HC Deb 26 June 1940 vol 362 cc465-90

Order for Second Reading read.

3.53 p.m.

The Secretary of State for India and Burma (Mr. Amery)

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

This Bill may disappoint those Members who, possibly, have been misled by newspaper headlines to expect some Measure of major constitutional import. The present Bill has no constitutional significance. It is, in the main, a Measure of insurance, concerned with making provision for overcoming certain difficulties of a technical character in the event of the complete interruption of communications between India and this country. It does, however, include one substantive provision of some importance; and I will deal with that first.

The Government of India have come to the conclusion that, for the purposes of the urgent expansion of India's war effort, it has now become necessary, and, indeed, urgent, to follow the example of this country, and to introduce compulsory service for military, and in certain cases for civil industrial, purposes. To do so in regard to Indian British subjects is within the competence and authority of the Government of India, and the appropriate Ordinance is to be issued very shortly by the Governor-General. On the other hand, it is beyond the competence of the Government of India to conscript European British subjects. This is due to the operation of Section 110 of the Act of 1935, which excludes from the purview of the Indian Legislature, and, therefore, also from the parallel and co-extensive ordinance-making power of the Governor-General, any matter which affects the Army Act, the Air Force Act or the Naval Discipline Act. These Acts are so framed as to cover European British subjects in India, Indian British subjects being specifically excluded from them. Any Measure which calls up a European British subject for military service therefore comes within the purview of these Acts, and, therefore, in the words of Section 110 of the Government of India Act affects the Army, Air Force and Naval Discipline Acts.

Accordingly, the authority of Parliament here is required to enable the necessary action to be taken in India, and the present Bill proposes to do this by Sub-sections (3) and (4) of Clause 1, which temporarily—I would have the House note the word "temporarily"—free the Governor-General from the restrictions of Section 110, and the consequential restrictions of Section 111, of the Government of India Act. The House will observe that this modification of the Government of India Act is strictly limited in more than one direction. In the first place, it extends not to the Indian Legislature, but only to the Governor-General acting, as the phrase is, "in his discretion"—that is to say, still under the general direction of the Secretary of State, and, therefore, within the ultimate purview and control of this House. In the second instance, the modification is only temporary, and special authority is given to the Governor-General to deal with the Army, Air Force and Naval Discipline Acts only within the emergency period referred to in Clause 3—about which I shall have a word to say presently.

There is, however, a feature in Subsection (3) of Clause 1—in line 20 and subsequent lines—to which I ought to draw the attention of the House. Normally, the ordinance-making power of the Governor-General under Section 72 of the Government of India Act extends only for six months. It would be obviously inconvenient for all concerned if a Measure enforcing military service in a war the duration of which none of us can foresee, were limited to six months. Consequently, that passage in Sub-section (3) frees those, and only those, of the Governor-General's ordinances which affect the disciplinary Acts from this limitation. By passing Sub-sections (3) and (4) of Clause 1, this House will give the Governor-General the power which he desires to introduce immediately a Measure of compulsory service for European British subjects in India, and to extend the period of that Measure beyond the emergency period referred to in Sub-section (3). The Governor-General by an earlier Act this year took provisions for the calling-up of Europeans for examination as to their fitness and willingness to undertake various forms of national service.

In the urgent circumstances of the present need for a great expansion of India's forces and in particular of India's munitions industry, it has been found that that Act has not produced a sufficient number of volunteers, and the Ordinance which the Governor-General proposes to introduce, with the approval of this House, will enable him to call Europeans up compulsorily. It is proposed that they should be called up for examination between the ages of 18 and 50 and then served with notice calling upon them to undertake Service requirements. On the military side they will, normally, be posted in the first instance to the British Army in India and then transferred to whatever particular Service they are most fitted to render, or, as the case may be, to officer training units for the purpose of being subsequently granted combatant commissions. Conscientious objectors are to be exempted on the same lines as in this country, subject always to the obligation to fulfil some national service not affecting their conscience or directly dealing with military service. There will be, as is the case here, in this matter, an appeal from the decision of the first committee conducting the examination.

That is the only measure contemplated in the present Bill which is not purely contingent and hypothetical, but we have to make provision against certain dangers which, though they have not occurred yet, may be very real. The Government of India Act envisaged as the normal situation of its application, a condition of things under which there was free and easy and rapid communication between this country and India. Obviously that is not the situation to-day or the situation with which we may be faced at any moment. Now that enemy forces intervene between us and India in the Mediterranean and communication, whether by sea or by air, has to take a very circuitous route round Africa, and when it is possible that cable communications may be cut, we have to envisage a situation in which it may be impossible, for considerable periods, to maintain direct and continuous communication with India.

Earl Winterton (Horsham)

Does my right hon. Friend intend—or would it be out of order for him to do so on this rather technical Bill—to give us any idea of what is being done on the very important question of the military contribution of India towards the Empire's war effort?

