HL Deb 09 April 1924 vol 57 cc208-21

My Lords, I wish to ask His Majesty's Government whether they are able to make any announcement, as to the introduction of a Bill for granting leave to Governors and other high officials in India. In doing so, I would call your Lordships' attention to Section 87 of the Government of India Act, 1915. I should like to quote to your Lordships the wording of that section, which declares that if the Governor-General, or a Governor, or the Commander-in-Chief of His Majesty's Forces in India, and, save in the case of absence on special duty or of leave under a medical certificate, if any ordinary member of the Executive Council of the Governor-General, or any member of the Executive Council of a Governor departs from India intending to return to Europe, his office shall thereupon become vacant.

Your Lordships will observe that the section is drawn in rather peculiar language. It is only if there is an intention to return to Europe that the office shall become vacant. One of these gentlemen might proceed to any part of Asia, or Africa, or America, but if he had not the intention of returning to Europe, however long he might be absent from his office, his position would not be vacated. Before the Act of 1919 this rule of rigid exile in certain cases applied to the Viceroy, the Commander-in Chief and the three Presidency Governors, but owing, I will not say to an accident but possibly to a small oversight in the Act of 1919, this rule applies, not only to these five high officers whom I have mentioned, but also to the Governors of Provinces, because they are now styled Governors instead of Lieutenant-Governors, as they were before that Act. But it is perhaps rather a high price to pay for the increased honour and distinction of being called a Governor that they have, by that change, lost the rights which they previously enjoyed of obtaining leave and coming to this country without vacating their positions.

This is a rule of very respectable antiquity. I understand that it was first set up in the year 1793, and noble Lords, according to their temperament, may take two views upon that point. Some might consider that the mere fact that the rule had existed for a hundred and thirty years was itself a prima facie case for altering it. Others might think that since the rule had endured so long, there was good reason to suppose that there might be a great deal to be said for it. In any case it is rather remarkable that, after all the great changes that have taken place, after the transference of powers from the East India Company to the Government and after the great changes that wore made under the Act of 1919, this rule seems, somehow or other, to have survived. Nevertheless, its existence was not altogether unmarked, and there have been occasions when Rills were introduced, either in this House or in another place, to remedy what was considered a defect. Bills were introduced in the years 1888, 1891 and 1892, but for various reasons—generally, I think, through lack of time these Bills did not become Acts. There were two other occasions on which an attempt was made to alter the rule. In 1902, when my noble friend the Leader of the Opposition was Viceroy of India, he wrote a very full and comprehensive Despatch on the subject, urging the abrogation of the rule. It is strange that his Despatch was not accepted. It fell through, I think, owing either to the doubt or the reluctance of the Secretary of State, and the matter was not further pressed. The question was again raised in 1921, when I think considerations of time prevented it from being carried through.

It is a rather remarkable fact that so far as I am aware—and this is a matter with which no doubt the Secretary of State is very familiar—as regards Colonial Governors, there is no such rule preventing them taking leave, or requiring them to vacate their posts if they take such leave, during their term of office, and I think I am right in saying also that, as regards the Colonial Governors of other Imperial Powers with great Dominions or Dependencies, such as Holland or France, there is no such rule. Therefore, this is a somewhat singular and unique case, and, although I do not wish necessarily to compare the peculiar difficulties which have to be met, either by Colonial Governors of this or other countries, with our Indian problems I think there is a prima fane case for examining the rule rather more carefully. After ail, there may have been very good reasons for that rule when it was first established in 1793 At that time Governors could not proceed expeditiously through the Red Sea or by aeroplane, but had to take a long voyage round the Cape of Good Hope. Therefore, it may have been necessary to limit the desires of these gentlemen to come home on a holiday which might occupy a rather considerable time and involve their being long absent from their posts.

I do not suggest that the rule should be altered merely because it has existed for a hundred and thirty years, but I think that there are solid reasons for altering it. Many reasons have developed in the last few years which render it advantageous to make such a change. I think it will be admitted generally by your Lordships, and particularly by those noble Lords who have held the position of Presidency Governor, that the duties of these Governors since the Act of 1919, and the constitutional changes therein contained, have greatly developed, and it becomes more than ever important to secure that these great posts should be filled by the best and most experienced Governors that can be obtained. No doubt, we have been very fortunate lately in the gentlemen who have proceeded to these posts, but I am sure we should greatly widen the field of choice if, in case of great urgency or of private business, they should not be debarred from returning to their own country at least once during their term of office. After all, the class of man that you wish to secure as Governor, who ought to have at tills time of day considerable Parliamentary experience, is just the man who may have many ties in his own country, and it would make all the difference to his acceptance if he were able to look forward to a holiday in this country during his term of office. Nor do I omit this consideration, that the greater the strain thrown upon them during their term of office, the more essential it is that they should be refreshed by a couple of months in their own country, so that they may be able to return with fresh vigour to their laborious duties.

