HL Deb 03 December 1936 vol 103 cc617-31

My Lords, I have to submit to your Lordships for your consideration, and I hope your approval, the text of certain Instruments of Instructions which it is proposed to issue to the Governors of Indian Provinces and, in due course, to the Governor of the separated Burma. The Draft of these instructions is laid before Parliament in pursuance of the pro-visions of Section 53 of the Government of India Act which, while it does not permit Parliament to amend the text, does nevertheless require that no further action should be taken with regard to the Instruments until the assent of both Houses has been given.

Instruments of Instruction are no new thing. The Governors who are at present functioning in India are carrying on their administration in accordance with Instructions conveyed to them by His Majesty similar in kind to the Instruments which are now before your Lordships' House, and those Instructions have been valid without having been referred in any way to Parliament. It will be seen, therefore, that Section 53 of the Government of India Act is introducing a novel feature into our constitutional practice and one which, it might be argued, runs counter to the division of functions normally recognised under our Constitution between the Legislature on one side and the Executive on the other. I suppose it would be generally agreed that, broadly speaking, the functions of the Legislature are the determination of policy and the passing of Acts to give effect to the policy when it has been decided upon, and that, on the other hand, the functions of the Executive are to carry out the policy decided upon by Parliament and to administer the Acts. If the Legislature is dissatisfied with the manner in which the Executive is discharging its functions a remedy is, of course, open to it. It can dismiss the Executive.

These Instruments of Instruction are Letters drawn up by His Majesty on the advice of His Ministers instructing his representatives in India as to the manner in which they should discharge those duties, and bearing in mind the division of functions between the Legislature and the Executive to which I have referred, it will seem obvious at first sight at any rate that the drafting and the issue of these Instructions is essentially the prerogative of the Executive. How then does it come about that in this case Parliament and the Government have agreed to share responsibility for the issue of those Instructions? For an answer to that question we must turn to the Report of the Joint Select Committee in which it was pointed out that it would be possible to effect considerable developments in the constitutional advance of India by means of these Instructions without infringing the actual provisions of the Act. They went on to stress the importance of the different stages of the advance along the road towards full self-government in India and added that in their opinion it would be neither wise nor safe to deny Parliament a voice in the determination of those progressive stages.

This, then, explains why it is that I am submitting to your Lordships for your approval the text of these Instruments of Instructions. The Instruments themselves have been before your Lordships since February, 1935. The present text varies to some extent from the original text, but, broadly speaking, the only changes which have been made in the text have been made to meet points which arose in the course of discussions, either in this House or in another place, of the provisions of the Bill which eventually became the Act of 1935. Let me just say before I touch upon the actual paragraphs of the Instruments something with regard to the form of them. They have not been couched in the detailed and precise language of an Act of Parliament. The reason for that is obvious. The letter of the law is to be found in the Act itself. These Instructions convey to His Majesty's representatives in India, the spirit in which he desires that the letter of the law should be administered.

Let me turn for a moment to the first of the two Instruments of Instructions—namely, that which it is proposed to issue to the Governors of the Provinces in India. The first six paragraphs are purely introductory. Section B deals with the manner in which the Governor shall discharge his executive authority. In paragraph VII, which is the first paragraph of Section B of the Instrument, it is laid down that the Governor shall follow a certain course in appointing his Cabinet. One of the matters which he has to bear in mind in appointing his Cabinet is the inclusion in it, so far as may be practicable, of members of important minority communities. It is quite true that in the course of the discussions of the Joint Select Committee some doubt was at one time expressed whether that would not be unduly restricting the Governor in his freedom of choice, but the representatives of the minority communities have, from first to last, made so great a point of an instruction of this kind that it was considered impracticable now to omit it. Indeed, the representatives of the minority communities urged in the course of the Round-Table Conferences that it should be made a statutory obligation upon the Governor to appoint members of the important minorities in his Government. That, of course, would have been going too far.

