again on the Third Reading, with no effect. The hon. Member can now say: "After all, I did get something. It is not what I asked for and I do not much care about it, but they have given away a principle."

Is that the Government's attitude? Do they think that they are on sound ground in introducing a direct elected vote for the Upper House while feeling it necessary and essential in the present circum stances to maintain the indirect system for the Lower House? Do they think that the conditions justify an electorate for the Upper House being a very much narrower one than the primary electorate of the Lower House? Will not the solution they have adopted tend almost inevitably to democratisation of the Upper House while leaving it quite impossible to maintain the Lower House exactly what it is? I am not going to divide the House against this proposal because it is quite useless to do so. I do not want to use it to criticise the Bill in general, of which I remain a supporter, but I think that, in view of the opinions which I have expressed, it would not be right if I did not say that I think the Government have made a great mistake in accepting the Amendment.

8.33 p.m.

Viscount WOLMER

I will try not to repeat what has already been said by other speakers. I have been searching for the reason why the Government have made this change. If I may do so without impertinence, I should like very respectfully to commiserate with my right hon. Friend the Member for West Birmingham (Sir A. Chamberlain) for the position in which he has been placed. No private Member bears a heavier responsibility or has played a more notable part than my right hon. Friend has played in the Joint Select Committee and in these Debates in this Chamber. His very great influence and prestige were given to the Bill partly in return for certain Amendments—I am not attempting to suggest anything offensive. I think it is generally considered that my right hon. Friend would not have lent his great prestige and authority to the Bill unless certain Amendments had been carried to it in the Joint Select Committee. We all know that one of the Amendments to which he attached the greatest importance was the substitution of this system of indirect election for direct election, and my right hon. Friend finds at the very last moment one of his plums filched from him. He is in the position of a small boy who having gone to a shop and bought a box of chocolates when he gets home finds that several of the biggest chocolates have gone, having been abstracted by the shopman when he wrapped up the parcel. That is a very unhappy position in which to find oneself.

I should like to remind the House that my right hon. Friend is not the only distinguished statesman who attached great importance to the substitution of indirect election for direct election. No less a person than the Prime Minister himself told the Conservative party gathering at the Queen's Hall that the substitution of indirect election for direct election had removed his remaining doubts; and, on that statement from the Leader of the Conservative party, the Conservative party at its conference gave overwhelming support to the Bill. What the Prime Minister now thinks about this matter—his remaining doubts having been, I suppose, restored—he is not here to tell us, but I think we are entitled to make a protest against the levity with which the whole of this subject has been treated, not only by the Government, but also by the House of Commons and by another place. There have not been 30 private Members listening to this Debate—a Debate which really deals with a fundamental issue in connection with the Bill, and which contains as much material as some of the issues raised in the great Reform Bills which Parliament has discussed for weeks in animated debate in former generations. If our fathers had been dealing with this question, they would not have dismissed a great matter of this sort so lightly.

I cannot but feel that the real reason why the Government agreed to this change at the last minute was not, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill), with his characteristic generosity, suggested, out of gratitude to the Liberal party, but merely to get the support of certain Liberal peers in the House of Lords at a critical juncture. The situation in the House of Lords was very much the same as it is in this House; that is to say, the Conservative party were not prepared to rebel against the Government and turn it out, but they hated the whole thing so much that they would not attend and listen to the debates. In this Chamber they have a refuge to which they resort in great numbers, only turning out for Divisions, but there are not corresponding amenities in the House of Lords, and, therefore, after the Second Reading there had been carried, the attendance of Members of the Conservative party dwindled very considerably.

But of course the call of duty invariably found a solid phalanx of Liberal peers present, and the time came when the Government found it convenient to make this concession, so they threw my right hon. Friend the Member for West Birmingham overboard, and pulled up Lord Lothian and Lord Reading in his place. I venture to suggest that, just as they had to make a concession in the Joint Select Committee in order to get the support of my right hon. Friend the Member for West Birmingham, so, in exactly the same spirit, they made a concession in the House of Lords to get the support of that very important small body of Liberal peers.