As regards the Executive Councillors, of whom there are about thirty in India, and about half of whom are British at the present time, they can obtain leave, but only on medical certificate, and I submit to your Lordships that it is rather invidious that they should only be able to obtain leave on medical certificate. After all, none of us like to admit that we are debilitated in health and constitution, and, in fact, it is part of the reputation of a public man that he is healthy and vigorous. If we deal with the case of the Governors I think we ought to put the Executive Councillors on the same basis as Governors.

I have heard one or two objections to the proposal, but I do not think very great weight need be attached to them. It is said that during absence on leave you would have to find some locum tenens, and that as he is there for but a short time, and might be selected during a rather difficult period, his authority could not be so great as that of the Governor, whose tenure of office is more prolonged. That difficulty may be got over, because, of course, leave would only be granted at a time when no great problems were being presented to the Governor. There is the further idea that these Governors, or the Viceroy, coming over to this country might take the opportunity of having consultations or discussions with the India Office and that this might arouse suspicion in some minds in India that India was being governed too much from Whitehall, and that the natural jealousy of the authority exercised in Whitehall would be enhanced by the new procedure. I think a little tact and management would do away with any unfortunate suspicions that might be aroused.

It is also suggested that the Viceroy, on coming here, might perhaps, in consultation with the Government, decide on some course which might not be altogether advisable, and which might have, been modified if he had taken his decision after full consultation with his; advisers and councillors in India. There, again, I think you can trust the distinguished men who are sent out as Viceroy to exercise their own discretion and assert their own independence. Quite apart, however, from any disadvantages or dangers which might be incurred, I think there might be great advantage—and I am speaking entirely from the point of view of India, of the Government of India and of the Viceroy himself—if one or two of these great officers could come over here, because India has at the present moment external relations of her own. Of course she,is represented on the League of Nations. She has, in some cases, direct dealings with many of the great Dominions, such as, for instance, South Africa over the vexed question of Indians in that great Dominion. There are also her purely external relations with Afghanistan. That is a question connected with other foreign questions, and it would be a great advantage, I think, to the Viceroy, when on a visit here, to be able to come into touch with those currents of opinion with which he could not be so familiar in India, and on which his own judgment on important questions in India may have to be formed. Therefore, I rather invite in some cases the Viceroy taking a holiday over here, because of the specific advantages which he would in that way gain.

This matter, as the Secretary of State for India knows, was canvassed a great deal during the time of the last Government, and I obtained assent from the then Cabinet to the principle of a Bill dealing with this question of leave for Governors. We had a great deal of discussion with the Government of India, and the Government of India generally assented to our scheme. I am not dealing now with some of the perhaps difficult details with which the subject is connected. I am not dealing with the precise reasons for which leave should be granted, who should grant the leave, who should appoint the substitute, the locum tenens, during the absence of a Governor. Those are the matters which would have to be dealt with in a Bill, or, at any rate, power would have to be given to somebody to deal with them. I do not contemplate, and I hope the idea will not arise, that the custom should grow up of Governors taking leave; it is only that in certain cases it might be advantageous and necessary for them so to do.

I understand that this matter has been under the consideration of the Secretary of State, and I believe he is not out of sympathy with the general suggestions that I have made. I should like to ask him, as I do in my Question, whether he contemplates introducing a Bill dealing with this matter; when ho is going to introduce it; whether it is to be introduced in this House or in another place; and whether, further, he can state that he intends—subject, of course, to those political exigencies in another place with which we have been familiar lately—to do his best to pass such a Bill into law and carry out what I believe, in the interests of India, will be a useful and necessary reform.


My Lords, the subject of the noble Viscount's Question has engaged my attention since I came to the India Office, where I found that it had already been a matter of correspondence between the noble Viscount and the Government of India, and my Department has drafted a Bill, which it is my intention at the end of business to-day to ask leave to introduce, and to have read a first time. I hope it will be read a second time to-morrow.

