§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."[Mr. H. Morrison.]
§ 9.28 p.m.
§ Major Wyatt (Birmingham, Aston)
The subject I am raising is one that is very far remote from the discussion of the last two days. I think that it is not unimportant, in view of the Government's recent statement on India, that we should, for a moment in this House, consider the conditions under which the forthcoming elections in India will be held, because out of this election should come the constitution-making body which will settle the whole future of India once and for all. These elections may be the last elections—I hope they will be—ever held in India under British jurisdiction, and it is most important for the future relations between this country and India that Indians should, at this time, have good faith, or have reliance on the good faith of the attitude of the Government. Already, in India, things have been said which show that some of the Indian leaders feel that this Labour Government in no way differs from a Conservative Government, which is rather in contrast to what the hon. 2644 Gentlemen opposite have been saying during the last two days.
The holding of this election gives us a chance to show complete impartiality and tolerance in our attitude towards the problem of India. First there are still detained in India several thousands of political detenus. I think it is time we had some clear definitive statement about what is to be done with these political detenus. We should either release them or try them, because it is against the traditions of this country to detain people in prison indefinitely without trial. I could appreciate that many of these detenus could be classified by the authorities as being terrorists. If the authorities have reasonable grounds to suppose that some of them are terrorists, in that case, they should either try them now or, if they think them too dangerous to let them out now, announce a date after the election on which they will be tried. The important thing is to remove uncertainty. If is within the power of the Secretary of State to instruct the Governors of the Provinces to take this action. It may be said that, in the Provinces where Section 93 of the Government of India Act is not operating, the Governors should not do that without consultation with the Provincial Governments concerned, but, as the prisoners were put in without con- 2645 Sultation with the Provincial Governments, they can surely be put out without consultation with the Provincial Governments? While out of detention, the ex-political detenus, or people convicted of political offences, suffer from some further disabilities, which should be removed. They have been removed in some cases, according to the disposition of the particular Provincial Government concerned.
§ Mr. Godfrey Nicholson (Farnham)
Would the hon. and gallant Gentleman tell us how many political detenus he is referring to?
§ Major Wyatt
I am referring to the last figure given by my hon. and learned Friend, which was something in the neighbourhood of 3,000 or 4,000. I am hoping that he will give us the latest figures, because I know these releases are taking place the whole time, and I want a clear and definite statement to resolve the whole question. In Madras, I under stand, instructions have been given that the names of ex-political detenus should be removed from the voters' list if they have not got, in the current year, the necessary120 days' residential qualification. Naturally, if held in prison against their will during the present year, they have not got the necessary qualification, so I think that that disability should be removed, as it has been removed in other Provinces. It is within the power of the Governors to take this action. Of course, at the same time, if they are not on the voters' list, they cannot become candidates and both these disabilities should be removed.
I think also that all Governors should be instructed to use the discretion that they are allowed in Section 69 (b) of the Government of India Act to allow people who have been convicted of any offences and served a term of imprisonment of two years, and five years has not yet run since the end of their imprisonment, to stand as candidates, because this rule—if the discretion is not used—means that many people who went to prison for political offences, particularly at the time of the August, 1942, disturbances, are debarred from being candidates although, according to their lights, they have not committed any crime which would justify their going to prison—they have only been trying to make an attempt to achieve the liberty of their country. We may have views on whether 2646 they are taking the right action or not but, nevertheless, we must admit that there is some substance in their argument. So I think that all governors should be instructed to use their discretion. I know that many have, but there may be some cases which have been left over.
