§ VISCOUNT CROSS
I rise to call attention to the provisions of the Act regulating the numbers and functions of the several Councils in India, and to present a Bill. My Lords, it is not my intention to detain your Lordships at any length with any statement as to the Bill which I must ask leave to introduce to-night, but I think it is only due to your Lordships to state very briefly the objects of, and the reasons for, the measure which I shall ask your Lordships to give to a first reading. Your Lordships are aware that under the provisions of the Indian Council Act of 1861, when the Council of India and the Governor General meet for the purpose of making laws and regulations, in addition to the ordinary number of members of the Council who are assembled or constituted as the Executive Council, other members are nominated by the Governor General in order to assist him and his Council when they meet for the purpose of making laws and regulations; but their powers are very limited, and no business, as the statute says, can be transacted at any such meeting other than the consideration and enactment of measures introduced into the Council for the purpose of enactment. It follows from this that when the Budget of the year is brought forward, and requires fresh legislation, it is then competent to the members of the Legislative Council to discuss the whole financial position of the Government and their entire proposals. But on the other hand if no financial legislation is required, no discussion can take place, and no member of the Legislative Council can say a word upon the subject. It follows also, secondly, that no member of the Legislative Council can ask questions of the government of India—there is no right of interpellating the Government of India as to any of their acts or as to anything that might be of 863 importance in the government of that country. I had considerable discussion with the present Viceroy before he left for India, upon this subject, and I have had an opportunity of ascertaining his views from statements he has made. On the 29th March, 1889, he made a speech to his Legislative Council in the following words—I am not going to read to your Lordships the whole of the speech, but he explains there so very clearly the mischief which I want to remedy that I trust your Lordships will allow mo to read a few short extracts from that speech. What he said was this:—It has I believe been usually held that the terms of the Act by which our proceedings are governed, preclude an examination of the Budget, except when the financial arrangements for the year involves legislation in Council; the result has been that the Legislative Council has or has not been able to discuss the Budget according as it was or was not connected with some change in the laws of the country, and it has thus come to pass, that during the last 25 years the Budget has been discussed in Council for 12 years, while for the remaining years no such discussion has been allowed to take place. This seems to me, I must say, an altogether incongruous and inconvenient arrangement, and I am glad to express publicly my opinion, that the opportunities accorded the Legislative Council for passing under review the financial situation of the country, should occur with regularity, and should not depend, as at present, upon what is after all a mere accident—I mean the necessity of financial legislation in any particular year.I think, my Lords, that explains as clearly as anything possibly can be explained, what I mentioned in my few opening sentences, and if I may venture to say so, with those observations made by the Viceroy in March of last year, I most thoroughly and entirely agree. He then goes on to say:—I may, perhaps, take this opportunity of of mentioning that this subject appears to be closely connected with another—I mean the propriety of giving to the members of the Legislative Council of the Government of India, under proper safeguards, the right of addressing questions to Government upon matters of public interest. I make this announcement, however, subject to two important qualifications. It will, in the first place, be necessary to ascertain clearly whether the law as it now stands permits the course which we should like to adopt, and if it does not, how it should be amended. In the next place it will be necessary effectually to limit the right of interpellation in such a manner as to preclude absolutely all questions which could not be put without injury to the public interest. This is a point of the utmost importance, and will require the most careful examination.864 My Lords, in all those observations of the Viceroy I most heartily and entirely concur. As the Viceroy states there, I had first to enquire whether it was possible, under the existing law, to carry out such arrangements as would be necessary in order to give effect to what the Viceroy evidently wished to be carried out; but after very serious consideration and careful examination, I entirely satisfied myself that fresh legislation was required, and that it would be impossible, under the existing law to make the alterations which the Viceroy wanted in accordance with those proposals. No doubt some legislation might have taken place as far as one of them was concerned, and it had even been proposed in India that although no alteration was necessary for the Budget of the year, yet that the Minister should carry in a measure which was practically a sham in order to give an opportunity for discussion, but it was found that that would have been against the provisions of the Act. Accordingly a Bill was prepared under my instructions, and it was quite ready to be introduced and carried last year, and it was only owing to the extreme pressure of business in the House of Commons that the Bill was not introduced and passed into law. I have therefore taken the earliest opportunity during the present Session of asking your Lordships to give the Bill a First Reading, as I do to-night. But, my Lords, as the functions of the Legislative Council were to be somewhat enlarged, it has been thought necessary and