Order read for Adjourned Debate on Question—
That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, as followeth—
Most Gracious Sovereign,
We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, in Parliament assembled, beg leave to offer our humble thanks to Your Majesty for the Gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament."—(Col. Lockwood.)
MR. HERBERT ROBERTS (Denbighshire, W.)
The Amendment I have to move is as follows—And we humbly assure Your Majesty that this House regards with grave concern the policy of internal repression lately adopted by the Government of India, and especially the deportation and continued imprisonment of British Indian subjects without trial, the recent series of Press prosecutions, and the present proposals to increase the severity of the Law relating to sedition in India.I do not think that any apology is needed from me to bring forward the question raised in this Amendment. It is indeed true that a great deal of time has been spent on Indian affairs, but that time has been spent hitherto in discussing the war policy. Although I do not in any way desire to detract from the grave importance of the question of the wars on the Frontier pursued by Her Majesty's Government, I will say that I think the questions raised by my Amendment are of real interest to the people of India today. I think also that it is the duty of the House to take the very earliest available opportunity to consider the present home policy of the Indian Government, and to pass some opinion upon it. It is admitted on all hands that India has during the last two months passed through a very critical crisis—perhaps it is still passing through a crisis—and when any kind of severe crisis like this occurs in many portions of Her Majesty's 1064 dominions, it is clearly the duty of this House—which, after all, is responsible for the government of the Empire—to give its serious consideration to the stale of circumstances which make up the crisis. And, further, I do not think that there ever was a time, within a comparatively recent period, when it was more needful for us in the House of Commons to give our serious consideration both to the home policy and to the very serious position of the Indian people themselves. Speaking for myself, I desire at the outset to disclaim any Party motive whatever in bringing forward this policy. It seems to me that the nature of the calamity that has recently befallen India requires us to make an earnest effort to abandon the methods usually considered inevitable in political warfare, and to unite together not as politicians, but as those who are equally responsible for the government of the Empire. We should unite to consider what are the best remedies to apply to the state of things in India, and to say whether we agree or disagree with the present home policy of the Indian Government. The noble Lord the Secretary of State for India spoke—and I was glad to hear him speak—in sympathetic terms of the great calamities which had fallen upon India recently. It is undoubtedly true. He referred to the famine, which has been, so far as the area affected has been concerned, greater than any known famine before. He referred also to the plague which had depopulated the cities of the West Presidency, which, from the accounts that we received from India, have not been stamped out, and which has now spread to Deccan and the Punjaub. He also referred to the earthquake which has cost India thousands of lives. I refer to these points in order to emphasise the position which I desire to place before the House as clearly as possible, because it is admitted that India is at the present time passing through this great crisis. It is plain that the mind of the people of India has been greatly unsettled by them, and it seems to me, under such circumstances, that it would be a wise policy to soothe rather than irritate the mind of India by repressive legislation. From reports which we have received from India, it is quite plain—I do not think the noble Lord 1065 opposite will deny the truth of the statement for a moment—that at the present time, not only in India, but there is a feeling of uncertainty and alarm abroad, and that this feeling of alarm in many quarters is deeply settling down into a feeling of absolute despair. The people are not only suffering in India from appalling calamities, but at the same time they are the victims of an unsympathetic policy—and what appears to be an unwise policy. At the same time, the point I desire to place before the House is that whatever the merits or the demerits of this particular policy, it is a singularly inopportune time to enforce it. This raises three specific questions, and I will, as shortly and clearly as I can, lay before you the facts relating to these three specific points, and the grounds on which I think I am justified in taking up the position that I do. Sir, the first point referred to in the Amendment is the deportation and the continued imprisonment of British Indian subjects without trial in India. The case, as the House well knows, which has drawn general attention is the case of the Natu Brothers. There is no doubt about the facts of the case. These two men belonged to a family that is highly respected. One of them happens to be a first-class Sirdar in Deccan, and he performed valuable services to the British Crown, and has been suitably rewarded with grants of land. In July last these two men were arrested in their houses, and were transported with some violence and imprisoned, and they continue in prison to-day. No charge of any kind was made against them, and no opportunity was given them to show that they were innocent. Further, their property, both real and personal, was confiscated by the Government. The first point I should like to make in connection with this is, who is responsible for this action? Fortunately for the House of Commons, there is no doubt as to where the responsibility lies, for the noble Lord, the Secretary of State for India, in the Debate of August last on Indian affairs, took upon himself the whole of the responsibility of having sanctioned the arrest and imprisonment of those two men. The next point arising in the case is, What are the special reasons given by the Government for taking this exceptional method of dealing with these two 1066 men? First of all, the first main reason given for this singular action on the part of the Government of Bombay—and it was given by the noble Lord in August last on this point—that he did it because be believed that the arrest of these men and their imprisonment without trial, or without an opportunity being given them to prove their innocence, would be the means of unravelling the plot which resulted in the lamentable death of Mr. Rand. The second reason is that it has been done to secure Her Majesty's dominions from internal commotion. I desire to test these two reasons in the light of subsequent events. It is said that this was done because the noble Lord believed, from information in his possession, that it would lead to the unravelling of the conspiracy which resulted in the death of Mr. Rand and Lieutenant Ayerst. What has occurred subsequently? In October last a man came forward in India and confessed openly his guilt of these murders. He has been tried and condemned upon his own confession to death. Further than that, in the course of the trial nothing came out which in any way implicated these two men in that conspiracy to which I refer. That is my first point. The second point which I desire to make in connection with this case is that I would ask the House to consider the position of these two men and their action in connection with these operations. I wish the House to realise that one of these men was himself a Municipal Commissioner at Poona, and that he was asked to volunteer to assist the authorities in coping with the plague. He did so, but in the course of the efforts made to deal with the plague one of these men—R. B. Natu—thought it his duty to write a letter to Mr. Lamb, the District Magistrate of Poona, complaining of certain irregularities in the method adopted of carrying on the work. No doubt, many hon. Members have read the letters which he wrote, and as my hon. Friend the Member for Banffshire brought these letters before the notice of the noble Lord opposite, he is, no doubt, fully aware of the terms expressed and the points raised in them. I venture to say that no man reading those letters would fail to see, so far as the letters are concerned, that they were couched in the most moderate and sensible terms. I 1067 mention this as an indirect evidence of the view which we take on this side of the House, that these men were not likely to be at the time a source of danger to the internal peace of the town of Poona. There is only one other point which I desire to make in reference to this matter, and it is this. It is clear, I think, from the fact that the Government of India, in acting as it did—in confiscating the real and personal property of these men; from the fact that they committed an illegality by confiscating not only their real property, but their personal property also, which property has since been returned to them—acted under the influence of panic. It seems to me to be very strange conduct on the part of the Bombay Government as to the meaning and scope of the section under which they acted in connection with this matter, that they failed to act within its limits, and, to my mind, it is an indirect proof that they acted illegally. My next point is, What is the present attitude of the Government of India towards these men? A number of questions were asked by the Legislative Council of Bombay upon the case. The Council asked whether the Government could state a reason for the arrest of these men, and the reply was that they were "reasons of State." They were then asked, "Will they be tried?" and the reply was "That judicial proceedings were not advisable under the circumstances." The next question asked was, "How long were they going to be imprisoned?" and the reply was, "That depends on eventualities not delivered." That is the opinion, that is the attitude of the Indian Government, and that attitude—I believe I am correct in stating—is confirmed by the noble Lord opposite.
§ *THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR INDIA (Lord GEORGE HAMILTON,) Middlesex, Ealing
By the Bombay Government.
