HL Deb 16 February 1944 vol 130 cc803-13

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. The measure which I invite your Lordships to approve is intended to place beyond all manner of doubt the right of the Crown Representative, who is, of course, the Viceroy, to provide for the most suitable administration of a large number of small and very small States, or really, in fact, estates. More particularly is it concerned with the position of some four hundred petty States in Kathiawar and Gujerat, an area north of Bombay and lying between the Gulf of Cambay and the Gulf of Cutch. I think that there is no necessity for me to delve into the past history of the origin of the British connexion with these petty States, but I can tell your Lordships what has occurred since just before the outbreak of war, when a comprehensive plan was drawn up for the attachment of the smaller States to the larger States in their particular neighbourhood. I hardly think it is necessary for me to emphasize the disastrous effect produced upon the 800,000 inhabitants of these States by the present multiplicity of jurisdiction and the fragmentation of their territories. That would be quite obvious to everyone.

Any dealings between them had to be conducted through the political officers and their staffs, who were fully occupied in settling difficulties arising between so many of these petty authorities. These Chiefs had been accorded certain personal privileges, which will be maintained to them under the new arrangements. Their territories of course have never been annexed to British India and their peoples are not British subjects, and they exercise practically no administrative powers. On the other hand, the political officers had neither the time nor indeed the administrative machinery to ensure that the Chiefs or Taluqdars, as they are more commonly known, employed their resources to the best possible advantage. The Crown Representative in April last year declared his intention to relinquish his jurisdiction over these petty States and authorized its assumption by larger neighbouring States, but subject to guaranteeing to the Taluqdars their existing rights, with a right of appeal to the Crown Representative officers, who will continue, as hitherto, to be responsible for their supervision in the interests of all concerned. By this arrangement the inhabitants of those States would secure the administrative benefits which are normal in British India and in the larger States, and which until now the Crown Representative has been unable to extend to the petty States through the lack of financial resources and personnel to furnish them on a scale which your Lordships would consider compatible with requirements. Law and order has been assured but public health, communications and education have not been established on a really modern basis.

In August last year a Taluqdar who had been attached to Gondal State filed a revision application in the Court of the Judicial Commissioner, alleging that the order of attachment was illegal and beyond the powers conferred upon the Crown Representative by the Government of India Act, 1935, by the India (Foreign Jurisdiction) Order in Council of 1937, and by the Crown Representatives' Letters Patent. The Court delivered its judgment at the beginning of December allowing the appeal, and stating that the scheme contravened the proviso of Section 1 (2) of the Government of India Act, which states: Provided that any powers connected with the exorcise of the functions of the Crown in its relation with Indian States shall in India, if not exercised by His Majesty, be exercised only by, or by persons acting under the authority of, His Majesty's Representative for the exercise of these functions of the Crown. Having given the House a brief story of what has occurred in the past, let me now endeavour to interpret the proposals which are contained in the small Bill before the House to-day. The measure only affects those States which arc not named in the First Schedule of the principal Act, that is, the Government of India Act, 1935. It will therefore only apply to the very small States which lack those administrative resources. Clause 1 (2) of the Bill declares that the Crown Representative may give such directions as he thinks fit in his relations with the States, and in fact shall always be deemed to have had that authority. The Bill as it is drafted takes nothing away from the Taluqdars which they have possessed in the past; it maintains all the rights which they have held by agreement or by usage. I venture to think that the beneficial forms and government which are in operation in such States as Nawanagar and Baroda, to which the majority of these small petty States will be attached, are well known to most noble Lords who have taken an interest in the great Indian Empire. I have heard it suggested that it should have been possible to attach these petty States to a British Province, but in point of fact that is utterly impracticable from a geographical point of view alone. Critics in the Indian Press have amply recognized that fact. This general scheme has been before the small States for a long time, and the States to which they will now be attached—but not annexed—have High Courts with a very long history of first-class judicial procedure behind them.

In view of the other important matters on the Paper, I think I have said sufficient to show the House that the association of these small States with larger entities, without any degree whatever of annexation, has long been regarded as an important and useful step in the development of better administrative rule and modern social reform. It is a measure which I submit quite confidently to your Lordships for Second Reading this afternoon. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(The Earl of Munster.)


