HL Deb 21 May 1935 vol 96 cc975-82

THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY asked His Majesty's Government whether Sir Oscar de Glanville has been removed from the office as President of the Burmese Legislative Council and on what ground, and whether the Governor has concurred in his removal, and why. The noble Marquess said: My Lords, I had the advantage a few months ago of being brought into relations with certain Burmese gentlemen who came to attend as delegates the Joint Parliamentary Committee upon Indian Reform, and I found them, as I think all of us found them, a cheerful, light-hearted race, but perhaps not very well experienced in constitutional practice. The Burmese Legislative Council has been in trouble about its President. The law as to the appointment of a President in the Legislative Council of Burma is contained in the existing Government of India Act, the Seventy-second Section of which prescribes that he shall be appointed by the Council, and, after the first appointment, all subsequent appointments are by the Council. It also provides that an elected President may be removed from office by a vote of the Council with the concurrence of the Governor.

Sir Oscar de Glanville was appointed President by election. He was not an untried man; on the contrary, he had been, in former years, for two years President of the Legislative Council. He was re-elected to that position by the Council in 1932, and he has now been removed, as I understand, from his position. I put the question formally to the Government as stated on the Notice Paper: Has this gentleman, Sir Oscar de Glanville, been removed under the provisions of the existing Government of India Act? He was appointed in 1932. The first Motion to remove him was made in 1934. It was unsuccessful. The Motion was defeated by a single vote, but those who were opposed to Sir Oscar returned to the charge, and in August last year a Motion to remove him was carried by a majority of eighteen. The allegation was that he was insufficiently acquainted with the Burmese language and that he was not impartial. That allegation was the foundation of this Motion which was carried, and the Motion was submitted, as it ought to be under the Act, to the Governor.

The Governor did not agree with the majority, and he sent a message to the Council in which occur these words: I am bound therefore to examine the grounds on which this vote for the removal of the President has been passed and satisfy myself not necessarily that I agree with them but that they are reasonable and sufficient for such an important step. He proceeds to discuss the reasons and then gives his final conclusion: I am forced therefore to the conclusion that the grounds… which have been put forward are inadequate and that in the discharge of the responsibilities to which I have referred"— that is, the responsibilities contained in the terms of the section which I have mentioned to your Lordships— which the Legislature has placed upon me, I am bound to withhold my concurrence from the Motion passed by the Council.'' That is to say, the Governor carefully considered and examined these grounds, and it was not a question with him whether he agreed with them or not, but whether they were reasonable and sufficient for such an important step, and, having given the matter his close attention, he came to the conclusion that they were not sufficient and refused his consent under the terms of the Statute.

They are very persistent in Burma, and so they came back again this year, 1935, and again passed a Resolution to remove the President. Up till now the Ministers had voted, as Ministers would be expected to do, with the Governor, but this year, when the Motion was again submitted, the Ministers ranged themselves with the majority, a sort of thing which, I am sure, none of my noble friends on that Bench would think at all correct. The Resolution was again carried. They added one or two extra reasons, but they were trivial and were abandoned. Therefore the only reasons which are of importance are the old reasons of insufficient knowledge of the language and the accusation of partiality, which, your Lordships will remember, the Governor had considered and had rejected, This was quite properly submitted again to the Governor. I am only giving to your Lordships the information as it is supplied to me, but it is part of my Question to ask the Government whether what I allege is accurate—that is to say, whether the grounds were such as I suggest they were for the action of the Legislative Council, and whether the Governor's action was also such as I suggest.

The matter was again submitted to the Governor, and this time he gave a different reply, as follows: The responsibility for the decision rests on the Council and I must assume that they have carefully weighed the whole matter. I am not in any sense a Court of Appeal from the Council and it is for the Council to assess the value of the grounds on which they propose to act. I do not think I am justified in again refusing my concurrence, but in giving this I wish to make it clear that it does not imply either my approval of this action or my acceptance of the reasons. Therefore the attitude of the Governor, upon this second presentation to him of the Resolution, was that he adhered in every respect to his view. That is to say, he did not go into the question whether he agreed or riot that the reasons were in any sense reasonable, and in giving his concurrence on this second occasion he affirmed that he had not changed his mind in the least upon the merits.

That is the case as it is submitted to me. I would like to ask my noble friend who is going to reply whether in fact the President of the Council was removed, whether the Resolution for his removal was based on the grounds suggested and whether the action of the Governor was such as I have indicated. I should also like to ask my noble friend to be good enough to tell your Lordships why the Governor took the line he did take—that is to say, refusing his concurrence on the first occasion, but giving it on the second occasion, although he affirmed in the most definite language that he had not changed his view of the grounds which he formed at the time when the original demand was submitted to him. I beg to ask the Question standing in my name.


My Lords, my noble friend has asked me very explicit questions and I will do my best to answer them. I think it will be convenient if I try to answer them together. I may state at the outset of what it will fall to me to say in reply that so far as if have been informed my noble friend has quite truly stated the general facts of this rather difficult situation, and I do not think that there is anything in his statement of the course of those events to which I should wish to take exception. It is true—and I repeat this for a particular reason—that under the section of the Government of India Act to which he referred the President of a Provincial Legislature and, in the case of Burma, of the Legislative Council of Burma, is a member of the Council and is elected by the Council subject to the approval of the Governor. I repeat that for this reason, because I think it is evidence of what I have always myself conceived to be the true relation between the President and the Council—namely, that the President was and is regarded as the servant of the Council much as the Speaker of another place is regarded as the first servant of that place. The section further says that the President may be removed from office by the vote of the elected Council with the concurrence, as my noble friend said, of the Governor.

