HC Deb 13 March 1935 vol 299 cc457-68

6.56 p.m.


I beg to move, in page 30, line 23, at the end, to insert: (c) shall cease to operate unless within each successive period of six months after it has been approved by resolutions of both Houses of Parliament its continuance is approved by resolutions of both Houses of Parliament. I emphasise the word "continuance" in the Amendment, because it is really the pivot upon which the whole of my very short argument is based. Hon. Members will have noticed that we are dealing in this Clause with the powers of the Governor-General to issue Proclamations, and, of course, our own Government are apprehending that there might be a failure in implementing the constitutional machinery which they are now trying to pass into law. I suggest that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) may take advantage of this Clause because it rather points to the view that the Government are not quite satisfied that the Constitution they are now making will be workable under all conditions in India. There is in the Amendment which I have moved, as I have said, the word "continuance," and unless I am really mistaken, the position, very briefly, is that a Proclamation issued under this Clause must receive the sanction of Resolutions of both Houses of Parliament in this country. The point that we are making is that such a proclamation might almost become permanent without being reviewed afterwards in the Houses of Parliament in this country at any time.

Whether the words we have put in the Amendment are good or not, we are seeking that in the event of a Proclamation being issued, and it has the sanction by Resolution of our Parliament here, it shall not go on indefinitely without the Parliament in Great Britain being able to review the situation. It would be a very grave state of affairs indeed if a Proclamation remained in force simply by a Resolution of Parliament here for a period, say, of three or five years. Whatever our views may be about the new Constitution we are setting up, I suppose that it is fair to say that once it is passed by this Parliament it will be expected to work, but the Government are apprehending that it may not work. Consequently, this fact accounts for what we are attempting to do in the Amendment which I am now propounding. The power of the Governor, by the way, to issue a Proclamation differs from his power to revoke a Proclamation.

Dealing with this Amendment as it would appear to a plain man, I can foresee a situation arising when it would seem strange that a Proclamation to revoke a Proclamation could be made by the Governor without discussion in the Parliament of this country, although in the first instance we must sanction that Proclamation by Resolution of both Houses of Parliament in this country. The continuance of the Proclamation, however, once we have sanctioned it in this country, might set aside the whole of the machinery of this Bill, giving to the Governor-General power similar to that of Lenin, Hitler or Mussolini. This Parliament should have some power of reviewing, say, at least every six months the situation in India, instead of allowing the Proclamation to go on indefinitely without Parliament ever having the opportunity to review it at all.

7.3 p.m.


I must say I think there is a great deal of force in the point made by the hon. Gentleman who moved the Amendment. I hope the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State will be able to meet it in some way or other. It is certainly not at all objectionable to those who think with my hon. Friends that the conduct and control of Parliament should be lively and continuous. The object of this proposal is to provide, as it were, for a refresher of the authority given by Parliament in an emergency measure. It is not desirable that measures brought in as emergent should gradually become permanent. Parliament should keep permanent supervision. I hope the Secretary of State will find it possible in some way or other to meet this point.

7.4 p.m.


No one could object to the way the Mover and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) have put this point. The Amendment is very narrow, though it deals with a very important subject. This is what is called a breakdown Clause. What the Mover seeks to do is to give Parliament a greater measure of review than is accorded by the Clause. I think both hon. Members have overlooked one important fact. The Clause cannot be brought into operation except by affirmative resolution, whatever Government is in power, whatever is the form or composition of this House, and after a Clause of this nature has been put into operation—though it is true that this House has not taken much interest in the affairs of India—action of that kind would produce a first-class debate. This can only be approved by resolution of both Houses of Parliament. Then there would have to be a second debate; otherwise, the proclamation would cease to operate. I am sorry, I find I am wrong, and I apologise. There is only one debate: I misread the Sub-section. In the course of that debate, however, it is open to any Member of the House to move an Amendment to limit the period of its operation to such time as might be thought desirable. As far as my right hon. Friend is concerned—this may not apply to the Mover—surely a full discussion as to the time the Clause should operate should be sufficient. In particular, it could be sought to limit the period of the operation of the Clause at that time of discussion.

7.6 p.m.


One would wish that the Government, which, in the first instance, regularises this exceptional legislation would assume the burden itself of bringing before Parliament after six months a further debate. It is quite different when a private Member is told he can move an Amendment to confine its operation to six months. In order to keep this exceptional procedure in being, Parliament ought to have to make a new and spontaneous effort every six months.