My Lords, this is a Bill which deals with a comparatively small matter, yet not an unimportant one. It does not touch the wider questions relating to the connexion between the Provinces and the Indian States, nor the questions relating to future Indian Federation, but it deals with one part of one of the most obvious defects in the structure of Indian government—namely, the existence of a very large number of extremely small and quasi-independent States which have grown up in the course of Indian history, and which retain powers that date from a different state of society. There is undoubtedly a very strong case for combining numbers of these States together in order to secure proper systems of administration for their inhabitants. They are too small in area, too lacking in personnel, and too poor in revenue to provide the proper services of a progressive administration. It is almost as if we required a rural district council in our own country, or even a parish, to perform all the county services, and indeed the national services as well, with regard to higher education, agricultural training, irrigation, public works, judiciary, police, and all such matters. These entities are far too small to be able to deal adequately with such matters in the interests of their inhabitants.

The question arises whether the small States ought not to be absorbed in neighbouring Provinces of what is called British India, but, as the noble Earl has said, in this case that is geographically impossible. Besides, there are ancient treaties and agreements with the Chiefs and the Princes, or Maharajahs and Rajahs, of these States which are a a barrier in the way. Secondly, there is the question whether they ought not to be grouped amongst themselves. That is probably the best solution, but very frequently there are personal jealousies and local rivalries which have rendered that impossible. The only other course open is that they should be absorbed into States of which they are geographically neighbours. Baroda, for instance, which is very much concerned, is a State with a first-class administration, as everyone who has visited India knows, comparing not unfavourably with any other part of India. The Government are wise not to contest the judgment of the Court in the higher Courts, because if it went against them they would still have to come to Parliament for legislation since the matter dealt with is one for which this Parliament is responsible; it arises out of a clause in the Government of India Act, 1935.

There is only one point I should like to make with regard to the details of this Bill. The second subsection of Clause 1 says "This section shall be deemed always to have had effect." That is retrospective legislation, which, in itself, is vicious in principle, and if it is to be applied in this particular instance I submit that the Government ought now or at some future stage to give reasons why there should be this rather extraordinary provision that the Bill shall apply as though it had been previously enacted and was already in force. Both Houses of Parliament are always very jealous of passing any clause of that character, and perhaps on some suitable occasion the noble Earl will be able to give us some reassuring reasons on that point.


My Lords, I am afraid one cannot agree wholly with the noble Viscount and the noble Earl in their description of this as a very little matter. It does not seem to me such a small matter since it concerns between 800,000 and 1,000,000 persons. Whilst fully appreciating the great difficulties of this situation from an administrative point of view—the noble Earl and the noble Viscount were perfectly correct in what they said about these difficulties—I cannot view with anything like equanimity the handing over of these States to other neighbouring States, and for a very good reason. It is true that the two States mentioned by the noble Earl—Nawanagar and Baroda—have, as Indian States, quite admirable records of administration, but what must be borne in mind when dealing with Indian States is the fact that these States are all of them absolute Governments. Their monarchs are absolute, and it has yet to be seen whether, for example, the present young Maharajah of Baroda will carry on the same admirable tradition founded by his grandfather, and whether the new Jam Sahib of Nawanagar carries on the equally good tradition of that State. This is a doubt which immediately brings into our minds the disadvantages of such absorptions as are proposed in the Bill.

The noble Viscount clearly thought that the grouping of these States together under British administration would be satisfactory. It is in that connexion important to remember that up to the present time, unsatisfactory though the position of these tiny States—and estates, as the noble Earl said—may have been, the administration has, on account of their small size, been in the hands of the British officers acting as Crown Representatives in these areas. On the other hand, in the bigger States—in Baroda, for example—the British Resident is in a far different position. It is not his business—indeed it would be contrary to his rights and powers and contrary to our treaty rights with the Maharajah—to interfere in the internal administration of the State unless, of course, that gave rise to definite scandal. These States, therefore, will be removed from the fairly direct administration of British officials, and will be put under the administration of the States' officials. These States' officials may be highly efficient, they may be admirable in every way, but they are the officials of an absolute monarchy.