Mr. Amery

I think that subject would be outside the scope of the present Bill and would be better discussed on another occasion. I should welcome the occasion of saying something on that question, but I do not think it is appropriate to do so on this Bill. The discussion of the Bill must, obviously, be limited in character, and I hope to get the assent of the House to the Bill with the least possible delay. As I have said, the provisions of the Government of India Act were based on the assumption of uninterrupted communication. They require for instance that certain matters, including matters of great urgency, should be referred by the Governor-General to His Majesty's Government here, or they may specifically require action to be taken in this country, whether by Parliament or by some other authority, and this action if it is to have any effect must be taken in time. The only way of meeting the difficulty is to enable the Governor-General, as a purely temporary measure and during the existence of the present emergency, and at a moment when communication may become impossible, to take action himself.

The matters which lie beyond the scope of any authority in India under the Government of India Act fall into three categories, and these are covered, respectively, by Sub-sections (1), (2) and (3) of Clause 1 of the Bill. There is, first, the powers of making appointments and removals which are reserved to His Majesty. Secondly, there is the amendment of Orders-in-Council made under the Government of India Act. These can only be amended by the King in Council after draft amending Orders have secured the approval of both Houses of Parliament. There is, further, the amendment of rules relating to certain public services, which can only be done by the Secretary of State himself. The third category is that of legislation affecting the disciplinary Acts governing the Armed Forces of the Crown, with which I have already dealt.

The first category, that dealing with appointments or removals, covers such a case, for instance, as that of the sudden death of a Governor or judge of the High Court. In the case of the sudden death of a Governor, it may be physically impossible to secure the warrant and sign-manual here and to communicate that warrant to India for the appointment of a successor. In that event it would be impossible for the very important functions of a Governor—doubly important at the present time—to be exercised by anyone. Under Sub-section (1) of Clause 1 that vacancy can be filled by the Governor-General himself. I should explain that the contingency of the demise or incapacity of the Governor-General himself is already provided for in Section 90 of the Government of India Act and there is a similar provision in the case of the demise or incapacity of the Governor of Burma. With regard to Orders-in-Council and rules, the House will remember that a considerable body of amending Orders-in-Council, subsidiary legislation and rules of all kind has been passed since 1935. It may be found urgently and vitally necessary, in order to meet war conditions, to make some further subsidiary amendments in one or other of these Orders-in-Council, or rules, and under the provisions of the Bill, it will be possible to do so in the contingency of the interruption of communication. The third Sub-section I have dealt with already.

All the provisions of the Bill, except those referring to the Ordinance, now intended for immediate application, with regard to the compulsory service of Europeans in India, are purely contingent provisions. They are all governed by Clause 4 of the Bill, which specifically provides that they can only be exercised by tile Governor-General or the Governor of Burma as the case may be, if, in either case, it is essential that they should be exercised and that reference to the Secretary of State would cause undue delay—in other words, in the contingency of a really serious physical interruption of communications. Further, they are limited in duration to the period of emergency referred to in Clause 3. That is the period during which serious interruption of communication may reasonably be feared. It need not necessarily be co-extensive with the duration of the war. We may have got away from the present dangerous situation, and re-established communication beyond the fear of serious interruption, before the war has actually ended. That is why Clause 3 leaves the termination of the period of emergency to a special Order-in-Council, and does not make it co-extensive with the duration of the war.

Perhaps it would be convenient to refer briefly to Clause 2, which deals with the similar but not altogether identical situation in Burma. It will be observed that Sub-section (3) of Clause 2 makes no provision for the extension of any ordinance under that Clause beyond six months. That is due to the fact that the Governor of Burma already, under the Government of Burma Act, enjoys the power of the further prolongation for six months of ordinances and also the power to issue Governor's Acts without any limitation of time. Further, in the same Sub-section there is a reference, not only to the Army Act, the Air Force Act and the Naval Discipline Act, but also to "any similar law enacted by a competent authority in India." That is due to the fact that the Government of Burma Act excludes from Burman legislative power not only matters affecting the British disciplinary Acts, but also any corresponding Indian disciplinary Acts. Sub-section (5) of Clause 2 is required for this reason: the existing Instrument of Instructions to the Governor requires him to submit certain classes of Bills for the signification of the Crown's pleasure and does not give him power to assent to them directly. This Instrument of Instructions can only be amended with the approval of both Houses of Parliament. Therefore, the approval of this House is required under Subsection (5) of Clause 2 to enable the Governor, in case of necessity, to assent directly to urgent Bills, within these categories, without having to refer them home for the assent of the Crown.

If I might sum up the Bill, it asks for the authority of Parliament in two respects: First, in order to enable the Governor-General of India or if the situation demands it the Governor of Burma, to call on European British subjects in India and Burma to render service to their country or to the Empire; and, secondly, on the more purely technical point, namely, the temporary waiving, in certain emergencies, against which I think we are bound to insure, even if we hope they may never actually occur, of certain existing legislative restrictions upon the power of the Governor-General and the Governor of Burma with respect to appointments, amendments of Orders-in-Council and rules, and the issue of ordinances affecting the disciplinary Acts. It will be seen that the Bill, while it has no constitutional significance, is yet of considerable urgency and importance in enabling India to get ahead with the work of contributing to its own defence and the defence of the common cause. I hope, therefore, it will meet with the approval of the House.

