HC Deb 22 July 1941 vol 373 cc794-8
Earl Winterton

(by Private Notice) asked the Secretary of State for India whether His Majesty's Government are contemplating any measure to associate Indians more closely with the conduct of the Indian war effort?

Mr. Gordon Macdonald

On a point of Order. The next Question on the Order Paper deals with India. Is it not your opinion, Mr. Speaker, that a Private Notice Question should not be put when the next Question on the Order Paper deals with the same subject? I ask because the Noble Lord himself is such a stickler for procedure.

Earl Winterton

On that point of Order. In justice to myself, I must say that I was asked by the Secretary of State for India to put this Question.

Mr. Speaker

The Question which the hon. Member for Ince (Mr. G. Macdonald) has on the Paper would require a different answer from the one which the Noble Lord raises. Consequently, it is a different Question. I considered that point before this Question was allowed.

Earl Winterton

Further to the point of Order. I gave my explanation, in answer to the hon. Member for Ince (Mr. G. Macdonald). It is a common practice of this House that when it is convenient to do so Ministers should ask Private Members to ask Questions, and it is only fair that those who are asked to do so should explain themselves.

The Secretary of State for India (Mr. Amery)

The following announcement is being issued to-day by the Governor-General, with the approval of His Majesty's Government:

"As a result of the increased pressure of work in connection with the war it has been decided to enlarge the Executive Council of the Governor-General of India in order to permit the separation of the portfolios of Law and Supply and of Commerce and Labour and the division of the present portfolios of Education, Health and Lands into separate portfolios of Education, Health and Lands and Indians Overseas, and also the creation of portfolios of Information and of Civil Defence. His Majesty the King has approved the following appointments to the five new seats on the Council:

Member for Supply: Sir Hormusji Peroshaw Mody.

Member for Information: The Right Hon. Sir Akbar Hydari.

Member for Civil Defence: Mr. E. Raghavendra Rao.

Member for Labour: Malik Sir Firoz Khan Noon.

Member for Indians Overseas: Mr. Madhao Shrihari Aney.

For the vacancies which will occur when Sir Muhummad Zafrullah Khan and Sir Girja Shankar Bajpai take up the posts to which they have recently been appointed, His Majesty has approved the following appointments:

Law Member: Sir Syed Sultan Ahmed.

Member for Education, Health and Lands: Mr. Nalini Ranjan Sarker.

In pursuance of the desire of His Majesty's Government to associate Indian non-official opinion as fully as possible with the prosecution of the war, approval on the recommendation of the Viceroy has also been given to the establishment of a National Defence Council, the first meeting of which will take place next month. The Council, the strength of which will be about 30 members, will include representatives of the Indian States as well as of the Provinces and of other elements in the national life of British India in its relation to the war effort. The following will be members from British India":

Here follows a list of 22 names. These are given in the White Paper which is now available. They include the Prime Ministers of Bengal, the Punjab, Assam and Sind, and representatives of the other Provinces as well as of the different communities, of commerce, industry and labour. The names of the Indian States members will be announced separately.

Sir H. O'Neill

Arising out of that statement, is it not the case that we should all express our appreciation of the patience exercised by the Viceroy of India as a result of which it has been possible to carry out this enlargement of the Executive Council, and may I ask the Secretary of State for India what exactly would be the function of the National Defence Council?

Mr. Amery

I entirely agree with what my right hon. Friend has said about the infinite patience and tact which the Viceroy has exercised for many months to try and get together a team which will co-operate in the defence of India, and in the interests of India and ourselves in the common cause. We have now succeeded in getting together what I believe to be a most representative and powerful team. As regards the National Defence Council, it is an advisory body whose object is to keep the central Government of India, in its war effort, in the closest possible touch with the different Provinces and their Governments, and the Governments of the Indian States, and with industry, commerce and labour.

Sir H. O'Neill

It has no executive powers?

Mr. Amery

No, Sir.

Mr. G. Macdonald

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the limited character of the statement which he made will cause intense disappointment to many freedom-loving peoples who are anxious to support us in this war, and will he consider making a statement of a wider character in the near future?

Mr. Amery

These are administrative changes, and are calculated to bring all men of good will into closer association with the Government of India. The constitutional policy of His Majesty's Government for the future has already been stated.

Mr. Graham White

Will the right hon. Gentleman consider the desirability of having a discussion in this House in order that the undoubted good will of the House of Commons towards the Indian people may have free expression in order that the desire for closer collaboration with them in the war effort may be made known? May I ask, because I am not quite clear from his statement, whether he contemplates inviting any Indians to come to this country to co-operate at this end as others have come from the Dominions?

Mr. Amery

The first part of the Question is a matter of Business, which is not within my control. As regards the second part of the Question, it is not at the moment under consideration.

Mr. Sorensen

Has any consultation taken place with Congress or the Moslem League, and are representatives of either of these bodies on the new body which the right hon. Gentleman has envisaged? Will the Viceroy be able to exercise his veto with regard to any decisions which this enlarged Council may reach?

Mr. Amery

For many months the Viceroy conducted negotiations with Congress and the Moslem League with a view to securing complete co-operation. He has now secured the co-operation of many representative men, some of whom are members of the Moslem League, and others of whom have been closely associated with Congress in the past.

Sir S. Reed

May I ask whether the additional members of the Viceroy's Executive Council will act in a departmental capacity, or will they be jointly responsible with the Council as a whole, subject to the constitutional position, for the general policy of the Government of India? May I further ask my right hon. Friend whether he will accept the assur- ance that the measure which he has announced as an interim measure will have widespread approval and satisfaction among those who desire so ardently to see India more closely associated with the war effort?

Mr. Amery

The new members of the Executive Council will, of course, share the full statutory collective responsibility of the whole Council as well as being responsible for the administration of important Departments of State.

Mr. Sorensen

Will the right hon. Gentleman answer the last part of my question, with regard to the veto of the Viceroy?

Mr. Amery

The powers of the Viceroy under the Constitution remain unchanged.

Earl Winterton

I desire to make a personal statement and to express regret to the hon. Member for Ince (Mr. G. Macdonald) for having put the Question. I did not look at the Order Paper, and I should have done so. The practice I adopted is a common one, and I asked that Question. I offer my apologies.

Miss Eleanor Rathbone

Has the Secretary of State for India considered the possibility that the changed political situation with regard to Russia may have influenced the attitude of Congress, and has he considered the possibility of making a fresh approach?

Mr. Amery

All these considerations have been borne in mind.