HC Deb 30 March 1936 vol 310 cc1639-51

3.40 p.m.


I beg to move: That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty, in pursuance of the provisions of Section 309 of the Government of India Act, 1935, praying that the Government of India (Provincial Legislative Assemblies) Order, 1936, be made in the form of the draft laid before Parliament, subject, however, to the following amendments:— In paragraph 2 of Part I, after line 28, on page 2, insert,— '"member" in relation to a constituent body for a commerce and industry, mining or planting constituency, does not include an associate member.' In paragraph 6 of Part II, in line 31, on page 8, after 'is,' insert 'an Indian Christian.' In paragraph 9 of Part IX, after line 29, on page 60, insert,— '(6) Paragraph 9a of Part IX of the Sixth Schedule to the Act shall apply in relation to the Shillong constituency as it applies in relation to territorial constituencies.' In paragraph 14 of Part XI, in line 14, on page 69, leave out road and public works,' and insert local, 'land or village.' I think it would probably be convenient if we were to take on this first Motion a general discussion embracing all these Orders. Most of the points of interest are raised on this first Motion and are repeated either in the Provincial Legislative Councils Order or in the Orders relating to Burma. These Orders in Council represent a further series of steps in the steady progress which is being made with those arrangements which are necessary under the Government of India Act. They mark a stage in the steady progress which is being made towards the establishment of the new Constitution in the Provinces of India. As such, I think they will be welcomed by the House. The magnitude of the task involved cannot be exaggerated. Hon. Members looking at this massive set of documents, may well marvel at the expedition with which this machinery of representation has been perfected by those responsible.

There is some urgency that the House should give its approval to these Orders, since, after Parliamentary approval has been given, it will be possible to make the administrative arrangements necessary in order to set up the electoral machinery which will bring into being, in due course, after the Elections the new legislatures in the Indian Provinces. It is essential that such administrative arrangements as the making of the electoral rolls should lie undertaken in the course of this summer, if the elections are to be held, as we hope, next cold weather. If Sir Otto Neimeyer's report on the financial conditions of the Provinces is not unfavourable and if the House approves an Order which the Government, in due coarse, hope to lay on the subject, setting up the new Provinces, the new legislatures will be able to start their wok and provincial autonomy will be able, to begin next Spring, which is the time, I referred to when introducing the previous Orders the other day.

The handling of masses of detail has become almost second nature to all those officers who have to deal with this complicated problem and it will be appropriate if I pay a tribute on behalf of my noble friend to the very remarkable work of the Delimitation Committee in preparing this material. Sir Laurie Hammond left this country in September last and was joined in India by his two Indian colleagues, one a judge of the High Court of Madras and the other a judge of the High Court of Lahore. They toured India and covered nearly 10,000 miles and in the short period of just over three months produced a very interesting, very detailed, vary efficient and, what is, perhaps, most important, a very human set of blue boot s on this interesting subject. Hon. Members no doubt regard themselves as experts on electoral matters. I think we all regard ourselves as experts on such questions, at any rate in our own constituencies, and, as experts, I think we ought to appreciate the human, quasi-judicial explanation of the many problems involved in t his subject which is to be found in the Hammond Report. I stress the fact that the inquiry was quasi-judicial, in that the committee included two judges of the High Court.

In order to make those Orders a little more easily comprehensible my Noble Friend has issued an explanatory memorandum in which hon. Members may have been able to read a description of the Orders themselves and also the particular points on which the Government differ from the report of the Hammond Committee. Actually those points are not very considerable. They are set out in such detail and so clearly in this memorandum that it will not be necessary, I think, for me to deal with them at great length. I shall, however, try to make clear the chief points in these Orders, as I see them, and, of course, if any points are raised by hon. Members in the subsequent Debate I shall be only too glad to answer them. It seems to fall to my lot to have to try to explain, as shortly as I can and I hope as clearly as possible, rather complicated pieces of machinery such as this machinery of representation with which we are now dealing.