4.14 p.m.

Mr. Pethick-Lawrence (Edinburgh, East)

I am sure we have all listened with great interest and attention to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman, whom we all congratulate upon holding his present office and to whom we offer our best wishes that, during his tenure of that office, our relationship with the great peoples of India may be strengthened. As far as I have been able to study the provisions of the Bill, it appears to me that no great constitutional principles are involved in it. I think the House must recognise that it is important, owing to the difficulties which the right hon. Gentleman envisages, that we should have a Bill of this kind. We must be prepared to meet an emergency and we cannot tell when such an emergency may arise. The right hon. Gentleman made it clear that Clause 4 of the Bill lays down that this change of authority is not to take place now, but only if and when an emergency occurs. The precise words which convey that meaning are: And only if it appears to him that it is essential. On paper, that really confers upon the Governor-General the discretion, but I suppose we may take it that the Governor-General, as long as communications exist between him and the Secretary of State, naturally will not exceed his authority. I think, therefore, the House may accept the assurance of the right hon. Gentleman that it is the obvious intention of the Bill that the present position will continue until the emergency actually arises. As I understand the subsidiary provision of the Bill to which the right hon. Gentleman has also made reference, it enables conscription to be imposed upon British subjects in British India, and does not go beyond that, such powers as there may be for dealing with Indian subjects in British India not being affected in any way by this Measure. Clearly, the Government are right, seeing that we have conscription for British subjects inside this country, to take powers for the conscription of British residents in British India.

I gather, by inference, from the right hon. Gentleman's speech that the position of Indian subjects is not directly or even indirectly affected in any way by this Measure. He made it clear with regard to conscription to which I have already referred. He implied by inference that this Bill did not affect their position, but it is desirable in the public interest that a statement should be made from the Government Bench explicitly stating that to be the case. I would like to put this question to the right hon. Gentleman. We all know that the peoples of different parts of the British Empire are very sensitive to changes which are effected in this House with regard to their status and position, and I would like the right hon. Gentleman to tell us whether any effort has been made already to explain to leading personages in India—it is the politicians in particular of whom I am thinking—the precise nature and implications of this Measure. If that has not already been done, I hope that he will not allow the statement in this House to be sufficient, but that steps will be taken in India to make it clear to Indian subjects there that their liberties are riot in any way affected by this Measure. That is very important, because we should at this time not only be able to put our hands on our hearts and say that wt are not doing anything contrary to their interests, but it should be clear to them that such is the case. I hope, if that has not already been done, that the right hon. Gentleman, or somebody speaking from the Front Bench opposite, will tell us that it will be done.

There remains only the point which has been raised by the Noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton), in regard to the interest which this, House naturally takes in matters relating to the contribution of India to the war. I do not know in what form an opportunity might be provided—whether it will be possible in the few days left for Supply to take even half a day—for a full dis- cussion on Indian affairs, but perhaps it might be found possible, either on the Adjournment Motion or in some other way, for an authoritative statement to be made by the Government on what is, clearly, a very important subject.

4.22 p.m.

Mr. Graham White (Birkenhead, East)

I would like at once to associate myself with the remarks which have fallen from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Pethick-Lawrence) when he said with what pleasure we had heard the right hon. Gentleman speaking from the Front Bench to-day as Secretary of State for India. I considered myself personally fortunate in that, by a lucky chance, the other evening, I happened to hear the right hon. Gentleman's address on Magna Charta. It seems to me that in what he said on that occasion, he placed India's relation to the whole war and the Empire in its proper perspective, in a way in which not all of us have done in the past. I felt as I heard those words that there was a new approach to India, and one with which I, at all events, found myself in complete sympathy. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will be able to make progress on that line during his term of office. I am sure that I can speak for everyone in the House in expressing that hope.

I do not imagine that the House will have any difficulty in not only giving the Bill a Second Reading but allowing its passage through the further stages for which the right hon. Gentleman has asked. It is a technical Bill and one of which we should never have heard, except for the extraordinary days in which we are living, and the possibility of emergencies arising, of which we have no idea at the present time, which may call for prompt and urgent action. We in the House of Commons cannot overlook the fact that it conveys great powers to the Viceroy and the Governor-General and that we in this House surrender some of the provisions which we laid down in the Government of India Act, 1935. If anyone in India or elsewhere were to cavil at what is being proposed it would be an adequate answer to say that any surrender of power which is taking place in this respect, is nothing compared with the surrender of power which we have already made in this House to the Government of this country in our own domestic affairs. At all events that is how it appears to me. We know that the powers to be exercised by the Governor-General are to be exercised only if in his judgment undue delay of an injurious character would result from the usual Parliamentary consultation and reference. Therefore, I think that this Bill might be called a Bill for the purpose of trusting the man on the spot, at a time when he and he only may be in a position to judge what an immediate emergency requires in the interests of the State and of the people of India.