Paragraph VIII embodies really the keystone of the Act so far as the Governor is concerned, for it defines his relations with his Ministers in the exercise of his powers in three different categories—first of all, acting in his discretion, and I need not at this stage delay your Lordships by describing what is the meaning of those words; secondly, acting in his individual judgment; and thirdly, acting without restriction upon the advice of his Ministers. Paragraph IX deals with the manner of the discharge by the Governor of his responsibility—his "special responsibility," that is to say—for the minorities. In the second part of paragraph IX it will be seen that certain instructions are given to him to observe any policy which may be in force at the time of the coming into operation of this part of the Constitution with regard to the inclusion of representatives of the minority communities in the public Services. It may perhaps be of interest to those of your Lordships who are interested in this particular aspect of the case and who from time to time have championed so eagerly the claims of the minorities in this respect, if I give you an example of the kind of arrangements which are as a matter of fact already in existence in connection with this matter.

Take the case of one of the largest of the Presidencies, the Presidency of Madras. In Madras there is already a system of communal rotation; that is to say, that out of every twelve appointments five go to non-Brahmin Hindus, two to Brahmins, two to Moslems, two to Anglo-Indians, Christian Indians and non-Asiatics, and one to other communities, including the Depressed Classes. That is the general rule which is in force in Madras. The system is inevitably modified in the case of certain of the Services and certain posts for which technical or special qualifications are required, and it does not apply to the judicial branch of the Madras Civil Service, since the High Court object to being bound in this matter by any hard-and-fast rules. But I hope that example of what the practice is will satisfy your Lordships that under this Instrument of Instructions every care will be taken to see that minority communities are treated fairly in the matter of representation in the public Services.

If any of your Lordships wish to ask any question in the course of debate in regard to the paragraphs which I am passing over, of course I shall be only too pleased to endeavour to answer them; but let me now pass on to paragraph XIII, which deals with the rules of business which are to be made by the Governor. I will call particular attention to the last part of that paragraph, since those words have been inserted in the Instrument in order to meet the point which was pressed upon me in the course of our discussions on the Bill by my noble friends Lord FitzAlan and Lord Rankeillour.


And the most reverend Primate.


I am obliged to my noble friend for reminding me; and by the most reverend Primate. These words, taken in conjunction with paragraph XVI and also with paragraph XX, are designed to secure the object which those noble Lords had in view when they were championing the cause of the minorities in the Legislatures. Then I pass to paragraph XV since that was introduced as the result of an Amendment to the Act which was made in answer to representations by those who took a special interest in the welfare of the primitive communities in India. They would have liked to see the introduction into the Act itself of a statutory provision calling upon the Governor to appoint a special officer to advise him with regard to the interests of these primitive peoples. Certain of the Governors were unwilling that that should be done, since they were of opinion that they could best look after the interests of those peoples through the ordinary administrative machinery of Government. This instruction, however, calls the attention of the Governors to the advantage of appointing a special officer should they, after experience, find that this was a, desirable course to pursue.

Paragraph XVI, to which I have already referred, was also introduced to meet the point made by the most reverend Primate, Lord Rankeillour, and Lord FitzAlan. I think that there is little that I need say beyond those points until I come to paragraph XVII, but there is one point in paragraph XVII to which I should like to draw the attention of your Lordships. It lays down that the Governor shall not assent to certain measures but shall reserve them for the consideration of the Governor-General. Amongst these are measures which deal with the compulsory acquisition of land This was added to the Instrument of Instructions to give effect to an undertaking which was given in another place in April, 1935. This paragraph refers to any Bill which would alter the character of the Permanent Settlement. There is this proviso in that case: And in view of the provisions in this clause of these Our Instructions, it is Our will and pleasure that if his previous sanction is required under the Act to the introduction of any Bill of the last-mentioned description "— That is to say, a Bill affecting the Permanent Settlement— Our Governor shall not withhold that sanction to the introduction of the Bill"— but shall, of course, say that if the Bill is passed it is reserved for the consideration of the Governor-General.