I think the House would be wise to accept, some of the detail at any rate, from the Committee, having regard to its quasi-judicial character, but I shall touch upon the main points. I propose to consider, first, the territorial constituencies and the problems raised by them and afterwards the special constituencies in which special interests are to be represented. All the constituencies follow the Table which the House approved in the Fifth Schedule to the Government of India Act and which is sometimes known as the communal award. The task of the Committee was to set out the limits of those territorial constituencies geographically, according to the communities and according to the Table already approved by the House. The territorial constituencies therefore are on a communal basis. A certain number of them are to be classed as general constituencies. These are, for the most part, single-member constituencies though, in some, seats are reserved for representatives of the scheduled castes, according to the scheme laid down in the Poona Pact negotiated between the scheduled castes and the caste Hindus. There are a few, especially in Bombay, where the general opinion is in favour of multimember constituencies, in which seats are reserved for representatives of such races as the Mahrattas who have the privilege of having reserved seats for some areas.

One of these Orders sets out a list of the castes which are to be regarded as "scheduled," according to local conditions in the particular Provinces named. If I refer to that particular Order now it will enable me to touch upon that subject. The Government of India (Scheduled Castes) Order of 1936 sets out, in its schedules the different castes which, for the purposes of reserved seats in the general constituencies, are to be regarded, according to local conditions, as scheduled castes. If hon. Members want to pursue the definition of "scheduled caste" more closely they will find the most authoritative work upon the subject, at any rate in a short compass, to be the chapter dealing with scheduled castes in the original Franchise Committees report. It gives some idea as to how these castes were chosen as being scheduled.

The second type of territorial constituencies, apart from the general constituencies, are the Mohammedan constituencies, which are fixed according to the Table of the communal award in the original Act. The third type are the Sikh constituencies, which are to be found in the Punjab and North-West Frontier provinces, Then there are seats fur Europeans, Anglo-Indians and Indian Christians included in nearly every province. The territorial seats then are on a communal basis and divided out among these various communities. The size of these constituencies may be of some interest to hon. Members, and I think the best way of arriving at a realisation of the size is to turn to volume II of the Hammond report and. study the tables at the very beginning of the report, which set out the average area, population and voting strength per constituency and, on the back of the tables, per territorial seat in the new Houses in the provinces. That sets out clearly the size and the population and the number of electors likely to be found in each seat. To sum up the results of that table for the benefit of the House, it is true to say that the new seats, thanks to the size of the House having been increased, in each case will be approximately half the size of the seats in the old Chamber, and therefore to that extent the difficulties which candidates have experienced in getting into touch with the electors will be reduced by one-half.

Now let me turn to some of the difficult decisions which the Committee had to make in deciding upon these territorial constituencies. They had to decide, first, upon the complex question of urban versus rural, which has been referred to in one of the early chapters of the Hammond report. They had to decide which -constituencies should be urban and which rural, and they had—a very important matter for India—to see that the weightage received by the towns was not too great in comparison with the countryside, which is, after all, the largest feature of India's problem. I think part of the common sense methods adopted by the Hammond Committee is found when they try to define a town. After going through various technical descriptions, they come down on this common sense one: "When is a town not a town When it is so declared by the local government, with the support of popular opinion." It seems to me a thoroughly common sense description of an otherwise very technically difficult subject, and in alluding to this definition I think it sums up the sort of common sense with which hon. Members ought to approach these Orders.

Provincial and local idiosyncrasies have been followed wherever possible. That was the principle which animated those of us who served on the Franchise Committee, because it is hardly necessary to remind the House that these Provinces of India have their own local characteristics and that each one of them is as large as a European country. The upshot of their decisions about urban versus rural is that India, in the villages, which I believe Parliament has always wished should not be dominated by the urban element, will find a proportion of its seats slightly in-creased from what they were previously in the ratio of urban versus rural; that is, the proportion of urban seats will be reduced from what they were before by a small percentage.

The second problem to which the Committee applied their minds was whether these constituencies should be single-or multi-member. I am summing up some of their problems so as to try to make these Orders a little clearer. The Committee decided that the general rule should be for single-member constituencies, except in the general seats to which I have referred, in which one seat has to be reserved for members of the scheduled castes, and in a few other cases, notably in the Presidency of Bombay, where the general rule is to be a multi- member constituency. I will allude to that in a minute.

