The act provided for the election of four counsellors by the East India Company's Court of Directors. The Governor-General had a vote along with the counsellors, but he also had an additional vote to break ties. The decision of the Council was binding on the Governor-General. The Council of Four, as it was known in its early days, did in fact impeach the first Governor-General, Warren Hastings, but in his subsequent trial he was found to be not guilty.
In 1784, the Council was reduced to three members; the Governor-General continued to have both an ordinary vote and a casting vote. In 1786, the power of the Governor-General was increased even further, as Council decisions ceased to be binding.
The Charter Act 1833 made further changes to the structure of the Council. The Act was the first law to distinguish between the executive and legislative responsibilities of the Governor-General. As provided under the Act, there were to be four members of the Council elected by the Court of Directors. The first three members were permitted to participate on all occasions, but the fourth member was only allowed to sit and vote when legislation was being debated.
In 1858, the Court of Directors ceased to have the power to elect members of the Council. Instead, the one member who had a vote only on legislative questions came to be appointed by the Sovereign, and the other three members by the Secretary of State for India.
The Indian Councils Act 1861 made several changes to the Council's composition. Three members were to be appointed by the Secretary of State for India, and two by the Sovereign. (The power to appoint all five members passed to the Crown in 1869.) The Governor-General was empowered to appoint an additional six to twelve members (changed to ten to sixteen in 1892, and to sixty in 1909). The five individuals appointed by the Indian Secretary or Sovereign headed the executive departments, while those appointed by the Governor-General debated and voted on legislation.
In 1919, an Indian Legislature, consisting of a Council of State and a Legislative Assembly, took over the legislative functions of the Governor-General's Council. The Governor-General nonetheless retained significant power over legislation. He could authorise the expenditure of money without the Legislature's consent for "ecclesiastical, political [and] defence" purposes, and for any purpose during "emergencies." He was permitted to veto, or even stop debate on, any bill. If he recommended the passage of a bill, but only one chamber co-operated, he could declare the bill passed over the objections of the other chamber. The Legislature had no authority over foreign affairs and defence. The President of the Council of State was appointed by the Governor-General; the Legislative Assembly elected its President, but the election required the Governor-General's approval.
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