7.7 p.m.


My right hon. Friend is right in saying that in all probability Parliament in giving these very wide powers ought to set some time limit upon them. At the same time I am rather impressed by the argument of the Mover, that it would be undesirable to leave this Clause in a form which might convey the impression in India at any rate that we may contemplate putting into effect the suspension of the Federal Constitution. I suggest that the Secretary of State might consider whether some wording could not be inserted, indicating that some resolution should set a period upon its operation, or add some other words to this Clause to make it quite clear that the suspension of the Federal Constitution, if put into effect, is not likely to be maintained but would be reviewed from time to time by Parliament.

7.9 p.m.


I have been impressed for some time with the need of amending this Clause. I have taken, generally, the view that has been expressed from all sides of the Committee, that it would be highly objectionable to turn a state of emergency into a permanent system. I dislike as intensely as any other hon. Member any suggestion of turning the Federation into a more or less permanent dictatorship. Further, it is very necessary that Parliament should keep a very close control of the situation. The original proposal of the Government was that there should be this Resolution of both Houses after six months, and that after that, as it has been pointed out, once Parliament has approved by Resolution of the emergency measures, Parliament would cease to have any locus standi in the matter. I think that is wrong. I think I must go into this again and see whether Parliament should not continue to review the situation at fixed periods.

The position does not end there. I think I have also got to look into the bigger question as to whether a time limit should not be put upon the whole position of the Constitution. I will tell the Committee what I mean. From the point of view of British India it would be objectionable to see, even with the periodical approval of Imperial Parliament, this Constitution turned into a permanent dictatorship. From the point of view of the Indian States, it would be highly objectionable, where they have made concessions in the federal field upon the assumption that the Federation was a permanent Constitution, to see the Federation abrogated in a time of emergency and the powers delegated by them for federal purposes used outside the Federal Government by the Governor-General. I think, therefore, from the point of view of the Indian States I have to look into this question again.

First of all, I have to look into it with a view to Parliament keeping a check on any renewal, and also from the point of view of whether it is wisest to say that after a period of years, say three years—I suggest that as possible—the Constitution should lapse—the whole Constitution, for I cannot conceive myself either British India or the Indian States resting content with what really would be a permanent system in place of Federation; nor can I conceive that the Imperial Parliament here would possibly allow a situation of that kind to continue. I think it may be well to put some such term into the Bill. I will look into this question again from those two points of view. I think I can find means of satisfying both of them. This has been the happiest day in Committee discussions, for I have had agreeing with me at one and the same time the right hon. Gentleman opposite and my right hon. Friend below the Gangway.

7.14 p.m.


It seems to me that the right hon. Gentleman has thrown out a much larger proposition than that which we were discussing, one to which I do not hold him to be committed. Obviously, it is reasonable that fresh legislation would be required if the entire Act should lapse after a certain period of years. This is a much larger question, one which my right hon. Friend should not be led into without examining all the consequences that would follow. Suppose in these circumstances the existing Constitution is demolished. Hardly a vestige will remain when the new one is suddenly pulled away, because it is necessary to supersede it by emergency measures. It seems quite evident that what you would require is not a provision in this Statute but new legislation by Parliament. Therefore, while assenting to the proposal to give some further safeguards against emergency measures becoming permanent through lapse of time, we would not like to be committed to such larger measures contemplated by him.


So far as we are concerned we shall not press our Amendment, but we ask leave to withdraw it, reserving our right to consider the larger issue raised by the right hon. Gentleman.




If the right hon. and gallant Gentleman insists upon speaking, the Amendment cannot be withdrawn.

7.15 p.m.


The announcement made by the right hon. Gentleman is of enormous importance, and I do not think that it ought to go unnoticed. That announcement will be welcomed greatly in India and will make all the difference to the Indian attitude. If we can carry through an Amendment to that effect and say that when a breakdown occurs and after a period of years that breakdown continues, the Act lapses, obviously that will make a whole world of difference to the Indian attitude towards the Bill. What we ought to find out as soon as possible is whether the right hon. Gentleman means that the Federation will lapse and that the Provincial Constitution will remain while the Federal Constitution lapses. Would that mean the recasting of the whole of the Act or could it not be arranged that it is merely a cancellation of the federal scheme as it stands during the three years while the Government are making up their mind?