The Government have shown in their explanatory memorandum that the Committee originally decided in favour of multi-member seats in Madras. The Committee thought at first that it would be easier to secure the election of representatives of some of the sub-castes into which the Hindu community is so very much divided were there to be multimember constituencies, but the Government, on considering this matter, after taking into account public opinion as expressed in a debate in the Council recently in Madras, have come to the conclusion that it would be wiser to adhere to the single-member system, because, after all, there are sub-divisions of the Hindu community in other Provinces and other parts of India as well as in Madras. A single-member constituency is more simple, and in view of the massive nature of this electoral machinery it is surely wise to go for simplicity where we can.

In the case of Bombay, however, there is a, different problem. There it is races that desire representation, and not simply sub-castes of the Hindu community. For some years Bombay has had a multi-member system, and it has been thought wiser to continue a multimember system, particularly with regard to the racial sub-divisions, in particular the Mahrattas and the Parsees. Therefore, in view of past history and of these particular races in Bombay, there are to be multi-member constituencies in Bombay. The general rule is for single-member constituencies, except in Bombay and in one or two isolated cases where geography demanded, as it has appeared to demand in this country one or two double-member constituencies, that the system of double-member constituencies should prevail. Therefore, the decision upon the question of single-versus multi-member is for simplicity and in favour of single.

What is decided about the method of voting? What sort of vote shall be used in these constituencies? Some critics of this plan have thoughts that it is likely to be very complicated, but I would again point out here that we do not wish to throw any sop to those higher mathematicians who take a great interest in the intricacies of the different kinds of votes. Our wish is to try to adhere to simplicity, and therefore the simple rule has been followed that in single-member constituencies the single vote shall be used. In double- or multi-member constituencies the decision is in favour of the cumulative vote. The cumulative vote sounds very mysterious, but it comes to this, that an elector shall have as many votes as there are seats, and he shall give his votes either in one bunch for one candidate or spread them about, as many votes as he has, among several candidates. The reason we have chosen this cumulative system in multimember constituencies is that, following the advice of the Franchise Committee, we believe it will broaden the choice of the elector and will tend to break down those boundaries of caste and creed which are the basis of all India's difficulties.

Another reason why in multi-member constituencies, of which the House will have seen there are very few, we have chosen this system is because it seems to fulfil the spirit underlying the Poona Pact. The Hammond Committee have written some words of great wisdom about the Poona Pact which are imbued with the same common sense which has led them to come to their other decisions. They say the basis of the Poona Pact, in which one seat is reserved in general constituencies for scheduled castes, is mutuality, that is, that it is possible in the election for scheduled caste voters to vote for a caste Hindu and for a caste Hindu to vote for a scheduled caste candidate in mutuality. It is only in such things that the spirit of the Poona Pact, which was intended to preserve the scheduled castes within the Hindu fold, will be preserved.

The House will remember that in the Poona Pact there is, first, a primary election to elect a panel of the scheduled caste candidates. From this panel four scheduled caste candidates are chosen, again by the simple single vote. Once the scheduled caste panels are elected through the primary election, they then vote with the caste Hindus for the two seats in the general constituency, of which one is reserved for a scheduled caste candidate. The use of the cumulative vote encourages this principle of mutuality. The House will notice that opportunity has been taken in this Legislative Assembly Order to remedy the franchise proposed for the scheduled castes. When some provincial electoral rolls were being worked out it was found that the scheduled caste electors did not in every case come to 10 per cent., as had been originally suggested, and so the opportunity has been taken to alter their franchise, to give an opportunity to lower it, to give an opportunity for more scheduled caste electors to cast their votes. The last reason in favour of the cumulative vote is that this method has been successfully used in Bombay, where there have been multimember constituencies.

So much for the territorial constituencies, with which these Orders are chiefly concerned. There are also many special constituencies provided for by the orginal Act, so that this electoral system in India is not, as some would suppose, merely a copy of Victorian practice, but combines the territorial and the functional system in a nicely balanced communal framework, and therefore, from the point of view of India, is a thoroughly up-to-date and suitable system. There are special seats reserved for women, commerce, labour, land-holders and universities. The electorate for these seats is included in these Orders in Council and was left by the Act for these Orders to deal with.

