HL Deb 11 April 1922 vol 50 cc202-7

LORD SYDENHAM had given Notice to ask the Secretary of State for India—

  1. 1. Whether he will consider the desirability of modifying the form of certificate demanded from officers wishing to retire on proportionate pensions, who regard the words, "I feel unable to serve the Government of India with advantage to the State," as offensive and degrading.
  2. 2. Whether he will institute an inquiry into the various grievances set forth in memorials from the Public Services in India, with a view to regaining the confidence of these Services, and to securing the recruitment of candidates capable of maintaining their high standards in the future.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I feel sure the noble Viscount will agree with me that the formula in my first Question is alike improper and impossible. When an officer asks permission to retire on proportionate pension it means only that he finds his changed position in some way or other detrimental to his personal comfort and happiness, and that he is willing, for that reason, to give up his career and make a new start in life. That may be, to him, a very great sacrifice. Suppose, for example, that an officer has to serve under a Minister, and that he has himself prepared a case against that Minister which led to that Minister being convicted for rebellion and receiving a very substantial sentence, what ought an officer to do in such a predicament as that? Surely, he cannot be expected to work happily under a Minister of that type. A case of the kind has actually occurred, and a very valuable officer has been compelled to retire from the Service, though that did not mean that he was unable or unwilling to render service to the State in the words of the formula of which I complain. There are many men who now wish to retire from the Service who have rendered invaluable services in bringing the reforms into operation. I am quite certain that my noble friend realises that the Government of India Act could never have been put in force without the loyal and strenuous efforts of the Indian Civil Service.

The first clause in the Covenant which the 'Indian Civil servant enters into binds him by these words: "Faithfully, honestly and diligently to do all such things as may be lawfully committed to his charge." After he has committed himself to that, is it just that he should be required to certify that he cannot serve the State with advantage, which really implies that he is willing to break his Covenant with the Crown? That is not all. After being forced to sign this monstrous certificate, as I call it, an officer may, of course, be refused the right to retire, and then he may become the object of bitter political attack in the Councils of India. But in any case his application remains on his file, and may, at all times, be used to his detriment when it comes to a question of posting or of promotion. The officer cannot, if he is permitted to retire, take up any work in India without leave, and, whether he wishes to undertake a post in India or elsewhere, the fact that he has said that he cannot do his duty is almost certain to tell against him. I earnestly request my noble friend to relieve the splendid Indian Civil Servants from this degrading certificate, and to permit any officer who so wishes to retire from that Service. In any case that officer must sacrifice his career, the career that he has deliberately chosen, and that is a deterrent which he is not likely to forget. There is, therefore, no real danger of leave to retire being used except in cases of urgent necessity.

The late Secretary of State announced lately that officers who did not apply before March 31, 1924, "will not be eligible for a pension on premature retirement in consequence of any constitutional developments which may subsequently take place." That is very vague and very alarming to the Services. Does it mean that all premature retirement is to be stopped? An officer may wish to retire after this date on account of some "constitutional development" which occurred before this date, and I hope that the Secretary of State will explain exactly what is really meant. I am certain that this announcement has caused great misgivings in all the Public Services of India.

Since I put down my second Question I understand that a Committee is to be appointed to look into the various memoranda I have received, some of them most touching documents, and to look into the grievances of the Public Services of India generally. I will not, therefore, make any attempt to describe or explain those grievances, but I will say that many of them are very urgent and call for immediate redress. In a recent Despatch to the Government of India the Secretary of State stated, as his "conviction, that no future Secretary of State will be found wanting in his duty of securing the fulfilment of his obligations, or will be found willing to surrender in the smallest degree the control which he exercises under the existing law save on conditions which will adequately ensure that rights and expectations, which it is now his duty to protect, are fully guaranteed." Considering what has already happened this assurance has given no satisfaction to the Public Services. Already, many "rights and expectations" have been ruthlessly extinguished. Already, there have been instances of great injustice being done to most valuable public servants in India. Already, marked hostility has been shown to the British element in the Public Services, even by so-called moderate members of the new Councils of India. The fact is that the effect of these reforms on the life of the great Services on which India absolutely depends was never properly considered and taken into account. The reason for that was that the late Secretary of State consulted only a few individuals who were ready to fall in with his views and who did not represent hr the least the views of the Services to which they belonged.

