HC Deb 21 May 1935 vol 302 cc1043-51

I beg to move, in page 172, line 32, to leave out "land belonging to private persons," and to insert: any land or any commercial or industrial undertaking or any interest in, or in any company owning, any commercial or industrial undertaking.? There are four Amendments to this Clause in the name of the Secretary of State. The first Amendment which I now move is a substantial one. It is designed to make the Clause apply, not only to land which belongs to private persons but to Any land or any company or commercial or industrial undertaking. The Amendment to that extent enlarges the scope of the Clause. A second Amendment deals with the question of compensation. The Clause provides that no land, orundertaking—as it will be if the first Amendment isaccepted—is to be taken for the purposes of the State unless the Paw provides for the payment of compensation for the property acquired. I think it was remarked during the Committee stage that the compensation might be of a derisory character. It might be the smallest coin known to the Realm. The Amendment now proposed will re quire that the law should either fix the amount of the compensation or fix the principles upon which it is to be Assessed by some arbitrator or tribunal. In either case it will result in notice being given to the person or company whose property is to be taken and will enable the Governor-General to form an opinion as to the nature of the legislation for the purposes of the discharge by him of his duty in connection with the power of withholding his assent. The other two Amendments are consequential upon the first Amendment which I now move.

8.21 p.m.


I wish to thank the Attorney-General and the Government for the very full way in which they have met the point raised during the Committee stage. No doubt there will also be the amendment in the Instrument of Instructions to which my right hon. Friend referred during the Committee stage.

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendments made: In page 172, line 34, At the end, insert: and either fixes the amount of the compensation, or specifies the principles on which, and the manner in which, it is to be determined.?

In line 37, leave out "the rights of private persons," and insert "rights."—[The Attorney-General.]

8.23 p.m.


I beg to move, in page 173, line 4, at the end, to insert:

Provided that in the case of a Bill or amendment making provision for the extinguishment or modification of the rights of zamindars and others who are the successors in interest of those in whose favour the permanent settlement of Bengal, Bihar, and Orissa and parts of the United Provinces and Madras was made at the end of the eighteenth century, the previous sanction of the Governor-General or the Governor shall not be required, but the Bill or amendment, before enactment, shall be reserved by the Governor-General or the Governor, as the case may he, for the signification of His Majesty's pleasure.? This Amendment deals with what is known as the permanent settlement and is intended to bring the proposals of the Bill as I understand them, into line with the recommendations of the Joint Select Committee. As I have said before it would be impossible for the House to go into the long and complicated history of the permanent settlement. I believe that many books have been written on the subject and that when the settlement was first brought in, it aroused a great controversy. To put the matter quite simply, I think I am right in saying that at the end of the 18th century there existed in these Provinces of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa, and parts of Madras and the United Provinces, a certain number of people who were hereditary rent collectors. They were known as zamindars. Under the administration of Lord Corn wall is a permanent settlement was made by which these rent collectors became the actual owners of the land. It was agreed that they should pay, in perpetuity, a certain fixed sum towards the Indian revenue and the sum was fixed upon the value of the land at that time. Since then in many cases the land has immensely increased in value owing to urbanisation, but the same fixed sum is still paid—a sum fixed upon figures determined in 1780. The Joint Select Committee recognised that the case of these zamindars differed from other cases, such as that of the taluqdars of Oudh of various vested interests which are held by various individuals or classes of individuals, owing to grants made by the British Government for services rendered. They say in paragraph 371, in regard to those people: We recommend, however, that the Constitution Act should contain an appropriate provision requiring the prior consent of the Governor-General or the Governor, as the case maybe, to any proposal, legislative or executive, which would alter or prejudice the rights of the possessor of any privilege of the kind to which we have referred.? When they come to the question of the permanent settlement of the zamindars, they take another view. If the House will pardon me, I will read what they say: We have considered whether similar provision should be made to protect the rights of the zamindars and others. They go on to say, as I have said, what the zamindarsare. Then they say: It is apparent that the position of zamindars under the permanent settlement is very different from that of the individual holders of grants or privileges of the kind we have just described; for, while the privileges of the latter might, but for a protection such as we suggest, be swept away by a stroke of the pen with little or no injury to any but the holder of the vested interest himself, the alteration of the character of the land revenue settlement in Bengal, for instance, would involve directly or in directly the interests of vast numbers of the population, in addition to those of the comparatively small number of zamindars pro per, and might indeed produce an economic revolution of a most far-reaching character. Consequently, no Ministry or Legislature in Bengal could, in fact, embark upon, or at all events carry to a conclusion, legislative proposals which would have such results, unless they had behind them an overwhelming volume of public support. We do not dispute the fact that the declarations as to the permanence of the settlement, contained in the Regulations under which it was enacted, could not have been departed from by the British Government so long as that Government was ineffective control of land revenue. But we could not regard this fact as involving the conclusion that it must be placed beyond the legal competence of an Indian Ministry responsible to an Indian Legislature, which is to be charged inter aliawith the duty of regulating the land revenue system of the Province, to alter the enactments embodying the permanent settlement, which enactments, despite the promises of permanence which they contain, are legally subject (like any other Indian enactment) to repeal or alteration. Nevertheless, we feel that the permanent settlement is not a matter for which, as the result of the introduction of Provincial Autonomy, His Majesty's Government can properly disclaim all responsibility. We recommend therefore that the Governor should be instructed to reserve for the signification of His Majesty's pleasure any Bill passed by the Legislature which would alter the character of the permanent settlement.? I apologise for that long extract, but it is important because it illustrates the position I take up. The Committee made a distinction between permanent settlements and the others. They say that there must be a previous sanction required in the one case but, in the case of the permanent settlements, they apparently say that all that is necessary is that the Bill should be preserved when passed for the significance of His Majesty?s pleasure. My Amendment is to carry out that particular view of the Joint Select Committee, and because of that fact I hope that the Government will accept the Amendment