The next point I want to deal with is the soldier's vote. We had a statement not long ago which seemed to indicate that Indian soldiers in the Indian Army would be able to vote. I do not think many people appreciate that an Indian soldier can vote only if he happens, in the first place, to be stationed in India at the time, in which case he may have to take a train journey as far as from London to Moscow in order to record his vote. I agree that the Government of India have, very rightly, given him three days' leave in order to undertake this task, and then he comes back again, but there are no arrangements, as there were in the United Kingdom, for Indian soldiers to vote by post or by proxy, and I think there should be. If it can be done in England, it can be done in India. At the moment, of course, an Indian soldier can vote only if he has either the educational qualification or the property qualification. He cannot vote merely because he is a soldier. Only retired Indian soldiers are allowed to vote by virtue of having been a soldier, and 1 think that in this particular case of Indian soldiers— where the administration of the Army allows you to record people's names and identities, and so forth, pretty accurately—the franchise should be extended to include all Indian soldiers, because 1 think that they—and I am sure the hon. Members opposite will agree—have played their part in this war and that they should be entitled to have some voice in the future constitution of their country. This again can be done, I think quite simply, by using the powers given to the provincial Governments under Section 291(b) of the Government of India Act.
There have been general complaints from India about omissions in the electoral rolls, and that in some cases very old registers will be used. I believe in some areas that they are dated 1941 and even earlier. I know that it was not possible, with the limited Civil Service in India, to undertake any very great extension of the franchise, but I do think it is possible to take every possible pains to see that those registers are up to date and complete, so that Indians have confidence 2647 in the administration having made all possible efforts to bring them up to date, even though they may not be as extensive as they might have wished. I do not think there should be any hesitation to rectify any incomplete registers; there should be quite a lot of latitude given in that respect.
Now I turn to a rather more important point, and that is the actual conduct of the elections themselves. The Prime Minister, in his broadcast statement soon after he took office, said that the elections in India must be free and fair. I think it is a very high tribute to Government officials in India, both British and Indian, that there is no general complaint in India, as to their impartiality or lack of impartiality. Every one appreciates that they have a very difficult job.. They are understaffed and overworked, and Indians themselves have very frequently said to me how much they respect the integrity of the Government of India officials, particularly for instance where it comes to using their judgment in maintaining neutrality between contending parties.
That is why reports of Government officials taking sides in the Punjab election have some considerable importance. My hon. and learned Friend, I know, has seen some of these reports, and I think that his Noble Friend is also aware that there have been reports of this kind coming out of the Punjab. In the Punjab, the Government is a Unionist Government. That Unionist party have been very pro-British, and very friendly with the British, and I think they, probably more than any other party in India, would prefer that Indian nationalism was never achieved. It may be more convenient for the British Administration or Government administration in the Punjab to see that the Unionist party is again returned at the election in the Punjab, because, owing to the allotment of the various community seats, if the Unionist party is not returned with a reasonable majority, it will follow that there will be a certain amount of in stability in the government of that province. Last April I was told—
§ Earl Winterton (Horsham)
On a point of Order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. As I understand, the hon. and gallant Gentle man is now talking about the Punjab, which is under its own Provincial Government. I submit that under the Govern- 2648 ment of India Act, it is not open for us in this House to criticise the doings of a Provincial Government.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Mr. Hubert Beaumont
I think it would be wiser if the hon. and gallant Member refrained from dealing any further with the matter.
§ Mr. Driberg (Maldon)
Is it in Order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, to discuss the Government of Burma and the affairs of Burma, which would be almost a parallel case?
§ Earl Winterton
There have been several Rulings, I submit, in which it has been laid down again and again by Mr. Speaker that, under the Government of India Act, it is not possible to criticise the doings of a Provincial Government. There were certain Governments taken over by the Central Government, but, as the hon. Gentleman said, that does not apply to the Punjab which is in the same position, I submit, broadly, as the Dominions.
§ Major Wyatt
Would I be in Order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, if I confined my remarks to the Government of India officials employed in the Punjab Province?
§ Mr. Paton (Norwich)
On this Ruling, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, one, of course, understands its application to the Provincial Government so far as they exercise their power of government but, as we all know in this House, there are sections of the affairs of the Provincial Government which are also affairs of the Central Government of India. Can we not discuss these?