I was a little disappointed at first, to find that the powers given to the Governor-General are to be exercised in his own discretion. It seemed to disturb the possible course of development of the hopeful elements which appeared to be arising in the situation at the present time. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Edinburgh spoke of necessary consultation, and I should judge, speaking not as one with authority or special knowledge, but as a Member of this House with responsibility for Indian affairs, that there is a common agreement running throughout all sections of Indian opinion as to the necessity of resisting a menace which would destroy all the individual culture and ideals which different Indian sections hold. It seemed to me that from that common agreement, there might arise some instrument of co-operation which could not be achieved by the Governor-General acting in his own discretion. I hoped that there might arise some method of co-operation in mutual authority in the sort of atmosphere spread by the speech of the right hon. Gentleman on Magna Charta and that the development of confidence through mutual contacts would soften the asperities and difficulties which have marked some aspects of Indian politics. It was a hope which I had in mind and I thought, at first sight, it might be nullified by the fact that these powers are to be exercised by the Governor-General in his discretion. As the right hon. Gentleman spoke to-day, however, I realised the limited scope of this Bill, and I do not dissent from what is being done. Furthermore, he expressed the hope that events may move in India in a more hopeful atmosphere, and perhaps in a more fruitful ground for experiment and advance, so that India may soon play that vital part which the right hon. Gentleman foreshadowed in the determination of its own constitution.

I would mention one thing, of which, it struck me, we in Western Europe might take notice in the history of the last few weeks. It was an observation by the Leader of Congress, Mr. Jawaharlal Nehru, in which he said that it would not be within the dignity of India to seek to put pressure on Britain while we were engaged in a struggle such as we are engaged at the present time. I think that that is one of the most hopeful opinions that has come out of India in recent times. It is something in which India might take pride, in contrast to some of the events in Europe in recent weeks. Speaking for my hon. and right hon. Friends I can say that we shall do everything we can to facilitate the passage of this Bill.

4.30 p.m.

Sir John Wardlaw-Milne (Kidderminster)

My right hon. Friend who introduced this Bill referred to it as a technical Measure. It certainly is that, but it is also a far-reaching Measure and I think the House should appreciate that we are doing something here which, although it is, I agree, entirely necessary in the circumstances in which we are living, may make a certain and definite difference, at first sight, to a number of people in India. There are in India numerous officers in the service of the Secretary of State. They are appointed by the Secretary of State, their terms of service are laid down by him and they have an appeal to him in the event of any difficulty or dispute. Under the terms of this Bill these officers, if the Act becomes operative, will have such points decided by the Governor-General under his discretion and powers. I agree that in present circumstances no other course is possible, and I do not want in any way to oppose this Bill, but I should like it to be made clear that any decision given by the Governor-General in connection with the conditions of service of these officers will be on the terms which have been previously laid down by the Secretary of State so far as is possible. I think it would be well, and in the interests of many officers in India who look to the Secretary of State for their protection, that there should be an under- standing that they will have decisions based on the rules which the Secretary of State has previously laid down unless new circumstances of an entirely different character have arisen in the meantime. I assume that this will be the case.

There is only one other point to which I wish to make reference, and it concerns a remark made by my right hon. Friend. He said that this Bill freed the Governor-General, when necessary, from reference to the Secretary of State, but when he came to deal with Clause 1, Sub-section (3) it appeared to me that he put a limitation, in that particular case, on the Governor-General's powers to act without that consultation. It should be made clear, if that is necessary, that under Sub-section (3) the same power exists to act without reference. My right hon. Friend's speech was not quite clear to me on this one point, and perhaps not clear to everybody in the House. Regarding the speech of the hon. Member for East Birkenhead (Mr. White), with whose hopes for future co-operation in India I am in entire agreement, I think he will agree on reconsideration that in this Bill powers must be in the hands of the Governor-General at his discretion. They cannot possibly be conferred in any other way. This is a question of transferring from one individual here, to his representative in India, temporary authority. I hope and believe with him that India's effort in the war will be wholehearted. There is no doubt that whatever political differences may exist, all parties in India are convinced that the war must be won, not only for the freedom of this country but of India itself.

4.35 p.m.

Mr. Edmund Harvey (Combined English Universities)

I think that on all sides expression has been given to the great satisfaction felt at seeing the right hon. Gentleman in the position he now occupies. While I recognise the necessity for some measure to meet the grave emergency that has arisen, I cannot but regret that the first important Measure he should have to bring forward as Secretary of State should be one of this character which cannot express, by its very nature, some of those aims which he has already made so clear to us in this country and, I hope, to our fellow citizens in India.

I cannot help hoping that this Measure, when it gets to another place, may receive some modification which will make clear the spirit which the right hon. Gentleman has shown in some of his public utterances, namely, that which looks to cooperation with India in the great work of transition from the present stage to a stage in which India will be equal in all respects with other great self-governing Dominions. It is because the Bill does not give any evidence of that, in its nature, that I feel great regret that it should be the first Measure which the Secretary of State has introduced in his period of office. It is extremely difficult for a layman to understand; it is necessary to read Section after Section of the Act of 1935, and even then if we had not had an explanation from the Secretary of State I think all would agree that it would hardly be fully intelligible. No one reading the Bill, on the face of it, woud realise that it contained a proposal to introduce conscription for European British subjects in India and that its other provisions were only intended to be used in special circumstances, which we all hope may never occur. I cannot help thinking that it was almost essential, if this Bill were to be properly understood by the House, that there should have been an explanatory memorandum accompanying it. This is only one of the many cases in recent times when very complex legislation put before the House could not be understood unless there was some explanatory memorandum. However, we have had a very helpful explanation from the Secretary of State.

