HC Deb 16 April 1946 vol 421 cc2586-92

6.37 p.m.

The Under-Sceretary of State for India (Mr. Arthur Henderson)

I beg to move, That this House approves the continuance in force of the Proclamation issued under Section 93 of the Government of India Act. 1935, by the Governor of Madras on 3oth October, 1939, and of his Proclamations varying the same issued on 15th February, 1943, and 29th September, 1945, copies of which were presented to this House on 28th November, 1939 It:4h March, 1943, and 12th October, 1945, respectively. As the House is aware, the Province of Madras, in common with a number of other Provinces, has been under the direct rule of the Governor of the Province since October, 1939, when the Leaders of the Congress Party of India instructed their party representatives in the various Provinces in which the Congress Party had a majority, thereby exercising the function of government, to withdraw. As a consequence, it was necessary for the Governor of the Province to take over the powers of the Legislature which, as the House is aware, he is empowered to do under Section 93 of the Government of India Act, 1935. Elections have recently taken place in the Provinces and, indeed, in all cases where the election has been completed, with the exception of Madras, the leader of the majority party has been entrusted with the formation of a Ministerial Government. In the case of Madras, the election was completed on 30th March, and the results up to date are to the effect that 161 seats have been secured by supporters of the Congress Party and 39 seats are distributed among the Muslim Party and other parties in the Province. Unfortunately, the majority Congress Party are unable, up to date, to decide who shall be their leader and thereby be entrusted with the formation of a Ministry. The Proclamation, under which the Governor of Madras is at present exercising direct rule, expires on 29th of this month. Unless a Ministerial Government were to be formed before that date, it would be necessary for the Governor's powers to be extended for this Proclamation to be continued.

On 5th April a telegram was received from the Governor of the Province informing the India Office that there was this dispute about the leadership and, in consequence of that telegram, a telegram was sent from the India Office on 8th April drawing the attention of the Governor and his advisers to this problem which might arise under Section 93 and to the fact that the proclamation would come to an end on the 29th of this month. On Friday of last week a telegram was received from the Governor saying that there was little sign of the dispute being settled and suggesting that it would be preferable to ask this House to extend the life of the proclamation. I am here tonight to ask the House to extend the life of the Proclamation so as to cover any possible contingency which might arise in the event of no agreement being arrived at. It will be possible, as the House knows, to revoke the Proclamation at any time following an agreement among the majority party in the Madras Legislature. The Governor has power to do that, but I am asking the House tonight to agree to an extension of the life of the Proclamation in order to safeguard the position in view of the present dispute.

6.42 p.m.

Mr. R. A. Butler (Saffron Walden)

It is very regrettable that the Government have had to come to the House with this Order. We are quite aware of Orders under Section 93, but the House should clearly realise the position with which we are now faced as the Parliament about whose work arid about whose influence there is so much criticism in India. We find ourselves in a position where elections have been held in the Province of Madras—a Province which we have always regarded as being exceptionally enlightened and one in which the working of the reforms, on the whole, has been satisfactory with the exception of the last few years—and where the Congress Party have a very large majority of 161 as against their opponents 39. At a moment when we are told that self-government in desired in India, we are also told by the Government that the Congress Party in Madras, unlike other well-regulated parties in this House, is quarrelling about its leadership, and is unable to form a constitutional Government.

This is an extremely disappointing sign, coming at the present moment. I should have thought it would have been possible for Congress, with whatever well. wishers or friends they may have in Madras, so to resolve their differences that out of their immense majority, they could, at least, attempt to form a Government before 29th April. I am sorry that the Governor, who is, I know, one of our most distinguished men, has thought it necessary to appeal to the home Government to come to this House for an Order. I should have thought there was sufficient time for negotiation before 29th April, to do without this Order. We on this side have no desire that there should be a reversion to Governor government in Madras. I would like to put this fairly and squarely before the Presidency of Madras. What is the position? In all the Indian Provinces, with the exception of Orissa, the Central Provinces and Bihar, all India has reverted to responsible government as we would desire her to do. Madras is a place where, thanks to the majority, the issues are perfectly clear, and I should have thought Madras would have been the first Province to revert to the ordinary constitutional working of democracy under the 1935 Act.

It appears to be impossible to get Congress to make up its mind about leadership unless the Under-Secretary comes down and gets this House to pass an Order, which will act as a sort of sword of Damocles hanging over the heads of the Congress Party, so that unless they make up their minds by the 29th, they know the Governor will resume rule. It is necessary to speak bluntly on this occasion, because the Under-Secretary has had to come to this House on other occasions on vital Bills and Measures, and other matters which ought to have been decided on the Indian sub-continent itself. On a previous occasion the Under-Secretary had to come to the House on the Indian Divorce Act, because the High Courts of India were unable to follow the developing process of legislation and watch its effects, with the result that a mistake was made in the High Courts and certain people who thought they had been or had not been divorced were in a state of despair and irritation. As I say, this is not the first time that the Under-Secretary has had to come to this House with matters that ought not to have been brought here. This is particularly the case in regard to the Presidency of Madras.