MR. HERBERT ROBERTS
One of the objects of this Amendment is to ask the opinion of the Government upon it. It is the duty of this House to review the action that was taken, and also to ask from the noble Lord a full justification of the course which he thought best, to take upon that occasion. But, Sir, it may be said that, after all, this was done under a recognised Act, that it was done and carried out under the regulations 1068 of that Act. What Act? It was an Act passed in 1827. It is 70 years ago since that Act was passed, and I venture to say that no one will deny the truth of this statement, that it was passed to meet a state of circumstances, a condition of things, totally different to those which obtain in India at the present moment. In 1827 we were in the process not of governing but of conquering India, and it was essential that the Government should have the right to seize, under certain conditions, those who were suspected of betraying secrets to foreign foes. But who could say that such a state of things existed now? To say that the circumstances now were sufficient to rake up, and put in force, that rusty weapon unearthed from the dim and distant past, to commit without trial, and to obtain the conviction of these two men, was absurd. In concluding this part of my case I wish to emphasise the following point: we do not, in bringing forward this Amendment, desire to say for one moment that these two men are innocent of the charge that has been made against them, or that their being at large or at liberty is not a danger to the internal peace of India. But the point I wish to make is that, whether this be so or not, these men have no right to be imprisoned without being formally charged, and without, having an opportunity of proving their innocence. I now pass for a moment to the second point raised in my Amendment, and that is the Press prosecutions. There have been several, as the House well knows. There is one case which has drawn almost world-wide attention, and that is the case of Mr. Tilak, the Editor of the Kesari. That case has been tried in India, and has been submitted before the Privy Council in this country, and, so far as the judgment passed upon that man is concerned, from a legal point of view, the case is closed, finally closed. I was very glad, Sir, the other day that there was a movement on foot, which is in no sense political, for presenting a memorial to the Government asking that some relaxation should be made of the sentence on Mr. Tilak. This memorial has been signed, in the first place, by Mr. Max Müller, and, I believe, it will be signed by many Members of Parliament on both sides of the House. I do not intend to read the memorial, but I will take two or three points out of it to give its tenour to the House. The first 1069 ground on which a relaxation of a sentence of this kind is asked, is the following: Firstly, that for many years Mr. Tilak has proved himself to be a loyal subject; secondly, that he has served his country well as a scholar; thirdly, that the man who committed the ghastly murders has been sentenced; fourthly, that the majesty of the law has been vindicated. Under all the circumstances of the case I appeal to the Government to relax the sentence which has been passed upon him. Speaking for myself, I should like to join very heartily in expressing the same view. This case still operates in the minds of the Indian people, and it is regarded as a deliberate attempt to frighten the Press of India into silence. Now, I do not wish to labour this point, but it must be obvious to all who have thought over the matter at all—to all who know anything about the internal history of India—that the Press has performed a very important part in the development of Indian life, and, on the whole, a very useful part. The freedom of the Press in India, as elsewhere, is the bulwark of government. It enables the Government to know the feelings of the people as to the measures they introduce, and it is the only means by which the public feeling on Measures can be ascertained, and the defects of those Measures disclosed. It also purifies a Government by bringing the light of public opinion to bear on surbordinate officials. However important the Press may be in this country and the other countries enjoying representative Government, it is much more so in India, where the Press carries out so far as it can the part played by elected members in this country. This is not my opinion only, Mr. Speaker, but the opinion of many high authorities on Indian affairs, and I will, with the permission of the House, read two extracts from men whose judgment will commend itself to every Member of this House. My first quotation is the opinion of Sir Richard Garth, a former Chief Justice of Bengal. What does he say about the influence of the Press? Writing to the Law Magazine and Review, he says—I read Native papers myself, week after week, and never see anything there at all approaching sedition or even disloyalty or disrespect to English rule. What I do find there, and what I rejoice to find, is thoroughly well- 1070 deserved censure of the arbitrary conduct of many of the Government officials. I am afraid this is exactly what Government would wish to repress.Then just one more quotation. Sir William Markley, a former Judge of the Calcutta High Court. He says—I should like to add one word on behalf of the Native Indian Press, which is, I think, just now getting more abuse than it deserves. I have for years read regularly extracts from a large number of Native newspapers. The criticisms I have met with are sometimes severe, but for the most part respectful. There is occasionally strong disapprobation, but very rarely disaffection.That being the case, speaking generally as to the character of the Indian Press, both Native and English, it seems to me that to pursue this policy of criminal prosecution against them can only have the effect of stopping the free expression of opinions. Grievances unknown, if they remain unknown, will remain unredressed. I do not wish to use any words that will be calculated in any way to in crease the difficulties of the Indian Government, and all I will say upon this point is this, that if this policy is persisted in, it is bound to lead to undesirable results. The Press of India is a safety valve, and it is unwise and dangerous to close it, and to deliberately remain ignorant of the real sentiments of the people. I will pass on for one moment, before I sit down, to the third point raised in my Motion. I would like to say a word or two in reference to the specific alteration made in the law relating to sedition in India. Now, Mr. Speaker, in July, the right hon. Gentle man the Leader of the Opposition, asked the noble Lord the Secretary for India a pertinent question. He asked him whether, in the event of a change in the Press Law of India, an opportunity would be given to Parliament of reviewing those changes before they were finally passed into law. The reply of the noble Lord opposite was that the Government of India were responsible for law and order; that they must in the first in stance initiate Measures, and that those Measures could be reviewed by the House of Commons. I think the time has now come when this House should review the action of the Indian Government relating to sedition in India. What is proposed to be done? In the first place let 1071 me put the result broadly. What are the broad results of the proposed change? It is not, Sir, intended as a revival of the Press Act of Lord Lytton, which gave the Indian Government power to stop particular papers, an Act which was almost immediately after repealed by the Liberal Government. This new Measure is not designed for a special regulation of the Press—I wish to lay emphasis upon this point—but it will have the effect of generally modifying the criminal law of India in a manner far more fatal to the interests of the Press than Lord Lytton's Act would have been. What will be the result of these proposals if they are finally passed? The result of the change will be that there will be opened up in India an endless vista of prosecutions all over the country, by local magistrates, of those editors who are suspected of being guilty of the vague offence of disaffection to the Government. I hope I shall not be wearying the House, but I should like to state, in detail, one or two of the more important changes which are proposed. In the first place I think it will be well to divide the changes into two classes, those relating in the first place to the Penal Code, and those relating to the Criminal Code, dealing, Mr. Speaker, first with the penal changes in the Code. Now, there are two changes to which I should like to refer. In the first place a very salutary explanation which was added by Sir Fitzjames Stephen to Section 124a of the Penal Code has been expunged and another explanation has been inserted, giving a new meaning to the word "disaffection," and leaving it in a state of dangerous vagueness. The second point I would make on this is that, according to the proposals of the Government, all offences tryable under this Section are in future to be tryable, not, as hereto, only by Court of Sessions or by the High Court, but by all magistrates of the first class. Anybody who knows anything about India knows that practically all civilians, after three years' service, become magistrates of the first class, and the result will be naturally to place the editors of newspapers in India under the power and control of the local magistrates. I now go on to the changes in connection with the Criminal Procedure Code, and I should like to notice three points, and three only. In the first place, there is the extension of Section 1072 109 in the Criminal Procedure Code, which gives magistrates a power to demand security from intending criminals, and those who are suspected of disseminating seditious matter. In other words, it gives the local magistrate the same power over the editors of newspapers in India, both English and native, as they now have in reference to the scum of India. The second point is the alarming extension of powers of arrest without warrant, under the Code, to village policemen; and the third point is the expedients for curtailing the powers of the High Court as a court of appeal—and this is a point I desire to direct the noble Lord's attention to. How is this power of appeal, in relation to the High Court, curtailed? It is curtailed in two main directions. In the first place, direct transfer of appeal to the High Court is prevented. In the second place, it withdraws the power of revision now held by the High Court under Chapter 35 of the Code. Now, Sir, anybody who seriously considers the view I have outlined must come to the conclusion that they are changes of a very important character; that they must affect the Press of India in a very direct and a very important way. Now what is the present position of the case? These important changes have been proposed, and they have passed through a Select Committee, and from information, and from telegrams—I think I saw one telegram in the paper—it is probable that they will be finally passed within a few days. The 18th, I think, is the date of one of the paragraphs I read. The noble Lord will, no doubt, give the House information on that point, but the point which I wish to make, Mr. Speaker, is that it is, I think, the duty of the Government of India, when they propose a change of this character, which is a reversal of some of the main principles of our rule in India, in the past, to give an opportunity to this House to know the facts, and to review the position before those changes become operative in law. Before I sit down I have a further piece of evidence to bring before the House in reference to the state of feeling in India, and it is a feeling expressed by native and English newspaper editors in connection with these proposed changes. I will only refer very briefly to one or two extracts. We will take, first of all, the 1073 Statesman, of Calcutta, which is edited by an Englishman. It condemns in the strongest terms the proposed extension of Section 109 of the Criminal Procedure Code to editors and newspapers. It says—It would place in the hands of the Executive an engine of control over the Press of the most formidable description, and one which in many cases might be so used as completely to stifle free discussion.The Morning Post, also edited by an Englishman, says—If this fantastic, so-called amendment of the law of sedition ever comes into force it will be practically impossible to conduct a newspaper in India on anything approaching journalistic lines. We are face to face with what, in effect, is a Press Stifling Act, and we trust there will be a prompt and universal awakening to this very evident fact.There is only one further piece of evidence I desire to quote. It is the evidence of the feeling expressed by the Englishman, which is a leading journal which was a warm supporter of the Bill at first, but has now turned round, and is now stronger in its condemnation than the other newspapers. It says—The Forward policy persisted in despite of every dissuasion, and, culminating in disaster and ridicule, exhausted public patience, and neither Lord Salisbury nor Lord Elgin can afford another blunder, or overlook the cry that repressive and unnecessary legislation is being countenanced here.It seems to me that I have made it perfectly clear what the opinion of the newspaper editors in India is in reference to this Bill, and my desire now is to ask the House of Commons also to realise the state of things, and to express its views upon it. It seems to me, in conclusion, that the great principle—one of the great principles, at all events—upon which the Indian Government has in the past travelled along the path of progress has been abandoned, and the effect of this, in my judgment, will be undoubtedly to create discontent where discontent did not exist before; to produce the impression that the principles 1074 which have dominated our rule in the past are no longer to do so; and to make it difficult for the people of India, in the face of present facts, to look forward to the attainment, upon constitutional lines, of those reforms to which the lesson of English civilisation and English education has taught them to set their minds. I desire to move the Amendment standing in my name.