I think we must realise fully the very important change which he has foreshadowed would result from the passing of this Bill with regard to the position of British subjects domiciled in Britain and resident in India. As an opponent of conscription in principle, I recognise that it is only fair that if conscription is adopted in this country, it should be applicable also to British people resident in India. But we ought to have an assurance that it shall be applied in the spirit in which it is applied in this country and that equal consideration will be paid to conscience. I think it is also rather regrettable that the age limit should not be the same for both countries. That is a question which will affect only British people resident in India. It does not affect the principle of the Bill by which, in certain circumstances, special powers are given to the Governor-General over Indians. I think we have to recognise that the safeguards which are provided by the present Act, and which give this House and another place a special position of responsibility as guardians of the people in India in such periods of exceptional difficulty when the Governor-General has to act on his own responsibility, are removed and that we do not have any form provided in this Bill by which there will be any consultation with representative Indians or even such authorities as judges of the High Court before a decision is taken by the Governor-General in those special circumstances. Obviously it is intended to apply only when he cannot communicate with the Secretary of State, but surely there should be some provision by which consultation would take place and which would associate representative Indians. with the decision of the Governor-General.

We are giving up in this Bill to some extent our own trusteeship over the people of India, and we are putting nothing in its place. I do beg the Secretary of State to see that some steps shall be taken to secure that there should still be some machinery for review and consultation before the final executive decision of the Governor-General is made. I believe it would go a long way to satisfying Indian opinion if some such alteration could be made in this Measure, if not here, then in another place, because the right hon. Gentleman himself in that very memorable Magna Charta broadcast stated so clearly that what we were aiming at was not only full Dominion status for India, but also order and security during the period of transition to full and equal Dominion status. Even there he said that the maintenance of order and security, on the need for which he rightly insisted, could best be secured "not by dictation but by mutual agreement." I hope that in the spirit of those admirable words of his he may be able to reassure our Indian fellow subjects as to the purport of this Bill and the spirit in which its provisions will be carried out.

4.43 p.m.

Mr. Spens (Ashford)

I would like to congratulate my right hon. Friend on the fact that one of the first things he has done as Secretary of State is to introduce powers in order that there may be con- scription of British residents in India. It was my good fortune in the last war to spend the whole of my time in India and Mesopotamia, and both on service and on leave I and others saw the benefits, and heard of the disadvantages, of the voluntary system which operated then. I will not say much about it, because it would do no good that I should, but the disadvantages of the voluntary system lived for a good many years after the war among residents in British India. Many felt that the sacrifices they had made on behalf of their country had turned out to be very excessive indeed as compared with the fortunes of those who remained behind and did not serve. I am absolutely convinced that the introduction of these powers at this stage in the war is a matter for which everyone who knows the circumstances will be grateful. The powers are essentially in regard to a section of the population in which fair administration of compulsion will produce the benefits which the voluntary system did not produce in the last war.

Without being out of order, I should like to add my word to what has been said by the right hon. Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Pethick-Lawrence) that we shall have at an early date a general discussion on the effort of the Indian Empire and what India is doing. I feel sure it would be for the benefit of many people in this country and for the benefit of many who are serving in India, and also of Indians generally, that such a discussion should take place openly at an early date.

May I turn to what has been termed this "technical" Bill? There is one point I would like the right hon. Gentleman to consider. It is perfectly true that if an emergency arises, under which the Governor-General is to exercise the powers given him by Clause 1, his right to exercise those powers is limited to the period defined or attempted to be defined in Clause 4. In Clause 1 there is an express reference to his right to make acting appointments. It seems to me that if he is in a position to exercise a power of appointment, he should not make appointments which will last beyond the emergency period. On the face of it, it would appear that he is given that power. Like the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Sir J. Wardlaw-Milne), I think it is more than likely that he would make more acting appointments than permanent appointments, but it appears that he could, if he thought fit, make senior appointments which would continue after the period of emergency had come to an end. I do not know enough about the matter to say whether it is a wise power to give, but, prima facie, it would appear to me that, with regard to appointments for which on certain occasions recourse is made to persons in this country and they are appointed to positions of importance in India, during the emergency period he would have a much smaller field from which to select the best man for a particular appointment. I suggest that at a later stage the Bill should be amended so that under the direction of the Secretary of State, which would be sufficient, certain appointments should be limited or come up for reconsideration within six months after the termination of the period of emergency.

Apart from that, I have no fault to find with the Bill. I always listen to the hon. Member for the English Universities (Mr. Harvey) with interest, but I am bound to say that in a time of emergency like this it seems to me that whatever consultation is exercised the legal power and the last word must be given to the Governor-General so that he may act promptly.

4.50 p.m.

