HC Deb 14 May 1935 vol 301 cc1671-82

Brought up, and read the First time.

10.15 p.m.


I beg to move, "That the Schedule be read a Second time."

I think the first impression this Schedule must have made on the Committee was one of size and magnitude, but I feel sure that the Members of the Committee have, with their usual assiduity, mastered its details. At the same time, it would not be fair if I did not offer one or two words of explanation, which are due to the Committee and due to the importance of this particular Schedule. In the original Memorandum which accompanied the Bill as introduced the Government said that it was proposed to regulate the franchise in India by Order-in-Council, but a saving phrase was in the Memorandum to say that if there were a request for the franchise to be scheduled the Government would do their best to comply with that request. It has since become clear to us that there is a desire that the franchise should be scheduled to the Bill, and it is in response to a request which comes not only from quarters opposite but from the hon. and gallant Members who have from time to time opposed us in these Debates that we have decided to schedule the franchise. We think there is justice in the request. It is legitimate for Parliament, in considering a Bill of this magnitude, to ask who is going to be enfranchised under it, and what are the general qualifications for electors. In view of the interest in these matters which we all take as Members of Parliament it is natural that we should be interested in the future qualifications for electors in the constituencies in India.

There is no doubt that the very complexity of and mass of detail involved in Indian franchise was a reason why we were unable to produce this franchise Schedule when the Bill was introduced; my right hon. Friend has already acknowledged that and it is clear from the nature of the subject. But the complexity is somewhat reduced when we reflect that these matters have been before the public ever since the report of the Franchise Committee some three years ago. The general findings of the Franchise Committee have been included in this Schedule. The Franchise Committee decided to extend the Indian franchise to a certain level. Their detailed recommendations were considered by the Joint Select Committee. In certain respects the Joint Select Committee toned up women's franchise, which had been slightly reduced in the White Paper which had come in between the Report of the Franchise Committee and the Report of the Joint Select Committee. This Schedule which looks alarming in its legislative form, does, therefore, include facts about the Indian franchise which anyone interested in the subject could have been following for the last three years. The only complication, therefore, upon the original level of franchise suggested by the Franchise Committee is, in particular, in regard to certain of the women's qualifications, certain of the educational qualifications, and so forth.

At this stage it would be wise to tell the Committee that this Schedule relates solely to the franchise for territorial constituencies; it does not include the franchise for Provincial Upper Houses, for example, or for electoral colleges, or the arrangements for all the special interests. The reason for that is that for some time, in fact for a long time, ever since the report of the Franchise Committee, it has been acknowledged that there should be a Commission to delimit the constituencies in India, and, in particular, to delimit the constituencies for special interests. This is a work which cannot be done until Parliament has given approval to the Bill and to the level of the franchise, because it would be impossible to foretell the decision of Parliament on these matters. Therefore, it is quite legitimate to leave certain of these matters until the visit of the Delimitation Commission to India, when that takes place after the passage of the Bill. The particular details of the Upper Houses has not yet been decided, and will, therefore, have to be submitted later by Order-in-Council, since there has not been found time, in the period that has elapsed since the decision was taken about the electoral colleges and so forth, for a final decision upon the franchise and the Upper Houses to be arrived at. The main basis for the franchise for India in future is included in this Measure, and all that fundamentally affects the points in which hon. Members are interested is referred to in this Schedule.

It might be convenient for the Committee if I gave an idea of the extent of the franchise which is covered by this new Schedule. The general gross electorate will be in the neighbourhood of 35,000,000. That figure will be made up of about 29,000,000 men and about 6,000,000 women. The Committee may be aided if I give some idea of the manner in which the franchise has been decided for each particular Province. If I might give a piece of advice early in the discussion, it is that hon. Members will turn their attention to the fact that the franchise has been decided by particular Provinces and according to the idosyncrasies of particular Provinces. In many of the detailed points which could arise out of the Schedule it would be easier to remember that conditions differ in different Provinces, and therefore it has been wise on the part of the Franchise Committee originally, and of the Government at this stage, to follow a par- ticular scheme according to the conditions in a particular Province.