What will happen at the end of those three years? Obviously, legislation will have to be introduced and considered. If it is to deal with the federal side, well and good, that is a simple problem, but if it is to deal with the whole provincial side as well it is an almost insoluble problem. I do hope that the suggestion made by the right hon. Gentleman will' bear fruit and that there will be introduced into the Bill a proviso which I have not the slightest doubt would make the Bill infinitely more palatable to the Indian people. One of the chief objections to it has been that it is irremovable, that it is the last word and not the beginning of a series of steps. If it can be known that if a breakdown can be brought about—a breakdown may be brought about quite amicably and not by hostile action—then we shall have a chance of undoing the ill that we have done in establishing a Constitution on an un-English basis, it will make all the difference.

7.18 p.m.


I was not contemplating a prearranged breakdown of that kind. I was contemplating the last emergency, when the whole machinery of government has broken down. I cannot ask the Committee again to discuss a proposition of this kind without having an Amendment upon the Order Paper, but I did feel that on this Clause it was necessary to tell the Committee at this stage that we shall have to cover that particular contingency, in addition to the contingency which has been discussed. I wish to make it clear that nobody is prejudiced one way or the other by the proposal that I have made to look further into the matter and in due course to put a proposition on the Order Paper.


Since we are in such a very happy mood to-day could the right hon. Gentleman arrange for the breakdown to take place now, and stave off this elaborate procedure in the future?

7.19 p.m.


The (Secretary of State has referred to the unprecedented position in which he finds himself as being in agreement with hon. Members opposite and with my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill). I, too, am in the unprecedented position of being in agreement with my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping in the second of his two speeches. Seriously, I agree that this is a matter of very great importance, and we certainly cannot discuss it now. I would go further and say that it cannot be dealt with by an Amendment of any Clause. I think that a new Clause will have to be brought forward to deal with the matter. Although it is not for me to give advice, I hope that we shall not pursue the matter any further until we discuss it when we see the new Clause.

Amendment negatived.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."

7.20 p.m.


Before we pass from this Clause, which is one of the most important in the Bill, because it deals with the provisions in the event of a breakdown of constitutional machinery. I should like to express an anxiety which is shared by several members of the Committee, namely, that the Clause contains no mention of specific authority to be given to the Governor-General for the special preservation of the frontier of India. I know that it can be argued that such power and authority is tacitly understood, in view of the fact that defence is a reserved subject, but at the same time it is not possible for the Governor-General to take all the necessary executive powers immediately into his hands, because he has to consult his ministers, and the local Governor is in the same position. This might lead to very tedious negotiations and delay at a time when quick action might be essential.

The necessity for such a provision seems to me to be exemplified by the difficulties which were experienced in the Cape by the Imperial Government just before the war in South Africa in 1899, which difficulties have been fully put forward in the Milner Papers. The situation that I have in mind in regard to the North West frontier of India might be of a kind parallel to the position which was experienced in the summer of 1899 in South Africa when in a single month before the outbreak of war 500 rifles and 1,000,000 rounds of ammunition were sent up from the Cape to the Orange Free State and the Transvaal, and every difficulty was raised by the Cape Government against the Imperial Government. I will not pursue the point, because I am putting it forward merely as a parallel, but it shows the kind of situation with which we may well be faced on the North West frontier of India. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman if he will reconsider the Clause between now and the Report stage. I hope to be able to persuade him to agree with me on this point, namely, that a stone thrown into the frontier pond throws ripples to the furthest parts of India. In the event of any trouble on the North West frontier the forces employed will depend entirely upon the perfect functioning of the entire administrative machinery throughout India. Keeping in mind that the General Headquarters of the Army is the centre of the spider's web, we must surely admit that the Governor-General in a crisis, possibly internal commotion as well as trouble on the frontier, would have to take over the telegraphic and postal services in order to ensure communications and the sending up of material and supplies. There is a considerable reserve of small arms and ammunition at the advanced bases of Quetta and Rawalpindi, but surely a situation should not be allowed to develop in which the frontier army and constabulary would have to depend entirely even if only for a time on these.


I have been listening to the hon. Member's speech and have been looking at the Clause very carefully, and it does not appear to me that it raises a question as to how the Government of India could be carried on. If the hon. Member is referring to the general defence of the frontier of India, this is not the place to raise the matter.