When I say it is yet to be seen whether the new Maharajah and the new Jam Sahib will carry on the good traditions of their States—and we hope that they will—one feels and sees at once the danger of this position. It does seem to me a definitely retrogressive step to hand over at the present juncture of affairs a considerable population to an absolute administration. I cannot view this present Bill with anything but alarm and despondency, and that is an attitude which I know is shared by the inhabitants of these tiny principalities. I am not pleading the case of the Taluqdars, who perhaps have been in communication with some other members of your Lordships' House. Their position is clearly an anachronism, but if it is to be swept away, or at any rate tidied up, then I do suggest that at the present time, when we are all of us, and the Government also, committed to a policy of Indian progress, it would be correct surely to give to those States the advantages of a representative administration and not hand them over to a type of administration which is in itself an anachronism in the modern world. I suggest that before this Bill be proceeded with further the peoples in these tiny States should be consulted. Their view should be taken into consideration. I am convinced that unless this is done we are liable to commit a very great injustice and certainly we shall be acting directly in contradiction to everything that we at present believe we are fighting for.

This is a dictatorial Act. If some such provision is clearly necessary in this case it may be a beneficial one, but I cannot believe that at this present time it is wise, proper or just to hand over a considerable population to an absolutism which is completely uncontrolled. Were some arrangement to be made whereby these States could set up representative institutions in their territory at the price of this annexation—though the noble Lord has made a slight difference as between absorption and annexation there will in fact be very little difference—there might be, and I believe probably would be, quite considerable administrative advantages from which the peoples of these States would benefit; but these benefits must all depend upon the whim of the Sovereign and that, I submit, is not a thing which this Parliament, the mother of democratic institutions, has any right to do in justice to her own reputation.


My Lords, if I intervene at this stage, it is because I feel there must be many people in this country, as certainly there are in India, who share some of the apprehensions which have just been voiced by the noble Lord. Let me, if I may, put the case as some of them will undoubtedly see it. Here you have a large number of scattered units, some of them very tiny in size, all of them completely isolated from areas of British administration, and for the most part con- sisting of insets in territories of larger Indian States. They are controlled for the moment by authorities who have the character perhaps of the medieval lord of the manor rather than of the great barons or great fief holders of the Mogul Empire who subsequently became rulers of the independent Indian States.

At a certain stage we decided, purely for the sake of maintaining law and order, to exercise some control over these scattered units. We based our authority on the extension of the Foreign Jurisdiction Act, and we gave to our Political Residents the power to try offences committed by their subjects. But I think we exercised no other type of administration. Geographical difficulties and the absence of any machinery made it impossible to extend our social services to them or to improve their communications or the like. We now propose to hand over to the neighbouring major States the jurisdiction which we formally exercised under the Foreign Jurisdiction Act, but at the same time to place those major States under the obligation to supply these areas with the social services and the like which we ourselves have been unable to extend to them. To this extent, therefore, we shall undoubtedly be handing over to the "attaching States" that amount of direct protection for law and order which we formerly exercised, and we Shall retain only indirect control over the conduct of the major States in their administration of these attached areas. That amount of indirect control we continue to exercise by virtue of our authority as the paramount power.

There will no doubt be some in Great Britain who will view that proposal with apprehension and, if I may say so, with the dislike that the noble Lord has just expressed. They do not view the Indian States with favour, partly, of course, because they are autocratic in constitution. It is true that many of them have of late years made a great advance in liberalizing their Constitutions by the creation of representative bodies, but it still remains true that they have not brought themselves within the orbit of those democratic institutions which we have during the last generation endeavoured to establish in British India, not always, one is bound to say, with immediate happy effect. That is one reason for apprehension. There is of course another reason which we cannot overlook. Some of the independent Indian States have not in the past had a record which has been marked by progressive administration. There have been instances—and it is no use overlooking the fact—in which we ourselves, as the paramount power, have had to remove some of their rulers for gross abuse of their powers. There is now fortunately a growing number of these major States which are distinguished by a progressive and an efficient administration. They have instituted Courts of Justice which have, by this time, established a tradition of their own. It is also fortunate that some of the States to which we propose to attach these small and scattered units arc amongst the most progressive and the most advanced of the Indian States. I do not discuss further the merits of the Indian States at this stage; I am merely examining the reasons for the impression of apprehension which the proposed measure of attachment has inevitably created in the minds of certain persons in Great Britain.