The facts as to these votes in the Burmese Legislature the noble Marquess has quite correctly given to your Lordships. I entirely associate myself with him in his—if he will allow me to say so—rather pleasing estimate of the Burmese people with whom he and I had the pleasure of establishing I hope most harmonious relations a few months ago. No doubt they are much less skilled in constitutional matters certainly than the noble Marquess. I would not place myself in that exalted standard, but I do not think the Burmese would seriously challenge that they have not the experience in this field which the noble Marquess can claim. It is quite true that on the first occasion when this vote was carried removing the President of the Council from his office, the Governor replied in the terms that my noble friend read, and, in the main, said that he felt obliged to withhold his concurrence as he did not conceive the grounds to be adequate. I think the main question that my noble friend has it in mind to ask is, if the Governor thought that the grounds were inadequate on the first occasion and if the grounds were, in fact, substantially the same on the second occasion, by what process did he justify to himself concurrence, having refused concurrence when the matter was first brought to him? On that I would wish to make several observations, and the first of them is this.

I do not myself pretend to be a trained lawyer and I should not venture to advance too far in any attempt to interpret the precise wording of Acts of Parliament, but I think that anybody reading the Government of India Act will not fail to be struck by that to which I drew attention in the first remarks that I made—namely, that when the President of the Council is elected the Governor is required to give his approval, but when the Council votes for the removal of the President the Governor is then invited to concur. I should have thought that that implied a certain distinction in the intention of Parliament as to the action of the Governor in the two cases. The fact that Parliament provided in the Government of India Act machinery by which the President of the Council might be elected, but that the Governor had in the one case to approve and in the other case to concur, will suggest to your Lordships that Parliament had in mind two things. It had in mind that the relation of the Legislative Council and its President was of that intimate sort that it was not primarily created or terminated by any outside authority. At the same time Parliament, I think, also had in mind, by the provision it made with with regard to the possible action of the Governor, that it was proper to give the Governor a locus in the matter with the object that he might place at the disposal of the Council his constitutional experience and advice, and that he might have the definite opportunity of trying to bring that experience and advice to the adjustment of disharmony if such had arisen.

If that was in fact, as I think it was, the view of Sir Hugh Stephenson, I cannot myself see that there is any inconsistency in his action in the first place of saying to the Council, "I do not think your reasons are good for voting the removal of your President" and saying a few months later, "My judgment about the reasons may or may not be in any way altered, but I have done my best as Governor to draw your attention to the gravity of the step you propose to take and if you insist upon going forward with it it is not my duty"—as he said—"to act as a court of appeal; having drawn your attention to the difficulties, I therefore feel myself justified in concurring." It is worth noting that the present arrangements—I say "present"; the arrangements at the time that this unhappy controversy developed in Burma—may fairly be held by the Governor to have been of a transitional kind. My noble friend will be aware that, before the present Government of India Act was in operation, under which the provisions as to the President, Council, Governor and so on are as he detailed, the old plan left the power in that matter almost entirely in the hands of the Governor, who presided himself. Then we came to the Montagu-Chelmsford plan, incorporated in the Government of India Act; and under the present Government of India Bill, as my noble friend will be aware, this provision as to the necessity for the approval or concurrence of the Governor with the action of the elected Council in regard to their own elected servants is removed altogether.

I therefore think that Sir Hugh Stephenson was quite entitled to have present to his mind that, in that extremely difficult constitutional position, he was dealing with a state of things that was by its very nature transitional in kind. It may be that this also was present to his mind. I have not had the opportunity of discussing the matter with him, and therefore I cannot speak in this respect with confidence. I have, however, of course, had the pleasure of working with Sir Hugh Stephenson for many years, and there are few people for whose judgment I should have greater respect and regard than for his. I think this may have been in his mind.

No one who has had to work the constitutional machinery in India in any degree can have at any time been tempted to under-rate the immense importance to India of the establishment, of the convention that prevails here, that the office of President should be regarded as completely non-political and not subject to vacation with the change of political groupings in the Legislative Chamber. That convention is as yet not very firmly—perhaps some would say not firmly at all—established in India and in Burma. I would suggest to my noble friend—who, I think, would not disagree with this argument which I am endeavouring to put—that however desirable that convention may be, and is, the last way to get it established would be for the Governor to attempt to constitute himself an. insuperable obstacle to the repeatedly expressed wish of the Council. My noble friend will at once see what that would, in the eyes of the Council, imply. It would imply that the Governor was allying himself with one political Party where Parliament had expressly left the right of initiation to the Council.

I think, indeed, that the Legislative Council must learn by what is for many of us the best way of learning: by making mistakes. I think that it was perfectly justifiable for the Governor to take the action that he did. If this was at all his view, he gave the Council the opportunity to reconsider the question, but, when satisfied that the clash was continuing and that, for reasons good or bad, there was no hope of harmonious adjustment, and realising that it was quite evident that the Constitution was completely unworkable by attempting to maintain in office against the repeatedly expressed wishes of the Council a President against whom it had twice expressed its views; then, and then only, did the Governor give his concurrence. Therefore, my Lords, the answers to my noble friend's questions are as he himself stated them. It is the fact that Sir Oscar de Glanville has been removed from his office as President of the Burmese Legislative Council. The grounds were, I think, also correctly stated by my noble friend as alleged in the Council debates; and, for the reasons that I have sought to give, the Governor did not think it right to withhold his concurrence from the proposition advanced by the Council.


I am obliged to my noble friend.