Mr. Sorensen (Leyton, West)

May I join with other hon. Members in sincerely congratulating the right hon. Gentleman on taking his high office, and express the earnest hope that the difficult problems which he and his predecessors have had to face will be, in some measure, solved, and that we shall find a new vista opening for India and our own country? I am sure that he will do his best in that direction and I can assure him of our cooperation. It has been said that this is a very technical Bill. I am willing to accept that interpretation. Nevertheless, there are one or two factors associated with its technicalities which have a certain significance. I cannot agree that the Bill affects only British subjects. Surely it affects Indian subjects in so far as they may, in certain circumstances, which we hope will not arise, see concentrated autocratic home rule established overnight. The Bill confers considerable powers on the Governor-General which enables him, for the time being, to administer the law in India, indeed, to exercise power over a very wide field. It is rather significant, and certainly unfortunate, that while up to now we have been unable to confer a wider measure of self-government on India, we find ourselves in this Bill conferring in certain circumstances extraordinary powers of self-government in India but concentrated in one person.

Surely that will affect the politically conscious part of the Indian people. Although it has been suggested that in its operation it will affect only British subjects in India I think that Clause 1 is capable of a much wider interpretation. Discretion is being given to the Governor-General which can be exercised in many ways, and I regret very much that, apparently, there has been no consultation with representative Indian opinion in India. I may be wrong, and perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will indicate whether in fact there has been any kind of informal consultation with any body of opinion in India with regard to this Bill. In the absence of any such consultation, I can only say that I regret that absence and Indians themselves also regret it. Reference has been made by the hon. Member for East Birkenhead (Mr. White) to the wise words of Mr. Nehru who has shown that he has the utmost good will towards this country, although he may criticise it in certain respects. It would have been encouraging if there had been some consultation with him and if necessary also with Mr. Jinnah and others who are representative of politically conscious India at the present moment. One hon. Member was concerned with the Bill in so far as it affects certain British officers. No doubt his point was a valid one, but I regret that he was apparently concerned only with British officers in India, who are in a minority, and had no word to say about the omission to consult Indian opinion itself.

I should like to know whether the Bill alters the position respecting Parliamentary Questions on India. Since the passing of the Act of 1935, certain questions have been transferred from the scope of this House to the Provincial Assemblies, and we have not been able to ask questions on them. Will it now be possible, if these powers are exercised by the Governor-General, to ask questions of the Secretary of State in this House? It is rather an important point because it means that we may have no means at all, along democratic channels of airing grievances or getting necessary information. It may seem to some a small point but I think it is one upon which we should have some observations from the Secretary of State. What I have called "a concentrated form of home rule," although it may be necessary from the standpoint of logic and the present circumstances, will I trust not have to be operated. I hope we shall not find an emergency crisis arising in the next few months, in which it will be necessary for the Governor-General to use the powers given him by the Bill.

I notice that provision has been made for some attempt at consultation between the Governor-General and the Secretary of State. I realise that difficulties may arise of a grave character. I hope they are remote, but, even so, I want to emphasise that some attempt should be made by the Governor-General to consult with the Secretary of State. I also hope that, at an early date, we shall have an opportunity of discussing the affairs of India. There are many matters on which those interested in India would like to speak, and to hear what the Secretary of State has to say. We should like to hear him reveal his long-term policy and state his approach to these matters. The Bill will, of course, pass into law, and I merely say that it is regrettable that while we are taking this step and giving, in certain circumstances, great power to our British representative in India, up to now we have not been able to take the step of consulting politically conscious Indians, on the one hand, or making a move, more vigorously, towards real self-government in India on the other.

4.57 p.m.

Sir Stanley Reed (Aylesbury)

In the East there is a preliminary phrase "After compliments." Will my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for India regard the compliments on his appointment as made, and the bouquet as thrown? At the outset, I should like to commend to the earnest attention of the Secretary of State the suggestion made by the right hon. Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Pethick-Lawrence). This is a technical Bill in many respects. It is not quite so technical as the hon. Member for the English Universities (Mr. Harvey) seemed to think to those who are conversant with their Indian history and with the Act of 1935. But there are two special reasons why the suggestion that a clarifying statement should go out, should receive the attention of the Secretary of State for India. One is that unfortunately a news agency has spread abroad the story that the Secretary of State is introducing a Bill to make wide and drastic alterations in the constitutional Government of India. That impression has got abroad and it may persist unless the exact purpose of this Bill is very accurately presented in simple language. The other reason is that it is of paramount importance to make as clear as it is possible to make it, that this Bill in no sense impinges on the fixed determination of the Government and of this House to use every means in their power to develop the constitution of India to full Dominion status in terms of the Statute of Westminster without any qualification whatever.

I want to ask the Secretary of State whether he will consider, before the Bill actually passes into law, putting in a statement in his own wise words something on the lines of the Preamble to the Act of 1919, setting forth clearly that British policy in India is absolutely unchanged and that this is merely an emergency Measure to meet emergency conditions. Nobody can know anything about the conditions of communications between Great Britain and India without realising the paramount importance of this Bill. At the present time, air communications are interrupted and nobody knows when they can be resumed. To get an answer to a letter sent to India at the present time may take anything from six weeks to two months, or possibly even longer than that in special circumstances. Therefore, anybody who realises what the position is must see the direct importance of giving the head of the Government in India power to act with full authority and with swiftness if an emergency arises.