The basis of the franchise, therefore, follows the conditions in particular Provinces. It is important, when framing a franchise at a certain level, to require uniformity upon which the franchise may be said to be fair. In some Provinces the franchise has been based upon land revenue. In the Punjab, where there is a land revenue, the franchise has been based upon it. In Madras, however, where there is an elaborate system of local taxation, the franchise, on the recommendation of the original Madras Franchise Committee, is based upon local taxation. These facts enable one more easily to appreciate the basis of the franchise in the particular Province. In some Provinces where there is a permanent settlement it has not been possible to base the franchise on the land revenue, and therefore, as in Bihar, it has been necessary to base the franchise on some form of local taxation.

Those indications will, I think, show the manner in which this franchise Schedule has been drafted. The Schedule opens with some general explanation, and then it proceeds to cover one Province after another, individually. Taking a particular instance, there are general requirements as to residence and qualifications dependent upon certain matters, such as taxation in the case of Madras or land revenue in another Province. Then there will probably be some reference to educational qualifications and in the case of each Province, there is some reference to women. The point of view of the depressed classes also has not been forgotten. Every section of the population, as the Prime Minister demanded in the original terms of reference of the Franchise Committee, has been considered in the proposals set out in this new franchise Schedule. I hope, therefore, that when we come to consider the details of the Schedule this general picture will have been of some service to the Committee.

I conclude by saying that this Schedule is naturally one of importance. A franchise is the measure of political power which you are giving to a particular portion of the population, and the Government are certain, after the investigations that have been made, that we have done the best with this franchise to do justice to all the interests in the country. We think that we have, for instance, reformed a defect in the present franchise in that it is loaded in favour of the towns. We think that in our present franchise we have got over that difficulty, and have done greater justice to the country in. India, seeing that India has so predominantly an agricultural population. We believe that no section of the population will be found, after these franchise proposals have been carefully examined, to have been left without a proper means of expressing its own views and opinions. That is the reason for the vote, and we believe that, if the vote given under this Schedule is intelligently used, it will enable every section of the population to achieve its desires under the new Constitution. It may seem to hon. Members to be very complicated, but it is difficult to find a franchise level in a large country like India which does justice to every section of the population. It is only at one level that real justice can be done to town and country, man and woman, lowly and rich. We believe that we have attained as nearly as we can to that ideal. But we believe that this Schedule is not mere idealism; we believe that it is practically conceived and practically drafted with a view to achieving practical results and giving each section of the population a chance of achieving their desires under the scheme of responsible government which we have suggested in the Bill.

10.28 p.m.


I think one ought to say at once that we are very much indebted to the Government for having conceded the request that was made, certainly by us and probably from other quarters of the House as well, that these franchise proposals should be embodied in a new Schedule; and I think one ought also in justice to say that we are deeply indebted to those who must have worked very hard indeed in order to present so compendious a statement of the Government's proposals as is contained in this new Schedule. In saying that, of course, I do not imply that we accept in all their details the proposals of the Schedule. I agree with the Under-Secretary that this is a very difficult and complex problem, and one that is made more complex, perhaps, by the infinite diversity of conditions prevailing over so large a territory as India. On that account it is very hard, perhaps, to arrive at some sort of common standard by which you may judge the appropriate qualifications to introduce as franchise qualifications in this connection.

Frankly, I confess that I do not feel disposed to discuss this matter any longer now. We have had a very long discussion, and, as far as I am concerned, I have not had much refreshment during the day, and really have not the strength to go on any further. But I would like to say this: To-morrow we shall have Amendments directing attention to the main points, anyhow, on which we differ from the Government. There are some particulars in which we think they have been excessively conservative, so to speak, in their provisions, and we shall try as far as we can to induce the Committee to extend the provisions which have been made by the Government. I will content myself at this point by saying that we are obliged to the Under-Secretary, and to the Secretary of State also, for having conceded our request. We appreciate how complex the problem has been. We are specially indebted to those who have drafted the proposals for the way in which they have been drafted, and we are obliged to the Under-Secretary for having made a statement to-night by way of explanation. I do not desire to say anything further, except that to-morrow we shall return to the details of the Schedule.

10.31 p.m.


I believe that some of my hon. Friends who were consulted also agree that it is desirable that this Schedule should be brought forward in order that the full facts should be before the Committee; otherwise one naturally might complain of this immense amount of matter which has been in our hands only for a few days, and which we have to try to study. It was obviously better, even with all that inconvenience, than that this matter should be dealt with by Order in Council at a later time. I am glad to see that the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Morgan Jones) is now going to receive what he very much deserves in the way of refreshment. He deserves very much this brief interlude, and we hope he will come back renewed in vigour to-morrow. I am not going to say anything which might detain him another moment in this House, or to address myself to his hon. Friends, but I intend to say a word or two to my hon. Friends opposite. We are considering this mighty Schedule with all its strange ramifications. We have to realise that there are entirely different proposals, as far as I can see, with regard to the franchise, qualifications of residence, property qualifications, etc., and also with regard to education in the different Provinces of India. That, in itself, would appear, on the face of it, to be a pity when you are devising a scheme which is to be applied to India.

