HC Deb 22 March 1935 vol 299 cc1485-93

11.7 a.m.


I beg to move, in page 36, line 20, to leave out Sub-section (2).

When the Committee adjourned on Wednesday I was saying that we regard the provisions in this Sub-section as objectionable and unsafe. They are objectionable from the point of view of every other member of the Legislative Assembly. The Government are proposing to treat every member of the Legislative Assembly with contempt. We feel that this is an unsafe principle to introduce into any constitution in any colony within the Empire. Surely a member of the Legislature should be selected to perform these functions. One would have thought that the Governor would select the leader of the Assembly rather than appoint an official from outside. It would be much better if the Governor charged the leader of the Assembly to look after the interests of the State in his absence; otherwise, it can only mean that he has no confidence in the members of the Assembly. The person from outside, who is to be selected by the Governor, has the right of attending any joint sitting of the Chamber or any committee of the Legislature. The Clause says: The functions of the Governor. … shall be exercised by him in his discretion. That means that the selected person has the full powers of the Governor inside the Legislative Assembly, with the exception of a vote, and the members elected to the Assembly cannot object. The person to perform these functions should be directly elected to the Assembly. Under the Bill, they have no power to object to the person selected on personal or political grounds; they have no power to object to the appointment, and, even if they had, the Governor need not take any notice of them. When a Governor has declared that the peace and tranquillity of a Province is in danger it should naturally be the duty of the Governor to perform these functions himself, but it appears that having as it were declared that a state of war exists the Governor proposes to retire to a position behind the lines and leave other people in the firing line. That is not a good principle to lay down in a new constitution for a very old Empire. We contend that the Governor should take full responsibility in these circumstances for subsequent actions of the elected Legislative Chamber. The person to he appointed should not be elected from outside to exercise greater power than any of the elected members. Sub-section (4) says: Nothing in this section affects the special responsibility of the Governor for the prevention of any grave menace to the peace or tranquillity of the Province or any part thereof. He is therefore still under the responsibility of keeping the province in a state of peace and tranquillity. This proposal in the Clause is very dangerous, and is one which may be copied by other parts of the Empire. It takes away from elected representatives the power to do the work for which they have been elected, and allows the Governor to take charge, which really means that matters will be left in the hands of the official element. We object to the proposal.

11.13 a.m.


Before the Secretary of State deals with this Amendment might I make an inquiry. Does this power appear in any other constitution within the Empire? Has any official in any other Assembly the power to intervene in any circumstances? May I ask what is the origin of this proposal? I cannot charge my memory with the proceedings which have led up to Federation in this Bill, but is this proposal founded on some recommendation?

The SECRETARY of STATE for INDIA (Sir Samuel Hoare)

It has been in existence for the last five years.


That emphasises what I was going to say. I have been dealing with these matters since 1919, and I took some part in the legislation under that Statute. I am familiar with the fact; that circumstances have arisen since 1919 in which the Viceroy has had good reason to intervene, and I am aware of the difficulties which it created. I remember an occasion when the late Speaker of the Legislative Assembly informed me of a case in which this had occurred, and of the consequences. I thought it was a serious interference with the right of the Assembly. The Committee will no doubt agree that there is no more sensitive aspect of our legislative arrangements with India than such proposals to interfere with Legislative Assemblies. I speak as a friend of the Bill, and in the circumstances I would press this point upon my right hon. Friend. I think this Bill is the best scheme that can be devised for the difficulties of the Indian situation, and I am anxious that nothing shall be included in these proposals which will give rise to further difficulties. This sort of difficulty has occurred again and again under the 1919 Act. But put the situation at its worst. I do not know why my right hon. Friend should indicate any displeasure at these observations.


The only reason is that the position is precisely the same as that in the Federal chapter, where the Governor-General has his counsellors, and that we have discussed at great length.


Then I make no apology for discussing it again. It should occur to my right hon. Friend immediately that there is a great difference between a counsellor intervening and an official doing so.


A counsellor is an official.