I would remind the Noble Lord that on the Second Reading Lord Lothian and Lord Reading strongly supported the Bill, and said that they did so in spite of their objection to the indirect vote for the lower Chamber.

Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Captain Bourne)

It seems to me that we are getting perilously near to discussing debates which have taken place in another place.

Viscount WOLMER

I will not pursue the red herring which my hon. Friend has attempted to draw across my path. I would only say that the Government's treatment of this aspect of the question has been on all fours with their treatment of the whole of the Indian problem. They have sought how to conciliate the different forces which they have had at the moment to encounter. They have, in my humble submission, very insufficiently considered how the Constitution which they are building will work in generations to come, and, as my right hon. Friend has just said, we are now landed with a Constitution which almost passes human comprehension. It has a lower Chamber which is indirectly elected, and which, therefore, cannot be dissolved in the sense in which this Chamber can be dissolved. Its dissolution will be independent of the rise and fall of government—an essential condition of all Parliamentary Government as we have known it. Then there will be a second Chamber which cannot be dissolved at all, but a fraction of the members of which will periodically retire. Really, it is a constitution which would have excited the envy of the Abbé Sieyès. It is a Constitution which it is very difficult for anyone to believe can possibly work—a Constitution with two practically indissoluble Chambers, and two Chambers which, it must always be remembered, have not financial responsibility, but from whose control about 60 per cent. of the Budget is withheld. How can those Chambers provide anything at all comparable with what we mean by Parliamentary government? And so the House of Commons and the other House have just shrugged their shoulders at the whole question. They have left the Government to get their Bill through, and have hoped that the deluge would come at a distant date.

It was quite unnecessary for the Government to have done this. I think it is an outrage on Parliamentary procedure that they should attempt to put in a franchise of this sort by Order-in-Council. There could be no objection or difficulty in the Government introducing a special Bill next year to deal with this aspect of the question. They themselves admit that Federation cannot come into force for several years to come, and, therefore, to deal with the matter by a separate Bill would in no way delay their treatment of the Indian problem. If this generation of Parliamentarians had the same pride in Parliament that their fathers had, they would insist on a matter of this sort coming before Parliament in the form of a Bill instead of in the form of an Order-in-Council. This is a whole franchise question, a question which, if dealt with in a Bill, would require a large number of Clauses and several Schedules, a matter which Parliament ought to consider in detail on Second Reading, in Committee, on Report, and on Third Reading. Instead of that, the Government, not having been able, after their seven years' deliberations, to make up their minds as to what this franchise is going to be, are going to frame an Order-in-Council which we shall have, in one day, to consider and vote on, Aye or No, without any effective power of amendment. That, I venture to suggest, is an outrage on our Parliamentary institutions.

Even now there is no reason at all why the Government should not withdraw this part of the Bill and introduce next year an amending Bill dealing with this part of the question. It would not hold up the proceedings in the least. But I know that they have refused to do that; the suggestion was made in another place, but they refused; and next year the House will be confronted with an Order-in-Council conferring this franchise, by a mode of election which is not yet decided, in constituencies some of which will be bigger than Great Britain—England and Wales and Scotland—among a class of people who are to be three, four or five times as numerous as the present electors of the Council of State. It has not yet been decided. The House of Commons is going to be asked, in one Debate, by one vote, without power of amendment, to give its assent to a Measure which Parliament, if this were a Parliamentary age and if Parliament really believed in itself, would insist on treating as a Statute of the first importance.

8.45 p.m.


