HL Deb 16 May 1933 vol 87 cc916-22

Order of the Day for the House to be put into Committee read.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Irwin.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly:

[The EARL OF ONSLOW in the Chair.]

Clause 1:

Amendment of provisions of Government of India Act as to duration of Governors' Legislative Councils.

1. Proviso (b) to subsection (1) of Section seventy-two B of the Government of India Act, which proviso enacts that the period of three years during which a Governor's Legislative Council is to continue to exercise its functions may in special circumstances be extended by the Governor for a period not exceeding one year shall have effect as if the words "for a period not exceeding one year" were omitted therefrom.

LORD PONSONRY OF SHULBREDEmoved to leave out "the words for a period not exceeding one year were omitted therefrom" and insert "for the words one year there were substituted the words two years'." The noble Lord said: When this Bill was before your Lordships' House on Second Reading I intimated that the Opposition were supporting the principle underlying the measure, and I made a suggestion with regard to a time limit being inserted in the Bill. My noble friend who is in charge of the Bill was good enough to say he would consider the suggestion, which could be more appropriately raised on the Committee stage. It appears to us that to give an indefinite power to the Governors such as the Viceroy himself possesses would not be desirable in this Bill, and that some period should be placed in it at which this power would no longer hold good. I suggested that perhaps some period might be chosen when the Government could foresee whether the proposals that are now being discussed by the Joint Select Committee would eventually be promulgated in a Constitution, but I want to put before the noble Lord in charge of the Bill a further consideration.

We, all of us—or perhaps I ought to say the majority of us—both expect and lope that the labours of the Joint Select Committee will result in the draft of a Constitution for India, and that will be put into a Bill which will be submitted to both Houses of Parliament, and when it has been passed by those Houses and has become an Act it will then be promulgated as a Constitution for the Indian Empire. Although that may be our hope and indeed our expectation, we must not leave out of account the fact that there is a long and arduous road to be traversed before that consummation is reached, and it is not quite outside the bounds of possibility that there may be some form of difficulty which proves to be insuperable. Should the negotiations conceivably break down and no Constitution be formulated, the Provincial Governors would, according to this Bill, be left with the uncontrolled and indefinite discretion of postponing electionssine die. That appears to us to be undesirable. I do not tie myself down to the time limit that is inserted in this Amendment, and I would be prepared to accept two or three years, but I think it is quite clear, owing to the uncertainty of the situation before us, that some time limit ought to be placed in the Bill. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Clause 1, page 1, line 12, leave out from ("if") to end of clause and insert ("for the words 'one year' there were substituted the words 'two years'").—(Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede.)


I think that the noble Lord's Amendment is clearly one that arouses, as he said, a sense that in certain eventualities it would be improper to leave Governors in the possession of the same right of indefinitely postponing meetings of their Councils as is enjoyed by the Governor-General in relation to the Central Legislature. Without arguing the point with him as to the justify- cation or otherwise of such distinction of treatment between the Provinces and the Centre, I think it is true to say that his argument really depends upon the possibility, which he clearly has in mind, that certain circumstances might arise making it impossible for Parliament to pass a constitutional measure dealing with Indian affairs at all in the course of the next two, three or four years. That, I think, is the basis of his argument, and, therefore, he desires the House and the country to protect themselves against the consequential damage, as he would think, arising from that state of affairs if you passed this Bill without a time limit, in that in those circumstances the Governor would have been endowed with that indefinite power of postponement.

I frankly cannot regard the noble Lord's apprehensions on that score as well founded. We all are bound to speak at this date with a complete reserve and the most complete discretion as to what may be the constitutional action that in due time Parliament may see fit to take after these matters have been fully investigated, but I cannot conceive that it is at all likely—I might even use stronger language, I think—whether the period be one year or two or three years, that Parliament, whatever Government be in power, will not be under the necessity of taking some action with regard to the constitutional matters that have been the subject of debate now for the last three or four years. Therefore, while I would not disagree with the abstract position that the noble Lord states, that it would be wrong, or that it might be wrong, to endow all Governors with this indefinite power, yet I am bound to point out to him that I cannot conceive of circumstances in which this Bill will be other than an interim Bill to bridge the gap until the main Constitution Bill, whatever its character, to which we look forward has reached the Statute Book.

