HL Deb 24 June 1936 vol 101 cc198-205

My Lords, I have to commend to your Lordships this afternoon five Orders made under the Government of India Act and the Government of Burma Act, and I think it will be for the convenience of your Lordships if we first take the two Orders which deal with the question of corrupt practices. Having disposed of them, I suggest that we should then consider together the other three Orders which hang together and are concerned with the necessary operations which have to take place before effect can be given to the new Constitution in India. Since there are some small Amendments to the first two Orders, the Motion I shall have to move in connection with them is that these Orders be now considered. The Amendments will then be considered and if they are agreed to I shall then move that the draft of the Orders be approved, as amended.

The purpose of these first two Orders is, of course, to prevent, so far as that is possible by means of legislative or administrative action, the perpetration of corrupt practices in connection with elections. Of course, it has been recognised on all sides, from the time when the democratic system was first introduced in India, that it was not only desirable but also essential that provisions as stringent as possible should be made against these practices. The matter was carefully considered by the Joint Select Committee which dealt with the Act of 1919, and that Committee approved the Rules which were drawn up under the Act of 1919 for dealing with these matters. They further expressed the opinion that it was desirable that the Corrupt Practices Act should be passed in India, and, in accordance with the recommendation which they made, legislation was in due course placed upon the Statute Book in India. But I would point out that the Act has no bearing on the effect of the commission of these offences upon the elections themselves. The Act merely makes certain practices criminal offences and therefore renders anybody who is guilty of them liable to prosecution under the Criminal Law. The bearing of what is contained in the Act upon the actual elections themselves is provided by the Rules which were made under the Act of 1919.

The Act of 1919 is now about to expire, and it is for that reason that I have to ask your Lordships to re-enact, in the Orders which are now before you, the Rules which have been in existence since the Act of 1919 was passed. That being so, there is very little that is new in the two Orders which deal with corrupt practices. They reproduce substantially the Rules which are already in existence, with one or two very small exceptions. Perhaps I might just mention the exceptions and apprise your Lordships of the reasons why these exceptions are made. Under the existing Rules, treating at the time of an election is treated as a corrupt practice. Treating will, of course, continue to be treated as a corrupt practice, but the bodies which are to be set up under the provisions of this Order to inquire into petitions bringing a charge of corrupt practices against persons will be given certain guidance as to the way in which they should interpret this particular corrupt practice. It has been found by experience that an election in India is treated very much, I think, as a fair in that country or in this country: it is an occasion for general merry-making and enjoyment, and it is a universal practice for light refreshments to be provided by generously-disposed persons for the advantage of those who are taking part in the proceedings. It has been realised that there is really no possibility at the present time of eradicating this very deeply engrained practice, and I will explain the way in which it is being dealt with under this Order.

The Commissioners who are set up under the provisions of this Order to make an inquiry into any petition of this kind are told, on page six of the Indian Order: If the Commissioners report that a returned candidate has been guilty by an agent, other than his election agent, of any corrupt practice specified in Part I of the First Schedule to this Order, but further report that the candidate has satisfied them that "— and I need not trouble your Lordships with the next two paragraphs; I go on to the third paragraph: (c) the corrupt practices mentioned in the report were of a trivial and limited character or took the form of customary hospitality which did not affect the result of the election;…

then the Commissioners may "— it does not say "shall," but "may"—? " find that the election of the candidate is not void. That is the first-named change which has been made in the existing Rules.

The other change is with regard to the hiring of vehicles and boats for the purpose of conveying persons to the poll. Here again, experience has shown that in India it would be almost impossible in existing circumstances to secure a reasonable percentage of the electors polling unless they were entitled to be conveyed to the poll in conveyances which had been hired. The proposal therefore in this case is that that should not be a corrupt practice in the case of India, but that the candidate and his election agent should be obliged to enter in the return of their election expenses the amount which has been expended in that way. On the other hand, owing to circumstances peculiar to Burma itself, we propose to retain the hiring of conveyances as a corrupt practice, and the reason for that in the case of Burma is that boats in particular which are available for hire are in the hands of a very limited number of persons, and it would be perfectly possible in those circumstances for a candidate or his agents to make a corner in boats for the day of the election, thus preventing his opponent from hiring any boats to take his friends to the poll. In those circumstances it was thought better to retain, in the case of Burma, this particular provision in the existing Corrupt Practices Rules.