§ Mr. Nicholson
May I suggest that the Central Government of India has no influence at all on the provincial elections, or the conduct of them?
§ Major Wyatt
The Secretary of State has full power to issue any general or particular directions to the Governor-General, and under the Government of India Amendment Act, 1939, the Governor-General has full power to pass those on to the Governor of the Province.
§ The Under-Secretory of State for India (Mr. Arthur Henderson)
It is rather a difficult question as to when we are going over the line, but it is a fact that the rules that are made under the Sixth Schedule are the responsibility of the Governor of the Province, because it is entirely within his discretion, but I am bound to say that the Secretary of State for India has some responsibility over the exercise of the discretion by the Governor, whereas it would be quite improper to criticise the conduct of the machinery by the officials of the Punjab Government in so far as any question is raised as to the elections rules that have been authorised by the Government. It may well be that it is within the province of the Secretary of State for India to take action, if he were of opinion that the Governor of the Punjab was not exercising his discretion in accordance with the 1935 Act.
May I point out that this question is one which is regarded with particular jealousy in India [An HON. MEMBER: "By whom?"] By the Indians. Previous Rulings by the Chair have been that matters which appertain to Provincial Government cannot be discussed in this House.
§ Mr. Henderson
I did take advice in the Department in this matter. Perhaps I might read it for the 'benefit of the House:As regards the propriety of dealing with electoral matters in the House, the question is one not of law but of policy. The law is quite clear. The Secretary of State has a right to intervene in a double sense as the rules themselves are made by the Governor in his individual judgment and the particular Rule involved, affecting the dates of the elections is made by the Governor in his discretion under paragraph 20 of Part I of the Assemblies Order. The intervals in the successive stages in the elections may, however, be fixed by the Governor.According to this ruling it would appear to be possible to raise any point which is in reference to election rules, but nothing beyond that.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I do not think I can improve on the statement just made. I would ask the hon. and gallant Member to proceed with caution and care.
§ Major Wyatt
I will try to proceed with the caution and care with which I was dealing with this subject. It is one in which the greatest possible tact must be exercised, not only as regards any minor repercussions in this country, but as 2650 regards the repercussions in India. I would merely indicate, in deference to your Ruling, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that there has been a certain amount of uneasiness in the Punjab. I would like to suggest to the Government that fairly simple action could be taken to deal with this problem which would put the ballot beyond all possible dispute. In this Province the system for election at present in use is different from that used in the other Provinces. In this case the official sits behind his table in the voting booth, and has a representative of each party standing behind him. The illiterate voter comes into the polling booth, and the official points at the names of the candidates on the paper in front of him. The official sees for whom the illiterate voter votes. That may or may not be a good thing. In other Provinces the system of the coloured ballot box is used. By this system the official and the representatives of the parties are sitting in front of a screen. The illiterate voter comes in, the representative of the party tells the illiterate voter which their colour is, he is given a voting slip, he goes behind the screen and no one sees which coloured voting box he puts his slip into, which I think is a far better arrangement.
It might be as well to have from other Provinces in these provincial elections, some other officials so that there would be no uneasiness in the minds of the Indians in that province. I particularly emphasise the point of the elections in the Punjab, because of all the provincial elections taking place in India in the next few months, with the possible exception of Bengal, these will be the most important. It is in the Punjab that the issue of whether or not the Moslem League can press their claim to Pakistan is to be decided. If the Moslem League can obtain the greater majority of the Moslem seats, they have got a clear case to go forward in India for saying "We have the support of the majority of Moslems." If they do not, it will be another matter. Their case for Pakistan will not be so strong. It is in that Province that we will have the issue of whether there are to be one or two India's. I am leaving out the Indian States. It is above all important that there should be no possible suspicion that these elections in the Punjab are not free.