If my right hon. Friend with his knowledge of what has happened in India during the last few years thinks that this sort of procedure is likely to lead to tranquillity, with the greatest possible respect I think he is making a mistake. I intervene, not as an opponent of the Bill, but as one who wishes to see the Bill work smoothly. I am convinced that this kind of process will give rise to all sorts of difficulties. When my right hon. Friend interposed I was saying, put the circumstances at their worst. Suppose that a situation arises that is detrimental to law and order and that the Governor under this Clause has to intervene. There would be a Minister available in the Assembly to communicate any views that the Governor wants presented. Frankly, I think that this is a very serious invasion of the rights of a legislative assembly. We would not tolerate it here. Is there any free parliament which would tolerate the intervention of an official even in such difficulties as these? I speak with some feeling, because I am anxious that this system shall work smoothly. I beg my right hon. Friend to pause before this power is placed in the hands of a Governor to be exercised through an official over a Legislative Assembly.

11.19 a.m.


It may be for the convenience of the Committee if I attempt to dissipate a feeling that this is a very exceptional power of a very wide-ranging nature. We had the privilege of discussing the question of the official bloc and the question of the official element in the Legislature on the last occasion on which the Committee considered these subjects. In this case, we are not considering any such wide questions as to whether there should be an official bloc in the Legislature, or whether the Governor should have a lack of confidence in the Legislature and should consider it necessary to have an official element in that Legislature. The Government do not intend to continue the official bloc within the Provincial Legislature. The hon. and learned Member for South Nottingham (Mr. Knight) said that, whenever a Governor had to intervene in such a question of law and order, he could operate through his ministers. If he will turn to the Clause dealing with the Governor's special responsibilities, he will see that it is not intended, in the operation of the normal special responsibility, that there should be the appointment of any official such as is suggested here.

Here we are dealing with a very particular case. If the hon. and learned Member will turn to Clause 57 he will see that it includes provisions as to crimes of violence intended to overthrow the Government, and in such cases the Joint Select Committee thought it essential to give the Governor special power to take over any department of government that he thought necessary for combating such violence and such dangerous operations as were likely to overthrow the Government by law established. That surely is a very particular, special and important case. It is only in such a case that under Sub-section (2) of this Clause we give the Governor power to appoint an official. The object of that is fairly clear. If the Governor has to take over certain departments of government, if circumstances are so serious as to demand the operation of his powers under this Clause, it is surely treating the Legislature in a much more straightforward way to give the Governor a mouthpiece in the Legislature to explain his actions and to try to enable the Legislature to work with him.

That is the answer to the hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. Parkinson). I could appreciate his apprehensions were we intending to short-circuit the Legislature, to show a lack of confidence in the Legislature and to continue perhaps an official bloc in the Legislature; but I have shown that our objective is that the Governor should work with the Legislature. If in any unfortunate contingency he had to take over certain departments of government he would then have an opportunity of explaining his position and his actions to the Legislature, and so enable it to work with him.

11.22 a.m.


Our objection to this Sub-section is that it is trying to carry on a sham Parliamentary system, when, as a matter of fact, all the conditions have disappeared, The assumption here it that there is some kind of conspiracy, some kind of terrorism. The assumption is that the Governor cannot get his ministers to act. We believe that these crimes of violence, this terrorism and conspiracy, can only be dealt with by Indian ministers themselves. It seems to me that the responsibility should be placed on Indian ministers and on the Legislature. If it be found that the Legislature and the ministers are unwilling to take the responsibility, we think it is better to have a clean cut and to say that the parliamentary system has broken down. Under these provisions, what happens is that the ministers are enabled to shuffle out of their responsibility. The Governor is to be allowed to send down an official to act as a minister in the Legislature and to expound his policy. That is not at all a desirable thing.

To begin with, we are trying to make an experiment in the Provinces in responsible government, and in the circumstances we want the official to be an official, a civil servant as he is in this country, and not a kind of half politician and half civil servant. If there be any necessity for explaining things, let the Governor do it himself; let him say that things have broken down; but do not try to carry on a kind of sham half-and-half parliamentary system. It really means that under this provision you would slip back into the dyarchy that now exists in the Provinces. Dyarchy has worked in some places with very great difficulty, but the principle is wrong. I do not like the principle of mixing up the officials and the ministers. I think what you want is a clean cut, either to have Parliamentary government, and put the responsibility on the Minister and the Legislature, or else to say frankly that it has broken down and that the Governor has taken over all responsibility.

11.25 a.m.