I so rarely find myself in any form of disagreement with my right hon. Friend the Member for West Birmingham (Sir A. Chamberlain) that I should like to say that I find myself in disagreement with him to-night principally because I do not think he has done himself justice. I do not think he has given due weight to the strength of the arguments which he and others associated with him put before the Joint Select Committee. A great deal has been said in this Debate as to the Government changing their mind. In reality this question, as I have seen it in the last two years, has been an extremely difficult one for anyone to make up his mind about. My own view has always been in favour of direct election, and I expressed it in the debates in Committee and in the Joint Select Committee. Direct election is the system existing in India and they are accustomed to it and, in spite of the very large increase in the electorate which will come about as a result of this Bill, it is in every way a most desirable system. But my right hon. Friend the Member for West Birmingham and others, aided by the opinions of the Indian Government officials, put before us the immense practical difficulties which would result from the introduction of a new and large electorate. They told us with tremendous weight that it was not practicable at all.

Until I went into the matter as it was then put before me and was convinced by the practical argument of the impossibility, at the present time at any rate, of carrying on the system of direct election I was strongly in favour of continuing it. I changed my opinion merely because I did not see how it could work and, added to that, there was the very strong argument, which I still believe in, that the system which the Government then adopted of indirect election had the advantage that, when the conditions changed, it would be very much simpler to change from an indirect to a direct system than it would be if we had put the direct system into force and then found it unworkable and wanted to change to an indirect system. It was for these reasons that I and a great many others supported my right hon. Friend in the proposition that he put before the Joint Select Committee. It is clear that this has been from the beginning a matter of practical politics—what was the best solution of one of the most difficult problems that the Joint Select Committee and the House of Commons have had to deal with. Throughout the discussions in the Joint Select Committee although of course the question of the franchise for the Upper Chamber of the Central Legislature was continually discussed, our interests were mainly centred on the question of election for the Lower Chamber. That was the big issue, and it was the settlement of that issue which immediately brought up the point that some new form of electorate had to be found for the Upper Chamber. I admit at once that I have always considered the abstract problem of direct or indirect election as a matter principally in connection with the Lower Chamber.

I do not quarrel with any criticism of the present proposal or any statement that it produces a most extraordinary form of electorate. I think it does. A system in which the Upper Chamber is elected directly and the Lower Chamber indirectly is certainly very novel to me but, as a matter of practical politics, it is possible with a limited franchise to have direct election to the Upper Chamber, and the right hon. Gentleman himself certainly convinced me that it is not possible for the Lower Chamber. That is the situation with which we are faced. If that is the position, it really comes back to this: Because it is novel, because it has never been known elsewhere, is it possible to stick to an indirect system for both chambers, or is it desirable to maintain the direct system where it is possible and change to indirect where the direct system cannot be carried out? I have no particular brief for the form that the Government have chosen to accept for the Upper Chamber, but I cannot see that there is anything particular to be said against it by those in favour of direct election and, if my right hon. Friend the Member for West Birmingham desires the House to understand that he has been supporting this system of indirect election because he believes in indirect election, it is a new view to me, because I have always understood that his view was strongly that he supported the indirect system because it was the only practical one in the special circumstances of the day. My own hope is that before very long it will be possible to have the direct system for the Lower House. I have always wanted the direct system. I only changed my view because I found it to be impossible in the present circumstances. Holding that view, I do not resent in the least the change to a direct system for the Upper House if that proves practicable, and I am perfectly willing to support the change that has been made in another place.

8.53 p.m.


I know I shall not persuade my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) or my Noble Friend the Member for Aldershot (Viscount Wolmer) that occasionally those who oppose them come to their decisions on the merits of the case and, if hon. Members will examine the report of the Statutory Commission on this subject, I think they will find it an interesting study. I do not know whether any of them are prepared to say what the recommendation of the Commission was in regard to the constitution of the Council of State, but I confess that after a very careful reading of their report I am not quite certain on which side they came down. We are dealing with a problem for which no solution has been proposed which is not an anomalous solution. The solution which the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Isaac Foot) proposed is an anomalous one. It is the direct election of representatives for the Federal Lower Chamber on a higher franchise than the franchise for the election of members to the Lower Chamber of the Federated States. There is no precedent for that in the history of the world, and it must inevitably sap the democratic authority of the Central Assembly.