Amendment proposed, at the end of the Question, to add the words—
And we humbly assure Your Majesty that this House regards with grave concern the policy of internal repression lately adopted by the Government of India, and especially the deportation and continued imprisonment of British Indian subjects without trial, the recent series of Press Prosecutions, and the present proposals to increase the severity of the Law relating to sedition in India."—(Mr. Herbert Roberts.)
§ *THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR INDIA
The hon. Gentleman has introduced this subject in an able and very temperate speech, and he has called the attention of the House to a matter which is well worthy of their attention. I will endeavour to reply in the manner and tone which the hon. Gentleman has adopted, and I shall endeavour to give some conclusive reasons for the action which the Government of India and the Government of Bombay have been compelled to take during the last few months. Now, Sir, the hon. Gentleman assumes that the Government of India has resorted to, and developed, a policy of repression and coercion. There is really no such intention. It is very easy for hon. Gentlemen here to find fault with a Government—with an authority sitting at the other end of the world—in the secure atmosphere of the House of Commons; but let the Gentlemen who find fault with the Bombay Government transplant themselves to Bombay. I think that one 1075 of the best descriptions of India ever given was that given by Sir John Malcolm, who, after having been congratulated upon the quiet state of the country, replied—"Yes, India is quiet; as quiet as gunpowder." Any hon. Gentleman who has had any acquaintance with India knows perfectly well that there is stored up in that country a great deal of explosive material in the shape of racial hatred and religious animosity, which, at any moment, may explode, and it is, therefore, essential that the Government of the country should have behind it, for the purpose of dealing promptly with such emergencies some exceptional powers; though it is, of course, absolutely necessary that these exceptional powers should be used with the utmost caution, and only under very exceptional circumstances. Now, Sir, what had the Government of Bombay to deal with? They had to deal with the plague, which is not yet stamped out. The hon. Gentleman, I think, will admit that I am not exaggerating at all if I say that, if the regulations of the Bombay Government for dealing with the plague were rendered ineffective either by local feeling or by organised disaffection, and if, in consequence, the plague got the upper hand of the authorities, that that would cause more devastation and more loss of life than the invasion of a hostile army. Therefore the Government have a clear and paramount work to perform, and if clear and indis-deal with? They had to deal with the authorities that certain persons, whether in high or low stations, are traitors and obstructing the efforts made to combat and stamp out the plague, the Government are bound to act and deal with such persons accordingly, who are practically carrying on a war against this great Empire. It is in the interests of the peace of India that the Government should act promptly. Supposing in time of war it was proved that there was a traitor in the camp, would anybody 1076 hesitate for a moment about curtailing his liberty of speech or action? The Bombay Government, in the campaign against the plague, were just in that position, for they had clear and indisputable evidence brought before them that as regards these outrages, the first as regards these outrages. The first point I come to, dealt with by the hon. Member, was the imprisonment of the Brothers Natu. Now, for some time past, as all acquainted with the country know, there has been a great deal of disturbance in connection with the action of the Government in the Deccan. There have been attempts to organise opposition, the movement has obviously been seditious in its character, and in almost every case this movement could be traced back, not only to Poona, but finally to a very limited section of persons in that town. Now, Sir, so long as the Indian or Bombay Government had to deal with an ordinary state of affairs it was not necessary for the authorities to take special notice of what unquestionably has now proved to be a small, but well organised, conspiracy in Poona. But when the Government had to deal with the plague the situation assumed a different aspect. The hon. Gentleman assumes that the Brothers Natu were of great assistance to the Bombay Government, and I noticed that that assumption was acquiesced in by certain Gentlemen opposite; but that is not the opinion of the authorities. The Brothers Natu, in the opinion of the authorities, did everything in their power to stir up unrest and to work against the regulations, the enforcement of which alone could save the people from the plague. After the murder of Mr. Rand and Lieutenant Ayerst, a more close inquiry was made into the circumstances, and a number of facts were brought to the notice of the Government concerning a very serious plot. At that time it was doubted whether Mr. Rand's murder was the result of organised opposition to the Government, but there is no doubt now of the existence of a serious plot. If there was an idea among the Native population that, under the British regulations 1077 their women would be subjected to any indignity a storm would have arisen which would have made it hopeless to apply the regulations. Therefore, in order to inspire confidence, the first essential was to secure and take out, if possible, a sufficient number of trained nurses and doctors to accompany the search parties; and, after some difficulty, a sufficient number of professional nurses were secured, who gave up their positions here to run the risks of fighting the plague. We had considerable difficulty in getting them, but we were eventually successful, and they came. One of those nurses made a deposition, in which she said she had received a letter, signed by one of the brothers, pointing out that it would be to her detriment, if she joined and worked with a search party. She, however, served with the search parties, and the result was she lost the whole of her private practice. One of the difficulties which the Indian Government had to meet was the difficulty of coping with influences of this malign character, while it had no law at its disposal to prevent intimidation of the description. Now, I come to a more serious instance. The House will recollect last year, after attention was called to the murder of Mr. Rand, that a number of documents were circulated, bringing a charge of a very serious nature against, the troops who formed the search parties. Those statements were all proved to be false. We telegraphed at once to the Bombay Government, and we received a complete repudiation of the statements from Lord Sandhurst, the Governor of Bombay. A gentleman named Professor Ghokalee made a statement in this country to the effect that a woman had been violated by the soldiers engaged in the search parties, but on his return to India, after communicating with his friends in the Bombay Presidency, he most unequivocally withdrew his statement, and said it was false. While this report was being spread in this country, the Bombay Government reported that one of the brothers Natu had attempted in a most assiduous way to induce the police to declare that a woman who had really died from disease had been violated by a British soldier, and had died in consequence. If the Natus, as a whole, had not remained loyal, and accepted these 1078 suggestions as true, there would have been started a commotion throughout the province that it would have been difficult to repress. Well, now, I say, if you find these tricks played—I do not care who the men are—the Government are within their right to prevent those responsible for them being at large. In dealing with a crisis like that of the plague, there is no alternative, and the Government very reluctantly came to the conclusion to exercise their powers. Lord Sandhurst was ready to bear the responsibility for having taken the initiative. The Viceroy took immense care in looking into this question, and sent that most practised civilian of his Council, Sir James Woodburn, to Bombay, to investigate it; and it was eventually considered necessary to arrest these two men—an action which had my full approval. Now, as regards the two gentlemen themselves, although they are under detention, it is of a light character; they are allowed to eat what they like. I believe I heard of one of them taking bicycling exercise; but so long as the plague remains, it will not be safe to allow them to be at large. Now, with regard to the other two points, in which the action of the Government is stated to be unjust, I will deal first with the trial of certain gentlemen connected with the Press. I do not understand that anybody will contend that, because a gentleman is connected with the Press he is not amenable to the law; or that if he incites people to commit murder, he is not to be tried. Mr. Tilak, in his articles clearly incited assassination. We are extremely sorry that a man of his station in life and position should be in prison, but this was not his first conviction, as I understand, on a charge of a criminal libel of a very serious character. He has been sentenced by the Court of Law, and I am not prepared to interfere with the discretion of