wise (and the Viceroy was of the same opinion) to give powers to the Governor General to nominate larger numbers of additional Councillors to the Legislative Council than by the present law he is able to do, and to widen the circle of persons who would be ready to assist him when the Council met to debate upon the important matters which should be brought before them. My Lords, I have hitherto confined my observations to the Council of the Governor General, purely for the sake of simplicity, but the same objects to be gained, and the same reasons for attaining them, apply exactly in the same way in principle if not in degree to the Provincial Councils. Therefore in the Bill last year 865 there were provisions inserted for adding to the number of Councillors and to give them the power of interpellation which I have already alluded to. The Bill was not confined to the Supreme Council of India but extended also to the Councils which exist in other parts of the country. My Lords, there are other provisions in the Bill which I am now about to present to you, but I do not think I need trouble your Lordships with any explanation as regards them. They are simply intended for the purpose of clearing up doubts about certain sections of the existing Act, and I think they will be quite clear to your Lordships as to their scope and intention when you see them in print. I do not think I should be justified in taking up more of your Lordships' time in asking for leave to introduce this Bill. I thought it would be unwise to introduce it without some explanation, as otherwise it might have gone out to India and have been misunderstood.
§ THE MARQUESS OF RIPON
My Lords, I do not think the noble Viscount has been quite just to his measure when in reply to my noble Friend, Lord Herschell, he described it as a very unimportant matter.
§ THE MARQUESS OF RIPON
I heard the noble Viscount make that statement I am sure, and I shall be within the recollection of the House. I do not think the Bill is unimportant. On the contrary, I think it is of great importance and of wide scope. Any measure which touches the functions of the Governor General and his Council and the other Councils of India must, of necessity, be of importance, especially at a time when public attention, both in India and in this country, is particularly directed to this subject; and the noble Viscount will find, I think, that before this measure can be passed through Parliament it is calculated to raise a variety of other questions connected with the constitution of these Councils. My Lords, I do not propose now to enter upon a discussion of the details of a Bill which I have not seen; but I beg to express my entire concurrence with the proposal of the noble Viscount for permitting the Budget to be discussed, whether financial legislation is proposed or not. That is an 866 arrangement which there has been a very great desire in India to see carried out, a desire expressed by all classes; and I am extremely glad to find that the time has come when that desire is likely to be gratified. I will at present reserve my opinion with regard to the right of interpellation. A great deal, of course, will depend upon the mode in which it is regulated by the Bill. It is a very important question, and involves a change of considerable magnitude, and therefore it will require serious consideration on the part of Parliament. If I might venture to express my opinion at present, my own view is favourable to the change; but I should not like to give a definite opinion upon the matter until I see the mode in which the noble Lord proposes to carry it out. With regard to the increase of the number of nominated Members, I confess, subject of course to my not having seen the Bill, that I entertain very considerable doubts. However, I will not discuss that matter now, but will reserve, if your Lordships will allow me, any opinion I may have upon it until the Bill is in print, and we have had time to examine and study it. But, my Lords, I do think it is very important, indeed, that when changes of this kind are about to be made—for they are important changes—in the constitution of the Indian Councils, we should have the advantage of knowing the views of the Government of India upon them. The noble Viscount has given us extracts from a speech made by the Viceroy of India in his Council, and I hope the noble Viscount will be kind enough to lay a copy of that speech upon the Table of the House. There can be no objection to that; it is public property, and it will save your Lordships the trouble of searching it out in a book which is not, perhaps, easily accessible to most of your Lordships. But, my Lords, I do venture to repeat the appeal which was made by my noble and learned Friend (Lord Herschell), and to ask that if there have been any official or public communication (of course I am not in the least referring to private communications, and I do not ask for them) between the Government of India and the Government at home in regard to the constitution of the Indian Councils, Parliament should have the advantage of having those Papers laid before it, 867 when this Bill comes to be discussed. My Lords, with regard to the increase of the number of members of the Council, I understood the noble Viscount to say that the present Viceroy of India was in favour of that change, but it was merely a general statement of Lord Lansdowne's opinion. If Lord Lans-downe has given that opinion in any official form, either in a speech, in the way in which he has given his opinion on the other points, or in any other manner, then I say it is only just to the Viceroy and to the Government of India—and I speak feelingly on the subject, having been myself connected with that Government—and to Parliament, that the views entertained by either Lord Lansdowne or by Lord Dufferin should be placed before us, and that we should have the opportunity of knowing how far those views agree with the proposals of the noble Viscount, and how far they fall short of or go beyond them, before we are asked to legislate upon so important a question as this.
