§ VISCOUNT FITZALAN OF DERWENT rose to call attention to the proposals for pensions payable out of Indian revenue to retired officers of the Indian Army and of the various Civil Services, and for the administration of the family funds contributed by those Services, as contained in the White Paper. The noble Viscount said: My Lords, I make no apology for intruding on your Lordships' time for the Motion standing in my name. Whatever views may he taken of the merits of the case of the Indian pensioners, I know well that if any body of public servants have any anxiety as to the future of their pensions and those of their widows and orphans, your Lordships would be the first to realise that their case ought to be considered, and considered sympathetically. I understand that my noble friend Lord Halifax takes exception to my bringing forward this Motion on the ground of its connection with the White Paper. On that point all I will say at the moment is that I did not put it down until I was quite satisfied I was fully entitled to do so by the rules of this House, and also until I had satisfied myself that the case of these pensioners was one which, at any rate in my opinion, ought to be brought forward and considered. If my noble friend does reply to me I shall take it as an act of great courtesy on his part, but I want to make it clear to him and 481 to the House that if he refuses to reply at all I shall not consider I have any grievance or complaint whatever against him.
§ I have not put this Motion down with a view to eliciting any reply from the Government. I have done it simply because I feel that the case of these pensioners and the future security of their pensions should be considered and brought out. Now these Funds, the Indian Pension Funds, come under various headings. There is the Indian Army Families' Fund, the Indian Army Widows' and Orphans' Fund, and there is what is called the Superior Services (India) Fund—rather a curious term that means, I understand, the Police, Education, Forestry, and similar Services. Then there is the Indian Civil Service Family Pensions Fund, and there is the Indian Medical Service Fund, which comes under rather a different category from the others, but for the purpose we are discussing this afternoon all these Funds can be lumped together. The point I want to bring out chiefly is that the future security of these pensions should be the ultimate responsibility of Parliament. I understand there are living in England between 7,000 and 8,000 of these pensioners, including widows and orphans, and including also the Army and the Indian Civil Service. In addition to that I believe there are about 450 who come under the Indian Medical Service Fund. From the answer given by the right honourable gentleman the Secretary of State, to Question No. 11381, the sum required to meet these pensions is£4,000,000 a year. That is not a definite sum, I ought to explain, because he did not say that in reply to a definite question, but he happened to bring that figure in as he believed it to he the sum. I do not mention that as binding him to that particular figure. I have an idea it is probably a little more.
At present, thanks to the control which the Secretary of State has over the Revenues of India, these pensions are practically guaranteed by Parliament, but under the new proposals that control will cease to exist, and the conditions and circumstances will be very different. The present proposals as regards these pensions, as I understand them, are not yet complete. I have here paragraph 73 of the Introduction to the White Paper which says:
His Majesty's Government hope to be in a position to submit recommendations on this subject later to the Joint Select Committee.
That, I understand, refers to the Family Pension Fund, and not to the particular Pension Funds I have mentioned. The India Office issued a Paper on November 14 with reference to these Family Pension Funds, and it is not necessary for me to go into that question to-day except to say this, that it must be borne in mind that these Family Pension Funds are subscribed by the members themselves. The money comes out of their own pockets, it is really their money, and owing to their anxiety as to this money coming back to them as pensions in the future, they lay stress on the wish that these funds should be transferred from India and invested in England. That is a very strong point, because if that is done they will not receive as high interest as they are getting now.
§ I lay stress on that point because it has been argued that these people have had pressure brought to bear upon them from outside sources to take up this question of their grievances, and I submit to your Lordships that if they are willing, owing to their great anxiety as to the future of their position, to receive a less interest on their money, it goes a long way to prove the truth of their anxiety. However, as I say, I am not going to dwell on that note of November 14. What I want to consider particularly to-day is the letter which the right honourable gentleman the Secretary of State wrote to Sir Arthur Samuel on November 13 last. I regret that in taking this action I am obliged to take up an attitude against my right honourable friend the Secretary of State. I do so with great regret. I have the greatest possible respect for him. He and I have been very old friends for many years, and I do not mind saying that I am quite satisfied, whatever I may say or whatever he may say, our friendship will not be impaired. At the same time I shall have to say things with reference to his action. I know his view, and I know he is only taking it from the highest motives, but I shall have to criticise him to some extent, for, after all, I am sure he would be the first to admit that he is the villain of the piece. Therefore I do not think he will mind very much.483
That letter of November 13, which was published wholesale, caused great consternation to the pensioners, and I am bound to say—and I regret to have to do so—that it was written in an unfortunate tone. It seemed in some way rather offensive. I think it was a pity. I think it was an undignified letter. I do not think it was a letter which ought to have borne the signature of a Secretary of State, certainly of the Secretary of State of our great Indian Empire. However that may be, there it is, and I am only too glad to recognise that the strain on my right honourable friend has been so enormous that one ought not to attach undue importance to any little lapse into petulance. Now this letter to Sir Arthur Michael Samuel is full of safeguards—safeguards stated rather as facts. I thought we were all getting rather bored with safeguards. I observe that the Prime Minister himself has been bored with them for some time. Here is what he said on April 11, 1912, with reference to the safeguards in the Home Rule Bill of the late Lord Oxford and Asquith:
I am bound to confess that I am one of those who do not believe that safeguards of any certain efficiency can ever be put into an Act of Parliament.