the Government of Bombay, and suggest to them that his term of imprisonment shall terminate. With regard to the proposed alterations in the law, successive Secretaries of State and Viceroys for 18 years past have admitted that the particular clause, relating to sedition, should be remodelled. In the recent case of the trial of Tilak, the interpretations put upon it by the judge who tried the case were confirmed by the Bombay High Court, and assented to, and confirmed by 1079 the Privy Council. All that has been done is to put in plain and unambiguous language the interpretation to Section 124A of the old code. The only other alterations are certain changes proposed in the Criminal Procedure Bill, which is an amending and consolidating Bill of 500 or 600 clauses, and in which a power is given to magistrates to deal with sedition-mongers and blackmailers, which is very much wanted in India. In these cases, however, there is the safeguard of an appeal to the Court above, and the consent of the Local Government must be obtained before the clause is put into operation. Although the hon. Member has quoted the opinions of certain newspapers in regard to this, I do not believe that the great mass of native gentlemen, or of educated opinion, is opposed to the measure. On the contrary, Mahomedans of Calcutta, who represent Mahomedism in its best form, approve of what has been done, and I know from conversations with distinguished men who have come over from India that strong opinions are entertained on the attitude of the native Press, an attitude which native gentlemen look on with the utmost regret, because they say that what is called here the tolerance of the Indian Government in regard to seditious writings is interpreted by natives there as an act of approval. I can assure hon. Gentlemen that we have not the slightest intention or wish to silence the Indian Press. If hon. Gentlemen had to read—as it is part of my duty to read—translations from the vernacular Press, they would see there is the utmost freedom in censuring anything English. What I believe is wanted in India is not so much restraint as guidance. I believe that these alterations of the law will be in every sense beneficial, and I can guarantee that as long as I have anything to do with it, the law shall be administered with the utmost leniency. The Bills are now under the consideration of the Indian Legislative Council, who have certain duties to perform, and I think it is inadvisable now to discuss the details of the Measures, because it is obvious that the effect of such discussion must be to influence, and perhaps prejudice those who have to perform an impartial duty as Members of the Indian Legislature. 1080 After they have forwarded their opinions to the Secretary of State with whom rests ultimately the responsibility of allowing or disallowing the changes in the law, the documents shall, if anybody wishes, be made public, and that would constitute a proper and legitimate opportunity for discussing the subject.
§ MR. J. M. MACLEAN (Cardiff)
Will the noble Lord do that before giving his assent to the passing of the Bill?
§ *THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR INDIA
That would be transferring to the House of Commons a responsibility that now rests upon the Secretary of State, and I do not think that that would be right. I think I have fully answered the speech of the hon. Gentleman, I assure him I am in entire sympathy with the sentiments he has expressed as regards the crisis through which India is passing, and I do hope we are now approaching an epoch of comparative quiet and prosperity. The Bombay Government have shown great courage in facing the responsibility which rests upon them. Their duty has been to devote all their energies to the extirpation of a horrible disease, and so long as the House know they honestly and courageously perform that duty and utilise the means at their disposal with propriety and caution it will not be disposed to censure that Government.
§ MR. MACNEILL (Donegal, S.)
I have come to the conclusion that the term "corrupt," which we apply to the British Government in Ireland, is equally applicable, on the noble Lord's own showing, to the British Government in India. Let us take the case of the Brothers Natu. They have already been subjected to six months' rigorous imprisonment, and have been deported without the slightest shadow of justification or excuse. There is no law on the matter at all. When was it that these brothers became so objectionable to the Government? Is the noble Lord aware that in March the elder Natu was solicited by the Bombay Government to become a member of the Committee at Poona? I have here an Indian paper which taunts the Government with imprisoning these men, and with not having the courage to bring them to trial even by their own independent tribunal. It 1081 says the general belief in India that the brothers were arrested and deported in order that they might not be able to publish information as to the measures actually adopted to stamp out the plague. The noble Lord knows how hon. Friends and myself, day after day, asked him questions last Session with reference to the plague regulations, and reference to the doings of British soldiers, and how he avoided them and gave us the least possible information consistently with Parliamentary courtesy. I never heard until now any authoritative statement as to the Natu's doings. I gather he is reported to have told something to a soldier in a temper, who passed the information on to somebody else, and then there comes something not good enough for Ireland—the evidence of a nurse whose name even is not mentioned. Thus, on evidence which was mere tittle-tattle, two respectable gentlemen of considerable means have this horrible and abominable outrage perpetrated upon them. Let us consider what this outrage is. These men have not only been imprisoned, but their realty and personal property has been seized, and some lakhs of rupees belonging to them have gone into the coffers of the Government.
§ MR. MACNEILL
Then I suppose they have been given back in view of this discussion, for they have been there six months at least. Let us see how this thing works. In India, in the ownership of property there is a considerable community of interests; there is generally a large partnership, and in this particular case these brothers were only partners, or co-owners with a third person, who has been left a beggar, and has not a single farthing. The whole of the partnership stock has been taken by the Government, and I should like to know how that is to be justified. We have no more right to it than I have to the watch in the noble Lord's pocket. We hear a good deal now about the exercise of leniency and the granting of every kind of indulgence: will the House believe that both these men were refused legal assistance, and have not been allowed, since July last, to communicate with their own legal man? These things cannot be denied. Then, again, as to the 1082 allowances made to these men out of their own money: the elder man was only allowed about £15 per month, and the younger man about £12. They are well-known high-class Brahmins. They were not permitted to have a cook to prepare their food; probably the idea of the authorities was to make them lose caste. It was not until the prisoners prepared their own food that they gave way, and the services of a cook were allowed. We hear much of constitutional liberty, and of the benefits the English say they confer on India; this is a pretty specimen of constitutional rights and liberties, for men to be taken from home without a moment's warning, put into a dungeon, and kept there a long time. Even now the noble Lord does not make the slightest pretence of saying there is even a remote possibility of their being liberated. I do not know of anything approaching this procedure in any English Colony, or, indeed, in any country. I do not think such a thing was done in this country even in the time of the Stuarts. Reasons of State have been given by the noble Lord; but what he thinks is good enough to convince the House of Commons that these men ought not to have their liberty, would not secure a conviction before the commonest of common juries in this country, or even in Ireland, where justice is dependent on the Government, and where the administrators of it do their work with their eyes on the Treasury Bench. I say distinctly that the prosecution of Tilak was initiated, in the first instance, by the Government at home.
§ *THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR INDIA
That is not so. The prosecution was instituted by the Bombay Government.
§ MR. MACNEILL
This is a matter upon which I shall show the noble Lord something. His recollection is as hazy upon this as it was a few evenings back upon the Indian Loan Question. Let us consider how these things go, because dates are essential in matters of this kind. The articles upon which Tilak was arrested, and upon which this prosecution was instituted, and upon which he was sentenced to 18 months' rigorous imprisonment on the 15th September last, appeared in Tilak's paper on the 15th June. After the articles had 1083 appeared, so far from Tilak being prosecuted by the Bombay Government, he was elected a member of the Legislative Council at Bombay, and Lord Sandhurst did not veto his nomination.
§ *THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR INDIA
I say here that the hon. Member is not right. The prosecution was initiated by the Bombay Government.