I would point out to the noble Lord, although I take note of what he said as to his elasticity in the matter of time, that in point of fact his Amendment, as it stands, would do very little good. He will no doubt appreciate that the effect of his Amendment would be to endow the Governor with a two-year limit instead of a one-year limit. Of his total new two-year power limit, one year has already gone, and, therefore, all that he does in the case of Bengal is to give the Governor there one extra year. I do not make a great deal of that, because the noble Lord has said he does not attach great importance to it himself. What I do want to put to him, which I think is of greater substance, is this. There is a great difficulty in putting a time limit at all, whether short or long, to this interim measure. If you make the time limit too short you will arouse the criticism from some quarters that you are prejudging the pace at which Parliament will act, and that it is unreasonable to expect the Joint Select Committee to discharge its work with sufficient celerity, that Parliament will not have a reasonable opportunity for informing itself, and so on. If, on the other hand, you make the time limit longer, you will at once arouse great apprehension and suspicions in the minds of Indians that Parliament intends to proceed with these grave matters in a fashion somewhat dilatory. Therefore, I think, and my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for India with whom I discussed it also is of the opinion, that it is very difficult to dissociate from any tune limit the noble Lord might ask us to insert in the Bill a quality that one might describe as tendentious, and that would lead to misunderstanding and difficulty.

Therefore, having regard to the fact that the Bill is one purely to deal with a temporary and interim period, and having regard to the fact that in my view—and I think it will be the general view of your Lordships—Parliament is bound, in whatever sense, to deal with the Indian constitutional position in the course of the next year or two, I hope that my noble friend will not feel it necessary to press the Amendment, for the reason that this Bill will bridge the gap, be the gap short or long, and that when, after that gap, Parliament comes to deal with the general question, it will no doubt find it necessary to regulate these, among other matters. If it does not do so, then I suggest would be the occasion for my noble friend to secure the introduction of words into the Bill in the sense in which he might desire.


After listening to the noble Lord who proposed the Amendment I thought there was a good deal of substance in the plea that he was putting forward to your Lordships which, in effect, amounted to this.

If the Bill stands as it is now the effect might be, and would be if it is not altered later, that you would be giving to a Governor powers which hitherto he has not possessed which would put him in the same position as the Governor-General with regard to the Central Legislature. I do, however, feel there is great force in what fell from the noble Lord, Lord Irwin, in the last part of his observations. It is very difficult to fix a time which will not seem to indicate to Indians, either one way or the other, what the Government thinks or Parliament thinks will be the time required.

I would suggest to the noble Lord who moved the Amendment that, having regard to what has been said, and particularly to the statement that the Bill is not intended to give any general power of a permanent kind but merely to cover an interim period, that the matter should be left as it is. If at a later stage we find that greater time is required, or that the constitutional effort does not march forward as fast as was suggested, or does not proceed at all as suggested, it will be necessary to make a change. I understand the Government have that in mind. I understand that quite definitely the Government are not intending to make a permanent change; therefore it comes down to a very small point between us. I confess, after listening to the argument, that I think my noble friend Lord Irwin has the better of it in stating that to put a term of years into this Bill will be thought to be tendentious. I am in agreement, in principle, with what the noble Lord who moved the Amendment has put upon the Paper, but I would suggest we should leave it at that. I understand quite definitely that this is not intended to be permanent, and if a longer time elapses than is thought necessary then a new Bill would have to be introduced.


I am very much obliged to my noble friend for the consideration that he has given to this Amendment, and I was very glad to hear the optimistic tone which he adopted with regard to the prospects in the future in connection with the possible new Constitution for the Indian Empire. I quite agree with what he says about the danger in regard to a time limit of its being tendentious, which was also emphasised by the noble and learned Marquess. My original idea when I mentioned this point on Second Reading was that words should be put in to the effect that it should be for such time until the new Constitution had been promulgated. That would get rid of any particular period. But as we have had from the noble Lord in charge of the Bill an assurance that the Government do not intend in any circumstances to allow this power to remain in the hands of the Provincial Governors, I think we may be satisfied with that for the present. I therefore beg leave to withdraw my Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 1. agreed to.

Remaining clause agreed to.

Bill reported without amendment.