I think that if some such arrangements were made, or suggested, by His 2651 Majesty's Government, we could have reasonable satisfaction on the Indian side. I intended to raise one other small point, about official action elsewhere in India which might be frowned upon, but I will not do so in deference to the Noble Lord. I was only going to raise it, to illustrate how impartially the Government officials were conducting the elections as a whole throughout India. I know that my hon. Friend and his Noble Friend are perfectly sincere in their intentions towards India. They mean to see that India shall get her independence. I am a little afraid that there is not as much trust as there might be on the Indian side of both my hon. Friend and his Noble Friend. If he takes some action in this particular matter and shows that he and Parliament are constantly vigilant about the affairs of India— even though, in some ways, they may seem rather small— then he will be doing much to improve our relations with India and to build sure foundations for the negotiations that will come after the elections
§ 9.53 p.m.
§ Mr. Godfrey Nicholson (Farnham)
I am sure the whole House will recognise the reasonable and moderate tone of the hon. and gallant Gentleman who has just spoken, but I wonder if he is not exaggerating the possibility of this abuse occurring in the Punjab and exaggerating its importance. The central elections have already taken place and they are quite as important as the provincial elections, as far as the Punjab is concerned. The Punjab, as the House knows, is a Province of an exceedingly heterogeneous nature; it is not homogeneous in any sense of the word. The conflict between the Moslem League and the Unionist Party can hardly take the shape of an attempt by the one or the other to tyrannise over a minority— although it will disagree with it— as might occur in a totalitarian State. More than 40 percent. of the inhabitants of the Punjab are Hindus or Sikhs, and I have always felt that the danger in elections is not in the province where there is some division of political opinion, but in the Province where one party has an absolutely over whelming preponderance. That is where there is the danger of elections being rigged and intimidation occurring
§ Major Wyatt
May I interrupt? Would the hon. Member not agree that in a Province where you have a Provincial party government in operation, they have control of the people right down as far as the irrigation officer— who is so important in the Punjab, as the hon. Member would know, because of his own experience in India— and there is a lot that can be done to rig an election?
§ Mr. Nicholson
I adhere to my view. I do not think the Punjab Government is one where every subordinate officer holds political opinions which are the same as those of the Government of the day. The Moslem League can hold its own just as the Unionist Party can. My opinion is that democracy has worked as well in the Punjab as anywhere else. I have followed events in India and I have not come across any serious feeling from what I have read and from the letters I have had from India, that the election would be more corrupt there than in any Eastern country.
§ Major Wyatt
In view of what the hon. Member has just said, I would like to make it absolutely clear that my only concern in raising this matter is that the official machinery supervising the election should be absolutely above and beyond suspicion, whatever people directly concerned in the election may or may not do.
§ Mr. Nicholson
There would have been something in that view, if the hon. Member had been able to raise this matter a good many months ago. The thing is now under way. Central elections have already taken place, and the provincial elections begin within the next five weeks in one Indian Province, and are spread over the next few months, I think. It would look bad if the Secretary of State for India started to elaborate machinery of a direct and overriding interference. After all, the only justification for the Secretary of State to interfere is the conviction that there is substantial evidence that corruption is likely to take place, and I think the more we leave India and, above all, Indian Provincial Governments, which are in good working order, to run elections themselves, the better. You cannot profess to give freedom to a nation—India or anywhere else—while always interfering in a grandmotherly fashion because one 2653 thinks things may go wrong. When you have given provincial self-government you must keep clear of interference in government of that kind. That is not only a constitutional doctrine but sound common sense. I would ask the hon. and gallant Member to bear in mind that whatever we do in this country in the way of interference in Indian affairs is bound to be misinterpreted, and bound to cause suspicion and this would be a purely gratuitous interference. I hope the hon. and gallant Member does not think I am quarrelling with him needlessly, but I am very certain that for the Government to carry out his suggestion would not be a desirable proceeding.
§ 10.0 p.m.