§ MR. MACNEILL
I shall make no inferences. I shall state facts, and I shall leave the House to draw inferences. Again, I say, the dates are all-important and vital in reference to this matter. On 15th July, 1897, when the mails came from India, and when there should have been a full report of this speech, and article upon which Tilak was arrested, questions were put to the noble Lord by the Member for Bethnal Green in reference to the Poonah outrages, and among them the following—Whether he is aware that Gungadhur Tilak, the editor of the Mahratta and Kesari newspapers, presided at the celebration, and made a speech, in which he counselled the murder of Europeans, and that the malachchas (that is the British) had no charter from God to rule India. Lord G. HAMILTON: I am aware that an annual festival has recently been established in commemoration of Shivajee. I have seen a newspaper report of certain speeches made at the festival, which took place last month, and it supports the description given in the second and third paragraphs of the Question. The question as to the connection between public incitements to violence and crime is occupying the attention both of the Government of India and of the Government of Bombay, but I am not prepared at present to make any statement on the subject.But he had condemned Tilak's articles from that Table himself, as calculated to incite to disturbance, and before Tilak was arrested, or before there was any chance of his being arrested. A month afterwards, in answer to a "put-up" question by one of his own friends, he condemned Tilak from that Table. I am sure the noble Lord will not take it that I am deliberately contradicting his words, but my recollection is very clear upon this matter. When I asked some questions in reference to these prosecutions myself, an hon. Member asked a separate question, whether these things were done "on the advice of the Indian Government," and the noble Lord said "Yes, amid the loud cheers of his own supporters. 1084 On 26th July the Natus were arrested, and on the following day Tilak, whom the noble Lord had prejudged from that Table. Tilak was tried on 15th September, and after a four days' trial was sentenced to what the judge called eighteen months' "rigorous imprisonment." It is supposed that the jury, such as it was, was unanimously in Tilak's favour. No. All the English jurors pronounced him guilty, but all the native jurors not guilty. Then we come to the charge by the judge, and I say that that charge was the most extraordinary and unnatural that any judge could deliver upon these matters. Judges in India are not independent; they are removable, like the magistrates in Ireland. I shall speak very briefly in reference to the Press laws. The noble Lord stated that he had read, day after day, the comments of the native Press of India in reference to this matter, but he scarcely seemed to realise what a condemnation of his Government they were. I endorse, in the House of Commons, Tilak's expression, that England had no charter from God Almighty to rule India; I endorse that with all my heart and soul. Now, changes are being made in the Press laws in India, with which we in Ireland are perfectly familiar. Ireland is governed at present by the force of the bayonet, and the English system, all over the world, is that when she is able she destroys the weak, but she crouches before the strong. With regard to the provision about "want of affection towards the British Government," I wonder how many of the Indian people, whom you have starved, and whom this Government has plundered, are acquainted with that affection. I do not think the word should be applied to your rule in India. It is only proper that the statements which have been made with regard to the blessing to India of Government by the British Parliament should be refuted upon this floor, and that the natives who are so scourged by British administration should know that they have friends here who sympathise with them.
§ MR. J. M. MACLEAN
I had not intended to take part in this Debate, and I should be extremely reluctant to say anything which will add, in the slightest degree, to the very heavy anxiety and responsibility which must have weighed 1085 down the Secretary of State for India during the last 12 months; and I certainly do not intend to follow the hon. Gentlemen opposite in the discussion of the general merits of British rule in India. Of British rule in India I have always been a hearty admirer, and I believe it has conferred inestimable benefits on that country. When the hon. Member denounces British rule in India, I would like to ask him what remedy he would substitute—what kind of rule he would substitute—if British rule were taken away? I have, for many years myself been connected with the Press of India, and I think it would be unworthy of me if, when a question of this sort is brought up, I did not express my own opinion upon it. The noble Lord has said that they want exceptional powers in India. My own opinion is that we have exceptional powers enough in India already. You must remember that there is no kind of representative Government in India. The Press is the only outlet by which any kind of public opinion can find expression. As a general rule, I do not believe that that Press is extremely violent or unfair in the comments it makes on the Government of the country. Of course, however, extravagant things are said from time to time; but the native Press is an immature Press, directed often by men of small means, and often of small intelligence, and may do vicious things from time to time; but the Government possesses ample power for dealing with offences that kind. Is it not the fact that the sentences lately passed on offenders connected with the Press have been sufficiently severe in themselves to punish any offences that have been committed, and to frighten others from a repetition of those offences? I think some of those sentences have been so severe that they have shocked public opinion in this country; yet we are now going to have repressive legislation again directed against Indian newspapers. Lord Lytton tried a similar experiment, though not of so severe a kind as is now intended. It was, as the noble Lord explained to-night, an experiment only to give a guiding influence, to lead the native newspapers into a right direction; but that law broke down, because newspapers which were directed into the proper course, which were not allowed to 1086 express their own opinions, became thoroughly worthless. The only object of the existence of a newspaper is to express free opinion, and naturally that law of Lord Lytton fell into great contempt, and was discontinued with the general assent of the whole community. But now, what is intended is a very different matter indeed. We are going to make the law much more repressive than it is at the present moment; we are going to crystallise into law the opinion expressed by Mr. Justice Strachey as to the meaning of a clause in the public code. That Judge said—You must not only obey the laws of the country, but you must also be well affected towards the Government, and affectionate in, your disposition.Well, I think a wise Government ought to be satisfied with commanding the obedience of hundreds of millions of people without trying to control their secret thoughts. What would be thought by many of us in this country if we were compelled to be affectionate towards those in authority? We look up with reverence in this House to gentlemen sitting upon the two Front Benches. It was an ideal of Plato that there was some degree of perfection in the government of a State when all the people were inspired by feelings of affection for their rulers. I have always thought that Plato must have had some premonition of the two Front Benches of the British House of Commons. But, supposing right hon. Gentlemen on the two Front Benches were not to rest satisfied with making their followers go into the Lobbies at the crack of the Party whip, but were also to tell hon. Members that they were not to express their own views in the House, or out of it, then hon. Gentlemen, would very soon feel that their presence in the House was not of much use, either to the public or to themselves. I believe we are going to have, if this law is passed, a suppression of all kinds of free expression of opinion in India. Does the Government imagine for a moment that by muzzling the Press they can put down disaffection? Why, India is one great whispering gallery, in which everything is communicated from mouth to mouth with the utmost celerity! Do you think you would repress public opinion by muzzling the newspapers? You would 1087 have to abolish their Universities, stop the running of their trains, cut the telegraph wires, and prevent people communicating their opinions to one another in languages of which you are yourselves utterly ignorant. The task is an impossible one. Let the Government have a little more courage, a, little more belief in the power and resources of the English people to put down any disaffection that may arise. Do not let us have this legislation in a panic, this attempt to repress public opinion by means which will never avail in any country. You can govern India by your justice and your generosity, and, in case of need, by force of arms, but you will never govern it by preventing the free expression of opinion among that great community.
§ MR. PICKERSGILL (Bethnal Green, S.W.)
