HL Deb 13 August 1904 vol 140 cc498-502


Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, I think it would be in accordance with the practice of this House and with your Lordships wishes if, in moving the Second Reading of this Bill, I said a few words in explanation of its scope and object. The noble Marquess opposite (the Marquess of Ripon), and the noble Marquess behind me (the Marquess of Lansdowne), are well aware that the members of the Viceroy's Council in India are very much overburdened with work. As long ago as Lord Dufferin's Adminstration a Minute was left on record by the Viceroy in which he said most emphatically that he considered it necessary that the Viceroy's Council should consist of six members instead of five. The present Government of India have come to the same conclusion, and they have proposed to the Secretary of State for India that the number of ordinary members of the Viceroy's Council should be increased from five to six. I will deal, in the first place, with the present position of the Viceroy's Council as regards the division of the duties which they have to perform. At the present moment there is a Finance and Commerce Department, with a finance member at its head; there is a Home Department and a Revenue and Agricultural Department, and these two Departments are under one ordinary member of Council. There is also the Public Works Department, under another member of Council, and the legal member and the military member make up the five. It is proposed by the Government of India to abolish the Public Works Department. A few years ago Lord George Hamilton appointed a well-known railway expert, Mr. Robertson, to visit India and examine thoroughly the railway system throughout the country and he presented to the Government of India a very exhaustive Report on the subject, containing some very drastic recommendations as regards the future, and that Report has been laid before Parliament. The Government of India and Secretary of State have given very careful consideration to the recommendations therein contained, and, though they have not been able to see their way to adopt as a whole the proposals made by Mr. Robertson, they have decided upon a very large measure of reform of the system of railway administration.

It is now proposed to create a Railway Board. This Board will have large powers conferred upon it, and will practically be responsible for the railway administration of India, large changes in policy or administration, of course, being submitted to the Viceroy or his Council, and, in some cases, ultimately to the Secretary of State. The Government of India, in view of the large powers which they propose to confer on this Board, have come to the conclusion that the office of the member who at present represents the Public Works Department and the Railway Administration of India on the Viceroy's Council is no longer necessary; that the Public Works Department can conveniently cease to exist, and that the Railway Board, having large powers conferred upon it, need not necessarily be directly represented on the Viceroy's Council. I think your Lordships will easily understand that the chairman of the Railway Board, who, of course, could be the only man competent to be the representative of that Board on the Council, will have all his time fully occupied in the duties of railway administration, and that as, in the nature of things, he must be a railway expert, it is hardly desirable that he should be concerned with the general administration of matters which come before the Viceroy's Council. It has, therefore, been decided that the new Railway Board shall be independent of the Council, and that such matters connected with railway administration as have to be brought before the Council shall be brought by a member in charge of another department.

The Public Works Departments, as I have said, will cease to exist. It is, therefore, proposed to redistribute the work of the members of the Viceroy's Council. It is proposed that the Finance and Commerce Department should in future be known as the Finance Department only, under a finance member. The Home Department and the Revenue and Agricultural Department, which, as I have said, are at present under one member, are to be separated. The Home Department is to be under one member of Council, and, though he will no longer have the work of the Revenue and Agricultural Department, I can assure your Lordships that the Government of India have stated in no unmeasured terms that the work he will have to do as sole representative of the Home Department will be all that one man can adequately carry out. Then the Revenue and Agricultural Department will also be under one member. Of course, the legal member and the military member will remain. That makes the five members as at present allowed by the Act of Parliament.

Then it is proposed to create a new department altogether—a Department of Commerce and Industry, and to place that under a new member. I do not think I need dwell upon the good that may result from the creation of a department of this kind. It will have very large powers transferred to it, and the work of the new department will be extremely onerous and important. The Bill now before your Lordships House is a very short one, and is necessary owing to the wording of the Act of 1874. The Act of 1861, known as the Indian Council's Act, constituted a council of five ordinary members. The Act of 1874 permitted the appointment of a sixth member, but stated that the sixth member was to be "for public works purposes." Having taken the best legal opinion, we were advised that the changes we wished to bring about in the Viceroy's Council could not legally be given effect to unless we had the sixth member as a member for public works purposes only. If your Lordships' will refer to this Bill, you will see that all it does is to provide that the words— Who shall be called a member of council for public works purposes. which occur in the Act of 1874, shall be omitted. The Act of 1874 will then read as giving power to the Secretary of State in Council to appoint a sixth member. Of course, the creation of a large department of the kind I have referred to is a far-reaching and important proposal, on which, I am sure, the noble Marquess opposite will admit a great deal more might be said. But I will only say, in conclusion, that we have the most sanguine anticipations as to the benefit that will accrue to India from this appointment, and I hope it will stand out as not the least successful reform that has been instituted during the brilliant administration of Lord Curzon.

Moved, "That the Bill be now read 2a."—(The Earl of Hardwicke.)


My Lords, I think the Bill, the Second Reading of which the Under-Secretary of State has just moved, is one which your Lordships would do well to accept. It does away with what I think was always an unnecessary and undesirable arrangement, namely, making it necessary by Act of Parliament that the sixth member of the Viceroy's Council should always be attached to the public works department. I think that is a matter which ought to be left to the Viceroy in Council, who ought to be able to distribute among his colleagues the business of the different departments in whatever manner he may think best. Therefore, I think the Bill will be an advantage and I give it my support. The noble Earl will hardly expect me to say anything upon the full description he has given of the other proposals which the Government of India intend to introduce. I have only heard them in detail for the first time this afternoon, and I am not in a position to express any opinion upon them. I should always be inclined to pay respect to anything which the Government of India might propose, but I do not wish at this moment to express any opinion of my own upon such a far-reaching proposal. I hope that at the beginning of next session we shall have Papers which will show us what is the nature of these proposals, so that we may be able to form upon them a judgment with full knowledge.


I can give the noble Marquess an undertaking that Papers will be laid on the subject. In the ordinary course despatches will be published.


I think we ought to have more than that.


I will mention the request to my right hon. friend the Secretary of State.

On Question, Bill read 2a; Committee negatived. Bill to be read 3a on Monday next.