As I read the Bill, I think that in effect it may be described in this way. It hands over to the Viceroy and the Governor-General, in a state of emergency, powers which are now vested in the Secretary of State. I do not see that on the constitu- tional side it goes appreciably beyond that. It does another thing, it provides for the conscription of European British subjects in India. I have listened to the comment made upon that with amazement. Many hon. Members seem to be under the impression that that is a new condition in India. It is nothing of the sort. European British subjects in India were conscripted during the last war. I forget whether the Measure came into force in 1914 or in 1915, but the Indian Defence Force under obligatory military service operated throughout the greater part of the last war, and I operated under it myself. I was not actually conscripted because I was serving before the Act came into force, but compulsory military service for home defence was imposed upon European British subjects in India throughout the greater part of the last war; it is, therefore, no new condition. The other point is that, I understand, this Bill extends that power to industrial conscription. I was on a committee at Simla in June or July, 1918, when that very issue was under discussion, and determination to adopt it was postponed only because the Armistice came rather earlier than was expected.

On these grounds I give my support unhesitatingly to the Bill, not only because it is a timely and imperative Measure, but because it is one without which, in time of emergency, we might find the executive authority of the Government in India very seriously impaired. But in giving that support I venture to reiterate the desire that in the clearest possible language, and in the most generous terms, my right hon. Friend will associate with the Bill a message stating exactly what it is; making clear to the Indian political mind exactly how it has come about; and explaining that it in no way affects the determination of the House, and of all parties, to look forward to the attainment of full status for India within the Empire as the proudest day in our history and one of the greatest days in our connection with that land.

5.5 p.m.

Mr. Logan (Liverpool, Scotland Division)

I wish to congratulate the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State on the lucid manner in which he has explained to us the terms of this Bill. As I understand the Bill, it is not a question of our trying to satisfy Indian opinion, for the Bill does not deal with that matter. It is a question of the delegation of power in order that, in an emergency, the Governor-General will be able to do the things that are necessary. The Bill also deals with conscription. I do not think that European British subjects in India would desire any favouritism; I am sure that such men, in whatever part of the world they may be, will not want to receive any more favourable treatment than is received by the men at home. I do not know whether it would be right for the Secretary of State to give us any figures, but I assume that the conscription provided for under this Bill will bring a military force into operation. From the point of view of India, I do not see that that will bring any great number of men, and I do not think that we can begin to think that, from the military point of view, our problem will be solved.

From the administrative point of view, however, persons of British nationality who come under the Bill may be used in India in the industrial field. I am wondering whether those British subjects who are so conscripted can be utilised in India in the industrial field, for the purpose of furnishing us with the things which are so essential to us. I cannot see the utility of the Bill in this respect unless it is for that purpose. I can understand that it is necessary to give the Governor-General these powers, and if the second purpose of the Bill is to enable British subjects in India to be soldiers of the Empire in the industrial field, the Measure is a useful one. What I should like to know is whether any of those British subjects in India may be transferred to England or whether the provision is entirely to meet the position in India. I should imagine that to denude any particular area of the Empire of such men and to transfer them to the Motherland would be dangerous at any time, but at no time would it be more so than at present, when it is essential that such men should be located in the places of which they have special local knowledge. I should lament the transference at the present time of any European British subjects from India to this country. Those who are now working in India have particular knowledge of the Indian people, and to make any transference of them would be dangerous. I feel that if the industrial machine is fully working those who are on the spot, although they may be conscripted, will be better located there than in the Motherland.

5.9 p.m.

Mr. Amery

I am very grateful to the House for the friendly reception it has given to this Bill, and also for the friendly reception it has given me at the beginning of a task the difficulty of which I and the House would be the last to underrate. May I at the outset respond to the question put to me by the right hon. Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Pethick-Lawrence), the hon. Member for East Birkenhead (Mr. White) and other hon. Members as to the effect of this Bill upon Indian British subjects, upon the Indian Legislature, and upon the powers and status of India in her progress towards self-government. This Bill affects none of those things. It does not impinge in any way upon the status of any Indian British subject or upon any of those powers which, under the India Act, are within the purview either of the Provincial Governments or the Central Government in India. Nor does it interfere in any way with consultations with leading representatives of Indian political opinion with regard to any matter concerning the defence, welfare or future constitution and development of India, nor with closer co-operation either in the Provincial Ministries or at the centre such as I appealed for in an answer which I gave in the House the other day, and such as Lord Linlithgow, the Governor-General, is at all times anxious to secure and is making special efforts to secure at this moment. In none of these respects does this Bill affect or in any way prejudice development towards that constitutional goal which has been again and again clearly reaffirmed by my predecessors and by myself in this House.

Mr. Sorensen

Are we to understand that in no circumstances, if the Governor-General uses these powers, can he suspend the existing constitution of India in any respect?