The thing which strikes me, and, I imagine, every Member of the Committee, most forcibly, is the fact that here you have 35,000,000 electors, who are to have this great boon conferred upon them, and of whom, possibly, some 10,000,000 or 12,000,000 can read and write and can understand something of what it all means. The number of persons who can understand the English of it is very much smaller. Of that electorate, the English-speaking persons will be a very limited number. We wonder sometimes whether we have not rushed this matter too far forward, and whether we have not abused the whole spirit of that Preamble referred to earlier in the evening when it was laid down that we should go forward step by step in India. When we see the vast proposals and mighty changes which affect every individual in India, and especially those 35,000,000 who are to have the responsibility of carrying out a form of government which they cannot understand, it is a very grave responsibility. There is nothing in this Schedule as far as I can see as to how these poor persons who can neither read nor write are to get on. There is no vivid description such as we believe is necessary to indicate the candidates for whom they are to vote. None of the difficulties are cleared away in the Schedule, but they all, apparently, will be administrative acts which will be put into force when the Bill becomes an Act.

In passing from this Schedule this evening and before we come to the Amendments, we must be very much concerned with the mass of materials that the newly-enfranchised persons in India will have to absorb if they are to carry on this great act of self-government. We do not know, we have not been told, we have had no indication whether we have been legislating for something which is real or something which is not going to be put into effect. We do not know how far His Majesty's Government have got with the various forces in India in settling all their differences. Before coming to the end of this great Schedule it would have been highly desirable if we could have been told that the Government had managed to get peace in at least one organised section of opinion in India. Within the last few weeks we have heard from the organised forces in India, including Congress, including the Trade Union Conference [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"]—I thought that hon. Members would cheer their comrades in India who are so violently opposed to this Bill, and have twice said so by unanimous resolution—and including the National Liberal Federation of India, and when we remember that practically every section of opinion which has an organised voice, with the exception of the European Association, whose numbers have so seriously dwindled from what they were in the past, have stated emphatically—and I think I am right in saying in practically every case unanimously—that they do not want this Bill, but want the status quo.


The desirabality or otherwise of the Bill does not arise on the Second Reading of this Schedule.


I am grateful for your Ruling, and I will conclude by saying that in regard to this Schedule when those who are shortly to become electors in India see its 30 pages they will be distraught to know what it all means. I very much fear that if what is laid down in this Schedule is brought into force it will take many years before we can explain to these unfortunate people what it does mean.

10.38 p.m.


I should be inclined to agree with the hon. and gallant Member if I thought that all the 35,000,000 of people in India who will be concerned had to make a close study of this Schedule. If they had to do that I am afraid the constitutional progress would not be effected. I doubt whether one in 10,000 of the electors in this country have ever read through the registration laws. In the constituency of Bournemouth, no doubt, they have made a close study of all these Measures, which form a very substantial volume on the lawyers' shelves, but, living in the more extreme parts of the country, the people of my neighbourhood have been otherwise engaged. Those people who will make a relevant study of these matters are those who are looking for the votes of these people, who will have to be safeguarded against the difficulties that arise from the appeal to the people and from the carrying through of the elections. I expect that, just as there are agents and lawyers in this country who make it their study to understand these things, those who are carrying on the same duties in India will study the law in the same way. If we were for the first time making a law relating to our own elections, and if we were setting up a constitution in this country providing for every constituency, it is likely that we should get a Bill perhaps with not quite as many pages as the one we have been discussing, but it would be a very fearsome volume. I hope, therefore, that we may be able to get the Second Reading of the Schedule and get down to the Amendments on the Order Paper. Some of the fears which oppress the mind of the hon. and gallant Member may have disappeared by the time we meet to-morrow.

10.41 p.m.


