HC Deb 27 May 1935 vol 302 cc783-801

Order read for resuming Adjourned Debate on Amendment [23rd May] proposed on Consideration of the Bill, as amended:

Which Amendment was, In page 30, line 21, to leave out from "months," to the end of the sub-section, and to insert: Provided that, if and so often as a resolution approving the continuance in force of such a proclamation is passed by both Houses of Parliament, the proclamation shall, unless revoked, continue in force for a further period of six months from the date on which under this sub-section it would otherwise have ceased to operate (4) If at any time the government of the Federation has for a period of three years been carried on under and by virtue of a proclamation issued under this section, then, at the expiration of that period the proclamation shall cease to have effect and the government of the Federation shall be carried on in accordance with the other provisions of this Act, subject to any amendment thereof which Parliament may deem it necessary to make, but nothing in this sub-section shall be construed as extending the power of Parliament to make amendments in this Act without affecting the accession of a State."—[Sir S. Hoare.]

Question again proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Bill.".

3.31 p.m.

Brigadier-General Sir HENRY CROFT

This very important Amendment came before the House at about 10 minutes to 11 o'clock on Thursday night, and I am sure that the Secretary of State would agree that it was not a question which should have been, even for the convenience of the House, disposed of in two or three moments. In fact, it opened up one of the very important parts of the Amendments to the Clauses for our consideration. When the Clause was before the Committee, the representative of the Opposition Front Bench, the hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies) moved an Amendment to secure that Parliament, at intervals of six months, should renew or discontinue the operation of the breakdown machinery in India. Although six months might appear to be a too frequent interval in certain circumstances—indeed, it might be a positive embarrassment to the Governor-General to have such frequent reopenings of the question—yet at the same time all sections of the Committee agreed to the principle that there should be a Parliamentary review from time to time. The Secretary of State stated in col. 460 of the OFFICIAL REPORT: I dislike … any suggestion of turning the Federation into a more or less permanent dictatorship. He therefore agreed to meet the point, and he said that he would see whether Parliament should not continue to review the situation within a certain period."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th March, 1935; col. 460, Vol. 299.] That point has been met in the proviso in the Amendment. None of us can test the principle, although personally I should have preferred to have seen the review once every 12 months. It is when we come to the consideration of Sub-section (4) that I desire to ask the Secretary of State for further elucidation. This Subsection seems completely to conflict not with the decision, because it certainly was not that, but with the suggestion thrown out by the Secretary of State in Committee. He then suggested, it will be remembered, first of all, that British India would resent a permanent dictatorship and that the Federal States would resent seeing their constitution abrogated and the dictatorial powers asked for purposes outside the Federal Government by the Governor-General. We all agreed to that, but, driven by the logic of these facts, the Secretary of State then made the following most important suggestion. He said: 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—1 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. That statement caused a, very great deal of satisfaction to all my friends in this House, and also to the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Colonel Wedgwood), because here we saw a possibility, if this breakdown continued for the period suggested, of escape both for the Princes and the peoples of India from permanent entanglement in this reform scheme. These words, which the Secretary of State then indicated were open for his consideration, mean, if I understand them correctly, that if a breakdown took place the whole experiment would be abandoned.

The SECRETARY of STATE, for INDIA (Sir Samuel Hoare)

If my hon. and gallant Friend will read a little further he will see a fuller explanation, which I gave of these few words.


I will read the next paragraph to the end.


Just before the end of the Debate.


His concluding words were: I will look into this question again from those two points of view. I think can find means of satisfying both of them. This has been the happiest day in Committee.''—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th March, 1935; col. 461, Vol. 299.].


My hon. and gallant Friend will see that I spoke again just at the end of the Debate.