I think there is nothing which, in the absence of questions, I need add to the brief description which I have given of the more important paragraphs in the Instrument itself. I would, however, like-to say a word—because I know that some of my noble friends are interested in this matter—with regard to the recommendation which is contained in paragraph 9(3 of the Report of the Joint Select Committee. The recommendation contained in that paragraph was to the effect that there should be included in the Act a power under which the Governor in certain circumstances, if faced with certain movements of a subversive character, should be entitled to take into his own hands the administration of such Departments of the Government as he-considered necessary in the circumstances. That recommendation is not mentioned in the Instrument of Instructions because it was embodied almost verbatim in the Act itself—namely, in Section 57—and the Governor of any Province is therefore authorised in those circumstances to take into his own hands the administration of any Department of Government which he may consider necessary.

But it will be pointed out to me that there was a further recommendation contained in paragraph 96 of the Report of the Joint Select Committee to this effect, that if at the time of the coming into operation of Provincial Autonomy the situation in Bengal, so far as the terrorist movement was concerned, had not shown substantial improvement, then the Governor of that Presidency should be instructed forthwith to take into his own hands such Departments as he thought desirable. I am happy to say that since the Joint Select Committee had this matter under their consideration there has been a substantial improvement in the situation in Bengal. The year's statistics of terrorist crime are sufficient to show that. Crimes which are ascribed to the activities of the terrorists have fallen from ninety-four in 1932 to thirteen in 1935, and to three, so far, during the present year. The question is whether that constitutes the substantial improvement which the Joint Select Committee had in mind when they were dealing with this matter. In the opinion of the Governor of Bengal, Sir John Anderson, to whom I am glad to take this opportunity of paying a tribute for the extraordinary wisdom, forbearance and at the same time strength with which he has administered this very difficult Province, the alteration in the situation in Bengal is certainly sufficiently great to justify your Lordships in treating Bengal, in the matter of the transfer of law and order, in precisely the same manner as you propose to treat the other Provinces of India.


Hear, hear.


I have never myself believed that this terrorist movement, which has now been rooted in Bengal for something like thirty years, will be really finally eradicated except under pressure of public opinion in Bengal itself, and with the assistance of the people of Bengal. What is essential is a complete change of outlook on the part of the public in Bengal, a complete change, that is to say, from the outlook which was prevalent in Bengal not so many years ago, and I consider that one of the most hopeful features of the situation in Bengal, to-day, is the fact that there are quite definite indications that that change of outlook on the part of the people of Bengal is actually taking place. That is certainly very definitely the opinion of Sir John Anderson himself, and it might interest your Lordships if, by way of illustration of this change of attitude which is taking place, I gave you an experience of my own.

In the earlier days of this movement one of the most effective, and one of the most violent, prophets of the most extreme form of nationalism in Bengal which degenerated into the terrorist movement was Mr. Birendra Kumar Chose. I had occasion to describe him publicly once as one of the most fiery prophets of this movement. The appeal which he made to them in those earlier days of the terrorist movement, somewhere about the year 1910 or 1912, was for men, hundreds of thousands of men, who would be ready to wipe out with their blood the stain of India's age-long subjection. So effectively did that appeal strike the people of Bengal that it was said by an Indian observer, who was certainly very familiar with the motives which lay behind this extreme form of nationalism, that his appeal to the people of Bengal: smote on the heart of the people as on a giant's harp, awakening out of it a storm and a tumult such as Bengal had never known through the long centuries of her political serfdom. In other words, Mr. Birendra Kumar Ghose was one of the most inspiring personalities behind what became the terrorist movement.

Some months ago I received quite unexpectedly a letter from Mr. Birendra Kumar Ghose. He told me that his view of this question had undergone a complete change. He told me that he realised the essential importance, from the point of view of Bengal nationalism itself, that this terrorist movement should be brought to a close, and he explained to me that whereas official literature and appeals to the people had little effect, appeals couched in a powerful nationalistic and idealistic tone to the people themselves would have a dramatic effect. He not only wrote me in that sense but he himself wrote a powerful appeal from the nationalist point of view, which was published both in English and in Bengali, End which he himself described as "a powerful indictment from the national point of view of a movement which came only to wake up a dormant India and an apathetic Government to the new forces beginning then to be dynamic."