§ Earl Winterton (Horsham)
I am sure that the hon. and gallant Member who initiated this Debate had the best intentions, and personally I think many of his suggestions were valuable, but for the reasons that I put on the points of Order which I raised I feel that we are on very delicate ground because of the constitutional position. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Farnham (Mr. G. Nicholson) that there is always a danger that even the best intentioned speeches of any hon. Members on the other side of the House in regard to the internal organisation of India may be interpreted in India as an attempt by this House to interfere with India. We are in a rather strange position today, because it is no longer the case that the Indian extremist leaders—if I may so describe them—or leaders, distinguish between Codlin and Short. On the contrary Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru said the other day—I have not his ipsissima verba but this was the effect of it—that in sheer distrust of India and in bad policy for India there was nothing to distinguish between the Tories and the Socialists. That observation will no doubt make hon. Members opposite careful to say nothing which could further exacerbate his feelings. I rise for a different purpose, and I seldom speak in an Indian Debate and do not want to stand between the House and other hon. Members.
I think the hon. Member must have observed the other day that it was not any party feeling but a much more general feeling of disquietude which was expressed in the House when it was announced that it was the intention of His Majesty's 2654 Government to send to India a Com mission or a Committee or whatever it was called appointed by the Empire Parliamentary Association. Nobody would suggest that the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Leamington (Mr. Eden) usually have much in common from a political point of view, and we may be sure that when they rose one after the other to cast grave doubts on the value of that suggestion it represents something more than a party view.
It may seem strange coming from my lips, but I will tell the Under-Secretary why I think the proposal was a somewhat calamitous one. I have always been a great supporter of the Empire, but the majority of men in public life in India are not supporters of the Empire. Why, therefore, choose an association known as the Empire Parliamentary Association to select a number of hon. Gentlemen for duties which are very ill-defined and—while I do not want to make wounding and ridiculous observations which would quite properly be objected to—who might, I think, easily turn themselves into "Paget M.Ps.", having no clear definition laid down as to their duties? That was a defect. If we are to send Members of this House, the first Assembly in the world, the greatest legislative Assembly in the world, to any part of the Empire, they must go with a clear mission and purpose, and I maintain that they should go under the auspices of this House. This House should take the responsibility. I do not ask for an answer to-night, but I do ask the Under-Secretary to have regard to the strong expressions of doubt which was forthcoming on that occasion, and not to persist in this matter without consultations through the usual channels and also with other Members of the House as well.
§ 10.5 p.m.
§ Mr. Driberg (Maldon)
I would like to support very strongly what the Noble Lord has just said with regard to the mission to India. I personally think that the delegation should be an all party one, and should be an official Parliamentary delegation with clear terms of reference, rather like the delegation on which I had the honour to serve, which went to Buchenwald at short notice in April last. It went with very clear terms of reference and was instructed to draw up a report 2655 which was presented to the Prime Minister and the Government on our return, and was later published as a White Paper. It is essential that, whatever delegation does go, it should be able and should be required on its return to make to this House or to the Government a report for publication as a White Paper, or in some other way to issue its findings on what the members of the delegation saw and heard in India.
One of the most frustrating things which, I think, was not mentioned when the announcement was made the other day about the mission that went to New found land was that, as many Members of the last Parliament will remember, there was endless trouble in this House because the members of that mission to Newfound land were not allowed to make public their report on what they found there. As it turned out, one of them did publish his own report, to which I think the other members of the mission rather took exception, and it was not altogether a satisfactory arrangement. That report on Newfoundland should have been made available and published. Similarly, this mission which is to go to India, should publish its findings when it returns.