§ THE EARL OF NORTHBROOK
My Lords, I wish to express my entire concurrence with what has been said by my noble Friend who has just sat down, both in the opinions he has expressed with regard to the two questions which my noble Friend opposite has informed your Lordships are to be dealt with in this Bill, and also with regard to the desirability of your Lordships' House being placed in possession of the opinions both of the Governor General in Council, and of my noble Friend Lord Dufferin, who formerly held that office, and his Council, if any, upon the subject. My Lords, I think it is most desirable that the Parliament of this country should be in possession of the full and complete views of the Government of India before legislating upon a question of such great importance as this question is, namely, the constitution of the Legislative Bodies in India. Now, with regard to precedent on this matter, I think that is very clear. I recollect in the year 1861, when the late Lord Halifax introduced the last measure respecting the constitution of the Legislative Councils in India, there were very complete communications between the Secretary of State for India in England and the Governor General and 868 Council in India, and that the Papers containing the opinion of Lord Canning were laid before Parliament before that Bill was passed, and indeed, the measure was proposed to Parliament mainly on the ground of the opinion of Lord Canning in the matter. I am not in any way assuming, or intending to assume, that my noble Friend opposite is not on this occasion carrying out the views of Lord Lansdowne, because I think he has satisfied your Lordships, with regard to those two provisions, that the views of Lord Lansdowne have been practically carried out; but I think it would have been better if Parliament had been in possession of full information and of the authoritative opinion of the Government of India on the subject. I entirely agree with the noble Lord in regard to the alteration of the law respecting discussion upon the Budgets in India. I believe the fact that when no legislation has to be introduced it is impossible, consistently with the Act of 1861, to have a discussion on the Budget in the Legislative Council of the Viceroy, is a mere accident, and could hardly have been intended by those who framed the Act of 1861. The main point of that Act, and the intention of the Legislature, as was apparent from a despatch sent to India at that time, was that the Legislative Council in India should not be in the nature of an Assembly to discuss any question which might be brought up by any Member of the Assembly; that it should not exercise the same functions as Parliament exercises in this country; but that the Legislative Body should be confined to considering the measures of legislation brought before it, and should not devote itself to other matters. That, my Lords, was the policy which commended itself to Parliament in consequence of a distinct evil which had existed at the time of the Mutiny by the Legislative Council under the then law having taken upon itself, somewhat, the function of a Representative Assembly, and discussed matters apart from questions of legislation. That was a distinct evil which had taken place, and it was remedied by the Act of 1861. I should like to add to what has fallen from my two noble Friends the expression of my opinion, as far as I am competent to give one, that the operation of the 869 Act of 1861 has been very successful. My Lords, I believe that the legislation of our great dependency of India would bear favourable comparison with the legislation of any other country in the world, both as regards the nature of the enactments and as regards the care with which those enactments were considered before they were introduced into the Legislative Council, and also as regards the great care which the successive Governments in India have paid to taking every means of obtaining the opinion of the natives of India with respect to legislation before legislative measures have been passed. Therefore, my Lords, as regards the actual result of the Act of 1861, which is now to be amended, I say it has been most successful. I do not for a moment say that it may not be necessary after the lapse of so many years to adapt that legislation more to existing circumstances, but so far, I say, it has been most successful. In conclusion, I will only say, my Lords, that the measure which has been introduced by my noble Friend will receive from me, I can assure him, the most favourable consideration, and I believe, as he has stated to your Lordships, that it will make a most useful alteration in the law.
A Bill to amend the Indian Councils Act, 1861—Was presented by the Viscount Cross; read la; to be printed; and to be read 2a on Thursday next.