§ It shall be obligatory on the Governor of Fort William, in Bengal, to reside for at least two months of the year at Dacca.
EARL of RONALDSHAY
I beg to move that this Clause be read a second time.
This is a Clause to which I attach very great importance. The Mahomedan community, who benefited very considerably by the Partition of Bengal brought about under Lord Curzon's administration in 1905, consider that they have a considerable grievance in the revocation of that Partition under the recent change of policy. At the annual Conference of the All India Moslem League, held at Calcutta in March last, the following resolution was passed:—That the All India Moslem League places on record its deep sense of regret and disappointment at the revocation of the Partition of Bengal in utter disregard of Moslem feeling, and trusts that the Government will take early steps to safeguard Moslem interests in the Presidency of Bengal.Dacca was the capital of the old province of Eastern Bengal and Assam, which was preponderatingly Mahomedan in its population, and one of the grievances which the Mahomedans consider they suffer is the removal of the seat of Government from the erstwhile capital of their province. It is well-known that prior to the Partition of Bengal, Eastern Bengal was very much neglected by the Government of Bengal, the reason being that the province was so large, the area so great, and the population so enormous that it was quite impossible for one Government to give careful attention to the needs of the whole of the province. For that reason the Mahomedans welcomed the Partition which divided the province, reduced the enormous population under the charge of a single Government, and gave them a seat of Government at Dacca in the centre of their own district. That has all been changed. Dacca is no longer to be the centre of Government. It is quite true that the Government have declared their intention that the Governor of the new province shall spend a portion of the year at Dacca. The Undersecretary, on the Second Reading of the Bill, went so far as to say that that was the settled policy of the Government. When I read that observation it seemed to me that the hon. Member's courage had outrun his discretion. Surely he must have remembered that Lord Morley, late Secretary of State for 477 India, had declared publicly in Parliament that the Partition of Bengal was also a considered and settled fact. We all know that that settled fact has been swept aside, and I am afraid there is a serious feeling in the minds of many Mahomedans in India to-day that they cannot attach that importance which they ought to be able, and which they would like to attach to the mere declarations of the Government. I propose therefore to put into statutory form the intention of the Government in this matter. It is their intention that the Governor of Bengal shall reside for a certain period of the year at Dacca, and under the circumstances it seems to me to be only reasonable that that should be embodied in the Bill. Can the hon. Member give us any idea as to what exactly is meant by the declaration of the Government. Have they in their mind any particular period during which the Governor shall reside at Dacca? Do they mean that in addition to the Governor, the Government offices, the Secretariats, and so on, are to be placed at Dacca for a period of the year? We have had no information upon that point. I feel quite certain that the Mahomedans will still consider that they are suffering from a grievance, unless they have it laid down in the most categorical manner that not only the Governor himself, but the Government of the province has to spend a portion of the year in the old centre of the Government of Eastern Bengal. I know of no objection, no serious objection, which the hon. Gentleman opposite will be able to produce against inserting this intention of the Government in the provisions of the Bill. It is because I have had opportunities of realising how deeply the Mahomedans, and not only the Mahomedans of Eastern Bengal itself, but the Mahomedans throughout the whole of North India, feel in regard to this matter that I move the new Clause which stands in my name.
§ Mr. MONTAGU
I think the Noble lord will agree with me that there has never been a case of a statutory precedent in a matter of this kind for a Governor or a Lieutenant-Governor of a province in India. If there was plague or famine in Eastern Bengal, or it was a case of the illness of the Governor himself, a statutory provision of this sort would be extremely difficult to carry out. The Governor-General of India and the Secretary of State is as alive as is the Noble Lord him- 478 self to the loss which Eastern Bengal has sustained, and would sustain, by the removal of Dacca as the seat of Government. Let me quote the words of my Noble Friend in the House of Lords:—His visits to Dacca should not be merely those of a flying kind, but should show that he treats it as a second headquarters.It is very much the same reason that would take the Governor of Bengal to Dacca that takes the Governor of the United Provinces to Allahabad or Lucknow, and the Governor of Bombay to Poona. In neither of these cases has there been any statutory declaration. Government buildings have been put up at Dacca at great cost, and are to be preserved and used for the purposes indicated. I think the Noble Lord will agree with me that, once the Governor of Bengal starts going to Dacca, every visit he pays will make it more difficult for him or his successors to abandon it. Now is the critical time. The intention of the Government in this matter has now been so amply declared in every part that I venture most respectfully to suggest to my Noble Friend that he has secured what he desires in a way that is far less open to objection than the novel method of a statutory provision.