The noble Lord commenced his speech by asking our sympathy for the Government of Bombay. Now, to that appeal I think we should all respond; but when the noble Lord emphasises the circumstances of difficulty and of danger in which the Government of Bombay is involved, it is only fair, I think, and reasonable to point out, upon the other side, that all history shows that it is precisely such circumstances of difficulty and danger which are likely to carry the Government from a panic into action which, having the object of escaping danger, often leads to a position much more dangerous. I was not at all impressed by the grounds which the noble Lord gave the House for the action which the Government has taken with regard to the Natus; and if that is all he has to say in the way of information, I cannot but think it would have been better if he had remained silent altogether about those grounds. Those grounds which the noble Lord has given us are only two, but I assume that we may do the noble Lord justice to assume that he has given us the strongest grounds he could. What are the two grounds? They are these: First, a statement made after the arrest of the Natus by a woman, whose name was not given; and, secondly, evidence—it is hardly to be dignified with the name of evidence—a story which I think every 1088 Member of this House heard with suspicion, about the dead body of a woman being found, and that the Natus had endeavoured to swear that she had committed suicide. I can only repeat that it would have been better if those were the only grounds. I would like to say a word or two with regard to the proposed changes in the law of sedition. My first complaint is that this legislation is being hurried through the Legislative Council with indecent haste, and in face of the protests of the most distinguished of the native members. While I am upon this point, I say that the noble Lord—no doubt unconsciously—has made a statement which is certainly misleading. He has given the House to understand that these proposals had been before India since last October, but, as a matter of fact, so far as the two most obnoxious of the proposals are concerned—in my opinion, and in the opinion of the natives of India—they were not in the provisional draft at all, and have only been heard of since the middle of December. It was not until the 21st September that Mr. Chalmers spoke in the Legislative Council, but nobody in India, nor, I believe, in England, knew anything about the proposals. I think it would only have been gracious to make some response to two very earnest appeals which were made in the Legislative Council by two very distinguished native gentlemen. Now, the noble Lord has repeated to-night what Mr. Chalmers said in the Legislative Council, that these changes only reproduced in India the law of sedition as it exists in England. To that statement I respectfully give an absolute denial, and I am glad that the Leader of the English bar is in his place on the opposite side of the House. I can hardly think that the learned Attorney General will contend for a moment that the new 124 (a) Section is really equivalent to, or reproduces, the law of England with regard to sedition. It is idle to set out what Lord Kenyon said more than 100 years ago, and to pretend that that represents the present English law as to sedition. You must refer to much more recent judicial deliverances in order to ascertain what the law is; and I say fearlessly that the charges of judges in modern times show that at this time of day the gist of sedition is, an intention to incite to public disturbance or to resist the authority of the Government. 1089 Well, now, what are you going to do in India? You are going to give power to decide these questions of sedition to a Magistrate in the first instance. To many minds, to impartial men both in England and in India, that is most objectionable, and the opinions of some of the highest authorities in India have been produced against a union of administrative and judicial functions in the same person. Yet you are now proposing a most odious extension of that system. You are proposing to give to the very officer whose policy has been criticised, and, it may be, with perfect propriety, somewhat severely accused, power to be the judge in his own case. The learned Attorney General said, across the floor a few moments ago, that there was to be an appeal. Yes, Sir, and I am glad to accept that statement that there is to be an appeal; but it is not an appeal to a jury, but to another judge, or to another set of judges; and even in the Court of Appeal you will still leave the defendant to bear the harassment, and the expense, and the trouble to which he has been subjected by the original prosecution. Then, Sir, there is one other item of change in the code of criminal procedure to which I should like to refer; and it is that power is taken to bind over editors to give security for their good behavious for 12 months. Now, I believe, so far as my reading of the opinions of the Natives is concerned, that this has been the cause probably of more mistakes and alarm than any other of the new regulations of Section 109. I will just read the side-note of that Section, because I think it is very significant, and may really save us from further comment upon its character. The side-note to the Section of the Code is as follows: "Security for good behaviour from vagrants and suspected persons." And you are actually going to bring editors and journalists in India under that Section which has, heretofore, been applied, I believe, only to the lowest of the criminal classes, and for which there is a very odious precedent in the oppressive use which was made of the Act of Edward the Third in the coercive period of Irish history. And, Sir, I am not at all reassured by the observation which Mr. Chalmers, who, I think, is the legal member, made when 1090 he introduced this provision. I would ask the learned Attorney General to be good enough to listen to these two or three lines of what Mr. Chalmers said when he introduced it. He said that in most cases in which a prosecution would be required it would be sufficient to give them—that is, the editors—an effective warning to discontinue their illegal practices; and he added: "And we think that the machinery we have devised will operate as an effective warning." Yes, Sir, I dare say it will operate as an effective warning, but in what position will it place the Press in India? You will have this right of prosecution perpetually hanging over them, and you will have what has hitherto been a free Press, a shackled Press in India, with the editors having before their eyes the fear of these binding and oppressive sections being enforced for any line which they may take. Of course, the noble Lord may give his sanction to this Measure, as was done to the Vernacular Press Act of India. It was, indeed, different in the letter from this Measure, but this Measure, I believe, in its spirit, and in its effect, will produce consequences very similar to those of the Vernacular Press Act. And for this reason: The English journalists are, I should say, almost exclusively in the Presidency towns, where they will be able to be tried by a jury; but the Native Pressmen are scattered all over India, and in parts of the country where they will not have the privilege of trial by jury, and where, therefore, they will be almost absolutely at the disposal of the very men whose policy they may have been criticising. Sir, the noble Lord may pass this Act, but when the noble Lord has done so I think it will be the duty of his successors to repeal this Measure exactly as the Liberal Government in 1881 or 1882 repealed the Vernacular Press Act of India.
§ DR. G. B. CLARK (Caithness)
I have listened with the greatest possible astonishment to the statements of the noble Lord regarding the reasons which the Government of India had for deporting and imprisoning the brothers Natus, because I took part in the Debate which we had last August on the question, and 1091 we then heard a part of the case. Since that statement was made a great deal has occurred. The noble Lord told us, in August last year, that there was a conspiracy in India, in Poona, and that the result was that two persons had been murdered, but that now that they had been able to put two men in prison, they would be able to unravel the plot of the conspiracy which had been brought about. Since then, the murderers have been captured, and one of them has confessed, and both of them have been tried and sentenced. But now nothing has been said about the men whom the noble Lord told this House he believed were the instigators and the leaders of the plot—the men who found the money, and whom it was necessary to remove and to take possession of their property. His tone to-day is entirely different from his tone six or seven months ago, when we last discussed this question. Let us see how we stand. In the first place, the noble Lord has been silent. My hon. Friend below me on these Benches pointed out the illegal action of the Bombay Government, but the noble Lord did not utter a word regarding it, or the letter he wrote lately to my hon. Friend the hon. Baronet the Member for Banffshire (Sir W. Wedderburn), and which appears in to-day's papers, admitting that the Government, having done illegal things, had handed back the property which they had illegally taken away. He has not apologised for the act of the Government—he has not regretted the illegal action of the Bombay Government in reference to the matter. Not a single word has been said by the noble Lord; and here we are in this position. I ask him if he does not admit that the Bombay Government acted illegally? I hope the Attorney General, if he speaks, will take a different course altogether, and give us further information, because it seems to me that the whole course of the Bombay Government has been entirely illegal under various Statutes, as well as under the original Act. You have got to apply these Statutes under three conditions. What are they? I do not know whether the Attorney-General has got the Statute, but I have it here. There is first prescribed anything affecting the due maintenance of any alliance formed by the 1092 British Government with foreign Powers. But the Natus were not intriguing with Russia. No charge of that kind has been made, and whatever charge is made cannot apply to the first heading. The second apples to the preservation of tranquillity in the territories of the noble Princes entitled to our protection; but the brothers had never so intrigued, and they never have been brought under that section. Then the last section relates to the security of the British domimons from foreign hostility and from internal commotion; but the Attorney-General will not say there has been any danger from internal commotion in what they have done. The fact is, that one of them was one of the Poona Commissioners, and went round to see how the regulations as to checking the plague were conducted. I have very much sympathy with those who took this course in Poona. I know how stupid the Indian people are in matters of this kind, in regard to measures necessary for stopping these painful diseases. Because of their ignorance and superstition, so much work was thrown upon the Bombay Government that I have every sympathy with that Government in their efforts to check this terrible plague. If it could have been shown that either of the brothers Natus attempted to prevent the carrying out of these necessary measures of sanitary precaution, then I should have been glad to have seen a severe punishment inflicted; but what are the facts? There may have been a good deal of lying, for we know what Party spirit is, and we see now in France, in reference to the Dreyfus case, men, many of them of high position, are making statements to show, at least, that one or another must have a very bad memory. There was the true solution for these charges. Many cases brought against the Sirdar may be inaccurate, but I know of one case. I saw a letter in the Bombay Guardian, which mentioned an Indian woman, as intelligent a lady as you could meet in any part of the world, and a philanthropist, carrying on the splendid work of female education in India. In this instance, a girl was missing, and did not come back to her home. This lady went to the hospital, and was told that the girl had died, but by-and-by she 1093 found that the girl had been seduced, and became a prostitute, and was then taken into a bazaar. The lady then went in to look after the girl. This is a case upon the evidence of a lady who is respected by all who know her, and the Bombay Guardian has never denied those facts, but tried to extenuate them. Here are two men who have been taken from their homes, on the ground that they are causing a riot, but there is no evidence at all to that effect. As far as I can see, no evidence has been brought forward by the Bombay Government, nor the noble Lord to-day, in support of these arrests. Then there is the case of some Indians who subscribed to a gymnasium. Is a gymnasium an illegal association? Directly after the arrest, a nurse made an affidavit that her practice had been lost through this arrest. She had a very fair practice, and was doing very well. Lastly, we have the story of the police insinuating that certain girls had been violated. These are the facts put forward by the noble Lord as a reason why the Indian Government have deported these men under the Act. The authorities arbitrarily took these people away, but by-and-by they had to reconsider what they had done, and take legal advice, but they could not make restitution for wrong done. I do not say as to the two brothers that they should do so, but I think they should have done so to their family, which has been put to very great inconvenience indeed. Now, you have taken these two men under the Act. This Act is really a police measure. It is an Act, under which princes can be deported, and their land taken possession of. You have used this Act for merely police purposes. I hope to hear something more from the noble Lord, but that is the case as it stands, and I think that if this House were a Court of Appeal, and if you go, as it were, to the Court of Appeal, I think you would find that you have no right to condemn unless proper evidence has been given. As the noble Lord tells us, this Measure is a new policy, because there had been a period of fanaticism in India. If that is so, I say the Government is responsible for it; it is a necessary result of your policy. My Friend the Member for Cardiff, representing 1094 Indian journalism, has protested strongly against your reactionary, repressive legislation in India. In reply to the noble Lord, he said this Bill is not approved by any person except lunatics. I observe that a meeting was held last night of the Indian Defence Association, where the Sheriff was in the chair, showing that Indian opinion is against the Bill. These men were met together for the purpose of protesting against the policy of the present Government, shown by their action and their speech. The noble Lord appeals to the so-called members of the Congress of Educated People in India. The educated people in India have been created, and they are the result of the training of our Universities. You have given them this desire for freedom and for self-government, and because they are requiring reforms you oppose them. This opposition has been shown from time to time from these Benches. What do these people ask for? Simply that you should carry out the promise made by the Queen in her Proclamation. I will give you the words of the Proclamation, but I will only read one sentence—It is our will that as far as may be our subjects, of whatever race or creed, be freely and impartially educated for duties for which they are qualified by their education.What is the cause of this bad feeling in India? Simply that the powers and functions of the Indian judges should be extended to the provinces of India. You may pass a Law of Sedition; you may do all you can to increase the power of the priesthood; you may increase the power of the judges; but to attempt to gag the Press will be what you attempted before—namely, to drive that vehicle by means of which the educated classes can bring their views before their Rulers. You may try that 100—or it may be 1,000—times, but it will never succeed. If the prisoners had been unjustly condemned, perhaps they would have a reward like some of my hon. Friends from Ireland, in being returned to a seat in Parliament.