Having said that, there is only one other point to which I would like to refer, and that is in support of my hon. and gallant Friend in a particular part of his speech which I think was entirely non-controversial. I refer to his plea that the Indian soldiers should be given as much opportunity as possible to record their votes. I was in Rangoon a month or two ago, and after attending a meeting there a couple of Indian soldiers came up to me and spoke about this very point. They said how deeply they felt it that they should have been able to fight in the war side by side with soldiers from the United Kingdom, and yet, whereas the soldiers from the United Kingdom were able to record their votes by proxy or by post, they themselves were apparently going to be done out of the right of exercising their franchise. I hope my hon. and learned Friend will tell us that he is going to try to make some sort of arrangements, or will see that arrangements are made, for Indian soldiers to vote by proxy or by post if they cannot be at their own homes to do so. Those hon. Members who saw that admirable film "Burma victory" a few weeks ago 2656 in the Grand Committee Room will re member seeing how many Indian soldiers there were, and everybody knows how gallantly they fought in Burma, as they have fought on other fronts during the war. The least we can do for them, so far as we can do anything about it in this House, is to urge that they should be allowed to record their votes.
§ 10.9 p.m.
§ Mr. Peter Freeman (Newport)
I rise only to ask the Under-Secretary one question before he replies. At the same time I would like to associate myself with the proposal that has been made that this delegation or mission should go from this House, because it seems to me that it will go with more dignity and responsibility. The question I want to ask the Under-Secretary is whether he will state the qualifications of the electors who will vote in this election. Of course, it varies in the different States, but in these democratic days we are apt to think that every body in India will have a vote. Every body over 21 in this country and in most other countries has a vote at the elections, but that is not the case in India. If the hon. and learned Gentleman could give a statement of individual cases or any special cases, it would be of guidance, and perhaps at the same time he could state the proportion of the population who are entitled to take part in the vote, and those of adult age. The number of voters is of interest to those of us who know that it is impossible to get a democratic vote, in India.
§ 10.11 p.m.
§ Sir Stanley Reed (Aylesbury)
There are only two points that I would like to raise and I do not raise them in any vein of criticism, but in order to put another aspect of the problem. If I understand the hon. and gallant Member for Aston (Major Wyatt) correctly, his argument was that those detenus who were detained for anarchical crime should either be tried or released. I do not think that he was in the House during the last Parliament, but if he looks back at the records, he will see that that point was raised in regard to Regulation 18B. The Home Secretary of his own particular shade of opinion emphatically declared in this House that he would not, and could not, accept responsibility in that matter. Against the strong pressure of some of my own political friends, I have always set 2657 my face against the idea that one could bring this sort of offence to trial in open court.
I would like to give an illustration of how that worked. On an earlier occasion, when certain persons were detained for complicity in anarchical crimes, the Government deputed an Indian judge of the highest repute, who had served his period in the High Court, and who was a strong Nationalist, to inquire into each case and make a personal investigation. He assured me afterwards that in 18 out of 19 cases there was not the remotest chance of bringing them before the ordinary procedure of a court of justice. In the 19th case there was a suspicion or shadow of doubt. I mention that as an illustration of the impossibility of people charged with anarchical crime in India being brought to trial. Substantial numbers have been released even though the detenus were engaged in anarchical crime. In this House, Home Secretaries, what ever their political opinions, found it impossible to carry on their responsibility without having the power under i8b in their full discretion.
The only other point I would mention is that my hon. and gallant Friend said, with great force, that the elections which are soon to take place in the Punjab are crucial elections and, therefore, should be above suspicion. I sincerely hope that my hon. and learned Friend will consider many times before he applies a corrective to the Government of the Punjab. The one certainty of creating such an atmosphere would be to issue the corrective suggested. I hope that the Minister will make it clear that there is no reason what ever to suspect any interference with the free exercise of the franchise, and that he will not of his own volition cause any suspicion. Everybody, I need hardly add, will cordially agree with what has been said about the Burmese soldiers.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for India (Mr. Arthur Henderson)
A variety of points have been raised in the Debate and I will endeavour, in the limited time at my disposal, to try to cover all of them. Perhaps I might start with the point raised by the Noble Lord with regard to the proposed Parliamentary delegation under the auspices of the Empire Parliamentary Association. I am sure that he does not expect me to state the policy of the Government on that matter tonight— 2658 certainly I am not in a position to do so—but I will convey to my noble Friend the view that he has expressed.
