§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ LORD IRWIN
My Lords, I apologise for troubling the House again. I think the purpose of this Bill is sufficiently plain to demand only a few words, but I might perhaps say that the section of the Government of India Act referred to in the Bill has three provisos, and read the relevant words:Every Governor's Legislative Council shall continue for three years from its first meeting: Provided that—Your Lordships will see, therefore, that it follows from this that the lifetime of a Provincial Legislature is three years from its first meeting, but, this three years may be extended by the Governor to four, and that, whenever a Provincial Legislature comes to an end, there must be a General Election to produce a new Council at most nine months after the expiry of the old one.
- (a) The Council may be sooner dissolved by the Governor, and
- (b) the said period may be extended by the Governor for period not exceeding one year by notification in the Official Gazette of the Province, if in special circumstances (to be specified in the notification) he so thinks fit; and
- (c) after the dissolution of the Council the Governor shall appoint a date, not snore than six months, or, with the sanction of the Secretary of State, not more than nine months from the date of dissolution for the next Session of the Council."
The existing Legislature in Bengal first met on July 1, 1929, and in the normal course would therefore have come to an end on June 30, 1932; but, for local poli- 790 tical reasons, in Bengal the Governor, Sir John Anderson, considered that it was undesirable to hold a General Election in Bengal at that time and extended the life of the Council by one year; that is to say, up to June 30, 1933, which was the limit of his powers. The purpose of this Bill is to enable the Governor of Bengal, and other Governors who will shortly find themselves in a similar situation, to continue their present Legislatures for a period sufficient to bridge the gap between the present time and the emergence of the new Councils in whatever form the final consideration of Parliament may give to them.
The short argument in favour of the course that this Bill recommends is, as your Lordships will be aware, that a General Election in any Province throws a considerable burden on the provincial revenues, involves not a little dislocation of ordinary provincial administration, and, unless it is unavoidable, expenditure for this or any other purpose cannot be justified in present circumstances, and would, I think, be specially unjustifiable if the Council which would result from it were unlikely in the normal passage of events to be able to look forward to enjoying what would normally be its full term of life— namely, three years. It may, of course, be argued, by way of objection, that discussion of these matters will not proceed so expeditiously as in fact to curtail the life of any new Council that might be elected. But His Majesty's Government hope that that argument will, in fact, not turn out to be well founded, and, if it does in fact turn out not to be well founded, then we should clearly be subjecting the Provinces to an unnecessary, disturbing, and expensive dislocation by the creation of a Council that could only be short-lived.
It is not without interest, as the noble Marquess will remember, that the Governor-General has, in fact, to-day these powers which we seek to extend also to the Governors, regarding the Central Legislature. The Governor-General has the power to-clay to extend the life-time of that body without any time limit such as that which stands in the way of the Provinces, and your Lordships will have observed that the Governor-General has, in fact, recently 791 announced his intention of postponing the General Election for the Legislative Assembly, which would in the normal course have been due to take place in January next. He has postponed it for such time as in the light of circumstances and other considerations at the time may seem expedient— in other words, until it is possible for him, for India, to see what course Parliament finally decides to take on the constitutional proposals now under consideration. I suggest that on this ground also it is desirable to harmonise practice between the Centre and the Provinces so far as to give to the Governors in this matter power that the Governor-General in fact enjoys to-day. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.— (Lord Irwin.)
§ LORD PONSONBY OF SHULBREDE
My Lords, we on this side of the House fully appreciate the reason, and indeed the necessity, for bringing in a Bill of this nature, but in a few words I would like to press on the notice of the noble Lord who introduced the Bill the advisability of some time limit being put in. It appears to me that, although this may be within the power of the Viceroy, it is not desirable in the present circumstances to allow the liberty to the Provincial Governors; that is to say, the postponing of Elections sine die. If a time limit were put in, say of one or two years, His Majesty's Government could again come to this House to renew this power, or a time limit could be put in mentioning the promulgation of the new Constitution and fixing the limit at so many months or a period of a year after the promulgation of that Constitution. But to introduce a Bill giving this power, without any time limit being mentioned, seems to us, at first appearance of the Bill, not to be perhaps quite the best way of dealing with this question.
§ THE MARQUESS OF READING
My Lords, I gather from what my noble friend has just said that he is not really opposing this Bill. The point he is putting is one rather for the Committee stage than for the Second Reading, and therefore I do not propose to take any time in discussing it. I would, however, suggest to him it is very necessary that we should have a Bill of this kind in order that you may get the same kind of procedure both as regards the Central Legislature and 792 the Provincial Legislatures. The object is, in both cases, to enable them to proceed without the unnecessary expense of General Elections when there is this matter now under discussion in regard to the new Constitution. It does not prejudge anything; it just leaves things as they are for the time being, and enables a Governor to bring himself into line with the Governor-General. With regard to the question that has been raised by my noble friend, I do not wish to say anything more now, because it does not touch in any way the vital point of the Bill— on the contrary, it supports it. It is a question that can usefully be discussed during the Committee stage, and I suggest that the Bill should now be allowed to go through.
§ LORD IRWIN
My Lords, I am very grateful to my noble friend opposite and to the noble Marquess for the support they have extended to the Bill. With regard to the point that the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition raised, I agree with the noble Marquess that it is rather a point for Committee, but I will, between now and the Committee stage, take steps to consult with my right honourable friend the Secretary of State upon the point raised.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, with reference to the words which have fallen from my noble friend in charge of the Bill, I did not rise before, although I entirely agree as to the propriety of this Bill, yet I should be sorry if he adopted the suggestion made by the Leader of the Opposition as to the form in which the Bill ought to stand. The general form in which the Bill is drawn seems to me a much safer, more stable form than to say, for example, that the operation of the Bill shall continue until the promulgation of the new Constitution. That was a suggestion made by the Leader of the Opposition. It is much too early days to discuss when the promulgation of the new Constitution may be, and it would involve an assumption which might turn out to be not fully justified. General words are much safer, and I hope my noble friend and the Government will adhere to them.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.