I will give your Lordships one other example of the change of outlook on the part of the people of Bengal with regard to this matter. A few weeks ago a political prisoners' or a political sufferers' day was launched in Bengal under the auspices of Jawaharlal Nehru, President of the Indian National Congress, who is certainly not remarkable for the moderation of his views. In spite of the fact that this political sufferers' day—which is the kind of thing which usually makes an immense appeal to the peoples of Bengal—was launched under these auspices, it attracted singularly little attention from the people themselves. In Calcutta the day was observed by three meetings only, the audiences at which were estimated to be 200, 100 and 50 respectively, and in Chittagong, one of the centres of the revolutionary movement in Eastern Bengal, the non-observance of this day was even more remarkable. The resolutions which had been drafted for passage at these meetings, which were to have been held all over Bengal, were read in Chittagong to an assembly of three persons in the verandah of the local Pleaders' Club. They were read by the chairman of the meeting and passed by the other two. A few years ago a political sufferers' day in Bengal would have attracted all over that Province meetings of thousands of people.

I think I have perhaps now given your Lordships two examples, both striking in their own way, of the extent to which the outlook of the people of Bengal has changed with regard to this matter. I would urge your Lordships therefore to accept the view which, as I have said, is so strongly held by the Governor of the Province, as well as by the Government of India—a view which I fully share myself—that it would really be disastrous to-day if we were to attempt to discriminate against Bengal by reserving, in that Province only, the administration of the portfolio of law and order. To do so would be to display an extraordinary lack of trust in the good sense and the patriotism of the new Government in Bengal, and, in the case of a sensitive and emotional people such as the Bengalees are, would do nothing but check the improved outlook on the part of the people at large.

But, having said so much, I would not have it supposed for one moment that it is not necessary to maintain an attitude of constant vigilance with a view to preventing any recrudescence of this movement, which is for the time being at any rate dying down. I have had far too much experience of movements of this kind in Bengal myself not to realise that if vigilance is relaxed there is always the danger of a movement, of this kind springing up again; and Sir John Anderson himself, in informing me that he would be strongly opposed to any reservation of the portfolio of law and order in Bengal at the present time, said he would certainly consider it his duty to furnish me with a further appreciation of the situation at any future time should there be any indication of a deterioration of the Province in that respect. I think that that covers the ground covered by the Instrument of Instructions to the Governments in India, and I beg to move the Motion with regard to them which stands in my name.

Moved, That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty in pursuance of the provisions of Section 53 of the Government of India Act, 1935, praying that His Majesty may be pleased to issue Instructions to the Governors of Governors' Provinces in the form of the draft laid before Parliament.—(The Marquess of Zetland.)


My Lords, I would not delay your Lordships on this matter were it not that it would seem inappropriate that these Instructions should go forth without some commendation from other members of your Lordships' House than those who belong to the Government. It is of the utmost importance, as I see it, that these Instructions should commend themselves to the Indian people, and therefore it seems appropriate that we should send them with our own commendation. Many of us have worked for so long and so hard on this Indian problem at the Round Tables and the Indian Joint Select Committee that it, is almost tragic to have to say good-bye to the work that we have done together, and the interest we feel in it is testified to by the numbers of your Lordships who are present who shared the burdens of the Round Tables and the Joint Committee. I do not wish to say much on this matter except that these Instructions seem to me to assure the Indian people that the Governor of a Province, while being its ruler, will also be in some measure the chief servant of the people. He will have a paternal responsibility for their welfare, and one will learn a great deal from both his actions and the response of the Indian people to what he suggests.

There are one or two comments I would like to make in regard to the separate paragraphs. First of all paragraph IX, which seems to me to be very important, lays down that the Governor should have the responsibility of watching over the legitimate interests of the minorities. There is, however, at the end one phrase which perhaps the noble Marquess would be good enough to explain: But he shall not regard as entitled to his protection any body of persons by reason only that they share a view on a particular question which has not found favour with the majority. I do not know what those words may mean, but if they meant that people holding an unpopular view—such as the view I hold for instance—would be entitled to no kind of protection from the Governor, I should think that these Instructions were not as perfect as they could be made. I will pass that over with just that comment, because in all probability the noble Marquess will relieve my difficulties about it.