The noble Viscount has very agreeably relieved your Lordships' House of any necessity for me to recommend the Bill in a Second Reading speech, so that I hope it will pass through this House very rapidly, and then, I should suggest, be referred for consideration to that Joint Committee of the two Houses of Parliament which has recently been set up for dealing with Indian matters. I can assure the noble Viscount that this Bill has received the assent of the Cabinet, and will be proceeded with with all reasonable despatch.

There was one matter with regard to the interesting history of the present very draconian rule with regard to leave, to which the noble Viscount referred. I have made researches into the history of that matter, and I gather that the real reason for the very drastic rule that Governors in India should not leave their cure during their term of office was that, at the time that that regulation was made, the East India Company, being a commercial company, took cognisance of the manner in which direct representatives of the Crown in His Majesty's Dominions occasionally interpreted their duties. They interpreted their duties as Residents very laxly. For example, it was possible for a Registrar-General of the Supreme Court of Jamaica to be appointed and to carry out the whole of the duties of his office in Westminster, receive all the fees, and appoint a deputy to act for him. And even more important representatives of His Majesty's Government at that time hung very loosely to their duties in the Dependencies. I think that the East India Company, being a business organisation, thought that they would guard against that. That state of things has now passed away, and no Governor or public official can leave his office except under the sanction of the Secretary of State, so that I entirely agree with all that the noble Viscount has said with regard to the reasonableness of now relaxing those rules.


My Lords, this is a change in the law which, in my opinion, has been long overdue. It has, of course, only a retrospective interest for ex-Viceroys like my noble friend Lord Chelmsford and myself. But I happen to be an illustration of the anomalies of the present system, for, after I had been five and a half years in India, and when it was not only desirable but necessary that I should come home, in the interests of health and for other reasons. I was unable to do so under the existing law without having to resign my office. And hence it came about that another official, Lord Ampthill, had to be appointed in my place, and in order to get, the advantage of the six months' holiday I had not only to resign my office but to be reappointed for a second term when I went back. That, in itself, is an anomaly amounting almost to an absurdity.

The noble Lord, the Secretary of State, who has just spoken, has hinted at what he believes to be the explanation of the circumstances under which this rule arose. I do not think his statement really covers the whole ground, because so many Acts of Parliament were continually being passed into law in the latter part of the eighteenth century and the early part of the nineteenth century regulating the position, powers, and functions, inter alia, of the Governor-General, that the traditions of the East India Company had really long ceased to be the predominant consideration. The real reason why the Governor-General was not permitted to return to Europe, except at the cost of vacating his post, was because of the idea that prevailed, both here and in India, that in his absence the machinery of government would break down. He was thought to be such an indispensable pivot of the whole system of administration—as, indeed, to a large extent he was—that, in his absence from the country, matters could not proceed.

And there was this amount of justification for the idea, that, as my noble friend behind me has explained, in those days in the early part of the last century there was no telegraphic communication with India at all, and communication by sea, before steamships were discovered, was so slow that it often took a year and a half for a letter to go from India to London and for the reply from London to go back. You can imagine that, in those circumstances, the Viceroy had a very much greater authority and power than, at the end of the telegraphic wire, he has now. Hence arose the belief—I think really a superstition—that his presence in India was absolutely indispensable. That it was not so, that his presence at headquarters was not really indispensable, was shown by the fact that, even during the time of which I am speaking, the Governor-General constantly went away from Bengal, from Calcutta which was the seat of government, on prolonged tours into what were then called the Upper Provinces. There were no railways in those days. He had to proceed slowly, either by boats upon the river, or by camp marches across the land, and on some occasions he was away for a whole year. No doubt that caused some inconvenience to the Government machinery, but government did not break down.

Take another group of cases. My noble friend Lord Peel mentioned that the rule, while it prohibits departure from India of these high officials, in the case of return to Europe, did not prohibit it in other cases. And you have the fact that the first Lord Minto, in the early part of the last century, himself accompanied a military expedition to Java, and was absent from India for many months at time. Lord Dalhousie, who suffered a great deal from ill-health, on one occasion went for the sake of his health on a sea voyage as far to the East as Sumatra and Singapore. And during my own tenure of office, if I may mention my own experience, I was allowed, or rather I was authorised, to go as far West as the Persian Gulf. And, therefore, the idea that the Viceroy or the Governor-General, even at that time, was an absolutely indispensable feature of the Government in India I think was, if not illusory, at any rate very much exaggerated.

