HC Deb 12 March 1935 vol 299 cc337-42

10.37 p.m.


I beg to move, in page 23, line 25, to leave out "but shall not," and to insert "and shall." This Amendment has relation to Subsection (2), which reads: The schedule so authenticated shall be laid before both Chambers but shall not be open to discussion or vote therein. The object of the Amendment is quite clear. The Schedule referred to is that which the Governor-General will authenticate in regard to sums provided to enable him to discharge his special responsibilities, among other things. I beg the Government to notice that I am not at this point urging that the Assembly should have the power to vote upon these sums, but that they should have the right to discuss the sums that they are called upon to vote. I need not at this juncture traverse the ground again as to the amount of money which is involved, or the serious issue which is involved for British India generally. There is the reservation in regard to defence. British India will have a very real interest in the amount of money to be spent upon defence. Defence is a reserved subject, and, as I understand it, the Governor-General will be able to certify or authenticate his requisition in regard to it, and it is referred to in the Schedule.

It is a matter of first-class importance that the representatives of British India, shall have the right to review this demand upon them. For the sake of argument—I am not conceding the point—let us say that they will not have the right to vote on the matter; surely it is elementary that they should have the right to discuss it and to express their opinion as to how far the sum demanded of them is a demand that should properly be made. The amount of money which they are called upon to provide for defence governs the amount left to them which they can control for expenditure on the social services. If the Government are not prepared to give them the right to vote on the matter, they should at least give them the right to discuss it, because those things are of primary importance to British India.

10.40 p.m.


I think the hon. Member's object is already met. If he turns to the method for approving Demands for Grants, which is set out in Sub-sections (1) and (2) of Clause 34, he will see that there is nothing in the BUI which would stop discussion on the important subjects to which he has referred. The schedule, on the other hand, is the very last stage of authentication in the process of gaining supply in India. It is the final budget statement as authenticated by the Govern or-General after he has dealt with the result of the demands for grants. The purpose of the authentication is merely to give a final consolidated statement, for audit purposes, of the expenditure which has already been authorised. The hon. Member realises that the preliminary stages will have taken place, in which the sort of discussion that he envisages will have been provided for. He will realise, also, that in India the time given for supply, owing to climatic and other reasons, has to be appreciably shorter than in this country, and from that problem arise many of the difficulties in connection with supply which I am sure he and I equally realise. I hope, therefore, that he will not press the Amendment.

10.42 p.m.


Surely the hon. Gentleman has forgotten one thing, and that is that this Schedule will, in certain circumstances, include sums which have not been granted. Where the Chamber has not assented to a demand for grants, or has reduced the amount of demand for the grant, the Schedule will contain the full sum demanded by the Governor-General under the proviso to Clause 35, and it will be the first announcement by the Governor-General that he insists, for reasons that may seem good to him, upon having certain sums the grant of which has been refused by the Federal Legislature. I should have thought that in these circumstances it would have been wise to give the Federal Legislature the opportunity of discussing the difference and the insistence upon these increases, and, indeed, to give the Governor-General, through his official representatives, the opportunity of explaining the object of and the necessity for these additions. As I understand it—I may be wrong—under the proviso, if the Chambers have not assented to any demand, or have assented subject to a reduction, the Governor-General may, if necessary, include such additional amount in the Schedule. That will be a sum which has been included after a refusal. The Secretary of State pointed out to us a short time ago, on Clause 33 (2), the wisdom of the matter being formally and properly discussed rather than being brought up by some sort of side-wind. Would it not be much wiser, where such a difference has occurred, to give just that some opportunity for discussion here which the Secretary of State said it was so wise and so necessary to preserve under Clause 33?

10.45 p.m.