Brigadier-General Sir HENRY CROFT

I only rise at this juncture to say that several of my hon. Friends would like to have spoken on this Amendment, but, in view of the fact that we are behind with the business and that an undertaking has been given, as far as my friends are concerned, that we should try to get as far as possible to-day, we do not intend to" make speeches on any of these points further than briefly moving and explaining certain Amendments. It is generally understood in the Committee that we are endeavouring to reach the end of Part IV of the Bill at to-day's Sitting, and it is clear that, unless such a course as I have indicated is taken, we cannot arrive at that point in the Bill which it is hoped to reach. I only wish to make it clear that this does not in any way mean that our opposition to any of these proposals is exhausted. Many of them, of course, are going to be redundant. A great question having arisen in the last few days which has altered the whole situation, we realise that we have got behind with these proceedings, and for that reason we intend to do everything in our power to expedite the business to-day.

11.26 a.m.


I do not know whether the observations of the hon. and gallant Member are intended to imply any reflection upon other hon. Members who have put down Amendments.


Not at all.


I would only point out that all the long speeches have been made on Amendments put forward from other quarters of the House and that there has indeed been comparatively little discussion upon the Amendments put forward from our side. At the same time I, too, feel that we have to get on with the business, and I do not propose to detain the Committee long. I always listen with pleasure and interest to the hon. and learned Member for South Nottingham (Mr. Knight). I gather from his speeches in this Parliament and the last Parliament that he has been a powerful influence, the hidden hand as it were, behind all the great movements which have taken place in this country for the last 30 years, and we now know the part he has played in connection with this new Indian Constitution. That being so, I think the Government ought to treat his arguments with a great deal more consideration and not brush them lightly aside as the Secretary of State did.

I wish to reinforce the argument of my hon. Friend the Member for Limehouse (Mr. Attlee). I ask the Committee to consider the position which this Clause envisages. There is a subversive movement aiming at the overthrow of the Government. There is a difference of opinion between the Governor and the Minister, and the Governor is taking over the Minister's powers. There is also a difference of opinion between the Governor and the majority in the Chamber; otherwise, he would be able to form an alternative Government. We take it that he is unable to do so, and he is therefore faced with a hostile Chamber and a hostile Government. Surely it is dangerous to send an official into that hostile Chamber to act for the Governor. Is it not likely that such a course may lead to unpleasant incidents and cause the atmosphere to become even more dangerous? An official going into the Chamber in such circumstances, when passions are running high, may be shouted down; the result may be very regrettable and cause the situation to become worse. From that point of view it would be better that the Governor, acting on his own responsibility, should not attempt to send anybody into the hostile Chamber to explain his position.

11.30 a.m.


I know it is the desire of the Committee that I should answer as briefly as possible. At the same time, it would be a discourtesy to hon. Members opposite if I did not deal with the points they have raised. There are two questions which we have to consider here. The first is: If there is a reserved department, should the Governor have the right of having an official in the Legislature to answer for that department? I thought that when we were dealing with the Federal Chapter we had accepted the principle that, where there is a reserved department in the case of the Federation, the Governor-General will have his councillor to take part in discussions in the Legislature upon questions affecting that reserved department. We were all agreed upon that principle. The case is exactly the same in the relation to the Provinces. Again, suppose that a situation has arisen which is so serious as to make it essential that the Provincial Governor should reserve in his hands a department or certain departments. In that case I suggest to the Committee the obvious course is to treat the Provincial Governor just as we have treated the Governor-General in the Federation, and enable him to have an official answering in the Provincial Legislature for any department or departments which are reserved.

The second issue raised by the hon. Member for Limehouse (Mr. Attlee) was this. If, he said, a situation of that kind arises, is it not better frankly to admit that there is a breakdown in the Constitution and that the Parliamentary system therefore cannot continue in the Province? I suggest to the Committee that it is unnecessary to go as far as that. In a case of that kind it is only necessary for the Governor to take over one department or several departments without bringing to an end the whole machinery of Provincial Government. I think it is much better, for both those reasons, to follow the provisions of the Bill and to treat the Provincial Governor as we have treated the Governor-General and in the case of there being any reserved departments or a reserved department to let him have an official to explain the position in connection with that department or departments in the Provincial Legislature.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.