Well, if these so-called safeguards ever get as far as the Cabinet, I think the Indian pensioners may have some hope of finding that the Prime Minister is on their side.
I should like to read some parts of this letter to Sir Arthur Samuel. In the second paragraph it says:
It is inconceivable that the Committee, many of whose members have held high office in connection with the administration of India, will make recommendations in their Report, or that subsequently Parliament will pass a Bill embodying a new Constitution for India, without satisfying themselves as to the security of pensions earned by service under the Crown in India.
I entirely agree with what my right honourable friend says, but even if the proposals as they now stand are approved by the Committee, even if they get as far as the Cabinet, and, still more, if they get as far as Parliament, I shall be very much surprised indeed if they are accepted.
§ My right honourable friend the Secretary of State has been very much upset by the action taken by a certain political body which he accuses of exercising 484 political propaganda. I do not know why he should object so very much to that. If he casts his memory back, I think be will find that he and I have both been very guilty in combination in years past in the same direction. However, he has been very much upset by this, and, as he thinks this body has so much influence all round, and as he may think that they are responsible for my wickedness in putting this Motion on the Paper, I think I ought to let him know that, although I am a member of the body myself and proud and glad to be a member, they knew nothing whatever about it until I had put it down on the Paper. I was the first to tell them that I had done so. I went to the office in order to let them know, and to ask if they could give me some propaganda. They very kindly supplied me with this letter which I am now discussing with your Lordships.
Now let us look at the so-called safeguards. They are for the most part condensed in the fourth paragraph on the second page of this letter, and I must again ask your Lordships if you will excuse me if I make a quotation:
The Governor-General will he declared in the Constitution to be charged with a special responsibility for safeguarding the rights and legitimate interests of these Services. He will have the power in the event of need to carry out this responsibility, as he will be authorised to make such modifications in the Budget proposals as he considers necessary to its discharge, and he will also be empowered, if the Finance Act as passed by the Indian Legislature does not provide the resources necessary, to enact a Governor-General's Act. This would have the same force as an Act of the Legislature and would impose the taxation required to supply the funds necessary for him to meet pensionary charges.
That reads very well. These safeguards, like so many others, are all right so long as you have not got to use them. The trouble begins when you have to try to enforce these safeguards, and I want to know what is the position of the Viceroy going to be if there is a Budget with a deficit, if he has to find the money, if he has to impose additional taxation for the purpose of these pensions in the face, perhaps, of a majority of the Congress Party, then in power—and I suppose that the right honourable gentleman will not guarantee that that Party will not get power, or that never again in India, notwithstanding the new Constitution that may be enacted, will there be a Budget with a deficit.
§ I submit to your Lordships that it may be that the Viceroy may have power to enact special taxation in order to meet pension charges; but will he do it? Ought he to do it? Assume that the country or parts of the country are seething with discontent and that the Congress Party is in power. Is it conceivable that even the Home Government would be able to approve such drastic action on his part and upset the whole position in the Indian Empire? I repeat that in my humble opinion these safeguards accorded to the Viceroy are not worth the paper they are written on in the moment of stress and trouble which is sure to come some day or other in India as it has done in the past. What we are aiming at is that the responsibility of Parliament should remain for the payment of these pensions, as it is now, in some way or other. It must be remembered that the responsibility of Parliament has always been assumed in the past. It was assumed in the Simon Commission, and, before that, in the Lee Commission, and in the famous Despatch of the 20th September, 1930, signed by my noble friend below me (Viscount Halifax).