The result, as I pointed out some time ago, is that one of the finest Services ever created by any nation is now visibly crumbling away, and I am not sure that this is not a more serious matter than the widespread unrest and disturbance which Gandhi and his accomplices have been able to engineer. Whether the Indian Civil Service can be rebuilt, whether its former high standard of efficiency can be restored, I do not know, but the Secretary of State, acting on behalf of the Crown, is the only and the constitutional guardian of the rights of public servants in India, and a very grave responsibility rests upon him. During the transition period created by the Government of India Act it was specially necessary that there should be a strong Government in India if the exotic plant was to be soundly rooted in an uncongenial soil. But, unfortunately, the Government has been conspicuously weak, and particularly weak in its dealings with the Public Services, and we are now only just beginning to realise the necessary consequences of that weakness. I hope, and I believe, that my noble friend will personally look into many of the grievances of which these Services complain, and that he will do everything in his power to regain their confidence and uphold their just rights.


My Lords, may I reinforce the appeal that has been made by the noble Lord with regard to an inquiry into the grievances of the Indian Civil Service. He has stated that it is to be held. I was not aware of that, but I am glad to hear it, and I hope the noble Viscount will be able to say that it is to take place. Never in the world's history has there been a more remarkable service than the Indian Civil Service, and it is only right that their grievances should be closely examined, and, if just, redressed. I hope the offensive words in the statement quoted will be excised, and that Civil Servants will not be called upon to make a statement which is so unfair in their own interests.


My Lords, everyone will admit that the points raised by Lord Sydenham and supported by Lord Laming-ton deal with matters of grave importance, and I can assure Lord Sydenham that I shall take into consideration all the matters he has raised this evening. I assure him that I yield to no one in my appreciation of the great services rendered by the Indian Civil Service and to the grave necessity for maintaining the position, the excellence, and the high standard of that Service.

He will allow me, I hope, to answer his first Question very briefly. It refers to the certificate demanded from an officer who wishes to retire on a proportionate pension, which includes the words "I feel unable to serve the Government of India with advantage to the State." This matter—I hope the noble Lord will allow me to do this justice to my predecessor—was already being considered by him. A Despatch was sent to the Government of India asking them to re-examine in its various aspects the form of certificate demanded from those officers who wished to retire. I have not yet received a reply. I hope to receive it shortly, and I shall then proceed to deal with it as rapidly as possible.

His second point is not in the Question. It dealt with those officers who do not apply before March 31, 1924. On this point I would ask the noble Lord to refer to a Despatch sent to the Government of India on February 9 last; and presented to Parliament last week. He will find that the Despatch makes it clear that the sole intention of the passage he has quoted' was that members of the Service were to, be given an opportunity of testing the conditions brought about by the passage of the Government of India Act, 1919, and by constitutional developments under that Act. If, as the result of their experience, they wish to withdraw front the Service they were to be given the right to apply for proportionate pensions. The right was to be granted with reference only to present-day conditions, and, therefore, its exercise was limited to a period which was thought sufficient to give officers an opportunity of testing present-day conditions.

Every officer who elects to remain in the Service and not avail himself of the offer of proportionate pension retains, of course, all his existing and accruing pensionary rights. The existing scheme of proportionate pensionary rights has no reference, and was never intended to have any reference, to any further change in conditions which might be brought about as the result of further legislation by Parliament. That will be an entirely distinct issue, and it will be dealt with on its own merits if and when the time comes. I trust that this explanation and more particularly the terms of the Despatch to which I have referred will entirely dispel any suspicion that there has been, or is, a wish to deplete the Indian Service of the British element at the earliest possible date. There is no foundation whatever for this suspicion. I have heard from various quarters that, unfortunately, this suspicion has been entertained. I can only say that those who spread about any suspicion of this kind are doing a very grave disservice to the Government of India and to the Civil Servants there. I can only give it here the most emphatic denial that, it is possible in words to make.

The third point is the inquiry to which my noble friend has alluded. I should like to say that the requests that have been made from time to time in memorials from the various Public Services in India, covering a very large range of subjects, have in every case been examined by the Secretary of State in Council with all the care and all the sympathy which they deserve. In many instances decisions have already been taken and have become effective. Others are still pending, and I can assure my noble friend that I shall give to these my personal attention. I gather from the noble Lord that he is considering these points largely with reference to the question of future recruitment. This was a matter that had been already considered by my predecessor, together with the question of setting up an informal inquiry by persons very well qualified to judge on these subjects.

I have already acted in this matter, and I am asking a small Committee to advise me privately as to steps which could be taken to remove the impediments which may be found to stand in the way of recruitment for the Indian Services; but I want to make it clear that I regard this method as informal and preliminary, because the questions raised may be wide and complicated, and until we have a more comprehensive view of the problem I am not in a position to know whether it would be advisable to proceed on more definite lines, such as the noble Lord seems to indicate in suggesting a formal Inquiry covering the whole scope of the Question.


I beg to thank the noble Viscount for his sympathetic reply. I am certain that it will go sonic distance to restore the shaken confidence of the Public Services in India.