HL Deb 05 July 1922 vol 51 cc285-90

My Lords, I beg to ask the Secretary of State for India whether he can now make any statement regarding the modification of the terms already announced for retirement from Indian services on proportionate pensions; and whether any decision has now been arrived at as was promised in the orders issued in November last as to the conditions upon which the commutation of proportionate pensions will be allowed.


My Lords, as to the second point raised by my noble friend Lord Dynevor, I think I can answer that quite shortly. I have decided that officers awarded proportionate pensions will ordinarily be permitted to commute for a capital sum, which shall be calculated on the basis of the life table used by the Treasury, a portion of their pension not exceeding one-third of the whole. This restriction as to the amount which may be commuted is universally applied to the commutation of Indian pensions. I have drawn up detailed regulations on this matter, and, as these are very technical, I do not wish to trouble your Lordships j with them at present. They will be published almost at once.

As to the first part of my noble friend's Question, I should like to give your Lordships the exact text of the announcement I wish to make. It has been framed after careful and prolonged consideration with the Government of India, and I have authorised the Government of India to publish it to-day. I ought to explain to your Lordships that the discussion of these particular points was initiated by my I predecessor, and that the decisions which have since emerged have come as the result of prolonged discussions which were started when he was Secretary of State for India. Perhaps your Lordships will allow me to read to you the most important part of the announcement:— 1. The orders in question at present give to members of the Services to which they relate, who I arrived in India for the first time on a date antecedent to 1st January, 1920, an option of retiring which expires on 31st March, 1924. The Secretary of State in Council has decided that the option, instead of expiring on 31st March, 1924, shall continue in force and may be exercised until the action proposed to be taken on the Report of the Parliamentary Commission provided for by the Government of India Act is known, when the whole position will necessarily be reviewed. 2. It follows from this decision that the restriction that leave taken in anticipation of retirement must be completed before 31st March, 1924, is also removed. Officers proposing to retire prematurely, provided that they have submitted a definite application for permission to retire, accompanied by the prescribed form of declaration, will ordinarily be allowed, before their retirement takes effect, to avail themselves of the full amount of leave which is due to them, and which may be granted to them at one time under the regulations for the time being in force and applicable to them otherwise than on medical certificate. A mere intimation of a possible intention to retire will not entitle an officer to have his application for leave dealt with under these Rules. An officer who has submitted an application to retire, supported by a declaration, and has obtained leave on the basis of it, will not be permitted to cancel his application and to return to duty without the consent of his Local Government. An officer on leave will be at liberty to submit an application to retire with the prescribed declaration and will then, unless the Local Government considers his return necessary, be placed in the same position as an officer who has submitted his application in India. 3. The following form of declaration is substituted for that required by the present Rules:—'In view of the changes in the conditions of my service occasioned by the Government of India Act of 1919, I desire to retire on the terms set forth in the orders relating to premature retirement.' The rest of the announcement deals with subsidiary points as to employment during leave, and so on, and I will not trouble your Lordships with them now though these details will, of course, be published with the statement.

I should like to add a few general words as to the effect of the Rules, and the Rules which they replaced, because there has unfortunately been a considerable amount of very regrettable misunderstanding upon the subject. There are two main rumours to which I should like to allude. The first was that officers who did not retire before this date in 1924 would, whatever subsequent changes might be introduced into the Constitution, have no further opportunity of retiring. I need hardly say that at no time was that the intention of the notice that had been put forward. The second misunderstanding was that some idea had got about that the Government of India and His Majesty's Government did not want any longer to retain the services of these officers. This was a most, unfortunate misunderstanding, and I have no idea at all what gave rise to such a rumour.

I should like, to say most emphatically that the last thing which the Government desire, as the result of this retirement scheme, is that advantage should be taken of it on a large scale. Our hope is the exact opposite, and, while we have endeavoured to make it as easy as possible for officers who honourably feel that they cannot stay to obtain release on terms which are as generous as they could be made, without being either unduly attractive or unduly unfair to those who wish to continue in the Service, we hope that the proportion of men who take these pensions and cut short their careers will be a very small minority of the whole. It was with this desire and with this hope that I was led to remove the time limit of March, 1924, as it was originally imposed.

Your Lordships will readily understand that a decision of this kind could not be lightly taken, and am sure that, on reflection, you will consider that the original imposition of the time limit was not in itself at all unreasonable. It was felt-that, while it was most undesirable in the interests of all concerned to enforce the retention of unwilling public servants in India, it was at the same time most undesirable that the mutual adjustment to the new conditions of all parties affected by them should be secured as soon as possible, and that it was prima facie difficult to expect such an adjustment so long as the Services were unsettled by doubts as to whether they should go or stay. Your Lordships will equally recognise that it creates a very drastic change in the Service conditions and in the fundamental basis of Service discipline when it is open to members of the Service practically to demand their release at short notice at any time, but, on the whole, the Government are of opinion, and I have come to the conclusion, that the best hope of smooth working lies in the direction of the solution that I have just announced. Indeed, I am not without hope that, so far from increasing the number of applications, some of these amounting, in all for the eight Services concerned, to about 120, which have already been put in, but most of which have not yet become effective, may be withdrawn.


My Lords, I hope my noble friend will allow me to express my great appreciation of the spirit in which he has approached this most difficult and delicate though most important question—a spirit which is exactly that in which the Joint Select Committee over which I had the honour to preside three years ago hoped that the matter would be approached by the authorities in India and at the India Office. I do not wish to make any comment now on what my noble friend has said, because I understand from him that Papers will be laid upon the Table.


At once.


And no doubt we shall have an opportunity of further debate on the subject after those Papers have been laid.


My Lords, I should like to ask the noble Viscount whether he thinks it necessary, as the time is going to be extended, to earmark all the applications for permission to retire as being in consequence of the Reform Act. He read, as I understood him, the headlines of a notice to be given by the applicant to retire. Would it not be better that the application to retire should be sent in without any reference to the Act, and merely as an application to retire.


I need hardly say that this is a matter which has been considered again and again, and, on the whole—of course, there are great difficulties connected with it—we came to the conclusion that probably it was the best form in which the matter could be put.


My Lords, my noble friend the Secretary of State for India spoke of an unfortunate rumour to the effect that members of the Public Services in India had got a notion that the Government wished to get rid of them, and, in a manner which was no doubt entirely innocent, he professed inability to account for such a feeling as that. Perhaps he will allow me to tell him the reason. It was not a case of anybody starting a rumour from any foul design. There was nothing artificial about it, but it was the natural and inevitable consequence of what is generally and popularly known as the Montagu-Chelmsford policy. When Englishmen in India found themselves placed, or about to be placed, in a position to which no Act of Parliament will ever make an ordinary Englishman submit, whatever his condition and degree, they naturally thought, that the Government was wishing to get rid of them, and when, over and above that, they found that they were not being supported by the Government in their attempt to discharge their duties and preserve law and order, the impression that they were not wanted was naturally confirmed. I know this from hundreds of cases. Let me, therefore, assure my noble friend that there is nothing mysterious about it, but that it is merely the natural consequence of what has been done in India in the last few years.


I wish to offer my congratulations to the noble Viscount upon the extension of tie time in which applications may be made and upon changing that form of declaration against which I have protested in this House. I am sure that the announcement he has made to-day will have considerable effect in making members of the Services in India reconsider their decision.