§ Sir J. D. REES
I agree with what the Under-Secretary has said, that this is an entirely novel method of bringing about what my Noble Friend desires, and I would adopt the view he has stated were it not that the whole position is without precedent. The Under-Secretary says that never before has a stipulation of this sort been imposed by Statute upon a public officer. But never before has the British Government gone back upon its word, solemnly given to the Mahomedans of India! So strongly do I feel on this matter that I will support my Noble Friend if he goes to a Division. The fact is that the Mahomedans of Eastern Bengal received the strongest assurance from the Secretary of State, Lord Morley, that this partition, which gave them a province in which they were in a majority, would never be undone. The Under-Secretary of State refers us to the words of his Noble Friend Lord Crewe in the House of Lords. I would like to refer him to Lord Morley in this House, whose words were that that partition would never be undone. But it has been undone by the Noble Viscount's successor.
§ Sir J. D. REES
He said immediately the partition was a settled fact that he would not reopen it. Surely the hon. Member admits that? Over and over again I have heard that in this House. The Undersecretary invokes Lord Crewe. Lord Crewe no doubt said, in the House of Lords, what was the intention of the Government. But that is not a Statute! But I want to get away from all these small Amendments and to the Third Reading of the Bill, so that we can discuss matters of principle. Lord Morley's solemn assurance has been set aside by his successor, Lord Crewe. What faith can the Mahomedans have in the words of Lord Crewe in the House of Lords, undertaking that the Lieutenant-Governor shall in future spend two months in Dacca? For my part, I maintain that the Mahomedans of Eastern Bengal have been extremely badly treated in this matter, and that what has taken place amounts to a definite breach of faith. But I want to stop at that just now, for having spent the greater part of our time over technicalities, I want really to get to the policy of this Bill. I will support my Noble Friend if he goes to a Division.
EARL of RONALDSHAY
The Undersecretary in his reply to my observations said that it might be difficult to carry out the provision by reason of plague or famine or something of that kind. Are we to understand by that reply that at the time when the presence of the Government is most necessary in the district he holds the view that it is just at that time that the Government ought to be absent? That is one of the strongest arguments in favour of the insertion in the Bill of my new Clause. As to the argument of the creation of a new precedent, I entirely agree that it is so; but why is it necessary to create a new precedent? Because the Government have shown that their "word in matters of this kind is not to be trusted. Lord Morley said most definitely and most explicitly in Parliament that the Partition of Bengal was a settled fact which could not be gone back upon. Yet only one or two years after Lord Morley resigns the office of Chief Secretary for India his successor goes back upon his pledged word. Is it to be wondered at that the Mahomedans, after that experience, hold that a mere declaration of the intention of the Government is not a sufficient guarantee to them of the privileges and rights which they desire to hold? I am entirely unsatisfied with the answer of the 480 hon. Gentleman, and I feel bound under those circumstances to press this Amendment to a Division.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
I must say I am very much impressed by the arguments of the Noble Lord. I was not at all impressed by, at any rate, one argument of the hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill, and that is almost the first occasion this afternoon, that I have not been impressed by his arguments. He says he cannot accept the Amendment of my Noble Friend merely on the ground that it is a new precedent. I am not impressed by that reply. Such an argument to come from a, Government that has disregarded all old precedents rather suggests a new world. The real argument I should have said against this Amendment of my Noble Friend would be, if it could be used, that it is a bad one. I did not hear the whole of the speech of my Noble Friend, but the part I did hear convinces me that the Amendment is not a bad one. My Noble Friend has taken very great trouble over this Amendment. The last time this matter was before the House he attempted to move it as an Amendment to the Clause, but then it was found that it was not in order, and that it should be brought forward as a new Clause. I attach very great importance to my Noble Friend's opinion on this subject, and I cannot see on what ground the Amendment should be refused. I do not know whether any of the hon. Gentlemen on the other side can enlighten us upon this matter. I see the hon. Member for Leicester (Mr. Ramsay Macdonald), who is a great stickler for precedent, in his place. I should like to hear him get up and say he cannot accept this Amendment because it is a new precedent. Unless some better reason is brought forward against the Amendment of my Noble Friend I shall have much pleasure in supporting it.
§ Mr. SANDYS
I understand my Noble-Friend intends to press this to a Division, and I am strongly inclined to support him in the Lobby. The Amendment is one of an extremely reasonable character, and I was very much impressed not only by the speech of my Noble Friend, but also by the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham. I share the regret which the hon. Baronet (Sir F. Banbury) has expressed, that we have had no contribution to this particular discussion from hon. Members on the other side of the House I have no doubt there must be several of them well qualified to give their views 481 upon this question which in my opinion is a question not of subsidiary importance, but one involving a principle of great interest, and upon which a great deal depends. As the Noble Lord has decided to take this Amendment to a Division, I feel certain he will get a great deal of support, and I hope that so far as this Amendment is concerned it may not be regarded as a party question. A strong accusation, and I think an unmerited accusation, was brought against me personally suggesting that owing to the fact that I called attention to an error in the Bill I was actuated by party motives. I take this the first opportunity of assuring the hon. Gentleman that there was no feeling of that kind behind the statement that I felt it my duty to make, and similarly with regard to this Amendment I hope hon. Gentleman on the other side will listen to the appeal made and will treat this question on its merits and not merely go to the Lobby under the direction of the party Whips. In these circumstances I desire most heartily to support this Amendment, and I hope it will receive a large measure of support from the other side of the House because it seems to be eminently reasonable in its character.