The noble Viscount behind me has mentioned the attempts that have been made to deviate from that ancient rule. By some curious accident I have been connected with most of them. I was Under-Secretary for India in another place when the Bill of 1891–92 was introduced into, and carried through, your Lordships' House. The Bill abolished this restriction, except in the case of the Viceroy. An Amendment was moved in the House of Lords—I forget whether it was by Lord Northbrook or some one else—excluding the Viceroy: I think a very great mistake. When I was in India in 1902 I sent the Despatch to which my noble friend referred. He expressed some doubt as to why the proposals had been turned down by the India Office or, at any rate, had not been adopted, but I have not the slightest doubt myself as to the reason. The reason was that my arguments were wholly unanswerable, and the consequence was that as no answer was forthcoming, or could possibly be found, they thought the best thing to do was to say nothing at all. Then my noble friend Lord Chelmsford appeared upon the scene in 1921. I do not think I have seen his Despatch, but I have no doubt that it was on similar lines.


It followed the same lines as yours.


I pay my noble friend the compliment of saying that he was also unanswerable; but we have both had to wait until this afternoon for the fruition of our arguments. Then as to procedure. The noble Lord, the Secretary of State, has suggested that if he introduces his Bill and gets a First Reading to-day, he should put down the Second Beading for to-morrow. May I suggest to him that it is not as if the noble Viscount, Lord Chelmsford, and I, or the ex-Secretary of State, were the people only or even principally concerned? This change in the law is to apply to the Commander-in-Chief, and to the Governors, not merely of Madras and Bombay, but of all other Lieutenant-Governorships which have now become Governorships. Therefore, there is a considerable class of persons to whom it would apply.

Now a good many of the ex-officials in this class, particularly in the class of Governors of Madras and Bombay, are members of your Lordships' House. I should say that we have at least six or eight here, and I must confess that I think it would be only fair to allow them an opportunity of being present when the matter comes up for discussion on Second Beading. After all, the reform, though urgent, has waited for one hundred and thirty years, and, therefore, it cannot be a question of minutes. There can be no question of immediate urgency as to the date on which it is passed into law.

As to the further question of the reference to the Indian Committee composed of members of both Houses of Parliament, I would like, if the Secretary of State will allow me, to consider that proposition. I am not quite sure that this is the class of measure that it was intended to refer to that Committee or whether it would be altogether desirable to do so. Perhaps the noble Lord will allow me, as the suggestion is a novel one, to consider it before, I express a further opinion.

I should like to confirm, from a personal recollection, what was said on one point by my noble friend behind me. He was stating the reasons for making the change and, first and foremost among them, naturally enough he put the reason that a situation may very easily arise in which it is of the highest importance, both to the head of the administration in India and to the Government, at home, that a personal consultation should take place between the two. I certainly can testify to that from my own experience of now nearly a quarter of a century ago. The second reason be named was that it is very desirable not to restrict but, on the contrary, to widen the range of choice for these important and responsible, posts. I have in my mind a conversation which I once, had with the first Lord Goschen who, at one stage in his official career, was offered the post of Viceroy of India by Mr. Gladstone. He declined it, and I asked him long afterwards why he declined if, because he had not only many aptitudes but many inclinations for such a type of service. The reason he gave me was the existence of what he called "this cruel law"; that he could not agree to cut himself off from all contact with this country, whatever his state of health or whatever the exigencies of public business, for a period of as much as five years. Therefore India lost the chance of including that distinguished man among the list, of its Governors-General.

The only other point which at this stage I should like to mention is that I hope the Bill which the noble Lord adumbrates will deal very carefully with the circumstances in which, and the limitations under which, this leave is to be granted. I wholly agree with my noble friend Lord Peel in saying that those who, like himself and like me, advocate the change have no idea in our minds of making it a regular practice that every Viceroy, or Governor, or Commander-in-Chief should think it a part, so to speak, of his right to come home once during his term of office. You have against that, of course, a certain guarantee in the feeling of a man who is keen and interested in his work that if he takes his hand off the plough some other less beneficent instrument, may be laid upon it, and that, no doubt, will operate to some extent as a check. But the moment you did introduce something that might be mistaken for a regular practice, you would find that there, would be a regular procession of attempts to take, advantage of this leave. We must certainly avoid that.

Secondly, you will have to be very careful indeed as to the steps that you take for the nomination of a successor to the man who is absent in these conditions. Thirdly, if you permit these officials to come home, I hope that the Bill will not provide, under the altered conditions of swift communication by sea—and, I suppose, one may even throw in the air—too long a holiday for the officials to whom I refer. With these remarks, I welcome the intention of the Government to introduce the Bill to which reference has been made. I hope they will not put it down for Second Beading to-morrow, but will do so at a date after the Easter Recess, and perhaps my noble friend the Secretary of State will allow me to speak to him at a later date about his suggestion of the Committee.