I will come to that in a moment. I had intended specifically to refer to it, because it would not be fair to the right hon. Gentleman not to do so. Some of us have from time to time urged this House to consider the real danger of some such breakdown for which this Clause provides, and we have not been satisfied that the machinery set up in the Bill is adequate to deal with such a situation. I would like to recall the words of the late Lord Birkenhead contemplating a similar situation, for whatever the views of Members of this House may be of principles enunciated by Lord Birkenhead, I think that everybody will agree that he was a realist in politics. He said in his last essay: I am deeply alarmed lest a great lack of experience may not he preparing for us and the Empire a tragedy of inconceivable magnitude. This Clause provides for such a break- down, and, if the new Amendment which is now on the Paper is carried out in the spirit of the first speech of the Secretary of State to which I have referred, I should most certainly be glad to accept it, while protesting that it is a deplorable fact that we have to contemplate even the possibility of a breakdown and asserting that we would very much have preferred to proceed step by Step in the Provinces instead of going right ahead with the Federal solution. I cannot, however, discuss that question because the Government have decided otherwise, and, quite rightly, have provided this breakdown Clause. They did not adopt the original suggestion of the Secretary of State of the 13th March. The right hon. Gentleman intervened later in the Debate to the extent of giving his assent to the remarks of the hon. Member for Doncaster (Mr. Molson), who rose at 7.30 p.m., about 15 minutes after the Secretary of State's first speech, and said: Do I understand that under Ids proposal that a suspension of the Constitution of this Bill, because of a crisis or emergency, is to endure 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."— [OFFICIAL RETORT, 13th March, 1935; col. 467, Vol. 299.]

That means that the right hon. Gentleman assented to the quite contradictory suggestion from the hon. Member for Doncaster. It seems to me that if the Federal Constitution under the Bill comes into operation again as suggested by the hon. Member for Doncaster it clearly does not square with the Secretary of State's first statement that after a period of years, say, three years, the whole Constitution would lapse.

I think I have said enough to show that this matter is a serious one for the consideration of the House, and that I shall be exonerated for having carried the discussion over until to-day, because it is a matter which requires a little further elucidation. Surely, the first thoughts of the Secretary of State were the wiser, before he was lured by the hon. Member for Doncaster into assenting to what I submit would be an absurdity in the Bill. I suggest to the Secretary of State that if this Amendment is to stand as it appears on the Order Paper, it becomes something which is almost unthinkable. It should not go into the Bill, for it is impossible in the circumstances envisaged that after three years breakdown the Federation should be carried on in accordance with the other provisions of the Act as if nothing had happened. The Secretary of State's first suggestions were clearly wise, that the whole Constitution should lapse. If the Constitution has completely broken down, it is impossible that the wreckage of that Constitution should be suddenly brought into operation again. Would not the honest course for the House to adopt be to say that the Constitution will lapse unless Parliament in the meantime has passed amending legislation? That would be understandable.

I should like to ask one or two plain, blunt questions. Do the Government realise that in the Constitution which this Clause purports to provide, the Governor-General and the Governors will in the meantime have been deprived of what the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) described as the steel framework of the Civil Service, that rapid Indianisation will have taken place and instead of gradualness and training of subordinates for superior positions, the very instrument on which the Secretary of State relies will have been blunted if not destroyed. Will he not have to ask the Services which have meanwhile passed under Indian administrators to come out of their new environment into which they have been placed and take control of staffs which owe their appointments and draw their pay from Indian Ministers? Is it surprising that distinguished Civil servants in India fear that they will be called in as a breakdown gang?