Therefore, all through the proposals on this problem there are inevitable anomalies, and the anomaly of the present proposal, that you have a directly elected Upper House and an indirectly elected Lower House, at any rate, is not greater than those other anomalies. My Noble Friend the Member for Aldershot (Viscount Wolmer) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) made great play with the atrocious way the Government had treated the House, because we proposed to institute the system of direct election without putting the electoral qualifications into the Bill. Are they aware that the electoral qualifications for the Provincial Upper Houses, which were the electoral qualifications of the previous Council of State, were not in the Bill? My right hon. Friend is aware of that. [Interruption.] Then I do not know of what he has to complain.


It is becoming increasingly hard and difficult to follow their intentions.

Viscount WOLMER

There is a limit to the patience even of loyal supporters of the Government.


I confess that I have always been troubled about the original proposal in the Bill, and the original proposal in the Joint Select Committee. As my right hon. Friend the Member for West Birmingham (Sir A. Chamberlain) knows, I was partly associated with him in reaching a solution.


Perhaps a little reluctantly.


What has always troubled me about this matter is that in order to conform to the indirect election of the Lower House, for which there was an unanswerable case on its merits, you elaborately provide for indirect election to the Upper House, on an electorate which was perfectly capable of electing its representatives directly. Broadly speaking, the franchise that we had in mind for the Council of State is substantially the same as that of the electorate of the Upper House. We have not altered substantially our original conception, but it is a constituency which can elect directly, but which, under our original proposal, in order that there shall be no superficial anomaly between the Upper and the Lower House, we elaborately provided should perform its election in two stages. That was always my doubt about the original proposal, and I think that on balance the present proposal is the better one.

When we have these floods of oratory poured out on the problem of the constitution of the Upper House and my Noble Friend the Member for Aldershot talking in this way, I cannot but remember the instruction I received in Tory principles in my earliest days. It was that, apart from the hereditary chamber, if you were fortunate to inherit it, there was no remotely satisfactory method of constituting the Upper House. The Upper House being essential for the proper working of the constitution, it did not matter how it was constituted; it would work fairly well anyhow. I do not go as far as that, but I believe that your Upper House should be constituted with the greatest application of science and skill. I believe that, for the reasons I have stated, the present proposal as applied to India which, though it may have anomalies not greater than those of any alternative proposal, is on the whole the best policy.

9.3 p.m.


I listened very carefully to the speech which the right hon. Gentleman has just delivered, and he has not convinced me. I cannot find any definite reason why we should depart from the usual procedure in forming a constitution. We have come to the final stage of this Measure and have reached the acme of absurdity. My right hon. Friend did not deal with the main point which is that, by the change that the Government are proposing, you make the Upper House the democratic House with the support of the people behind it, whereas the Lower House will be the home of wealth and vested interests, of mill owners, and so on, indirectly elected. The Upper House will be elected by the people, and will be the voice of the people.


What people?


That we do not know. The Government have yet to tell us what is involved in the word "prescribed." We are asked to sanction a change which depends very largely on the word "prescribed." What is going to be the effect of an unpopular tax levied in India? The Upper House will have much more weight in dealing with the matter than the Lower House. As has been pointed out by the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Isaac Foot) and the Noble Lord the Member for Aldershot (Viscount Wolmer), when it comes to a question of dissolution the Governor-General may get a real dissolution of the Upper House, but he may get a very nominal dissolution of the Lower House and the same personnel may return. As I have said, in this arrangement we seem to have reached the acme of absurdity. The Government with immense labour have been building a constitutional pyramid and now they are endeavouring to balance that pyramid on its apex, and it seems to be a fitting climax for the final stages of a Measure which bristles with so many risks.

Subsequent Lords Amendment, in page 182, line 16, agreed to.