But this seems to me peculiarly one of those cases which we have to decide not so much in the light of the disadvantages the proposition may appear to present, but in the light of the alternatives that are open to us. There are four alternatives. We might, in the first place, annex these areas to British India. There is nothing in the nature of treaties or obligations in our past relations with these small units which would prevent us doing so. Of course I need not say that annexation is the only method by which we could secure for them that measure of representation which the noble Lord, Lord Faringdon, desired to achieve. But if they were annexed, there would still remain the original problem caused by their geographical detachment and by their isolation in the midst of independent territory. We should still have the difficulty of the maintenance of law and order which is created by the existence of a multitude of jurisdictions. We should still fail to be in a position to do anything for their social and economic improvement, and we should of course create additional difficulties—difficulties perhaps too obvious for me to detail—in the creation of the future Constitution in India.

We might in the second place cancel the order of attachment which has been passed by the Representative of the Crown and restore the position which existed before that order came into being. That might be satisfactory to the Thakurs or Taluqdars now in control, but it would still leave unsolved the problem of ministering to the social needs of their inhabitants. It would also place on the future Government of India the obligation of providing the finance needed for maintaining the Courts of Justice in those areas, an obligation which it might not be willing to undertake. Then we might in the third alternative withdraw any attempt to maintain law and order in these units, and leave the people concerned to make their own arrangements on any terms they could achieve with the neighbouring major States. That is a proposition so undesirable that I think it carries its own condemnation.

We might finally adopt the course suggested in this Bill. It is admittedly one which the Thakurs, who at one time seemed prepared to accept it, now view with antagonism. But we have not merely to consider their feelings. We have to consider the welfare of the 800,000 people concerned, and I feel myself that the proposal in this Bill offers greater possibilities for ministering to the welfare of this population than any of the alternatives I have just mentioned. It offers them the guarantee that they will share in the system of higher education, the health services, and the improved system of communications which exist in the attached States; and let me repeat again that some of them are among the most progressive States in India. The existing tribute paid by these somewhat small units, which is in some cases heavy, will be reduced to a maximum of 10 per cent. of their revenue. We shall still retain the power of supervising the manner in which the "attaching States" carry out the administration of their attached units. For the latter will retain the right of appeal to the paramount power. As I said, this is one of those difficult cases which we have to decide in the light of the different alternatives that are open to us, and I believe that the proposal embodied in the Bill offers the best prospect of benefit to the peasant population of these somewhat unfortunately situated areas.


My Lords, are we to have no reply from the noble Earl on the matters which have been raised by the three noble Lords who have spoken? There was the question raised by my noble friend Lord Faringdon, and the question of retrospective legislation which I think all your Lordships dislike—not more than I do—raised by the noble Viscount on my right. There should be some reply from the Government.


My Lords, if your Lordships will allow me, I will say a word or two in reply, out of courtesy to the noble Lord and to the House. I had the idea that the arguments to which we have just listened with so much attention from my noble friend Lord Hailey would satisfy your Lordships that the considerations which have been properly raised were effectively answered, and I would be most unwilling with much less knowledge to go over the same ground. The considerations put forward by Lord Hailey were exactly those which were before the Government when they decided to introduce this Bill. It is not from any want of respect that I refrain from going into detail, with less knowledge of these matters. I can assure your Lordships that the matters which have been referred to have been duly weighed and considered. The actual situation of these small isolated areas is pitiable. They are without roads, they are without social services, without any of the things they ought to have, and it appeared on weighing all the alternatives that there is no way which is to be preferred as a practical matter to that which is found in the present Bill.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.