8.39 p.m.


I beg to second the Amendment

The question which has been raised by the hon. Member for Broxtowe (Mr. Cocks) would have a very far-reaching effect. I rise to second on condition that the hon. Member will accept a manuscript Amendment to insert the words "The United Provinces, Assam and Madras." Although he is not aware of it, parts of Assam are already permanently settled. I have heard the permanent settlements discussed by Indians at various times. It is, I think, generally recognised that if Indians are to have the right of governing themselves, and if the Provinces are to decide upon their own land revenue, one of the first cases that will come up will be this question of the permanent settlements in those Provinces. Rent has multiplied 20, 30, 40, 50 or perhaps 100 times what it was when the land was originally permanently settled. You find land which is not permanently settled beside land which is permanently settled, and the former is paying a far greater land revenue to the Government than the latter. The Amendment would make a far-reaching revolution in this respect, and would affect a great number of people, but, if you are not to make self-government a mockery, these people should be given the right—and this is one of the first rights that they should have—of deter mining their own revenue.

8.31 p.m.


The hon. Member for Broxstowe (Mr. Cocks) has read almost the entire observations of the Joint Select Committee on the subject of the Permanent Settlements. He has chosen words which signify the immense importance of the settlements and illustrate the magnitude of some of the questions which will fall to be decided in the future, and which will probably arise for discussion after the coming into operation of this Bill. We have no intention of departing from the recommendation of the Joint Select Committee in this matter. The Joint Select Committee recommended what the hon. Member for Broxstowe has read out, and we have no intention of departing from that.

The hon. Member's decision to move the Amendment can have done nothing but good in illustrating how we have attempted to implement the recommendations of the Joint Select Committee. He desires his Amendment to be inserted in the Bill. We consider, on the other hand, that the matter would be much better met in the Instrument of Instructions. Accordingly, in the Instrument of Instructions to the Governor-General and in the Instrument of Instructions to Governors, we have definitely included reference to the Permanent Settlements. To take, for in stance, only the Instructions to the Governors, we say in paragraph XVIII of the Instrument of Instructions to Governors: Our Governor shall not assent in Our name to, but shall reserve for the consideration of Our Governor-General, any Bill of any of the classes herein specified, that is to say: (c) any Bill which would alter the character of the Permanent Settlement.? It is intended by that to reserve for His Majesty?s consent any Bill which alters the character of the permanent Settlements. We consider that this is the best manner of meeting the recommendation of the Joint Select Committee and the desire which the hon. Member for Broxstowe has in mind. I said that the hon. Member was justified in moving the Amendment. I think he is justified for this reason. In referring to the terms of Clause 294 (3), he may have been concerned about the question of previous sanction. If necessary, we should have to look into the question of amplifying, in that respect, the Instrument of Instructions, to ensure that the previous sanction required under the Clause shall never be withheld in such case. If I inform the hon. Member that we have this point in mind, I hope he will not insist on pressing the Amendment. Let me assure him that the Government have no intention of departing from the recommendation of the Joint Select Committee.