I only desire to ask for an explanation on one or two points which may not be raised on Amendments to the proposed new Schedule. In the first place, these qualifications must be bewildering to anyone who has no knowledge of the diverse conditions which prevail in India. The qualifications vary very much in the different Provinces, and I should like to know whether the principle on which they have been based is to enfranchise as far as possible the same social strata in each Province; whether, broadly speaking, they are people in the same economic position in each Province? It may not be possible to give a reply in very few words, but I think it would be helpful if we had some idea as to how these qualifications compare with those which obtain in this country.

Then with regard to the qualifications for women who vote in respect of their husbands' qualifications, are we to take it that this group of voters represents the wives of the men who now have the vote under the present franchise? Has that been kept as the basis? In the third place, I fail to see anywhere in the Schedule any provision for removing the obligation that wives should apply for their votes in certain Provinces before the second election. There is such a provision in respect of the educational qualification, but I see no provision for removing the obligation in respect of wives, although the Joint Select Committee said that it ought to be done. My last question is that I should like to know exactly what the Government contemplate in regard to the selection of the woman who is to vote in a house where there are more wives than one. The Schedule is rather vague; it gives no idea as to how that question is to be solved. Has any decision been arrived at in the matter?

10.44 p.m.


The Under-Secretary said that 35,000,000 people are to be given the vote, and that 29,000,000 are men and 6,000,000 women. I want to know the total adult population; how many males there are and how many females; and what is the total population which is to be dealt with under this Schedule? I understand that it covers only a portion of India. These are points upon which we should like information before we continue our discussion to-morrow.

10.45 p.m.


The total gross electorate is 35,000,000 approximately. The total men will be just over 29,000,000, and the total women will be just over 6,000,000. The percentage of the total electorate to the total population is just under 14 per cent., and the percentage of the total electorate to the total adult population is 27 per cent. The percentage of the total male electorate to the total adult male population will be about 43 per cent. The total population of British India is in the neighbourhood of 260,000,000, and these proposals apply, of course, to British India. In order to aid us in our discussion to-morrow let me add that the adult population is about half the total population. The forgetting of that fact often renders statistics rather confusing.


In reckoning the 6,000,000 women voters are the Government allowing for wastage consequent on application? Does the Under-Secretary mean that 6,000,000 women will be qualified to enrol if they apply, or is that an estimate of how many are likely to enrol, allowing for the wastage due to applications?


The position of the women electorate will be, roughly, 2,000,000 qualified by property, 4,000,000 by wifehood and 300,000 by education. The 6,000,000 total takes into consideration the total number that will be on the rolls under these qualifications. We do not envisage that the total will be very much reduced by wastage on application.


The four million wife voters will be entitled to enrol?


Those are the women who are entitled to enrol. But I must safeguard myself by saying that I think it would be wise if we stuck to general figures, because the final electoral rolls have still to be made, and the overlapping and so forth which may arise renders it quite impossible, without misleading the Committee, to give the exact figures. With regard to the hon. Lady's further point, the opportunity for altering the applications provision is under Clause 285, (2) (c), the Clause which deals with Amendment of the Act in future by Order in Council owing to representations. The selection of women to vote in houses is a detailed matter which is governed by the introductory portion of the Schedule and the description given there. It is extremely difficult to arrive at a choice of the particular wife in question. The formula we have laid down, after considerable thought, is what we consider the most suitable way of arriving at a form of words in deciding that invidious matter.

With regard to people in the same economic position, the answer is "Yes." Our proposals are intended to arrive at a level in each Province which will meet approximately the same economic position of the population under the franchise in any particular Province. The hon. Lady asked me to give an instance of the sort of level on which the franchise would be. In Madras it is on the level of any man who pays any form of local government tax, and in a revenue Province it amounts to a few rupees land revenue. It means, to sum it up, in revenue terms, a very small cultivator, a man who definitely pays that revenue and owns a small piece of land, a man therefore with a stake in the soil. It means that the smallest cultivator will really be getting the vote and will have an opportnuity of influencing the election. I think that those were the points raised by the hon. Lady, and I hope that we may now come to a decision.


I understand that the married woman will have the vote. Suppose that a man has more than one wife? Which wife will have the vote?


I do not want to avoid answering any points on this complicated matter. I have not the exact reference here, but in the introduction to the Schedule there is a definite paragraph providing for the question of the wives of the particular voter and the manner in which the particular wife shall be decided. I will give the hon. Member the reference to-morrow.

Ordered, "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again."[Sir G. Bowyer.]

Committee report Progress; to sit again To-morrow.

The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.

Forward to