The women's seats are to be for the most part in urban areas, because it is found more suitable for women to canvass for votes in urban areas in the present state of social development in India. For the Mohammedan seats in four provinces the women will canvass women alone, because of the social conditions in that community, but for the general seats the women will seek the suffrage of men and women. In passing let me say to those enthusiasts for an increase in the influence that women will be able to exert in these matters in India, that we have found it possible to include a provision abandoning the application requirement for women with a wifehood qualification in Madras. To that extent the number of women in Madras will be increased. The application requirement was abandoned in a good many other provinces when we discussed the Bill, and I am glad to be able to announce that the application requirement has now been abandoned also in Madras.

Then as to the labour seats, if Labour does not succeed in electing its own members in the general constituencies, which owing to the franchise will be possible in one or two wards of Bombay, there are to be two special methods by which Labour will elect functional representatives—first, the labour constituency as it is called; and, second, the trade union seat. The roll of electors in the labour constituencies will be made up by the pay-rolls of certain factories in certain areas, which are set out in the Schedules of the different provinces in this Order. All those workers working in those factories and included on those pay-rolls will be included as electors of the Labour seats. Perhaps hon. Members opposite will be interested to notice that we have abandoned the minimum wage qualification in these labour constituencies. We think that if there are to be labour constituencies every opportunity should be given to those who fulfil the other conditions laid down in the Orders.

The trade union seats will be elected in the manner described, for instance, in the Madras portion of the Order, in paragraph 24 and onwards, as set out in the Order. This method may be summed up as follows: Only those trade unions which are recognised according to the terms of the Order will be used as electoral colleges for the election of representatives, through their members, to sit for these trade union seats. This method has been found necessary in view of the fluctuating existence of trade unions in India. Unfortunately, some trade unions at any rate tend to be of rather a mushroom growth, and if a trade union is to form an electoral college, the Hammond Committee, and indeed before them the Whitley Commission on Labour and the Franchise Committee as well, recognised that some method of ascertaining which trade unions should be regarded as suitable and permanent enough to be an electoral college, should be devised. The Government, therefore, have suggested that the trade unions should fulfil certain conditions, that the Governor should act as a tribunal and certify certain unions as being recognised for the purpose of forming electoral colleges. In passing I should say that the Governor will be empowered to pass on his duties to a tribunal, which he can set up for the purpose. It would be really rather over-weighting things if we were to suggest a tribunal in every province; since in some provinces only one functional Labour seat is included in the original table which Parliament passed, it would be rather overweighting the suggestion if a tribunal were to be set up to certify a union for the purpose of one Labour seat only.

We are not discussing the broader and perhaps more interesting question whether trade unionism ought to be encouraged; we are discussing whether trade unions should be used as electoral colleges for the election of Labour seats, and the Government, despite the criticism of Labour leaders in India—the House will see it in the Hammond Committee Report—has decided that it will encourage trade unionism according to the advice of the Whitley Commission, if certain seats are reserved for trade unions. The Government has purposely taken this step on the definite proviso that the trade unions chosen shall be durable and shall not have a fluctuating existence. There are one or two general considerations that are worth making about the labour seats. The representation of Labour in these functional seats is the most important thing. This method is really experimental. Labour may gain certain seats in ordinary general constituencies, but in this transitional period at any rate it is important that there should be some functional seats for Labour to express its views. There are now to be 38 labour seats according to the original table, which is a great advance on the numbers before.

The representatives of commerce are to be chosen in the manner set out in the Order, and here the same principle has been adopted—that those who shall vote in the commerce seats shall really have some commercial stake in the country. The landholders' seats are to be continued, but are not, like the labour seats, to be increased; they are to be continued in the constituencies of the landholders as set out in detail in the Order. It has been found possible to include all the Taluqdars of Oudh and not only, as recommended by the Hammond Committee, those who pay a land revenue of not less than Rs.10,000 per annum They will be a source of satisfaction to all those who have studied the influence of the Taluqdars of Oudh The university seats are to be based not only upon the Senate or Court, but upon graduates of a certain standard. This sums up the different sorts of special seats and the method of election to each. The methods differ slightly, and in some of them the distributive vote has been adopted, but for the most part simplicity has been followed.