Let me first quote from the Report of the Simon Commission, Volume II, Part IX, page 292 The Simon Commission say as follows:
It has been represented to us that a transfer from the Secretary of State in Council of the control over the finances of India might imperil the security of officers' pensions and the provident and Family pension funds which have been built up by their own contributions. These are, of course, and must continue to be, a liability on Indian Revenues, just as current salaries are: pensions are really in the nature of deferred pay.
Then they go on to allude to the Lee Commission as follows:
The Lee Commission, in dealing with a similar representation, recorded its view that"—
the words following are from the Lee Commission—
if any statutory change is made hereafter, involving the transfer of the financial control in this regard now exercised by the Secretary of State in Council, adequate provisions would at the same time be made for safeguarding Service pensions.
The Simon Commission go on:
We are not in fact proposing any change which would bring these pensions in jeopardy, but we wish expressly to adopt and confirm this recommendation for the future.
Now let me quote from the famous Government of India Despatch of September 20, 1930, signed, let me remind your Lordships, by my noble friend below me (Viscount Halifax):
…Parliament must remain responsible for the pay and pensions, family pensions and provident funds of all officials recruited by the Secretary of State. It may be argued that it would be a sufficient discharge of the responsibility of Parliament, if it were provided as part of the new Constitution, that the sums required to make the payments due under the above three main headings should be a statutory first charge on a Consolidated Fund, payable independent of any Vote by the Indian Legislature.
But (a), a first charge on revenue is of no value unless the necessary taxes are levied to produce sufficient revenue—
That is the point. Is it not quite conceivable that a state of affairs may arise in which there may not be sufficient money for the purpose of finding what is required for these pensions?
I must now say one word on the question of family funds. In paragraph 73 of the introduction to the White Paper, the following words occur:
His Majesty's Government hope to he in a position to submit their recommendations on this subject later to the Joint Select Committee.
So far as I know they are not yet in a position to submit those proposals to the Committee. I understand that the Secretary of State is very kindly communicating with the subscribers to these family funds and waiting to hear their views and to see if he can meet their wishes. In reference to the family funds, I only want to remind your Lordships that those funds are the personal subscriptions of the individuals who subscribe them. They are money out of their own pockets. These funds are not invested in India—they are paid into the Inland Revenues but they are not invested—and the recipients get fairly good interest when the pensions reach them. But that is not what they want. They want more security, and they are willing to accept a less sum rather than lose the security of the money being properly invested in English funds. The Secretary of State also, in the letter I have referred to, rather dismisses a point that had been raised, that£12,000,000 should be guaranteed. He dismisses that as being an intolerable burden. Well, he had no difficulty recently in floating a 3½ percent. loan, arid I cannot help thinking
that a loan for this particular purpose of pension funds and family funds would not only be very popular, but would be very acceptable and approved by a great many people in this country as a help to the Indian pensioners.
§ Another point the Secretary of State raises is that any guarantee of the Treasury would weaken the credit of the new Indian Governments. I cannot help thinking that that is hardly a worthy consideration. I think it is answered by the Lee Commission and the India Despatch from which I have already quoted. These documents are signed by natives of great eminence in India, and they urge that Parliament should be responsible for the payment of these pensions. The right honourable gentleman the Secretary of State in this letter rather makes light of the financial position in India. He is certainly quite justified in calling attention to the success of his recent 3½per cent. loan, and to the present high credit of India. I do not pretend to understand finance myself, but I am told by experts in finance that there are circumstances of a purely financial nature amply sufficient to explain the rise in India's credit—that this present satisfactory condition is due, in the first place, to England having carried India with her off the gold standard, to the reduction of interest on the War Loan, and to the amount of capital awaiting investment here in this country which has enabled loans to be considerably cheapened. But the moment you impair credit all this will go with a run.
§ India depends largely on Customs Duties, and as foreign goods are being kept out to enable home goods to be sold Customs receipts will shrink. I am informed they are already doing so. Then, again, the cost of administration has already gone up and it is to be specially noted that where Indians have control the cost has increased very rapidly, while the returns from taxation, which is not levied with such fairness as with us, have been largely reduced. Now, on top of all this comes the statement of Sir Arthur McWatters, that£20,000,000 a year will be required from extra taxation to start the proposed new financial scheme. Sir Arthur, as those who have heard him can testify, is by no means an unfriendly critic of the White Paper. It is true that 488 he has an alternative scheme of his own. How much value is to be attached to that I do not know, but I do know that his reputation as a financier, and especially as an Indian financier, is beyond dispute. He is second to none. His opinion on this additional£20,000,000 cannot be ignored. I think that tends greatly to strengthen my argument that special protection should be given to future pensions.