My Lords, as one of those present in this House to-day who took part in the last debate upon this subject. I hope you will allow me to say a few words upon the present occasion, and all the more so because on that occasion it was my duty to express, on behalf of His Majesty's Government, a decided opposition to the proposal which has been accepted by the noble Lord, the Secretary of State for India. I remember—indeed, I have refreshed my memory of the fact—that I spoke with some strength against the proposal. I admit that I had no particular views of my own, but my instructions from the India Office were that it was a proposal which was to be resisted to the bitter end. And the same point of view was taken by the noble Earl the Secretary of State for the Colonies, Lord Elgin (who had great experience in India) when he spoke later in the debate. Upon the last occasion, as I have said, I spoke on instructions from the India Office. Beyond that I have no views on the subject, and I shall be prepared, being once convinced by the authority of noble Lords who know more about it than I do, to vote for the measure proposed by the noble Lord, the Secretary of State.

There are, however, one or two things which ought to be said. It is true that the rule of the Viceroy is particularly of a personal character. It is different from that of the Governors-General of self-governing Dominions. I was very glad to hear both from the noble Viscount who spoke first and from the noble Marquess who spoke last of their anxiety that this should not become a rule, but should only be done on special occasions. I would ask the noble Lord, the Secretary of State, whether he could not in some way insert in the provisions of the Bill some form of words which would indicate that that was the intention. Your Lordships will readily understand that a measure of this kind, once introduced, would be taken advantage of, and there would be a tendency for it to become the custom to take leave. That is not the intention of the noble Lord, the Secretary of State, nor is it the intention of the noble Marquess who spoke last, but I am afraid that, unless something special is done, it might come to be the custom instead of being the exception.

One word, perhaps, I may say by way of precaution. On referring to the debate which took place on the last occasion I noticed that the balance of opinion of those noble Lords who have experience of India was against the carrying out of this experiment. Of those who took part in the discussion the majority were against this innovation. But beyond that I do not desire in any way to enter any sort of opposition to the measure. At the same time, I rather join with the noble Marquess who spoke last in expressing a very strong hope that His Majesty's Government will not proceed to carry the Second Reading to-morrow of a measure which we have not yet been able to see in print.


My Lords, I do not wish to detain you more than a moment. I merely wish to say, with reference to the procedure in connection with this Bill, that I agree with the views of the noble Marquess. No doubt, the Committee might be able to offer useful advice, but in view of the considerations referred to by the noble Marquess it does seem to me that it would be a waste of time to refer the Bill to the Committee. We have been waiting 130 years for the Bill, and there can be no harm in waiting little longer; at the same time, I agree that it is desirable that we should make progress with it.


My Lords, I should like to reply to the two points that have been raised with regard to procedure. If it is the feeling of the noble Marquess and those who act with him that we should not take the Second Reading tomorrow I will certainly defer it. I suggested to-morrow because I thought it might be useful if we could get this Bill through fairly early, and to-morrow I believe is the last day on which this House will sit until after the Easter Recess. I also considered that it might be desirable to refer the Bill to the Joint Committee because we set up that Committee to deal with Indian matters, and it seemed to me, uninstructed as I am, that it might not be altogether courteous entirely to ignore that body. If, however, the noble Marquess will guarantee the Labour Government against any imputation of that sort, and will say that it is quite proper for us to withhold this Bill from that Joint Committee, the Government will be relieved of the necessity of so referring it. If the noble Marquess wishes I will accede to the suggestion that the Bill should be put off till after Easter.


My Lords, I can only speak again with the permission of the House. My reason for suggesting that the Joint Committee might not be altogether the most desirable body to deal with this matter arose not from any suspicion of that body, still less from any desire to derogate from its importance, but from the belief that this Bill had better be dealt with by the whole House. Here you will have, sitting in Committee in your Lordships' House, the whole of the Governors and high officials to whom I referred, and I think it would be almost better that you should have an expression of their views here rather than that the matter should go to the Joint Committee first. Of course, if it goes to the Joint Committee it will come back to this House, and they would not be denied the opportunity of expressing their views, but the last thing I should like to see would be any conflict of opinion or attitude between the Joint Committee and either this House or the other House of Parliament. It was my conviction that we were thoroughly able to deal with the matter ourselves that made, me rather deprecate the reference to the Committee which was suggested.