§ *MR. M. DAVITT (Mayo, S.)
My hon. Friend who has just sat down has illustrated to the House the truth 1095 of the saying that his countrymen are not constitutionally capable of seeing a joke. Sir, speaking for myself, I rather take this view: That Membership of this House is a continuation of a punishment not too richly deserved, and I frequently sigh, while sitting helpless on these Benches, for the days when, instead of vainly trying to make laws, I might have built up a lasting reputation in Dartmoor as a stonebreaker. Mr. Speaker, I venture to say that the manly and straightforward statements spoken a short time ago by the Member for Cardiff, if given effect to in India, would be more beneficial to your rule there, and better for the people in that country, than the pro-Russian views expressed by the noble Lord which now obtain there. I venture to say that when the proceedings of this afternoon are published to-morrow morning, the consensus of opinion of Great Britain and Ireland will be in favour of the views of the Member for Cardiff, and not those of the Secretary for India. The noble Lord, this evening, began what was for him a very temperate speech, by asking us to transfer ourselves from the atmosphere of this House to that of Bombay, in order to appreciate the difficulties of Indian Administration. If we do transport ourselves, what do we find? We find a criminal warfare being raged against people who have never even imagined any injury to the rights of the people of Great Britain, and we find 200,000,000 vegetarians being taxed on their salt in order to defray the costs of this criminal war. Then we have the Press gag there, and we are dealing tonight with the cases of prominent men who are taken without trial and sent to prison. I ask the hon. Members in this House—Englishmen—if they would expect to find anything else, if instead of your rule there your traditional bogey were realised, and Russia administered India instead of yourselves. I say the policy you are carrying out would be more worthy of the despotism of Russia than of the constitutional liberty of the English people. The noble Lord, in his speech, told us that all the trouble in the Bombay Government was practically traceable to Poona. The noble Lord must have a strong prejudice against Poona. He has said there was evidence enough to satisfy him 1096 that the Natus brothers were connected with conspiracies, which brought about a deplorable murder. If the noble Lord's subordinates have evidence against these two brothers, a conviction upon trial would be absolutely certain. My conclusion is that these men have not been put upon their trial because there was nothing but suspicion against them, and I venture to say that justice ought to deal with facts and not with insinuations. With reference to the case against these two men, as presented by the noble Lord to-night, it would, if submitted to an English jury, be scouted in any part of Great Britain; and I venture to say that you ought not to attempt in India what you would not attempt in England. The noble Lord has talked about the tone of native Press opinion, and he has been, I think, answered successfully by the speech of the hon. Member for Cardiff. It appears that the chief offence of the Press in India consists of the fact that it does not feel affection for the noble Lord. I think, if want of affection for English rule is shown in India as in Ireland (a country I know something about), you would have to build a good many prisons, in that country. Sir, in my opinion no language that I have read in any of the letters and newspapers of India has been so incendiary as the language used in this House by the noble Lord the Secretary for India. Last night, for no reason whatever, the noble Lord attacked a man who had been Governor-General of India——
§ MR. DAVITT
I repeat that the noble Lord did do so. Of course, the noble Lord fills, owing to his position, a great place in the imagination of the Indian people, and any words spoken by him in this House will, of course, have a totally different meaning to that people from the meaning which they convey to us. Well, the noble Lord went so far in this House last year as to charge, or, at least, inferentially charge, Mr. Tilak with incenting to murder, even before that gentleman was arrested; and I say that is contrary, not only to our sense of justice, but also to the ordinary canons of fair play. Then, 1097 again, the noble Lord referred, a few nights ago, to the people of the North-West Frontier, who are gallantly and rightly struggling for their independence as hereditary robbers: while last night he went out of his way, âpropos to nothing at all, to attack a man who is known in India as having been your representative—your Governor General in the country at one time——
§ MR. DAVITT
If the noble Lord had not to deal with 300,000,000 of people in an Eastern country—people with a vivid imagination—he might at tack Lord Ripon to his heart's content, and it would matter nothing; but the Indian people, when they find him attacking in this House, as I insist he did——
§ *MR. SPEAKER
Order, order! It is not in order to discuss a speech made in a previous Debate on a different question.
§ MR. DAVITT
I at once accept your ruling, Sir, the more willingly as I am really an admirer of the noble Lord, if he will allow me to say so. His fighting qualities appeal to my imagination, for they come from a race to which I belong, while the imperfections in his character come from another race, who are made intemperate by the possession of too much authority. If, once more, he will allow me to say so, I should be very unwilling to do him an injustice, for, though I differ entirely from his policy in India, I am bound to say that he knows how to fight his corner as well as any man in this House. One word more in conclusion in the shape of an appeal for an extension of information in connection with the murder of the two officers at Poona. On the 3rd of this month I read in the Press the following statement, which has not been referred to in the Debate so far. The man who confessed to the murder of one of these officers, and who is now lying under sentence of execution, has stated, according to this Press report, that a certain superintendent had deceived him, having promised 20,000 rupees to erect a temple in his name, and the employment of his 1098 brother in the police. That is to me a very suspicious statement, and I sincerely hope that the noble Lord or the learned Attorney General will throw some light upon it. As this House is aware, in years gone by Irish Members have proved conclusively that agents of the police in Ireland in the Coercionist days offered money to unscrupulous individuals for the perpetration of outrage, and though I am not for a moment insinuating that this charge is true, yet, as the statement has gone the round of the Press, I trust the learned Attorney General will give us some little light upon it. Finally, I sincerely hope and trust that, for the benefit of the people in India, and for the credit of your own Government there, the noble Lord will take into consideration, and endeavour to act upon, the temperate and manly advice which has been given to-night by the hon. Member for Cardiff.
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir RICHARD WEBSTER,) Isle of Wight
I shall not deal at length, Sir, with the several points on which my opinion has been asked. With regard to the last point, raised by the hon. Member for South Mayo, as to a certain paragraph, I never heard of that paragraph until he read it, and have no information of any kind as to the statements contained in it, and I think my noble Friend is in the same position.