§ Mr. Henderson
Oh, yes. Their support, as expressed, will appear in the Official Report, and will be on record. My hon. and gallant Friend who opened the Debate raised a number of points. The first referred to the political detenus and he urged that they should either be re leased or that a date should be fixed for their trial. The policy of the Government with regard to political detenus has already been announced in a detailed reply that I made in the House on 15th October. Hon. Members will remember that it was then stated that the policy of the Government of India was one of progressive release, based upon a careful examination of each case. The number of detenus on 1st August was 1,958, and on 1st October, 1,109. By 1st December the number had been further reduced to 622. I think that those figures indicate that the Government are carrying out the policy which I announced on 15th October. If it were thought necessary, I should like to assure the House that the policy of progressive release will be continued at as rapid a pace as conditions in India will permit.
My hon. and gallant Friend passed from the release of detenus to what he called the disabilities which had been imposed upon detenus, and he referred to the fact that those who had been imprisoned for periods of two years should not be disqualified from taking part in the elections. The Government of India have followed a liberal policy in regard to both the Central and the Provincial Legislatures, and disqualifications resulting from convictions arising out of political offences are being removed on application in all cases where the offence has not involved violence or disqualification on account of corrupt practices at elections. No information is available, at the moment, about the number of instances in which disqualification has been re moved in the case of the Provincial Legislatures, but in the case of the Central Legislature all applications for the removal of disqualification have been allowed, with the exception of one, where 2659 the disqualification was on account of corrupt practices.
My hon. and gallant Friend then referred to the position in Madras where, he stated, residence in jail appeared to have been held as a disqualification in connection with the residential qualification. The position with regard to Madras is that the residential qualification, as laid down for Madras in the Sixth Schedule of the 1935 Act, is that a person must have resided in a house in the constituency for a period of not less than 120 days in the previous financial year. The Madras Government have received legal advice that a person confined in a jail within the constituency for more than 245 days in the previous financial year cannot be said to have fulfilled the residential qualification as he has not resided in a house in the constituency. There is, however, some doubt as to whether this legal advice is correct and further inquiries are being made. Meanwhile, arrangements have been made for the last day for the filing of claims for inclusion in the electoral rolls to be deferred from 4th December to 19th December, which will enable persons affected by the previous decision to be included in the electoral rolls if this is found to be permissible.
My hon. and gallant Friend then dealt with the question of voting by soldiers, and asked what steps were being taken to arrange for soldiers to cast their votes. It is quite true that the only arrangements that have been made apply to soldiers who are at present stationed within the boundaries of India. My hon. and gallant Friend suggested that arrangements should be made for postal voting or voting by proxy. The possibility of providing facilities for postal voting and voting by proxy by members of the Indian Forces have been carefully considered by the Viceroy and the Commander-in-Chief, and both have come to the conclusion that the administrative difficulties of arranging any such systems in India would be so great as to be quite impossible for the purpose of the present elections. Their view is that the administrative difficulties are such that, on the one hand, the civil authority in the constituencies would not be able to pre pare from the electoral rolls an accurate list of persons who are absent in the defence Services; they have not, for example, the necessary information about 2660 units, stations, etc., while on the other hand commanding officers do not know which members of their units are qualified and registered as voters.
As regards the question of allowing all soldiers to vote, those for example who are within the boundaries of India, my hon. and gallant Friend suggested that we might take action under Section 291 of the 1935 Act. The suggestion that the vote should be given to all soldiers is one that obvbiously makes a natural appeal to us all in view of the great services of the Indian Army in this war. The suggestion that my hon. and gallant Friend has made, however, raises complicated problems in regard to other classes of war workers which could not be easily re solved. In any event we have been advised by our legal advisers that Section 291 of the 1935 Act would not enable soldiers as such to be added to the list of persons qualified to vote, and that action could only be taken by amendment of the Act or by Order in Council under Section 308 of the Act, after de tailed inquiries had been made as provided in that Section. It was quite obvious that those detailed inquiries could not be undertaken and completed in time for the present elections.