When difficulties like these are brought before us sentimentally say, "Why raise these questions? Why not wait and see what happens? Have we not waited for goodwill in Ireland? Let us hope for the best." All that talk and paraphernalia to which we are becoming accustomed is indulged in, but the fact is that this Clause forces us to face up to the possible situation, and I submit that you are asking super-men, the Governor-General and the Governors, to exercise powers which they cannot possibly exercise. I would remind the Secretary of State of an opinion which has been expressed in regard to the powers to be exercised by the Governor-General. Let me remind him of the words of one whom I might describe as old faithful, Mr. Jayaker, who has been faithful like Sir Tej Bahadur Sapru, his late teacher. In trying to persuade his colleagues to support these proposals he said: He deplored the Viceroy's powers as proposed in the later Round Table Conferences, but they did not matter as the Viceroy would have no machinery to give effect to them. That is what I and my friends have been contending, and that is what is going to happen under the breakdown Clause. Let us before it is too late face up to the perils of the situation. Do not let us insist on Sub-section (4), which imagines a vain thing in the paragraph to which I have referred, namely, that the Indian Constitution having completely broken down you will merely ask Parliament to press the button, and produce resolutions of both Houses and that by such a self-starter the machine can work again, that the personal rule of the Governor-General at the end of three years must cease and that the Constitution will automatically re-start whatever the state of the country. That means for the Secretary of State or his successor conflict with your advisers in India. It is playing into the hands of the extremists and the revolutionaries in India who, as the three years draw to a close, will make the task of the Governor-General very difficult if not impossible. If we are going to declare that at the end of three years we shall revert to the status quo and plan accordingly to meet the lapse of the Constitution, well and good; but failing that I suggest that it is unwise to put any fixed date for the termination or revision of the Constitution, for you thereby make that date the date for revolutionary activities. The extremists will take advantage of the time and will make trouble in India. The Clause as it is proposed to amend it by the insertion of the suggested words is a slipshod piece of make-believe, and I earnestly hope that the Secretary of State will be willing to omit the words: be carried on in accordance with the other provisions of this Act and insert the word "lapsed," or something to that effect, in order to carry out his first thoughts on the occasion of the Debate on the 13th March, otherwise we shall be putting something into the Bill which we do not mean and which cannot be carried out.

3.50 p.m.


The point that was raised in the previous Debate on this important issue has in our view been met by the new Clause which the right hon. Gentleman has presented. The possibility of a breakdown in implementing the operation of the Bill when it becomes an Act of Parliament was apprehended first by hon. Members on these benches, but I join issue with the hon. and gallant Member for Bournemouth (Sir H. Croft) on the breakdown problem. He seems to take it for granted that the whole thing will break down—I am not so sure that he would not be rather delighted if it did. Anyway, I take it that whatever may be said in favour or against the Measure it is no use commencing with the fear that there is going to be a breakdown. If, however, you must call in the break-down gang to do repairs consequent upon an accident you do not suspend the whole services of the railway system.


The Clause does suspend the whole constitution.


The Clause says that if the Proclamation is issued it is to be reviewed every six months by both Houses of Parliament, and it can be in force on those lines for three years. The right hon. Gentleman has suggested in the new provisions that the two Houses of Parliament in this country might then amend the Act of Parliament which has broken down. The hon. and gallant Member wants the whole regime gone into if there is a breakdown at all. He wants the Act suspended or its operation in India set aside consequent on the breakdown of a single point in the constitution. I am not so much concerned with the point raised by the hon. and gallant Member. During the War we "played Hamlet"with the constitution of this country which had been in operation for centuries. I was rather surprised to hear the hon. and gallant Member using the word "extremists." He seems to think that everybody who disagrees with him falls into that category. There are many people in India who when they read his speeches will regard him as an extremist. As already stated, the point we raised as to the possible breakdown of the Bill and the consequences of that in India has been met by the Secretary of State, and without being unduly obliged to him he has done very much better than we expected.

3.54 p.m.


The hon. and gallant Member for Bournemouth (Sir H. Croft) has drawn special attention to a question I put to the Secretary of State on the Committee stage with regard to an Amendment moved by the hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies), and rather suggested that my question induced the Secretary of State to change his mind. During the Committee stage there were a number of occasions when I endeavoured to persuade the Secretary of State to change his mind, but I found that once the right hon. Gentleman has made up his mind all the pressure one can bring to bear is ineffective, except when he thinks one is right. The question I put to him on that occasion was only an elaborate paraphrase of what the Secretary of State had himself said in an earlier speech, but because of the misunderstanding, in which I shared, as to what the right hon. Gentleman meant in his opening speech I wanted to be quite clear what the actual meaning was. As I say, the question was only an elaboration of what the right hon. Gentleman had already said, which the hon. and gallant Member will find on column 466: It occurred to me after I had sat down that I had not made it clear. … We should then"— That is in the event of a breakdown— 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."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th March, 1935; col. 466, Vol. 299.] When the Secretary of State spoke on the first occasion it rather seemed as if his intention was that in the event of there being a breakdown of the Constitution there should be a reversion from the whole of the constitutional scheme as contained in the Bill to the present Constitution of India, but in his second speech he made it plain that all he intended was that in the event of a, partial or complete breakdown and the Governor-General exercising dictatorial powers under Clause 45 for a certain period of time, it could not be indefinitely renewed by both Houses of Parliament merely passing a Resolution approving the Proclamation, but that there would have to be a reversion to the general structure set up by the Bill or new legislation. I would point out to the hon. Member for Westhoughton that this proposal does not contemplate merely a general 'and complete breakdown of the whole Federal Constitution, but also provides for a partial breakdown that, as regards some particular subject or some particular authority, the Railway Board or perhaps some particular area, the powers connected with the particular subject may be suspended during the period approved by this Rouse. I only rose in order to point out that as far as I can see there has been no change of intention and that the Amendment on the Order Paper carries out the intention of the Secretary of State. Where you are setting up a Federal Constitution of this kind, it would be entirely in conflict with the whole Constitution if after A breakdown had taken place it was possible by the means of the breakdown, which may have been engineered, for the Government to be secured in a more irresponsible and dictatorial fashion than it has been at any time since the Regulating Act of 1774.

