Morley Minto Reforms

Morley Minto Reforms – Background

 The Morley Minto Reforms also known as Indian Councils Act 1909, was an extension of the process of legislative reforms in India that started with the enactment of Indian Councils Act 1861. They are named after their farmers Lord Morley (Secretary of State) and Lord Minto (the Viceroy). The Morley Minto reforms was an attempt to rally the moderates and alienate the extremists who were spearheading the Swadeshi and Boycott movement. The reforms also aimed at placating the Muslims against the Congress. After the Revolt of 1857, the British had distanced themselves from the Muslims as according to them the Muslims were responsible for the rebellion. Now the policy was to appease them for countering the Congress.

Morley Minto Reforms

 In October 1906, a Muslim delegation led by Aga Khan met the Viceroy at Simla. This is popularly known as the Simla deputation. Viceroy Minto promised them a Separate Electorate along with representation much in excess of their population. Hence, foundations for Muslim communalism were laid which later manifested in the form of partition of India. 

 Both Lord Morley and Lord Minto were in full agreement that the time was ripe for the introduction of new sets of reforms in terms of legislative advancement. Both of them were in regular correspondence to set the broad contours of the new set of reforms. With their inputs, a bill was drafted, and after the cabinet approval, passed in the parliament in February 1909 as Indian Councils Act 1909, popularly known as the Morley Minto Reforms. The reforms failed to satisfy the aspirations of Indians.

 Earlier in August 1907 two Indians by the names K.G. Gupta and Syed Hussein Bilgrami were made members of the ‘India Council’ headed by the Secretary of State. In March 1909, Satyendranath Sinha was appointed member of the Viceroy’s Executive Council.

Provisions of Morley Minto Reforms

 The most conspicuous aspect of Morley Minto reforms was that the sizes and functions of both Provincial and Central legislatures were increased. Though the reforms did not satisfy the nationalists, they nevertheless laid the foundation for legislative development in India. Their Key provisions can be seen as:

 Central Legislature

  • The central legislature could now have a maximum of 60 members. Thus the total strength now became 69.
  • Of these 69 members 37 would be official members and remaining 32 would be non- official members. Thus the official majority remained intact.
  • Among 37 Official Members – 9 members were to be ex-officio members (1 Governor General, 7 ordinary members and 1 extraordinary member). Remaining 28 were to be nominated by the Governor General.
  • Among 32 Non Official Members – 5 members were to be nominated by the Viceroy while the remaining 27 were to be elected.

 Provincial Legislatures

  • Along with the Central Legislature the sizes of Provincial Legislatures were also increased:
    • Assam and Eastern Bengal – 41 members.
    • Madras, Bombay and United Provinces – 47 members.
    • Bengal – 52 members.
    • Punjab – 25 members.
    • Burma – 16 members.
  • Morley Minto reforms provided for a non-official majority in provinces.
  • But some non officials were to be nominated by the Governors. Thus the official control over the government was retained.
  • At provinces the elected members were to be returned from various constituencies – Corporations, Municipalities, District Boards, Universities and Class electorates.
  • For Bengal, Madras and Bombay the membership of the executive council was raised to 4. The government was empowered to make similar councils for Lieutenant Governors as well.

Functions Of Legislative Councils Under Morley Minto Reforms

 Under Morley Minto Reforms, the functions of the legislative councils were enlarged at both Central and Provincial levels. The functions can be seen as:

  • Members were given rights to discuss matters and ask supplementary questions.
  • The Member in charge was authorized to demand time if the information sought could not be furnished on the spot.
  • Specific rules were framed for discussion of budgets in the Central Legislature.
  • Budget could not be voted upon but the members could move resolutions for additional grants to the local governments, any alteration of tax, or a new loan which might have been proposed in the financial statement.
  • The financial statement before submission to the council was to be referred to a committee consisting of non official and nominated members and chaired by the Finance member.
  • Members could discuss matters relating to general public interest and move resolutions on them. The President was however empowered to disallow the whole or part of such resolutions without assigning any reasons.
  • The Government according to Morley Minto Reforms was not obliged to accept any resolutions on public matters or financial statements even if passed.

Matters That Could Not Be Discussed In The Councils

 Certain subjects were not allowed to be discussed under the provisions of Morley Minto Reforms and they were:

  • Foreign relations of Government of India.
  • Relations with the Indian Princely States.
  • Matters under adjudication in the courts of law.
  • Expenditures on State Railways.
  • Interest on Public Debt etc.

Other Provisions

  • Separate Electorates or communal representation for Muslims was provided and seats in legislatures were reserved in excess of their population percentage.
  • One Indian Satyendranath Sinha was added to the Viceroy’s Executive Council in March 1909.

Drawbacks Of Morley Minto Reforms

 Though the Morley Minto Reforms added many features to the Legislative development in India, they were not devoid of drawbacks. These drawbacks can be seen as:

  • The most important drawback of Morley Minto Reforms was that the elected members in the Legislative Councils at Central and Provincial levels were in minority.
  • The Budget could only be discussed and was non votable. Thus Indians had no control on the Government purse.
  • The reforms afforded no solution to Indian political problems and thus failed to satisfy Indian aspirations.
  • The representativeness of the government was compromised due to limited franchise, indirect elections and limited powers of the Legislatures.
  • Provision of Separate Electorate for the Muslims created a race for these provisions for other communities as well. Accordingly, the Separate Electorate was provided to the Sikhs in 1919. Harijans, Anglo Indians, Indian Christians and Europeans also got this in the Government Of India Act 1935.
  • Since no responsibility was conceded despite introducing Parliamentary structures, Indian leaders used them as an arena of political struggle. Thus the legislatures became machines of Governmental criticism.
  • The members could enter the legislatures through a series of sieves. The people elected members of Local Bodies. Members of Local Bodies elected members of the Electoral College. The Electoral College in turn elected members of Provincial Legislatures who in turn elected members of the Central Legislatures.


 On the whole the Morley Minto reforms gave the people of India the shadow rather than the substance. People of India had demanded a responsible government but what they got was a continuation of benevolent despotism with a somewhat vigilant democracy. This benevolent despotism was started from the enactment of the Government of India Act 1858. Moreover, while introducing the bill in the Parliament, Lord Morley had made it absolutely clear that he had no intention of setting up a Parliamentary system in India. 

 The separate electorate system sowed the seeds of deep rooted communalism as the Muslims since then never associated themselves with the national movement except on a few occasions. The communalism finally manifested itself in the partition of India.

See Also

The Regulating Act 1773

Pitt’s India Act 1784

Charter Act of 1813

The Charter Act 1833 – Background, Features and Implications

Charter Act 1853

Indian Councils Act 1861


What was the objective of the Morley-Minto reforms passed in 1909?

The main objective of the Morley Minto reforms was to rally the moderates and wean them away from the Swadeshi and Boycott movement. Attempts were also made to alienate the Muslims from the Congress as Separate electorates were allotted to them.

Why it is called Morley-Minto reforms?

It is named after the people who were instrumental in designing the reforms. Lord Morley was the Secretary of State and Lord Minto was the then Viceroy of India.

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