HC Deb 15 February 1940 vol 357 cc1079-82

9.20 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for India (Sir Hugh O'Neill)

I beg to move: That the Proclamation of Emergency made on 3rd September 1939, by the Governor-General of India under Section 102 of the Government of India Act, 1935, a copy of which was presented to this House on 30th November 1939, be approved. This Resolution deals with a point of comparatively restricted application. By Section 102 of the Government of India Act, 1935, it is provided that if the Governor-General has declared by Proclamation that a grave emergency exists whereby the security of India is threatened either by war or by internal disturbance, the Central Legislature shall have power to make laws for a Province with respect to any matters as to which the Province has power to make laws. By an Emergency Act passed by Parliament here on 1st September last, it was provided further that if such a Proclamation had been issued the Centre should not merely be able to legislate on provincial matters, but also to make statutory the rules for the regulation of such matters, and in addition to exercise, if need be, a general supervisory control over the executive actions of the Provincial Governments. Section 102 of the Act further provides that a copy of any Proclamation of Emergency must be presented to each House of Parliament and that it shall cease to operate after six months, unless approved by Resolution of both Houses. A Proclamation of Emergency was issued by the Governor-General at the outbreak of war on 3rd September and has already been presented to this House, and the Resolution which I am now moving is required in order that the Proclamation shall continue to operate and shall not lapse on 3rd March as it otherwise would do.

The object of a Proclamation of Emergency is to enable the Central Government to exercise for purposes connected with the prosecution of the war a much wider range of powers, legislative and executive, than the Constitution, with its rigid division of powers between Center and Provinces, normally allows it. In time of war under modern conditions unity of command is no less essential in the administrative than in the military sphere: and co-ordination of effort is also essential. Apart from the existence of this Proclamation and the action which can be taken under it. any matter coming within the Provincial Legislative List in the Government of India Act, such, for example, as the control of prices or the requisitioning of buildings and land or the power to declare particular places to be protected, would have to be left to the 11 separate Provincial Governments and Legislatures to deal with or not as they thought fit, and any action taken in those fields by the Central Government for war purposes would be liable to challenge as unconstitutional.

The chief legislative result of this procedure has been the Act known as the Defence of India Act, which corresponds very closely to the Emergency Powers (Defence) Act in this country. It was enacted by Ordinance by the Governor-General in the first instance, but was subsequently re-enacted by the Indian Legislature. A great deal of the action taken under the Defence of India Act—as indeed is the case under the Emergency Powers Act here—is provided for by rule, and these rules are expressed in the Indian Act as being—(and here I quote the words themselves)— for securing the defence of British India, the public safety, the maintenance of public order, for the efficient prosecution of the war; or for maintaining supplies and services essential to the life of the community. a formula which follows almost exactly the wording used in our Emergency Powers (Defence) Act to describe the scope of the Defence Regulations to be made under that Act. Just as in this country, so in India, the rules cover very wide fields. I need not trouble the House with a comprehensive list of the subjects to which the rules refer, but I will mention a few of them to give an idea of the field covered. They deal with such matters as the control of signalling, telegraphy, postal communications and so on; restrictions on foreigners; prevention of prejudicial acts and control of information; preparations for defence; control of arms and explosives; control of shipping and aircraft; control of essential supplies and work; control of trading with the enemy and control of enemy firms.

But it is by no means the case that the powers conferred by these rules are con- ferred only upon the Central Executive. Many of them are conferred upon the Provincial Governments themselves; rules for example, dealing with such things as air-raid precautions, the control of lighting, the control of meetings and processions, censorship of the Press, the requisitioning of buildings, and so on. In one particular case, and I think a very important case, that is to say the control of prices, though the power was conferred by the rules upon the Central Government, it was actually delegated by the Central Government to the Provincial Governments, which have made valuable use of their powers and have done much to prevent profiteering and undue rise in prices.

Finally, as regards the general executive control over the actions of Provincial Governments conferred by the Act passed by Parliament in September last, the Government of India have reported that in no case has the Governor-General had occasion so far to use the special powers conferred by the Act to enforce directions from the Centre in pursuance of this provision—requests and suggestions from the Centre have always so far been accepted and acted upon. I think I have now said enough to make it clear to the House that it is essential that we should pass this Resolution so as to enable the continuance in India of all the emergency powers and regulations which are so necessary and so vital to the great effort which India is making in the prosecution of the war.

9.28 p.m.

Mr. Attlee

One cannot oppose this Order. Some kind of Order is obviously necessary at this time, but in this House we always watch with a very jealous eye the giving of autocratic powers to the Executive. In the case of the action that is taken over here the real check on the Executives the existence of the House of Commons and the possibility therefore of raising any matters of abuse of those powers. In India you have, through circumstances which I am not going to discuss at length, a position of constitutional difficulty, and you have had in many Provinces the properly elected governments yielding place to authoritative governments. Therefore, there has not been quite the same effect in giving powers to the Centre as against the Pro- vinces, because in so many instances the Provinces have already, by the action of the elected members of the Legislature, handed over the Executive to non-popular government.

I think we cannot object to this. I do not want to say anything this evening that would in any way add to the difficulties of the Indian situation. We are all following very closely the efforts that are being made by the Viceroy to bring together the leaders of the various Indian parties, in order that India may now advance towards self-government. We should feel a great deal happier about this Order if we had that degree of concord among the Indian parties, if we had any of the Provincial Governments responsible to Parliamentary majorities operating in those Provinces, and the beginnings of more responsible government at the centre. But, the position being as it is, I hope that no effort will be spared to try to bring forward, even during the war, increased democratic control of their affairs by the Indian people.

9.31 p.m.

Mr. Edmund Harvey

I want to say only a few words to supplement what has been said by the right hon Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition. I believe there are others besides members of his party who feel very much sympathy with the point of view he has expressed. While no one in the House would wish to add tithe difficulties of the Government of India at this time, and while everyone appreciates the efforts that are being made by the Viceroy to get unity, many of us would also desire that there should be some opportunity, even in the course of the war, for Indian opinion to be more closely associated with the Government of India, and we should take this opportunity of expressing our earnest hope that the efforts now being made in India may be crowned with success.

Question put, and agreed to.

Resolved, That the Proclamation of Emergency made on 3rd September, 1939, by the Governor-General of India under Section 102 of the Government of India Act, 1935, a copy of which was presented to this House on 30th November, 1939, be approved.