§ The Secretary of State in this letter calls attention to the financial safeguards securing the financial stability of India. Sir Arthur McWatters has blown those sky-high with his recent announcement. It is impossible to contend that the pensioners are not justified in having—in fact, they must have—the gravest fears as to the future security of their pensions. I should like to add this point. As the law now stands the pensioners, if there should be any failure to pay their pensions, have the right to obtain a decree from the Courts in England against the Secretary of State in Council for payment out of the Revenues of India. Under the proposed new Constitution this will go by the board. I feel that this a very serious subject, which ought to be gone into very carefully, and I should like to make a suggestion to my noble friend below me.
§ It is not entirely my own suggestion. I happened to come across it and I thought it a good one. After all is said and done it is fair to state, I think, that this question of pensions does not bear directly on the constitutional proposals in the White Paper. They can be looked upon as separate and apart. I deplore that this question of pensions should come at all into the region of Party politics. It ought to be kept apart from Party politics and regarded upon its own merits. The suggestion I wish to put before my noble friend is this. Might it not be possible to appoint a small independent Committee, consisting, say, of three members, a legal functionary, a retired civil servant, and possibly a man acquainted with insurance work? A Committee of that kind might be appointed to go into this question and prepare a report. Of course, I do not contend for a moment that that Committee should do more than suggest and recommend, but I do think that some action of that kind might bring this question out of Party politics so that it could be treated entirely on its own merits. I do not ask my noble friend to 489 reply to me on this point to-day, but I ask him to consider it with my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for India.
§ Who are these pensioners They are men who have served the greater part, the best part of their lives in India. They have served in a trying climate, with long periods of exile from the homeland, and, worse than that in many cases, with long periods of separation from home life with their children who have to be sent here for educational purposes. I cannot help thinking that they are deserving of very special consideration. Has there ever been a body of men whose work is comparable to the work done by these men of the great Indian Civil Service of which we are so intensely proud? They are men of the highest intellectual capacity, trained by experience of great responsibility, and that training has formed men of very deep and earnest character. I am sure that your Lordships will all hope with me that when the Report of this Committee is published it will be found that proper provision has been made to meet the claims of these men.
In that connection I should like to allude to an answer given by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State in his evidence before the Joint Select Committee. The noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, put a question to the Secretary of State and said:
He does not think that some step ought to be taken to make it abundantly clear to them that they are in as absolutely strong a position as they were before the passing of this Act, if it becomes an Act?
The Secretary of State replied:
I am quite aware that many of them are very anxious. I think, if I may say so in passing, they have been made more anxious by the very active propaganda that has been carried out to stir up their anxieties; but, realising the depth of their anxiety, I still say that they are safe and we have taken effective steps for ensuring the security of their pensions, and I do not think anything further is needed.
I do not for a moment suggest that that was not an absolutely proper answer for the Secretary of State for India to give, but it is not an answer to the question. The question was whether the pensioners would be in as absolutely strong a position, if this became an Act, as they were before the passing of the Act.
§ I say with all respect to my right honourable friend—and I couple myself with him—that I do not think it matters twopence what he says or what he thinks, any more than it matters twopence what I say or what I think: the question is, what is the fact? Will these pensioners he equally secure and as certainly secure in the future, if these proposals are adopted, as they are now? I maintain that they will not. I hope that when this Report comes from the Committee it will be found not to bear the same complexion as it does now. If that be not the case, and if it gets as far as the Cabinet, then I shall be surprised if the Cabinet do not greatly alter it. If that does not happen, then I look forward to Parliament insisting that these pensioners shall be properly and safely secured by Statute, and not only the pensioners, but their widows and their children.
§ LORD CHARNWOOD
My Lords, I confess that the question raised by the noble Viscount opposite appears to me to be a question of simple honesty upon which it is unintelligible to me that there can be two opinions, if indeed it be the fact, when the matter has been finally considered by the Government, that there prove to be two opinions. I have nothing but the greatest respect and admiration, even when in a humble way I am inclined to disagree with them, for the Secretary of State and the other statesmen chiefly associated with him in our Indian policy. Looking at that letter of the Secretary of State to which my noble friend has already referred, I cannot believe that the full force of his wisdom and his perception has yet been applied to this particular question among all the multitude of difficult and important questions by which, as we all recognise, he must be overwhelmed at the present time. Surely it is quite incontestible that the proposed constitutional changes in India would create for the people entitled to these pensions, and people entitled to payments out of those various family funds, an appreciable risk, which risk is at the present time utterly negligible or non-existent. I am not going to urge that it is a great risk, but I do say that it is an appreciable risk which ought to be taken into account by reasonable men, and in particular by the Government and the Parliament which are proposing to create that risk for them.