3.59 p.m.

Duchess of ATHOLL

The hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies) pooh-poohed the idea of any serious breakdown in the constitutional machinery of the Bill being possible. A few years ago there were breakdowns in the machinery set up by the Act of 1919 in more than one province. In Bengal and the Central Provinces the Legislatures refused to provide sufficient salaries for Ministers put in charge of departments, and we had in miniature a breakdown of the constitutional machinery. Therefore, it is obvious that something of the kind might happen. The Government think it is possible or they would not provide for this Clause in their Bill. In legislating for such a tremendous subject as the future government of the sub-continent of India, we should try to fashion a ship which will be able to sail the seas in foul as well as fair weather.

It is clear to me that the amended Clause which the Government propose for meeting this contingency is one which is quite out of keeping with the Preamble of the 1919 Act which they are to keep in being in spite of the proposed repeal of the rest of that Act if this Federation comes into being. The whole spirit of that Preamble is to make any further advance towards self-government in India depend on the use which is made by Indians of the powers transferred to them. That seems to me a policy which must commend itself to all people of common sense. The Government evidently must appreciate it, or they would not propose to keep it in existence. Yet the Amendment seems to propose the very reverse, and says in effect, that however terrible the chaos may be in India, however clearly it may be seen that the Indian machinery is incapable of working in existing circumstances, however serious a revolutionary agitation may be, at the end of three years the Federation has got to be set up in full again, unless an amending Act is passed by the Imperial Parliament.

We know only too well the difficulty there is sometimes in getting important Acts passed through Parliament at the time desired. I imagine that no Government in this country would be anxious to embark on amending legislation until towards the end of the three-year period. They would not wish to anticipate that at the end of three years order would not be restored. They would, therefore, put it off until late in the three years, and many mischances might occur—electoral mischances, or pressure of legislation urgently needed at home, or continental complications. Any one of those, or other circumstances, might make it very difficult to pass an amending Act in the time. And let it not be forgotten that legislation of that kind might well be controversial, and if there were legislation needed at home many people might ask why they should take up the time of the Imperial Parliament with affairs which, perhaps, they did not understand, or in which the electors did not feel interested as they did in their own domestic matters. Therefore, there does seem to me a very real danger that it might be difficult to get amending legislation through within the three-year period, and, anyhow, the principle seems to be wrong, because it practically says to possible agitators in India that the chances are that they will have a Federal Government restored, however unsuitable it may prove to be, and, therefore, for that reason they will be encouraged to continue agitation and make it difficult for the Imperial Parliament to pass amending legislation.

I suppose that this Amendment is to be put into the Clause in order to try to meet the views of the Princes, because we understand it is one of the Clauses about which they were particularly anxious. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will tell us if this meets their view. If he cannot tell us that, can he tell us whether all the legal advisers of the Princes agree to the Clause as amended? However anxious one may be to meet the anxiety of the Princes—and I and my hon. Friends, I think, have shown abundantly that we are most anxious to meet their legitimate apprehensions—is it fair to plunge India as a whole possibly into the difficulty of working an unsuitable federal machinery because of apprehensions that have been felt before the machinery has been tried out? Therefore, I feel that it would be much better if the wording suggested by my hon. and gallant Friend were adopted, namely, that the constitution would not be restored unless legislation were passed.