What will the position be? We shall, I presume, pass this Order because, in the circumstances, if the House does not pass it, it will be impossible for Madras to be governed under Section 93 and it will have no government at all, and the powers under the Government of India Act will lapse. Therefore, it is necessary for us to pass the Order, but, at the same time, it is a distinct indication to the Congress in Southern India—in Madras—that they should make some attempt to resolve their differences before 29th April. Questions of leadership in this country are solved with the greatest of ease and, despite journalistic prognostications, we never have any difficulty. I should have thought the Congress Party in Madras—I will not enter into personalities because that is not our affair—could, out of their majority, have indicated to the Governor who would be a suitable leader and that, at the same time, the Governor would have been able to find from this majority a responsible Government.

It would be out of Order on this occasion to mention anything about the major Indian constitutional question which is being discussed in another part of India, and I have no intention of so doing, but I would like to make an appeal to the Presidency of Madras that it would be a better augury for the working out of the vital questions of India, if they resolved their differences and proceeded to proper constitutional government. I hope that if the Under-Secretary says anything further he will echo those words. It is an intolerable situation that, because a vast majority party is unable to make up its mind about individual personalities, they should have to come to the Imperial Parliament for Orders to enable the Governor to rule by himself. That is all I have to say on the matter. I trust those words will have some effect and that, as a result, it will be found that a reversion to constitutional government will be possible and that the Presidency will proceed with that fair wind which we wish it to have.

6.49 p.m.

Mr. Godfrey Nicholson (Farnham)

I am certain that this House wishes to send a message of confidence to the Acting Governor, Sir Henry Knight, who is a most distinguished member of the Indian Civil Service and who has a most remarkable record in Bombay. In Bombay he was entirely responsible for the introduction of the system of rationing, which is a model not only for the rest of India but, perhaps, for the whole world. There is no man in India more suitable for the position of Acting Governor than Sir Henry Knight. I am stare that if there are steps which he can take to resolve this difficult position, they will be taken, and I hope they will be successful. I join with my right hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. R. A. Butler) in deploring this situation. It is, indeed, a bad omen for India if, in Madras of all Provinces, constitutional government cannot be re-established. I beg and pray all Indian statesmen to ponder this situation seriously in the light of their objective, which surely is that the day shall come when there will be no Section 93 and no British Parliament to which to appeal, and perhaps no British Governor on to whose shoulders the burden of responsibility can be thrown. It seems to me that if at this juncture of India's destinies petty bickering over questions of leadership and political plotting should stand in the way of a full resumption of provincial self-government, then indeed the outlook for India's future is dark. I know it is not in Order to refer to what is going on at New Delhi, but, as a friend of India—and indeed, we are all in this House friends of India, without distinction of party—I beg Indian political parties to take warning by this sinister development.

There is one other factor which comes into play in Madras, and I hope it has nothing to do with the political crisis. That is the fact that within the next few months much of Madras Presidency will be passing through a period of acutest famine. As one who has just been to India I registered a vow that I would neglect no opportunity of hammering home to this House our duty towards India. If we expect India not to let herself down, we must not let India down so far as allocations of grain are concerned. It will be a lasting disgrace to us if we allow one single grain to be diverted from our fellow subjects in India to any other part of the world unless it is absolutely necessary. I notice your warning look, Mr. Speaker, and I will resume my seat.

6.53 P.m.

Mr. Sorensen (Leyton, West)

Inevitably speeches on this matter will be very brief and somewhat reiterative. What I am about to say reiterates what has been said before. I naturally express my very great hope that the unfortunate differences will be resolved at an early date and that the threat which is held out will be withdrawn. Therefore, I endorse what has been said by the Under-Secretary of State for India, and I support the appeal which is made to our friends in India to resolve their differences so that this unfortunate proposal shall not be carried into effect. I do not think we necessarily assist our Indian friends by suggesting that this is a bad omen for the future. It concerns only one part of India and, serious as it is, in other parts of India Provincial Governments have been formed. Again we should appreciate that these unfortunate difficulties are not unknown in other parts of the world besides India. Sometimes Governments are held up because of very sincere, though lamentable, differences. We are not entirely unaware of similar difficulties in our own country, even though they have not reached the very grave stage which they have reached in Madras. Therefore, I urge on hon. Members not to overplay the note that this is a very had omen or a bad augury for the future.

On the contrary, while we must make our appeal, as we shall make it, to our Indian friends to resolve their differences for the sake of India and for the sake of future self-government, we should also point out to them that, if in other parts India has succeeded in establishing self-government in the Provinces, it should be possible in Madras as well. For that reason, I hope we shall be able to accept this proposal with the hope and understanding that directly there is in this major Indian party in Madras agreement regarding leadership, this proposal shall be withdrawn. I would like an assurance from the Under-Secretary that that will be so. If that assurance is given, then, with great reluctance, we shall pass this proposal, but at the same time make a fervent appeal that at no distant date the Congress Party in Madras will resolve its internal difficulties and, for the sake of Madras and India as a whole, the Province will be able to re-establish self-government.

Mr. A. Henderson

With the permission of the House, I would like to echo the wishes of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. R. A. Butler) in expressing the hope that this dispute will be quickly settled. I can certainly assure my hon. Friend the Member for West Leyton (Mr. Sorensen) that the sooner the dispute is settled, the sooner will Ministerial Government be established and the sooner will the Proclamation which has been made under Section 93 be revoked.

Resolved: That this House approves the continuance in force of the Proclamation issued under Section 93 of the Government of India Act, 1935, by the Governor of Madras on 3oth October, 1939 and of his Proclamations varying the same issued on 15th February, 1943, and 29th September, 1945, copies of which were presented to this House on 28th November, 1939, 16th March, 1943, and 12th October, 1945. respectively.