I am sorry if I went beyond the bounds of order. I was trying to show that no specific authority, except tacit authority, is given to the Governor-General in the event of trouble on the North-West Frontier. If I am out of order I will not pursue the point, but I should he grateful if I could have an answer or if the Government would reconsider this matter between now and the Report stage. In view of the kind of situation to which I have drawn attention, and from the point of view that as the Bill now stands it will be necessary both for the local Governor and the Governor-General to consult his Ministers before taking action, and that may lead to undue delay, when quick action may be necessary, I do hope that I may have a satisfactory reply.

7.25 p.m.


I have no wish to revert to the discussion that has just ended, but I should like in a sentence to make the position a little clearer than I left it. It occurred to me after I sat down that I had not made it clear. Suppose the emergency was brought to an end, namely, that you could not have an emergency lasting longer than, let us say, three years, we should not be left with no government in India at all. We should then revert to the provisions of this Act, and Parliament then would have to choose between reverting to the provisions of this Act or passing an amending Act. I make that point clear, not in any way to impose my views upon hon. and right hon. Members, but in order that they may keep it in mind when they consider further the proposition that in due course I shall make on the subject.

With regard to the question put to me by my hon. Friend the Member for West Islington (Mr. Donner), I think that after the explanation that I shall be able to give to him he will find that the Amendment which he suggests is not needed. In any case, if it were needed, it would be out of place in Clause 45. This Clause deals with a situation when Ministerial responsibility has come to an end, when the whole machinery of government has broken down, and, as an emergency, the Governor-General takes over the whole system of government. On the other hand, defence, and the defence of the frontier, does not presuppose a breakdown of that kind in which the Governor-General takes over the whole of the Departments. It presupposes that the Governor-General is free to take any action that he thinks necessary to safeguard the reserved Department of defence, and to direct the Ministers and their Departments to take what action he thinks necessary to that end, even if those Departments may be only indirectly connected with the Defence Department.

What would happen in an emergency on the frontier would be that the Governor-General would be free at his discretion to deal with the Defence Department and to give directions, say, to the Railway Department in connection with the convoy of troops, or to the Post and Telegraph Department in regard to communications, and he would act with his Ministers. I think that in a case of that kind in nine cases out of 10 he would find the Ministers acting with him. So long as they act with him so much the better. If, on the other hand, the Ministers failed to take the action that he told them to take he could force them to do so. His order to the Railway Department or to the Post and Telegraph Department would be the only valid order, and the Departments would have to carry it out. If the Ministers obstruct, then he is free to dismiss them. I think, therefore, the position is quite safe. If it were not, the question could not arise on this Clause, which deals with the total breakdown of the Constitution, in which the Ministers do not come in at all. My main answer is that with the reserved Departments and with the powers that the Governor-General has got outside the reserved Departments, the position, as far as I can judge, is quite safe.

7.30 p.m.


There is one point which I should like the right hon. Gentleman to make quite clear. Do I understand that under his proposal that a suspension of the Constitution of this Bill, because of a crisis or emergency, is to endure only for a maximum period of time, however many Addresses are voted by Parliament, and that after the lapse of that time either the Federal Constitution under the Bill comes into operation again or there will have to be new legislation dealing with the whole question?

Sir S. HOARE indicated assent.

7.31 p.m.


This is about the quickest change of mind I have ever come across even in this House. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State has completely altered his story. Five minutes ago he told us that a lapse of the Constitution would not last for more than three years. Now at the end of these three years all that will happen will be that the breakdown legislation will lapse, not the Constitution. We shall simply get back to the position we were in when the breakdown legislation was instituted. Thank you for nothing.

7.32 p.m.


May I add my word to that of the right hon. and gallant Member. The cup has been dashed from the thirsty lips of many in this House and in India. We had hoped from what the Secretary of State said that if there was a breakdown of this character there was a speedy way out of the mess. The Secretary of State has varied his phrases, and has certainly very much upset the right hon. and gallant Member and others of us. I want to enter one caveat. I hope that I shall be pardoned for uttering something in the nature of a realism, and that is that when the Secretary of State sincerely tells us that under certain conditions of breakdown the Governor-General will resume control of the country all I desire to say here and now is that such a thing will be absolutely impossible when you have Indianised the whole machinery upon which the Governor-General will have to rely.