There is just a word about paragraph XIX, which says that it shall be a responsibility of the Governor, as he sees fit and according to the situation, "to redress so far as may be, inequalities of representation which may have resulted from election." Well, I have on previous occasions expressed the limitation of approval of my noble friends on these Benches on these matters, and we have expressed certain very definite wishes which cannot at present, I understand, be conceded; but I do hope that the Governor will take very seriously this trust which is placed upon him. There is only one other paragraph, and that is paragraph XX, which seems to me to be excellent, both in its phrasing and its responsibilities. Its seems to me that if this paragraph is understood by the Governors and they feel a sense of responsibility in regard to it, an immense amount of value will result to the Indian people throughout the various Provinces.

That is all I wish to say on this matter. We see what has happened so far in India as the result of this promise of self-government. The noble Marquess has expressed his pleasure with the progress towards the acceptance of peace in Bengal. I always felt sure that that would happen. I hope and believe that now henceforth the Indian people will be drawn together on another basis and find unity in the common task of nation-building, and that these reservations in regard to disorder will gradually pass out of our minds. I most sincerely hope that these Instructions, with limitations that I should not have placed in them myself, will be accepted by the Indian people, and that they will now feel that their work of nationhood has really begun.


My Lords, like the last speaker, I feel it is necessary for one who has sat on all the Round-Table Conferences as well as in the Joint Select Committee just to say a word or two of approval of the Draft Instrument of Instructions under the Government of India Act. I have read the Draft as carefully as I can, and I think it is a full expression of the multitudinous understandings and agreements which were gradually reached at one Round-Table Conference after another and finally embodied in the Joint Select Committee's Report. The very essence of this document, as I see it, is contained in Section B, where you get an instruction to the Governor, in effect, to introduce a system of full responsible government as rapidly as he can, subject always to those special responsibilities which will only come into operation if responsible government does not rise to the true level of its responsibility.

I confess that the actual phrasing used is a little curious, but I think that phrasing did arise out of the earlier discussions. Paragraph VII, after saying that it will be the Governor's business to select his Ministers "in consultation with the person who, in his judgment, is most likely to command a stable majority in the Legislature," goes on to say: In so acting he shall bear constantly in mind the need for fostering a sense of joint responsibility among his Ministers. A few lines later on, in paragraph VIII, are the words: Our Governor shall, in the exercise of the powers conferred upon him, be guided by the advice of his Ministers, which I believe is the ordinary constitutional form of referring to collective advice on the joint responsibility of his Ministers. I gather that is really the intention. It is not the intention that he should be able to select from conflicting advice by different Ministers. He is going to call upon his Ministers to give him joint and collective advice, because that is the essence of responsible government. As the Secretary of State nods his head, I take it that is really the intention of this section—


Oh, yes.


—though, as I say, the end of paragraph VII seems to imply that that may not be fully the case. I was particularly glad to hear what the Secretary of State said about improved conditions in Bengal, and I cordially endorse everything he has said about the very remarkable record of Sir John Anderson. I would further say that there is another fact which I hope will tend to eradicate terrorism, at any rate in its traditional form, and that is the introduction of responsible government itself, because after all, terrorism in its ultimate object is concerned to get and of the British Raj, and if the system on responsible government operates in Bengal with the success which I hope, the fundamental argument on which that terrorist movement has rested will disappear. I hope, therefore, the necessity for that vigilance for which every Government has got a mandate will disappear as far as the Governor is concerned, and that it will be the business of the elected representatives of the people so to conform their policies that the argument for terrorism will once and for all disappear from the soil of Bengal. These are the only comments I wish to make on this subject, but I would, in conclusion, like to congratulate the Secretary of State on carrying this great act, as I believe, of emancipation in India one stage nearer to its final fulfilment next April.


