HC Deb 28 March 1935 vol 299 cc2179-88

8.38 p.m.


I beg to move, in page 90, line 17, at the end, to add: (2) Without prejudice to their obligations under the preceding sub-section, the Federation and every Province shall secure that there are from time to time in the hands of the Secretary of State and the High Commissioner sufficient moneys to enable payment to be made of all pensions payable in the United Kingdom out of the revenues of the Federation or the Province, as the case may be. This is a very important Amendment, not because it adds anything new to the intentions of the Government, but because it makes it quite plain that we intend that this Clause should cover the remittances needed for pensions to Civil Servants and others in this country. There has been a good deal of anxiety among the pensioners as to whether they were safeguarded under the Clause. It is the intention of the Government to safeguard them, and I know that that is also the intention of this Committee. This Subsection will now make it quite clear that it will be an obligation upon the Federation and upon the Provinces to provide the Secretary of State with the full funds necessary to meet all the pension claims. We have made it as clear as we can, and I hope that what I have said, as well as the actual Amendment which I am moving, will remove entirely from the minds of any pensioners any anxiety as to whether or not they are safeguarded under the Clause.

8.41 p.m.


I am sure that the Committee will be very pleased to hear what the Secretary of State has said. It will be observed that the next Amendment on the Paper, which it is now un- necessary to discuss, covers very similar points. From what I understand, the Secretary of State makes quite certain, by this new Sub-section, that there will be money in the till in any circumstances for the provision of these pensions, and that is satisfactory. More especially is it satisfactory to anybody who has recently considered the budgets of the Provinces of India, after making allowances for the cuts which are still retained. It will therefore be a matter of very great importance, when this Bill becomes an Act, and becomes operative, possibly after many years, it may be, and we see a change in the financial situation.

This is really a very vital matter, in view of the present budgetary position of the Provinces. It is clear that the Bill will not be able to come into force until very clear evidence is forthcoming that the money can be retained in the till for the pensions. The Secretary of State has gone so far and I am wondering, on behalf of my hon. Friends, all of whom are grateful for small mercies, whether he can give an undertaking that this country will stand absolutely behind these pension rights. I admit that he has gone a very long way, and that that will give great pleasure in many quarters; at the same time, if he has gone so far, I should think he could go a step farther, and absolutely guarantee the money.

8.43 p.m.


The wisest course is to go so far as necessary, and no farther. We have gone as far as necessary; we make it an obligation that this money should be forthcoming, and the obligation is in the first place upon the Federation and the provincial governments to find the money. The obligation is secondly upon the Imperial Parliament to see that the money is remitted, and is paid to the pensioners. That seems to me to make the position watertight, and it would be unnecessary to take any further action.

8.44 p.m.


Following what has been said by the hon. and gallant Member for Bournemouth (Sir H. Croft), may I say that I am also glad that the Secretary of State has added words which may not be actually necessary, but which will go a great way towards relieving a very natural anxiety in certain quarters. Most of us who have been in touch with this matter have known that a disproportionate amount of attention, having regard to the general scope of the Bill, has been devoted to this part of the Measure. It was a manifest anxiety of the Joint Select Committee to meet this apprehension, and so far as I can ascertain, it was the desire of the Indian delegates that there should be no reasonable ground for apprehension upon a matter where established rights were seemingly in danger. In these circumstances we welcome the solution which the right hon. Gentleman has suggested. Most of us who are in touch with those who have served in India, and who are now living in this country upon their pensions, which represent most of their livelihood and their future, will be glad that the apprehension which they have felt, and which has been dwelt upon so much on the public platform, may now be removed as a result of the Amendment.

8.45 p.m.


I suppose that every Member of the House has had more correspondence on this matter than on any other matter in the Bill. My hon. Friend opposite has anticipated exactly what I wished to say, and I only want to add that, representing a constituency where many retired gentlemen live who depend upon the carrying out of this Clause for their livelihood, I desire to thank my right hon. Friend for having made the matter perfectly clear. We never thought for one moment that it would be otherwise, but now I think that all our constituents to whom we wrote—and I have had to write to many—will be perfectly satisfied with what my right hon. Friend has inserted in the Bill.

8.46 p.m.


I, also, desire to congratulate my right hon. Friend, for I have been very much concerned about this matter. My object in rising is to ask a question. The new Sub-section states that the money is to be provided for pensions payable in the United Kingdom. I feel sure that the point has been considered, but is it quite clear that these words are wide enough? I suppose that these pensions arise under different Acts or ordinances, and, if it were the case that pensions were payable out of the United Kingdom—say in India, or anyhow out of the United Kingdom—this Clause would not cover them. I feel sure that the point has been considered, and, if there is any doubt about it, a small drafting Amendment would meet the point.

8.47 p.m.