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL
It does not follow that it would therefore necessarily come to my knowledge, or that of the noble Lord. An application has been made to me by the hon. Gentleman, the Member for Caithness to say that the action which was taken against the Natu brothers was wholly illegal on the ground that it was not within the terms or scope of the orders given to the Bombay Government. I cannot take that view. The hon. Member has rightly gathered that the Government of Bombay considered that they were justified in dealing with a matter where security of the British Indian dominions from internal commotions was involved; and I do not suppose that anyone, especially those who have most knowledge, can possibly come to any other decision. Just 1099 consider what was the matter. There was a terrible plague and scourge prevailing in that part of our dominions. It affected women as well as men, and to cope with it necessitated a personal examination which, it was admitted, would be highly repugnant to Indian feeling, and would require a calm hand and a steady rule to carry it into effect. It was brought, rightly or wrongly, to the attention of Her Majesty's representatives on the spot that there was in existence an organisation for the purpose of preventing these precautions from being taken. And I cannot imagine anything more likely to promote internal commotions than that there should be anything like friction between the authorities and those poor persons who, for their own good, were going to be subjected to supervision or treatment. I speak with great deference, not knowing to what extent my opinion may be well founded, but certainly I cannot conceive any state of circumstances more likely to bring about internal commotions than anything like an attempt to prevent the Government from carrying out those precautions which they thought necessary in order to put down the scourge. I have very little to add as to the deportation of the Natus, but there is one circumstance which seems to me to be a very strong justification of the action of Her Majesty's representatives. And I must point out, in passing, that it is of the very essence of the jurisdiction exercised under these orders that it must be exercised in cases in which you could not, in many instances, bring the persons to trial. Of course, such jurisdiction ought only to be exercised under circumstances of paramount necessity, and never ought to take the place of trials where a condemnation might be offered in the ordinary course of justice. Therefore, it is no argument whatever—I say it with all deference to the hon. Members for South Mayo and Bethnal Green—to say that the Government have not dared to bring these persons to trial. It is only in cases where there may be no legal proof, but where the Executive Government are satisfied that it is their duty in this matter to protect the enormous interests entrusted to their care, that they take these steps. There is one circumstance which, as I have said, strongly corroborates the view that the action of the 1100 authorities was justified. It is stated that since the arrest of the Natus the opposition to the action of the Government has diminished in a remarkable degree, and there is now practically very little difficulty in carrying out the sanitary regulations which are absolutely essential to the staying of the plague. I admit that that may not be regarded as an argument, if the question is approached from the standpoint of some hon. Gentlemen.
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL
I am sure the hon. Member for Caithness will understand that I am speaking not with any pretence to an intimate knowledge of the subject, but because I have been appealed to for specific answers to specific questions which have been put. I have not a full knowledge—it would be impertinent in me to lay claim to a full knowledge—of all occurrences in India, but I understand that riots have not taken place recently in the districts which are immediately under discussion. The responsibility of taking action under these laws must rest upon the Government which takes that action, and it is quite absurd, if he will forgive me for saying so, for the hon. Member to stand up in this House and tell hon. Gentlemen that they were sitting here as a Court of appeal, as it were, and that their verdict must be given on the case submitted. I do not think anyone who heard the noble Lord's statement can doubt that the authorities acted with a full sense of their responsibility and a full appreciation of the difficulties with which they had to cope, or that their action has done much to bring about the decline of the agitation. Sir, I wish to say that the ruling or judgment of Mr. Justice Strachey was based on sound legal principles, and I will content myself by reading one sentence. The court consisted of the Lord Chancellor, Lord Davey, Lord Hobhouse, and Sir Richard Crouch, and, under these circumstances, I am sure nobody will 1101 suggest again, as has been suggested, and most improperly suggested in some organs of the Press, that the judgment was biassed by political reasons. The sentence I shall read is this, and is by the Lord Chancellor—Their lordships are of opinion, taking this view of the whole summing-up, which is of very great length, that there is nothing in that which, in their lordships' opinion, calls upon them to indicate any dissent from, or necessity to correct, what is therein contained, looking at the summing up as a whole, and looking at each part of what was said by the light of what else was said.Mr. Speaker, Sir, the House can judge by the last sentence as well as I do. I do not think I was wrong in saying that the ruling of Mr. Justice Strachey and the judgment of the courts of India was approved and confirmed by the Privy Council of India. As to the Press prosecutions, the only case brought forward has been the Tilak case. All I can say regarding that, is that I have read the summing up of Mr. Justice Strachey, and I do not believe there is anything at all new in it. It seems to have been a very reasonable and sensible exposition of how the law should be applied under the circumstances. I now come to the last of the three points referred to by the hon. Member for Cardiff. I must traverse entirely the view taken by the hon. Member. I cannot for a single moment think that if he had an opportunity of studying what the proposed alterations of the law are, that he could have suggested that the Amendments are with a view of muzzling the Press, or interfering with the freedom of the Press. If hon. Members will study the Amendments, they cannot possibly come to the conclusion that these Amendments will muzzle the Press or interfere with the free discussion to which the Press is entitled. They are only intended to enact that which has been law ever since the penal code was passed. Sir, it is very unfortunate that anyone who has been concerned in the discussion of this matter should remain under the impression that the Amendments, if carried, will have any one of these serious consequences, which some Members say they will have. The Amendments may or may not be desirable, but they certainly 1102 are not the intention, nor will they have the effect of curtailing or interfering with the proper freedom of the Press, or muzzling the Press, or bringing un due pressure to bear upon it. I have not seen the whole of the Amended Criminal Code myself, but only a part of it, and I am informed that it contains some 600 clauses. It is now under discussion, and the hon. Member who moved the Amendment spoke as though this proposed alteration in the law were connected with the law of sedition. That is entirely a mistake. The alteration has not the slightest specific relation to the law of sedition, but only a general application. The proposed Amendments are still under consideration, and I think it would be very wrong of this House, on the materials now before it, to endeavour to influence the judgment of those who have the responsibility of deciding, in the first place, what Amendments in the law are desirable. The Secretary of State has a great responsibility upon him in confirming or declining to confirm the Amendments, and his conduct can be called into question by this House. If the proposed Amendments in the law are not thought desirable, the present Secretary of State, or his successor, can disapprove of them. But the responsibility of considering what the Amendments in the law should be ought to rest, in the first instance, with the Legislative Council of India, subject to the authority of the Secretary of State. Sir, I deprecate most strongly, and I believe most Members will agree with me, the idea that a preliminary discussion should take place in this House at the present moment. Sir, this is not a time, nor has the House material for dealing with the question of what the Amendments of the law ought to be, but I may be allowed to say that I differ from the hon. Member for Cardiff, for the reasons I have stated, in the opinion he has expressed of the effect of the Amendments if they are carried. I do not want, and I do not intend, to depart from my own rules, but I must not be thought to agree with the opinion of the hon. Member for Bethnal Green when he said that his view of the law at the present time was that there must be some incitement to disturbance of the peace. I am sure the hon. Member will forgive me for interpreting the law, not in my own words, but in the language of that 1103 great man, Sir James Fitzjames Stephen, who knew as much about Indian law as about English law—and that is saying a great deal—and who described sedition asInciting any person to commit any crime in disturbance of the peace, or to raise discontent or disaffection among Her Majesty's subjects, or to promote illwill and hostility between different classes of Her Majesty's subjects.Mr. Speaker, Sir, remembering the different races and creeds that exist in India, I am sure no one who has ever studied the question would think there was less necessity for such a law in India than in England, yet that has been the law of England, and is the law of England to-day, unqualified by anything any judge has said, however re cent his charge may be. Sir, it seems to me that the discussion thus brought forward in this House has elicited several interesting points, and has, I think, shown that the charges made across the floor of the House last year were made without a full knowledge of the facts, and upon materials which, if hon. Members had had an opportunity of investigating them, would not have been preferred. It would not facilitate the Government of India if such charges were true. I would not refer to the notable attack made in a Committee-room of the House, which had to be withdrawn unconditionally, but I do say this——
§ a part in this Debate, but if the right hon. and learned Gentleman suggests that I made a charge of this sort, I must state that it is quite incorrect. I said that these charges—at least, I did not say it myself, but Professor Gokhle said—that these charges had been made in Poona, and we said that the charges should be investigated. If untrue, those people who made them should be punished; if true, proper restitution should be made. I have not made any charge whatever, and if anyone says that, they say what is untrue.
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL
I did not refer to any charges made by the hon. Member, and I know of none. I was referring to charges suggested in questions put by other hon. Members. I merely referred to them because they have been referred to in the course of the Debate. I have no intention of going into any controversial matter, but I desire to say that I am sure all independent Members of this House will come to the conclusion that neither the Indian Government nor Her Majesty's Government, in the course they have taken, have infringed any of those rules of conduct by which they ought to be animated.
§ Question put, "That those words be there added."
§ The House divided. Ayes 109; Noes 182.1107
§ Main Question again proposed.