491 It is not really taking a very gloomy view of things to say that there is an appreciable risk that the proposed new Government of India might at some time fail to meet these obligations. I am afraid that it is quite certain—I shall be glad to hear if it is not—that the burdens now falling on the Indian taxpayer are likely to increase under the new system of government. I am afraid it is very probable that the new Government of India will have very difficult financial problems to face, and it seems to me quite inevitable that large payments sent overseas to retired people of another race living overseas may be made to be regarded in a very odious light by large and important sections of the people. To say that is not for a moment to impute to our Indian fellow-subjects any special degree of obliquity. We have before known Governments to repudiate what seemed to us their plain financial obligations. It has been done in the past by several of the United States of America, communities composed of men who are of our own race, nurtured in English traditions of government in (as they would themselves have claimed) a rather improved form; and more recently we have seen, in the case of the Government of the Irish Free State, a repudiation of what seemed to ourselves plain and manifest financial obligations—an entire repudiation of them, which somehow or other Irishmen, not individually and personally dishonest, have, by some mental process, persuaded themselves to be just. Therefore it ought not to be felt that I am casting any slight on the Indian character as compared with our own character when I suggest that the idea of these payments becoming extremely unpopular, and an Indian Government under stress of difficulty defaulting upon them, is not an altogether wild idea. It represents a quite appreciable risk.
The answer commonly made to that is that after all there is the Governor-General there with those great and unlimited powers which he possesses to interfere in all sorts of matters in case the Government should go wrong. Does any one of us really feel quite confident that in the grave state of affairs which would exist in India if a question of this sort were to arise, the Governor-General would use, and strain, his arbitrary powers for this particular purpose, which 492 might seem to many people a small one in comparison with other issues pressing upon him? Will any one of us even say confidently that in all the circumstances which he can conceive arising in India in the future, it would be the duty of the Governor-General to make use of his powers and to legislate for that particular purpose? If that is the state of affairs, and if there is, as I contend there is, an appreciable risk—and I am not magnifying it; I repeat that it is a risk of a sort which reasonable people should take into account as real, even if they hope that it will never arise—surely the simple result of these considerations is that the British Parliament, in creating the new condition of affairs out of which the risk will arise, should guarantee these persons—persons who have served not merely India but this country and the whole British Empire.
I believe that the latest answer to this sort of argument which I have tried to condense—the latest answer on the part of the Government—is that letter of the Secretary of State which has already been referred to. On page 4 of that published letter of November 13, 1933, the Secretary of State expresses in a general way his great confidence that the Government of India will not only be perfectly willing, but perfectly able, to fulfil all its obligations. Of course he has that confidence. If he personally was not inspired with very sanguine hopes in this matter nobody supposes that under any pressure at all would he consent for a moment to adopt the policy outlined in the White Paper. That goes without saying. But in reference to the real argument which he uses, as an answer to the suggestion that these pensions should have the guarantee of Parliament behind them, he writes this:Such action would weaken the credit of the new Indian Government as implying doubt of their intention to honour in their integrity their obligations.Incidentally, I may observe that the new Indian Government is an unknown quantity, to come into being in the future, and to be subject to incalculable change in a further future. Granted that the utmost confidence ought to be felt in the future actions of this future body, surely the very strangest possible way to manifest confidence in it is to refuse to guarantee its fulfilment of these obligations which concern us.
493 I hope that this matter will be considered very carefully. The Secretary of State refers to the efforts now being made "to exploit the anxieties of pensioners." I regret that he should have used that sentence. I think it was not quite worthy of him. Certainly I do not wish to exploit those fears, or to use the language of exaggerated fear. I do not happen to have spoken to a single pensioner on the subject. If I should do so I should never put that fear higher than, as I have said, a possibility of which a reasonable man ought to take account. I do not put it higher at present because, frankly, I regard that sentence which I have read from the letter of the Secretary of State as a sentence written or signed in haste, without thought or without full consideration.