Mr. Amery

No, they do not affect the existing constitution of India in relation to India in any respect. On the other hand, I think it would hardly be advisable, in a Measure of this purely technical character, to introduce a general preamble merely reasserting what has been said before. After all, a little later this evening I shall move the Second Reading of another Bill of a purely technical character also bearing entirely upon European British subjects in India—the Indian and Colonial Divorce Jurisdiction Bill. I think it would be inappropriate if a general preamble referring to our political ideals in India were inserted in that. If I may say so, it would cheapen the sincerity of our declarations if they were to be introduced in general terms whenever any Bill bearing upon India came before the House. On the other hand, clearly it would be undesirable to introduce into a technical Measure of this sort definite matters of constitutional progress which not only require further thought here, but also require at any rate some further advance towards agreement in India itself.

This Bill, in fact, deals only with matters that were already reserved to this House in its relations with the Executive Government of India. In the first place, it gives definite authority from this House to the Governor-General, in matters affecting the Army Act, the Air Force Act, or the Naval Discipline Act, to frame ordinances which apply only to those who are concerned, namely, European British subjects. It has no effect upon Indian British subjects, either in regard to the original ordinance, its prolongation, or to any amending orders which may be introduced. It is strictly limited in its scope. That applies to all the other provisions of this Measure.

I think it would be a great exaggeration to suggest, as the hon. Member for West Leyton (Mr. Sorensen) did, that this Measure confers a wide measure of autocratic home rule on the Governor-General. Apart from this specific permission which we are giving to the Governor-General to frame ordinances affecting the military service of Europeans in India, it applies only to a particular emergency which might arise within a wider emergency period. Subsection (2) of Clause 1 and Clause 4 between them, assure that it is only when it is physically impossible for the Governor-General, or the Governor of Burma, as the case may be, to secure the permission or the necessary authority normally required that he is free to act under his own discretion during the continuance of that particular emergency. That does not in any way diminish the general control of the Secretary of State or of this House if the Governor-General in such an emergency took a line inconsistent with the general policy of the Government. That would naturally be open to amendment as soon as communications were opened. I think that would relieve the anxieties of the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Sir J. Wardlaw-Milne) that the Civil Service in India might be affected by any minor amendments which might take place during such an emergency.

The same would also broadly apply to the point made by the hon. and learned Member for Ashford (Mr. Spens) in regard to appointments. I have no doubt that whenever it is convenient appointments may be made temporarily if need for them should arise in such an emergency. But I would ask the House to remember that to make an appointment of a judge of the High Court for a month or two, or a Governor of a Province, would obviously involve great inconveniences. Further, in regard to almost all the prospective appointments of any importance, correspondence passes, often months beforehand, between the Governor-General and the Secretary of State, and in nine cases out of ten, the Governor-General already knows the Secretary of State's views about prospective appointments. Consequently, this Measure confers on the Governor-General a mere technical authority to act. The same applies equally, although, naturally, it is a matter for the decision of the Chair, with regard to Questions. I cannot suppose that anything done in a moment of emergency by the Governor-General, or the Governor of Burma, would be outside the purview of the House by question or debate after the emergency was over.

I regret that it is a Measure which, on the face of it, looks very complicated, and I see that the Press has suggested that it might be of a more far-reaching character. I am inclined to bow to the criticism of the hon. Member for the English Universities (Mr. Harvey) that it might have been an advantage to have issued a small explanatory memorandum beforehand. Another point which has been raised in the Debate has been the desire expressed in more than one quarter that the subject of India's contribution to the common effort during the war might before long be an occasion for discussion. That is a matter concerning the general business of the House and is outside my control. As far as I am concerned, I should, naturally, welcome an occasion to let the House know what is being done in India and what we hope to do.

Question, "That the Bill be now read a Second time," put, and agreed to.

Bill read a Second time.

Resolved, "That this House will immediately resolve itself into the Committee on the Bill."—[Mr. Whiteley.]

Bill accordingly considered in Committee.

[Sir DENNIS HERBERT in the Chair.]

CLAUSE 1 (Provisions as to India).

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."

5.21 p.m.

Mr. Harvey

Under the present arrangement, which will be superseded for the emergency by the provisions of this Bill, this House has the duty, along with another place, not only of making an Address to the Crown on the question of any draft Ordinance praying that it be confirmed, but also the power of making suggestions for an amended draft. There is no provision for any consideration of Amendments of an Ordinance under this Clause. I do not know whether the Secretary of State can say what the position will be, for instance, in regard to the Ordinance for compulsory military service in India. If this Bill had not been introduced, this House would have had an opportunity not only of discussing the draft Ordinance but also of suggesting amendments. I take it that that would no longer be the case, under this Clause, although I suppose it will be possible to ask questions in this House relating to this Ordinance and to obtain information from the Secretary of State. Perhaps also it would be possible on the Adjournment Motion to suggest amendments in case of need.

Mr. Amery

I do not think that, apart from an emergency situation, the powers of this House are in any way diminished. This House has given authority for the Governor-General to issue an Ordinance and we can always discuss the character of that Ordinance if there is a wish to do so.

Question, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill," put, and agreed to.

Clauses 2 and 3 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

  1. CLAUSE 4.—(Reference to be made to Secretary of State.) 237 words