I should like to add a word of thanks to my right hon. Friend for the insertion of this new Sub-section. It makes clear a point upon which there has been doubt throughout the country among the pensioners, and I am very glad that it is to be provided expressly in the Bill that among the moneys which have to be sent home from India to this country are the remittances necessary to pay these pensions. At the same time I feel that the Bill, and particularly Clause 45, does envisage a possible breakdown, both as regards the Federal situation and as regards the Provincial situation. We discussed this question at considerable length some time ago, and, while the Clause will provide that moneys shall be sent home, and that, if the moneys are sent home, there shall be the machinery for paying the pensioners, yet at the same time the possibility is not met of a failure on the part of the Federal or Provincial authorities to send the full amount home, and that still leaves doubtful what the position of unpaid pensioners' would be in those circumstances, and what would be their rights as regards recovery. In an Amendment which stands in my name on the Paper I suggest that the Secretary of State might see his way to go one step further, and take upon himself some obligation to find the money in this country in the event of individuals having to take some sort of action, possibly here but more probably in India, in case of a default as regards the payment of their pensions.

I do not wish to spoil the thankful feelings that I have to the Secretary of State for having gone as far as he has gone, but there is not the slightest doubt that there is a very strong feeling among pensioners in the country, both military and civil, as to what would be their position if by any chance there was a default in the sending home of these moneys. It is unthinkable that they, as individuals, should be put to the liability of starting some sort of proceedings against someone to recover their pensions, nor are they, many of them, in a position to do that.

In these circumstances, I feel that the Secretary of State might say that we are only asking for an indirect guarantee from the British Government in some shape or form, and he has refused to give that in the past. None the less, if he can possibly see his way, on reconsideration, to provide some machinery whereby, if there were a default, immediate payment would be made in this country, and the authorities here would, if they had to pay, take upon themselves the responsibility of recouping themselves from the Federation or the Provinces as the case may be, it would relieve those individuals of what is undoubtedly a very present fear in their minds that, if there were any default, they would have to take individual action. If my right hon. Friend could possibly give further consideration in this matter, and see whether some machinery could be provided to make good a possible default—which, however, I should hope would be unthinkable—he would reassure many hundreds of people in this country who at the present moment are genuinely anxious on this point. I do not say that they have been made anxious in ways of which I approve, but the fact is that they are anxious, and it is to remove that anxiety which has been created, lightly or wrongly, that I would ask my right hon. Friend to see if he cannot suggest some machinery.


Could the right hon. Gentleman say what is the total amount of money which these pensions involve?

8.53 p.m.


I desire to reinforce what my hon. and learned Friend has said. This question of pensions has been raised in my area, and also has led to a great deal of opposition to the Bill. What has been said to-night will give a good deal of relief, but the question will arise as to what will happen supposing that the money is not forthcoming, and I hope that the Secretary of State will give some reassurance on that point.

8.54 p.m.


I am rather sorry that these further points have been pressed. I thought that my one good action would have been counted to me for righteousness, and that I should not be pressed to do what I believe to be quite unnecessary. I am not prepared to contemplate a default. Indeed, I go so far as to say that to suggest the possibility of a default is bad policy from our point of view, and is bad policy from the Indian point of view. It immediately creates an atmosphere of suspicion where I believe it is not necessary to create it at all. I cannot contemplate that a default is possible. The whole of these pensions amount to about 4 per cent. of the revenues of India. Is it conceivable that the Governor-General and the provincial Governors, acting, as they will, under the instructions of the Secretary of State, who in turn will act as the agent of the Imperial Parliament in this country, will not be able to provide this comparatively small sum? I think that the position is completely watertight, and I do not believe that there is any reason why any pensioner should feel the least anxiety. It is a mistake, both from the Indian point of view and from the pensioners' point of view, to suggest that there is any risk or that there is any uncertainty. The obligation is upon the Imperial Parliament to see that the money is remitted to this country. It is inconceivable in any contingencies which I can contemplate that this comparatively small sum of money will not be punctually forthcoming.


Will the right hon. Gentleman publish a return of the persons who receive pensions from India showing in what capacity they receive pensions? It is important that the House should be made aware of the people who get pensions.


I think that that hardly arises on this Clause.

8.56 p.m.


I am sorry to have to intervene in what appears to be rather a family quarrel between both sides of this Committee, and I recognise that when yon butt into a family quarrel of which you are not a member you sometimes bring the whole of the family down upon your head. If this Clause is such an important factor, and there are in this country so many people concerned about their pensions, I can conceive that men who have given what, to them, has been valuable and necessary service, would be anxious concerning pensions that had to be paid to them. The Secretary of State has not faced up to the important factor, but has completely evaded it. He speaks at that Box as though he cannot imagine failure on the part of the Indian Government to pay these pensions. I can conceive of the possibility very strongly that things might develop in India where the Government might refuse to face up to the responsibility in respect of services largely rendered for the benefit of the Government of this country. If they repudiated those pensions it would be the duty of the Government of this country to respond and to guarantee, in circumstances of that description, the pensions of those who had given services in the past.