§ 3.0 P.M.
§ Mr. BAIRD
I cordially support this Amendment. In this reunion of Bengal the Mahomedan population round Dacca area were led to expect they would have a Governor resident for many months in their area, and they were led to believe that that was going to be a permanent arrangement, and now that that arrangement is upset they will obviously lose confidence in the Government if something like this new Clause is not put upon the Statute Book. It is not enough for them, after the treatment accorded them, to be given a mere promise and assurance. I find a paragraph in the White Paper which was circulated embodying the proclamation and correspondence with the Government of India at the time that this change in the capital was decided upon and when these enormous changes in the whole Indian system were settled. On page 9, paragraph 9, of the dispatch of the Government of India to Lord Crewe, Secretary for India, it is stated that:—Various circumstances have forced upon us the conviction that the bitterness of feeling engendered by the Partition of Bengal is very widespread and unyielding, and that we are by no means at the end of the troubles which have followed upon that measure. Eastern Bengal and Assam have no doubt benefited greatly by the 482 Partition, and the Mahomedans of that province who form a large majority of the population, are loyal and contented; but the resentment amongst the Bengalis in both provinces of Bengal, who hold most of the land, fill the professions, and exercise a preponderating influence in public affairs, is as strong as ever though somewhat less vocal.That shows the very knotty nature of the problem which has got to be dealt with. There was a great deal, according to the showing of the Government of India, of bitterness of feeling engendered by the partition of Bengal. Meantime, the inhabitants of Eastern Bengal gain by the partition. Who is going to benefit by the reunion? Not the Mahomedans. The Mahomedans will undoubtedly suffer. You will not have a homogeneous province, but they will go back more or less to their own conditions. I do think, if you want to promote good feeling in the cauntry generally, which has been brought about by the announcement of the intention of the Government to make a reunion of Bengal, if you want full benefit to follow from that arrangement, something more definite than a vague promise—I say it in no offensive spirit—from His Majesty's Government is necessary. After all, if you put something upon the Statute Book it takes some time to get it removed. With all the good will in the world the Government may be unable to carry out its promise. I do not think the Under-Secretary has made good his case for refusing this Amendment in the reply which he made to my Noble Friend. The question of the illness of the Governor is no answer; and with regard to the question of plague, that may be the very time when it is most important that the Governor should be there. An obligation to stay two months in the year is not very much, and there is no doubt that it will be a source of great satisfaction to the Mahomedan population of that province. Personally, I think it would go far to do away with the bitterness and resentment which will be stirred up unless something of that kind is done. I trust, therefore, that the Government will see their way to modify their unbending attitude, and that something stronger than a promise may be done in order to prevent disappointment.
§ Sir J. D. REES
I understand that there will not be a Third Reading of this Bill to-day, and as the Under-Secretary distinctly challenged me when I referred to Lord Morley's statement, I should like to quote an extract from the speech of Lord Minto on this point. I asserted that what the hon. Member regarded as a sufficient 483 safeguard was not before regarded as sufficient. I do not think the Under-Secretary can really complain of what I said, but in case he does I will read an extract on this point from Lord Minto's speech. He said:—Notwithstanding the extraordinary and belated discovery of the Government of India that there was some discontent in Bengal, I unhesitatingly assert that there was hardly any general national feeling in the Bengal agitation against partition. I can assure your lordships that when I left India the agitation against partition was stone-dead. I do not believe there was a political agitator in Bengal of whatever influence who could have collected a representative gathering on the question. We were told from home that the partition was a settled fact.
§ The CHAIRMAN
That is what I was wondering myself. I do not understand how the hon. Member connects it with this Amendment.