4.6 p.m.

Brigadier-General CLIFTON BROWN

The Amendment says: at the expiration of that period the proclamation shall cease to have effect and the government of the Federation shall be carried on in accordance with the other provisions of this Act. I do not understand to what "the other provisions of this Act "may refer. I understand that this Amendment refers only to the constitution of the Federal government. I imagine that in case of a breakdown in that government, the provincial governments would go on as heretofore. After three years, if the Governor-General found, while the Provincial Governments were functioning, that the Central Government could be carried on in accordance with the other provisions of this Act", what other provisions are there except the Provincial provisions of this Measure, to which I understand this Amendment does not refer? Perhaps my hon. and learned Friend will make it clear that this has nothing to do with Provincial Governments, which would probably go or all the time, and that only the Central Government would have to reorganised. I would like to know what the words I have quoted mean.

4.8 p.m.

The SOLICITOR-GENERAL (Sir Donald Somervell)

I rise with a feeling of optimism, because I hope I may be able to convince my hon. Friends that the apprehensions expressed are largely due to a misreading of the Amendment. The suggestion that my right hon. Friend has shown some inconsistency is also, I think, due to a misreading of the Amendment. Perhaps I may make a reference to the arguments which were put forward, and which were accepted by my right hon. Friend in regard to putting into the Bill a three years' limit. This Clause is called familiarly "the breakdown Clause," and I think it is right that the vast sub-continent of India should not be governed for an indefinite period under a breakdown Clause, that is, under a Clause which is used for emergency purposes. The effect of the three years' provision is, of course, that if you want to continue some form of government other than the government in this Bill apart from this Clause, then Parliament must legislate. My hon. and gallant Friend read out that part of the Amendment which says that at the end of three years the government of the Federation shall be carried on in accordance with the other provisions of this Act. He did not, however, read the following words: subject to any amendment thereof which Parliament may deem it necessary to make. Those words are very important, and, obviously, in the case which the hon. and gallant Gentleman has envisaged of the same conditions continuing in India which made it necessary to bring the emergency Clause into operation, it would be the bounden duty of Parliament to see, that although the Clause could not be used beyond three years, Amendments were made to the Bill to enable the proper government to continue. I think my hon. and gallant Friend will see that, as a matter of mere drafting, it is necessary that the Clause should take this form. He suggested that we might insert the word "lapse". Did he mean by "lapse" that the Governor-General's powers under Clause 45 were to continue? If he meant that, it is in direct contradiction to the three years' limitation which, on the whole, I think, is generally accepted by the House.


The only reason I suggested it—I do not understand the legal phraseology—was that I had in mind what the Secretary of State said when he asked: Whether it is wisest to say that after a period of years, say three years … the constitution should lapse."—[OFFICIAL, REPORT, 13th March, 1935; col. 461, Vol. 299.].


The draftsman has to put in proper legal form the intention as expressed by my right hon. Friend. It is generally admitted that there must be some limitation of time. That is the basis on which we proceed. What will then be the position? The draftsman has got to provide for Parliament not passing an amending Act. If after three years the power of the Governor-General is to come to an end, the draftsman must say what will happen should Parliament, in fact, not legislate. Therefore, the words must be in the Clause that the other statutory provisions shall come in unless Parliament has taken them off the Statute Book and put something in their place. If you are drafting a Clause to remove powers under Clause 45, there must be some words to meet the contingency, no other amending legislation having been passed by Parliament. I can assure my hon. and gallant Friend that there is nothing in the drafting of this Clause which goes back upon, or is inconsistent with, the statement my right hon. Friend made the other day. It is quite obvious that if the conditions should arise—we hope they will not—which make it necessary to fall back on these emergency powers, to continue in force during the whole of the three years, then all that this Amendment effects is that that situation must be met by a Bill which will take any form Parliament may think proper, and cannot be continued by a succession of proclamations.

