HC Deb 27 September 1944 vol 403 cc345-9

Order for Second Reading read.

4.40 p.m.

The Secretary of State for India (Mr. Amery)

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

I do not think I need detain the House many minutes in explaining the minor Amendments to the 1935 Act included in the miscellaneous provisions of this Bill. The first Clause deals with the periodic renewal of the Upper Houses in those Provinces which have second chambers. These second chambers are, like the American Senate, permanent bodies renewable, in their case by one-third every three years. When the period for the second renewal of these chambers arose in 1943 it was possible to renew them in the case of Bengal and Assam, which have retained ministerial government, but under the disturbed conditions in the Provinces where Section 93 was in force, and with the danger of Japanese invasion, it was decided to suspend the elections. That fact would put the periodic renewal of those chambers out of gear, and the object of this Clause is to treat the period of Section 93 as non-existent, so that the renewals can take place in proper sequence. A margin of 12 months is provided in addition in order that elections can be held at a suitable period of the year.

The second Clause clears up a doubt which had been expressed as to whether, under the provisions of the Act, a judge transferred in India from one High Court to another or to the Supreme Court might not be considered as still holding his position in his original court. In our own Judicature Act of 1925 that point is made clear in Section 10. This Clause simply adapts the Indian conditions to the wording of our own Judicature Act. Clause 3 deals with the number of my advisers. The House will remember that before the Act of 1935 the Secretary of State worked very largely in all his relations with the Government of India through what was known as the India Council. Under the Act of 1935 the Council was abolished, the advisers were retained, and, provisionally pending federation, it was held that these advisers should be of the same number as the old Council, namely, within a minimum of eight or a maximum of 12. It was proposed that when federation came about the advisers should be reduced to a maximum of six and a minimum of three. As a matter of fact, federation has not come about nearly as soon as was expected, and meanwhile the war has created considerable practical difficulties in making certain at any one moment that the minimum figure of advisers is retained. Some of the men whom it would be most desirable to have as advisers are busily occupied with other war functions, and the difficulties of travel make it sometimes impossible, when an adviser is in sight, for him to reach England in time to prevent the statutory minimum not being reached. For that purpose I am asking the House to enable the statutory minimum to be reduced to five, not with any particular intention of reducing the minimum in the near future, but in order to give me a little more flexibility in securing the advisers I require.

Clause 4 is introduced in order to bring the leave conditions of the Commander-in-Chief and the Governor-General into line with modern facilities for air travel. As things stand at present, neither the Viceroy nor the Commander-in-Chief can leave India for any purpose more than once during the whole term of office. They are entitled, for reasons of health or private affairs, to leave India for four months once only, but obviously to-day and under war conditions it is rather absurd that the Commander-in-Chief, for instance, cannot fly to Teheran for a few days to take part in a conference or to visit the S.E.A.C. at Kandy. Similarly, it might very well be advantageous for the Secretary of State to be able to have a few days' special consultation with the Viceroy over here or in the Middle East. The object of the Clause is to enable the Viceroy or the Commander-in-Chief to go outside the narrow bounds of India for the purposes of special consultation over and above and apart from the leave for health or private affairs reasons which they are still allowed to have once during their term of office. From that point of view Subsection (2) makes it clear that when they come home for a short period or go outside India for a short period for that purpose, their emoluments shall not be reduced. It is provided that when they come home for a long period and their places are taken by somebody else, they should go from full pay to leave pay. On the other hand, when they come home, as an ambassador sometimes does, for a short period, it would be obviously unfair if their emoluments were cut down.

Clause 5 is consequential and makes it clear that it is not necessary during one of these short visits outside India to appoint an acting Commander-in-Chief in the place of the Commander-in-Chief. After all, if he flies to Kandy for a few days he is no mare out of touch with his duties at Delhi than if he were visiting Madras. On the other hand, it is desirable in the case of the Viceroy that, however short his absence, there should be an acting Governor-General, and this Clause simply makes it clear that, while the position with regard to the Governor-General remains unchanged, it is not Obligatory to appoint an acting Commander-in-Chief.

4.49 P.m.

Mr. Pethick-Lawrence (Edinburgh, East)

After listening to the remarks of the Secretary of State, I am bound to say that there does not appear to be any terrible significance in this Bill. I notice that in another place, where the Bill was debated, no opposition was put forward to it. I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether in India there has been any substantial expression of opinion adverse in any way to any of the provisions of the Bill. There is such a black-out of information at the present time that ordinary Members of the House do not always know what is going on. In default of any such expression of opinion, the provisions of the Bill appear quite innocuous and seem to be rendered necessary by the peculiar facts of the times.

The matter relating to the Upper Houses and the Provincial Governments in India naturally had to be dealt with in accordance with the practices which are going on as a consequence of the war. The proposal which the Government make is simply a sort of standstill arrangement, which would seem to me quite reasonable in the circumstances. With regard to the judges, I understand the proposal is merely intended to put beyond question what was certainly the intention in regard to them. That is, I understand, the only part of the Bill which is retrospective. It is simply to clear up doubts. I under- stand that the matter of the number of advisers is only intended in case the statutory number should not be reached and that it is not the intention of the Secretary of State to reduce the numbers unless that should be actually necessary. If that be so, I do not think we should take any exception to it.

Finally, with regard to this matter of the leave of the Viceroy and the Commander-in-Chief, the Secretary of State himself said that conditions of leave today are totally different from what they were a few years ago. I do not know whether we all realise that fact, but it was brought home to us here when the Foreign Secretary left this country not long ago. He went out, and was back again within a week. Apparently he completed the business and came back, and if there had been no announcement that he was away, very few people would have known that he had gone. In reality, he went something like 3,000 miles from this country. Before the war it would have been several weeks before we could have had him home again. Conditions have changed so greatly that new provisions have to be made. A commander-in-chief can fly here, there and everywhere and still carry on his duties. It was essential that some provision should be made by which, in the absence of the Viceroy, someone could act, perhaps in a case of emergency. The provisions of the Bill in that respect should be enacted. Perhaps before we actually carry the Bill through its Second Reading I may be informed on the point which I have put to the right hon. Gentleman. The position may seem perfectly reasonable, but when one comes to examine it there may be some conceivable objection.


Mr. Amery

I can answer the questions put by my right hon. Friend to his complete satisfaction, I hope. No items of the Bill have been matters of political controversy in India: The question raised in Clause 1 was raised locally from the point of view of the Legislative Councils knowing where they stood. The second point was raised locally when a certain judge was transferred from one court to another. The point was whether, in fact, he was not to be considered still a member of his previous court. In the case of the advisers, my own experience includes the occasion when I was put in a difficulty because an adviser could not come for a certain number of months. It was a question whether my minimum might not fall short during the interval before he could arrive. The question of the Commander-in-Chief was raised by Lord Wavell, in both his former capacity and his prospective capacity when he was home last. I do not think there is anything in the Bill which could arouse controversy in India.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House.—[Mr. Pym.] Committee To-morrow.