That, in brief, is the purpose of these two Orders dealing with corrupt practices. Your Lordships will all agree that it is, as I said, not only desirable but also essential to do what is possible to prevent corrupt practices at elections in India, as in any other country. Under these Orders we give power not only to a candidate or to a voter to bring a petition on the ground that corrupt practices have been committed, but we also give power to the Government themselves to order that a petition shall be brought if they have reason to believe that corrupt practices have been indulged in. In that way we think we have done as much as is possible by legislation to counter the evil of corrupt practices in connection with elections.

But, having said so much, let me say that I have always felt that the best cure for a tendency to indulge in corrupt practices of this kind is not so much legislation as education and experience. After all, we in this country were not altogether blameless, at any rate in the earlier days of democracy, in this respect. I remember reading interesting records of elections in parts of this country, notably the elections which used to take place at Aylesbury, in the County of Buckingham, where the returning officer used to sit with a bowl of guineas on one side of him and a bowl of punch on the other, and the honest electors impartially helped themselves from both bowls. There are many other instances of elections of that kind which those who have studied the electoral history of this country will, I am sure, recall to mind. So I look as much to education and experience as to legislative action to bring about improvements in that respect. And may I say that, although I should be the last to deny that the Indian peoples in these earlier stages of their experience of democracy have indulged in practices which come within the meaning of these Orders, it is a fact that the last Committee which met to inquire into matters of that kind—namely, the Committee under the chairmanship of Sir Laurie Hammond—gave on the whole an encouraging report as a result of the investigations into the matter. Its conclusion was that these practices are not nearly so widespread in India to-day as they were in this country in the early days of its experience of the democratic system.

Perhaps it would be convenient to your Lordships if, at the same time, I were just to explain the Amendments, which are of a very trivial character. In the case of the Burma Order there are two small Amendments. The first one is on page 8, line 7, and is in paragraph (4) of Part IV. It is to leave out the word "any" and insert the word "that." The purpose is merely to correct a printer's error. The paragraph ought to read: Where under either of the two last preceding paragraphs a person is, in connection with an election in a commerce and industry constituency, disqualified for voting for any period, then, if that person not "any" person— was at the date of the election "— and so on.

The other Amendment applies to the India Order as well as to the Burma Order. In the case of the India Order the Amendment is in paragraph 6 of Part I of the First Schedule, and is on page 11, line 10, after the first "of" to insert the words "this Order or of," so that the line will then read "in contravention of this Order or of any Act of the Provincial Legislature or Rules." The purpose of that Amendment is as follows: We laid down in the earlier part of the Order that a candidate shall not appoint as his agent a disqualified person, but by an oversight we omitted to say in the later part of the Order what should happen if he did, and the effect of the Amendment is to make the appointment of a disqualified person a corrupt practice. With that explanation I beg to move that the Government of India (Provincial Elections) (Corrupt Practices and Election Petitions) Order, 1936, be now considered.

Moved, That the Draft Government of India (Provincial Elections) (Corrupt Practices and Election Petitions) Order, 1936, as presented to Parliament and reported from the India and Burma Orders Committee on the 11th instant, be now considered.—(The Marquess of Zetland.)