§ Mrs. Middleton (Plymouth, Sutton)
If my hon. Friend will allow me—does not this mean that practically all the soldiers who have fought on our behalf in the course of this war will be debarred from voting in this election?
§ Mr. R. A. Butler (Saffron Walden)
Is it not the case that the Government introduced a Bill to deal with 'this question of voting in Indian elections, and certain recommendations were made with regard to the residential qualification, and the Government at the time gave full consideration to all the perfectly legitimate points raised by the hon. and gallant Member who raised this matter?
§ Mr. Henderson
That is quite true, but I would remind the hon. Lady that the law which governs the qualifications of all individuals in India was laid down by Parliament in 1935, and the question is whether it would be possible to alter that law under the provisions of the Section to which my hon. and gallant Friend has referred. All I can do is to refer the House to Section 308 of the Government of India Act, 1935, which 2661 provides that before any changes can take place in the electoral qualifications in India, His Majesty's Government must take steps to ascertain the views of the Governments and Legislatures in India who would be affected by the pro posed Amendment and the views of any minority likely to be so affected, and whether a majority of the representatives of that minority in the Federal, or, as the case may be, the Provincial Legislatures, support the proposal. That machinery could not possibly be invoked in present circumstances. The question did arise a few weeks ago under the pro visions of a Bill, endorsed by the House, which provided that a soldier who would otherwise have been deprived of his right to vote by reason of his absence from his place of residence in India, thereby forfeiting his residential qualification, should be protected, and that he should be deemed to have continued his residence, although he was absent on military service. To that extent, the rights of soldiers who were otherwise entitled to vote, but who would have been disqualified by reason of the residential qualification, were safeguarded.
My hon. Friend the Member for New port (Mr. Freeman) asked me to give the various electoral qualifications. That would take up a good deal of time, be cause they vary in some respects in practically each one of the eleven Provinces of India, but broadly speaking, in the Central Legislature, the number of electors is 1,500,000, and the total number of electors for the Provincial Legislatures is in the neighbourhood of something over 30,000,000, the explanation being that there is a much more restricted property qualification in the case of the Central Legislature and a lower property qualification in the case of the Provincial Legislatures. Various other points were raised by my hon. Friend with reference to the Punjab, and he suggested that we should take steps to safeguard those who were entitled to vote in that Province.
I would like to agree with what the Noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) said with regard to the undesirability of interfering with the de tailed arrangements that may be made in any Province, especially a Province like the Punjab, which has a Ministerial Government, and which has manifested great stability during the last years. We should be very reluctant to interfere with 2662 the detailed arrangements of elections. My hon. and gallant Friend asked why we could not have a system of coloured boxes or symbols in the Punjab, as is the case in other Provinces. I am advised however that the system that they have in the Punjab, by which a distinguishing mark of black discs is put beside the name of each candidate so that the illiterate voter can ascertain how many discs are opposite the name of his candidate, is a system that has been in general use for many years, both for localand other elections, and that it has never been attacked by any of the parties in the Punjab. I am advised also that it is a system that is well understood in that Province, and that it would certainly be quite impracticable at this stage to change it.
§ Major Wyatt
If I let my hon. and learned Friend have evidence that a political party has attacked it, will he pay attention to the matter?
§ Mr. Henderson
I will pay attention to any representations that my hon. and gallant Friend, or any other hon. Member, may make, but I must point out that at the present time it is quite impracticable for any change to be made in the system of voting that has operated in the Punjab ever since the system of elections was inaugurated in that Province. I think I have covered most of the points that have been raised. It has been generally accepted on both sides of the House that we have to be very careful about interfering with the way in which the elections are carried out in the various Provinces of India, but so far as we can consider representations pointing out anything that is in the nature of a weakness, we shall be only too glad to do so.