§ Sir J. D. REES
I submit that it is very much to the point. I was arguing the point that the Under-Secretary disputed that partition was regarded as a settled fact. The Mahomedans are sore and disappointed at what has happened, and they desire that, the new Governor of Bengal should be bound to spend a certain period of the year in their own capital of Dacca. If the hon. Member opposite had troubled himself to ascertain the circumstances I do not think he would have interrupted, and I think I am dealing with a point of substance. Lord Minto said—
§ Sir J. D. REES
I am quoting the most pertinent portion of Lord Minto's speech, and therefore I can understand the hon. Member's objection. Lord Minto said:—We were told from home that partition was a settled fact.My point is that both Lord Morley and Lord Minto have stated that partition was a settled fact, and when I state that fact the Under-Secretary takes exception to 484 my statement. My Noble Friend wishes to make it statutory that the new Governor should spend two months in the capital of the province of Eastern Bengal, which has been abolished and thrown into Bengal, whereby they lose the Lieutenant-Governor of Dacca. I submit that my point is material to the last degree. It is said that there is an objection to the Governor of Bengal being bound by Statute to spend some time in Dacca, and the objection was raised that there might be a time when it would be necessary that he should be elsewhere. If this is not actually made statutory something may arise which will give a good or a colourable reason for not going to Dacca, and therefore we believe it is necessary to pin the Governor down in this respect. Would the Governor of Bengal think it a hardship to be bound by Statute to spend two months at Darjeeling, or would the Governor-General think it a hardship to have to spend three months at Simla, or the Governor of Madras or Bombay to spend a similar period at Ootacamund or at Poona? We know they would all be quite willing to go to a pleasant hill station, and I am not imputing the slightest reflection upon them. I wish to point out that there is not any real hardship in binding the new Governor of Bengal to spend two months in what was the head of the old Mahomedan province which has just been disestablished, after it was stated time after time that it was a settled fact, like the laws of the Medes and the Persians. What can be the hardship in giving some compensation to those Mahomedans who have stood by us so faithfully in this matter? Lord Crewe, in his dispatch, speaks of his anxiety not to disappoint the legitimate expectations of the followers of Islam in Eastern Bengal, who form the bulk of the population, and have been loyal to the British Government during recent trouble. What is the implication? Somebody must have been absolutely disloyal during the recent trouble. I do not wish to raise any race question or import any heat into this Debate, but it is perfectly clear that what Lord Crewe meant was that the Mahomedans had stood by us and the Hindus had not on that occasion, otherwise where is the point of the argument? I think it becomes us here, when we are debating a subject which affects millions of our fellow-subjects, to treat it seriously. Here, I think, we have a point of substance which I think we must go fully into. I understand that the Government will not be able to get the Third 485 Reading to-day, and perhaps I may be allowed to deal with this question now. Lord Hardinge, with all respect to him—I know he was a distinguished diplomatist—has since he has been Viceroy adopted the diplomatic method of dealing with difficulties in India.
§ The CHAIRMAN
The hon. Member is now making the speech he proposes to make on the Third Reading. I think he must really defer that until we reach the Third Reading.
§ Sir J. D. REES
I will leave that at once. I wish on this Amendment to associate myself with the words used by Sir Edward Carson on a recent occasion, when he said:—Neither in society, nor in business, nor in commerce, nor in professional life has any body of men succeeded who adopted the policy of abandoning their friends in order to conciliate their enemies.
EARL of RONALDSHAY
When the Government state it is their intention the Governor of Bengal shall reside for a certain period of the year at Dacca, do they mean that the Government of the whole of the province will move?
§ Mr. MONTAGU
The whole of the Committee stage has so far been accomplished without a Division, and I should like, if I could, to see it completed without the necessity of a Division. If the difference between us was whether the Governor should or should not reside in Dacca, then I should cordially agree with all the remarks of the Noble Lord and some of those of the hon. Gentleman, but we are agreed that he should reside at Dacca, and the only difference between us is whether it should be a statutory obligation or an obligation which rests upon the good faith of the Viceroy in India, the Secretary of State in the House of Lords, and his representative in this House. I submit there is nothing novel in the proposal. There are in India at the present time two other Governors of great provinces who have two capitals. There is no necessity for a statutory obligation in those two cases. The Governor of the United Provinces goes 486 to Lucknow from Allahabad and the Governor of Bombay goes to Poona without any statutory obligation. I say there is nothing to distinguish between these cases which makes it necessary to have a statutory obligation which may be fraught with all sorts of difficulties. There can only be one real reason at the back of hon. Members' minds for going into the Division Lobby, and that is to seriously suggest a solemn pledge given in three places by those responsible for the administration and government of India is not sufficient. No greater disservice could be rendered to the good government of India by Members than to suggest that the word of His Majesty's Government on so vital a matter is not considered good enough for the House of Commons. In answer to the Noble Lord, I would rather not commit myself further than to a repetition of the words I have already read from my Noble Friend's speech in another place, in which he said that it was to be regarded as a second capital of the Presidency.
EARL of RONALDSHAY
May I say that under the circumstances, and only because I do not want to give rise to any suggestion that we are treating this Bill in a party way, I shall ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Proposed clause, by leave, withdrawn.