My Lords, I think your Lordships will have heard with gratification how the austerities of democratic institutions in India are mitigated by the charming amenities to which we have just heard allusion, and I trust that the standard of electoral good-fellowship in India will approximate to that which prevailed in England in the middle of the eighteenth century. I do not wish to dwell, however, on matters of that sort, but I wish shortly to say a word on behalf of my noble friend Lord Salisbury, the reason for whose absence I am sure the whole House will deplore. It is the view of those who opposed the Government of India Act that these Orders only carry out what is necessary as regards the establishment of the Provincial Part of that Act. They do not go beyond anything that appeared in that Act, or that could have been expected from it, and it is not the wish of the opponents of the India Act to do anything to obstruct the progress of provincial autonomy, or to do anything which will hamper my noble friend Lord Linlithgow in carrying it out. Therefore we do not intend to raise any small points, or indeed any point at all, on these Orders. I hope, however, that the noble Marquess will not conclude from that that there are not vigilant eyes which are ready to scan each Order as it comes up, and I trust he will not think—perhaps I should say I know that he does not think—that when he comes with the draft Instrument of Instructions every word will not be scanned to see that the words of that instrument carry out the assurances which he, and others responsible for the India Act, gave in the course of the protracted proceedings on that Bill. For the moment we can only hope for the best with regard to provincial autonomy, and do nothing to impair its success.


My Lords, my noble friends and myself do not propose to raise any objection to the Rules or the Amendments which the noble Marquess is to propose. We regard it as right, and probably as advisable, that at the very beginning of these experiments the Indian people should be encouraged to adopt a certain austerity in regard to their electoral processes, and that some of the merry incidents connected with elections heretofore, both here and elsewhere, should not be repeated. I confess I am somewhat surprised to learn that the Indian people have learned so much with regard to the English practice in the conduct of elections. For myself, in regard to the conduct of elections, so far as corrupt practices are concerned, I am as innocent as Mr. Pickwick himself. I have never had to face an election where my opponents have used such practices, nor have I any reason to think that they so influenced any votes. I am quite sure that in starting these elections it is right that we should express a hope that they will be conducted with strict integrity and also that we should make any provisions that are necessary for keeping corrupt practices in check.


My Lords, may I ask a question of my noble friend? Is there any provision in these Orders, or indeed in the Act, to limit or prevent the formation of uniformed political volunteer forces for electoral purposes? The overthrow of democracy in a great many countries has begun by the formation of such bodies, which in the first instance are purely political in character but, because they are disciplined and in uniform, begin to resort to electoral and other violence. I would like to ask whether there is any provision by which the formation of such bodies is to be forbidden, and I do so with all the more assurance because a very distinguished Indian politician, when I was in India some years ago, told me that he thought the most ominous feature of politics in India at that time was a tendency to form such political bodies. That tendency, I am glad to say, seems to have disappeared, but if these Orders do not deal with the matter, I suggest that the matter might be considered as to whether in some way or other the formation of such very dangerous organisations should be prohibited.


My Lords, the noble Marquess will not find any specific provision in these Orders themselves for prohibiting the enrolment of uniformed electoral bodies, but these Orders, of course, give power to make further Rules. The Orders, broadly speaking, lay down the main principles on which corrupt practices are to be dealt with, and I can hardly suppose that the enrolment of a uniformed body can be regarded exactly as a corrupt practice. I think it will have to be dealt with in some other way. But undoubtedly the Governors of Provinces would have power, as they have now in the event of anything of that kind becoming a serious trouble, to use their executive authority to prevent it. But it is not dealt with specifically in these Corrupt Practices Orders.

On Question, Motion agreed to.


I beg to move the Amendment which stands on the Paper.

Amendment moved— In paragraph 6 of Part I of the First Schedule, page 11, line 10, after the first (" of ") insert (" this Order or of ").—(The Marquess of Zetland.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.


My Lords, I now beg to move that the Draft Order be approved, as amended.

Moved, That the Draft Government of India (Provincial Elections) (Corrupt Practices and Election Petitions) Order, 1936, as presented to Parliament and reported from the India and Burma Orders Committee on the 11th instant, be approved as amended.—[The Marquess of Zetland.]

On Question, Motion agreed to.