At the same time, if this question is such an important one and has played such a tremendous part in the country, I cannot help feeling that the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill), if I am not doing him an injustice, would at least have been in his place here to safeguard the interests of these pensioners. He is absent to-night, and it makes me think that he himself is conducting a sham battle and that he must have complete faith in the Secretary of State and in the guarantees which he is giving. I cannot help thinking that the right hon. Member for Epping, in spite of all his protestations in this House, is failing at the crucial moment in this discussion the people whom he says he is out to defend in connection with the Government of India Bill. Speaking as a person who has no great interest in the Bill, I think that the Secretary of State has fairly cutely evaded the point, and if I were an opponent of the Bill and anxious for these pensioners, I should not be satisfied with the undertaking he has given on behalf of the Government, because there is a strong possibility of repudiation in connection with pensions.


Is the four per cent. of the total amount paid for pensions the amount sent to this country, and will the right hon. Gentleman state the amount in pounds, shillings and pence which the four per cent. represents?


I cannot possibly state the pounds, shillings and pence; it is four per cent.

9.0 p.m.


I was not intending to intervene in this Debate, but some question has been raised about the stability of the credit of India. I wish to point out that, in spite of the fulminations of the right hon. Member for Epping and the hon. and gallant Member for Bournemouth (Sir H. Croft) and all who are opposing the Bill, during the last few years the price of Indian securities has practically doubled in the Stock Exchange quotations. It is a remarkable thing that, when the other day, capital was asked for the new Indian State Bank, there were queues waiting in the street to subscribe for that issue. India is the richest and one of the most stable countries in the world, and I speak from my own business point of view—

9.2 p.m.


On a point of Order. May I ask if I shall be allowed to answer the hon. Gentleman upon the point upon which he is now engaged, because I should like to have an opportunity of doing so?


I am only desiring to support the Secretary of State and to state that the credit of India as a country on its own basis is one of the best credits in the world, and that it has improved by the events which have taken place in the last three years while these discussions have been going on.


The hon. Gentleman has opened up rather a wider subject than that upon which we are engaged. I do not want to say anything which might impair the credit of Britain or the British Empire or British India.


The hon. and gallant Member keeps on doing it.


I hope that when the hon. Gentleman refers to any speech which I have made he will take the trouble to bring the quotation in his pocket. It is legitimate for anyone to doubt the wisdom of hasty, ill-conceived, as we think, legislation and the taking of at one step that which can only safely be taken by several steps. When the hon. Member comes here and mentions the fact regarding the stability of the credit of the Indian Empire at the present moment, the hon. Member should realise that Indian credit always hung on to British credit, and as long as Britain is in India, I am firmly convinced that that credit will be maintained. After all, Indian stocks are trustee stocks at the present time. Does the hon. Gentleman dissent? Are not Indian trustee stocks under the Trustee Act?

Sir W. SMITHERS indicated assent.


I can only assure the hon. Member that if he imagines that any of those who are associated with me would wilfully try to depress the credit of India he is quite wrong.


That is what the hon. and gallant Member is doing.


The hon. Gentleman is not justified in saying that. All we want is to maintain the strength of the British Empire, and therefore to maintain the credit of the Empire. I would point out that in practically every Province at the present moment, with the exception of two, there is a deficit, if you had restored the cuts it is legitimate for us to say, Are you wise in taking British guidance from India at this stage in a hurry and to the extent indicated in this Measure? The hon. Gentleman beside me attacked my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) for not being in his place to-night. The fact remains that sometimes we have to meet our constituents at annual association meetings, and so on, and it does happen that that is the case this evening. My right hon. Friend the Member for Epping was certainly under the impression that the discussion would take a great deal longer than it has, and I hope the Secretary of State will accept the statement from me that my right hon. Friend meant no discourtesy in not being here. None of us knew that this particular Clause would have been reached this evening. That was our general impression. I thank the Committee for allowing me to make that explanation. The hon. Member opposite need not be concerned about our patriotism.




This must not develop into an argument on personal matters. The question of the credit of India was distinctly in order, but the doings of hon. Members cannot be pursued.


I only want to say that the hon. and gallant Member opposite ought to know that although Indian Government securities are trustee securities, they are not guaranteed by the British Government. Indian Government securities are only the guarantee of the Indian Government, and in spite of all the attacks upon this Bill—


The hon. Member cannot pursue the subject further.

9.7 p.m.


There are many Indian pensioners in my constituency who are extremely anxious on this matter, and they will be glad that the Secretary of State has relieved them to a large extent of their anxiety. But that anxiety is not due to any external cause. It is because they know India and the dangers of repudiation among the Congress party. Therefore, I would ask the Secretary of State whether he would go one step further and make the payments for pensions reserved as a first charge on the revenues of the Federal or Provincial Legislatures, as are the Governor's expenses.


They are non voted.

Amendment agreed to.

Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.