But if that really is the fixed and final answer of the Secretary of State, and of the Government, on this question which we are pressing upon them, what follows? I speak as one not having great knowledge of these Indian questions—I am far from claiming that—but as one of many people who approach the whole Indian question with a most earnest desire to believe that the confidence of the Government in what I may call, broadly, the White Paper policy is right, and that our—probably in my own case ignorant—fears are ill-founded. I am most willing to be persuaded of that, but if with so manifest a claim, as I think it is, upon them, the Government still fight shy of giving the guarantee that is asked of them, what can we think? I am not specially interested in the point of pensions, important as it is. It is the whole scheme of the White Paper in its effects on the mass of the people of India, that mainly interests me, and interests most of us; but although the pensions, however important, may be said to be a minor point, they are in this matter intensely significant in regard to the whole policy concerned.
If the Government are not prepared to meet the arguments of my noble friend on this point, and if the Government are determined to leave the existing insecurity, or sense of insecurity, on the part of the pensioners just where it is, by absolutely withholding the guarantee of this country from those payments, what must be the effect on the feeling of the world at large—indeed on the feelings of 494 the Indians themselves? Surely, rightly or wrongly, the only inference that crowds of people all the world over must draw from the refusal of such a guarantee, is that at heart the Government themselves are far from feeling confidence in the soundness of the new Constitution which they are proposing to bring in.
§ LORD OLIVIER
My Lords, I cannot help feeling that the whole of the arguments addressed to your Lordships by the two noble Lords would more usefully have been addressed to the Joint Select Committee, and I very much doubt whether the Government or the Secretary of State could possibly commit themselves to any policy on the subject before the matter had been before the Joint Select Committee, further than the giving of an assurance, such as any Government can give, that they will do their best to see that the obligations to the pensioners are fully met. Therefore I cannot help thinking that the arguments of the noble Lords are rather in the nature of beating the air. I wish, however, to make a suggestion. It is said that you cannot rely upon the Government of India to pay its debts, and the United States citizens say that you cannot rely upon the British Parliament to pay its debts, and therefore I suggest that you should seek a better security than either of those. I apprehend that the pension rights of these gentlemen can be actuarially computed at a certain value. I do not know whether in the books of the Indian Government account is kept of the accumulated value of, or the liability of the Government for, these pensions, but I believe that if communication was entered into with any of the large insurance companies they would be prepared, for the sake of certain payments, to take over the whole actuarial liability of the fund. I suggest that the Government of India should proceed to raise a public loan, and pay over that amount to the Prudential or other association, and make them liable for the payment of these pensions. I think that is quite as practical a suggestion as any that have been mentioned in this debate.
§ THE PRESIDENT OF THE BOARD OF EDUCATION (VISCOUNT HALIFAX)
My Lords, although my noble friend behind me at the outset of his observations said he would not feel in any sense that he was being treated with discourtesy if I 495 refrained from making any reply at all to his speech, I feel for my own part, both on grounds of courtesy and perhaps on some other grounds more general, that the speech he made, and indeed the debate as a whole, calls for a few words of reply from one who represents His Majesty's Government rather than that we should leave the matter at this stage. In saying that, however, I am bound to point out to your Lordships, of which indeed you will be well aware, that in speaking on this occasion I speak under circumstances of considerable difficulty as a member of the Joint Select Committee which is charged with the examination of this and cognate problems, therefore conceiving myself to be precluded from expressing personal opinions on matters which are still, as it were sub judice. But I think that even within those limits there are certain things I may properly say.
I listened with great attention and with great admiration, if he will allow me to say so, to the eloquence of my noble friend, and with great agreement for the sentiments expressed in most of the speech which he delivered, but my admiration for his eloquence and my agreement with the main premise on which he built his speech still leave me, I am afraid, completely bewildered as to the purpose he has sought at this stage to effect by bringing this matter before your Lordships' House to-day. I hope in the few words which I shall speak to be able to offer some reasons to your Lordships why I think he has followed what seems to be a questionable, and what is certainly an inconvenient, course. May I remind your Lordships in a sentence or two of what the actual position of this matter at present is? His Majesty's Government made certain proposals in the White Paper rather more than a year ago. Consideration of these proposals was remitted by another place and by your Lordships' House to the Joint Select Committee almost exactly a year ago to-day—within a week of a year ago—and the instructions that your Lordships gave to that Committee were that before Parliament was asked to take a decision upon the proposals contained in the Command Paper "it was expedient that a Joint Select Committee of Lords and Commons"—I leave out irrelevant words—"be appointed in particular to examine and report upon 496 the proposals in the said Command Paper."