Of the other Orders before the House the first is the Legislative Councils Order, which deals with the Upper House in the provinces. The constituencies of the Upper Houses are to be nearly all single, and as there are fewer seats there the constituencies will naturally be larger and the electorate will be smaller. The House will remember that my Noble Friend placed a White Paper before the House in September, and that it included the electorate for the Councils of the provinces. The contents of that White Paper are now included in these Order, so that in the provincial councils the electorate to the Upper House is included as well. There are no special interests in the Upper House.

The last two Orders refer to Burma, the first the Burma House of Representatives Order and the second the Burma Senate Elections Order. The general principles in these Orders are the same as in the Assembly Order, and follow exactly the same lines, and deal with almost exactly the same problems.

There are one or two minor Amendments on the Order Paper and for these I must apologise, but in the immense mass of material that has been dealt with it is really surprising that the corrections have been reduced to this minimum. The only one I want to refer to is the first one on the Order Paper, following the first Motion, which deals with bodies associated with commerce and the constituent bodies of commerce seats. The reason for this is to exclude the associate members, since many of them are foreign firms. Apart from that the Amendments are detailed or drafting, and I shall move them in company with the main Order.

In conclusion let me say that India has proceeded by slow degrees to the present extent of her franchise and the present nature of her system of representation. This is a massive system of electoral representation but it is no more massive and imposing than our system of social assistance, and I do not believe that it is any less well worked out, or that it will prove any more unwieldy. The slow progress which has led to the laying of these Orders before the House has entailed at least four years' consideration and includes now nearly 200 years of British Parliamentary and electoral experience. I do not think it is too much to hope that the experience which we gained as a result of the struggle between the Buffs and the Blues in many a county borough such as Eatanswill will be put at the disposal of India and enable India to profit by our experience and learn perhaps by some of our mistakes. I am certain that the Indian countryman when he gets an opportunity to use the method which we are putting before him will be able to decide upon a local figure in exactly the same way as our people decide here at home. I have confidence in his knowledge of public affairs and influence upon them, and the liberty thus won through the trial and ardour of a slowly-expanding electoral system; and I hope that this scheme will achieve the same result and save India from some of the abuses and mistakes that we have made.


The hon. Member suggested that the Debate should take place on all the Motions together if the House agree. If the House does agree to that course, I will put the Questions separately after a general debate.

4.15 p.m.


I beg to move, at the end of the Question, to add the words, In Part II, on page 13, in line 36, leave out paragraphs 23 to 27. We are once again called upon to discuss some of these Orders, which are somewhat exceptional in character in so far as the procedure by means of which we can deal with them in this House is somewhat exceptional in itself. I think I am right in saying that we do not take leave of them at this stage, but that they have to go to another place and will return to us at a later stage when they have been discussed there. We hope that our discussions on the succeeding stage will be more or less formal, and we propose to say what we have to say on this stage to-day. The first thing we ought to do is to say how completely one associates oneself—and I am sure my hon. Friends on this side do—with the well-deserved tribute which the Under-Secretary paid to Sir Laurie Hammond and his colleagues for the colossal piece of work which they have performed. Those who had the privilege of participating in the work of the Joint Select Committee will appreciate how stupendous was the task which confronted the Hammond Committee when it embarked on this study. Its success is really notable, and the fact that it has been achieved in so short a time makes it one that merits our complete commendation.

The work which this Committee undertook was of tremendous importance because, whatever our views may be about the nature of the new constitution which was carried last year by Parliament, we all admit that in the long run any constitution depends on the care and precision with which these particular provisions are laid down in Orders from time to time. When we were discussing this question in the Joint Select Committee I often wondered how in the long run it would be possible to overcome two or three major difficulties. There was the difficulty of religious antipathies and antagonisms—a very important element, so far as I was able to understand the situation in Indian life. Then there were the difficulties within the Hindu community with regard to castes and subcastes. There was, too, the exceedingly difficult task of framing some sort of franchise system which would give something workable when the Constitution was inaugurated. When I thought of these, among other problems, I felt that they were almost insuperable. However, the Hammond Committee has now presented us with some recommendations, and although I do not pretend that we agree with all of them, they do give us a series of proposals which enable us to visualise the problem as it actually is.

  1. ROYAL ASSENT. 41 words
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