The Noble Lady, who I am glad to see addressing the House from the same seat, suggested that under this Clause the Constitution would automatically start again at the end of three years. That is really a complete travesty of the effect of an Amendment of this kind. We must, of course, assume that Parliament will do its duty. It is quite incorrect to suggest that the idea of this Amendment is, whatever the position of India may be at the end of the three years, automatically to revert to the old position. In reply to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Newbury (Brigadier-General Brown), it is quite right to say that this proposal does not affect the Provincial part of the Bill. The "other provisions" are the Federal provisions. Now a few words in reply to the question asked by the Noble Lady as to the States. This is a matter on which the States made representations, and very proper representations. They said, "You are asking us to join a Federation in which we have a measure of control through the responsibility at the centre. We do not in the least complain of there being an emergency clause of this kind, but it would not be right that the Federation should be governed under emergency powers by the Governor-General year after year and that we should still be held to our instrument of accession." That is a perfectly fair and proper point. Therefore, if these emergency powers have to be used beyond the three years period one of two things must happen Either conditions are such that Parliament decides that it need not legislate and it is possible to go back to the Bill; or Parliament will decide that it cannot go back to the Federation as it is at present in the Bill.

This Amendment would safeguard the rights of the States in exactly the same way as they are safeguarded in Schedule 2, namely, if in the Amendment which Parliament makes it alters the protective Clauses which affect the States, then their instruments of accession are voided. They need not go out automatically, but they have a right to say, "This is a different Federation." Negotiations will take place, but in the last resort they have the right to say, "In spite of your negotiations this is not the Federation which we joined, and therefore our accession is no longer a valid instrument." The Noble Lady asked my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State whether we had reason to believe that this Amendment met the views of the Princes. We have every reason to believe that it does meet the representations which they made and the views which they put forward. That must not be taken to mean that each individual Prince has said, "This is acceptable to me and I give my final view upon it." That is not the way in which these negotiations are dealt with. But we have every reason to believe that the provisions of this Amendment meet the point put forward and will be regarded as acceptable by the States and their advisers.

4.20 p.m.


I think that my learned Friend the Solicitor-General has met very fairly the arguments that were addressed to him by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Bournemouth (Sir H. Croft) and by the Noble Lady the Member for Perth and Kinross (Duchess of Atholl). As far as the position of the Princes is concerned, I think that they were entitled to a protection which was not provided in the original Bill and which is provided here, namely, that they should not find themselves voluntarily acceding to Federation on one ground and then be bound to remain in a Federation completely different. I think that their position is saved. The more I think about this matter the more anxious I get. My real interest scarcely lies within the wording of the Amendment, which contemplates a period of difficulty and tension that requires a temporary suspension of the Constitution. If we name so short a period as six months for that, do we give any real chance of the situation altering sufficiently for us to be able to revert to normal at the end of that period? I do not think I ought to say a word more, because I am very much afraid of what Mr. Speaker may say in another moment if I do; but I beg my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, in spite of all the arguments we had in the Joint Select Committee on this subject, to consider whether the six months' period is adequate to give a chance to this Clause to restore the situation, and whether the appeal to Parliament would not be, better made after 12 months than after six months.

4.22 p.m.


There seems to be a complete gap in this Clause. A breakdown occurs, a proclamation is issued, it runs for six-monthly periods, and then Sub-section (4) begins to operate. What does Sub-section (4) do? Either we can go back to the full scheme o f Federation, that is to say, partial responsibility at the centre, or we carry on under a scheme which Parliament then shall make. At what stage is Parliament going to pass the Amendment? How long is it going to take to pass a Bill amending an Act when dealing with a state of emergency? Such a Bill is bound to give rise to the acutest controversy in this country. There will be those who will say, "You are not trusting the Indians," and those who will say, "You trust the Indians too much." Obviously a Bill of that kind, proposing drastic Amendments, would occupy the greater part of a Parliamentary Session, from the date when the Government make up their minds and announce the Bill to the date when the Bill receives the Royal Assent. In other words, if the Government contemplate a three years period they are going to start legislating at the end of two years and three months. There seems to be very grave risks. When Parliament is on the edge of legislating there will be people who will come forward and say, "Do not do it now. The situation is getting better and if you only hold your hands things will be all right in three or four months. "Then we come to a period so close to the expiration of the three years that the opportunity for effective legislation by Parliament is gone, and time is the essence of a contract.