Now, my Lords, for a year that Committee—during the earlier part of the year in consultation with representatives from India—have been examining the problem in all its bearings. They have been taking evidence of every kind and have been making what, as a member of it I am perhaps entitled to say, is a most painstaking effort to find the best and wisest solution to recommend to your Lordships on every one of the problems involved. I believe there would be no member of the Committee drawn from your Lordships' House who would not say that the Committee had been approaching every part of its task with the utmost attempt to exercise a judicial judgment on the matters remitted to them. I can assure the noble Lord who spoke last and my noble friend that they have no monopoly of interest in seeing that the honour of Parliament and the honour of this country is maintained in this vital regard. That is a matter on which every member of the Joint Select Committee feels just as strongly as any member of your Lordships' House possibly can.
Yet it is at this stage that the noble Viscount behind me brings forward this question with the express purpose, as he says, that the matter should be considered, as if it had not already dawned upon the other members on the Joint Select Committee that there was here a problem that needed very careful consideration indeed. It is at this stage, when the Joint Select Committee has completed its efforts and will be shortly invited to consider its Report, that he thinks it opportune to bring forward this matter for debate. I would remind him, of what indeed he must be well aware, that this is no new subject to engage the attention of those who have followed Indian affairs. I think I should be right in saying it has engaged the attention of every Secretary of State from the days of Mr. Montagu when constitutional reforms on the larger scale were introduced or were under consideration. As he pointed out, it engaged the attention of the Statutory Commission, having engaged before that the attention of the Lee Commission. It certainly engaged the attention, as I shall have occasion to develop in a sentence or two presently, of the Government of India when they wrote 497 their Despatch in 1930; and the noble Marquess on the Liberal Benches knows how well it has engaged the attention of every session of the Round-Table Conference.
My noble friend referred to the letter that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for India had occasion some time ago to address to Sir Arthur Michael Samuel, and he used one phrase in regard to it that perhaps he used in error, and he will no doubt allow me to correct him. If I understood him correctly—and I think I did—he said that the Secretary of State's letter was offensive to pensioners. I think that if he refreshes his memory about the letter he will not find anything in it which is offensive to pensioners, and it is just to my right honourable friend that that statement should not be allowed to pass if it is, as I think, without foundation.
§ VISCOUNT FITZALAN OF DERWENT
The pensioners took it as very offensive that the Secretary of State seemed to impute to them that they had been led by an outside body called the India Defence League.
§ VISCOUNT HALIFAX
Of course, if my noble friend says that members of the Services thought the Secretary of State's letter was offensive, I obviously have no more to say, because that would indeed be conclusive; but I am bound to say that, on reading the letter, I can see nothing in it that could rightly have earned that condemnation. It is quite true that the Secretary of State made a reference to the campaign to, as he said, "exploit, these anxieties and to mobilise them for an attack upon the Government's proposals for constitutional reform in India." Similar attempts are from time to time made under the guise of more than one very public-spirited and Innocuous form, but, after all, the Secretary of State, in saying that, is only stating what seemed to him to be a fact, on which he is, as a fact, I think, entitled to have an opinion, and on which I have no doubt he did not speak without having very full ground for the opinion that he there expressed.
But it is worth while reminding your Lordships that in that much-discussed letter the Secretary of State used language that could hardly have been stronger as to the responsibility that he conceived to rest both upon members o[...] 498 the Committee and upon Parliament in regard to this matter. I think my noble friend quoted some of the words, but I, if I may, will quote them again, and quote the full context:It is inconceivable that the Committee, many of whose members have held high office in connection with the administration of India, will make recommendations in their Report, or that subsequently Parliament will pass a Bill embodying a new Constitution for India, without satisfying themselves as to the security of pensions earned by service under the Crown in India.Therefore I do put it to the House that the main purpose to which my noble friend behind me and the noble Lord opposite have addressed their remarks—namely, that of securing the payment of these pensions—is not in dispute in any quarter of the House or among any of those who are concerned with it. But exactly for that reason I think the action of my noble friend at this juncture has been unnecessary and that, being unnecessary, it is liable to misinterpretation as an attempt to prejudge, and to that extent prejudice in advance, any Report that the Joint Select Committee may deem it wise and proper to make to Parliament.
After all, many persons who read debates that may be held to-day or to-morrow or the next week in this House are not able to follow the day-to-day proceedings that have been occupying the Joint Select Committee all through these long months, and they might quite naturally be led to conclude, by the fact that my noble friend thought it necessary to bring forward a special subject for debate in this House, that he had discovered that the Joint Select Committee were not applying their minds at all adequately to this problem; and that, I think, however much my noble friend might disclaim any such intention, might inflict a grave injustice on that Committee.