I think that probably this difficulty arises from the point of sanction. This schedule does not give sanctions either to the supply voted by the Assembly or to supply which the Governor-General himself decrees as necessary for the carrying out of the specific purposes referred to in this matter. The sanction in one case is derived from the vote of the Legislature, and in the other case from orders from the Governor-General on items which by statute are under his control. Therefore, when the Governor-General has issued these orders, the fact that he has issued them will become known publicly through the Assembly, and therefore the schedule is not the first occasion upon which the Assembly will learn of the sums which the Governor-General has felt bound to include in the general budget. I appreciate that the hon. Gentleman would like to give a further opportunity for discussion, but I must remind him there would already have been one opportunity at least for discussion, and, if there had been a joint session, the subject would probably have been mentioned again, and, in view of the necessity in India of avoiding complexity in the conduct of financial business, I would ask him not to press the Amendment, because I think that the objects which he has in mind are fully in view, and that what he has said about sanction and publicity will be met.

10.47 p.m.


Either I completely misunderstood this proviso or else the hon. Gentleman must be wrong. If I am wrong, perhaps he will be good enough to explain to me where I am wrong. It says in the proviso: if the Chambers have not assented to any demand for a grant or have assented subject to a reduction. That is the grant the origin of which is the proposal by the Governor-General in the Legislature. He proposes for some service, not a reserve service, a sum of £100,000. The Legislature says, "We can only give you £50,000," and he thereupon says, "In my opinion your refusal or reduction of this sum will affect the discharge of my responsibilities." Let me take roads as an example. He says, "Your refusal to spend £100,000 on roads will affect the duties charged and my responsibility as regards defence, and therefore I propose, although it is not a special responsibility, expenditure which will include in the schedule the additional £50,000 which you have refused me." It will never be known up to the moment of refusal that the Governor-General is going to say, "This is the thing which affects my special responsi- bility." It is only after the refusal, when he comes to examine the sufficiency of the reduced sum that has been granted that to his advisers he may say," This sum will not be enough for our special responsibility. £100,000 would have been or £75,000 would have been, but £50,000 is not. Now, in my schedule for the first time, I am going to announce that this extra sum must be granted."

That is the first intimation that the Legislature or anyone else will get that, because of special responsibility in this area not covered by special responsibilities, the Governor-General must insist upon more money being provided than the Legislature are willing to grant. That situation having arisen, the hon. Gentleman says, "I am not going to allow it to be discussed," and surely that is an extraordinary position to produce between the Governor-General and the Legislature. You are giving him this power to step in in an unexpected way, and then you are to say the Legislature may not discuss it, may not even ask for an explanation, because the Governor-General may not have representatives there. The matter cannot be mentioned in the House, though, of course, if necessary, discussions can be raised on it. I suggest that it is a very dangerous thing in circumstances such as these to try immediately to muzzle the House. I do ask the hon. Gentleman at least to reconsider this matter in the light of what I have put before him, and to see if some arrangement cannot be made by which an opportunity of discussion of these difficulties can be given.

10.51 p.m.


I am sure the hon. and learned Gentleman will realise that we will, of course, consider any matter to which importance is attached. My right hon. Friend has shown that disposition throughout these debates. I would call the attention of my hon. and learned Friend to the fact that when he speaks about the nature of a surprise and the first opportunity that anybody has of knowing what the Governor-General is going to do when he authenticates this schedule with his signature, the whole of the matter has been discussed by the Assembly or the Council of State or both. When there is refusal to make grants for which the Governor-General has asked, the time must come when the Governor-General in his discretion has to exercise his own responsibility. Suppose there has been full discussion, and, we will assume, refusal, then the time comes where refusal has to be made good or not, and the Governor-General then takes responsibility upon himself. If the Governor-General is to say to the Assembly or the Council of State, "You have refused, and I am now about to exercise my responsibility: you had better consider your refusal," I think that might be a very undesirable relationship. I am sure that all these matters will be most carefully considered by my right hon. Friend, who is unable to be here at the moment, though I venture to think that the two Clauses are in the form that they should be.

10.53 p.m.


I am obliged to the right hon. and learned Member for his kindness. Though we are still not quite convinced, in view of the undertaking given we shall be happy to withdraw the Amendment, leaving ourselves free to raise the matter again.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 36 ordered to stand part of the Bill.