Ou the other hand, this Amendment or the Clause could have a further subsection added to the effect that in the event of the three years period having elapsed, and in the event of Parliament not having had an opportunity to make such amendments as Parliament may desire, there shall come into operation Part 13 of the Act, that is the transitional provisions. They would need some amendment. Take Clause 304. What does it provide? It provides, broadly speaking, that the administration in India is to he carried on during the transitional period as it is carried on to-day, that is autocracy, subject to the modifications which arise from the fact that there is a Legislative Assembly. It is true that the Executive is responsible to that Assembly, but nevertheless that Assembly must of necessity by its actions and debates and power pass laws and refuse to pass laws. The existing Legislative Assembly must act to some extent as part of the administration. Therefore if you provide what I will call the principle of Clause 304, and if it is to operate at the end of the three years period during such time as Parliament may need to pass the further legislation that may be necessary, it seems to me that you provide a watertight scheme; but as this Amendment stands, you may suddenly find yourself at the end of three years with complete chaos existing in India, and with no power to do anything except to hand back administration to the people who have created the chaos.

I, see that the Secretary of State shakes his head. Let us assume the worst kind of folly, and that for some reason the situation is allowed to drift until the three years are up. Parliament has not legislated because people have said, "Don't do it now and the situation will improve." The three years run out, the power to make proclamations has come to an end, and quite clearly Part 2 of the Act has then to come into operation. It seems to me quite evident that this Amendment is incomplete for the reasons I have given, and also incomplete for the reason indicated by my right hon. Friend the Member for West Birmingham (Sir A. Chamberlain).

4.27 p.m.

Duchess of ATHOLL

My hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General said he had every reason to believe that the Clause as it is proposed to be amended would meet the views of the Princes, but he did not say specifically whether the Princes' legal advisers had agreed to recommend it. I would ask whether all the counsel briefed by the Princes have agreed to it.


What I said was a perfectly fair answer to the Noble Lady's question. I do not think it is proper to go into the negotiations between the Princes' legal advisers and ourselves.

4.28 p.m.


I wish very respectfully to say that all the way through this particular Debate I have had very grave doubts as to the advisability of the period of six months, and very great weight has been added to my doubt by what has been said by my right hon. Friend the Member for West Birmingham (Sir A. Chamberlain). Before the Bill goes to another place would it not be possible for the Government to go into the matter again? It seems perfectly clear that if we have this six months period, and the Constitution goes on for three years, and then there is a reversion to the original Constitution, under the original Constitution the Governor-General again has the power to make these proclamations. That is as I understand the Bill. It seems only reasonable to ask whether that is the solution of the problem which is in the Government's mind, and whether there is not a definite period at the end of the three years when the Governor-General can again exercise this power. The House has a right to be informed on these points. If you are going back to the Constitution, then within the Constitution itself there are powers and, as far as we can understand this Amendment, it will be possible to use those powers straight away.


I only rise to ask whether the Secretary of State has any observations to make on the question put to him by my right hon. Friend the Member for West Birmingham (Sir A. Chamberlain) about the six months period.

4.31 p.m.


I can only speak again by leave of the House, but with the permission of the House I accede to my right hon. Friend's suggestion. I do not regard the question of the period of time as a question of principle at all. At the same time, I hesitate to substitute here and now one period for another. Hitherto, in the many discussions that we have had during recent years on these matters we have always assumed that the period should be six months. Six months is the period in the other Clauses of the Bill connected with the ordinances. India is used to the period of six months. Moreover, the representatives of the Princes, with whom we have more than once discussed this Clause, have always assumed that the period would be six months. Therefore, before any change could be made it would be necessary to consult the various interested parties. More than that I could not say to-day. I repeat, that I myself do not regard it as a matter of principle whether the period is six months or 12 months. I do not think I need go further into the questions which have been raised. Let me answer in a single sentence the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. Williams). If there is to be an amending Bill it will not be a Bill of 470 Clauses like the present Measure. It would be perfectly easy to bring in a one Clause Bill and pass it through all its stages, if necessary, in a single day. I think therefore the anxieties which he has expressed are groundless.


May I have an answer to my question?

Amendment agreed to.