As a member of that Committee I do not wish, nor would it be right for me, to discuss the merits or the demerits of the Government proposals that are now sub judice, and therefore I deliberately refrain from following my noble friend into several matters that might, if I did so, possibly involve me in what would be an improper controversy. But think it is legitimate to remind the House and those who read our proceedings of what the Government proposals, as contained 499 in the White Paper, actually were; and I think it is the more necessary to do so because my noble friend who introduced this subject used a phrase that I think was as follows. He said that at the present moment these pensions are practically guaranteed by Parliament, because they are controlled by the Secretary of State, but that in future that control will cease; and it is on that text that, if I may, I want to say a word or two.
First of all, the discharge of these pension obligations under the White Paper is made one of the special responsibilities of the Governor-General. In the next place, those pensions are non-votable and are open only to discussion by the Indian Legislature; and, in the third place, if the Governor-General considers the Budget insufficient for the discharge of these special responsibilities, he can add to the Budget extra proposals which will not be submitted to the vote of the Legislature, and can, if need be, as my noble friend said, enact a Governor-General's Act to raise the requisite money. On that two points arise. The first is the sentence which I quoted from my noble friend—namely, that the Secretary of State's control would cease. If he would look at Paragraph 20 of the White Paper proposals he would see that it is there specifically laid down thatThe Governor General… in taking action for the discharge of any special responsibility… will act in accordance with such directions, if any, not being directions inconsistent with anything in his Instructions, as may be given to him by a principal Secretary of State.Therefore on that point constitutionally the position of the Secretary of State is amply made clear, when the Governor-General is acting in discharge of his special responsibilities.
My noble friend is, of course, entirely entitled to advance his view—a view for which I was interested to see that he claimed the support of the Prime Minister, though from a totally different context, if he will allow me to say so—that no safeguards such as those suggested in the White Paper would, in fact, be operative. It is a view with which we are, of course, all familiar, and I have no doubt that it is one of the precise points to which the Joint Select Committee will feel it their duty to address their minds. All that I say on that point at this stage, speaking as 500 a member of His Majesty's Government, is this, that unless His Majesty's Government had felt that these safeguarding proposals were, and could be made, effective, they would not have submitted them to the consideration of Parliament or, through Parliament, to the Joint Select Committee.
My noble friend also quoted a reference from the Government of India Despatch on which I wish to say a word. He was concerned, I think, to draw the conclusion that the Government of India Despatch recommended that, inasmuch as there was this great responsibility resting upon Parliament, therefore Parliament must remain responsible for these pensions being maintained in the sense that he recommended to this House. I had something to do with the drawing up of this Despatch, and I think it is just and right to tell my noble friend that the conclusion that the Despatch was designed to lead up to was not that, and I think that would have been quite plain to him if he had read a little further in the paragraph than he did. He read so far as to show that the Despatch argued that it was not enough to meet these obligations securely to place a first charge upon Indian revenues, for the reason that, among other things, a first charge is of no value unless there is in fact sufficient money raised by taxes, and that in the Indian ease the total of the charges that have to be met formed a very substantial proportion of the whole Budget.
But the Despatch went on:We do not go so far as to suggest that this circumstance "—that is to say, the possibility of a solution by way of imposing a first charge being inadequate to resolve the problem—must constitute a permanent obstacle to any transfer of financial responsibility. But Parliament may not unreasonably demand some signal guarantee for the future, before surrendering the security provided by its direct constitutional power to control proposals for taxation and expenditure through a Minister responsible to itself.I think I perhaps can interpret what was in one's own mind at that time, and I find no discrepancy between the argument of that Despatch and the safeguarding proposals as proposed under the White Paper to-day. I do not re-discuss the question of the propriety of Treasury guarantee, or the technical treatment of the Family Pension Funds, which have 501 figured in the speeches delivered this afternoon. I have no doubt my right honourable friend the Secretary of State will inform himself in detail of what has been said. The two main points that I have been concerned to emphasise so far as I might are, first, that on the main purpose of making pensions secure and discharging every obligation that honourably lies in favour of those who long and loyally have served the Crown, men of all Parties, so far as I know, in and out of this House, are in substantial agreement. That was the first thing I desired to say. The second was that I did not think that it was profitable to discuss this matter, the position being as I have tried to describe it, until your Lordships should do so in the light of the Report I hope the Joint Select Committee in due course will make.