My Lords, in the absence through indisposition of my noble friend Lord Salisbury, I trust you will allow me to say a few words on this Draft Instrument of Instructions. Your Lordships will remember that my noble friend, and those who acted with him, did not oppose in principle that part of the Act to which this Instrument of Instructions refers. If the Act had only been concerned with Provincial Autonomy, though we might have had our misgivings—indeed we had our misgivings—I do not think we should have opposed the Second Reading. But we did attach great importance to the powers of the Governor in respect of law and order, and undoubtedly it came upon some of our friends with rather a shock that the particular recommendation of the Report with regard to Bengal was not carried out in the Instrument of Instructions. This was the more so because, even in this year, some leading officials in the Bengal Council have spoken words of warning, particularly against any proposal for a general release of political offenders, and also called attention to the still subsisting dangers of terrorism, with the new danger of Communism, and have found it necessary to apply special legislation by Order to the area of Calcutta itself. Therefore, there was some legitimate ground for apprehension, but I am bound of course, to accept the assurance of that great civil servant, Sir John Anderson, as announced by the Secretary of State, that he believes there has been so great an improvement that the recommendation need not be carried out, though I very much welcome the Secretary of State's declaration that the utmost vigilance will still have to be exercised.

For the rest, one could say perhaps a good deal about the position of the Governor in forming what I may call his Cabinet. How he is to combine Ministerial responsibility with the due representation of minorities, how he is to breathe into them a sense of joint responsibility, is a little difficult to see, but as to that I suppose we must wait until we have had experience. On one thing I sincerely congratulate the noble Marquess, and that is the words he has found by way of amending the Instrument of Instructions in its original form. They carry out the assurances that were given, and I believe that will be a great source of satisfaction to those who are interested in the protection of minorities. I happen to know that the particular words he quoted with regard to the assurances given to the most reverend Primate and my noble friend Lord FitzAlan and myself are welcomed by all of us as affording such protection as words can give. I sincerely thank the noble Marquess. As to the general situation, what I think some of us at the time of the Third Reading of the Bill said was that though we saw great dangers in it we would do nothing to obstruct the fair working of the measure, and I can only conclude by saying we hope for the best.


My Lords, may I express my gratitude to the noble Lord who has just sat down for the generous way in which he has acknowledged my attempts to meet the points which were raised by him and his friends in the course of discussion on the Bill. I have duly noted what he said with regard to law and order in Bengal, and I can only hope, as I know he does, that occasion will not arise for the Governor to exercise his special powers, though I can give the noble Lord an assurance once more that if the occasion does arise the Governor will certainly discharge the duties which are imposed upon him. I quite appreciate the difficulty which the noble Marquess, Lord Lothian, feels in connection with the joint responsibility of the future Governments, and this was felt by my noble friend Lord Rankeillour also. No doubt in some cases there may be some difficulty in a system of joint responsibility in the case of a Cabinet which contains the representatives of different communities; but what we have set forth in the Instrument of Instructions is the ideal which we desire the Governors to aim at, and we can only hope that with experience the system which has gradually grown up in this country of the joint responsibility of the Cabinet will gradually take root in India also.

May I also express my profound gratitude to the noble Lord who leads the Opposition (Lord Snell) for the generous words which he has used in regard to the particular documents. I can assure him that the support which he has given to the Government, consistently with the maintenance of his own views on certain matters, is of real value in India itself. It is a proof that the people of this country, and not merely the Government, are behind this measure of self-government which is now being conferred upon the Indian peoples. With regard to the points which he raised first of all in connection with paragraph IX, those words which he was a little inclined to question were really inserted to meet the views which, I imagined, the noble Lord himself would have held. Those words are included to ensure that the Governor does not disabuse his powers in connection with the protection of minorities. That is to say, he is not entitled to take a mere political group which may differ from the majority of the Legislature on some political question and say that, because they are a numerical minority, therefore they come within the purview of his special responsibilities. The intention, as the noble Lord of course knows, was that these minorities should, broadly speaking, be regarded as the racial and communal minorities of India and not political groups, and that is why those words were actually inserted in the Instrument.

I may add how gratified I am to find that the noble Lord selected paragraph XX for his special commendation, because I can assure the noble Lord, strange though it may appear, that that was the one paragraph of the whole of the Instrument of Instructions which gave me more trouble than any other and to which I devoted, so far as I possess any, my own personal drafting capacity. Therefore I feel specially pleased the noble Lord should have selected that particular paragraph for his kindly commendation. That I think covers the ground raised in the course of the debate.

On Question, Motion agreed to: the said Address to be presented to His Majesty by the Lords with White Staves.