8.45 p.m.


I am very glad to hear what the Under-Secretary of State has said. I am disposed to agree with the view which he put forward, namely, that the Instrument of Instructions is the best place to deal with this matter. I feel, however, that Members of the House might like to hear a little more about the nature of the permanent settlement than appeared from the hon. Member's speech. The permanent settlement was, no doubt, a great political act, but it did not produce the anticipated results, because of the previous exactions of the earlier native rulers and because there was no one but the East India Company to administer it, and therefore it was administered largely by the old agencies which then existed in the country. It so happens, however, that I was able to see a very admirable note, which I do not believe has ever been published, the work of the late Lord MacDonnell, who at that time had been acting as Lieutenant-Governor of Bengal. That note showed, first of all, that the permanent settlement was fixed at 90 per cent. of the then rent, 10 per cent. being left to the zamindars for their trouble and expense in connection with it. At that time there were no railways, steam launches, or other means of locomotion, but of course these developed a great deal more quickly than any body at that time could possibly have anticipated.

At the same time, it has always been the feeling that the word of the British Government had been given for good and all about the permanent settlement. It is not as though only large proprietors hold the land and enjoy the benefits of the permanent settlement; large parts of the permanently settled land are held by quite small proprietors, all of whom have bought and paid for their land, and their possession of the land has continued up to the present time on the faith that, whatever else might happen, the land revenue settlement would never be disturbed. Consequently, anyone who wanted to alter it would have to take into consideration the fact that they were not merely recovering wealth that had been lavished upon the previous owners, namely, the original zamindars, although there are still some big zamindars among them, but would be depriving a large number of small people who bought the land on the faith of the permancy of the settlement, which has been so often declared by the British Government.

I think it is extremely wise to say that, before any step is ever taken to alter the permanent settlement, there shall be the utmost precaution and examination, because, if the word of the British Government is not acknowledged or is definitely broken, even in circumstances which justify some modification, it would yet seem to Indians—not only those who benefit by the permanent settlement, but all Indians all overIndia—to be a great breach of faith and of promises made by authorities whom they have always thought would never be found to alter their word once it was given. Further, all the land settlements which have been made in India, whether for 30 years or whatever the period may be, are still out side the jurisdiction of the courts, and people throughout the length and breadth of India depend upon the good faith of the Government that any terms of settlement, whether permanent or otherwise, will be faithfully kept both in the spirit and in the letter. Therefore, I think that the method adopted by the Government is the best method for dealing with this very thorny and difficult question

8.41 p.m.


I do not want to follow the hon. Member into his very interesting and learned account of this difficult question, but, while he has rightly stressed the fact that we gave our word, we are now proposing to hand over their destinies in Bengal to the people of Bengal, and I feel sure that it would be a most happy thing if we could get rid of this responsibility, because I do not think that anything will ever be done in Bengal until there is a revolution in the land system. The Indian people will have to carry that out themselves. When they will do so I do not know, but what we want is that we should not be in the position of upholding the continuance of the system when the people of Bengal or any other part of India want to get rid of it. I think the Under-Secretary has met very fairly the point that has been put forward, and in view of what he has said with regard to the Instrument of Instructions, I hope that my hon. Friend will withdraw his Amendment

8.42 p.m.


In view of the assurance of the Under-Secretary, for which I am very grateful, that he intends to look into this matter, and will put such words in the Instrument of Instructions or elsewhere as will make it certain that, in the case of the permanent settlement, the King's sanction will never be withheld, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment made: In page 173, line 9, at the end, insert: and 'undertaking' includes part of an undertaking."—[Sir S. Hoare.]